Assemblée Législative de la Nouvelle-Écosse

Les travaux de la Chambre ont repris le
21 septembre 2017

HANSARD 01/02-109

Commemorating the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, 2002

HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

DEBATES AND PROCEEDINGS

Speaker: Honourable Murray Scott

Published by Order of the Legislature by Hansard Reporting Services and printed by the Queen's Printer.

Available on INTERNET at http://nslegislature.ca/index.php/proceedings/hansard/

Annual subscriptions available from the Office of the Speaker.

Second Session

TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2002

TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES:
Law Amendments Committee, Hon. M. Baker 10273
Law Amendments Committee, Hon. M. Baker 10274
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 3959, Health - Injuries: Pub. Health Problem - Recognize,
Hon. J. Muir 10274
Vote - Affirmative 10275
Res. 3960, Health - Emerg. Med. Personnel: Work - Acknowledge,
Hon. J. Muir 10275
Vote - Affirmative 10276
NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 3961, Seaside Elem. - DARE Prog.: Grads. - Congrats.,
Mr. K. Deveaux 10276
Vote - Affirmative 10277
Res. 3962, CBRM: Anti-Smoking Stance - Congrats.,
Mr. Manning MacDonald 10277
Res. 3963, Belmore, Dolly/Annand, Bobby: CD Release - Congrats.,
Mr. B. Taylor 10278
Vote - Affirmative 10278
Res. 3964, Health: Anti-Smoking Strategy - Adopt, Mr. D. Dexter 10278
Res. 3965, South Shore 2004 Celebration Assoc. - French Heritage:
Awareness - Congrats., Mr. D. Downe 10279
Vote - Affirmative 10280
Res. 3966, MacBeth - Wickwire Acad.: Production - Congrats.,
Mr. K. Morash 10280
Vote - Affirmative 10281
Res. 3967, C.B. & Cent. N.S. Railway - Negotiations: Well Wishes -
Extend, Mr. F. Corbett 10281
Vote - Affirmative 10281
Res. 3968, Francis, Rose/Matthews, Sister Veronica: C.B. Health
Leadership Awards - Congrats., Mr. R. MacKinnon 10281
Vote - Affirmative 10282
Res. 3969, Goulden, Murray/Anna. Valley Reg. Sch. Bd.: N.S. Pupil
Transport Award - Congrats., Mr. F. Chipman 10282
Vote - Affirmative 10283
Res. 3970, Bond, Sherri - E. Hants Mun.: Recognition - Recognize,
Mr. J. MacDonell 10283
Vote - Affirmative 10284
Res. 3971, Dalhousie Univ.: Grads. (2002) - Congrats., Mr. M. Samson 10284
Vote - Affirmative 10284
Res. 3972, Cyr, Mayor Sandy/Council/Westville Residents:
Prosperity - Congrats., Mr. J. DeWolfe 10285
Vote - Affirmative 10285
Res. 3973, Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Awards:
Participants - Congrats., Mr. K. Deveaux 10285
Vote - Affirmative 10286
Res. 3974, Paul, Chief Lawrence - Empire Theatres: Deal - Congrats.,
Mr. B. Boudreau 10286
Vote - Affirmative 10287
Res. 3975, Van den Hoek, Cornelia: Contributions - Congrats.,
Mr. W. Langille 10287
Vote - Affirmative 10288
Res. 3976, Kiley, Teresa/Prospect Peninsula Homeowners Assoc.:
Init. - Congrats., Mr. W. Estabrooks 10288
Vote - Affirmative 10288
Res. 3977, Glace Bay Food Bank - Staff/Volunteers: Dedication -
Congrats., Mr. D. Wilson 10289
Vote - Affirmative 10289
Res. 3978, Dart. City of Lakes Chorus: Cooper Trophy - Congrats.,
Mr. T. Olive 10289
Vote - Affirmative 10290
Res. 3979, Singer, Penny - E. Hants Mun.: Recognition - Congrats.,
Mr. J. MacDonell 10290
Vote - Affirmative 10291
Res. 3980, SMU: Grads (2002) - Congrats., Mr. M. Samson 10291
Vote - Affirmative 10292
Res. 3981, Hamm, Patricia - Princess Port Williams: Anna. Valley
Apple Blossom Fest. - Congrats., (by Ms. M. McGrath)
Mr. M. Parent 10292
Vote - Affirmative 10292
Res. 3982, Fraser, John: C.B. Male Athlete of Yr. - Congrats.,
Mr. B. Boudreau 10293
Vote - Affirmative 10293
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS:
No. 1103, Commun. Serv. - Resources/Staffing: Inadequacy - Explain,
Mr. D. Dexter 10294
No. 1104, Serv. N.S. & Mun. Rel.: Hfx. Hbr. Cleanup - Plans,
Mr. R. MacKinnon 10295
No. 1105, Commun. Serv. - Caseworkers: Safety - Jeopardy,
Mr. D. Dexter 10296
No. 1106, Pet. Dir. - E. Coast Premiers: Conf. - Boycott Explain,
Mr. Manning MacDonald 10297
No. 1107, Econ. Dev. - Golf Course (Anna. Valley): Investment -
Explain, Mr. H. Epstein 10298
No. 1108, Health - Tobacco Strategy (2001): Min. -
Agreement Confirm, Dr. J. Smith 10299
No. 1109, Econ. Dev. - Valley Vista: Addt'l. Funding - Explain,
Mr. H. Epstein 10300
No. 1110, Health - Smoke-Free Places: Dept. - Carry Out,
Mr. D. Wilson 10302^
No. 1111, Health - N.S. Rehab. Ctr.: Cuts - Explain,
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 10303
No. 1112, Justice - ABCs: Appts. - Delay Explain, Mr. M. Samson 10304
No. 1113, Fin. - Special Ed.: Funding - Details, Mr. K. Deveaux 10306
No. 1114, Fin. - Tax Cut Modification: Premier - Notification Date,
Mr. D. Downe 10307
No. 1115, Health - Mental Health Services: Inadequacy - Recognize,
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 10308
No. 1116, Health - Mental Health Services: Plans - Details,
Dr. J. Smith 10309
No. 1117, Econ. Dev. - Valley Vista: Sale - Confirm, Mr. H. Epstein 10311
No. 1118, Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Directional Signage:
Positive Changes - Likelihood, Mr. D. Downe 10312
GOVERNMENT BUSINESS:
PUBLIC BILLS FOR THIRD READING:
No. 109, Financial Measures (2002) Act 10313
Hon. N. LeBlanc 10313
Mr. G. Steele 10313
Mr. D. Downe 10326
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 10338
Mr. R. MacKinnon 10346
Debate Adjourned 10350
ADJOURNMENT:
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5):
Health - Care: Valley - Investment Prioritize:
Mr. H. Epstein 10350
Hon. G. Balser 10353
Dr. J. Smith 10356
PUBLIC BILLS FOR THIRD READING:
No. 109, Financial Measures (2002) Act 10358
Mr. R. MacKinnon [Debate Resumed] 10359
Mr. D. Dexter 10367
Mr. B. Boudreau 10371
Mr. Robert Chisholm 10374
Hon. N. LeBlanc 10381
Vote - Affirmative 10382
No. 105, Elevators and Lifts Act 10383
Hon. R. Russell 10383
Mr. F. Corbett 10383
Mr. R. MacKinnon 10383
Hon. R. Russell 10385
Vote - Affirmative 10385
No. 112, Gas Distribution Act 10386
Hon. G. Balser 10386
Mr. H. Epstein 10386
Mr. Manning MacDonald 10393
Hon. G. Balser 10395
Vote - Affirmative 10395
HOUSE RESOLVED INTO CWH ON BILLS AT 9:11 P.M. 10395
HOUSE RECONVENED AT 9:50 P.M. 10395
CWH REPORTS 10395
ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Wed., May 22nd at 2:00 p.m. 10396
NOTICES OF MOTION UNDER RULE 32(3):
Res. 3983, RCMP (Digby) - Senior Safety Prog.: Participants -
Congrats., Hon. G. Balser 10397
Res. 3984, Westray Mine Disaster: Impact - Reflect Upon,
Mr. J. DeWolfe 10397

[Page 10273]

HALIFAX, TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2002

Fifty-eighth General Assembly

Second Session

2:00 P.M.

SPEAKER

Hon. Murray Scott

DEPUTY SPEAKERS

Mr. Brooke Taylor, Mr. Jerry Pye, Mr. David Wilson

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 Fairview:

Therefore be it resolved that the government get its priorities straight and invest in health care in the Valley, not golf courses.

This will be debated this evening at 6:00 p.m.

We will begin the daily routine.

PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS

PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. MICHAEL 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 bill:

10273

[Page 10274]

Bill No. 125 - Smoke-free Places Act.

and the committee recommends this bill to the favourable consideration of the House, with certain amendments.

MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills.

The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. MICHAEL 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. 101 - Fire Safety Act.

Bill No. 107 - Land Registration Act.

Bill No. 117 - Geoscience Profession Act.

and the committee recommends these bills to the favourable consideration of the House, with certain amendments.

MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that these bills be referred to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills.

TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS

STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS

GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Health.

RESOLUTION NO. 3959

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

Whereas last week the release of a major report on injuries in Nova Scotia reminded us that hundreds of people die and thousands of people are hospitalized each year as a result of injury; and

[Page 10275]

Whereas we know that most injuries are not accidents and the majority of injuries could have been prevented; and

Whereas these preventable injuries result in untold personal loss as well as costing the health care system hundreds of millions of dollars each year;

Therefore be it resolved that we recognize injuries as a silent epidemic and work to raise awareness of this very real public health problem.

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. 3960

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

Whereas this is Emergency Medical Services Week in Canada, a time to recognize all the people who work in our emergency medical systems; and

Whereas Nova Scotia recognizes the difficult and challenging job its emergency medical personnel do throughout the year; and

Whereas Nova Scotia is fortunate to have so many skilled people working in its pre-hospital health care sector;

Therefore be it resolved that Nova Scotians acknowledge the hard work of these health professionals and offer our gratitude for their dedication to patient care.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[Page 10276]

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.

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

NOTICES OF MOTION

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

RESOLUTION NO. 3961

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

Whereas DARE, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, is designed to educate and protect our children from the dangers of drugs; and

Whereas the DARE program has been very successful throughout Nova Scotia schools with the support of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and sponsorship by ExxonMobil; and

Whereas at an awards ceremony today, the Grade 6 students at Seaside Elementary School in Eastern Passage will be presented DARE Awards for their successful participation in the program;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate all the Grade 6 graduates of the DARE program at Seaside Elementary School, Constable Dan Bretzer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ExxonMobil and the teacher and school administrator participants, Denise Hiebert, Nicole Strong, Ken Murray, Scott Smith, Lynn Coolen, Wally Foley, Peter Balcom, Stacy Warnica, Principal David Fowlie and Vice-Principal Frances Murdock for a job well done.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[Page 10277]

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 South.

RESOLUTION NO. 3962

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

Whereas Cape Breton Regional Municipality has taken a leadership role across this province in its stance against smoking in public places; and

Whereas the community of CBRM realizes that it is important to protect all citizens from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke; and

Whereas CBRM will stand by their 100 per cent ban on smoking in public places, despite the Conservative Government's proposed legislation and amendments which the mayor of CBRM calls disappointing;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate the CBRM on the leadership they have displayed across Nova Scotia and for recognizing that all Nova Scotians must be protected from the effects of second-hand smoke.

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 Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.

[Page 10278]

RESOLUTION NO. 3963

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

Whereas Caribou Gold Mines resident, 87-year-old Eleanor (Dolly) Belmore and Middle Musquodoboit's Roberta (Bobby) Annand, 81 years of age, released their new CD, In the Pink; and

Whereas these former Wittenburg, Colchester County daughters of the late Corey and Susan Taylor sang and entertained a standing room only audience at the Musquodoboit Valley Bicentennial Theatre during the CD's launching this past Sunday; and

Whereas this collection of songs produced by Betty Belmore is a tribute to the sisters' family, memories and is an inspirational legacy for many;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of the Nova Scotia Legislature congratulate and commend Dolly and Bobby for undertaking such a wonderful, admirable and exciting project.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice on behalf of these very well-respected senior citizens.

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.

[2:15 p.m.]

The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

RESOLUTION NO. 3964

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

[Page 10279]

Whereas the Health Minister told Nova Scotians that he would introduce amendments to substantially strengthen his anti-smoking legislation; and

Whereas instead the minister waited until Friday afternoon to admit that the government is proposing amendments to increase the number of places where Nova Scotians will be exposed to second-hand smoke; and

Whereas smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke represents one of the most costly and preventable diseases that afflict Nova Scotians;

Therefore be it resolved that instead of weakening their smoke-free legislation, the Conservative Government should listen to Nova Scotians and adopt a comprehensive anti-tobacco strategy that includes an historic ban on smoking in public places and workplaces and adult smoking cessation programs.

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 Lunenburg West.

RESOLUTION NO. 3965

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

Whereas the South Shore 2004 Celebration Association is working on a commemoration of the 400th Anniversary of the voyage and the exploration of de Monts and Champlain on the South Shore of Nova Scotia; and

Whereas to celebrate and raise the awareness of the upcoming 400th Anniversary, the Association has prepared a booklet entitled, In the Wake of Champlain - The French on the South Shore; and

Whereas the booklet will be used as a resource tool to explain the importance of the French heritage on the South Shore;

[Page 10280]

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House congratulate the South Shore 2004 Celebration Association for raising awareness of the French heritage on the South Shore and wish them continued success in all their future endeavours.

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 Queens.

RESOLUTION NO. 3966

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

Whereas on May 17th, the Dr. John C. Wickwire Academy gave a stellar performance of MacBeth for a foreign delegation from the Liverpool International Theatre; and

Whereas the Grade 2 class, guided by teacher Rosanne Williams, worked tirelessly, enthusiastically and with such dedication in order to impress and stun their audience; and

Whereas it is thought through their involvement with drama that many young children are able to improve their self-esteem and excel in reading and writing;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate the Grade 2 class of Dr. John C. Wickwire Academy and their teacher Rosanne Williams for their exceptional performance of MacBeth and wish them the best of luck in their future endeavours.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

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

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

[Page 10281]

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.

RESOLUTION NO. 3967

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

Whereas Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway has asked for a delay in the URB hearings while it attempts to negotiate with users of its services; and

Whereas the line is a vital link to the mainland for Cape Breton businesses and consumers alike; and

Whereas this delay is good news for Cape Breton businesses who utilize this line;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway for taking another look at its valuable line from Cape Breton and wish them well in their negotiations.

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 Cape Breton West.

RESOLUTION NO. 3968

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

[Page 10282]

Whereas on Monday, May 13th, the Cape Breton District Health Authority presented its first annual Cape Breton Health Leadership Awards; and

Whereas the awards were presented to Rose Francis, R.N. and Sister Veronica Matthews; and

Whereas the awards are presented to community members whose activities promote, protect and improve the health, safety and well-being of the public;

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House congratulate Rose Francis and Sister Veronica Matthews as this year's recipients of the Cape Breton Health Leadership Awards and wish them continued success.

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 Annapolis.

RESOLUTION NO. 3969

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

Whereas the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and the board's private carrier in Kings County, DRL Vacations Limited, were presented with a 2001 Nova Scotia Pupil Transportation Gold Achievement Award at the Nova Scotia Pupil Transportation Conference held in Dartmouth on May 7th; and

Whereas the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board district foremen, mechanics, and school bus drivers, supervised by the board Coordinator of Transportation, Mr. Murray Goulden, competed for gold, silver and bronze awards based on provincial committee evaluation of training, accident reports, preventative maintenance programs, cleanliness and compliance with provincial legislation; and

[Page 10283]

Whereas the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board scored 198 points out of a potential 200 points in the competition;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate Mr. Goulden and his transportation staff for receiving the 2001 Nova Scotia Pupil Transportation Gold Achievement Award.

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 Hants East.

RESOLUTION NO. 3970

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

Whereas the nature of volunteer jobs is such that a little donation of time can go a long way to help the particular cause; and

Whereas Ms. Sherri Bond, a mother of two boys and full-time employee of the National Research Council, has still found the time to wear at least nine different volunteer hats for various local community groups; and

Whereas Ms. Bond was awarded recognition for her noteworthy contributions by the Municipality of East Hants on April 26, 2002;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House of Assembly join with the Municipality of East Hants in recognizing the wonderful and tireless volunteer efforts of Ms. Sherri Bond.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[Page 10284]

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 Richmond.

RESOLUTION NO. 3971

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

Whereas Dalhousie University has played a crucial role in Nova Scotia higher education; and

Whereas building on a strong undergraduate base, Dalhousie has established internationally recognized programs of graduate and professional studies; and

Whereas during the Spring convocations during the week ending May 24th, over 2,300 students will graduate from Dalhousie University;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House extend their congratulations to the graduating class of 2002 from Dalhousie University and wish them continued success in all future endeavours.

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 Pictou East.

[Page 10285]

RESOLUTION NO. 3972

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

Whereas the Town of Westville, under the capable leadership of Mayor Sandy Cyr and council, is moving ahead in a promising and aggressive fashion; and

Whereas a mini construction boom is underway in the town, with 23 new homes being built in the town last year and plenty of exciting opportunity along Cowan Street existing; and

Whereas during the 2000-01 fiscal year, the town finished with a small surplus of almost $1,500 while paying nearly $60,000 on its debt, which is now down to $73,000, a considerable reduction from the $352,000 debt which existed only a few years ago;

Therefore be it resolved that MLAs in this House of Assembly extend our congratulations to Westville Mayor Sandy Cyr and his council and all the residents of Westville as they look towards more prosperity and wish them every success with future endeavours.

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 Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.

RESOLUTION NO. 3973

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

Whereas the winners of the Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Awards were announced this past Saturday at a celebration held at Alderney Landing Theatre in Dartmouth; and

[Page 10286]

Whereas the Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Awards is a literary program designed for young readers in Atlantic Canada; and

Whereas more than 10,000 young readers in 342 reading groups participate in the program by reading nominated books and voting for their favourites;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate the many young readers, the winning authors, the organizers and sponsors of the Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Awards for their combined efforts to promote and advance reading and literacy skills among school-age children in Atlantic Canada.

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 Cape Breton The Lakes.

RESOLUTION NO. 3974

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

Whereas under the leadership of Millbrook Chief Lawrence Paul, the Truro Power Centre recently signed a deal with Empire Theatres to build a seven-cinema complex to serve the Truro area; and

Whereas this new cinema will result in 100 construction jobs and about 40 jobs being created inside the theatre, as well as the economic spinoffs that will result in the Truro area; and

Whereas Chief Paul has been aggressive in pursuing this deal and has done much for the Millbrook community, which he serves as chief;

[Page 10287]

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate Chief Lawrence Paul for his success in signing a deal with Empire Theatres that will result in a seven-cinema complex built in the community of Millbrook to serve the entire Truro area.

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 Colchester North.

RESOLUTION NO. 3975

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

Whereas Grade 12 student Cornelia van den Hoek of Economy, Colchester County, was presented last month with the Co-Op Atlantic Standing Ovation Youth Member of the Year Award; and

Whereas Cornelia was nominated for the award for her outstanding work with children, which included the establishment of a 4-H Group in Economy; and

Whereas besides the creation of the Glooscap Trail 4-H Club, which presently has 31 members, Cornelia also saw the need for children's swimming lessons in her local area and taught two-week-long swimming courses in three separate communities last summer;

Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly recognize the invaluable contributions made by Cornelia to her local area and wish her every success as she graduates from high school this year and enrolls in a pre-veterinary program at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College this fall.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[Page 10288]

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.

RESOLUTION NO. 3976

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

Whereas a new board of directors was recently elected for the Prospect Peninsula Residents Association; and

Whereas this non-profit organization serves the communities of Prospect and Prospect Bay; and

Whereas these volunteers continue to give leadership to community projects such as the Prospect Village wharf and trails development;

Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly congratulate Teresa Kiley and the members of the Prospect Peninsula Homeowners Association for the initiative they have shown in their community.

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 Glace Bay.

[Page 10289]

RESOLUTION NO. 3977

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

Whereas last Wednesday the newly renovated Glace Bay Food Bank was on display to the general public; and

Whereas the renovations were made possible through monies from the National Homelessness Initiative; and

Whereas the enhancements have made providing services much easier for staff and volunteers;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House acknowledge the dedication and hard work of the staff and volunteers of the Glace Bay Food Bank who contribute countless hours to help those less fortunate.

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. 3978

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

Whereas the Dartmouth City of Lakes Chorus captured the Roger G. Cooper Trophy as the top chorus at the annual division competition and convention held at Horton District High School on May 3rd and May 5th; and

[Page 10290]

Whereas based on the points awarded to the Dartmouth chorus by the panel of international judges, the chorus is also eligible to compete in the northeastern district competition to be held in Lake Placid, New York, in October; and

Whereas the Dartmouth City of Lakes Chorus' win comes just four weeks after it took part in the spring show and harmony festival celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Dartmouth-Halifax ferry system;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate the Dartmouth City of Lakes Chorus on winning the Roger G. Cooper Trophy and wish its members well as they compete at the international level.

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 Hants East.

RESOLUTION NO. 3979

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

Whereas a volunteer can utilize a particular hobby, love or skill to provide assistance to others; and

Whereas Ms. Penny Singer uses her love for, and skill in, newsletter design to further the goals of the Building Blocks Family Resource Centre in Kennetcook; and

Whereas Penny Singer received heartfelt thanks and recognition for her wonderful efforts from the Municipality of East Hants on their awards night, April 26, 2002;

[Page 10291]

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House of Assembly join the Municipality of East Hants in recognizing and congratulating Ms. Penny Singer for volunteering her skills in support of the Building Blocks Family Resource Centre in Kennetcook.

[2:30 p.m.]

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 Richmond.

RESOLUTION NO. 3980

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

Whereas Saint Mary's University has a strong commitment to meeting community needs and an equally strong tradition of emphasizing excellence in teaching and research; and

Whereas Saint Mary's is primarily an undergraduate university offering degrees, diplomas and certificates in the Faculties of Arts, Commerce, and Science; and

Whereas during the Spring Convocation of May 24th, over 1,050 students will graduate from Saint Mary's University;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House extend their congratulations to the Class of 2002 from Saint Mary's University and wish them continued success in all their future endeavours and programs, and great success in the future.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[Page 10292]

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 Bedford Basin.

RESOLUTION NO. 3981

MS. MARY ANN MCGRATH: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the member for Kings North, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas each year during the Apple Blossom Festival a blossom queen is chosen from among princesses representing several apple-growing communities based on character, poise and personality; and

Whereas at the Princess Candlelight Dessert Party, Patricia Hamm was crowned Princess Port Williams; and

Whereas Patricia, a graduate of Horton High, Class of 1999, and the Nova Scotia Community College's Food and Beverage Management Program, is currently working at Canadian Tire and volunteering with the Lions and Lioness Club in Port Williams;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Patricia Hamm and wish her every success and happiness in her future.

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.

[Page 10293]

The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.

RESOLUTION NO. 3982

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

Whereas powerlifter John Fraser was named Cape Breton's Male Athlete of the Year; and

Whereas Mr. Fraser was a silver medalist in the 181 lb. Class at the Canadian Powerlifting Championships in March; and

Whereas the award was presented during the 5th annual Cape Breton Heritage Awards Dinner at the Nova Scotia Community College, Marconi Campus;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Mr. John Fraser on being recognized as Male Athlete of the Year and wish him continued success.

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: Question Period will begin at 2:33 p.m. and end at 3:33 p.m.

The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

[Page 10294]

COMMUN. SERV. - RESOURCES/STAFFING:

INADEQUACY - EXPLAIN

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, today the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union, which represents caseworkers in the Department of Community Services, released a report on caseload overload in Nova Scotia. The details of this report are disturbing. Among the many areas of concern are the high number of caseloads, the many hours of overtime logged by workers, and the lack of concern for the safety and well-being of caseworkers. I want to ask the Minister of Community Services, why is his department allowing its front-line workers to burn out from stress caused by inadequate resources and staffing?

HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, I did receive the report the honourable member refers to; I received it this morning. We certainly will be having a look at it, having a look at all the implications, and then deciding our course of action after that.

MR. DEXTER: Well, Mr. Speaker, more than 100 caseworkers from across the province were interviewed. They reported that cutbacks to social service agencies and departmental resources have had a huge impact on their ability to help their clients. One caseworker is quoted in the report as saying that it is impossible to get the resources clients need in the community; people are placed at risk because we can't get them what they need.

Now, my question to the Minister of Community Services is, how much longer are you willing to allow Nova Scotians to be put at risk?

MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, we certainly aren't going to have Nova Scotians put at risk. I think back, and I would remind the honourable member, a year and a half ago, we looked at the caseworker/caseload ratios, and we did add the 71 other social workers. I will also remind the honourable member that just recently we have added six new overtime-hour workers in Dartmouth for that very reason, to balance the caseloads.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, here's the result. One of the caseworkers says, we are supposed to see clients within a certain amount of time. Files end up lying around, and this is a liability issue. There are some as old as three months, without having been addressed. Financial liability is only part of the potential problem, workers say that they and their clients are devalued. I want to ask the Minister of Community Services, when are you going to respect these workers and the people they represent?

MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, as I indicated to the honourable member before, supporting those workers is what we have been doing. The additional 71 caseworkers, with the addition of the six workers, moving some people over to Children's Aid in Halifax was simply to make sure that we're trying to balance the caseload. My cursory look at the report today indicated that they were spending a lot of time doing paperwork and a lot of time looking at systems and moving paper around. I would remind the honourable member, that's

[Page 10295]

what our customer service delivery initiative was all about, supporting people with those initiatives.

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

SERV. N.S. & MUN. REL.: HFX. HBR. CLEANUP - PLANS

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. The Liberal Party has made a commitment to the people of the Halifax Regional Municipality. Unlike this government, a Liberal Government would agree to contribute $1 million a year to the Halifax Harbour cleanup for a 30-year period. My question to the minister is, we have made our intentions clear regarding the Halifax Harbour cleanup, what is your government going to do?

HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: Mr. Speaker, I want to remind the honourable member that had we not achieved a balanced budget in this province, they wouldn't be able to think of any kind of commitment in that regard. (Interruptions)

MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's positive response to a serious issue. In recent events, there have been strong indications the federal government is ready to make a commitment to the Halifax Harbour cleanup. The Infrastructure office has a $2 billion fund for major projects across the country. This may sound like a lot of money, but if this government doesn't act soon with some help for the municipality in their efforts to clean up Halifax Harbour, it will soon be gone. My question to the minister is, when is this government going to make a commitment to the Halifax Harbour cleanup, before they lose out on the upcoming opportunity from the federal government?

MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for the question. He quite correctly points to the existence of a federal infrastructure program in the amount of $2 billion, and I understand that the minister responsible for that is very interested in learning how that money might be spent constructively, and some of it, of course, is to be spent in this province. We are preparing to enter into discussions with HRM with a view to proposals relative to that fund as well as proposals with respect to the harbour cleanup, but we also want to address with HRM a number of other issues that are very important to the people of HRM and of this province, relative to the Capital District. We would want to include all of those in those discussions, and they will be taking place in the very near future.

MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, a lot of words but said nothing. The minister on a previous day indicated to members of this House that he was not aware of the $1 million-a-year for 30 years option that was presented by HRM to the province. This government should know that this project may not go ahead until the Government of Nova Scotia confirms its cost-sharing arrangements with the Halifax Harbour Solutions Project. My question to the

[Page 10296]

minister is, what is your government's commitment going to be, in terms of the cost-sharing, with the Halifax Harbour cleanup?

MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Speaker, the answer to that question is one that will be arrived at through discussions with HRM. As I indicated, they will take place in the very near future.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

COMMUN. SERV. - CASEWORKERS: SAFETY - JEOPARDY

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, our caseworkers in this province are at risk. They are constantly sent out alone to visit clients in their home because they are too busy to work in pairs. The caseworkers do these calls cold, with no warning system in place to identify the risk of violence. Workers interviewed in an NSGEU study on caseloads indicated that they are afraid that an angry client will assault them. I want to ask the Minister of Community Services, how can his department allow the safety of caseworkers to be jeopardized every day?

HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, I do want to draw the honourable member's attention to the program that we have with the Children's Aid Society, which asked Community Services a year ago if we would relook at the roles and responsibilities that we have. A group with children's aid and a group with the department have been working on that, They have been working on how we are going to proceed on that in the future. That report is expected to be ready in the very near future and that addresses a whole series of issues, such as the one the honourable member is raising.

MR. DEXTER: Well, Mr. Speaker, one worker is quoted in this report as saying, "Workers are alone when they meet families for the first time. Surprise visits means that workers can get surprised. The police would never do what we do." Another worker states, "Clients are angry. It is amazing that more doesn't happen to us." I want to ask the Minister of Community Services why he won't admit that budget cuts are equating to sloppy safety regulations for his department's employees.

MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, there are no department budget cuts in the area of child protection. There are no budget cuts in the area of income support. There are no budget cuts in the area of funding for children's aid and there are no budget cuts in the area of adult protection. We have been maintaining the money in there. We have been looking at ways to deliver those services and we will continue to do that.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I have no idea why the Minister of Community Services wants to continue to ignore this problem. Employees report that attempts to address health and safety issues are met with stonewalling by management. Nothing has been done to ensure

[Page 10297]

that caseworkers are safe. My final question to the Minister of Community Services is this, will it take a serious injury of a caseworker before action is taken to protect these employees?

MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, as I indicated to the honourable member, we constantly keep looking at the caseloads, we constantly keep looking at the demands on the caseworkers, and we constantly keep meeting with the Children's Aid Society to meet the needs that they have. It is our attempt to meet those needs because we place the needs of children and those people in a high priority.

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

PET. DIR. - E. COAST PREMIERS: CONF. - BOYCOTT EXPLAIN

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister responsible for the Petroleum Directorate. An editorial last weekend said it all. "THANK HEAVENS Nova Scotians had U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci to look out for some of our oil and gas interests in New Brunswick this week." I want to table that editorial from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. It said, "Too pooped to pipe up, or show up THANK HEAVENS Nova Scotians had U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci to look out for some of our oil and gas interests . . . This lack of high-level political participation from Nova Scotia - whose gas, after all, was the focus of the meeting - did not go unnoticed or unremarked by those players who did come." Well, it is good that someone was looking out for our interests there because we know the Premier and the Minister responsible for the Petroleum Directorate weren't. Last fall, the Conservative Government announced its energy strategy with much fanfare; however, the strategy is pretty short when it comes to detailing how to derail a neighbouring Premier's Canada-first agenda. My question to the minister is, can the minister tell us how close consultation was achieved last week when he and the Premier decided to boycott an energy conference of East Coast Premiers?

[2:45 p.m.]

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, there are any number of these conferences that are held and any time decisions are made about what will happen to gas, it will involve a hearing process. The National Energy Board will be the hearing process that will ensure that Nova Scotians have an opportunity to present their case.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, that sounds familiar. The Laurentian Sub-basin was the same story in here and now there are more excuses - no-show from this government to discuss the future of our own gas. My first supplementary is, the energy industry is rightfully concerned about the no-show of the Premier and the minister. As the editorial goes on to say, the ". . . lack of high-level participation from Nova Scotia - whose gas, after all, was the focus of the meeting - did not go unnoticed or unremarked . . .". It goes on to add that the players, ". . . constituted a who's-who of parties with an interest in Sable

[Page 10298]

gas." What do we have? No department, no minister, no deputy and no-shows for the Premier and the part-time minister. My question to the minister is, industry thought the absence of you and the Premier projected a bad image of the importance of our oil and gas to our future. Do you dispute their view?

MR. BALSER: Mr. Speaker, again, the fact that we were not there does not speak at all about our position with regard to gas. There is a process that will be undertaken to ensure that Nova Scotians have an opportunity to present their information in the appropriate venue.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, those empty words are coming from a minister who doesn't have a clue about his department or where that department is going or, indeed, about Nova Scotia's energy strategy for the future. I also want to table for the House, from the same paper, The Chronicle-Herald - it's titled "It's time for the Hamm Tories to puncture Bernard Lord's gas arguments" I will table that. My final supplementary is - and I will make it easy for the minister - let's pretend it's last week, Mr. Minister, and you didn't give up the chance to tell Bernard Lord to his face what you think of his proposal. My question to you, Mr. Minister, is, enlighten Nova Scotians; how strongly do you disagree with Premier Lord and how do you plan to get that across since you missed your best chance?

MR. BALSER: Mr. Speaker, the fact that we have a gas industry in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada is direct result of the fact that the pipeline travels to the United States. By the same token, Nova Scotians and Atlantic Canadians should have access to their gas and they will.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

ECON. DEV. - GOLF COURSE (ANNA. VALLEY):

INVESTMENT - EXPLAIN

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. The minister invested $1.4 million of public money in a failed golf course in the Annapolis Valley. I want to be clear that this wasn't a payroll rebate, rather it was a straight loan, exactly the kind given to MacTimber Ltd. and Dynatek. The honourable member for Kings West has admitted he helped arrange this loan for his personal friend, Gerry Fulton. I would like the Minister of Economic Development to explain to us and the people of Nova Scotia why he thought that investing $1.4 million of government money in a golf course was such a good idea?

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, certainly the MLA for Kings West acted in the same way that members opposite act when they try to lobby on behalf of - not necessarily lobby, but present cases on behalf of and ensure that meetings are held. In terms of a loan, in order to grow the economy, we need to support business initiatives. In this case, a loan was made with the expectation that it would be repaid. Unfortunately, the business climate

[Page 10299]

changed and we made the decision that we would not continue to finance that particular golf course.

MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, on the subject of responding to constituents or responding to questions that are put, I would like to table a letter written by the current Minister of Economic Development back on October 13, 1998, to one Matthew Boates, owner of the Sackville Golf Course. In it the minister says that, "The financing of golf course development in the province of Nova Scotia should be left in the hands of private investors." My question to the minister is, what caused you to break a personal commitment and invest $1.4 million of public money in a failed golf course?

MR. BALSER: Mr. Speaker, the decision to support that particular business case was given careful consideration. The business case was weighed and a decision was made to forward a loan. Unfortunately, in this particular instance, the business was not able to meet its obligations and as a result was placed in receivership.

MR. EPSTEIN: I think what that deconstructs as that was then this is now. Of all the things the member for Kings West could have lobbied for, he chose his buddy's golf course. Well, you know, he could have pushed for $1.4 million for the Valley DHA so it could maintain more beds in the Annapolis hospital. He could have pushed for funding to maintain beds and services at Soldier's Memorial Hospital, instead, he got the Minister of Economic Development to invest $1.4 million in his buddy's golf course. What I would like to know from the minister is, when he sells the golf course, will he make sure that the province gets its money back, upfront, so it can be invested in things that matter, like health care in the Valley?

MR. BALSER: Contrary to what that member would have anyone believe, in order to have the money for health care, education or social assistance, you have to increase the revenue stream of the province. Decisions are made to support business initiatives and in this case the province is a secured creditor. We have to wait to see what happens through the receivership process before we know, in fact, how much money will come back to the province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

HEALTH - TOBACCO STRATEGY (2001):

MIN. - AGREEMENT CONFIRM

DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. As the minister is aware, the comprehensive tobacco strategy he released back in October 2001, called for smoke-free public places legislation, not only because of reduced exposure to second-hand smoke, but it plays a role in the prevention and cessation of tobacco use. It's also important to note for the record that the minister and the Premier both endorsed this

[Page 10300]

report. My question to the minister, does the minister agree with his own report which states smoke-free public places legislation would play a role in prevention and cessation of tobacco use?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, yes.

DR. SMITH: Statistics show that if the rate of smoking remains at today's rate, more than 65,000 children and young people will become regular smokers. It would appear that the prevention aspect of smoking is almost as important as protecting everyone, including workers in the workplace and second-hand tobacco smoke. My question to the minister is simply, could the minister please indicate whether he had considered the positive impact smoke-free public places legislation has on prevention and cessation of tobacco use?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I think that the fact that legislation was part of our comprehensive tobacco strategy would certainly indicate that our government does take that position.

DR. SMITH: What the minister is really doing is adding to the allure of smoking by putting it behind closed doors. Separate smoking rooms give a special status to smoking for young people. A smoking ban makes it socially acceptable to smoke in public places. It's that simple. My question to the minister, why is the Minister of Health content to add to the allure of smoking when he has one final chance to make it socially unacceptable?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, the government endorsed a seven point comprehensive tobacco strategy. There are a number of elements to it and, as we've said on many occasions, tobacco strategy is an integrated set of conditions; any one thing by itself is probably not going to do the job, but the seven elements we believe will significantly reduce tobacco use in this province and exposure to second-hand smoke.

I think this may be an appropriate time for me to table a bill, a former bill, proposed by one of the former Health Ministers, dated 1995, that never went any place. It was by the Liberal Party.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

ECON. DEV. - VALLEY VISTA: ADDT'L. FUNDING - EXPLAIN

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, we heard a moment ago from the Minister of Economic Development that Valley Vista had built a good business case, but I want to table documents to show just how this whole thing rolled out. In the Spring of 2000, the Minister of Economic Development poured $925,000 into Valley Vista. Just one year later the minister handed Valley Vista another $450,000. That second loan was made after it had become very apparent that the course was in serious trouble as it was running up debt all over

[Page 10301]

the local area. In fact, less than a month after the second loan, a company filed a $75,000 mechanic's lien against Valley Vista. What I would like to know from the minister is why he would choose to hand a company that was clearly failing an extra $450,000 of taxpayers' money?

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, the initial loan was made on the basis of a business case. Unfortunately, as they proceeded, they were not able to get fully operational so the province had to make a decision whether or not it made economic sense to try to assist the golf course through a difficult time with a view that keeping people employed and perhaps creating long-term viability would make sense.

MR. EPSTEIN: Well, a good business case, my Aunt Fanny. This was a political deal arranged by the member for Kings West. The Minister of Economic Development broke a personal commitment and invested $925,000 and then another $450,000 in this failed venture. Mr. Speaker, this was all done at the same time that the government knew the Valley Health Authority would have to cut beds and services in order to meet its small deficit. My question to the Minister of Economic Development is this, why did your government choose politics and golf courses over health care in the Annapolis Valley?

MR. BALSER: If we were to follow the advice of the member opposite, we would simply cut and close down all government departments with the exception of the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the Department of Community Services. The reality is the only way that we can continue to solve the problem for the long term is to balance the budget and create economic opportunities that will grow revenue. That's the way it is in the real world.

MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, in this real world this government chose Valley Vista over Valley Regional. It chose golf courses and the pals of the member for Kings West over Soldier's Memorial and the Annapolis hospital, but now the minister's department is in full cover-up mode and is refusing to release the details of the arrangement under which the money was handed out to Valley Vista. What we need and what I'm asking the minster for today is to stop hiding information, will he give us, and I'm asking for it today, two letters, the letters of March 2, 2000, and April 11, 2001, which outline the details of the conditions of the two loans given to Valley Vista Golf Course? (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. BALSER: Mr. Speaker, the province is the secured creditor as is the federal government. A business decision was made to lend money. It was expected that money would be repaid with interest. It was a secured loan. It's now in receivership because at this juncture the province could not see putting additional monies at risk in light of the current situation.

[Page 10302]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Glace Bay.

HEALTH - SMOKE-FREE PLACES: DEPT. - CARRY OUT

MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. For the past few weeks the government has listened to a wide variety of health groups telling them what they want - a complete smoking ban is the only way to address the harmful effects of second-hand smoke in public places. Interestingly enough, this is a message similar to the one the Minister of Health is advocating on the departmental Web site and there are even suggestions for what those wanting a ban can do. If Nova Scotians access that site, some of the suggestions they'll find include supporting smoke-free businesses and writing letters to the government in support of smoke-free legislation.

Mr. Speaker, my question for the Minister of Health, by the government's own admission, second-hand smoking is a public health hazard, so my question is this, can the minister tell this House if he is telling people to support smoke-free places, then why isn't his department doing something to actually bring that about?

[3:00 p.m.]

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, the Liberal caucus seems to have a new appreciation of the deadly effects of smoking, considering they were in government for about five or six years and did absolutely nothing, including wimping out when it came to passing some sort of legislation. That's a group that should be standing up and praising this government, not standing there trying to make cheap political points.

MR. WILSON: Mr. Speaker, it's the minister's Web site, it's that government's dumb legislation that we're standing up against. My question is again to the Minister of Health. This minister repeats the same message about addressing the second-hand smoke problem by saying his government has brought in one of the strongest smoke-free bills in Canada yet, with the minister's own department Web site serving as a reminder of what the government views as a serious problem for workers, this minister continually fails to address the problem by bringing in a complete ban. If Nova Scotians go to the tobacco control strategy Web site and look up second-hand smoke, they will learn that there is no known safe level of exposure for second-hand smoke for anyone. My question to the Minister of Health is, given that the minister's own Web site contradicts the minister's actions, how can the Minister of Health now say that he's addressing the issue of workers who could be exposing themselves to second-hand smoke in public places?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, the minister's Web site does indeed support the minister's actions, which was the establishment of a comprehensive tobacco strategy, one aspect of which is legislation. We have tabled that legislation and hopefully it will be passed before

[Page 10303]

too long. Indeed, when that legislation is passed, more than 97 per cent of Nova Scotians will not be exposed to second-hand smoke unless they choose to be.

MR. WILSON: Mr. Speaker, let me tell you what we know. We know that working in a smoke-filled environment has about the same long-term effect on a person's health as smoking 10 cigarettes a day and restaurant workers have a 50 per cent higher risk of lung cancer than the general public. How do we know that? Because that is the Department of Health's message on its Web site. My question, for the Minister of Health is, in light of his Web site's suggestions, and advice and detailed information on how to address smoking, and second-hand smoke, why won't the Minister of Health reconsider his present departmental policy and bring in a complete smoking ban in this province?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to say that we do have a strategy to address the issue of smoking and second-hand smoke. I think it's working because I'm told there are two members of the Liberal caucus who have stopped smoking, and it's probably directly due to the strategy that we've put forward.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

HEALTH - N.S. REHAB. CTR.: CUTS - EXPLAIN

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, the cafeteria at the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre is closing, forcing patients, staff and visitors to eat out of vending machines or to travel through an underground tunnel to the VG site's cafeteria. Patients at the Rehab Centre are there because they have limited mobility due to brain injuries, strokes, and amputations. It's ridiculous to expect these patients to get themselves across the street in order to find something to eat. I want to ask the Minister of Health, why is he allowing such ridiculous cuts to patient services in our hospitals?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, the administration of the Rehabilitation Centre, as well as within the rest of the QE II complex and the Capital Health District is under the jurisdiction of that. I'm very confident that those who need food will be provided with it and will not only have timely access, but timely service.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, this isn't the first situation where patients in hospitals are getting crummy food and the Minister of Health knows that. The district health authority says they are closing the cafeteria because it's losing money. Since when are hospital cafeterias expected to make money, as money-making ventures, they're not McDonald's, they're a service to people who are too sick to travel to another building for food. So my question to the Minister of Health is, why would he allow patients to get such callous and thoughtless treatment in our hospitals?

[Page 10304]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, we're talking about hospital cafeterias and to say that hospital cafeterias should not break even or we should be subsidizing the meal cost of the public and members of staff and things like this I think is probably a statement the member may wish to reconsider.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I'm talking about patients who are sick, people who go to these facilities who may be there for an extended period of time while they're waiting for treatment and people who come and visit their loved ones - and I want to remind the minister that visiting family and friends can be very much a part of the healing process. Now, people in hospitals need quick access to food at the Rehabilitation Centre, not across the street. I want to ask the Minister of Health when is he going to stop offering McHealth care and provide the services patients in this province need?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, we have very good health care services in this province and I notice that in her initial question the honourable member for Halifax Needham did acknowledge that food service was available in that facility, albeit from machines.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Richmond.

JUSTICE - ABCs: APPTS. - DELAY EXPLAIN

MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, in 1999 this government campaigned on a commitment to take justice issues in this province very seriously. For the second time in as many years this government has once again left appointments to a crucial board to the eleventh hour. Members of the Human Resources Committee received an urgent letter from Alison Scott, Clerk of the Executive Council, stating that the Justice Minister needed two appointments made immediately asking that members waive their one week notice. The appointments were for the committee that deals with accused persons not found criminally responsible because of mental disorders. The letter goes on to say that the board may lose jurisdiction of reviewing two individuals found not criminally responsible if these appointments are not made. My question to the Minister of Justice is why have you once again left appointments to the Criminal Code Review Board to the last minute?

HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Actually, I appreciate the question from the honourable gentleman. What happened here is that there were people on the Criminal Code Review Board who were in a position to do the hearing, unfortunately, those are psychiatrists - and we're only talking about the psychiatrists - who had a conflict because they had dealt with that patient beforehand. So, Mr. Speaker, in order to give due process, we obviously had to put people in who didn't have a conflict.

MR. SAMSON: Well, Mr. Speaker, where the minister goes wrong once again is that the two appointments that they are looking to make are reappointments whose terms had expired and because of the minister's own incompetence weren't reappointed in a timely

[Page 10305]

fashion. Yet, when he got caught at the last minute, he begs the Opposition to waive notice so that he can appoint them to avoid further embarrassment that he has brought to this government.

Mr. Speaker, the minister should be reminded that in February 2001, just one year ago, a Sunday Cabinet meeting had to be hastily arranged to deal with this committee when the minister once again left appointing its chair up to the last minute. My question, again, to the minister, is after twice leaving the smooth and proper running of the Criminal Code Review Board to chance, how can the minister justify his sloppy handling of appointments to this important committee?

MR. BAKER: I think, obviously, the honourable member has a difficulty either in hearing or understanding. The difficulty is, Mr. Speaker, that these individuals who were on the Criminal Code Review Board, these psychiatrists who are quite capable of doing the hearings involved, for reasons beyond the control of anyone, had a conflict. It wasn't that there was a lack of members, it was a matter that the ones that were there were conflicted.

MR. SAMSON: I noticed it's confusing for the Minister of Justice, so I will try to make it simple for him. There is supposed to be a full complement of people appointed to this committee. The minister, because of his own incompetence and not even caring about this, let those appointments lapse and was left in a situation where only a small number of them still on the board could have those hearings, leaving himself that if there was a conflict, he would have to run at the last minute to try to put those reappointments through.

Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotians deserve better knowing that they have a government that takes issues around justice very seriously, but the Department of Justice has been aware that these vacancies had been coming and one of the applicants - in fact, wrote to the minister on January 23, 2002 requesting his re-appointment. It's obvious that the minister clearly is not taking these issues very seriously. My final supplementary is, will the minister commit to begin to take appointments to the Criminal Review Board seriously, along with every other board under his department and learn to appoint board members without having to ask the Opposition members to waive the rules of the Human Resources Committee?

MR. BAKER: Mr. Speaker, I find it very odd that the honourable member, who when they were in government, left almost every agency, board and commission with huge vacancies, would come and lecture us. The reality is, there was an adequate number of members to serve the public interest. A special situation arose and we dealt with it.

[Page 10306]

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

FIN. - SPECIAL ED.: FUNDING - DETAILS

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, my first question will be for the Minister of Finance. The Nova Scotia Teachers Union, on the weekend, passed a resolution to withdraw support for the Department of Education's special education policy. The teachers say the program is fine in theory but in reality there is a lack of funding to ensure inclusion is being promoted effectively in the classroom. In April I had asked the Minister of Education how much of the $20 million that had been suggested in her own report needed to be put in, would actually be in this year's budget. She told me I had to wait until estimates. So now I'm going to ask the Minister of Finance, how much new money is going into special education this year?

HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, in regard to the exact details, I would have to take that question as noted and I will endeavour to get back to the member in regard to that.

MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, some have said this isn't just a budget issue and I can agree with that. I will table a section of the government's own report on special education. It makes particular reference to the use of teachers' assistants and teachers. Between 1993 and 2000, the number of education assistants and special education staffing rose by 110 per cent, yet the number of teachers only rose by 3.4 per cent. So I'm going to ask the Acting Premier, why has the government failed to increase the number of specially trained teachers in this particular field to ensure that inclusion is working?

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: The Acting Premier was asleep at the switch . . .

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage on your question only, please. (Interruption)

MR. DEVEAUX: My question to the Acting Premier is, why has the government failed to increase the number of specially trained teachers in this particular field to ensure that inclusion is working in the classroom?

MR. RUSSELL: I'm Acting Premier, I'm not Acting Minister of Education so I would take that question under advisement.

MR. DEVEAUX: When the teachers union withdraws support because the government is not truly providing a much-needed program, that is a cause for concern. I will table another section of the special education report in which a teachers' focus group said no one wants to go back - inclusion is better. Could the Deputy Premier tell the House what steps his government is taking to address the requirement to support students with special needs so

[Page 10307]

that teachers and parents can again feel some confidence that the government truly does support inclusion in the classroom?

MR. RUSSELL: The government does support inclusion, but unlike the NDP who believe that every problem that exists in the world can be solved by throwing money at it, this government thinks differently.

[3:15 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

FIN. - TAX CUT MODIFICATION: PREMIER - NOTIFICATION DATE

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Finance. On what date did he inform the Premier that his 10 per cent tax cut across the board had, using his own words, been modified?

HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, I don't have my day book here with me, but I do want to point out to the member opposite that during my estimates last year - I'm talking about last Spring - we pointed out, when questioned as to whether or not it would be across the board, I indicated at that time that it would not be. However, we still tell Nova Scotians that the 10 per cent tax cut that they're looking for will be coming down as part of next year's budget.

MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, to the Minister of Finance again, the minister can cite some mumblings that he made in the House while doing estimates as being a major policy announcement or policy shift of the government. I don't recall anybody announcing there was a policy shift of the government. Can the minister state at what time he and the Premier discussed the changes, and be kind enough to state when they discussed the modification of a major policy position that the Premier announced during the election of 1999 when the 10 per cent tax cut across the board was in fact what he said and not what is being modified here today?

MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, we have a difference of opinion. The member opposite is saying there is a major policy shift and I disagree with that. The fact of the matter is that we were talking about giving some tax relief. One of the reasons that we're having this debate today, talking about having tax relief for Nova Scotians, is because we have balanced the budget. Without having balanced the budget, there would be no discussions. That's why they never had the discussion when they were in government.

MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, it's clear that the Minister of Finance did not discuss this with the Premier, or else he's hiding the Premier from the fact he might have told him and the Premier probably forgot. There's a policy shift in the government of the day. My final

[Page 10308]

question to the Minister of Finance is, can the Minister of Finance at least explain to this House when he informed his caucus members there had been a major modification in the policy issue of a 10 per cent tax cut across the board? When did you explain it to your own caucus, Mr. Minister?

MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, there has been no major policy changes. We have told Nova Scotians they would get tax relief in year four and they will. The fact that our caucus colleagues formed part of this government means that they will be in a position to deliver tax relief. The Party opposite is in the House demanding we give tax relief, while their Leader is outside of this House saying we shouldn't give tax relief. I know where I'm going. What I don't know is where in God's name they're going.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

HEALTH - MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES:

INADEQUACY - RECOGNIZE

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for men and women in Nova Scotia, according to a recent study done by Dalhousie University and the Department of Health. More than 90 per cent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder. Today we heard from the government employees union showing that Community Services are overloaded, adding to the mental health crisis. My question for the Minister of Health is, two years ago your department called for specific and immediate action in its review, A Time for Action. I want to know from the minister, when are you going to recognize that mental health services are entirely inadequate and initiate some action from your department?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I can tell the honourable members of this House that probably in about 10 years the single, most-frequently diagnosed illness among Nova Scotians and Canadians may very will be something to do with mental illness. It is a very serious problem. Our department will, in very short order, be announcing some measures which will strengthen our initiatives in mental health. I talked about it in the House, I think it was last week. Hopefully, before absolutely too long, we will have an announcement about improvements in adolescent mental health.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I will table a document I have obtained through the Freedom of Information Act that shows in-patient time for mental health patients in this province has been reduced by 85 per cent since 1993. Meanwhile, the Department of Health says needs aren't being met in the community and housing is a major concern. Anyone can connect the dots - there is little hospital support and little community support and this means more people are on the street and more people are in crisis. My question to the minister is, you said you're going to introduce a new program, how will it improve community mental health services in the next year?

[Page 10309]

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, the honourable member talks about the reduction in the number of hospital beds for mental health patients and that is a good thing. It reflects the changes in the approach to delivery of mental health services, including the increase in the improvement in pharmaceuticals. It is a good thing that the number of beds in our mental health facilities, and particularly the Nova Scotia Hospital, has been able to decrease and this means that people are getting more and better service in communities than ever before.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, the minister is wrong, it's not a good thing if people need mental health services on an acute care basis and they can't get into any facilities. I can tell the minister, based on my own experience as MLA in the north end of Halifax, that's precisely the case. In spite of the crisis this government continues to neglect mental health services, yet one in five Canadians will be affected by a mental illness in their lives, suicide is a leading cause of death, and two-thirds of the homeless suffer mental illnesses. My final question to the minister is, what steps will you take to provide immediate mental health support?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, as I said last year when we had the Bland-Dufton report, we took it very seriously. At the present time there is a committee comprised of health care professionals from my department working with members of the staff of Community Services and other appropriate people and we will be announcing steps in the not-too-distant future.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

HEALTH - MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES: PLANS - DETAILS

DR. JAMES SMITH: My question also is to the Minister of Health, on a similar matter. We all agree that any suicide in Nova Scotia, any suicide is a tragedy. According to the study that was just mentioned, the joint Department of Health and Dalhousie University report released last week, suicide has been described as a silent epidemic that translates into 108 deaths here in Nova Scotia yearly. At the national level, over 4,000 Canadians commit suicide annually. My question to the minister is, can the minister detail what long-term mental health service plans his department is working on that could help address the suicide rate in Nova Scotia?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the honourable member is correct. Suicide is becoming a more frequent problem and there are a variety of things that contribute to that. The report to which the honourable member is referring was the report done, and it was released I believe it was last Wednesday or Thursday, talking about preventable deaths. One of the things that I guess I would say I talked to the media about, there was a recommendation in that report - actually I read a resolution on it earlier today - to stop referring to those preventable deaths as in accidents and refer to them in terms which I guess would raise public awareness of the problems.

[Page 10310]

DR. SMITH: Many times, Mr. Speaker, I would refer to them as failures of the system, a system that we have here in the province - infrastructure is not improving. From the comprehensive report on injuries in Nova Scotia, we learned the highest overall mortality rates in Nova Scotia were from motor vehicle collisions, fall-related injuries, and suicide. The highest of those in Nova Scotia were in the western region. We also learned that the western region, and we all know where that general area is, has the highest overall rates of all age groups when compared to the other regions, a major impact area. Interestingly, on the same day we learned of those results, we also learned that the Yarmouth Regional Hospital is losing the only psychiatrist from its 16-bed mental health unit at the end of August. My question to the Minister of Health is, we hear there is someone interested in the available position, but will the minister explain what his department is actually doing to ensure that psychiatry will be available in that area, in the western area, before the end of August?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, the honourable member is correct. I've been told that the psychiatrist who currently operates from the Yarmouth Regional Hospital is thinking of leaving. I talked to the physician recruiting section in my department after I heard that. I can assure the members of this House, as well as the residents of the area that is served by that hospital, that we are doing everything in our power to see that that service would continue uninterrupted.

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his response on this most important issue in this area that really needs enhanced services, not further deterioration, in mental health, particularly. From exhaustive research we know that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in Nova Scotia amongst those 16 years old and over. While we currently have a shortage of psychiatrists throughout the Province of Nova Scotia, we also know that the Minister of Health has said he is currently examining the issue of adolescent mental health. My question to the minister is, can the Minister of Health just briefly indicate and outline what he plans to bring forward in the coming months to address the important issues impacting adolescent mental health?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, one of the positive steps that occurred last year was the establishment of a Chair in Adolescent Mental Health at Dalhousie University. As the honourable member would know, that particular thing was spearheaded by members of the public. We were pleased to lend our encouragement. We are working with the Department of Community Services on that Bland-Dufton report and will be announcing some things. We are accepting most - well, I won't say most. I don't want to get into the quantity thing. We are taking very seriously the recommendations in that Bland-Dufton report and will be implementing all of those that we deem to be practical.

[Page 10311]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

ECON. DEV. - VALLEY VISTA: SALE - CONFIRM

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if we might follow up with the Minister of Economic Development about the Valley Vista Golf Club. You may recall that when the government sold off, for $1, the Northumberland Links golf course not so long ago, it was explicitly on the basis that the government shouldn't be in the golf course business. I think that's a fair statement. With respect to Valley Vista, the new acquisition, I have received some information that suggests the creditors may have now been successful in selling Valley Vista. I would like to start by asking, can the minister confirm whether Valley Vista has now been sold?

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, certainly the receivership process was to find a buyer to recover as much of the investment as possible. It's quite likely that that golf course will have been sold, if it hasn't been already.

MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, of course, one wonders who might be the purchaser of this interesting asset. I wonder if the minister is prepared to confirm to this House who the purchaser is. Could it perhaps be a retired businessperson and former politician from the Valley, from the minister's Party? I would like to hear details from the minister.

MR. BALSER: Mr. Speaker, that particular asset has tremendous value, and there were a number of people who were interested in acquiring the asset. Who purchases it will depend on how much they're willing to pay.

MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, I would like it to be clear on the record that I asked the question first before answering it myself. It seems to be Mr. Moody who has purchased the golf course. I wonder if the minister would actually give us some details of the price and the terms and, in particular, whether the people of Nova Scotia will be recovering our $1.4 million in this sale?

MR. BALSER: Mr. Speaker, the way a receivership process works is a receiver is appointed who acts on behalf of the creditors and tries to recover as much of the investment as possible. I would hope that if Mr. Moody purchases it or some other business consortium purchases it, that we recover all of the money that was invested by the province.

[Page 10312]

[3:30 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

TRANSPORT. & PUB. WKS. - DIRECTIONAL SIGNAGE:

POSITIVE CHANGES - LIKELIHOOD

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. Last week I asked a question of the minister with regard to the directional signage issue in the province. As the minister knows, I've tabled in excess of 1,000 signed petitions from residents affected by the directional signage issue. The minister indicated to the House that the department was meeting with the real estate industry to try to find a solution. I indicated to the minister there's more than that affected - besides the real estate industry, there's also farm markets, nurseries, camps belonging to either churches or scouts or community groups and small business.

My question to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works is, can he inform the House whether or not any changes to the directional signage issue will be forthcoming in a positive way so that these small businesses and industries can actually be able to deal with directional signage in rural Nova Scotia?

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: The honourable member makes a very interesting observation in that there are a number of wrinkles within the signage regulations that are going to have to be ironed out. We recognized when we brought in the signage regulations that we were moving into an area that has always been contentious insofar as government action is concerned. It's not only confined to the Province of Nova Scotia - they've had the same problem in other provinces as well. The visual pollution that occurs on our highways without any regulations, I would suggest is completely unacceptable, but the difficulty is, to do something about it and temper the enthusiasm for getting away from all signage to having a sensible signage policy that accommodates the majority of those who must have advertising to continue their business.

MR. DOWNE: It's interesting that the government can put signs on when they're doing highway work by the minister, but when it comes to church camps and small business and farmers' markets, it is more than a wrinkle. My question to the minister, in trying to iron out these wrinkles, as you call them, will you assure this House that farm markets, nurseries, school camps and small business will also be treated fairly in dealing with these directional signs for rural Nova Scotians?

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

[Page 10313]

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 Third Reading.

PUBLIC BILLS FOR THIRD READING

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 109.

Bill No. 109 - Financial Measures (2002) Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Finance.

HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, my comments will be brief. We've had considerable debate in second reading. I know that the Opposition is amazed I could do anything brief, but I'm going to try this time and simply move Bill No. 109 for third reading.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.

MR. GRAHAM STEELE: So here we are, third reading of the Financial Measures (2002) Act; the last piece of the government's budget. There has been some debate, not a great deal of debate because, as on most bills, the government sits there - as a columnist in today's Chronicle-Herald said - quiet and stony-faced. That was his description of the Tories sitting in the Law Amendments Committee. I stand here to say, it's the same over here, in the Chamber of the Legislature, sitting quiet and stony-faced, their arms crossed, waiting for time to run out because they don't want to speak to this. They don't want to stand up and defend it and say why these choices that they're making are good choices. They just know that if they sit quiet and stony-faced that the bill will eventually pass, that the Opposition doesn't have the power to stop it or even to amend it without the will of the government. All we can do is delay and so there they sit, and so there they sit.

Mr. Speaker, I think we all know government is about choices and the government will be known now and in history by the choices that it makes. This budget and this Financial Measures (2002) Act includes some good choices and some bad choices. I have a feeling that the government would say that shows that it's balanced, but it's not balanced when you make some good choices and some bad choices. There is no reason in the world why you can't make all good choices. This Financial Measures (2002) Act that has reached the final stage today contains a number of bad choices, choices that the government did not have to make.

[Page 10314]

Let me just run through the bad choices, Mr. Speaker, and run through them from the beginning of the bill to the end. The first one that we come across is the international adoption tax, adding a tax of $600 for people who want to adopt someone from another country. Now the government says that this is a user fee and that it is just designed to recover part of the costs of processing the paperwork. But even if that's true, they haven't said why they would pick on this service of all services in government. Of 10,001 things the government does for its citizens, why would they pick this one to levy a user fee to recover the cost?

Let's be very clear about one thing, according to the minister's own figures, at an average of about 35 international adoptions a year at $600 apiece, it raises $21,000. Now for a government running a $5.3 billion operation, that's a drop in the bucket; it's less than a drop in the bucket. It is a tiny fraction of 1 per cent of the government's overall budget. There are many, many other things that the government could do if all they were aiming to do was raise $21,000 more or cut $21,000 in expenses. I think we can all think of things right off the top of our heads, like spending $1.4 million on a golf course. This from a government, this from a minister, for that matter, who said that the government should absolutely not be in the golf course business. Golf courses are for private enterprise, he said. Well that was then and this is now.

This is the same government that a couple of years ago sold a golf course for $1. This was the Northumberland Links Golf Course that the government had taken over from a private operator. They doubled the size from 9 to 18 holes. They poured in $4 million worth of improvements and then what did they do? They turned around and sold it for $1. Now the government said at the time that they had no choice but to do that, that there was a contract. But that wasn't true, and we demonstrated that at the time, Mr. Speaker, because we actually got the contract and we said, that is not what the contract says. So this was a choice that the government made.

The minister at the time - who, as I recall, was the honourable member for Hants West - stood up and said government does not belong in the golf course business, and that was the explicit reason given by the Progressive Conservative Government for offloading this golf course for $1. He said government does not belong in the golf course business, and now we discover that the government has sunk $1.4 million into a golf course in the Annapolis Valley.

Why? We don't know why. Why have they changed their minds? Why is a golf course suddenly suitable for government investment after they unloaded a multimillion dollar golf course for $1? Now, apparently, because the owner is a friend of the honourable member for Kings West, the government finds $1.4 million to invest in a golf course, after they said that we just didn't belong in the golf course business. How did this happen? That's just the example that's on the top of our minds today, Mr. Speaker. In contrast to this, the government is raising $21,000 from an adoption tax.

[Page 10315]

As I said at the time in Committee of the Whole House on Bills, which isn't in Hansard so I will say it again in Hansard, this may be the most tragic direct decision that anybody in this government makes if it discourages one family from pursuing international adoptions - one family, one child from being adopted into Canada, a relatively prosperous and peaceful country - that's a tragedy and the government has yet to explain why they pick that service of government to levy this new tax. But all the members on that side of the House, when the time came to stand up or not, they all stood up in favour of the international adoption tax. That's a bad choice. That's a bad choice; it's the kind of bad choice that we've been talking about on this side of the House.

Then as you go through the bill, the next bad choice that they make is imposing a tax on information, raising Nova Scotia's freedom of information fees to the highest in the country. There are lots of things, Mr. Speaker, that we want Nova Scotia to be the first at, the best at and one of them is not - at least not on my list - to raise our freedom of information fees so that they are now the highest in the country. What analysis does the government have of the impact that this is going to have on the release of information? If they have any analysis at all, they haven't shared it with us in this House. They haven't shared it with the public. I believe on this, as on so many other things, that they really have no analysis at all. But what we do know from other provinces, particularly Ontario - another Conservative Government that raised the freedom of information fees - is that it will have a fairly dramatic impact, depressing the number of applications that come forward and the number of appeals.

In what, by any measure, is an extraordinary move, the freedom of information review officer in Nova Scotia appeared before the Law Amendments Committee speaking against this change and saying that already there was a noticeable drop in the number of appeals that he was being asked to hear. So the government knows it will discourage access to information. What the government may not be so clear on - and I will be so bold as to predict - is that this is going to lead to worse government in Nova Scotia.

The thing that this crowd over here can't seem to get into their heads is that freedom of information leads to better government, it leads to better decision making. When you're in government you have a choice. You can take the more difficult, the less travelled road and make good decisions, but that's difficult because it requires good analysis; it requires good consultation; it requires knowing what the implications of your decisions are and then making the choices. If they're difficult choices sometimes, well, then you have to make the difficult choices. But that's the less travelled road. The road much more travelled in Nova Scotia is for governments to make decisions without consultation, without analysis, without knowing what the implications are and then desperately trying to cover up, desperately trying to make sure that the people who elected them to government don't know why the decisions were made or what the implications are.

[Page 10316]

This government, Mr. Speaker, is boldly going where many governments have gone before. They're going down the more travelled road of trying to cover up, trying to discourage people from knowing what their government is doing, hiring more spin doctors so that the information will only come out the way the government wants it to come out and making it less easy for citizens to get information.

The statistics show that the largest user group of freedom of information is individual citizens, individual Nova Scotians who are trying to find out more about what their government is doing. This will discourage those citizens from filing freedom of information requests. It will discourage journalists from finding out what the Nova Scotia Government is up to. We know it will. The Canadian Association of Journalists, again in a fairly unusual move for this province, a national organization sent somebody down from Ottawa to say this is a bad move, this is the wrong way to go; it's bad for a free press and a free press is essential for democracy. That's a fact. This is going to make it more difficult for the press to do their job and when they do their job properly, it keeps us all free. I think that the Conservatives have forgotten that, the importance of a free press.

Mr. Speaker, the other thing about this is it, again, just like the international adoption tax, only raises a nominal amount of money, what I would call a symbolic amount of money. Whenever the minister is under attack for imposing this fee he says, well, it still only covers a fraction of the cost anyway. So the minister is more or less admitting that it's only symbolic, or in other words all it's designed to do is not actually cover the cost of the freedom of information system, but rather to discourage access. That's what this is designed to do; they know it is and we know it is. Because ironically, using freedom of information we discovered that the person driving this issue was the director of communications in the Premier's office, that's who the original request came from.

[3:45 p.m.]

Now what is the director of communications in the Premier's office doing driving the issue of a tax on information? Well the only logical explanation is that he knows, as we know, that part of what has exposed this government and the bad choices it's making is freedom of information. So part of his job, as one of the watchdogs for the Premier, is to make sure that the Opposition, journalists, and citizens don't get information about what the government is up to. It's quite simple really when you look at it that way. So it didn't come as much of a surprise to discover that, indeed, it was Dale Madill who is driving this, whose job it is to manage communications to make sure that stories only come out the way the government wants them to come out. So that's a bad choice.

Now, we've said - and I think even the Liberals have said - that if we become government these fees, this tax will disappear because we believe it's a bad idea. It's a bad idea and, more fundamental than that, we believe that freedom of information leads to good

[Page 10317]

government. It's the road less travelled, but it's a very necessary road for any government that wants to claim the mantle of good government.

Then as we move further into this Financial Measures (2002) Act, Mr. Speaker, we discover the government voiding contracts between hospitals and health services providers. How many? Where are they? We don't know. I stood up here in the Committee of the Whole House and I asked the minister those questions and he refused to answer, he just flat out refused to answer.

The member for Dartmouth South said that he knew the answers. Now the implication of that, Mr. Speaker, is a little bit frightening, because let's suppose that the member for Dartmouth South really does know the answers to my question - which is how many contracts with doctors are being avoided and where are they? - because the implication of that is that the minister is willing to tell only the members of his own caucus about the implications of a public policy choice that they're making, he won't tell the other members of the Legislature and he won't tell the public. He will make public policy choices and tell only the members of his own caucus what the implications are so that they can judge for themselves whether it affects them or not.

Now, as I stand here today, I have no idea whether this part of the Financial Measures (2002) Act will have an effect on my constituency. I asked the minister the question and he refused to answer it. He refused to answer the question: how many contracts are being avoided and where are they in Nova Scotia? He refused to say. That's a bad choice, Mr. Speaker, that's a very bad choice.

Then we get to another topic that has become close to my heart and that's the whole topic of ambulance fees. Mr. Speaker, I've stood up a number of times in this House and have raised important and serious concerns about the system of ambulance fees in this province. I, and my caucus, proposed an amendment to the Financial Measures (2002) Act that would have dealt with the worst of the features of the system of ambulance fees in Nova Scotia and this government, sitting quiet and stony-faced, refused to consider our amendment and so the system of ambulance fees in Nova Scotia goes forward, flawed as it is, unfair and unreasonable as it is at times. When I've raised it in this Legislature, the Minister of Health, instead of taking my concerns seriously, has caricatured them, has distorted them, has done everything except take seriously the very serious concerns that I'm raising.

There are several dozen people who have approached me, the MLA for Halifax Fairview, with concrete stories of how the ambulance fee system is unfair and unreasonable - not in every case certainly by no stretch, but there are certain examples of when the ambulance fee system doesn't work. One of them is double- and triple-billing. If two or three people get into an ambulance, each one of them will get a bill, even though Emergency Medical Care has gone to zero extra expense, they can stand to gain two times the regular bill or three times the regular bill.

[Page 10318]

Now, if a motor vehicle is involved, the bill is $500, and that means that EMC, Emergency Medical Care, can reap a windfall of $1,500 for one trip, even though the minister acknowledges that the cost per trip is only in the range of $600. Nobody has offered me one word of explanation for how that's fair, how that's reasonable. It surely wouldn't have a big financial impact on EMC, Emergency Medical Care, but the minister has refused to deal with that issue.

Then there's the issue of third party billing in ambulance fees. The system is based on a premise that in some cases is false. I've said it before and I will say it again, the system does not work the way the Department of Health believes it works. The minister stands up and says, well, that's not what I've been briefed. What I'm saying to him, very explicitly, is his briefing notes on this are wrong. They are wrong. He doesn't understand the way car insurance works in Nova Scotia, and his department doesn't understand the way car insurance works in Nova Scotia, because the whole premise of charging people this higher fee, the regular fee being $85 and the motor vehicle fee being $500, is that it can be passed along to a third party insurer.

Mr. Speaker, before the minister distorts and caricatures what I'm saying again, let me say I agree with that. He said I'm a socialist and I want to subsidize multinational insurance companies, and I want to tell the minister that that is the furthest thing from my mind, subsidizing multinational insurance companies. What I'm saying to the minister very explicitly is that there are cases where individual Nova Scotians are being made to carry the burden that is supposed to be imposed on these third party insurers. Far from trying to subsidize multinational insurance companies, I'm trying to make sure that they carry the burden they're supposed to carry.

Mr. Speaker, it wasn't that long ago that the minister stood up and waved his arms and said, oh, I must be talking about people with no insurance or people with terrible accident records. I've said it before and I will say it again, I'm talking about exactly the opposite. The people who suffer are the people with excellent driving records. If the minister and his department understood that, we would be some way towards fixing the problems we have with ambulance fees in Nova Scotia. The people who suffer today are the people with the best driving records, because if they submit an ambulance bill they lose their good driver discount. Those are the people that the minister doesn't seem to want to do anything for.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada has done its own part in leading the minister astray on this, because they said - and they said it in the paper - nobody's premium goes up just because they submit an ambulance bill. I'm here to tell the minister and this House that is not true. It is not true. The IBC will admit that to me privately, but they will not say it publicly. That's where the minister's briefing notes are flawed. What he and his department need to do is get on the horn with the Insurance Bureau of Canada and find out what's really happening out there, and what the IBC is doing is splitting hairs about what it means for the

[Page 10319]

premiums to go up. They're saying, well, the premium is not going up, it's just the good driver discount that people lose.

Mr. Speaker, for the ordinary Nova Scotian, they don't see any difference between those two things. The IBC is drawing a hair-splitting distinction between what we pay in premium and what we save on the good driver discount. They say that if you lose your good driver discount, your premium is not going up, but at the end of the day you're still paying more. So, for the average Nova Scotian, it's a distinction absolutely without a difference. That's the way insurance really works in Nova Scotia, and that's why it's the good drivers who are suffering under the system of ambulance fees the way it is administered today in Nova Scotia.

There is another group that is also suffering here, Mr. Speaker, but our amendment on this point was rejected by the government side and the minister has shown no indication that he's willing to do anything about it and that is people who receive a third party bill in the expectation that they will pass it on to a third party insurer. Now, the whole premise here is that the process is fairly seamless and people get their bill and pass it on to their insurer or another province or the Workers' Compensation Board and they will pay the bill and everybody's happy. That's not the truth. That's not what's really happening.

I have one case, one of the several dozen that I talked about who have approached me and these people live in the Minister of Health's own riding. This is a Nova Scotia family, but one of their daughters lived in Ontario long enough to get an Ontario Health Insurance Plan card. So she came back to Nova Scotia - she still has the OHIP card, but not the MSI card - and she got into some difficulty at home one day and had to be taken to hospital by ambulance. Instead of getting the regular $85 fee that a Nova Scotian would get, because she had an OHIP card she got a bill for $500, and as good citizens they did what they were supposed to do, they checked with OHIP and said will you pay this bill and OHIP said no, we will not pay this bill.

Let's bear in mind that the whole premise for this person getting a $500 bill was that Ontario would pay. But Ontario said, we will not pay this bill. This Nova Scotian woman, who lives in the Minister of Health's riding, is still stuck with a bill for $500.

It seems to me that the solution to this problem is simple and obvious. That is - and what we proposed on this side - where there is a third party insurer known to the province, that the province deals with them directly. That way, if Ontario pays, it's a government to government transaction and if Ontario refuses to pay, then the Nova Scotian only gets the bill for $85. That's the way that it should work. The way that it shouldn't work is that Nova Scotians get bills for $500 and then the third party insurer refuses to pay it and they're on the hook for the full $500. That's not their fault.

[Page 10320]

The Minister of Health, the other day in response to a question from somebody in the Liberal caucus - but I forget which member it was - noted that the department's or maybe it was EMC's computer system, could not deal with this issue of third party insurers and that's why the volunteer firefighters were getting the bill directly. It was up to them to pass it on to the liability insurer. Well, maybe that's what's going on here, because the solution to this is so simple and easy but this government still refuses to do it. I'm starting to wonder if it may not be that the computers have enslaved the ambulance system so that now the computers are dictating what we can and can't do. So instead of doing the right thing, instead of doing the fair thing, instead of doing the reasonable thing, we're doing what the computers allow us to do.

Mr. Speaker, in a place where I used to work I used to come across this occasionally where, instead of doing the right thing, people would say, but the computers won't let us do it. I will say to the minister what I used to say back then - who's in charge here? Are the people in charge or are the computers in charge? If it's the computers that are the problem, then change the computers. Remember, people still run the world, not computers. Computers don't tell us what to do, it's supposed to be the other way around. So, if this issue of third party payments is a computer problem then I think the minister should stand up and acknowledge that and tell us what he's going to do to change the computer systems.

We have a first-rate ambulance system in Nova Scotia; one of the best, if not the best, in North America and that's something we should be very proud of. We have excellent, dedicated, capable staff who serve Nova Scotians well every day and every night. This is not about them. This is about what happens after they've answered those difficult calls, this is what happens after they've delivered their patients to the hospital, this is what happens back at EMC's head office when they're deciding what bill to send out and to who. That's why this government needs to tackle the issue. They refuse to do it as part of this Financial Measures (2002) Bill, but I'm here to say that sooner or later, somehow or other, this government or our government or their government is going to have to deal with this issue, because right now it's not working.

[4:00 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, we continue on in the Financial Measures (2002) Bill and say what are the bad choices that they're making? The government has rejected the idea of a citizens' advocate to take the people's side at the Utility and Review Board hearing on insurance rates. It's a good idea to go to the Utility and Review Board, but I will tell you what the problem is. It's just like when we have rate hearings for Nova Scotia Power, when we have other kinds of Utility and Review Board hearings; the problem is that there is no one in Nova Scotia who can systematically and with adequate resources represent the voice of consumers.

[Page 10321]

You can believe that the big employers, the industry associations, the government and the energy suppliers are there; the one group that is consistently missing is the consumer, the average person, the regular Joe and Jane Consumers, who don't have anybody to speak for them at these hearings. We proposed a consumer advocate, funded not one penny by the government but by the industry, because if the industry is going to pay for the hearings, as they are, then they can pay for a consumer advocate. Again, the government said no.

The Nova Scotia Arts Council, it goes without saying, is a bad choice on the part of the government. For reasons still unclear, the government decided they were going to abolish a well-functioning Arts Council. Any reason the government has put forward has been quickly demolished by the Opposition, the former members of the Arts Council and artists across Nova Scotia. It's a choice that doesn't make sense. It's a bad choice.

The structure that the government is going to put in place is still unclear. It's very unclear to see how it could possibly save any money over the structure they abolished. It just seems, on some levels, to be little more than a personal vendetta of the minister, because if you explain it that way, you can at least explain how the government could make this kind of bad choice in the teeth of the evidence. Mr. Speaker, we've said, on this side of the House, and I think the Liberals have said too, that if we're in government, if they're in government, we will reverse this choice. It's a bad choice. The system was functioning well. There was no reason to change it. We will go back to where things were. We will make good choices.

Mr. Speaker, further down in the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, another bad choice, levying much higher taxes on Nova Scotia Power, which is a good thing because it's about time; they've escaped proper taxation for a very long time and, in fact, they're still not going to be paying market rates for taxation. But buried deep in the Nova Scotia Power provisions of the Financial Measures (2002) Bill there are provisions saying that the government just scoops up $2.5 million for itself. They've imposed a tax on Nova Scotia Power, ostensibly to benefit the municipalities, and then they turn around and say, oh municipalities, you know that amount that we just raised for your benefit? We're taking $2.5 million of that for ourselves.

That's what the Financial Measures (2002) Bill says. Just by coincidence? No, I don't think so. There are no coincidences here. That's just enough to cover the government's surplus. If they were to take that $2.5 million and actually distribute it among the intended recipients, the municipalities, many municipalities would be in a much better position to deliver necessary services to their citizens. I'm thinking here in particular of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and others that are still in some financial difficulty. Certainly the Town of Canso could benefit from some of this money. That's who the money was supposed to be for, but instead the government takes $2.5 million for itself and applies it to, apparently, just general revenue. That's the difference between this fictional surplus of the minister's and the deficit, this $2.5 million. That's a bad choice.

[Page 10322]

Finally, buried deep in the heart of the Financial Measures (2002) Bill is another bad choice of the government's raiding the accident fund of the Workers' Compensation Board. I saw a figure somewhere that they're raiding it to the tune of $1.1 million, but whether it's $1.1 million or $101 million, it doesn't matter. That accident fund is paid for 100 per cent by employers. It's meant to pay for workers' compensation costs, legitimate and valid workers' compensation costs, and instead when the government needs some money to produce a fictional surplus, they go and raid the workers' compensation accident fund. This is a fund that's already got a substantial unfunded liability.

How do you like that, Mr. Speaker, they take a fund with a substantial unfunded liability and do they put more money in it? No, they go and raid it. They take more money out of it for their own purposes. It goes into general revenue. How do you like that? I wonder if the employers in Nova Scotia realize that. So those are the bad choices and do you know the common thread that runs through them all is that there's not a single one of these choices that the government needed to make. They did not have to impose the international adoption tax; $21,000 by any measure, when you're running a $5.3 billion operation, is purely symbolic. It has to be done for another purpose because it's not for the purpose of raising revenue.

The freedom of information fees, they could have just left alone or dropped them, or started administering the Act properly, or stopped appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada when they lose in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. How much does that cost? I wonder if the Minister of Justice has told the Minister of Finance that. How much did it cost for them to hire an Ottawa lawyer from a big downtown Ottawa law firm to fight the poor NDP caucus office, with our limited resources, as we fought the good fight on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia and we didn't pay one extra penny because I did it, Mr. Speaker, I did it for nothing, I donated my time, didn't charge the NDP caucus a penny for representing them legally, didn't charge the Province of Nova Scotia a penny. So we fought the good fight for nothing and that government's response is to keep fighting after they lost at the review officer level. They lost at the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. They lost in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, but did that satisfy them? No, they had to go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to try to keep information from Nova Scotians that Nova Scotia's highest court said that Nova Scotians are entitled to see.

Now, if you want to talk about wasting money, Mr. Speaker, there's a good example right there. I'm willing to bet that that high-priced downtown Ottawa lawyer that that crowd over there hired to try to keep information secret cost more than they're going to raise in that international adoption tax. I bet that that lawyer is, in essence, going to pocket that adoption tax. That's a bad choice.

They didn't need to void these health provider contracts without telling us which ones they were. I've still got an open mind about that. I've got an open mind about a lot of things, but in order for me to make up my mind, I need information and I thought that as a member

[Page 10323]

of the Legislature I was entitled to that so that when the Government of Nova Scotia slaps a bill on the table and says these are the choices we're making, I thought on behalf of my citizens, who voted for me and who I represent, that I deserved the information about why they were making this choice and that's why last week I stood up in this Legislature and I put it to the Minister of Health, how many contracts are being voided by this clause and where are they in the province, and he refused to answer. That's a bad choice and maybe voiding these contracts is a good thing, but refusing to answer the most basic questions, like how many contracts and where, that's a bad choice.

Ambulance fees, I've raised serious issues about ambulance fees. They didn't have to reject the NDP's amendments. They didn't have to distort and caricature the very valid points that I put forward, but they have. That's a bad choice because these dozens of people who have come to me live in their constituencies. You know, one of the ironies of this whole ambulance fee issue that I've taken on, Mr. Speaker, is not a single one of the people who came to me live in my constituency, but I took it on as a matter of principle because the government was doing the wrong thing. They continue to refuse to do the right thing. They live in the constituencies of the members on that side of the House. Some of them live in the constituencies of the members on this side of the House, although not in mine. Some of them live in the constituencies of the members in the Liberal Party.

They live in their constituencies and still they've sat there quiet and stony-faced. No, they didn't, actually, they were making a big hullabaloo as I recall, which caused me regrettably to say a word that I had to retract, because they were actually carrying on quite a bit when I was talking about this issue last week. They weren't even sitting quiet and stony-faced that day, they were rather making light of it, I thought, and carrying on in a rather shameful way when I was raising these serious issues.

They didn't have to refuse a citizens' advocate; they didn't have to abolish the Arts Council; they didn't have to take a windfall tax from Nova Scotia Power; they didn't have to raid the accident fund - they didn't have to do any of those things, but they did. What did Nova Scotians get instead of good government? Well, I will tell you one thing they got is higher taxes. In this budget, including this Financial Measures (2002) Act, this from the government that promised no new taxes, they raised the tobacco tax - which is the one tax they said they might raise - the liquor tax, the gasoline tax, probate fees, fees on unlimited liability companies, the gypsum tax, the large corporations tax they extended, and then the most insidious one of all, the bracket creep, where they get higher tax revenues by stealth, simply by freezing tax brackets and credits.

Mr. Speaker, that's what we got. We got many higher fees. We got increases in Seniors' Pharmacare, increases in the fees charged by the district health authorities, increases in fees for freedom of information. As if those taxes and fees weren't high enough, the worst thing this government did in the Financial Measures (2002) Act and in this budget was hiding deficits. This government would like Nova Scotians to believe that they have slain the deficit

[Page 10324]

dragon and that is what they are going to be saying in the next election as they wave their tax cut around - the one they're trying to still figure out what they meant and they're going to figure out how to deliver a tax cut when one-third of all Nova Scotians are too poor to actually pay any Nova Scotia tax. I know they're still trying to figure that out on that side.

But they're going to be going to people's doorsteps, waving around the tax cut and saying forget everything we did over the last four years, here's a tax cut. What they want Nova Scotians not to realize is how they haven't killed the deficit dragon, all they've done is hide it; they've simply hidden it. Let me just go over some of the ways - and these are only a few of the most obvious ways - that they're still hiding the deficit.

One is post-secondary tuition. Now the Minister of Education may as well have signed the order herself because, when she refused to increase funding for universities in this province even by inflation, there was only one other place that universities could go to get money for their higher costs and that's students. So, one by one, each post-secondary institution in Nova Scotia has announced fairly hefty increases in tuition for students, but that didn't show up on their balance sheet anywhere because according to accounting rules they don't have to show it. But let's make no mistake about it, more Nova Scotians, young men and young women, and for adults going back to school, them too, they are going to discourage more Nova Scotians from pursuing a post-secondary education. That is what I call hiding the deficit, hiding the deficit in the homes of the people who would like to pursue that education but find out that they can't because of their personal finances. That's not dealing with the issue, that's hiding the deficit.

[4:15 p.m.]

The Children's Dental Program, another place that this group is hiding the deficit, not dealing with it. What they've said is that insurance companies will now be the first payer for Nova Scotia children's dental health. What they forgot to say or omitted from their budget documents is that this represents a fairly substantial download on Nova Scotia families, because I think we all know that there are no children's dental health programs that pay 100 per cent of every service. The government is not going to pick up anything that the private insurers do not pick up. If there is a deductible, if there's any other kind of fee, if there's any kind of co-pay, Nova Scotia families are now on the hook for that, something that the government used to provide at 100 per cent. How much of a download is that? We don't know. Sometimes I wonder if the government knows itself. How much of a download is this on Nova Scotia families?

Mr. Speaker, as a father of a child who is just on the eve of going to his first-ever dental appointment, this matters to me, it hits home to me, that whatever my insurance plan doesn't cover, my family is now on the hook for. Until this budget came down, that wasn't true, the province paid for it. How much of a download does that represent on my family? I don't know. I have no way of knowing. I don't think other Nova Scotia families know, and

[Page 10325]

I wonder sometimes if the government itself knows, since they seem prepared to make so many decisions without any kind of a proper analysis. This is just another one. They are downloading the deficit into the homes of Nova Scotia children, and that's not a place the deficit belongs, but that's where this government has put it.

They're hiding the deficit in our schools. I've said it before and I will say it again, the Minister of Education's own numbers, her department's own documents say that we have an infrastructure deficit in our schools of $500 million, $0.5 billion just to bring our schools up to standard. It's not to build palaces, it's not to make them as good as new, only to bring them up to the standard they would have been at if they had been properly maintained all along. This deficit is one that's been building for a long time. It certainly started under the Buchanan Government, it certainly continued under the Savage and MacLellan Liberal Governments, and it's continuing under this government. Our schools are falling apart, Mr. Speaker, they are falling apart.

It's interesting, there's a lot of people in Halifax Fairview, it's a very stable neighbourhood in some ways, and there are a lot of people who live in the neighbourhood, who went to the neighbourhood schools, and now their children are going to the neighbourhood schools. I can't tell you the number of times a parent has said to me, you know, that's school's not in the shape it was in when I went there. Their children are going to the same school they went to when they were children. They're not even talking about making the school as good as new, they're just pointing out to me all the different ways that the schools are falling to pieces.

This government's response to that is, is it to increase the school renovation budget? No, they cut the school renovation budget. So the infrastructure deficit marches along. Our schools continue to fall apart, our children will continue to get sick in our schools, all so this crowd can claim a balanced budget, but they haven't balanced the budget. All they've done is look very carefully at what has to be counted on the balance sheet, and anything that doesn't have to be counted on a balance sheet, like crumbling schools that make our children sick, they don't count. That doesn't mean they're not there, because they are there, but this crowd doesn't care because it doesn't have to show up on the balance sheet.

They haven't dealt with the deficit, they're hiding the deficit. They're hiding the deficit in our hospitals. We know that our hospitals' capital budgets are totally inadequate to get modern equipment and even to keep the buildings up to a regular standard. I'm not talking about building palaces, everybody knows we're not doing that these days. I'm just talking about keeping our hospitals up to a standard. We know that's not happening, not because we assert it and the government just denies it, as they routinely deny whatever we say, but it's the CEO of the Capital District Health Authority. Those are his words, that the capital budget for the Capital District Health Authority is, "totally inadequate" for them to do the job that they have to do; totally inadequate. That was after that person saw the capital budget that he

[Page 10326]

was going to be allocated for this year. So this government's not solving the deficit in our hospitals. They're only hiding it. They're hiding it in the hospitals.

What could we say about surgical waiting lists that hasn't been said before? Waiting lists as a result of this budget are going to get - are they going to get shorter? No, Mr. Speaker, they're going to get longer. Again, that's the CEO of the Capital District Health Authority saying that. I think that that person is in a position to know. He's in a position to say what the real life impact of this budget on his district health authority is going to be, and he says that waiting lists are going to get longer. So, this government isn't solving that deficit, they're hiding it. They're hiding the deficit in the home of every Nova Scotian and their families who is waiting for surgery. Because they know - that crowd over there - they know that surgical waiting lists don't have to be counted on the balance sheet of the province, so they don't count it. So, from a financial point of view, they don't much care whether the list gets longer or shorter or stay the same. What they do care about is, if they provide totally inadequate capital funding for our hospitals they can still claim a balanced budget. That's what they care about and that's what they've done.

Those are only a few of the places that this group is hiding the deficit. That's the theme that I've been pursuing in the budget and as the Financial Measures bill works its way through this Legislature as is, as a result of this budget, Nova Scotians are going to be paying more, a lot more, and they will be getting less of the services that they expect governments to deliver; in some cases, a lot less. All for the sake of a so-called balanced budget that's built on fudged numbers and just as importantly, it's built on not dealing with the real deficits in Nova Scotia today. They have not solved the deficit problem, they're only hiding it.

Just like the Buchanan Government before them, they have put their own re-election and their own partisan self-interest ahead of good public policy, ahead of good government and ahead of what's good for Nova Scotians. That's why we will be opposing the Financial Measures bill on third reading, as we have opposed it through the process and that's why this government has failed Nova Scotians with this budget and this Financial Measures bill. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in my place today to talk on third reading of Bill No. 109, the Financial Measures (2002) Act. In listening to the debate here today, one would say that everything in this bill is wrong. Well, I don't think absolutely everything in this bill is wrong, I think there's some issues in the bill that are a positive step. I thought I would start off my talk with saying that some of the measures in the Financial Measures bill are reasonable and obviously, the government is moving in some right directions.

[Page 10327]

One, you would have to say with regard to having a better handle on financial disclosures of senior staff within the Department of Education with regard to the school boards, is a positive move. One that we support and the principle behind it is fair and I believe nobody in this province likes to see actions take place whereby there's been the potential of misappropriation of funds or the misuse of funds, taxpayers' funds, for personal gain. For that reason, I don't think members on this Opposition side or certainly on our side, maybe on the government bench, realize that they had better find a better accountability issue

for that mechanism and I would support that. I believe that that appeared to be in the right direction, but in doing that one has to ask, has the Minister of Finance, in the same breath, turned around and given so many powers to the Minister of Education that in fact, the Minister of Education now, when she determines - he or she, whoever the minister would be - when to bring the hammer out and drop it on the whole school board structure, then one has to ask the question, has the minister overstepped the authority of the Minister of Education in that regard? Clearly, it's an area that has to be addressed, and I will talk about that a little later.

The other area that I think is a progressive move is the fact that we've got more money going into transportation. Gosh only knows, we all would agree that we need more work on our highways and our rural highways; ridings throughout rural Nova Scotia need more money spent on those roads, and the fact that we are spending more on highways is good. One has to ask the question now, are the taxation measures that are brought forward on that the only way they could have done it? I'm not sure about that. I think we can discuss that a little bit later, but those are a couple of positive things. I think it's important to say something positive about government because, you know, as an Opposition member, one invariably takes the negative slant on most initiatives, but I think when there are some positive initiatives put forward, we need to address them. But clearly the bulk of the Financial Measures (2002) Act, Bill No. 109, is in areas that one would have to say are somewhat regressive.

I remember back in 1999 when this government ran - and many of my colleagues across the way ran in that election - little did they realize that they would become the official Government of the Province of Nova Scotia, let alone that they would not only form government, but would form government with a majority. When they did, it appears that maybe they made a number of promises, and in those promises that they made, some 260 promises - I don't know, whatever it is - there are a huge number of promises, some of which the Liberals obviously had done and started and so on and so forth, but they wanted to take credit for that. But they came out with this litany of promises.

In reading over those promises, I don't ever remember that this government, upon taking the role of the Government of the Province of Nova Scotia, in that list of promises ever said that it was going to be the government that had found a way to have taxation through the back door. Now, you can call it user fees and fees for services; whatever you want to call it, the bottom line is it's a tax, and I believe most members of the front bench

[Page 10328]

would agree that it's a form of taxation. It's a form of taking dollars out of the pockets of Nova Scotians and putting them into the general revenue of the Province of Nova Scotia.

You know, this is a government that said, when they were elected, we will be a government of accountability. We will be open and accountable. Trust us. Believe in us and we will be a government that will not mislead the public of Nova Scotia. (Interruption) Well, I see my colleague finally spoke, the member for Annapolis. I hope he stands up and talks some time during this session in regard to specific issues on the Financial Measures (2002) Bill. Maybe he can answer the question as to why we have this tremendous number of user fees and fees for services in the Province of Nova Scotia, notwithstanding the fact that we've gone after direct taxation, and I will talk about that later.

The government has not only gone after user fees and fees for services directly, they've also gone through an indirect process to charge fees for services via other department mechanisms. I will give you an example. The DHAs, now, they were given a basic budget, and what's interesting - I don't know how the Minister of Finance does the deliberations of the budget process. I don't know if he brings all the ministers and the Premier together and sits down and says here are the numbers; here is what the revenue stream will be. These are the dollars that I have to work with, so across the board, here is where the pressures are. You guys, this is the money I'm giving you; you find a solution to make it work. Or does he actually go through a process of properly analyzing each individual department's budget and requests to determine what is required and what is really absolutely needed? But whatever mechanism the Minister of Finance has come forward with, the issue of health is one of concern.

[4:30 p.m.]

Now, that is the government that promised that they would be able to manage health. In fact, I believe their quotes were from the Premier at the time, we spend enough money on health - this was back when they spent $1.562 billion - and with a couple of cuts in administration, they would be able to manage it better. Well, we're now at about $2 billion a year in health, approximately, and Nova Scotians are asking themselves the question, is health care delivery any better?

Well, I know in my own riding we're now struggling with the issue of losing the pediatric wing within the South Shore Regional Hospital and the minister knows that that is a huge issue in our area. We've already lost an ear, nose and throat specialist because of the threat of losing the pediatric (Interruption). Well, the minister will have his chance to stand up on the floor of this House and argue and debate whether the ENT specialist is leaving because of that. My understanding is the ENT specialist would probably park himself directly in the South Shore and would love to be down there. It is probably one of the most beautiful spots on the face of the earth and would want to live in that area, but with the worry of the pediatric wing shutting down, obviously the ENT specialists says, just a minute now. I'm

[Page 10329]

seeing health care erode before my eyes. So there's a huge issue of concern there. So we've lost the ENT specialist. Notwithstanding the fact that the government turned around and said that they were going to make health care better.

Another area of concern has been mental health and I know in Oral Question Period today the issue of mental health came up again, losing a specialist in the further western end of the province and it's a huge issue. I know in my own area, we were down to 1.2 persons, that's what the new quotation was, 1.2 persons per year, but now I understand we've picked up a couple of specialists in our area and that's a big help, but it's far below the level - and I thank the Minister of Health. I will have to say that because I hammered at him for now for two and a half years on the demise of the mental health specialists in our area and they brought in extra people and I will thank the minister for doing that. I'm not an individual who only wants to talk about the negative. I will talk about the positive. But notwithstanding that thank you to the minister, we are still under-staffed based on national standards by the health wing on a national basis. We do not have the adequate numbers. I know it's tough to get those specialists and it's very hard to get them and to keep them, but that is an issue.

So the question is, is health care any better? Well, some would argue that it isn't and I certainly get a number of calls in my office with concerns and I, invariably, will bring those concerns to the Minister of Health's attention where it's appropriate for me to do that and the Minister of Health knows that and I have done that and we've dealt with some of the issues. But now what the Department of Health is doing is they're spending, basically, I think they spent over $400 million more on health since they've been in power and they said they didn't need any more money. But on top of that, now they're downloading some of the responsibility of saying, well, this is the budget we've got, you find out how to make more money back to the DHAs. I understand in some areas of the province, the DHAs now are charging for blood sampling, $7 a sample. Well, I understand that's only done in maybe one area, but that is the beginning of what we're going to see throughout Nova Scotia, that there is a fact that the government is, in fact, going after DHAs for blood sampling across the province and you will see more and more areas embellish that.

I think you're going to see more on the issue of parking lots and they're having fees for going in to park. Some of these people are parking on the roads because, quite frankly, some of the seniors who go in for blood sampling on a regular basis because of their condition drive in and park. I know in my riding at the South Shore Regional Hospital, it's $2 whether you're there for half an hour or an hour or all day. It's frustrating for those people who have to go in two or three times a week because of their medical condition and get blood samples. So really it's a form of taxation and it might not seem like much to some, but for those on fixed incomes, and I'm sure the member back there from Annapolis County knows that when seniors are on fixed incomes and all of a sudden they have to start paying for parking at a hospital to get blood work done because of their physical condition, it adds up. It might not add up to somebody who has lots of money, but people on fixed incomes, every

[Page 10330]

time you have to put out an extra $2, it's an issue. If you have to do it two, three or four times a week because of the condition you're in, it adds up to those people.

So it's clear that the user fees are coming in indirectly by the government. I used the term the other day about the Minister of Tourism and Culture, the stealth minister. He kind of indirectly controls the agenda. In some ways I guess this is a form of stealth taxation.

Now let's talk about some of the other user fees that are there. We talk about while we're in hospitals, we're talking about ambulances. The ambulance fee increases from $500 to $600, and I believe the fee of $85 to $125, respectively, are charges that this government says are warranted and are fair. I don't know how. If a member of this House was with their family members and all of a sudden their parents, or one of their parents, is seriously sick, the ambulance comes, and of course the trauma and the effect, whether it's your children or your parents or your family members, maybe one or two other people might go along, just to kind of keep everybody from getting upset. Now they're going to go after those people in the form of the ride.

Last time I took a taxi ride and there was three people in the car, they didn't charge all three the same rate. They charge you a rate. If you go in an ambulance and there's two or three, well, everybody is going to get dinged-dinged-dinged on $600, whatever that fee, if it was a non-emergency in their view or if it's a medical procedure, $125 a trip. That is another form of taxation within the health care system. I understand that it's retroactive as well.

There are other forms of user fees that they've gone after, or fees for service, or, as I call it, a hidden form of taxation, and that is if you drive a car in Nova Scotia. If you drive a vehicle in Nova Scotia, you are going to get dinged, number one, with a 2 cents tax on fuel, and the 2 cents tax on fuel is about $24 million, $25 million a year. You are going to get dinged if you need a new driver's license, that's going up somewhere around $11 to $14 every time you renew your driver's license. As I've said before, the plastic doesn't cost more, the photographs don't cost more, but it's another tax. Whether you are young or old, you're going to get dinged on that every time you renew your driver's license.

When you register your car, when you register your vehicle, those fees are going up again. That affects every family in Nova Scotia, the increased cost of registration of your vehicle. It affects seniors on fixed incomes, it affects young people who are already paying exorbitant amounts for insurance, but they are going to be paying again through the area of registration.

Mr. [Deputy] Speaker, what about - you understand this all too well, as a former member of the trucking community - the huge increase that the truckers in the Province of Nova Scotia are bearing, a 40 per cent increase for the registration of trucks in the Province of Nova Scotia. If you live in Annapolis, and you have a truck down there, a 10-wheeler

[Page 10331]

truck, and you're trucking or if you have a line-haul carrier, and you're going to be paying a 40 per cent increase in that fee, you're going to be some upset because that's a lot of money for those family-run businesses. That's a lot of money for big companies, but it's even more of an effect on small businesses.

How many do we know, family-run operations, they have one or two or three trucks in their business? Well, every one of them are going to be paying about a 40 per cent increase in those costs. The member for Annapolis must realize that that's a huge amount of money. The member for Guysborough, maybe the people in that area would be affected. The people in Queens County, and the people throughout the Province of Nova Scotia. I know in Lunenburg County, they're very upset. They're very upset by the fact that they're going to be paying a 40 per cent increase on the registration of those trucks. That's a problem. That's a problem for a lot of small trucking companies in the Province of Nova Scotia.

This is a government that said they will be a government of rural Nova Scotia, they will support rural Nova Scotia, they will support small business, because that's the backbone of the economy. I remember them saying that. What do they do? Bingo. They smack them with a 40 per cent registration increase on trucking in the Province of Nova Scotia, in an industry that's so highly competitive it's unbelievable. If you know anybody in the trucking industry in this province, they will tell you that the industry's margin is next to nothing. It's a huge issue. They are now paying that fee.

Then they go after insurance rates. My colleague, the member for Cape Breton The Lakes, has indicated in this House many times that there is a real problem with the increased insurance rates potential in this legislation, in Bill No. 109. One has to ask themselves the question, if those increased rates go into effect, it's going to have a direct impact on everybody that drives a vehicle in Nova Scotia, whether you're a senior, a youth or middle aged, you're going to pay more, so how does that benefit the government if you're going to pay more? Well, it's clear that the registrar actually receives a certain amount of insurance rates in the Province of Nova Scotia. So as insurance rates go up, so does the revenue to the Minister of Finance.

What an interesting way this Minister of Finance thinks. He's crawling around everybody's agenda to determine how he can make more money and blame it on someone else. He's going to blame it on the DHAs, he's going to blame it on the school boards, he's going to blame it on the Minister of Health for not being able to manage his budget properly, or the Minister of Education. Now he's going after the minister responsible for the insurance coverages, he's going to go after the Minister of Transportation and Public Works or the minister responsible for the Registry of Motor Vehicle in the Province of Nova Scotia. The Minister of Finance gets away with that. He says, well, you know, I'm the one who's doing my job, it's those ministers who are not doing their job.

[Page 10332]

I don't know he does that. He wants to be the Teflon man but I think he's going to be the Velcro man, because Nova Scotians realize - and I know there are enough backbenchers who realize - it is the Minister of Finance who's putting those fees on without consultation and discussion with the public of Nova Scotia. Back in 1999, I don't remember in 1999 that this was the way that it was going to be done. The minister pounds his chest and he pats himself on the back everyday I see him in the Legislature. Huff and puff, blow the House down. He's the minister, he is the all-and-powerful Minister of Finance. I have watched with interest how he has slain the operating deficit, as he calls it, to the ground. Well, they've overspent every year and so how has he done it? Well, we've increased taxation, we've increased direct taxation, we've increased user fees ever since they've been in and the debt will continue to grow.

Is it hard to balance the affairs of the Province of Nova Scotia when you go after direct and indirect taxation to pay for your mismanagement deeds? I say no. So the minister realizes that this year alone there's probably in excess of $0.25 billion of either new fees and/or new taxes coming into the revenue stream of the Province of Nova Scotia. Huge amounts of money and how he justifies that as being good management, I don't know, because Nova Scotians realize that as you pick money out of my pocket to make you look better does not resolve the problem that Nova Scotians are saying - and what this government said in 1999 - the way to grow the economy is to put more money back into the pockets of Nova Scotians so they in turn will be able to spend those dollars throughout rural Nova Scotia and urban Nova Scotia and be able to create new wealth by doing that. It creates the ability to be able to buy and sell our goods and services and creates that economic spinoff of jobs and economic taxation back directly to the Minister of Finance.

Mr. Speaker, I will move on to some other areas in this bill that I found somewhat interesting but certainly very challenging. The Minister of Community Services, I've always believed that he was relatively fair in his approach but the transition houses and I don't know who advised the minister on the issue of how they dealt with transition houses in Nova Scotia in his budget, it was $800,000 and basically put all those units across the province on red alert, that their facility could very well be shut down. So the minister, after a great deal of heat that went on for days and weeks during the budget presentation, said we're going to go back and we're going to take another look at how we can deal with this and try to bring everybody together. I applaud him for trying to do that. I will be fair. But we have a band-aid solution on a huge, huge laceration within that community.

[4:45 p.m.]

I know that those facilities now are crying out and saying, yes, I know you're putting it on hold for the short term but what is going to happen in the long term? I hope that the minister realizes the importance of these facilities, and there's a mixed signal out there. Maybe I missed it here, but when the minister just announced recently the facilities, the Nahum Centre in this area for $325,000, an important facility for women and children who

[Page 10333]

are having life-threatening experiences to have a safe place to go, and that's great, I'm glad to see that, but one has to ask the question, what about the other facilities that are across the province now? Where do they fit into this scenario?

There's a mixed signal here. I don't understand, I'm sure the minister has a rationale for this and maybe he can explain this to me at some point, either on the record or off the record, but at some point explain the mixed signals because I know in my riding, in the beautiful Lunenburg West riding, the facilities (Interruption) The Minister of Health and the Minister of Finance are referring and alluding to the former riding of Lunenburg West - well Lunenburg West is alive and well right now and it will be alive and well as long as you guys don't, you know, and whenever the changes happen, right now it's alive and well and I will speak on behalf of it, as a very proud MLA of Lunenburg West, all of Lunenburg West as it is and as historic as it might be and the fact that it's 50-some years of age but, you know, the women's treatment facilities in the Province of Nova Scotia, maybe the minister will be able to explain the mixed signals.

Now, he has a budget he has to deal with. He has all sorts of concerns in Community Services. I think the budget for Community Services is about $600 million or $700 million a year; it's a huge budget and lots of complexities and lots of problems. In some ways you get the Minister of Health over here probably downloading those problems to the Minister of Community Services, and he has nowhere to go, and the Minister of Finance hammers away at the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health catches on to how the Minister of Finance does it and gets away with it, so what does he do? He puts it over to the Minister of Community Services and the Minister of Community Services all of a sudden realizes he's against the wall. He can't give it to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works; he can't give it to the Minister of Environment and Labour; he can't give it to the Minister of Education, although maybe he can in some areas, but he can't certainly give it to the Minister of Development - he has enough to deal with right now and he doesn't need any more problems.

Anyway, there's a mixed signal out there and maybe the minister will explain and allow the women's centres and transition houses in the Province of Nova Scotia to have a sense of security, because those women and children throughout the province who are battered, either sexually or physically, or psychologically abused, they need to know there's a door that will open to give them protection and safety, not just during the day, but 24/7 in this province and that is a serious issue. That long-term security of that issue will be something that I know our caucus will be fighting for in the Province of Nova Scotia and for the people throughout the Province of Nova Scotia - the men and women who need that security.

Now I want to talk just a minute about the WCB. The Minister of Environment and Labour who is responsible for the workers' compensation, I understand the rates are changing from $89 to $91. So, in other words, what the government is doing indirectly is

[Page 10334]

being able to drag money that they were paying before out of the system into the general revenue, not unlike the former Minister of Environment and Labour who was in charge of the Resource Recovery Fund - and now he's the Minister of Justice. He did the same thing in that fund, that fund of millions of dollars a year that was meant specifically to go back to the communities that are building facilities for diversion, to make this province a cleaner environment. In fact, we are the flagship of Canada in regard to meeting the 50-per cent target of diversion, and I note with interest the come-by-chance minister of that particular portfolio, in the first year he was up bragging about meeting that target.

Well, it was the leadership of the previous government that helped forge that, but when we forged that direction and that template of being that flagship for this country, we also indicated that that money, the monies that are coming from the recycling fees, would go back to the municipal and town units that are spending the money on making us more environmentally friendly. But what does the government do? They go in and they say well no, we're now going to start clawing money out of that. Well, we're starting to see the same process within WCB; they're digging in and clawing money out, and do you know who's paying for it? The workers of the Province of Nova Scotia and the businesses in the Province of Nova Scotia.

I say shame on this government for their approach to grabbing money. They made an art of how to go in and take money out of the pockets of Nova Scotians, whether they realize it or not. It's very similar - as I talk about art - to how they dealt with the Arts Council in the Province of Nova Scotia in Bill No. 109, they basically eliminated the Arts Council as an arm's-length body within the Province of Nova Scotia and they put it directly under the wing of the minister. So as we heard in the House, the letter that was written about how they want to make sure that they can help control who or who does not receive those grants is wrong. There is a body of individuals within the arts community, throughout all of Nova Scotia, that in turn judges those applications based on artistic merit and basically are distributed throughout the Province of Nova Scotia on a fair basis.

Some will say, well, what about Cape Breton? I remember the young rookie in the backbench there screaming that out recently and, as I understand it, some of the money that came into the HRM area actually was redirected back to Cape Breton via the corporations and companies that are here. So as a minister, the young rookie back there in the corner who likes to scream and holler once in a while - I don't know why, but he gets all exercised - he should realize that in fact some of those dollars have gone back to Cape Breton, as the Arts Council has pointed out. He's keeping cool here today and I appreciate that; it's not very often that he keeps cool. (Interruptions) Pardon me, I know it's easy to get you two mixed up; young and eager.

Mr. Speaker, I want to move on to a concern with regard to freedom of information - another form of taxation. We've gone from $5 to $25 - in fact it could go to $50 the way this is set up - to $30 an hour. Before the first two hours were free; now they're charging $30 an

[Page 10335]

hour and have the ability, in this bill, to have under form of regulation - you know what regulation means? Those fees are under regulation. They can increase those fees any day they want. All they have to do is wait until a Cabinet meeting happens and have an Order in Council and they can change those fees to whatever they want. So it's not freedom of information, it's fee for information.

It's not freedom of information that this government is saying they are going to provide, it's going to be fee for information: if you have the money, we will provide some information to you. Maybe it's not the information you want, but we will stumble along and it will cost you $30 bucks an hour as we stumble through this process - the term is rag the puck, as some people have used it; in other words, just play around. If you're playing hockey - and we're all watching hockey right now - and you get a penalty, you try to burn off that penalty, so you keep shooting the puck down the other end of the rink so it burns up the time. Well, they can do that too and under the freedom of information - and you talk about whether it's the Opposition benches complaining about it, well, it's more than that. It's the media of the Province of Nova Scotia; it's the individuals who are the journalists in the Province of Nova Scotia. It's all those people who rely on freedom of information - so-called freedom of information which is now called fee for information - to be able to access to find out what's going on, to hold the government accountable.

This Premier has stated from day one, you have to learn how to ferret out information from this government because we will not be forthcoming about what's going on in this government. They've said that from day one. This is the same Premier who in 1999 ran on the campaign of being open and accountable, trust me, read my lips, I will provide anything you want; I will give you all that information; I will not keep anything under a rock; I will not bury it under a burning bush; we will be forthright with information coming to you. Well, it's not forthright and forthcoming, it's fee for service.

I remember in my area there's a young reporter who spends a lot of time investigating government, whether it's when we were in power or they're in power. His name is Keith Corcoran and he works with the Bridgewater Bulletin. He's a hard working and sometimes he can be a vexing reporter, he gets under your skin because he's doing his job and he's holding that government accountable right now. He's challenging those people about issues. Well, what does it mean to the Bridgewater Bulletin and reporters and journalists like the Keith Corcorans of the world? They have a limited budget, it's a weekly newspaper, they don't have lots of money. What's going to happen to those people is that they're going to be selective of what they ask for and there's going to be missed opportunities to hold this government accountable to what they promised Nova Scotians.

When we're in the Legislature, it's fine, we have Question Period and we can hammer away at them. All they want to do is get out of this House when we're in here. Because they don't like that form of accountability, but when we get out of the House it's harder to get them. So, to some degree we do our part and the Official Opposition does its part, but it's

[Page 10336]

also the journalists of this province, the media of this province that hold them accountable, that allows Nova Scotians to know what's going on.

What they've done is said, look, we don't want you to know what's going on, Mr. and Ms. Nova Scotians, we want you to just be happy, the former Premier way back when, you know, be happy, sing a song, put your rose coloured glasses on, everything's great. I think what's happening is the fact that the freedom of information officer in the Province of Nova Scotia spoke very well in the Chamber when he talked about the fact that we are now going to be the priciest place in town to go after information. It costs more in the Province of Nova Scotia under Bill No. 109 than in any other jurisdiction in this country - in this country. When you take a look at Ontario and Alberta and in other areas of this country, you would think they would want to be careful about information. Could you imagine how many people who live in Ontario and Alberta that would be going after the government for information? A small province like Nova Scotia, with less than 1 million people, this government does one thing, it puts the hammer down on the issue of freedom of information and they come back with a fee for information.

This is a government that we've said since day one, they have no plans on what they're doing. They have no plan for health care, they have no plan for finance, they have no plan for almost any department. It's kind of like, as they stumble and fall they will come up with some piece of ad hocery in legislation. You know, it's sad to see that. It's sad to see that this government that's been in power now for almost three years, almost 100 days, that they've been in power, and they still have no plan. (Interruption) Almost 1,000 days, that's right. Pardon me, I made a Freudian slip, 100 days. It's like 100 days on the rack. It's like being tortured for 100 days, but almost 1,000 days, almost three years. (Interruption)

The Official Opposition are asking how long I'm going to speak and I don't know how long, but it won't be all that long. You know, you cannot help but stand up and get frustrated with this government and talk about the issues and bring forward to Nova Scotians the accountability of this government or the lack of accountability of this government. When it comes to freedom of information, how low can you go when the government says, instead of changing anything else in this legislation, we will just make it so expensive that nobody will go after it. Very few people can afford to go after it. It's a shame on this government. It's a shame what we're seeing.

But, you know, they've no plan. The Minister of Finance announced how he's going to deal with a debt reduction program in the Province of Nova Scotia. I have never seen anything so foolish in all my life. It wasn't a debt reduction program - it was an expenditure based on the Gross Domestic Product. In other words, it was a template how he can spend more if he grows the economy. I might add that they've no real plan about how to grow the economy as well. There's no plan to deal with the debt going down in the Province of Nova Scotia, it's going to continue to rise until the year 2011 as we know it. There's no plan for health care, there's no real plan for education, there's no plan for community services, there's

[Page 10337]

no plan with regard to how we're going to deal with roads throughout all of Nova Scotia. When I talked to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, I have not had one shovel of asphalt in my riding when it comes to repaving in three years. I've had a little bit of rim work. (Interruption) I wasn't minister in 1999. I don't know. You would have to ask the minister responsible in 1999. (Interruption) Well, the Minister of Health is saying that the good people of Lunenburg West don't deserve any more asphalt. I will ask the Minister of Health - it's not his portfolio, but if he's so sure about that, I would invite him down to meet our health issues. But maybe when he's down talking about health issues, he can actually come and I will take him for a few rides on some of the roads in my riding. They're not unlike any other riding in the Province of Nova Scotia; they're terrible.

[5:00 p.m.]

This is a government that said we will pave roads and we will do it with or without the help of Ottawa. We are going to make it happen. We are going to do it right off the bat. Well, it's not right off the bat, and I hope that they start showing some fairness across the board in allowing roads in the riding of Lunenburg West to have the same respect as roads in other areas and they happen to be in other areas of political affiliation.

AN HON. MEMBER: . . . have a Respect Roads Day.

MR. DOWNE: I don't think it's a matter of respect for roads. I think it's respect for people living in rural Nova Scotia. That's what it should be. It should be a day of respect for people living in rural Nova Scotia who have roads that are not fit and safe to drive on. That's the problem. (Interruption) I will wait for my colleague to be able to stand up and make that quote himself.

Mr. Speaker, there is no clear plan on this government's approach to dealing with any of the issues that we've talked about, yet they were the government that said to Nova Scotians, trust us. We will be open. We will be accountable. We will have plans. We will have strategies. We will be transparent. We will provide better health care. We will provide better education. We will pave roads in Nova Scotia. We will look after rural Nova Scotia. Well, you know what? Since they've been in power, they have almost shut down rural Nova Scotia in this province. They've basically slapped rural Nova Scotia in the face with their approach to looking after rural Nova Scotia's needs, whether it's health care, it's dealing with community services, roads, economic development - and certainly when it's in regard to the issue of forestry - or whether it's agriculture, when they basically eliminated the Department of Agriculture in this province.

People are wondering why we're losing so many farmers in Nova Scotia. They've taken away the extension branch of the Department of Health, which was really the educational arm to go out and help all those farmers in this province. The bigger farmers will get that information through ADI and other forms and they can afford that, but the smaller

[Page 10338]

operations in this province are being gobbled up because they cannot afford to stay alive in this very competitive market. I will be glad when the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries gets back. We miss him now because he's been in meetings with his counterparts across the nation and beyond, and I look forward to being able to ask him some questions on how those sessions went.

Mr. Speaker, I am soon going to close off my discussion on Bill No. 109 and some of the concerns I have about Bill No. 109. It all boils down to this government's inability to do what they said they were going to do back in 1999 and I ask them to go back and reconsider this. I know that maybe some people think that Bill No. 109 is all over. Well, this is third reading. The bill has not been voted on, so the bill is still alive and things can happen.

Maybe the Minister of Finance can have a form of revelation to him, in that he needs to get up and repent to Nova Scotians about how devious he's been on these user fees and new taxation measures, how he's cut programs for Nova Scotia and rural Nova Scotia, and how although he talks the talk, he does not walk the walk. He hasn't been able to manage properly. What he's been able to do is increase taxes and user fees, going after rural Nova Scotians, urban Nova Scotians, seniors and youth. It's a sad commentary on a minister who pats himself on the back every time he stands up about how great thou art. Well, the reality is, Nova Scotians are not fooled by this. Nova Scotians, whether this bill passes or not, the Minister of Finance and others will realize there is a day of reckoning. That will be election day and we will see what happens during that time. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to have an opportunity to rise in my place here in third reading on the Financial Measures (2002) Act and say a few words about this bill. This is the kind of bill that really will tell you what kind of government you have, because this kind of bill tells us what the government's priorities are and what kind of a manager government is. This kind of bill tells us where government will find resources, and who they think are priorities and who they think are not priorities in this province.

Mr. Speaker, we know, having been here now for a period of time this Spring, after several other sessions, that this government, in many respects, can be characterized as quite mean-spirited, small-minded and fairly disrespectful, particularly when it comes to taking money from vulnerable people, people who are sick, people who are elderly, people with families, people who are in crisis, like women and children in situations where they are being abused. This is a government that doesn't have any difficulty when it comes to finding money for its friends, to bankroll frivolous kinds of activities, to put public resources into golf courses, into activities that many average Nova Scotians increasingly are having a difficult time having access to.

[Page 10339]

When people in our province are having difficulty getting medications, covering the cost of long-term care, looking at ways to educate their children adequately, particularly when their kids have special needs or even if they don't have special needs, just in terms of having adequate textbooks and recreational opportunities within their school systems, this is a government that doesn't seem to be in touch with the people in this province. Certainly, every day I run into people who stop me - they will stop me in the grocery store, in the parking lot, outside the drugstore, the church, whatever - to talk about what in the world is this government thinking, and whatever happened to that nice family doctor who was portrayed in the election campaign three years ago?

Mr. Speaker, they literally say this. You must hear this as well. They say, who would have thought? I really believed, when I put my X by the PC Party on the ballot, I was getting that nice John Hamm, family doctor, who was going to be caring and compassionate on behalf of people like myself, and look at what's happened. They can itemize all of the things that have occurred to them since. They can tell you about the extraordinarily long waiting lists they have to deal with, to have surgeries, hip replacement surgeries. The waiting lists grow and grow every day. People are in pain; people are in situations where they are unable to go to work. This government has done nothing to improve their situations, in fact they've made those situations worse.

At a time when you have government budgets and financial measures to accommodate the budget, you look to see what are the measures in this legislation that, in fact, are going to address the very pressing concerns that members of our community have. What do we find when we look at the Financial Measures (2002) Bill? We find, in fact, no remedies, no relief for ordinary people in this province with the very real pressures that they face from day to day. What we find are a whole series of small-minded and mean-spirited measures that are, in fact, designed to relieve members of our community of their hard-earned dollars, and contribute to, quite often, the kinds of crises they are in.

Mr. Speaker, if you look at the sections of the Financial Measures (2002) Bill that increase user fees; for example, ambulatory user fees. My colleague, the member for Halifax Fairview, has done an extraordinary job of laying out all of the problems with ambulance user fees around the province, the double and triple billing, quite often, in user fees. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to convince the Minister of Health of the wrong approach that he has continually supported with respect to the billing of people who are often in situations where they're in crisis and require ambulatory care.

This particular bill ensures that those circumstances that we've all had to deal with, Mr. Speaker - I had a woman who approached me whose uncle lived by himself in one of the senior citizens' manors in my constituency. He is an older gentleman without any immediate family. She was his niece. This particular gentleman did not speak English as his first language; he spoke Cantonese, and he was struck in a crosswalk at the Willow Tree, literally just seconds from the emergency department of the QE II, and received a bill for $500 for

[Page 10340]

ambulance services when he was literally on the doorstep of the emergency department. This gentleman, who was in his 90s, was very upset about receiving this bill. This is a person for whom $500 is a huge amount of money. He lives in a very modest, low-income senior citizens' complex where the rent is geared to his income, and his disposable income over a period of months would not have amounted to $500. This is a scenario that is repeated every day in the province and it's one that surely this government has to have some compassion around and recognize that there's a certain unfairness in the double billing, in many cases, of ambulance fees or the exorbitant costs of ambulatory care.

Mr. Speaker, another feature of the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, which others have spoken to, but I haven't had an opportunity to speak to, is the cost of getting information from government. I want to be very clear that this is a measure that I strongly oppose for a variety of reasons. I did have an opportunity, a number of years ago, to work in the media and I know the absolute importance of being able to get access to government information to fully inform the public on what their government is doing and what the implications are of particular changes or developments in public policy. Not only from the perspective of people who work in the media, but people increasingly do research in a variety of contexts. They may be people who are public interest advocates; they may be people who work for non-profit organizations; they may be people who have a particular academic interest in a certain area of public policy and the role that freedom of information plays in ensuring that our democratic system works and works well, that people are able to find out what it is that government is doing, to find out what advice government is getting, to look at how government is using resources that belong to the public, that keeps government accountable to the public. Freedom of information in any kind of well-developed democracy is a basic plank or a basic foundation of a well-developed and well-functioning democracy.

[5:15 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, this has been a long struggle in many respects in this province, to modernize and to bring into the public arena a modern piece of legislation and a modern Act. I believe that our province has actually gone a fair way in ensuring that we have a good and well-functioning Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. That's not to say that it can't be improved, but certainly it has come a long way in the past 15 or so years and to have that progress halted in its tracks by the imposition of user fees that will only act as a deterrent to the public from seeking access to information is quite reprehensible, and again is an example of the disrespect and disregard that this government holds members of the public and certainly people who are opposed to some of their policies, it demonstrates the kind of regard that this government has for people in that situation.

It's truly a shame that this government wasn't prepared to listen to some of the groups who came to the Law Amendments Committee, including the Freedom of Information Officer, Mr. Darce Fardy who, I understand, made quite an intelligent and thoughtful intervention at the Law Amendments Committee.

[Page 10341]

Mr. Speaker, there are other aspects of the Financial Measures (2002) Bill that deserve some comment. One of the areas that I have had an opportunity to speak on, perhaps in Second Reading or Committee of the Whole House on Bills, I can't exactly remember at this stage, is the provision to increase fees around international adoptions. My colleague again, the member for Halifax Fairview, has done the math on this and, based on the number of international adoptions from prior years and the new fees that are being levied here, has basically determined that if the number of adoptions remains constant, the amount of money that government will realize by imposing the new fees is in the vicinity of $21,000.

Mr. Speaker, surely this is not going to make or break the government in this province, but to a family seeking to open up their home and open up their hearts to a child, quite often a child in a developing country, a child who will languish for many months, if not years, in an orphanage, this is truly a small-minded and mean-spirited provision in the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, and shame on that government for going in that direction. Shame on that government for doing that.

Mr. Speaker, I think the other aspect of this Financial Measures (2002) Bill that has many of us just shaking our heads is the demise of the provincial Arts Council. It's clear, that for members of the government benches, this is actually a development or an action on the part of the government, the Minister of Tourism and Culture, that people on the government benches are quite proud of and that is really quite shocking in many respects.

We have, in this province, an artistic community and a cultural community that are second to none internationally and anybody who has the privilege really of travelling outside of Nova Scotia and having an opportunity to be in other parts of the world where members of our community, through their culture and their art, have been and have gained a reputation. I will tell you, Mr. Speaker, it makes you very proud to be a Nova Scotian when you get into a situation where you're meeting people from another country and they're saying oh, yes, do you know such and such, a group, or do you know this artist who has been here from Nova Scotia? They tell you about what the local reaction was.

Mr. Speaker, I had that experience when I lived in England for a few years. People constantly talked about the cultural experiences they had when members of our art and culture communities were in the U.K. To see the manner in which this government treated members of the arts and culture community has been very frustrating to say the least and at points it has made members of this caucus, certainly, extraordinarily angry. The fact that we weren't able to get through to the Minister of Tourism and Culture, the fact that he consistently stood in his place and defended the kind of behaviour that occurred around the dismantling of the Arts Council, there is no explanation and there is no excuse for that kind of behaviour; no explanation and no excuse.

[Page 10342]

Mr. Speaker, it was also frustrating but I think very telling, to see, last week one of the members of the government benches stand in his place and attempt to justify what this government did with respect to the provincial Arts Council by reading a letter he had written the Minister of Tourism and Culture about somebody in his particular constituency who had applied for an Arts Council grant and hadn't gotten it. That letter, which was tabled and which we all had an opportunity to look at, seemed to make the argument that the Arts Council grants and funds should be allocated on a regional basis, not on the basis of artistic or cultural merit. That member seemed to indicate that there was something wrong that he could claim that the Arts Council was functioning in an inappropriate way because when you looked at the record, there was a greater allocation of grants in the Halifax County area than in his area or in other parts of the province. That is truly a shocking indictment of what this government's real motivation was and is with respect to the Nova Scotia Arts Council and the demise of the Arts Council.

I look at my constituency alone. I'm privileged to represent the North End of Halifax, it is an extraordinarily interesting area - a very diverse area. In that community, there are more creative and talented artists, musicians, members of the cultural community and cultural workers than you could shake a stick at. There are more people in that one constituency who could more than amply qualify, I'm sure, for arts and culture grants. It must be truly difficult for a group to look at the various applications that come in and arrive at decisions around artistic merit.

I know, over the past two years of just watching the news releases that come out on who are receiving various grants from the Arts Council, it's always been - to my untrained eye - a very eclectic group of people who receive awards. I've seen people who do quilting, who make hats, who write music, who paint, who are doing ceramics - the kinds of diversity that's reflected in the awarding of grants under the Arts Council has always been extraordinary. If you go to some of the exhibits where the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts people are, you see some of the most extraordinary work, artistic work, that you can find in the province. You look today at the kind - it's almost like a renaissance that's occurring in this province, of book writing, of playwriting, of theatre, of musical direction, of music, of arts and culture.

Surely, this is an area where we need to nurture and protect what has been extraordinarily successful, but an area that could be quite fragile if government doesn't respect and doesn't learn how to work respectfully with the members of this community. I think it's very important that we not do anything that would drive any members of that community away. I think it's very important that we maintain very high standards in terms of the awarding of public monies that will support artists of outstanding merit. Frankly, I don't think that politicians and members of this House have the skills for the most part to be the ones to make those determinations. I certainly know what I like, but I'm not a professional artist, by any stretch of the imagination.

[Page 10343]

HON. RODNEY MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I've been listening intently to the member and I do certainly respect much of what she has said. I do want to point out that the suggestion, as an example, that it would be a politician or an MLA making the decision on a creation grant of an individual is dead wrong. The fact is, that the peer assessment model will make that determination and it will be based on strict criteria, as was done previously. In addition, with the new model, there will be more dollars, not less dollars, for those people involved in the arts and cultural community that she has talked about.

MR. SPEAKER: It's not a point of order, but certainly a clarification of the facts for the honourable member for Halifax Needham.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I certainly appreciate that the minister took an opportunity to attempt to clarify from his vantage point, but let me say to the minister that the truth of the matter is that the minister is appointing people to this process, this new process. I have sat on the Human Resources Committee now for a considerable period of time. I'm under absolutely no illusions, quite often when appointments are being made, where the connection is to the government Party of the day, and what the lines of communication are between ministers and their appointees, and I am absolutely crystal clear of the kinds of political interference that go on all the time between ministers and senior ministerial advisers and many of these boards and commissions.

[5:30 p.m.]

HON. RODNEY MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I also want to make it crystal clear to the member, the fact of the matter is that the members who are on the transition team are very well-respected people from across this province who serve in their disciplines. As well, I would also like to note that there will be a process in place with respect to putting in the new Arts and Culture Council, which will be done with the transition team.

MR. SPEAKER: Again, it's not a point of order but a clarification of the facts.

The honourable member for Halifax Needham has the floor.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: It's interesting that the minister has so much to say at this juncture in the process, isn't it? But let me tell you, we will await to see the outcome. I think the point here is that we shouldn't even be in this place. We shouldn't even have to have a transition team. We shouldn't even have to await what this new entity is going to look at, and whether or not it really is going to be arm's length from the minister.

Mr. Speaker, we had a perfectly good Arts Council functioning at arm's length from government. There was absolutely no reason for the elimination of that, and we have begun to see that, really, the elimination of the Nova Scotia Arts Council was quite politically

[Page 10344]

motivated. We've had members of the government caucus stand up and table documents that told us as much. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. They've said it; we've heard it. That is the point, certainly. The point is that arts and culture should be an area that is not available for political interference. It's not appropriate. You're interfering with a very fragile - I suppose, in some ways - sector of our economy, which is a very important sector, not just economically but in terms of our whole identity as people in this province.

Mr. Speaker, to have government become a direct intervener in trying to socially engineer the direction of arts and culture in this province would be totally wrong. It shouldn't happen at a bureaucratic level; it shouldn't happen at a political level. This is a segment of our society that needs to be very self-determining, because that's what is so special about arts and culture. It's a part of our society that reflects a part of us, who we are historically and as we sort of develop and move forward.

This is not an area like other areas of government. It's not like Economic Development, it's quite unique. It's not like social policy, it's quite unique. When government puts together a plan to transfer money to people who need money as a means of income, then that's quite different than supporting people to develop the culture and the art that is an expression of who we are as a people or peoples. So, that is my point here.

Mr. Speaker, the last aspect of this . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

The honourable Minister of Tourism and Culture.

HON. RODNEY MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, would the member entertain a question?

MR. SPEAKER: Would the honourable member for Halifax Needham entertain a question?

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I will.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Tourism and Culture.

HON. RODNEY MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, maybe I heard incorrectly, but I'm wondering if the member is saying in this House that artists who express themselves through

whatever their discipline is in a creation and does that for money, is that what the member is saying, that that is not as important as someone else who is creating work perhaps not for money?

[Page 10345]

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, that absolutely is not what I said. I said that there's quite a significant difference between social policy and cultural policy and that in the provision of public resources to support artists, it's not simply about an income transfer. What artists do in our community and what members of the cultural community do is they create an expression of who we are as people and they need to be supported in that by public resources, but it's inappropriate for governments to interfere and to try to define the activities of the artists or to define what is appropriate in terms of being real art or having an outcome that government thinks is worthy of support.

It's quite different than social policy where you design social policy that has certain objectives like providing incentives so people will go back to school, providing incentives so people will place their children in daycare, providing incentives so people will upgrade their own education. There's a fundamental difference between the role of government policy around social policy and what it is you do with arts and cultural policy even though there is a financial base in the allocation of public resources that support both of those activities. That's the point, Mr. Speaker, that this government doesn't seem to understand the difference between social policy and arts and cultural policy, or certainly that is the impression you would get if you watched the unfolding of the way in which the Nova Scotia Arts Council was dismantled, summarily dismissed, padlocks on the door, people escorted out by security guards. So this is not my idea of how you treat people in the arts and cultural community. Apparently, it is this government's idea of what's an appropriate way to deal with these problems. However, I've had a chance to express my concern around that.

Mr. Speaker, the last thing I will speak to with respect to the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, and my colleague, the member for Halifax Fairview, has done a really good job of looking at this particular bill in some detail and he has itemized many of the new user fees that have been introduced, but there is a section of the Financial Measures (2002) Bill which prohibits and in fact, voids contracts between health care providers and health authorities around the province. As the member for Halifax Fairview indicated, we have no idea where these contracts existed. We have no idea why they were being voided and we don't know what impact the voiding of these contracts will have.

Mr. Speaker, it's of great concern to us that perhaps some of these agreements are agreements that, in fact, will allow for a physician, for example, to remain in a community. We know what a hard time many communities throughout Nova Scotia have had attracting physicians, for example, and retaining physicians in particular types of practice or in particular areas and why this particular measure has been placed in this bill without the ability of the Opposition of securing more information to really hold the government accountable on their practices in the health care field is of primary concern to people in the NDP caucus who have worked very hard to hold the government accountable for its expenditures of health dollars.

[Page 10346]

So, Mr. Speaker, really, those are the points that I wanted to address in terms of my opposition to the Financial Measures (2002) Bill. I think it is an expression. It tells us what kind of a government we have. It, unfortunately, fails to be the kind of caring and compassionate government that we really require in Nova Scotia and most members of our community, and certainly my community, are well aware of that fact and are looking forward to an opportunity to express what they think of this government so that I don't have to do it for them. Thank you.

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

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise and make a few comments about the Financial Measures (2002) Bill. The title as we all know, speaking with the title, I'm going to speak in some generalities and not get into any points or specific issues. But I wanted to take somewhat of a different approach on speaking in third reading on the Financial Measures (2002) Bill because what we're witnessing here is essentially something that is a trend that has developed over I would say the last 30 to 40 years in the political spectrum, so much so that what we're witnessing here in this particular piece of legislation is what many Nova Scotians and indeed many Canadians have been feeling for some time. That is that they don't trust their politicians. They don't trust their politicians for a variety of reasons. Some believe that they're corrupt. Some believe that they're just basically dishonest people. Some believe that they're self-serving. Some believe that under pressure they're very weak-kneed and become willy-nilly when put under pressure.

Mr. Speaker, a poll that was done by the Leger Marketing research company showed that some 69 per cent say that government is corrupt and shows a profound cynicism towards the integrity of federal and provincial politicians. Now how does that tie into this particular piece of legislation? In many ways it does and in many ways it does not. So I will focus on the mannerisms upon which it does focus and speaks to this particular piece of legislation. One of the quotes in this particular article, and I will table it for all members approbation, "'Large sums are spent without any accountability,' Ms. Fraser said. 'I think that this is unacceptable'." Ms. Fraser is one of a number of individuals who spoke to that particular issue on government expenditures in that article.

There are other articles right across Canada, The Daily News, the Cape Breton Post, The Chronicle-Herald and so on, and I'm sure The Globe and Mail. But that's an issue that has been raised by the Auditor General on a number of occasions. I know he raised it during the

tabling of his annual report back when we were in government. I know he's done it prior to that, in the previous administration, and he's also done it under the present administration. His primary concern is the lack of financial accountability, that governments do still maintain the authority and the power to appropriate large sums of money and carry out large expenditures without the approbation of the House and, indeed, in many cases, without the knowledge of the general public until after the fact.

[Page 10347]

[5:45 p.m.]

I stand to be corrected, but under the Financial Measures (2002) Act, or the Finance Act - I'm not sure of the exact terminology, but the essence is pretty well clear - the government has the authority to appropriate up to 50 per cent, I believe, of next year's contemplated expenditures, operational expenditures or capital expenditures - I'm not sure which, one of the two - without having to go to the House for approbation. Given the fact that we're dealing with a $5 billion budget, we can appreciate pretty quickly how that would add up. There is a reason for that, Mr. Speaker. The contemplated notion was that the government, when the House was closed, may be put in a position where it would be forced to generate some unforseen revenues or appropriate some dollars for, let's say, a disaster or some major expenditures that hadn't been contemplated, and to go back to the House on short notice just wasn't acceptable. I believe that is part and parcel the reason why that was included in there.

I have watched, through the entire budgetary process, various members of the House here, from all three political Parties, make comments about why they support the budget, why they oppose the budget, why they support the Financial Measures (2002) Bill or why they did not. I couldn't help but think about some of the comments that were made by the various ministers of the present government when they were defending the budget. For example, we look at the Minister of Finance. Even during Oral Question Period today, the Minister of Finance, rather than be forthright in his answer and concede the fact that the government is not going to give that 10 per cent tax cut, acted as if no such commitment was ever made. Now, I don't think Nova Scotians are going to fault any government in such a negative fashion if it could justifiably explain why it just couldn't give a 10 per cent tax cut even though it made the commitment. But what the Minister of Finance has been trying to do for the last two weeks in the House is to try to have Nova Scotians believe that the Premier, during his election campaign, never made any such commitment whatsoever. That adds to the cynicism and distrust that people have for politicians. To me that's as obvious an example as any.

All the Minister of Finance had to do is say look, in order for us to achieve our balanced budget and given the increased pressures on education, health care and a whole variety of other issues, this is the reason why we can't do that. But he's refusing. He's still in denial. He's afraid that if he admits that they didn't live up to that commitment, people are going to turn against the government in full force. Well, Mr. Speaker, the people will actually turn against the government for not being forthright on the issue itself and the way they disclose that type of information. That's a clear example in itself. I have to give full credit to the Minister of Education on one particular issue. When pressed on the issue of the loan remission it took a little probing, but eventually she came right to the point and said, no, we're not going to do it in the budget this year. At least now the students know where they stand and the parents and the people of Nova Scotia. Perhaps they're not very happy with that answer, but at least they know where they stand. Yet the Minister of Finance, who is still in

[Page 10348]

denial, included that whole process, about giving that special type of relief to the students, in his budgetary address. When pressed on that issue, the Minister of Finance seems to deflect it to the Minister of Education and deny that he made any such commitment. Well I think that's most unfair.

Another example of why people are very cynical about this particular piece of legislation and the entire budgetary process is with the Department of Transportation and Public Works. In the Tory blue book they made a commitment that all taxes would be dedicated to the construction and maintenance of our highways. That would be in year two of the Tory mandate, and that's all the road taxes that are collected - all the vehicle registrations, the permits and licensing, that sort of thing. That was the commitment during the election campaign. Now the government finds that it can't do that. So why not just say that up front? Why not say we cannot live up to that commitment, we cannot meet our target because of all the pressures that we have on balancing the budget, the deficit, deficit control and so on.

But if you listen to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, this time last year during the budgetary process he skirted that issue, he didn't even want to acknowledge it. He refused to deal with the issue head-on like the Minister of Education did with the loan remission issue. Again this year it was the same thing. What's even more startling, when the Minister of Finance introduced this two-cent-per-litre tax, this special tax to go 100 per cent towards road construction and maintenance, that's not happening; through the budgetary process we found out that's not happening and that's not going to happen.

So, why doesn't the government just say stand in the House and say that? Why does the Minister of Finance try to make the people of Nova Scotia believe one thing when the Minister of Transportation and Public Works is telling the people something different? That speaks right to the issue of why 70 per cent of all Nova Scotians don't trust their politicians.

Going back - I don't want to drift too far away from the education one because that was one of the Tory blue book promises - again on Page 5, the commitment was to provide special income tax relief for graduating students who remain in Nova Scotia, allowing a portion of their provincial income tax payments to be used to retire up to 30 per cent of their provincial student debt. Well wow, Mr. Speaker, that's a substantial amount of money, whether people realize it or not. Maybe that's why the Minister of Education realized she couldn't meet that target. Maybe those dollars that the Minister of Finance was talking about just didn't come to fruition. He's still in denial on that particular target issue, unlike his colleague.

Again with the Minister of Tourism and Culture - granted the minister with the Arts Council is going to set up an advisory council, that's my understanding. He can nod yes or no or whatever, and if he's not then he's not even going to go that far, which will make it even that much more political. But let's go with the advisory council route that he himself,

[Page 10349]

or the Cabinet will appoint. Do you think for one moment that the people of Nova Scotia believe that he would appoint people who are not user-friendly to that government? You would have to have rocks in your head to believe that he was going to appoint - let's say if the council had seven persons on it - a council of seven high-profile NDP supporters, not likely, or seven high-profile Liberal supports, more likely and probably more practical, but aside from the jest the fact of the matter is he has embarked on this process because he believes that that's going to give them more political control over what's happening with the dispensation of dollars to the Arts Council.

That's fine if that's what he believes and what his government believes, but why not tell the people that? They were elected to rule, to govern Nova Scotia, and this is the way they're going to do it and, at the end of the term if we, the people, don't like it, well then vote us out. But don't try to make people believe, through this particular piece of legislation, that this is the best thing since sliced bread, because, Mr. Speaker, it is not so.

Let's look at the second scenario. If he doesn't even have an advisory council, he's going to have a senior director in his department do it. Let's assume that.

HON. RODNEY MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. Just for clarification for the member, there is a transition team in place. We have stated quite clearly that there will be an arts and culture council, and we are going through that process as we speak.

MR. SPEAKER: That's not a point of order, but it's certainly a clarification of facts for the honourable member for Cape Breton West, who now has the floor.

MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for clarifying that. I want to focus on scenario number two, because he's already indicated that he's in the process of developing his political council and that's fine. Don't be afraid of the word, political, because everything that government has done has been partisan from the get-go. Don't be ashamed of being a Tory. Stand up and say you're a Tory and that's the way we do things. This is what this bill speaks to. If he wants a partisan political Arts Council, just say so. He's going to do it anyway. All this dialogue and diatribe about what a new-found piece of good news we have for the people in the arts and culture community that he has developed, it just doesn't wash.

Again, Mr. Speaker, that's why the people of Nova Scotia don't trust their politicians. That's not a forthright answer to say that this is not a political decision, it is. Another classic example, the Premier - let's focus on the Premier and some of the Premier's commitments - insisted that we weren't getting enough Nova Scotia content, employment-wise, with the offshore. What has the Premier and his government done through initiatives such as this particular piece of legislation? They've allowed foreign oil companies to have such great influence on government policy here in Nova Scotia that we could very well see offshore

[Page 10350]

processing in the very near future. Gas and oil won't be coming to Nova Scotia with that type of regime put in place. It will not happen. The guarantees of Nova Scotia content have not materialized. The numbers have not materialized. That's another reason why the people of Nova Scotia don't trust their politicians. I realize . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We've reached the moment of interruption. The subject for this evening's late debate was submitted by the honourable member for Halifax Fairview.

["Therefore be it resolved that the government get its priorities straight and invest in health care in the Valley, not golf courses."]

[6:00 p.m.]

ADJOURNMENT

MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

HEALTH - CARE: VALLEY - INVESTMENT PRIORITIZE

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, I will be speaking to the resolution on behalf of our Party first this evening. The resolution draws a contrast between the need of the health care system in the Annapolis Valley with what has been the priorities chosen by this government. It has been very striking today to learn what it is that has been going on with the Valley Vista Golf Club compared with what it is that should have been going on with our funding of the health care system.

What we point out, in essence, in this resolution is that the sense of priorities that the government has seems somehow to be skewed. We know that these have been tight times. We know that in the government struggle to bring the budget into balance within its promised three-year time limit, it has had to make what it keeps characterizing as difficult decisions. Now, bringing the budget into balance is, of course, a very good idea, something that we spoke up in favour of. Our difference is, of course, the question of approach. We would have probably taken somewhat longer to bring the budget into balance given that we've lived such a long time with an unbalanced budget, but given that the government set for itself a three-year timetable to achieve a balanced budget, it found that it had to, as it keeps saying, make choices. It was a question of priorities.

Mr. Speaker, if that's the standard that the government has set for itself, if it says that it's in the business of making choices and the choice that it's going to make overwhelmingly is in favour of bringing the budget into balance, then one would hope to find within the

[Page 10351]

history of how it did that over the three years some minute attention, detailed attention, to each and every one of the expenditure items. You would think that the government would look at each of the expenditures and say, as it suggested it would, is this expenditure within the core functions of government? This is the standard that the government set. This is the main criterion that the government enunciated for us early on. It said we don't want to be involved in things that are not of the core of what a government ought to be about. We want to deal with the main services that people want: health care, education, and to a lesser extent community services. We want to be involved in those kinds of things that a provincial government is expected to do and, of course, at the top of that list was health care because there was a combination of two main promises that the government made in the election campaign of 1999. One was to balance the budget, the other was to protect health care.

So I would have thought it would be reasonable at every turn to look at the expenditures of the government and say, is this an appropriate expenditure, or could that money more profitably have gone into the health care system, and that's exactly what our resolution is about this evening. That's exactly what we're drawing to the attention of one particular segment of the population of this province, those people who live in the Annapolis Valley, and it's done this way partly because of the extraordinary example that we've seen last week, and in more detail again today, focusing on this really stark difference in a sense of priorities between a golf course and the needs of the local health authority, the local hospitals.

Nothing could be clearer and what is amazing to me and what must be amazing to the people of Nova Scotia is that these kinds of inappropriate decisions were made with respect to the needs in an area of the province that chose to vote, by and large, overwhelmingly for the Party that became the government. They voted for their Progressive Conservative candidates who, as we know when we look at the results of the election from 1999, are primarily based in rural mainland Nova Scotia, not a lot of advance in Cape Breton, not a lot of advance in the core metro areas for the Progressive Conservative Party, but when it came to rural mainland Nova Scotia, they took an overwhelmingly large number of the seats, practically a shut-out. I mean it was very striking and yet it's those areas of the province that have suffered what I think can only be characterized as insults or betrayals on the agenda that they had.

The agenda was very clear. People in rural Nova Scotia were very clear about what they wanted the government to do: they wanted health care, they wanted a good functioning health care service; they felt that the secondary roads, and in some cases the 100-Series Highways, needed some fixing and upgrading; and they wanted early access to natural gas. Now that was a very simple, straightforward agenda that this government hasn't met when it comes to the rural areas.

[Page 10352]

The resolution this evening essentially says, look! Look what on earth has happened in the part of the Annapolis Valley with respect to the choice that the government made to put money into what is now a bankrupt golf course when they could have put that money into health care. Here's how it happened. I will say this to the credit of this government. They have tended, by and large, when it comes to the funding of financial initiatives in the private sector, to move away from outright grants. But not in this case. Not apparently in the case of Valley Vista. What they've done is they moved, essentially, to tying money to job creation. Now I'm not saying that the money that went to Valley Vista was completely unsecured. There were debentures and the debentures were registered and they're on the public record. Unfortunately, of course, it's a golf course, which is a dubious matter in terms of investment of public dollars in the first place.

I tabled today a letter from 1998 written by a member who was later to become the Minister of Economic Development, to the owner of another golf course, who had obviously asked him some questions about what his policy was with respect to funds for golf courses. He wrote back, to his credit, at the time and said, when it comes to the funding of golf courses, this is something for the private sector. Indeed, when you think about how golf courses get funded, essentially what tends to happen is that a group of investors will get together and they will go to the lending institutions. They will put in cash of their own perhaps or they will go to the lending institutions and they will guarantee the loans. I've seen that happen. My father happened to be involved in the development of a new golf course some 30 years ago and I know that's what happened. They didn't get money from the government, not even in the form of a debenture. They had to sign on the bottom line. They had to put their assets up as security. Indeed, the minister said, when it comes to golf courses, that's not something the government should be funding. Let them go to the private sector.

Well, that's what he said in 1998, but when he became the minister, under his department, loans were given, secured by a debenture, to develop a golf course in very dubious circumstances I have to say. Let's remember that the proponent of this golf course did it without municipal approval, did it contrary to what was in the plan at the time, that is the local municipal plan, and this really pushed the whole thing through and in the end did it partially with the funding that came forward from this government. There was no explanation. We've heard the minister say, well, they put forward a good business case and so on. We shouldn't have been in this business at all in the first place. We just shouldn't have been in this business. If it was a question of putting money into that part of the province, the hospitals needed it. The health care authorities were running deficits, not enormous deficits, but several million dollars. In the end, this government, having put forward a debenture of $925,000 in the year 2000, a year later gave an extra $450,000, $1.4 million. That's most of the deficits of that health authority in that area and then of course the golf course went bankrupt.

[Page 10353]

The question is, what on earth was the government doing on behalf of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia putting those dollars into this entity in the first place? I have yet to hear any coherent explanation of why a golf course. Of course, there are the circumstances of who the particular individuals were and the final circumstance - well, two others. One, that it went bankrupt and now there is apparently talk of a sale to another individual, who has some fairly close ties to the government, without details about whether we will recover our money. It's a sense of priorities that seems to be missing. That's the question we're asking. I hope to hear from the minister about his sense of priorities.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Economic Development.

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, this resolution is not about golf courses at the expense of health care. It's about the NDP trying to apply a very simplistic solution to a very complex issue and that's something they tend to do repeatedly. For them, every single issue is an issue of the moment. They will find themselves firmly on all sides of any particular situation and willing to change that position from one moment to the next. That's what makes it so very difficult to really fully understand and appreciate exactly what it is they're asking government to do. In fact, I would say that the NDP have risen to the position of Official Opposition primarily because they're able to pander to whatever the issue of the moment is and I believe to some degree are dismissive of the public at large.

They want to portray every single issue in a manner that's most politically expedient for them and will suit their particular agenda. They posture and use jingoistic language invariably to try to shroud whatever the issue of the moment is in some kind of babble-speak.

The decision by this government to support Valley Vista was one that was not taken lightly. In fact, it was one that was reviewed by the board. The Business Development Corporation is comprised of business people . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I listened to the first speaker and I noted that there were not any interruptions and I would appreciate if the honourable members would give the honourable minister the time to respond without interruptions, please.

MR. BALSER: As I said, the decision to support this particular business initiative was reviewed by the then board of the Business Development Corporation and later by the board of Nova Scotia Business Inc. and I would remind the members opposite the intention of Nova Scotia Business Inc. is to allow that arm's-length agency to make decisions based on business merits. Certainly in the case of the Valley Vista Golf Club, the decision initially was one founded on the fact that an independent review of the number of golf courses that would be economically viable in the province. It was determined that we could support additional golf courses that were located within an hour and a half of the metropolitan region. Based on that and the fact that the individual behind this particular business initiative had put a great deal of this own money and property into play, the decision was made to support it.

[Page 10354]

Now, we are at a point today where that particular operation is in receivership. That was not a decision taken lightly. It was a decision that was taken at the end of a long, hard review of where we stood and what was in the best interests of the taxpayers of this province. I do believe that out of the receivership a new owner will come forward and that golf course will one day be economically viable.

The other irony that strikes me in all of this is that the position taken by, particularly, members of the NDP, changes depending on the particular circumstance. I remember not that long ago that there was a call centre announcement in a riding of a member who sits in the front benches of the NDP and noticeably, they said nothing against that particular business initiative, a payroll rebate that went to create a number of jobs in that riding. I hear many times - and in fact today in Question Period the motives of the member for Kings South were called into question and that person was acting in no different manner than many members sitting opposite have also acted; that is they lobby on behalf of their constituents with the ministers of various departments, whether it's road work, or Economic Development, or possibly PEP grants, or with the Minister of Community Services. Those people opposite would like to pretend that they can be sanctimonious and high and mighty, at the same time they come across the floor and ask whatever minister for support on behalf of their constituents. In fact, that's the way MLAs should act on behalf of their constituents. If there's an issue of the day, particularly an issue that creates a number of jobs in rural Nova Scotia, it deserves support and it deserves to be considered, and that's what we did with the Department of Economic Development in this particular situation.

Again, the member opposite in his questions raised the possibility that a former member of the government, a Cabinet Minister and I believe a person who served Nova Scotians well, would in a capacity as a business person perhaps come together with a group and look to buy those assets. In fact, before I responded to the question and reacted to the media queries, I contacted the receiver to find out exactly what had transpired.

[6:15 p.m.]

That individual, who is acting on behalf of the creditors, indicated that they had simply gone forward to open the facility because, obviously, something that's operating is going to be worth more money than something that's sitting closed. In terms of whether or not the individual whose name was brought forward on the floor of the House is interested, there's been no documentation generated. Again, the members opposite would like to hide behind posturing and rhetoric.

Mr. Speaker, in fact, many times in this House, I've heard the names of individuals, some in senior Public Service, some private individuals in terms of being entrepreneurs, who have their names and their motives - having them cast aspersions on their efforts here on the floor of the House because one of the luxuries we have in here is that you can avoid any kind of responsibility or accountability, provided that when you raise the issues you're in the

[Page 10355]

Chamber and you don't speak to those issues outside. It doesn't speak well of the Opposition, particularly the New Democratic Party Opposition, which wants to be firmly on every side of every issue. The reality is that the only way to fix the problems facing this province in terms of health care, community services and education is to continue to grow the economy. When you attempt to grow the economy, do you take risks? Yes, you do. (Interruptions)

The point is, though, if you look at the files in the former Nova Scotia Business Development Corporation, in terms of the loans and the rate of repayment, we had a 4 per cent default rate. That reflects well when you consider that the bulk of those loans are made in rural Nova Scotia and to companies that don't have a whole lot of other alternatives. Again, the members opposite would say that that money would be better spent on health care. Health care is literally that, an expenditure. It's a very necessary expenditure and one that separates Canada from many other jurisdictions. The reality is we have to ensure that, over time, we improve the health care system and make it sustainable, and at the same time we have to look at ways to grow the economy, whether it's through the form of payroll rebates in ridings of the members opposite, or payroll rebates or perhaps loans in any part of this province.

Mr. Speaker, a number of provinces have been able to create a tremendous tourism opportunity around golf courses. P.E.I. has been very successful, and Nova Scotia has been very successful. We will continue to do that. The members opposite oftentimes, as I've said already, attempt to position themselves in a way that portrays them in the best of all possible lights in a particular situation. Valley Vista is an unfortunate turn of events, but the reality is that that infrastructure has an economic and dollar value.

I suggest to you that over the next number of weeks there will be a number of proponents coming forward, and I certainly hope that the name that was mentioned today - that gentleman is not scared away from taking a look at this business opportunity. It would be very unfortunate if a shrewd, successful businessperson - that gentleman and his brother are very successful entrepreneurs in the Valley. They recently sold their operation, which I suggest frees up some capital that they might like to invest in some other opportunity, whether it's a golf course or perhaps something else in this province. I would encourage them to invest, although I will say that the members opposite create a very negative perception of this province in terms of it being a place to do business.

Mr. Speaker, the members opposite talk about redirecting money for health care and how we should ensure that we get top dollar investment and make decisions to ensure that health care is protected. I can tell you that in the half-hour we're going to spend debating this issue, we will have spent $125,000 on health care. The point of the exercise is to try to grow the economy. Again, will we make mistakes? We may, but our success record speaks for itself.

AN HON. MEMBER: Fore.

[Page 10356]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, there seem to be some drivers there behind me. I better duck before there are golf balls flying overhead. This is a serious matter. Most of my comments, though, will be related to the health issues, because this resolution that we are debating under Rule 5(5) here tonight, "Therefore be it resolved that the government get its priorities straight . . ." - that's certainly an important issue - ". . . and invest in health care in the Valley, not golf courses."

My understanding of the Valley Vista issue that is before the House today is one of the government putting monies into propping up a failing operation to have it in shape for a possible purchase by someone who is quite well connected with the government. That seems to be the issue and we will hear it another day. So I'm not going to dwell on that because I'm not sure of my facts on that and that's what I've gleaned out of the issue here today.

Government, Mr. Speaker, is a matter of choices. Regardless of whether these accusations will come forward and the government will deny them and people will look and the general public will look and it will be, he said and they said and we said and talk back and forth. The unfortunate thing about issues like this is that people just throw up their hands and say, well, shame on all their houses. The perception is that money would have been better spent in perhaps health care, particularly in areas that are having difficulty meeting their business plans and following through with their business plans to their budget. The Valley was one such place. So I think of all the areas for this to be happening in, certainly the one that will get public attention will be in the Valley area.

The Valley area has been very co-operative. It's one of the, I think, advanced areas in Nova Scotia, both from an economic point of view, in community living, the satisfaction of the community aspect of those communities that are served by that particular region. They have a long history of co-operation between the municipal units, I think, that is superior to other parts of Nova Scotia. These are people who I think, in many ways, have had their act together. We saw that when this government moved in the traditional way of Tory Governments that when someone starts complaining about their business plan not being adhered to and being misrepresented and so there was, as became public, discrepancies in monies relative to the business plan of that particular Valley region.

So the government in its fashion silenced the issue as well as they could by removing the finance person from their job. They were sent home and the issue was publicly debated, whether the audit of that particular region was requested by the CEO of the region or the board in that particular area and that's what the minister was saying, that they were invited to do that. Since then, it's become less clear that that was so. I think perhaps it was not requested, but I think it was imposed through this government. As we know, as we move from four regional health boards into nine district health authorities, the decision making has not gone to the communities. It has really been brought here back to the minister's office and

[Page 10357]

the deputy ministers here across the street in the Joseph Howe Building. So that's really what has happened and that's really what will polarize people's opinion. They know that. They know what's happening.

Following the announcement of the audit and that there were discrepancies in the figures it really was a very strong message that there was probably something wrong going on there. That maybe there was even fraud was almost implied by some of the media events. So this really angered the people in those areas. Here now today they are going to have something to focus on that will make them more disillusioned with the functions of this government, albeit any government. I think it's a matter of concern and why it's important to debate issues like we have before us here this evening when government has choices. But on the one hand, they see the infrastructure of their health care system being threatened. In addition to providing a great service in the community, probably one of the best regional hospitals in Nova Scotia in that Valley region, but they're being told, no. You're getting it wrong. You're doing it wrong and we're going to come in and we're going to audit you and we are going to find out what the discrepancies are and then we're going to set you straight. Other people, a little more cynical, might say, well, this was an area that was vocal and their rights and what was due them from the taxpayers dollars into the health care system.

This government is putting more money into health care, Mr. Speaker. There's absolutely no question about that. We commend them for that aspect, but the problem is, it lacks a system. We saw our clinical footprint that a lot of money, $0.5 million, paid out-of-province to Ontario consultants. The beat goes on. It still continues in many aspects on that. So the Valley region has turned around so what was a planning tool of government, the clinical footprint, was turned around to become a decision-making tool and that's why the people in the Valley, one of the reasons that they go so upset, I believe. So the seniors were organized from one end of that Valley, from the Bridgetown area, Annapolis, and those areas through to Kentville and impacting on Windsor. So they're not taking this lightly. Now, they have gone quiet for awhile now, but they're simmering and I'm sure the interest in what the deal is in this Valley Vista Golf Club is going to reignite the debate. I was hoping that it would be settled because the people in that region deserve better. They have done well. They have served their population well. They have a good system and a long history of cooperating with each other.

So from my point of view what this resolution is addressing tonight is for the government to get its priorities straight and invest in the health care system in the Valley and put it with good management and good administration. The government and the Department of Health is to support the people in the Valley region, not to accuse them of discrepancies in the numbers that they're bringing forward and in a punitive way order an audit. I think we're going to have some calls for an audit on the government itself and the minister's department on the accountability, that everything is above-board. If money was put in by this government earlier to stabilize this particular venture to make it more lucrative for a friend of a government to invest in, well, people are going to have some questions. There are lots

[Page 10358]

of ways that an audit can be more useful than that audit ordered on the people who were trying to make the health care system work in the Valley.

So, in government getting its priorities straight, Mr. Speaker, we know that even though with more money that has gone into the health care system by this government, albeit without an effective plan, there is always competition for the monies and that's what the people are going to see, whether it's $450,000 or whether it's $1 million or whatever, or even less, people are going to look at that and they want it to be fair.

Sacrifices will be made in communities and everyone knows that we just cannot snap our fingers on our health care system and have immediate attention and have access to beds like in the days when each community had its own hospital. That was the main industry throughout this province in most small communities. Those times have changed and people know that. They know there are studies out there indicating that in some ways their health is better, that obstetrics is done in a larger setting. So that's where the competition is for the dollars and the services, but it's also competition for fairness and to have it preached to them, well, we're going to audit you because we want this to be fair and you're making accusations against the government and we're going to find out here if you're doing the right thing, in the meantime your finance person will just set it out on the sidelines. This issue of the legitimacy and everything above-board with a golf course, I'm sure that that call will be coming from the Valley region.

So I would say that the message this evening - in summarizing with my few seconds left - is what kind of a message does this send to people? The cynicism is high against the political system in general, whether that's federal, municipal or provincial. There are issues like this that come forward in the House today that do nothing to ensure the credibility and enhance the openness and fairness that people demand while they make sacrifices. They wait longer in line for their tests, they're unable to get a hospital bed when they think it's needed, and what is an emergency in the minds of people . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member's time has expired and the time for this debate this evening has expired. I thank the honourable member for that.

We will now revert to third reading of Bill No. 109.

[PUBLIC BILLS FOR THIRD READING]

Bill No. 109 - Financial Measures (2002) Act. [Debate resumed.]

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

[Page 10359]

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, as I was saying before the moment of interruption, the issues to which the Financial Measures (2002) Bill speaks, as opposed to what we've been saying in the House - upon which we believe they speak to, that is from the government members' perspective - I believe are two different things. That's why so many people in Nova Scotia just don't trust their politicians. That's why I found it so refreshing to hear the Minister of Education be so forthright on the issue of student loans and the loan remission program. It was refreshing. I mean, that's an honest statement from a politician on a real issue. I congratulate the Minister of Education on that.

[6:30 p.m.]

Now, there's a sharp contrast between what we do here today and the way governments respond to the needs of the general public as opposed to what they did more than 300 years ago. I will quote an excerpt from an oration that was made in Massachusetts in the Spring of 1772 and it says, "There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.". Mr. Speaker, obviously things have changed quite significantly over that 300 year period. Ironically, if you see the actions of this government compared to the words of this government as it speaks to the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, you will find they're two different things. Really what the government has done, it has gone back 300 years. It has patronized the people of Nova Scotia in many ways that it should not patronize them. The politicalization of the Arts Council is a classic example. There's a classic example of what was quoted in the Spring of 1772.

Is that the Conservative philosophy on how it responds to the needs of the people of Nova Scotia? I don't think so. I would hope it isn't, but yet those actions speak louder than words. That's why people are somewhat suspect of the Financial Measures (2002) Bill and suspect of the budget as to whether it really is balanced. That's why the Auditor General has said he can't really conclude if it's a balanced budget because we won't know until the end of the fiscal year if it's a balanced budget. These are only projections.

I would be remiss if you or anyone in this House or indeed, the people of Nova Scotia, were to come to the rapid conclusion that all politicians are dishonest and misrepresent the facts, whether it be in the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, the budget or any other issue. As one of my colleagues noted a little earlier, we can go constituency by constituency and the people in those communities judge who they feel is the best person to represent their interests here in the House of Assembly. (Interruption) In my case, it's Cape Breton West and it's quite an honour and is probably one of the greatest honours that has come upon me and my family. I'm sure every member in the House feels that way. But one thing we must not do is betray that honour and that trust for political opportunity. There's a lot of political opportunity in the Financial Measures (2002) Bill. It's a bill that speaks to power and control and not trusting the people that sent the government members to this very House of Assembly.

[Page 10360]

Mr. Speaker, I will give you another example - the Freedom of Information Act. In the Tory blue book, the commitment was, "Amend the Freedom of Information Act to allow for . . . greater disclosure of government information and appoint a full-time Review Officer." Well, the government has fulfilled part of that commitment.

They've appointed a full-time review officer on the issues of freedom of information and public disclosure, but what they've also done is they've put punishing taxing measures there to make it a retardant to the people of Nova Scotia enjoying the rights and the privileges and the freedoms to which people such as Joseph Howe, whose picture is to the right of the Speaker, have fought for under some very difficult circumstances. This government, with this legislation, is pushing us back in time.

This is the same philosophy that was brought into vogue between 1978 and 1993. What we witnessed that course in history, through these major inquiries because of the Donald Marshall miscarriage of justice, was that politics was pervasive in just about every aspect of public and private life, even in the justice system, political interference in the justice system and allowing the government to go back to that, through the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, which is essentially the enabling piece of legislation for the budget.

Mr. Speaker, we've seen some rather punishing initiatives outlined in this budget. What have other members on the government benches said with regard to the Financial Measures (2002) Bill and the budget? Well, during the Committee of the Whole House on Bills, we saw individual members, some Cabinet Ministers, some backbenchers, stand up to try to sell the message that the reason why they're doing everything, irrespective of logic, irrespective of whether it adds up or not, whether it's coherent, consistent or good for the people of Nova Scotia, the general theme was, we're doing it because there's a balanced budget.

We saw that again today, Mr. Speaker, in Question Period, when the Minister of Finance was asked a question - what was it - it was because of the balanced budget. There was a question to the Minister of Economic Development, it was because of the balanced budget. That's why he's doing what he's doing. I asked a question to the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, and what did he say when I asked why the government wasn't enlightening the minister about the fact that we as a Party were prepared to commit $1 million a year for 30 years to the Halifax Harbour cleanup? He said, well, if it wasn't for the government's balanced budget, we wouldn't be able to do it.

Mr. Speaker, we haven't gone through the fiscal year, so he doesn't know if it's a balanced budget; that's point number one. Point number two is the reason why he was able to even get to that stage was because of all the initiatives that were taken from 1993 to 1999. Remember the unfunded liability and the Teachers' Pension Fund, over $1 billion, left by a Conservative Government. Who cleaned it up? The Liberal Government of John Savage. What about the unfunded liability with the workers' compensation system? Who created

[Page 10361]

that? The Conservative Government of John Buchanan. Who cleaned it up, and set the wheels in motion to make sure that that pay-down plan would correct that problem? The Liberal Government. What about Nova Scotia Resources Limited? Who created the unfunded liability in that? Again, the John Buchanan Government.

So, when the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations stands up today and talks about a balanced budget and the initiatives in the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, he's only congratulating the former Liberal Government for doing all the good things that it did. That's really what he has done, unwittingly, that's what he has done, and I thank him for that. (Interruptions) I thank him for applauding the former Liberal Governments of John Savage and Russell MacLellan for making it easy for him to stand in his place and say that they hope to get a balanced budget. He thinks there's one there, but we haven't gotten there yet because the end of the year hasn't come. It's like buying a home, Mr. Speaker, or buying a car. You budget $36,000, let's say, to buy a four-wheel drive. Okay, well, if you're on the Tory benches, maybe you can afford to do that. But all humour aside, if you budget for that and then you have unforseen expenses, what do you do? You don't meet your budget. You have to make some trade-offs. That's the same double talk, really, that came through the budgetary process by saying that we have a balanced budget, but on the other hand, we just borrowed $100 million for all of our capital improvements. I still can't get my head around how you can have a balanced budget and borrow money.

I remember last year, Mr. Speaker, when the Auditor General came before the Public Accounts Committee with his colleagues and the suggestion was made that well, yes, you can balance the budget if you want to go borrow more money. I captured that thought with the Auditor General and say, well, is that the logic, that you could balance the budget? He said, well, yes, but really you're increasing the debt. So what did the Minister of Finance do? He chastised me for about two weeks, saying I was promoting increasing the debt. What's the Minister of Finance doing this very day? He's increasing the debt with a balanced budget, so he says. Now how can you have a balanced budget with that type of double talk?

That's why, Mr. Speaker, the people of Nova Scotia don't trust their politicians, because they're adding fuel to the fire. The Minister of Finance and the Cabinet members, with the cheerleaders from the back row, are encouraging that type of public dissent, of moral and mental support, so much so that all we have to do is look at an article in The Daily News on Thursday, March 21, 2002. It's entitled, "PARENT IN POLITICS: Truth Not Politician's Best Friend: System Often Punishes People for Telling Truth Instead of Rewarding Them." Is it any wonder that honourable member would come up with those comments? His own colleagues, members of the Cabinet, are sticking it to him. That's why he's stuck with a moral dilemma, whether he should speak the truth or toe the Party line and vote for the budget. That must be pretty difficult for the honourable member, and I will table that document for the refreshment of members who haven't had the opportunity to review and read that article. It's a good article and it's refreshing to see that type of logic coming from the government backbenchers. Perhaps that type of logic should be promoted to the front

[Page 10362]

benches, because maybe that would help to reduce that sense of cynicism that the people of Nova Scotia have towards their politicians, irrespective of political stripe.

This government came into the House in this session with what they feel are two flagship items. One was the ban on smoking and two was a balanced budget. Now, if we look at the Financial Measures (2002) Bill and at the budgetary process - well, first of all, we're rather suspect as to who can count because the honourable member for Halifax Fairview this year found an error in the minister's calculations, as we did two years ago in the minister's calculations. So right away we find that the Minister of Finance, through this budgetary process, can't add his numbers. Again, another reason for people to suspect their governments. Not that it wasn't an honest mistake. It could be just carrying numbers from one column on one spreadsheet to the next, but the fact that the minister didn't recognize the opportunity to say, oh, okay, well, maybe we can address that problem with the transition homes, but what did it do? It just kind of slushed it right off and in such a cavalier fashion.

[6:45 p.m.]

What does the Minister of Finance and his colleagues do by developing the attitude that they have developed? They have undermined their own budgetary process. They have undermined the confidence of the people of Nova Scotia that they wanted to have, to have been able to leave this House and say, yes, this is a good piece of legislation, this is a good budgetary initiative, and this is one of the reasons why you should support us because we have done the impossible with great finesse, great clarity and with comprehensive thought processing and consultation, Mr. Speaker, but they haven't done that.

The government has already undermined itself on the smoking legislation. That's quite evident. I mean how could any government come into the House - like the smoking legislation - with the budgetary process which should be so clear and undermine its own process? They can't blame the Opposition for that. They can only blame themselves, Mr. Speaker. The Minister of Tourism and Culture has done that. If he had simply said that we're going to try something different and this is a political decision and we're going to stand by it and if we're wrong at the end of the day, people will judge us and if we're still in government at the end of this fiscal year and it doesn't work out, we will look at the option of going back, but they hate to admit when they're wrong and that's what the people of Nova Scotia want politicians to do - admit when they're wrong.

AN HON. MEMBER: Mea culpa.

MR. MACKINNON: Yes, Mr. Speaker, mea culpa. We see it even with the government backbenchers, you know, trying to defend this budgetary process. For example, the Human Resources Committee, the logic doesn't square with the facts. I will give you a classic example. We saw evidence of the constituency assistant for the member for the beautiful Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, I'm not sure of the exact committee, I believe

[Page 10363]

it was the Labour Standards Committee, she served on that committee, in fact, I appointed her on that committee when I was Minister of Labour. She served on that for three years and she was up for renewal. All indications are she would be good at that and the government says, no, you can't, you're in a conflict of interest.

Mr. Speaker, I started to think about that and I said let's assume the government is right. Well, why did they leave that lady sit on there for the three years of their mandate in a conflict of interest position? Should all those decisions which that lady participated in be now called into question? Should they now all be reviewed because the government knew she was in a conflict of interest and did nothing about it? That's a very serious question. That's what the Financial Measures (2002) Bill does not speak to. The Financial Measures (2002) Bill speaks to one thing - the government says and does another.

That's why, Mr. Speaker, we're concerned and perhaps if the government members on that committee could be a little more forthright and say, look, we've been sent here, this is our political mandate, we've got marching orders from the Premier's office, from P & P, from the Cabinet Room, that this is our Party position and we're going to follow it. But, no, what happens? Week in and week out, you will see this jostling back and forth through the media about the government members defending the indefensible.

In another article on Thursday, April 25, 2002, the honourable member for Kings North, it's an article by Mark Parent and it's referred to as Parent in Politics and the title to his article is, "Why do people hate us?" That's the question. Why do people hate us? I mean, did they elect us to send us here to hate us? No, they didn't. They sent us here to speak for them under the principles of responsible government, to advance, protect and defend the interests of our constituents above any and all other interests. Those are the principles of responsible government that were sent to us from Great Britain in 1758. However this process has evolved, it's very concerning - and I will table this one as well because I'm sure other government members, backbenchers, would like to read that. We may not agree with some of the comments of the good member from the Annapolis Valley, but he speaks about issues to which 70 per cent of Nova Scotians are raising significant concerns.

When we look at the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, what does it tell us? That's really what we have to ask. Does it tell us that we have a balanced budget? Does it tell us that the government is now going to gouge about another $110 million out of the pockets of Nova Scotians through the fuel tax and this so-called user fee structure or regime? New user fees and increased user fees - is that what it speaks to? Why don't we get some clarity so the people of Nova Scotia will have some confidence level on where we're going to be in the next 20 years. The figures that were given by the Minister of Finance on revenue projections by increasing our work force in Nova Scotia do not even come close - do not even come close - to squaring or matching the numbers that are put out by the Minister of Economic Development. Not even close. We would have to increase our work force, at a minimum, of 50,000 over the next few years to be able to meet the targets that the Minister of Finance is

[Page 10364]

quoting. There's no way we're going to be able to start paying down that debt unless we achieve those figures. But, yet, the Minister of Economic Development says, no, we're not going to, that's not in our five year plan. It's not there. So, his employment projections and the Minister of Finance's employment projections are two different figures. So who's correct?

Again, another reason why the general public don't trust their politicians and are suspect of this budgetary process and the Financial Measures (2002) Bill. If you were to poll Nova Scotians and ask every Nova Scotian in the province if they could tell us the difference between debt and deficit that we talk about in here day in and day out, I would be absolutely astounded to find a large percentage - I'm not saying the majority - and I don't mean that in a negative sense, but this is terminology that people aren't accustomed to on a daily basis. You don't operate your home on a deficit and debt basis every year - it's the same principle - you don't use that language when you're looking after your personal finances. I'm sure I don't, I know I don't and our family doesn't. We know it's there but we think of it in a different term.

But the government finds it quite convenient to spin this out. It's amazing. It would be interesting to do a poll to find out how many people in Nova Scotia believe that if we have a balanced budget that we owe no more money, that we don't have this $900 million debt or $12 billion debt. Again, depending upon who you talk to, the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank said it was over $12 billion last week and another member of his caucus stands up and says its $11.7 billion. Which is it? What figures are you going to believe? They don't even know themselves, Mr. Speaker, what they're dealing with. They're dealing with a moving target. That's what so concerning about the Financial Measures (2002) Bill.

Mr. Speaker, if you look at some of the issues within the Department of Justice. The reasons given by the government for the fee increases with the freedom of information requests is because they wanted to make it equivalent to a user fee, in other words, a fee for service for that individual or individuals or corporation or whoever is looking for information through the freedom of information process will only pay for what they're getting. Yet, they won't give the cost analysis. They've been stonewalling ever since they made that announcement. Even more concerning is the fact that they've given out two sets of figures: one in the range of $400,000, and the other, the second set of figures, in the range of $700,000-some.

Another reason why the people of Nova Scotia don't trust this government and politicians in general. We are reinforcing the contempt that people have for politicians. Why don't we just stand up and admit when we make a mistake or if we're doing something because we have to balance that budget and everybody is going to take a hit whether they like it or not? Because they're afraid. Historically, politicians have always seen themselves as prisoners of public opinion. They have carried that to such an extent that they actually feel compelled to keep all the facts from the public because they feel that if they give them too

[Page 10365]

much information, they can't handle it. Well, I give the general public more credit than that. I think that's what we have to get back to, Mr. Speaker. The Financial Measures (2002) Bill does little, very little, to engender that confidence. (Interruption)

Mr. Speaker, I hear some members saying that it does nothing to engender that confidence. Well, I'm going to be a little more generous and say, it engenders a little confidence but not a lot. There are some good measures in there. Whether we agree or disagree, the issue of accountability on some school boards. The jury is still out as to whether perhaps the minister went too far or not far enough. What about the issue of regional health boards. Well, contrary to the Royal Commission on Health Care that recommended that these regional health boards be put in - and that cost the taxpayers over $2 million - the government came along, spun the whole thing back and says, oh, we're going to bring health care back to you folks at the local level, you will have control over your own destiny by going with community health boards. What has happened?

Look at the Valley and the southwestern part of the province, and you have them going back to what happened pre-regional health boards. They're back scrambling and at crossed swords with each other for precious few health-care dollars. That wasn't what the intent was, but the government, I believe, has succeeded in doing what it enjoyed doing during the Buchanan Administration - divide and conquer, have one pitted against the other. This is so much the John Buchanan philosophy, it scares me. That's what the Financial Measures (2002) Bill speaks to, going back to the good old days. The senior statesmen in that Cabinet who are controlling, who are steering the ship are ones of a shared philosophy and duty from that John Buchanan Administration. That's why people are nervous; that's why people are suspect; that's why people don't trust their politicians; and that's why no matter how much or how hard the government tries to sell this balanced budget issue, it's just not washing. It's not washing because it's just another assembly of words.

[7:00 p.m.]

The proof is in the pudding. We will know at the end of the fiscal year, Mr. Speaker. We will know if it's a balanced budget. This is a projection of what they would like to achieve and the people of Nova Scotia are smart enough to know that, so stop kidding people, stop trying to make them believe that this is like Disneyland - it's not. The facts speak for themselves. If we're doing so well, why is it going to take 400 years at existing royalty revenues from the offshore to be able to make the payments on the debt for one year? It's $2.5 million or something like that. I think that was the figure, the net royalties after expenses. The interest on our debt is close to $800 million a year. It would take 400 years. So who is the Minister of Finance fooling? He's fooling himself. He's living in a fool's paradise to think that the people of Nova Scotia can't add two and two. It's not a balanced budget with that type of logic.

[Page 10366]

So perhaps, before the Minister of Finance closes debate on third reading - if there's such a thing, maybe he won't even make a comment - he will explain how you can borrow $100 million, increase the debt and say that you have a balanced budget. I am at a complete loss. It's not a balanced budget. It's balanced on the operational side, but when you add in the capital side, where they borrowed $100 million to be able to build bridges and schools and what have you, you've increased the debt by $100 million and then we have interest payments on that. So what have we got? Not a balanced budget. What's the difference between that and this health care investment fund? It's the identical, same scenario, but we told the people up front that this is what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. The Minister of Finance is still in denial. I think our plan was $600 million over four years.

AN HON. MEMBER: On the average, $150 million a year.

MR. MACKINNON: Essentially $150 million a year for four years. Okay, so what do you do? You increase the debt. Well what's the Minister of Finance doing? He's increasing the debt. So what's the difference except for the amounts? It's the same principle. So how can they apply the logic against the balanced budget when they're on this side of the House and go over there and say it's balanced doing the same thing, applying the same principle? That's why people don't trust this government and politicians in general, because they say one thing and do something different. That's why they're suspect of a so-called balanced budget, which we know its not, and the Financial Measures (2002) Bill.

So, Mr. Speaker, we could go on and on with all the examples of the dichotomy of the words of the government versus its actions and that's what's so disappointing. Look at the issue of insurance. Last week, the Minister of Finance said that they had to put the charge for the hearings at the Public Utility and Review Board back onto the insurance companies, which will download on the consumer because you shouldn't expect the taxpayers to pay that.

Well, by golly, my colleague, the member for Cape Breton The Lakes, dug up the figures and it shows that the government, presently, on insurance premium taxes, is collecting $44 million from the people of Nova Scotia, from the consumers. They're collecting $44 million, $10 million of which goes to the Department of Health and the other $34 million goes to general revenues. So now they're going to gouge the consumers even more because they want to say why the rates have gone out of whack. The government has lost control over this entire issue.

Do you mean to tell me that out of $34 million, they can't find $50,000 or $100,000 to hold hearings? There was no problem to get $75,000 to have the Select Committee on Fire Safety travel around the province. The MLAs didn't make the final analysis or make them in isolation. They listened to the experts; they listened to firefighters; they listened to victims; they listened to experts from all different stakeholders' positions, insurance companies.

[Page 10367]

That's what that process was for. It's more comprehensive than a snow job that's being perpetrated on the people of Nova Scotia through this public Utility and Review Board process.

For the government to say they don't have money, they have $44 million. We will subtract $10 million and say okay, we will accept $10 million going into the Department of Health, but $34 million that they're collecting in taxes - it's a hidden tax, by the way, on all insurance premiums in the Province of Nova Scotia, which was perpetrated on the people of Nova Scotia by the former Minister of Consumer Affairs. He was given the job to protect consumers and what did he do? He stuck it to them. Yes, he was a Tory Minister too.

How the Minister of Finance can say, this is why we want this included in the Financial Measures (2002) Bill, I say hogwash. That is not good enough. The people, the consumers of Nova Scotia are paying $34 million in insurance premium taxes for which they're getting no answers from this Minister of Finance or this government on what's happening with that $34 million. No accountability. Why not?

Mr. Speaker, again, another reason why they don't trust this government and they don't trust the Financial Measures (2002) Bill or the budgetary process, and another reason why they just don't trust politicians in general. Why? Why do they have to do it? In fairness to the government, the Tories weren't the only political Party that ever did that. Other political Parties, the NDP did it in other provinces. Liberals did it, but it's more the rule than the exception with the Conservatives in Nova Scotia. Their mindset is, Conservative Government, the backroom boys, so to speak, who are controlling the way this ship is going, their public policy on finance and different issues, they believe in power and control, and structure the legislation so they have that power and control.

The sunset clause from the Occupational Health and Safety Act, last year, that didn't answer any of the problems. All that did was send a message out to friends of the government that we're going to cut back on red tape and we're going to make it easier for you to do business in Nova Scotia, and don't worry about those little old workers and their safety issues because we can handle that, we can double-talk them here in the House.

Mr. Speaker, I realize my time is just about coming to a conclusion. I believe that only time will tell, but at this juncture there are too many questions and not enough answers for me and our caucus to support the Financial Measures (2002) Bill. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I wanted to have an opportunity to rise this evening to speak on the Financial Measures (2002) Bill because there are a few things that I would like to say and remind people about that exist as a result of the passage of this piece of legislation. I'm not going to go through them in any particular order. Many of them have

[Page 10368]

been touched on already and I just want to add my voice to the voice of those who have opposed, in principle, the erosion of things like the Nova Scotia Arts Council.

So I think I will just start there for a second and say that we have made it clear to the Minister of Tourism and Culture, the members opposite and the members of the Liberal caucus that, in our opinion, despite the fact that we don't have the ability to stop this legislation in its tracks where it is here today, we have made a commitment to the people of the province and to the members of the arts community that we are only one election day away from the reinstatement of the Arts Council. We are only one election day away from the repassage of the legislation that this government is taking great pains to do away with here today.

I want to remind everyone on the benches that that is the case, and I want to remind all of the people who are watching out there and members of the public that this is really a betrayal of the arts community. What it does is remove from that community an arm's-length council, something that was a source of pride to many people in that community over the past number of years and it replaces it with a tool of the minister that can be exercised at his or her discretion, depending on who happens to be in the office. I think this is a great shame and it brings no credit to the government that they would choose to undertake this at this time.

Now, there's one more thing that I wanted to talk about. I guess there are really two more things I wanted to talk about. One of them is something that's gone pretty much unnoticed in the House, and that's Clause 51 of this bill, which does away with the requirement of the government to bring forward a resolution to deal with prior years' deficits. Mr. Speaker, you may remember that in your years in Opposition in the House and indeed in the first years of this government, if a deficit was run, then a resolution had to be brought in by the government stating what the deficit was. The theory was that that resolution had to be passed, although I think there's still one on the order paper somewhere and it never was passed.

The government says it's an impractical thing to do, but I think our suspicion has been, right from the very beginning, that the Minister of Finance understood only too well that it was going to be extremely difficult to keep the books of the province in balance based on their projections and that it would be embarrassing to the Minister of Finance, the Premier and indeed, to the entire government if this time next year they were forced to bring forward a resolution indicating that in fact the books for this year were not going to be in balance but there was going to be a deficit. That's over and above all the arguments that you heard from the honourable member for Cape Breton West and many of us here that there is no balanced budget anyway; there's going to be $100 million added to the budget deficit this year, to the debt. There's going to be that much again next year and the year after that there's going to be a further addition to the debt, and indeed when we asked the officials in the Department of Finance when they foresaw the end of adding to the debt in this province, their answer was

[Page 10369]

maybe in a decade. So sadly this is not a balanced budget, although the pretense is there on behalf of the government and there's nothing more than that.

[7:15 p.m.]

The last thing I wanted to speak on is something that I personally feel is perhaps among the most damaging pieces of this legislation and that is the increase in the fees under the freedom of information and access to information provisions, Mr. Speaker. You know the reality is - and probably not more true today than ever before - that information is power. Information creates not only the news, but it creates the movement of our society. It shapes events that are going to take place in the years to come. The press, among other people, not the least of which are Opposition politicians, value the access to information greatly because it is only with the freedom to have access to government information that we can truly have confidence that the power that resides in government is being administered in a fair way, is being administered in the best interests of the public at large, and it's necessary for the press and for members of the Opposition, and indeed for the general public, to have full, complete and open access to the extent possible to information from government.

I'm going to use an historical example, Mr. Speaker, to underline this point. You know in the early 1960s the Vietnam War was underway. There were decisions being made by the Presidents of the United States, by Kennedy and by Johnson, around activities that were going on in Indochina and there was a Secretary of Defense, a guy by the name of MacNamara, that others may remember - in fact, the Vietnam War was sometimes known as MacNamara's war - and it wasn't I think until about 1971 or thereabouts, I think it was, The New York Times managed to publish something called the Pentagon Papers. This was a watershed moment in the war and the anti-war movement in the United States because what was really, really clear from the Pentagon Papers was that there had been a constant theme and a failure of successive administrations with respect to its obligations to the American people, in fact to the people of the world, to provide information about what its true and intended activities were, that in fact the Government of the United States was undertaking covert actions throughout Southeast Asia, that administrations were engaged in the manipulation of the news media. They were engaged in the manipulation of the American public and they were engaged in the manipulation of international opinion.

What was interesting was that as they went through the Pentagon Papers, there was document after document after document that talked about something called the preparation of public opinion, was the way it was referred to. They would say, depending on the public reaction to this, x y z will happen. So, they were clearly concerned that every piece of information they were releasing, every story they would let go into the media, everything was done in order to be able to manipulate the news media, to manipulate the opinion of the U.S. public.

[Page 10370]

In fact, they treated the press, and they said of the press that the press becomes another enemy whose alertness causes constant alarm and fury. So the press was not only treated not as a conduit by the American public to information from its government, it was literally treated as an enemy of the government and used to manipulate public opinion. This particular example, I think, stands out, certainly in my mind, because of its severity.

I have to say there's a disturbing trend - as everyone knows - to having more and more communications people attached to every department; attached to every appendage of government you will find another communications person whose sole job is to spin the line of the government, whether it truly represents the facts or not.

The government will say this is legitimate communications strategy of the government to get its message out. Well, the only thing that the members of the Opposition and the members of the press have to answer that with is our ability to do our own research and to use the provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to be able to get access to the information that is in the sole domain of the government.

Mr. Speaker, we have that right. That is what is being challenged by this government, when it jacks up freedom of information fees. That is what is being taken away from the people. It is undermining the quality and the substantive nature of our democracy, and this is very troubling. Speaking of the Pentagon Papers in the United States, Hugo Black, who was the Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court said, "The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have [to] bare the secrets of government and inform the people."

Mr. Speaker, he was referring, at that time, to information far more dramatic than anything that we uncover in our little corner of the world in this Legislature. It had a far greater effect on the outcome of many governments, not just the governments of the United States but of many governments around the world and their participation in the Vietnam War. Our freedom of information legislation is no less important to us here, it is no less important to the people of our province and it is no less fundamental to the principles of democracy in this province than it is anywhere else in the world.

Mr. Speaker, that's why I would ask the members opposite - at this point, we know they're going to vote for it - to spend a little time thinking about what this really means to furthering and making a better place their communities that they live in. I think truly, Mr. Speaker, if they thought about it just for a second, they would understand that this is not going to make our democracy stronger. It only serves to undermine it. So with those comments, I intend to take my seat. Thank you.

[Page 10371]

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

MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I'm not going to be on my feet long tonight. There are a couple of issues here tonight that make me sick. I want to go home and vomit. I'm glad I woke my former colleagues up over there in the back row because I would like to bring to the attention of those former municipal colleagues of mine over there that have truly forgotten where they came from. I would refer to Page 14 of this bill, Bill No. 109. Clause 34 allows this government to remove the restricted license plates for municipal government vehicles right across this province at an increase to those individual municipalities of thousands and thousands of dollars now to license these vehicles.

Mr. Speaker, I will tell you what problem I have with that and it's quite obvious. I'm sure my former colleagues over there will recall that prior to me coming into this House, there was a big issue with UNSM and that we got kind of tired after awhile of getting dumped on and dumped on by governments and governments. So we fought and some of those colleagues over there stood and fought the battle. Here's the key. I'm glad he's referring to the (Interruption) Here is a group of people that negotiated this now for municipal units and before this government or any previous government or any government that comes after it, this government is supposed to provide one-year's notice to municipalities. Their ears are coming up now because they remember. They remember that this government is supposed to notify UNSM of any change, any dumping of financial issues on top of municipalities, they are supposed to be provided notification 12 months prior.

Now a section of that gang over there helped fight with the municipalities. When they were municipal representatives, they fought the fight and won. Now that they're over there, you know what you can do with that agreement? Trash it in the garbage can because of what their direction in which they are treating municipal units in this province. Mr. Speaker, I for one am vowing here tonight that we will not forget this issue and I am going to predict that all the municipal representatives from one end of this province to the other won't forget as well. They won't forget when they're increasing tax rates in the municipal units this year because of that gang over there. Now if that's not disgusting, I don't know what is. That gang over there fought the fight for the municipal units and I was there, I saw them. I witnessed them and we fought on one side of the floor to ensure that municipal units were treated fairly and that notification would be provided to the UNSM on issues with a financial impact to municipalities, that notification would be provided 12 months in advance.

The provincial government, I don't want to have to say what government of the day, agreed to that after much negotiation. I will say that. That gang stood and fought the fight with the other municipal units across this province. Now that they're here, they think they're in seventh heaven or somewhere. I don't know where they think they are because they feel they don't have to go back out into the real world. Well, Mr. Speaker, have I got news for them. No, I can assure them that I will not be forgetting and I will be reminding these honourable provincial politicians now. Since they grew up, they think they got out of their

[Page 10372]

bibs and moved from the crib into the big high chair. That's what the minister would like them to believe. Well, well, well, have I got news for those individuals. Those people out there in never-never land who are facing higher, rising property taxes will not forgive. Remember that, gentlemen. You laugh; we will see who gets the last laugh.

[7:30 p.m.]

The second issue I would like to talk about is the scheming - again, more scheming - of the government to promote and, behind the scenes, increase their income from insurance premiums in this province. They may think that we're going to go away on this issue, but I can assure you just because - and this bill will pass, that's obvious. The bill's going to pass because in here - I think all Nova Scotians realize that if you want to count the noses, there are more noses over there, unfortunately for us here. And when the vote comes down, yes, they will win the vote. They will win the vote, but they will not be allowed to get away with gouging seniors, in particular, people on fixed incomes, people with disabilities and people who live in rural areas that don't have access to public transportation. That's who they are gouging.

I witnessed in this House the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations come in here with a sham, an assessment bill where he was trying to eliminate the exemption on machinery and equipment. He thought he went around it, and he did; he fooled the Dippers over there. He fooled them, but my colleague for Lunenburg West and myself were onto this game. We were onto the game. Because you know what? He didn't take long shelving it when he realized that we found out what he was doing. I know I have to watch my language, but I will allow Nova Scotians to nickname him. Not me, I'm not here to nickname him.

Nova Scotians will not forget. I can assure you that they will not forget on this issue because I guarantee all Nova Scotians and every member of that government over there that on a regular basis, all summer, right until he calls the next election, he will hear from me until they do something about insurance premiums in this province. This government - now listen to this one - $34 million they obtained last year, plus another $10 million. Now, the $34 million came from a 3 per cent tax, hidden tax, on premiums. Every premium that's sold in this province, there's 3 per cent hidden tax right in there. You don't see it. You pay it; the insurance broker pays it.

They also earned another $10 million on levies from the auto insurance brokers themselves. So between the levy and the 3 per cent, that government earned $44 million last year. I will put it this way; if I wanted to increase that revenue, what would I do? I have two options for everybody to see. I could increase the 3 per cent tax rate, hidden tax. I could sneak that up to 5 per cent and tell nobody. Then people would say, why are my premiums going up 2 per cent? And then it would become obvious. It would become very obvious that the government was gouging. So they didn't do that. No, they didn't do that.

[Page 10373]

The only other way, Mr. Speaker, to increase the revenue would be to increase premiums. Now, remember two years ago when IBC approached that government about rising insurance rates in this province, the very first thing John Hamm did was take the file from Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations and put it over with an insurance broker - the Minister of Environment and Labour. He is an insurance broker, possibly I believe in a conflict of interest. That's the first maneuver that he did. Now the honourable Minister of Finance, of course, when he saw this, he saw dollar signs ringing and so he could also blame it on the industry you see. You blame this on the industry, what happens? Up goes your income; allow the industry to increase premiums, your tax revenue automatically doubles.

So that gang over there - just two issues I wanted to bring up, Mr. Speaker - I can assure all of them over there, every one of them, it's too bad the honourable member for Preston didn't have the same ability in this House that he did at the Halifax Regional Council meetings that we used to witness prior to him being promoted to this House, Nova Scotians will not forget, I can assure you that they won't and I can tell you why they won't - because Brian Boudreau and his colleagues will be reminding them at every turn, the gouging and the dishonesty that's being displayed by this minister and this government, and I'm surprised by that backbench because they're allowing that gang up front to get away with this.

Mr. Speaker, many seniors have seen rates triple. I have discussed insurance premiums with seniors who have seen more than 400 per cent increases in their premiums. You don't need to be a rocket scientist really, you know if you're paying $100 for a premium now, the government collects 3 per cent; if you pay $400, the government collects 3 per cent. Now how much more would the government make if the premium was $400 instead of $100? Ask the Minister of Finance; he's the calculator man. Let him tell Nova Scotians why he sits back idly and does nothing about high insurance premiums in this province. Do you know why? His revenue just went up. When the insurance companies increase the premiums by 300 per cent, his tax rate, his hidden little charm there in that insurance premium increased by 300 per cent.

Mr. Speaker, that minister should be ashamed, full of shame, to gouge seniors, people on fixed incomes, people with disabilities, people who live in remote and rural areas who do not have access to public transportation. That minister has successfully blamed an industry that provides approximately 60,000 jobs to Nova Scotians in this province, that's the value that that minister puts forth into this industry, and I say shame on that minister, shame on those backbenchers and shame on the government. If you want to increase your revenue, Mr. Minister, be honest with Nova Scotians and increase the rate.

Mr. Speaker, with that I will close. Thank you. (Applause)

[Page 10374]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I will speak for a few moments on Bill No. 109 at third reading. I do so because, as others have said, this bill, an Act respecting Certain Financial Measures, pertains to the budget that this government brought down, a budget that is very important in the life of the . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic has the floor.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, a budget that's very important in the lives of these Tory politicians, the budget that they have presented to Nova Scotians as being balanced. They argue that it's the first time in 40 years that a balanced budget has been presented to Nova Scotians, and this is the bill that will make that possible.

It's an interesting sleight of hand, really, that the government has performed here. They have ladled a bunch of the operating deficit of the Province of Nova Scotia over the past couple of years onto the debt. The debt continues to climb. The interest rate on the debt continues to climb. We have, supposed, a razor-thin surplus. I think one estimate was 1/4 of 1/10 of 1 per cent is what the surplus represents. In fact, my colleague, the member for Halifax Fairview, pulled out more money from a math error, from a calculating error that appeared in the budget documents, than already existed. That's how minuscule, that's how almost insignificant this supposed surplus is.

Mr. Speaker, I don't mean to suggest to you or to members of this House that having a balanced budget is insignificant, it's not. It's very significant; it's very important. It's important to Nova Scotians to have a government in place that's able to pay for the services that they provide, and extremely important that the revenues cover the expenditures. That has not happened over the last number of years, and as a result we see an enormous debt that climbs every year and a government that continues to reduce its per capita responsibility, for such things as health care, education and social services.

The budgets of those departments may be increasing but, in fact, relative to the GNP of the province of Nova Scotia, relative to the per capita spending on these programs that is represented in other jurisdictions in this country, we, Nova Scotians, continue to fall behind on all of these issues. We have estimated that this government, in the past two and a half years, has raised in excess of $200 million in user fees. In this budget alone, it's well over $100 million that has been levied as a result of increases in licence fees, increases in user fees, increases - what it is is revenue being generated in order to meet the bills.

It's revenue that's being generated by asking Nova Scotians who are using government services, who are buying licences, who are registering their motor vehicles, who are registering their trailers and so on, it's asking them to pay more. The licence fees in a number

[Page 10375]

of instances have continued to climb. Things like the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act fees and the cost for doing appeals has continued to climb under this government.

The problem with that is that these revenue increases are not spread out evenly across the population. They're not based on people's ability to pay, people are not paying an increase in fees, an increase in taxes as a result of their ability to pay increasing, Mr. Speaker, which is what is the basis, the principle behind our income tax system.

[7:45 p.m.]

Our income tax system is progressive. In other words, it's a percentage calculated on our total income, Mr. Speaker, as Nova Scotians, both individuals and businesses. In other words, the more you make, the more you earn; the more as a proportion or as a percentage that you pay for those services. The idea being that the more income you have, the more able you are to pay taxes, and people who have little or modest income are not as able to make contributions to tax revenues. So if their economic situation changes, they will be expected to pay commensurately. But what this government has done is they haven't increased the rates. They haven't increased income taxes, which is a progressive form of taxation, they have increased user fees, which are a regressive form of taxation.

In other words, what we understand by examining these user fees, these license increases, Mr. Speaker, is that it's not unlike sales taxes that they are preponderantly a larger burden on people of modest income and that's why we in this caucus have been opposed to the budget that the government has brought in and why we have argued that they should be more respectful of Nova Scotians. That they should tell Nova Scotians the truth, that we need to generate greater revenues. That we need to pay attention to efficiencies and we need to ensure that the way we are delivering services is the most effective. But, ultimately, as the demand increases, we need to increase revenues, we need to find ways to generate increasing revenue. They've admitted that by hiding so many fee increases.

They have said, Mr. Speaker, through Bill No. 109, with all of their fee increases, tobacco tax, license fee increases, FOI and so on, that they need an extra $120 million in order to pay for the services that this government provides. But instead of having the courage of their conviction, instead of understanding the need for fair taxation and bringing forward another form of revenue generation that is more representative, more reflective of people's ability to pay, what they've done is they've done it through the back door. They've done it in a way that is very insidious to many Nova Scotians.

I know just over the weekend, again, Mr. Speaker, as has been the case over the past number of weeks since this budget was tabled, I had occasion to speak to a couple of small-business people out in my new neighbourhood in Porters Lake, people who are experiencing these increase in fees and are growing increasingly frustrated by the fact that every time they

[Page 10376]

go the Registry of Motor Vehicles, every time they go to do their job. I was talking to somebody who operates a septic tank company on the weekend. He said that the cost of him doing business continues to go up simply as a result of an increase in fees. He said he passes those on. He passes that stuff on to his clients. Residential and commercial property owners are paying those increased costs, not based on their ability to pay increasing, not based on an increase in revenue, either business revenue or individual income earned revenue, but they are paying those increases simply on top of the taxes that they already pay to the Nova Scotia Government and they don't feel that is fair.

So, that's what this bill, Bill No. 109, represents to me mostly, the kind of surreptitious strategy that this government has employed since it came to power. They said that we're not going to increase taxes and yet they've been pounding it to individual Nova Scotians ever since they came into office. They won't call it a tax, they say it's a user fee or a licence fee, but there are increases and new fees being added to everything that is being done today. It's affecting small business people, it's affecting low and middle income earners the most and I believe it's wrong and that this government should be showing Nova Scotians more respect by coming through the front door and saying, if you want these services, if you want this level of service, if you want this quality of service, then you're going to have to pay for it. The best way for us to generate revenue in a manner that's fair is to increase income taxes. Either individual income taxes or corporate income taxes.

This bunch has decided not to do that. In fact, while they're pounding it to individual Nova Scotians and small businesses in the province, randomly, at the same time they are doing that, in order to generate increasing revenue, they are going to come forward in six months or a year's time with a 10 per cent income tax cut - a 10 per cent income tax cut - which benefits disproportionately higher income earners. In other words, what's the estimated cost to the government of that 10 per cent?

AN HON. MEMBER: It's $130 million to $140 million.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Next year, they're going to be another $130 million to $140 million revenue short. So where are they going to come up with that money? Well, the small business guy I was talking to this weekend is going to find more fees. The people that go out, the seniors and others, that go out and buy fishing licences and driver's licenses and motor vehicle licenses, they're going to be paying more. Other people that use land registry and other services of government are going to continue to see those fees getting cranked up in order that this government can provide a tax cut, a tax cut that disproportionately favours higher income earners. It's not right, it's not fair and the Nova Scotians that I've talked to certainly understand that in spades.

There are a couple of other issues that I want to raise with respect to Bill No. 109 which I feel are particularly galling. One of them has to do with issues of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act. When the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act was

[Page 10377]

proclaimed in the Province of Nova Scotia in 1993-94, was it (Interruption) the Freedom of Information Act was like a breath of fresh air. As the member for Halifax Fairview had indicated earlier, we had on paper a Freedom of Information Act before, but it wasn't worth the paper it was written on. It was so exclusive. That Act provided for an independent watchdog, a Freedom of Information Commissioner, was arm's-length and it provided for a very uniform and clear strategy whereby ordinary Nova Scotians could not have their requests for government information denied, could not have those requests denied.

It pertained to ordinary Nova Scotians. It pertained to us, the Opposition. It pertained to the media. It was finally in this province, Mr. Speaker, taking off a veil on the information that government has at its disposal. Over the past number of years since it was proclaimed, we have tried to bring in changes to the Act, not always successfully. There have been improvements. The Act has been expanded to include quasi-public bodies and there have been improvements. The information commissioner has been made full-time, which was a big step.

There are still problems. There have still been problems with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Mr. Speaker, with the access to information in this province, but nonetheless we had moved some considerable distance at making that process fair and relatively transparent. This government now comes along and what they've done is increase the application fee, and in this bill they have done away with what before existed as a free two-hour search period. In other words, someone would apply for information and they would not be billed for the first two hours that it took to search for that information. They would not be billed. That two-hour free period, gratis period, has been removed and the fees have been increased.

Well, that's going to have the effect that this government expects it will have. It's going to dampen and chill access to information. People aren't going to make applications as often as they have. We had representations at the Law Amendments Committee down the hall, Mr. Speaker, from people who are aware of the bill, people in press rooms and media rooms, not only in Nova Scotia but across the country, who said that if you increase the application fee from $25 to $100 or $5 to $25 or whatever, that would have an impact on whether their superiors allowed them to make an application.

So, Mr. Speaker, the effect of the changes in this bill to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is to limit applications, limit requests, limit and further restrict the process contained within the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and that is morally wrong. I mean, you know, there's no other way to characterize it; it is morally wrong.

There's another section in here with respect to the Education Act, and it highlights in part, the section on the Education Act and the section on the Arts Council are two parts that I find particularly galling because they are changes in legislation. For example, in the

[Page 10378]

Education Act, which empowers the minister and the government, when they find wrongdoing, to move in, to swoop down on a school board and take over their responsibilities, to relieve them of their duties in particular instances. I think that should have been done - I don't disagree with that except for one, I believe, in our caucus suggested an amendment that would limit the authority of the minister to some extent so that she would not be in a position or he, whoever it was, to abuse that power, but we essentially agree with the idea that the school boards should be held accountable.

[8:00 p.m.]

But the way to do that is to bring the Education Act in here, or a bill that amends the Education Act specifically. It's like everything, you know, everything that could be at all contentious was thrown into the Financial Measures (2002) Bill so that it would supposedly limit debate. I think that's really taking advantage and its an affront to parliamentary democracy. The same thing goes for the Arts Council that I'm going to talk about in a second. There is a bill specifically relating to the establishment of the Arts Council. When you dismantle, when you completely and utterly change that, then you should bring that original Act in or a bill that amends that Act. Don't wrap it all around, I say, a bill related to the budget, Mr. Speaker, and expect us as legislators who take our job quite seriously to be satisfied with that.

The other thing with the Education Act, and I sat in on a few presentations at the Law Amendments Committee and the Acadian School Board made a representation there where they believed that the provisions that would allow the Minister of Education to take over their responsibility would be and was unconstitutional. Now, as they said, what would trigger that constitutional question is the minister actually enacting that particular section of the bill. In other words, relieving them of their authority. They talked about the constitutional issues involved in their responsibility as a separate school board in the Province of Nova Scotia and they talked about New Brunswick and the experience in New Brunswick. That's an issue that caused me some concern.

I was disappointed not to hear a response from her officials on that question because I feel it's a very important question, Mr. Speaker, and I would hate to see simply because of sloppiness or having overlooked the issue in the wording of this provision that were the government to take provisions of this, were to find something wrong, were to move in to take over responsibility for some operations of that board, that it would trigger a constitutional challenge and the board, in particular the students involved, would be completely tied up in a huge mess. So the section of the Education Act is something that I feel should have been dealt with by a revision to the Education Act itself. It's a very important issue. It's a very important Act, a very important sector in this province and should have been dealt with separately by a separate piece of legislation. The other part is the whole constitutional question the Acadian School Board brought to the attention of the Law Amendments Committee, which I did not see dealt with.

[Page 10379]

Finally, Mr. Speaker, let me move, if I may, to the provisions of the bill as they were reworded, Clauses 40 to 43, with deal with the Arts Council. In the dark of night some months ago, the minister responsible for the Arts Council and his officials in effect swooped in and put the padlocks on the door of the Arts Council and set the security guards up and wouldn't let anybody in. They have continued with that process through this bill by ensuring that the people who sat as council members no longer held that position, that the staff that were responsible, that were hired by and that were employees of the Arts Council were no longer employees of the Arts Council.

They have taken money of the Arts Council and made it theirs in this bill. They have done it in the face of the concern, the very clearly articulated concern raised by hundreds of thousands of people - artists, supporters of the arts and culture sector in the Province of Nova Scotia from one end of the province to the other - who have come here, who have stood outside this House, who have asked the minister to come forward and explain to them, to give them reasons why he would unilaterally disband the Arts Council without any consultation with those people most affected.

There was explanation provided. The explanation was that there would be administrative savings and the administrative savings ranged anywhere from $250,000 to $450,000. But when put to the test, when examined by those people who know what the administrative expenses of the Arts Council were, the reality was that this government, this minister through his actions, might - might, and this is on the top end - might save $30,000. Might save $30,000 in administrative costs, and I expect as a result of the fact that he himself has said that everything the Arts Council did before it is going to do again, the difference is now it's going to be under my wing. It's going to be the responsibility of me and the member for Colchester North to decide what artists and what arts groups are going to be eligible for the few hundred thousand dollars in arts funding.

That's the reality of this decision. It's got nothing to do with administrative savings. How naive are we to think that might be the case? This minister and his colleagues on the benches opposite, the member for Colchester North laid it out in its frankness and its ugliness on Friday last. He made it clear that the issue is one of politics. The issue is one that while they can't get their roads paved in rural parts of this province, while they can't get shouldering done, while they can't get patching done, while they can't get new pavement, they're going to make sure that their artists or anybody else who applies for funding gets a little bit of that money. That's the issue here.

Nothing makes members like the member for Colchester North more angry, more frustrated than when somebody in his constituency applies to an arm's-length body like the Arts Council - the group, I think, was a mechanical band of some sort, it doesn't matter - for them to apply to this arm's-length body of artists and art professionals and be turned down. That member believes it's his right to overturn that decision. It's his right as a politician and a member of the government benches to be able to say to that arm's-length body, I want you

[Page 10380]

to overturn your decision. That's the way politics works, doesn't it, in the Province of Nova Scotia? That's the way members opposite believe it should work.

And, that's what this is all about. That's what this is all about. This is all about the minister and his colleagues having access to a few hundred thousand dollars so that they - not a peer - what have we got this arm's-length group of artists making decisions on who's going to get funding on the basis of merit, on the basis of peer review, on the basis of juries - imagine the audacity of having a group of artists responsible for decisions of a million dollars when the member for Colchester North believes that he can do it. He knows, and he may know, but the problem is that this government in 1997, the Government of Nova Scotia - doesn't matter what colour of flag was flying that day - was the last province in this country to come up with an arm's-length process to deliver funding to the arts community in that jurisdiction. This was the last province where that happened. It came after 20 years of slogging, by people in the arts and culture community, to try to get it wrested out of the hands of politicians, from politically-influenced decisions into a process where the decisions are based on decisions that are much more objective, and they're decisions that are made by people who have an understanding of that sector, and that's not about how you vote.

Now, because the member for Colchester North and others we haven't seen, I'm sure there are other letters over there, because the member for Colchester North didn't get the proper response that he thought he should when he wrote to the Arts Council back in the year 2000 for the mechanical band. He thought they should be funded. I bet you he and other members opposite have been waging a campaign, have been at the minister responsible, have been at his doorstep ever since, saying give us control so that the mechanical band can get their money. They need a truck. (Interruptions) I don't know. It doesn't matter.

It's not about the quality of the project, it's about how the decision is made. I thank the member for Colchester North for finally bringing out into the open what we all suspected, that this minister and his colleagues have decided that arts and culture funding in the Province of Nova Scotia is going to return to the bad old days of political patronage, and it's just simply that clear.

Mr. Speaker, my colleagues believe that's wrong. We've argued that. We've argued that inside and outside this House. We think that's absolutely the wrong way to go, but at the nub of it, when I talked earlier about this Bill No. 109 and what it does, it is the bill which allows for the budget, it's tied to the budget, it allows for the extra revenue that this government needs, it's revenue that they get by coming through the back door and by pounding it to individual Nova Scotians not on the basis of their ability to pay but simply through taxation, a form a taxation called user fees and licence fee increases.

They've done that, and they changed the Education Act. Instead of bringing in an Act dealing strictly with the Education Act, they've done it through this bill. Instead of dealing with the Arts Council head on and making it the patronage plum that they want it to be,

[Page 10381]

they've come in through the back door through the provincial Financial Measures (2002) Bill and they've made that the vehicle to effect the changes that they want.

Mr. Speaker, in so many ways, some of them I've cited, some my other colleagues have cited, this bill is a reflection of this government, a reflection of the way this government works. I heard from a few constituents of another member this weekend that the chance of these Tories getting re-elected is real slim, and it's because of things like this. If you treat Nova Scotians with respect, if you are up front with Nova Scotians, if you ensure that they know what's going on and you don't try to put things by them, then I believe that they will tend to support you. But when you try, through legislation like this, to pull one over on them, when you try to slip things through, when you try to do things through the back door, Nova Scotians aren't a forgiving lot, I've found in my 11 years in this House and I think that this government will find that that's the reality that they will face when they do finally screw up the courage to go to the polls. So I would indicate to you and other members of this House that I will not be supporting Bill No. 109.

[8:15 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. If I recognize the honourable Minister of Finance, it will be to close the debate on Bill No. 109.

The honourable Minister of Finance.

HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank all members for partaking in third reading of Bill No. 109. I have a number etched in my mind. (Interruptions) No, I haven't changed my mind and with those few comments, would move third reading of Bill No. 109.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for third reading of Bill No. 109.

There has been a request for a recorded vote. We will ring the bells to the satisfaction of the Whips.

Ring the bells. Call in the members.

[8:16 p.m.]

[The Division bells were rung.]

MR. SPEAKER: Are the Whips satisfied?

[The Clerk calls the roll.]

[Page 10382]

[8:19 p.m.]

YEAS NAYS

Mr. Rodney MacDonald Mr. Corbett

Mr. Christie Mr. Deveaux

Mr. Baker Ms. Maureen MacDonald

Mr. Russell Mr. Dexter

Mr. LeBlanc Mr. Manning MacDonald

Miss Purves Mr. Downe

Mr. Balser Dr. Smith

Mr. Parent Mr. MacAskill

Ms. McGrath Mr. Boudreau

Mr. Ronald Chisholm Mr. MacKinnon

Mr. Olive Mr. MacEwan

Mr. MacIsaac Mr. Steele

Mr. DeWolfe Mr. Robert Chisholm

Mr. Taylor Mr. Epstein

Mr. Dooks

Mr. Langille

Mr. Chataway

Mr. Clarke

Mr. Hendsbee

Mrs. Baillie

Mr. Carey

Mr. Morash

Mr. Chipman

Mr. Barnet

Mr. O'Donnell

Mr. Hurlburt

THE CLERK: For, 26. Against, 14.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.

Ordered that this bill do pass. Ordered that the title be as read by the Clerk. Ordered that the bill be engrossed. (Applause)

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 105.

[Page 10383]

Bill No. 105 - Elevators and Lifts Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Environment and Labour, I move that this bill be now read for a third time.

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

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, just a few comments on Bill No. 105.

We still have some concerns over this bill, Mr. Speaker, not the least that when this bill and OH&S collide, this bill overrides the Act. So I'm a little worried about that. We've put that to this floor before. I'm more than a little bit worried when we talk about qualifications of the inspectors and determining the word competent persons and conditions for registration fees, schedules, are all put off to the regulations. We would have much preferred to see them in the bill here or at least see the regulations before the bill was passed which I thought would have been of a higher calibre.

There are many other small things in this bill, Mr. Speaker, and I should not just dwell on the negative. There are obviously some good inferences in this bill. It provides for the issuance of certificates for the competency of the mechanics in industry. This bill really brings the industry into the millennium and that's a good thing, but there are some things that I wish the government could have brought in a larger bill that would have shown us, if not within the bill itself, but certainly had tabled the regulations before the bill got this far, I think would have gone a ways to appeasing the Opposition. I think by and large it's a bill that's supportable, but I would think that there is a whole idea around this bill as is in some the government put forward about the industry, kind of policing the industry, which causes me concern, but with that I will take my place.

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

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, a few observations on this particular piece of legislation, the point noted that it does make many of the provisions of the Elevators and Lifts Act current. I believe that's good. I expressed my concern about the desire by the government to make elevator and lift inspections less frequent than they are now. By law it is a requirement to have them at least once a year. That is not being done presently. I believe that only 25 per cent of all the elevators in the province that are to be inspected annually are being inspected despite the fact that every one of them is being licensed on an annual basis. I believe that's part and parcel of the rationale for the government changing the Act, so as to make the annual inspections not a requirement, and I emphasize, not a requirement. So there is some concern there.

[Page 10384]

On the other hand, with modern technologies, there are some elevators that one would argue, as has been demonstrated in other jurisdictions, perhaps inspections every two years would be a little more appropriate, but the fact of the matter is the government doesn't specify how often those inspections should take place, but rather that will be done through regulation. That question remains to be seen.

Mr. Speaker, as well, there appears to be a shift in the responsibility, not only for the inspection but also for the liability, it has shifted more onto the shoulders of the private sector. There will be a cost, there will be a substantial increase in costs, I conjecture, that will be forthcoming with the implementation of this particular piece of legislation, because it is just another form of downloading onto the private sector and an abdication of some of the responsibility within the Department of Environment and Labour, because as the Auditor General has quite clearly pointed out, there is a problem in the Department of Environment and Labour.

There are simply not enough financial resources to do the job, and this is the government's way of alleviating itself of this responsibility. The private sector can certainly expect increased costs on inspections on elevators and lifts, amusement rides, you have it, whatever the instrument of inspection requirement will be, there will be, I foresee, a substantial increase in cost over the existing fee structure that's now in place.

The general principle of the bill is good, in terms of making the Act more current with modern technologies. The government obviously has the numbers. It's going to do what it intends to do. I believe the minister, when he made his announcement of this particular piece of legislation, down in the foyer, the first floor of Province House, from my perspective, seemed to lack a complete understanding of what some of the initiatives of the legislation were. Perhaps it's the fact that he was not fully briefed; I don't think that would have been the case. Perhaps it's the fact that he didn't grow with this particular issue, in terms of the history that went into the development of the legislation, or what have you.

There is a concern there from an administrative point of view, that there will be some additional problems, the way the government is not only legislating responsibility but the fact there is no clarity from within the Department of Environment and Labour on how this application should actually take place. Given the fact that there are limited resources, and my understanding is even one of the senior inspectors from that division, from the safety division within the Department of Environment and Labour, who retired some two years ago has been brought back on a contract basis, on an interim basis to try to help cope with the backlog of inspections.

If we have approximately 2,000 elevators in this province, and they're only inspecting 500, how in the name of heavens can they safely say that they're issuing licences to all 2,000? This is not a game of Russian roulette, this is the health and safety of Nova Scotians. When I was Minister of Environment and Labour, back during the Russell MacLellan

[Page 10385]

Government, I was quite surprised to find that this was the norm. What we did was we undertook an initiative, we were getting feedback from Mr. Chown, who was head of the Public Safety Division within the Department of Environment and Labour.

We were about to implement those recommendations when the election took place. We were in consultation with that Public Safety Division, and what did the government do? It not only curtailed the progress that was made there, but it also displaced Mr. Chown and merged the Fire Marshal's Office and the Public Safety Division within the Department of Environment and Labour. The increased workload on the Fire Marshal's Office is such that the Auditor General clearly stated in his report that the annual reports of the Fire Marshal's Office are inaccurate, incomplete and untimely. So when you get that type of substantive reporting from the Auditor General's office on the inefficiencies, on how poorly the division is running, what added value or what benefit to Nova Scotians occurred by merging the Fire Marshal's Office with another division with an understaffed complement? So we do have a problem with the way the government has allowed this to transpire.

[8:30 p.m.]

Downloading this issue on the private sector will not resolve the problems. It's just another shift of responsibility; it's going to become an issue of due diligence, liability insurance. Whether the issue of reliance on the private sector is going to meet the "acid test" that's required to be able to protect the public interest - too many questions are out there and not enough answers. Unfortunately, we've been unable to secure those answers from the Minister of Environment and Labour; not surprisingly, considering the quality of some of the responses that we've received in the House to date.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will conclude my remarks on third reading.

MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the honourable Government House Leader it will be to close debate.

The Honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I thank the interventions from the two Parties opposite, and with that, I move third reading of Bill No. 105.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for third reading of Bill No. 105. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Ordered that this bill do pass. Ordered that the titles be as read by the Clerk. Ordered that the bill be engrossed.

[Page 10386]

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 112, the Gas Distribution Act.

Bill No. 112 - Gas Distribution Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister responsible for the Petroleum Directorate.

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, I understand some amendments were proposed. In order to accommodate those amendments, it will require a change to the regulations, so I would move third reading with those provisions.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Well, Mr. Speaker, what a mess it's been dealing with the problem of gas distribution in the Province of Nova Scotia. I think the words of the honourable minister, when he introduced the bill, or rather, spoke to it on second reading, were that previous systems failed. Well, he was certainly right when he made that observation.

So far, of course, as we know, there's extremely limited distribution of gas throughout Nova Scotia. The essential fact to remember is that this is our gas. It's Nova Scotia's gas and the Accord Acts, the federal and provincial Accord Acts, indicate that Nova Scotia is to be the prime beneficiary of this major resource that we happen to have.

Unfortunately, that just hasn't been the case. Everyone knows that there has been a whole series of difficulties with respect to gaining significant benefits from natural gas for Nova Scotians. When there was a solid proposal that first emerged from the SOEP consortium and Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline Ltd. to develop the six significant discovery licences on the offshore, many people immediately had stars in their eyes about what a wonderful project this was going to be and how we were going to be rich in Nova Scotia on a scale comparable to the wealth in Alberta. There was a vision of a heritage fund; there was a vision of eliminating sales tax; there was a vision of no unemployment. As we all know, this has not been the case. In fact, if it's ever the case, I will be extremely surprised. The range of benefits that we might have expected had to do with things like employment, had to do with the creation of new industries, had to do with the hopes for royalty dollars flowing to us, had to do with the possibility of access to the gas almost first and foremost as something that we could use for our own industries in the commercial sector, in the institutional sector, perhaps in our own homes, but it's that part that really has been amazing to all of us when we consider all the many aspects of the development so far of natural gas here that has not come to fruition.

[Page 10387]

It's perhaps no huge surprise since many of us have understood for a few years that the royalty regime is not making us rich, nor is it likely to. There is the offset with the equalization. There's the fact that apparently in consideration of the expense and difficulty and risk of developing the offshore, it's not a regime that is comparable to the kind of royalty regime that applies onshore in Canada in any of the provinces that have natural gas in abundance, and employment, of course, was abundant itself, but short term during the construction phase, during the extraction phase. It was particularly good during the construction of the pipeline, but that happened in a year, a year and a half. That was it. The extraction phase does not create a huge number of jobs. To the extent that we've had real economic stimulus from the offshore, it's because of continued exploration. That has really been the continued stimulus that we've had to our economy here and that's fine. As long as there is continued interest in the possibility of finding gas on our offshore - perhaps oil, but it's primarily gas apparently - there will be companies that come from the United States to work here. They will bring their dollars. They will bring their personnel. They will hire locally. To a certain extent there will be spin-offs. It's generally been quite good.

The minister and I and others, the Premier and members of staff, who were most recently in Houston at the annual offshore technology conference - I was very impressed by that, by the glimpse that I was afforded by that opportunity of the very large extent of the oil and gas industry - and what I was particularly struck by was the intense interest that American companies have in the Nova Scotia offshore and it's for reasons that we have correctly identified in the past. There seems to be gas there. That seems to be the first possibility. The geology, the scientific research that has been done so far seems to confirm some promising indicators and we will see whether it's ultimately there in sufficient amounts to be economically developable, but for the moment it's enough to continue to interest the companies in looking. That's fine, but that's the first factor.

The next factor is they like the fact that we exist in proximity to their market. It's primarily American companies and, of course, we're right here. They like that. They like the fact that there's a pipeline that's already in place. Of course, that's convenient. What they also like, of course, is to have the prospect of gas for their domestic markets here, handy and in a part of the world that's politically stable. There are no revolutions here. It's not politically dangerous. There are no explosions. There's not that kind of dimension to our political life here and furthermore, and this is the last remark I heard from a number of people I met in Houston, they like coming to Nova Scotia. Well, that's all to the good.

So we see their continued interest in exploring in our offshore, but what's our benefit from that? If they are the market for our gas, it's not clear what our benefit is. We know the benefits for us could be greater and the one benefit and the one that Bill No. 112 tries to deal with is this question of using gas in the domestic market here in Nova Scotia, but what has been the experience so far? Primarily the market is for export. We know this. This has been clear and that's what the project was developed for. It was developed for export to the United States. Now, I think that was the wrong way to go about developing this project, but we have

[Page 10388]

to accept that that has been the case, that's what happened, that's what built the pipeline, that's what built the extraction system that we have today, but we have to look hard at the basic facts.

There is one pipeline that comes ashore at Goldboro and runs across Nova Scotia and down through New Brunswick into the New England States, into a part of the New England States that never had gas before our gas arrived there and 70 per cent of the daily production is used in those states towards generating their own electricity down there, something that we might have done here and exported the electricity, but it didn't happen. About 30 per cent of the gas, maybe, is sold in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Now, this was a surprise for the companies that developed our offshore. They didn't know that Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were perhaps good markets for gas and it's really at this point only large industrial customers who have taken up the opportunity to have gas, and that's Nova Scotia Power and that's New Brunswick Power and that's the Irvings. They're the main purchasers so far.

Now, we have that main pipeline that goes across Nova Scotia from Goldboro up to the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick border and we also have two laterals. This was part of the arrangement that was put in place when the project was first set up in 1997-98. One lateral runs from Goldboro to the Nova Scotia Power plant in Tufts Cove, across the harbour in Dartmouth, clearly because they were a main customer that expressed a serious interest and because there was a lot of pressure during the hearings in 1997 to service, at least in part, the Nova Scotia market. There's a second lateral that goes up and crosses the Strait of Canso and goes into Cape Breton, but just into the Strait region. That's as far as that lateral goes. At the moment, that's it.

Now that arrangement came into play under the legal regime of the National Energy Board, a federal body. It then falls to the province to regulate distribution within the province in more detail. We've tried to do that under our original Gas Distribution Act. The problem is that the rules that were put in place didn't work. The previous system failed, in the words of the minister. The previous system was one that was set up by the former Liberal Government, but which was embraced, endorsed by this government, so far without changes, but the changes have come in this legislation.

Now the previous system called for gas to be distributed at least to touch all 18 of Nova Scotia's counties within seven years. Sempra, the American company, the California-based company, came forward and won the province-wide franchise to do this. In the end, they weren't able to deliver on what it is that they considered in their application that they might be able to do. We have to ask ourselves why it is that they were unable to deliver, because, indeed, it would have been to our advantage to have a thoroughgoing gas distribution system throughout the province. It would have been good for industrial enterprises. It would have been good for commercial enterprises. It would have been good for institutional enterprises and it may even have been taken up in the residential sector.

[Page 10389]

[8:45 p.m.]

Well, there were problems. One problem was the existence of industrial bypass and that was a problem that Sempra encountered, although it's to be said they knew about it. The other was the road shoulder problem. I don't know that we've ever really got to the bottom of what happened there. We hope that this one isn't something that's going to come back in the form of any kind of lawsuit. Perhaps, at some point, we can hear assurances from the minister with respect to that. You recall that this had to do with differing views of Sempra and the provincial government as to whether the road shoulders on secondary roads would be made available for their use for placing of pipelines. Sempra claimed it had been clear with the government about its intention to do this and the government claimed in return that it had been equally clear with Sempra that they were not to be made available.

Another factor was Sempra's reassessment of market demand in the residential sector. They came to believe that it was going to be difficult to get customers to shift from their existing fuel sources to natural gas - this is residential customers. They may be right. It may be the case that the investments will not be made for conversion of domestic forms of heating by individual residential customers very readily. It may be that inducements are necessary, and it may be that those inducements were simply ones that Sempra was not prepared to invest in. We know that with the change in management at Sempra they decided they had other priorities. So those are some of the reasons so far as we can understand them, so far as they've been made available to us. If the government has other information, it would be interesting to hear.

I have to say that the government has gone some way now in this legislation to correcting the conditions that were necessary in order to try to roll out a distribution system for natural gas around the province. They've addressed a number of issues that were outstanding. Let's recognize immediately that this bill does come to grips with some of the problems. The one part of the problem that the bill does not come to grips with is how it is that equity around the province will be achieved. I think we have to recognize that on this one the government has backed away from what was clearly its position when it was in Opposition; the government has backed away from what was its position during the time of the election.

Clearly, promises were made by the then Leader of the Third Party, now the Premier, that rural areas would have access to Nova Scotia's natural gas resource. Clearly, in this bill, we've been driven to the point - understandably, but driven to the point - where that probably just won't happen. What was likely to happen, of course, is that it's the areas of the province that either have large industrial facilities or large concentrations of residences, like HRM, that will have access to gas, and it will be a very long time, indeed, if ever, for places like Yarmouth or Sydney to get access to natural gas. Communities that are close to the main pipeline or that are close to the existing laterals will probably be able to have access to natural gas within a relatively short period of time, if the market demand is there.

[Page 10390]

The communities at the periphery, at the far end of our province - I mentioned Yarmouth and that area, I mentioned Sydney and those parts of Cape Breton - are going to be in difficulties. What has the minister said about this? What the minister has pointed out is that if there are more finds of gas located in different fields around Nova Scotia, then if pipelines come ashore in different parts of Nova Scotia, then those areas will have some access to natural gas. If there are more finds down towards offshore Nova Scotia, in the southwestern part of the province and if a proposal, like the one that El Paso has made, come to fruition and the pipeline comes ashore, then there will be a chance that gas may be more easily distributed in the southwestern part of the province, that may even extend to Yarmouth. If it turns out that in the Laurentian Sub-basin, there is a finding of gas that comes ashore in Nova Scotia and it comes ashore in the Sydney area, then that part of Cape Breton may have access to gas. That's the only hope that is offered to people in those parts of the province. This bill certainly does nothing to assist people in the Yarmouth area, in the southwestern part of Nova Scotia or in the part of Cape Breton that is not the Strait.

So, it's clear that what's happened here is that there has been backtracking when it comes to the question of access to natural gas on an equitable basis around the province. What this means is that if access to gas is an economic advantage to industries or to business, industries or business that are located in the parts of the province that don't have access to gas will be at something of a disadvantage when it comes to their sources of power or heat. That's just going to be the hard fact and it's likely to be the hard fact unless there is development of those other fields in the offshore. It has to be made clear to people who live in those areas that this is the consequence of what has occurred in terms of the roll-out. Many parts of Nova Scotia - rural, mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton beyond the Strait - will simply be without gas.

There's another part of this proposal that I think we have to turn our minds to. It's the question of how the franchises are going to be assigned geographically. Sempra, you may recall, was granted a franchise for the whole of the province. This was one franchise area, the whole of the province. What that means of course, is essentially it would be a monopoly situation. Sempra gave up its monopoly position or any position, so now we have to think about how the franchises will be reconfigured. A number of municipalities, to their credit, have come forward to indicate that they are interested in the possibility of franchises in their own local area. We know, and have known for some time, that HRM is interested in this; we know, and have known for some time, that Antigonish is interested in this, I think Berwick is interested in it and I think the Canso area is interested in it; there are a number of communities that have expressed some interest in the possibility of developing their own local distribution networks.

Why do they want to do that? They want to do it because it offers the possibility in the case of a local publicly-owned gas distribution franchise to keep what would otherwise be the profits within the local area. It's a very simple thing. It's a traditional form of local economic development. The municipalities have stepped forward and said, we're the local

[Page 10391]

entity, we can do this. We're the appropriate people to put together a gas franchise to set up a distribution network in our area of the province, in our local area of the province. They want to do it, they're able to do it and the compelling logic is that the profits stay local. They wouldn't have gone to California as they would have gone under the Sempra proposal.

I should just, if I may, make a small excursion and tell you about one morning in the farmer's market, about two years ago. The farmer's market meets every Saturday in Halifax, a lot of people come, there's a regular community of people who meet there and I try to go every Saturday I can, many of my friends go. It's a pleasant place, it's a meeting place, there's a lot of conversation; there are, happily, several benches where people can sit and chat to each other on a morning. And one day, I was sitting on a bench and found myself sitting beside a pleasant-faced gentlemen, he seemed quite relaxed. He was clearly an American. We fell into conversation. He was talking to me about his plans to return home for American Thanksgiving. It was a pleasant conversation we had about the different cultures in Canada and the United States. It turned out to be Hal Snider, President of Sempra, the fellow sent up here to set up the distribution system. So Hal and I became farmer's market pals. We continued to have a couple of chats on Saturdays about Nova Scotia politics, natural gas and natural gas distribution. It was pleasant to have that kind of encounter with the man who was trying to bring gas here. I want to be clear; I like Mr. Snider enormously. He was a fine man, but one of the things he kept trying to tell us, publicly, privately and in the farmer's market, was that the company that he was heading up was a Nova Scotia company.

You know, that's just not the case. It just wasn't. It was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sempra in California, and that's where the profits were going to go. It's true that they hired locally. Much to their credit, they hired almost every one of their staff in Canada, many of them Nova Scotians. But the ultimate direction of that company and the location of the profits were out of California. That's where they were going to go. So when we see municipalities here, locally, expressing an interest in wanting to develop their locally-owned and controlled franchises, we should encourage that. But the question we have to ask is, how likely is that to be, given what is in this bill? This bill does not offer any priority to municipal franchises. It does nothing much, really, to encourage municipal franchises. It doesn't offer municipal franchises any particular advantage. It is still entirely conceivable that another entity based somewhere else could come forward and successfully win a province-wide franchise on a monopoly basis, just as Sempra did.

It's not that we have to exercise our imaginations in any very vigorous form to see who those potential franchise holders might be. In the last round, the main competitor with Sempra was an Irving-owned company, Maritimes NRG (Nova Scotia) Ltd. Maybe the Irvings will come forward again, but they're not headquartered here. Profits won't be here. It won't be a local, municipal franchise if the Irvings, in some form, are awarded a monopoly franchise for Nova Scotia. They're not the only ones. We know that SaskEnergy, a Crown Corporation located in Saskatchewan, a sister province in Canada - this isn't California but, nonetheless, it's not Nova Scotia either - is interested. We've seen Mr. Clark, the President

[Page 10392]

of SaskEnergy, come to Nova Scotia and talk publicly at the Chamber of Commerce about his interest in the possibility of gaining a province-wide franchise to distribute gas in Nova Scotia.

You may recall, Mr. Speaker, that when the first franchise hearings at the URB were gearing up a couple of years ago, SaskEnergy expressed some interest at that time. They looked at the situation and decided not to go ahead under the rules that were in place then, but they are reassessing it. They're a large company that has lots of experience distributing gas, and not just in Saskatchewan. They've got experience in other parts of the world. They've been in the business and are in the business of building systems outside of Saskatchewan, so they're looking at our market. So you have to ask yourself again, where is it in this bill that there is some kind of protection for our local distributors? Why aren't we being nudged in the direction of encouraging, fostering the development of local systems for gas franchises? That's what's missing from this bill, and I worry about this. I worry about it because there is no provision here that really helps them.

[9:00 p.m.]

Now so far I've dwelled on what seem to be weaknesses in the bill, but I want to offer the minister some compliments for several things that have occurred in this bill and in association with it. One is that the minister tabled the regulations at the same time as he tabled the bill. We sometimes see bills come forward that clearly depend for their impact on what's in the regulations and, of course, we're left speculating because we haven't seen the regulations. What the minister did in this case was he tabled the regulations at the same time as he tabled the bill. That's exactly the right thing to do. I want to thank the minister for doing it. It was a big help to those of us who had to deal with this bill and understand it, and he not only tabled the regulations, in fact, he has undertaken to make an amendment to the regulations that was suggested out of our caucus as a result of deliberations during the proceedings. So I want to thank the minister for that. That seems to me, again, exactly the right thing to do.

What the minister has also done and what this bill does, is it provides that there is an open access system. I have to say that this is also a very good idea. What that means is that if municipal franchises are set up, if small franchise areas are set up, that they can link to each other, that it's mandatory that they be allowed to link, that is to use each other's transmission and distribution system in order to get gas around. That's logical. It's the right thing to do and it's exactly the kind of suggestion that was originally made, I should remind members, to the Liberal Government which first set up the rules for gas distribution in Nova Scotia but which they ignored, there were several recommendations that were made to them at the time by their consultants back in 1996. These were Ziff Energy and the law firm of Stikeman Elliott who were hired jointly by the Liberal Government at the time to advise them on how to set up a gas distribution system.

[Page 10393]

Unfortunately, much of their advice was ignored, but we see now some changes in the system. I still, as I've noted, have problems with certain aspects of it. The one other point that I want to remind people of is the amount of time that this bill allows a franchise to be awarded for. It's 10 years for which the franchise can be held without the work being done. Now, that's a long time and it's a worry. It was a worry for us, we proposed a shorter time, five years. That was one of the amendments that we proposed that wasn't accepted by the government. We made three proposals for amendments: two were accepted, that one was not.

So people have to ask themselves, is that too long to hold on? Is 10 years too long for a successful franchise holder to sit inactive? It seems to me that it is. It's true that this is more or less a greenfield area, although now there has been some development and because of the research that Sempra did, because we now have some industrial activity using gas, there's a body of information that's available to any new franchise holder. They would be able to build on that. So it's not clear why they would actually need 10 years. They should be able to assess the situation fairly accurately now and decide.

With that said, I'm looking forward to voting in favour of this bill. I think we've moved ahead somewhat, not perhaps as much as we might have. Market conditions and conditions overall here are still difficult and the main message that many people in rural parts of Nova Scotia, I should take away from our deliberations, is that it's likely to be a very long time indeed before they benefit from what is supposed to be our asset, our resource on the offshore; that is, benefit directly in terms of access to it. This bill will go some distance towards setting conditions that may encourage further gas distribution in Nova Scotia, but it certainly won't bring it to communities like Sydney or Yarmouth for a very long time. With those remarks, I will take my place and thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to offer comments and again thank the minister for the way in which he's brought forward this bill.

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

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I rise to say a few remarks about this particular bill in third reading. First, I have to make reference to the scintillating musings of the member for Halifax Chebucto for the last little while, the windmill expert who has now become an expert in energy in Nova Scotia of all kinds. I might remind Nova Scotians who may be watching tonight that, thank heavens, that member will never have to make any energy decisions in Nova Scotia. (Interruptions)

Having said that, our caucus is going to be supporting this bill, but I would say that I consider this bill to be a poor cousin to the larger picture here in Nova Scotia, a picture that this government has not yet addressed in terms of where it's going with an energy policy for the future for Nova Scotia, a Nova Scotia-first policy, a policy made in Nova Scotia that will benefit Nova Scotians first, not New Brunswickers, not Americans, not anybody else, but Nova Scotians first.

[Page 10394]

We still haven't addressed the larger picture. This bill was of great concern to us, because of one particular aspect of the bill, which allowed public utilities in Nova Scotia to apply for franchises in the province. The minister, in his wisdom, addressed that particular problem by telling us, and then enshrining it with regulations, that any public utility would have to go before the URB in this province to prove to the URB that they would not be involved in predatory pricing in Nova Scotia if a public utility were to obtain a franchise.

I think that's a good protection for the consumer, because the last thing we need in this province is some company who controls more than one energy source and can, in fact, start predatory pricing going in the province to achieve a better bottom line for themselves at the expense of the consumer. I believe we have to have options in Nova Scotia, in regard to energy, and I believe that we also have to have fair pricing. In discussing this issue at second reading at some length, I talked about the fact that the existing transmission lines in Nova Scotia and the availability of gas, stops at the Canso Causeway, and it's unlikely that it's going to go any further east, and I'm talking about Cape Breton now and the concerns that we have there.

What we would like to see in any future legislation that would be addressed by this House would be that the concerns expressed by people at the far end of the province, be it Yarmouth or be it Cape Breton - they realize now that with the existing formula that's in place and with the existing structure that's there, they're not going to get gas. But there is a hope in the future with the Laurentian Sub-basin, what's left of Nova Scotia's interest in it, and we all know how we did at those hearings with Newfoundland, but there are two other companies that are exploring off Cape Breton. One is in the Glace Bay-Sydney Bight, and the other one is in western Cape Breton, Corridor Resources and Hunt.

If those companies are permitted to explore the possibilities of gas, to do the proper testing and then to do some actual drilling and to extract some gas from the seabed there, then I believe the government has the responsibility now to go to those companies and say, we erred in the past in not providing a Nova Scotia-first policy, but that will not be the case in the future. I would hope that the government would, in fact, tell these companies that they have to land this gas ashore in the parts of the province that I described instead of mainlining it in the sub-seabed to the United States. It has to be brought ashore, it has to be a Nova Scotia-first policy, and it has to be told to these oil companies that if you're not prepared to allow the industry to develop in Nova Scotia, then we're not prepared to do anything to help you get that gas ashore by way of permits.

Having said that, as I said this bill is a start; it's a poor cousin like I said, but it's a start. This bill enables gas to flow in Nova Scotia. Long overdue, Mr. Speaker, but at least it's a start in the right direction and I would hope that the minister would take some of the remarks that are being made here on second reading, and now on third reading, and some of the questions that were raised in Question Period regarding this whole government policy in regard to the energy sector in this province and the prosperity that awaits Nova Scotians if

[Page 10395]

it's handled right. I believe this is a small step in that direction and our Party will be supporting this bill. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the minister it will be to close debate on Bill No. 112.

The honourable Minister responsible for the Petroleum Directorate.

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, I would move to close debate on third reading.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for third reading of Bill No. 112. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Ordered that the bill do pass. Ordered that the title be as read by the Clerk. Ordered that the bill be engrossed.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I move that you do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole House on Bills.

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

The motion is carried.

[9:11 p.m. The House resolved itself into a CWH on Bills with Deputy Speaker Mr. Brooke Taylor in the Chair.]

[9:50 p.m. CWH on Bills rose and the House reconvened. Mr. Speaker, Hon. Murray Scott, resumed the Chair.]

MR. SPEAKER: The Chairman of the Committee of the Whole House on Bills reports:

THE CLERK: That the committee has met and considered the following bills:

Bill No. 101 - Fire Safety Act.

Bill No. 107 - Land Registration Act.

Bill No. 111 - Motor Vehicle Act.

[Page 10396]

Bill No. 113 - Agriculture Administration Amendment (2002) Act.

Bill No. 117 - Geoscience Profession Act.

Bill No. 134 - Volunteer Fire Services Act.

and the chairman has been instructed to recommend these bills to the favourable consideration of the House, each without amendment, except for Bill No. 134, with certain amendments.

MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that these bills be read for a third time on a future day.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, tomorrow being Opposition Day, I would ask the Opposition House Leader to give us the business and the hours for tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Acting Official Opposition House Leader.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, the hours for tomorrow will be from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. After the daily routine, we will be calling Resolution No. 3924 and Resolution No. 3898. I move adjournment of the House.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the House adjourn until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

We are adjourned until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.

[The House rose at 9:52 p.m.]

[Page 10397]

NOTICES OF MOTION UNDER RULE 32(3)

RESOLUTION NO. 3983

By: Hon. Gordon Balser (Economic Development)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas as part of their celebration of Provincial Police Week, the Digby Detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police hosted an open house at the detachment on Thursday, May 16, 2002, to introduce to the community one of their proactive initiatives, the Senior Safety Program; and

Whereas the Senior Safety Program is an approach to crime prevention that is designed to provide information and support that will help seniors live safely in their own homes; and

Whereas community-minded businesses including Sawlor Fuels, Digby Irving Mainway, Digby Shoppers Drug Mart, Digby Pharmasave, Aucoins Pharmacy, Weymouth Pharmasave, J.D. Irving Ltd., Weymouth Motors, Weymouth Foodland, Sobeys, Sissaboo Home Hardware, Peck's Auto Glass, Digby Tim Hortons, Fundy Restaurant, Weymouth Variety Store, Royal Bank, Digby Bank of Nova Scotia, W.E. Cosman & Son Insurance, East Coast Creative Web Development, Clare Dodge Chrysler Jeep, James Outhouse and Associates, Law Office of Oliver Janson, Dr. Creighton, and non-profit agencies Royal Canadian Legion-Digby, Deep Brook Waldec Lions Club, Women's Institute of Nova Scotia, Digby and Area Community Health Board, Freeport Fire Department, and the Town of Digby and Human Resources Development Canada have all contributed financially to this program;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House commend the efforts of all parties involved in this worthwhile community-based initiative.

RESOLUTION NO. 3984

By: Mr. James DeWolfe (Pictou East)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas on that fateful May 10th, now 10 years ago, when disaster struck in the small community of Plymouth, people far and near felt their own hearts shatter at the horror of the mine explosion and the lives lost underground; and

[Page 10398]

Whereas Jeanette Carey, a young exchange student from Australia then living in Stellarton, was called upon with the whole community to help and was asked to comfort children at loss in the panic and shock of those early days; and

Whereas Jeanette, now a woman living in Ontario, clearly remembers the shock, helplessness and grief as well as the kindnesses and the generosity shared among the people of Stellarton;

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House of Assembly reflect on the impact of the Westray disaster, how its losses have shaped lives and how the strong spirit of the community has created memories which are forever bittersweet.