Assemblée Législative de la Nouvelle-Écosse

Les travaux de la Chambre ont repris le
21 septembre 2017

Hansard -- Fri., Nov. 13, 1998

First Session

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 1998

TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 1799, Fish. - Industry: Downturn - Solutions Seek,
Hon. C. Huskilson 3689
Vote - Affirmative 3690
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS:
No. 71, Intercountry Adoption Act, Hon. F. Cosman 3690
No. 72, Juries Act, Hon. J. Smith 3690
NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 1800, Educ. - Teaching Fellowship (3M): Michael Atkinson
(Dart. [UWO Prof.]) - Honour Congrats., Mr. J. Pye 3690
Vote - Affirmative 3691
Res. 1801, Agric. - Middleton Grain Ctr.: Farmer Co-op. -
Proposal Implement, Mr. G. Balser 3691
Res. 1802, Econ. Dev. & Tourism - Business Promotion:
Trade Missions - Recognize, Mr. G. Fogarty 3692
Res. 1803, Speaker's Dinner: Host - Congrats., Mr. H. Epstein 3693
Res. 1804, NDP (N.S.) Leader - Policies (B.C.): Taxation Increase -
Rethink, Hon. R. MacKinnon 3693
Res. 1805, Lbr. - Westray Employees (Former): Severance -
Cheques Issue, Dr. J. Hamm 3694
Res. 1806, Educ. - School Bds.: Funding Full - Instruct, Mr. P. Delefes 3695
Res. 1807, NDP (N.S.) Fin. Critic - Power Thirst: Comments -
Focussed, Mr. J. DeWolfe 3695
Res. 1808, Fin. - Economy (N.S.): Growth Positive - Recognize,
Mr. H. Fraser 3696
Res. 1809, Culture - Glace Bay Miners' Museum (Wendy Lill &
Kelly-Ruth Mercier): Vancouver Success - Congrats.,
Mr. F. Corbett 3697
Res. 1810, Nat. Res. - Nat. Gas: Goldboro Plant - Ethane Extraction
Insist, Mr. G. Archibald 3697
Res. 1811, Econ. Dev. & Tourism - Dev. Isle Madame: Promotion -
Recognize, Mr. M. Samson 3698
Vote - Affirmative 3699
Res. 1812, Justice - Eddie Sheppard (Death): Inquiry - Hold,
Mr. M. Scott 3699
Res. 1813, Fish. - Industry: Downturn - Crisis Counsellors Provide,
Mr. John Deveau 3699
Res. 1814, Commun. Serv. - Women's Centre (Antigonish):
Budget Request - Address, Mr. J. Muir 3700
Res. 1815, Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Roads: Improvement Criteria -
Extension Congrats., Mr. W. Estabrooks 3701
Res. 1816, Swissair Crash - Myles MacDonald (Dart.-Photographer):
Fishermen Benefit - Thank, Dr. J. Hamm 3701
Vote - Affirmative 3702
Res. 1817, Health - QE II Health Sc. Ctr.: Serv. Same - Ensure,
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 3702
Res. 1818, Justice - Commun. Policing Initiative (Hubbards):
Citizens Patrol (Ms. J. Fryday Dorey) - Commend, Mr. M. Baker 3703
Vote - Affirmative 3703
Res. 1819, Educ. - NSGEU: Scholarships - Winners Congrats.,
Mr. D. Dexter 3703
Vote - Affirmative 3704
Res. 1820, Fin. - Budget (1998-99): Psychics - Avoid, Mr. G. Balser 3704
Res. 1821, Health - Dentists College (Amer.) Fellowship:
Dr. Roland Canning (Sydney River) - Congrats.,
Ms. Helen MacDonald 3705
Vote - Affirmative 3705
Res. 1822, Revenue (Can.) Customs - Shadow (Brian Devanney
[Dog Trainer]): Contribution - Recognize, Mr. M. Scott 3706
Res. 1823, Nat. Res. - Logging: Mi'kmaq Chiefs -
Negotiation Encourage, Ms. Y. Atwell 3706
Res. 1824, Metro Food Bank Soc.: Demand (Christmas) - Recognize,
Mr. J. Muir 3707
Vote - Affirmative 3708
Res. 1825, Coast Guard - Mulgrave: Cuts - Intercede (Gov't. [N.S.]),
Mr. John Deveau 3708
Res. 1826, Thorburn Fire Dept. - Ladies Aux.: Service (25 years) -
Commend, Mr. J. DeWolfe 3709
Vote - Affirmative 3709
Res. 1827, Canada Post - Prospect Rd.: Service Curtailment -
Reconsider, Mr. W. Estabrooks 3709
Res. 1828, Health - QE II Health Sc. Ctr.: Marcia Shields
(Cardiac Pacing Exam) - Success Congrats., Mr. M. Baker 3710
Vote - Affirmative 3711
GOVERNMENT BUSINESS:
PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:
No. 23, Certified General Accountants Act 3711
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:
No. 60, Optometry Act 3712
Hon. J. Smith 3712
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 3713
Dr. J. Hamm 3714
Hon. J. Smith 3714
Vote - Affirmative 3715
No. 68, Provincial Court Act 3715
Hon. J. Smith 3715
Mr. Kevin Deveaux 3716
Mr. M. Baker 3725
Mr. J. Holm 3729
Hon. J. Smith 3734
Vote - Affirmative 3734
No. 62, Maintenance Enforcement Act 3734
Hon. J. Smith 3734
Mr. Kevin Deveaux 3736
Mr. M. Scott 3742
Mr. J. Holm 3743
Dr. J. Hamm 3747
Mr. M. Baker 3748
Hon. Manning MacDonald 3750
Vote - Affirmative 3750
ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Mon., Nov. 16th at 6:00 p.m. 3751

[Page 3689]

HALIFAX, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 1998

Fifty-seventh General Assembly

First Session

9:00 A.M.

SPEAKER

Hon. Ronald Russell

DEPUTY SPEAKER

Mr. Donald Chard

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Good morning. We will start with the daily routine.

PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS

PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES

TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS

STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS

GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Acting Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

RESOLUTION NO. 1799

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

3689

[Page 3690]

Whereas the downturn in the fishing industry in recent years has hit many of our coastal communities very hard; and

Whereas this downturn has taken a real toll on the emotional well-being of individuals and families in these communities; and

Whereas many of these individuals and families would benefit from some form of volunteer or professional assistance;

Therefore be it resolved that this House join with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture in search for proper solutions to the problems of these people, including the possible creation of crisis intervention teams to help those most in need.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

Bill No. 71 - Entitled an Act to Implement the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. (Hon. Francene Cosman)

Bill No. 72 - Entitled an Act Respecting Juries. (Hon. James Smith)

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

NOTICES OF MOTION

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.

RESOLUTION NO. 1800

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

[Page 3691]

Whereas teaching can be one of the most rewarding and contributing careers in our society; and

Whereas, too often, the great teachers among us receive little recognition; and

Whereas Assistant Professor Michael Atkinson, a north end Dartmouthian, currently a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, is this year's recipient of the coveted 3M and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Teaching Fellowship;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate Professor Atkinson and all those teachers who strive for excellence and, in the course of doing so, make our lives immeasurably better.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.

RESOLUTION NO. 1801

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

Whereas the closure of the Middleton grain centre in July of this year was truly a symbol of the government's failure to support the agricultural industry in Nova Scotia; and

Whereas the more than 100 farmers who gathered on the site on November 12th were protesting not just the closure of one small grain centre, but the provincial and federal governments' abandonment of farmers in general; and

Whereas the deal arrangement which resulted in the closure of the grain centre saw publicly-owned assets transferred to the private sector with no guarantee of continued service;

[Page 3692]

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Agriculture do the right thing and allow farmers to implement their proposal which would see the centre open as a farmer-owned and operated cooperative.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Halifax Bedford Basin.

RESOLUTION NO. 1802

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

Whereas Nova Scotia's traditional ties with New England are being made stronger through closer trade relations between our two regions; and

Whereas a recent trade mission to Boston generated close to $4 million in contracts for eight rural Nova Scotia companies; and

Whereas 22 Nova Scotia information technology businesses will be exposed to over 200 members of New England's high-tech industry at a trade expo next month in Boston;

Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize that this Liberal Government's policy of promoting businesses through trade missions is a proven method of encouraging growth in both rural and urban Nova Scotia companies.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

[Page 3693]

The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

RESOLUTION NO. 1803

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

Whereas the members of this House celebrated their annual Speaker's dinner last evening; and

Whereas spirits ran high, but certainly not dry; and

Whereas we all made it home safely afterward, most of us to our own beds;

Therefore be it resolved that we count our blessings, thank the guest speaker, and congratulate Mr. Speaker for hosting the event.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver. (Standing Ovation)

MR. SPEAKER: That is very kind of you. I am sure that the honourable Minister of Finance would probably second that resolution.

[The notice is tabled.]

The honourable Minister of Labour.

RESOLUTION NO. 1804

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

Whereas a recent radio report out of British Columbia informed Canadians that the economy of the NDP socialist-governed province will shrink by 0.7 per cent in 1998, and 1.8 per cent in 1999; and

Whereas Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation reports housing starts in British Columbia are down 60 per cent over two years ago; and

Whereas for the first time in the history, the NDP-led province will record a population decrease of some 15,000 people leaving the province, and see their unemployment rate rise to 9.8 per cent;

[Page 3694]

Therefore be it resolved that the Leader of the Nova Scotia socialist Party rethink the policies of Premier Glen Clark, policies of increased spending support by higher taxes.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

Either the notice of motion was long, or you read it very slowly.

The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

RESOLUTION NO. 1805

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

Whereas many former Westray mine workers continue to suffer severe financial hardship since the tragic explosion almost six and one-half years ago; and

Whereas the Liberal Government has often made statements which have led Nova Scotians to believe that the former Westray employees would be receiving long-awaited and much-deserved severance packages; and

Whereas the latest promise was made in this House on October 22nd when the Premier stated that ". . . the Department of Labour is now contacting the workers and processing that paper to get the cheques into the mail", yet almost four weeks later, the promised cheques have not been received;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier live up to the promises he made to the former workers of Westray and immediately ensure that these cheques are received by the individuals who need and deserve fair treatment.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.

[Page 3695]

RESOLUTION NO. 1806

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

Whereas students, parents and teachers are continually having to fund raise in order to obtain basic school necessities such as playground equipment, library supplies and computers; and

Whereas many small-business owners, often already financially strapped, feel there is too much solicitation occurring; and

Whereas the Department of Education has a responsibility to provide basic educational needs;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Education instruct his department to fully fund school boards so these necessary educational requirements can be met.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Pictou East.

RESOLUTION NO. 1807

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 member for Halifax Chebucto was quoted in The Chronicle-Herald on November 4th as saying the NDP would likely not be supporting the Financial Measures (1998) Act; and

Whereas the member for Halifax Chebucto is quoted in Hansard, an hour before Monday evening's vote, saying he would not support the Financial Measures (1998) Act; and

[Page 3696]

Whereas the member for Halifax Chebucto, when questioned by the media, said it was his idea that the NDP caucus vote in support of the Financial Measures (1998) Act;

Therefore be it resolved that the NDP Finance Critic who, like his Leader, the Marlboro Man, is thirsting for power in Nova Scotia and is prepared to say anything, anywhere, anytime to ensure the NDP get there.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Antigonish.

RESOLUTION NO. 1808

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

Whereas the recent boom in Nova Scotia's economy has been credited to developments in the offshore; and

Whereas benefits of this prosperity include an increase in employment, growth in housing construction, falling vacancy rates for office space and glowing forecasts by financial analysts; and

Whereas recent interest in oil and gas developments on land in Pictou County, Truro and other areas, indicate that Nova Scotia stands to enjoy continued prosperity now and in the future;

Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize the positive growth in our economy is a direct result of the policies of Premier Russell MacLellan and his government and will mean many long-term benefits for rural Nova Scotian communities.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[9:15 a.m.]

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

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

[Page 3697]

The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.

RESOLUTION NO. 1809

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

Whereas the Glace Bay Miners' Museum, a play by NDP MP and playwright Wendy Lill, is running until Saturday at the Frederic Wood Theatre in Vancouver; and

Whereas the play and its director, Kelly-Ruth Mercier, are getting rave reviews in Vancouver; and

Whereas the Glace Bay Miners' Museum is a home-grown gem which presents a bitter-sweet picture of the life of coal miners and their families in Nova Scotia;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Wendy Lill and Kelly-Ruth Mercier on the success of their wonderful play in Vancouver.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Kings North.

RESOLUTION NO. 1810

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

Whereas the Premier told the Legislature last spring there was insufficient ethane to start a petrochemical plant in Nova Scotia; and

Whereas Sable Chemical intends to build a $600 million petrochemical plant; and

Whereas ethane extraction could best be done at the Goldboro gas plant;

[Page 3698]

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier insist the gas plant at Goldboro be constructed with ethane extraction capabilities.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Richmond.

RESOLUTION NO. 1811

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

Whereas Development Isle Madame was one of two Atlantic Canada case studies at an international conference on economic development held recently in Cape Breton; and

Whereas Development Isle Madame was recognized for playing a major role in diversifying the local economy after it was set up in response to the fishing crisis; and

Whereas among other initiatives, this group has helped launch the Tradewinds call centre and helped establish a thriving aquaculture industry in the area;

Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize the outstanding contribution made by Development Isle Madame and their promotion of economic development through innovative use of information technology and other methods.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice and passage without debate.

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.

[Page 3699]

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cumberland South.

RESOLUTION NO. 1812

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

Whereas it has been more than two and one-half years since the untimely death of Warren Edward Sheppard in March 1996; and

Whereas numerous questions regarding Mr. Sheppard's death remain unanswered, creating even more difficulty for family members in coping with the loss of their loved one; and

Whereas the Sheppard family remain without closure and without peace in their lives due to the lack of information surrounding Mr. Sheppard's death;

Therefore be it resolved that this government assist the Sheppard family in achieving the closure they need to put this tragedy behind them by calling for an inquiry under the Nova Scotia Fatalities Inquiries Act into the death of Warren Edward Sheppard, Jr.

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 Yarmouth.

RESOLUTION NO. 1813

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

Whereas our depleted fisheries, once the marrow in the bones of coastal communities, show little sign of returning to their previous bounty; and

[Page 3700]

Whereas this downturn in the fisheries has had a profound, negative impact upon families in these communities; and

Whereas the human toll has been devastating with bleak hopes and chronic stress abundant, leaving these communities in a state of perpetual crisis;

Therefore be it resolved that this government provide crisis counsellors for those affected communities immediately.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill.

RESOLUTION NO. 1814

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

Whereas women's centres provide a non-threatening environment for women and their families, particularly in rural Nova Scotia, to seek urgently needed help no longer provided by government; and

Whereas the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre budget request for the 1998-99 fiscal year has yet to be approved by the Department of Community Services; and

Whereas without the necessary funding the Antigonish centre cannot adequately staff the centre and cannot maintain centre programming;

Therefore be it resolved that the government recognize the significant difference women's centres have made in the lives of thousands of Nova Scotia families and that it immediately move to address the outstanding budget request made by the Antigonish Women's Centre.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[Page 3701]

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

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

RESOLUTION NO. 1815

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

Whereas according to the Minister of Transportation, the number of businesses located on a road is now part of the criteria to determine priority for road improvements; and

Whereas according to the Minister of Transportation, the number of school buses and the number of emergency vehicles using a road are now part of that criteria;

Whereas in the past the Minister of Transportation has only referred to AADT, RCI and PC as criteria to determine priority for road improvements;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Transportation be congratulated for extending the criteria for road improvements.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

RESOLUTION NO. 1816

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

Whereas Dartmouth photographer Myles MacDonald has printed 2,500 calendars to benefit fishermen whose livelihood was disrupted as a result of the tragic Swissair crash; and

Whereas the single-page calendar that includes a photograph of Peggy's Cove will be sold for $3.00 at craft shows and by local retailers with proceeds being deposited in a trust fund; and

[Page 3702]

Whereas Mr. MacDonald has contributed the proceeds from other crafts and photographs to charities including Big Brothers and Sisters, the Metro Turning Point shelter, and the Kids Help Phone;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House thank Mr. MacDonald for his many generous contributions and his community spirit.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

RESOLUTION NO. 1817

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

Whereas the QE II Health Sciences Centre faces a debt of $123 million by the end of the current fiscal year; and

Whereas the hospital's new CEO, Bob Smith, said plans are in place to reduce costs by cutting down the amount of time patients can convalesce at the facility; and

Whereas these plans amount to kicking residents out of beds under the guise of improving the efficiency of operations at the QE II;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Health take action to assure this House that there will be no reduction in services at the QE II Health Sciences Centre.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

[Page 3703]

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Lunenburg.

RESOLUTION NO. 1818

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

Whereas a community police office has been opened in Hubbards; and

Whereas the office will be essentially operated by Citizens on Patrol, a group of 42 part-time volunteers; and

Whereas this group coordinated by Ms. Janet Fryday Dorey has already assisted the police in preventing one possible break-in and the arrest of two individuals suspected of stealing a truck;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this Legislature commend Ms. Fryday Dorey and the citizens patrol in Hubbards for their involvement in the community policing initiative in Hubbards and their efforts to date in reducing crime in their community.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

RESOLUTION NO. 1819

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

[Page 3704]

Whereas the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union recently announced scholarships and awards to members of the NSGEU; and

Whereas Barbara Broom, Mary Jane Crosby, Herb MacDonald, Barbara Nickerson, Janet Wadden, Katherine Anne MacIntyre, Lesa Innocent and Shelly Matheson are this year's recipients of these scholarships and bursaries;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate the scholarship and bursary winners on their achievement.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.

RESOLUTION NO. 1820

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

Whereas history has shown political Leaders often use a variety of unorthodox sources as guidance when forced to make difficult decisions; and

Whereas Mackenzie King, one of Canada' longest serving and most noteworthy Prime Ministers often used seances to seek the counsel of long dead members of the spirit world; and

Whereas other political Leaders have been known to study the messages contained in chicken entrails, money teeth and even tea leaves to help plan the future of a nation;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Finance agree to refrain from calling the Psychic Friends Network when seeking guidance on the province's financial problems.

Mr. Speaker, I would seek waiver.

[Page 3705]

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

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.

RESOLUTION NO. 1821

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

Whereas the esteemed American College of Dentists was founded in 1920 to recognize dentists who have made significant contributions to advancing dentistry; and

Whereas the fellowship in the American College of Dentists is based on demonstrated leadership and contributions to the dental profession and society and is offered to only 3.5 per cent of dentists; and

Whereas during its annual meeting in San Francisco on October 23rd past, the American College of Dentists awarded a fellowship to Dr. Roland G. Canning of Sydney River;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate Dr. Canning on his wonderful achievement in his professional life and on his unparalleled work in the community.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cumberland South.

[Page 3706]

RESOLUTION NO. 1822

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

Whereas detector dogs are an invaluable resource in locating illegal drugs and weapons being shipped to and from Atlantic Canada; and

Whereas Shadow, an eight year old drug-sniffing detector dog with the Canada Customs branch of Revenue Canada in Halifax, will retire on November 16th after six years of duty; and

Whereas during that time, Shadow and her trainer Brian Devanney have contributed to drug seizures worth more than $500 million;

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House recognize the important contribution made by detector dogs in the fight against illegal drug and weapon smuggling, thank Shadow and Brian Devanney for their dedicated service and wish Shadow a long and happy retirement.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

I guess some people like cats.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Preston.

RESOLUTION NO. 1823

MS. YVONNE ATWELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Mi'kmaq in this province are challenging the government on what they believe is their right to harvest trees on Crown land without a permit; and

[Page 3707]

Whereas the Minister of Natural Resources says this department has met repeatedly with the chiefs, but at least one native leader suggests there has been no formal discussion; and

Whereas the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley would rather verbally attack Mi'kmaq than negotiate;

Therefore be it resolved that this House encourage the minister to work out a formal process for negotiation with all the Mi'kmaq chiefs, including a time-frame for discussions and report back his progress to this Legislature.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill.

RESOLUTION NO. 1824

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

Whereas the Metro Food Bank Society receives some 22,000 requests for assistance during the Christmas season in addition to their regular services; and

Whereas the Metro Food Bank Society requires an additional 100 volunteers each week to deal with the Christmas rush; and

Whereas volunteer assistance is needed to help with reception, administration, delivery and fund-raising;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House recognize the increased demand placed on the Metro Food Bank during the Christmas season and support their efforts in every way possible.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

[Page 3708]

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 Yarmouth.

RESOLUTION NO. 1825

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

Whereas on November 13, 1923, Mulgrave was incorporated as a town; and

Whereas the Emergency Services Centre, part of the Mulgrave waterfront since 1978, is being threatened by the recent federal announcement of cuts to the Coast Guard; and

Whereas the Town of Mulgrave has asked to look at the viability study which they believe the Coast Guard has done on the operation;

Therefore be it resolved that the province give the Town of Mulgrave a 75th birthday present by agreeing to intercede on the town's behalf so that yet another coastal community is not left high and dry.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Pictou East.

[Page 3709]

RESOLUTION NO. 1826

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 Thorburn Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary celebrated their 25th Anniversary on Tuesday evening of this week; and

Whereas Jean Pitts, Barbara Palmer, Lillian Reid, Margaret Johnson, Pat Marshall, Lorraine Weatherbie, Frances Stewart and Diane McCulloch were all honoured for their many years of service to the Thorburn Fire Department; and

[9:30 a.m.]

Whereas two individuals, Jean Pitts and Barbara Palmer, were specifically recognized by the Office of the Fire Marshall for their 25 years of dedicated service and hard work;

Therefore be it resolved that members of the Legislature recognize and commend the Thorburn Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary for their 25 years of service and wish them many more years of success.

Mr. Speaker, I ask waiver of notice and passage without debate.

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. 1827

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

Whereas Canada Post has moved the location of its post office on the Prospect Road; and

[Page 3710]

Whereas this post office offers only parcel pick-up; and

Whereas this is an example of the deterioration of service offered to rural residents of Nova Scotia and Prospect Road in particular;

Therefore be it resolved that this House join in asking officials of Canada Post to reconsider this decision to curtail the quality of postal service on the Prospect Road.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

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.

RESOLUTION NO. 1828

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

Whereas the Examination of Special Competency in Cardiac Pacing and Cardioversion Defibrillation is for non-physicians working in the pacemaker industry; and

Whereas Halifax Technologist, Marcia Shields, who works with pacemaker patients at the QE II Health Sciences Centre ranked in the top 3 per cent in the world in the cardiac pacing exam; and

Whereas Ms. Shields is the only non-physician in Nova Scotia who currently holds the certificate of successful completion of the exam;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of the House of Assembly congratulate Ms. Shields on her outstanding performance on the cardiac pacing exam and wish her continued success in her field.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice.

[Page 3711]

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

GOVERNMENT BUSINESS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Private Members' Public Bills for Second Reading.

PRIVATE MEMBERS' PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 23.

Bill No. 23 - Certified General Accountants Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I move for second reading Bill No. 23, the Certified General Accountants Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 23. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.

The honourable Government House Leader.

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

[Page 3712]

PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 60.

Bill No. 60 - Optometry Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Health.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to move second reading of an Act to Amend Chapter 328 of the Revised Statues, 1989, the Optometry Act. I want to say that the Department of Health has worked closely with optometrists and representatives of the Nova Scotia Association of Optometrists during the past several months. This amendment would allow optometrists in Nova Scotia to report to the Registry of Motor Vehicles drivers whose vision is not acceptable, specifically, "This Bill authorizes an optometrist to report to the Registrar of Motor Vehicles the name and address of a patient of the optometrist who, in the optometrist's opinion, should not drive a motor vehicle because of a physical infirmity or disability.".

Optometrists are better placed than most other health professionals to detect persons with poor eyesight, a factor which can play a role in motor vehicle accidents. Similar legislation is already in place for physicians in Nova Scotia.

Optometrists have asked government to make this amendment and we believe it makes good sense to change the Optometry Act to give these health professionals this additional authority. Amending the Optometry Act and giving optometrists this new authority is a sensitive issue with two sides. On the one hand, optometrists are better placed than most other health professionals to detect persons with poor eyesight, a factor that can play a role in motor vehicle accidents. Giving optometrists new authority to report persons with unacceptable vision to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, helps improve public safety.

On the other hand, we realize that the confidentiality of patient health care information is a sensitive issue. We understand that. We would hope that no person or group would oppose an amendment that is intended to help improve safety for all Nova Scotians. Physicians already have the authority to report persons with unacceptable vision and we believe this amendment is a prudent step. This proposed amendment would also protect optometrists from potential legal action around the disclosure of this medical information, the Motor Vehicle Registry.

The amendment would read, "No action lies against any optometrist for the disclosure of any information, or any document or anything therein, pursuant to subsection (2) unless such disclosure is made with malice.". We believe that the amendment will help to increase

[Page 3713]

public safety on our highways and roads in Nova Scotia. We realize the inconvenience that this may cause some people but we think everyone will agree that public safety is a priority and that those affected by this amendment will understand what we are trying to achieve. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, the position of the Official Opposition with respect to this bill, an Act to Amend the Optometry Act, is one in which we can certainly support this measure in principle. Anything that will lead to greater safety in the operation of motor vehicles on our highways is always a welcome piece of public policy, I think. I know that the minister is correct when he says that his department has worked very closely with the Nova Scotia Association of Optometrists. This is an amendment that they certainly would like to see move through this session into law.

As I understand it, there haven't been, perhaps, any lawsuits in Nova Scotia but that doesn't mean that there couldn't be. It seems clear that optometrists would be under a fair amount of pressure, on the one hand, perhaps seeing patients who they feel should not be operating a motor vehicle but at the same time being aware that in law there was little protection for them with respect to disclosure of confidential health care information. It seems that the sensible thing to do would be to remove that barrier to the professional optometrists from reporting to the motor vehicle department any findings that they have made after a professional examination of a patient that they no longer should be operating a motor vehicle.

I think it is safe to say, Mr. Speaker, that this particular amendment will probably have the greatest effect on senior citizens. I think we probably have all known seniors in our own communities and perhaps families who have, in fact, had their licenses suspended or terminated. I think we know how upsetting this can be for many seniors. I think that in the Law Amendments Committee process it will be important, and I hope seniors' groups will come forward to express their views on what can be a very difficult situation for senior citizens who are also, after all, concerned about public safety, as concerned as anyone else, how they feel about these amendments and perhaps any suggestions that they may have in terms of how this bill could be strengthened.

In that regard, perhaps we could look at some modifications that would make it clear that a second opinion, for example from another professional optometrist, may be warranted just to reassure both the holder of the license and the optometrist, the profession and the public that all matters that need to be considered are being considered.

Mr. Speaker, I think this is an important amendment and it is one that will certainly generate some interest in the Law Amendments process. I look forward to hearing what the public has to say with respect to this amendment. Thank you. (Applause)

[Page 3714]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, a few words on Bill No. 60, an Act to Amend the Optometry Act. This is a responsible request from the Optometry Association to clarify an issue that is of concern to all of those that deal with the public in a confidential way. I know the Minister of Health, as well as myself, on many occasions in the practice of our professions have had to implement a similar responsibility, as a medical practitioner, in terms of what in essence is contrary to the Oath of Confidentiality that we all take. What we have here is, which is the greatest responsibility? This bill clearly indicates that, in addition to an Oath of Responsibility, a professional practitioner as well does have a responsibility to the public-at-large.

This particular amendment outlines that responsibility to optometrists. It is very important that this kind of legislation go forward because it does two things: it gives a protection to the optometrist practising in a responsible way, protection when that contact is made to the Registry of Motor Vehicles that the practitioner is in fact responding to a piece of provincial legislation; and, in addition, not only does it protect the optometrist, it establishes the responsibility of that professional person to make that contact if, in fact, because of the nature of the vision disturbance that has been uncovered by way of an examination would make it unsafe for that particular individual to drive, either on a short-term or a long-term basis.

Safety on our highways is something that all of us have great concern for. Despite the fact that we do build better roads, despite the fact that various pieces of legislation are in effect to minimize the carnage on our roads, despite all of that, we still have far too many motor vehicle accidents in this province.

I believe this is a sensible piece of legislation; I believe it is a responsible thing to do. It was a responsible thing for the optometrists to come forward and request this legislation. I am anxious for it to go on and receive the scrutiny of the public, because there will be some concerns brought, I am sure, to the Law Amendments Committee because of this particular piece of legislation. From my perspective, having participated as part of the health care team in this province for three decades, I believe it is the responsible thing to do, and a piece of legislation that we are certainly prepared to support. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the Minister of Health it is to close the debate.

The honourable Minister of Health.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable members for their interventions this morning and their balanced reports, and their bringing their views on this particular bill. I would now move Bill No. 60, Optometry Act, for second reading.

[Page 3715]

[9:45 a.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 60.

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

The motion is carried.

Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 68, the Provincial Court Act.

Bill No. 68 - Provincial Court Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present for second reading the proposed amendments to the Provincial Court Act.

In September 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that in order for provincial courts to be considered constitutional the salaries of judges had to be established by independent commissions. The ruling clearly stated the commission could not be controlled by government. Other jurisdictions have complied with the Supreme Court decision. They have created independent tribunals to make recommendations respecting salaries and benefits for provincially appointed judges. It is time for Nova Scotia to do the same.

Our judicial system must be free from political interference. This legislation responds to the requirements of the Supreme Court decision. This allows us to protect and maintain the essential independence of the judiciary. The proposed amendments establish a tribunal which will make recommendations on the appropriate level of salary and benefits paid to judges of the Provincial and Family Courts.

The tribunal is made up of three members. One representative is appointed by the Provincial Court Judges' Association and another by the Minister of Justice. The chair is then agreed upon by both parties. If an agreement cannot be reached, the Dean of Dalhousie Law School will consult with the minister and the Judges' Association and appoint the chair of the tribunal. The members of the tribunal will serve for a three year period. The tribunal will make binding recommendations on the appropriate salary levels for judges. This includes the chief judge and the associate chief judge of each court.

[Page 3716]

Recommendations will also be made with respect to the level for per diem payments and the appropriate vacation, pension and sick leave benefits. When making these recommendations, the tribunal will consider the unique nature of a judge's role and the need to attract excellent candidates. The tribunal will take into account the need to balance fair and reasonable compensation for judges in the economic realities of our time. The tribunal will also keep in mind the salary levels in other jurisdictions.

The hearings of the tribunal will be open to any member of the public who wishes to attend. Written submissions can also be provided and will be given every consideration. Make no mistake about it, the recommendations of the tribunal are binding. The very essence of an independent judicial system calls for no less. It is important to note that these amendments protect the independence and the constitutionality of our judicial system.

This legislation ensures that the judiciary remains free from the threat of interference or control through compensation. In bringing this legislation forward, we not only comply with the Supreme Court of Canada, we go one step further in ensuring public faith in an independent judiciary. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to speak on Bill No. 68 as it was introduced by the Minister of Justice. Bill No. 68 is entitled An Act to Amend Chapter 238 of the Revised Statutes, 1989, the Provincial Court Act. As the Minister of Justice has just described, in a nutshell, it creates an independent salary review process for the Provincial Court Judges in Nova Scotia. Our Party does support, in principle, this piece of legislation. However, there are a few things I would like to discuss and put on the record, prior to this moving forward to the Committee on Law Amendments.

A bit of history that this piece of legislation is coming forward, back in the early 1990's when most governments in this country were dealing with deficits and debts, they determined that they needed to roll back the salaries of judges, amongst other public servants, whether they be the lowliest clerk, the Crown Attorneys or anyone else who was under the public payroll, police officers, firefighters. No one thought, other than judges, to actually challenge the authority of government. Well, I shouldn't say that, some did try to challenge the authority of government but no one was successful other than judges in challenging the authority of government to roll back their wages.

The judges of this country, particularly, I think, there were three, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island, were the ones who went to the Supreme Court of Canada. Their challenge was based on the fact that their independence was being challenged if they were not able to have an independent review of their salaries. This would also affect Federal Court judges, including the Supreme Court of Canada judges who also had their salaries frozen or rolled back, I am not sure which one.

[Page 3717]

What we have is a circumstance where the judges felt that their independence was being challenged by a lack of independent salary review process, i.e., the government was unilaterally rolling back salaries without telling the judges, like other civil servants were forced to deal with. Unlike other civil servants, the judges had the ability to go to one of their brethren in the Supreme Court of Canada and actually have the Supreme Court of Canada decide that the government was not allowed to unilaterally impose a salary roll-back or salary freeze on judges. Maybe the irony is lost on some, but it was not on me, that the Supreme Court of Canada judges, who were directly affected by the decision to roll back or freeze their salaries, were actually determining that the government was not allowed to roll back or freeze their salaries. Unfortunately, there is no appeal from the Supreme Court of Canada on this particular case.

So what we have is a circumstance where the Supreme Court of Canada's decision of September 18, 1997, was to state that the independent salaries must be implemented by all governments in Canada. Now Federal Court judges and judges of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and the Supreme Court of Canada and other provincial superior courts are appointed by the federal government and paid by the federal government. Therefore, it is the federal government that has created an independent review process for them. It is only at the Provincial Court level that this province is directly affected and it affects both the criminal courts, the Provincial Court and the Family Court. The Family Court, I guess, is only on a temporary basis because it is my understanding that the intent is to create a unified Family Court in this province, a court that obviously then will come under the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and also result in the payment of those judges by the federal government.

On a long-term basis this is going to affect the criminal courts. Indeed, it really is only the criminal courts that probably are affected in most cases. There may be some instances where the province or the government may be involved in a Family Court matter where they are the Public Trustee or where they maybe are involved in child protection issues. Generally speaking, it is in the criminal courts where this has become a very hot issue. In particular, what we have is a circumstance where, so it is being told, if by November 18th of this year - because that is when the Supreme Court specifically said the deadline is to have new, independent review processes in place by all provinces - there is not an independent review process for the salaries of judges, then potentially anyone convicted by a judge after November 18, 1998, will be seen as not having had a fair trial because the judges are biased.

I will get back to that in a minute, but basically, in the criminal court system, what this will result in potentially is having judges, because they do not have an independent salary review, determining cases where the government obviously is a party - they are the Crown, prosecuting individuals, where they are a party - the defendant can argue that they did not have a fair trial because the judge was biased toward the Crown because the Crown sets their salaries unilaterally and therefore, presumably, judges are under the thumb of the government. That is the argument as it has been put forward and, potentially, will be put forward after November 18th.

[Page 3718]

Obviously, there are a lot of good defence lawyers out there in Nova Scotia and across this country who are paid good money to argue such arguments and, in particular - I will stand to be corrected, maybe the Minister of Justice can correct me on this - I believe Nova Scotia is the last province to implement the changes necessary. That is another issue that I will bring up a little later.

I think the issue, first of all, is whether or not the November 18th deadline will result in criminals running free, I guess to use a term that some might want to use to emphasize the point. I think, particularly, the issue here, Mr. Speaker, is going back to the Supreme Court, back in February of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada was asked by the Alberta defence counsel, based on the September 18th decision of last year saying judges were not independent, they were again asked in February of this year whether or not all those people, who were found guilty by those judges previous to the actual decision being made, their cases should be thrown out because the judges were not independent.

The Supreme Court of Canada in its decision in February said that in the perfect world the judges should be fully independent and not have any bias, and they also said that obviously, in our world, not being perfect, that does not happen. What we have are circumstances, Mr. Speaker, where judges do have biases and better that they have a judge who can hear the case who has only a small amount of bias - if I am reading their decision correctly - as compared to being completely independent.

In the case of the people who have tried to have their convictions overturned - who were convicted prior to the September 18, 1997, decision, Mr. Speaker - the Supreme Court of Canada said no, you will not have your cases overturned because you did have a judge who was relatively independent even though there was a salary issue outstanding. However, the Supreme Court of Canada also said that you have until November 18, 1998, governments of Canada, to fix this. Obviously, that was an ultimatum made by the Supreme Court of Canada basically saying maybe we might change our minds if, after November 18, 1998, there are people who are being convicted or found guilty by judges who do not have an independent salary review process.

So, the question is, is that a legitimate threat? Is that a legitimate concern that should result in us quickly passing this legislation to ensure that this province has an independent salary review process? It is a good question. I guess we will not know until November 18th comes and goes and we do not have this legislation passed, potentially.

My concern, Mr. Speaker, is that the province has put us in a position where we really do not have any choice to debate this piece of legislation; we do not have a choice to debate the details of the legislation. This bill, today being Friday, November 13th, and then having three more days until November 18th, must pass second reading, must go to the Law Amendments Committee, with other bills that are already there, come back for Committee

[Page 3719]

of the Whole House on Bills, go through third reading and be assented to by the Lieutenant Governor.

AN HON. MEMBER: Two, actually, more days.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: So we have got basically four working days of this House to pass this piece of legislation, given the other legislation that is already at the Law Amendments Committee. We have Bill No. 47 that is at the Law Amendments Committee now, with many people lined up to speak on that very important piece of legislation; we have other pieces of legislation that are there still being debated; and we have other pieces of legislation that went through second reading yesterday that, in theory, are ahead of the queue, ahead of this particular bill, Bill No. 68 in the line-up for the Law Amendments Committee.

MR. JOHN HOLM: And Wednesday is Opposition Day so that does not count.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Wednesday is Opposition Day; that is a good point. My friend, the member for Sackville-Cobequid, has pointed out Wednesday is Opposition Day, so there will not be any debates or Committee of the Whole House on that day. So, really, we have two days in order to debate this bill through three levels of this House and have it approved by the Lieutenant Governor. That is not enough time to have legitimate debate on what will be a serious change in the legal community in this province.

My greatest concern is that this government has known for approximately 14 months that this was the law. The Supreme Court of Canada decided on September 18, 1997, that their independent review process must be implemented by every province and the federal government and yet, as usual with this government, they wait until the last minute. A sort of, you know, plan from day to day, let's see what we have to do tomorrow before the sky falls, to ensure that it does not fall.

Today's problem that is being addressed at the last minute is judicial salaries and, Mr. Speaker, I do not like having to be forced to deal with a piece of legislation that will have dramatic impact on the judicial process in Nova Scotia in a short period of time, without having the opportunity to debate it in this House fully. Quite frankly, we don't have that opportunity here, and that is unfortunate. I would hope that all people who are elected to this House of Assembly would agree with me that there is a need to ensure that before we pass legislation, we get full debate and full discussion to the legislation, but Bill No. 68, presumably, if we are going to have it done by November 18, 1998, which is only a few short days from now, it is going to have to be rammed through this House. Maybe that is easy to do when you have a majority government, but unfortunately, with a minority government, this House should have planned . . .

[Page 3720]

[10:00 a.m.]

AN HON. MEMBER: Fortunately.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Fortunately, sorry, yes, thank you. Fortunately, because we have a minority government, we can be in a situation where we can have the debate if necessary, but again, we are being told by the government that if we don't pass this by November 18, 1998, the sky will fall, criminals will run free, and the rivers will turn into fire. I think that those are some of the problems that we have with the need to address this legislation in such a quick, short and terse manner, not in a way that allows us to think thoroughly through what exactly is being proposed.

I must suggest that this isn't just a proposal by the government, they negotiated with the judges of this province, the Provincial Court judges sat down with the province and negotiated their own independent review process. Well, might I say, wouldn't it be nice if we could all do that? Wouldn't it be nice, if we could all, like judges, have an opportunity to independently review our salaries and be able negotiate . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: Like the Crown Prosecutors.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Like the Crown Prosecutors. Well, that is something I will get to in a little bit. I think this is clearly sending the wrong signal to the criminal justice system, a signal that it is okay, once you are appointed to the Bench, to expect particular treatment that will allow you to ensure that your salaries will continue to go up, potentially, even when there are circumstances that will result in an economic downturn in which the government needs the opportunity to try and address its deficits. Gee, we are not in a situation like that now, are we? (Interruptions)

I think the real issue here is the fact that the judges have an opportunity - and again the Supreme Court of Canada has made that decision - to independently negotiate the issues, while other members of the criminal justice system, whether it be Crown Attorneys, Legal Aid lawyers, members who are paid staff of the Legal Aid Commission do not also have the opportunity to have it. I think what we need is not for this government sticking its finger in the dike to make sure the dam doesn't break but tries on a long-term basis to address the issues that are a problem in the criminal justice system.

Now, there are a couple of problems with regard to that. Crown Attorneys and Legal Aid lawyers are also members of the criminal justice system, who I would suggest have as much of a role, if not a greater role in ensuring the efficiency of the criminal justice system. They are the ones who determine whether or not matters will go to trial, or whether or not matters will be determined through a plea, or whether charges will be withdrawn or charges will be stayed. Judges are just there to sit and listen and to hear what those people are actually

[Page 3721]

saying, and then making a determination. They are arbitrators of the last resort, I guess, is how many have described them.

But the problem with this particular issue is that the people who are Crown Attorneys and the people who are Legal Aid lawyers don't have the same right to independent salary review. If we are really truly talking about trying to address the criminal justice system, and the low morale that is a problem in the criminal justice system, then let's look at trying to deal with the issue long term. Let's try to deal with the issues that deal with independent review for judges, for Crown Attorneys, for Legal Aid lawyers, so that they all have the same right and opportunity to feel that they feel empowered, to use a term of the 1990's, a catchphrase of the 1990's, so that they have the ability all to feel that they have an opportunity to have a say in how their salaries are being judged. Pardon the pun.

I think the real issue here is that with judges, they have been given this opportunity by the Supreme Court of Canada, and they have the power to do that, and they have pushed the power, they have pushed the right buttons, and they have achieved what is good to see that they have been available to do that. But particularly with regard to Crown Attorneys and Legal Aid lawyers, they don't have that same opportunity, they don't have that same power. They didn't have the same arguments they could make before the Supreme Court of Canada, a friendly court, specifically to the judges.

What they have had is no ability to have their matters addressed, and it has been years since they have asked for it to be addressed, whether it be an independent budget, whether it be an independent review process for their salaries, whether it be the Ghiz-Archibald Report or the ongoing concerns of the Legal Aid Commission, or whether it be other matters dealing with, particularly, government-paid staff lawyers within the criminal justice system and the Family Court system.

These people need an opportunity to also have an independent review process, yet this government will stand here and say, you have got three days to pass this piece of legislation or two days and you better do it and we don't care about the other people who are particularly involved in the matter. (Interruption) Well, indeed, the government did say that because if you look at the press release that was released with this particular piece of legislation it specifically said that by November 18, 1998, this legislation must be passed. I would encourage members of the government benches to read up on the particular pieces of legislation and the press releases that go out with it.

I think there are some points that I want to address around this particular issue, some specifics. In particular, this only deals with Provincial Court judges as an association, basically creating a union with binding arbitration that prevents the government from actually revoking its collective agreement with the judges, unlike other collective agreements which it so easily revoked and changed over the last five years, giving them a status beyond any other

[Page 3722]

employees of the government and I think that is a special status that needs to be considered through all of this.

In particular we have got three people who are being appointed to this particular tribunal that will review salaries. In a moment, I will get to the issues of what exactly they will be addressing. What we have is one individual who will be appointed by the government, one individual will be appointed by the association representing the Nova Scotia provincial judges and the third individual will be appointed by the two of them. A classic arbitration process where the two parties appoint one each and then the third party, the chair, is appointed by the two individuals. The difference here is, in most arbitration cases where the two parties cannot agree to the chair of the tribunal that will hear the arbitration, the minister would then step in and appoint someone. In this case the minister if not allowed to appoint someone because, again, judges are given a status beyond other parties. So who would appoint the third person if the two parties cannot agree? According to this piece of legislation, it is the dean of the law school who will make that appointment. That sounds like a reasonable suggestion and I assume that came through the negotiated process that they made the decision to actually deal with that.

I think the other aspects of this particular legislation deal with what the legislation will deal with, in particular what types of salaries and other sort of subsidiary benefits. So salary level is one issue, the main issue obviously, the one most people think of. How much does a judge make? What is their take-home pay? Those are some of the issues we need to think about. It will also deal with such things as appropriate per diem payments for judges sitting on that basis. So there are judges who sit on a per diem basis. How much are they going to be paid? That will be worked out through this particular process.

Appropriate vacation and sick leave benefits. So did the Supreme Court say that the independent review process must also address vacation and sick leave benefits or did they just say it must deal with salaries? I am not sure but I would hope the government has thought that through before it negotiated an agreement that might usurp some of its power that it did not necessarily have to usurp.

It also will deal with pension benefits, long-term disability benefits or salary continuation, life insurance, health and dental benefits. Again, these are issues getting further and further away from direct salary benefits. Now they are enticements, if you are a judge or have the opportunity to become a judge and you are 50 or 55 years old in the private Bar, maybe you are in a circumstance where you feel that a pension, superannuation and it is a very good superannuation fund, would benefit you in a way that would allow you to want to join, maybe that is an enticement. Again, has the government thought through exactly where the decision of the Supreme Court stands on the issues of subsidiary salary benefits.

[Page 3723]

Other things that they call, other non-discretionary benefits. Now, that could be anything from sabbaticals, secondments to I don't know what. The other question is, as I mentioned earlier, are those things that have to be dealt with. My understanding of the legislation, there are two types of issues that this tribunal will look at. One is mandatory issues, salary and so on and then there may be others that by the agreement of both parties they will look at, which again, gives the government some opportunity to say, well, you know, maybe these are issues that we don't want to have brought forward to the tribunal. We feel that our interpretation of the case that made us have to go this far says that we don't have to actually go further than the line that we will draw in the sand. I think that is a fair process and a fair system in place with regard to whether or not those ancillary benefits will be addressed through the tribunal.

It also states that particularly some people cannot sit on the tribunal, obviously judges, obviously some others who might particularly have a bias with regard to this particular issue. I think even retired judges are prevented from sitting on the particular tribunal.

I think that there are some issues in this particular legislation that need to be addressed, that need to be seen through whether or not this is meeting, four-square, the requirements of the case that was put down by the Supreme Court of Canada on September 18, 1997. I think that hopefully, through this process, we will have an opportunity to actually discuss this fully.

Honestly, Mr. Speaker, the last thing that I was elected to do was to ram legislation through without having full debate. I would hope that this government would have taken the time early on - as I said, they have had 14 months since the decision to actually introduce legislation and I would hope that this is something that would have been introduced for second reading much before November 18, 1998. In those circumstances, I would think that this particular piece of legislation is being pushed through. There was a negotiated settlement, I understand, and maybe that took some time.

I would hope this particular government would have considered that given the time-frame, and indeed, the Supreme Court of Canada's original decision was that they had to have it by September 18, 1998. I guess the government is very happy the Supreme Court of Canada gave a two month extension to allow them to actually address this issue.

HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, would the member opposite entertain a question? I have been listening to the member opposite in the discussion of this particular bill. Hansard will reflect some statements that were made about 15 minutes ago in his discussion that related to the Supreme Court decision and how the Supreme Court of Canada was, perhaps, friendly to the justices and the need for their arm's length independence in a society that holds very dearly its judicial system here in Canada but, the inference was, not as friendly to the other elements of the justice system in terms of their need for independence.

[Page 3724]

My question to the member opposite is, is that what he intended to say? I know that Hansard will reflect those remarks. Just what does he mean by that in terms of our Supreme Court system here in Canada?

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I thank the member opposite for his particular question. I want to make it quite clear that of all the Supreme Court of Canada decisions I have read and had an opportunity to consider, I have never before seen an opportunity where I have ever felt that the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada were in any way biased. Those are people who (Interruptions)

I must say that if some Parties in the House actually would listen, so let me say this quite clearly. Normally, with regard to judges, if they have a monetary interest in a matter that they are determining, they should not be hearing the particular case. That is my concern with the particular way this matter was determined by the Supreme Court of Canada. Maybe they are not. Maybe they did not have a monetary interest. I will be glad if someone wants to point me to a different direction on that issue. If there were salary freezes on the Supreme Court of Canada at the time that this matter was being determined, then I do have a concern with the way the decision was made. However, that is beside the point. The point with regard to this particular issue is that we now have that decision.

Rule of law is what rules in this particular country and I accept the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada and we are moving forward with independent salary review for judges and now we are at the Provincial Court level and that is what is being dealt with right now. That was 14 months ago and this government has had that amount of time to deal with the issue, and yet they have not dealt with the issue. They come to us at 11:59, not the eleventh hour, 11:59, and come to us and say, you had better pass this legislation or God knows what is going to happen. You cannot have (Interruption) No, that is the opinion of the government.

I wish the members opposite would actually consider their own press releases and position papers that they put out on this particular issue. If a member opposite wants to stand for the record and say that they do not think that is going to happen, I will be more than glad to hear from them on this particular debate. That is what the government has suggested is going to happen in this particular issue. I would hope that the government would have taken a little more time to actually allow us to debate this issue and not force us to have to push it through quickly.

With the way the Law Amendments Committee is meeting and with the Municipal Government Act, Bill No. 47, we still might not get this through by November 18th. Then the government may be forced to actually think long and hard about its implications for its lack of forethought.

AN HON. MEMBER: No planning.

[Page 3725]

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Exactly, no planning. This government, as usual, decides at the last minute what it will do, without ever thinking of the long-term implications of what it is doing.

[10:15 a.m.]

So, Mr. Speaker, in summary. The Supreme Court of Canada has made a decision. It has made a decision that judges shall have independent salary reviews and every province in this country and the federal government has changed their legislation to allow that to happen except this one and on November 13, 1998, five days before the deadline set by the Supreme of Canada this government brings forward for second reading a piece of legislation, not a month before, not last spring, not last fall. This is the third session that this House has had since the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in September 1997 and yet this government waits until the final hours before the actual deadline set by the Supreme Court of Canada to actually introduce the legislation.

I would hope we would have a government that would think a little further ahead than a few hours before they start implementing legislation. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg.

MR. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise and speak on this bill. As has been stated earlier, the very foundation of our judicial system is an independent judiciary. As a member of the Bar, one of the things you learn in very practical terms early on is that an independent judiciary is the hallmark of our justice system. Certainly that principle - and the importance to ordinary citizens to be able to be sure that the judge who is hearing their particular case is independent from the government - is an absolute hallmark of our system.

Mr. Speaker, we need only look around the world and look at countries that do not have an independent judiciary to see that those regimes, those governments are ones where the state oppresses its people. If you look at countries where they have had an independent judiciary, that independent judiciary has been able to stand up to make sure that governments obey laws. This is all about obeying laws.

Mr. Speaker, the Supreme Court of Canada, whatever we may think of the merits of the decision, and I have often questioned Supreme Court of Canada decisions, as many other lawyers have, the basis of their decision, but once the Supreme Court of Canada makes a decision, it is imperative that we, as legislators, respect that and that we react to that in the appropriate way. This bill is being brought in in order to ensure that our justice system is brought in line with the Supreme Court of Canada decision on the most fundamental part of the Constitution, in the Charter of Rights, which provides that a person accused of a crime

[Page 3726]

has a right to have that case adjudicated by a fair and independent adjudicator. That is what this bill is all about.

Now, having said that, I would make a number of observations. The first one, of course, in looking at what is a non-discretionary or discretionary benefit. Now, the bill divides benefits into two categories, Mr. Speaker, non-discretionary benefits: salary, pensions, per diems for retired judges, those kinds of things; and into a second classification of discretionary benefits. The Supreme Court of Canada has spoken on the issue of non-discretionary benefits and has clearly indicated that a jurisdiction must have a method to have an independent determination of non-discretionary benefits.

Mr. Speaker, we have an agreement in Nova Scotia today, entered into between the Minister of Justice and the Provincial Court Judges' Association which, in effect, puts an interim mechanism in place to allow that. So I am not sure that it is going to be like Chicken Little that the sky will fall on November 18th if this bill isn't passed. That is not at all to indicate that I don't feel that the bill should be passed or to indicate that we wish to hold the bill up, but I do understand that there is a mechanism in place that the government has taken to try to address the concerns raised in the Supreme of Court of Canada decision. My understanding is that the Provincial Court Judges' Association has indicated that they feel that that mechanism, if legislation can't be passed before November 18th, that they felt, at least as a group, that that was one method of addressing the problem.

I know, Mr. Speaker, that the Provincial Court Judges' Association are certainly in favour of this bill being passed. There is no question of that and I can understand the merit of that. I do think that the honourable member who spoke last raised an interesting issue. I may not agree with some of the characterizations he made but I do indicate that the issue of salaries and benefits to Crown Attorneys is one of some significant importance because we have in this province established a system where we wish to have an independent Public Prosecution Service. That is a public-policy decision that we have made in this province and we did that for very good reasons, so that individuals would be assured that the Public Prosecution Service would be independent from the day-to-day operations of the government.

Mr. Speaker, I can remember when I began practising law which, unfortunately for me, was not yesterday, a number of years ago now, and the Provincial Court judges' salaries were roughly equivalent to the salaries of the most senior Crown Attorneys in this province. Well, that is not the case today. In fact, the provincial Crown Attorneys, their salaries have lagged way behind that being paid to Provincial Court judges. I think that that is an observation which should be lost on no one. I can recall looking at the salary benefits and this would be more than a decade ago when the Provincial Court judges were paid in the $60,000 a year range and senior Crown Attorneys were paid in that range. The difficulty is, is that the provincial Crown Attorneys have hardly moved since that time which the Provincial Court judges have moved a great deal.

[Page 3727]

Frankly, Mr. Speaker, that is causing a significant problem in attracting good people to the Public Prosecution Service because as important as it is that we have independent judges, it is also important that the Public Prosecution Service and prosecutions generally be independent and that we attract top quality people to those positions. So I think that while it is not directly connected perhaps but I think that the government should take a message from this in its dealings with the provincial Crown Attorneys and to try to reach a system that is going to address that very obvious inequity in the justice system. I would simply encourage the members opposite to take a real look at trying to resolve this problem because as inequities go, frankly, Mr. Speaker, there was a time when people, who are prosecutors in this province, preferred in many cases to stay as prosecutors. They liked doing their job. They were doing a good job. They felt they were doing important work.

Mr. Speaker, in economic terms, any provincial Crown Attorney would be out of their mind to stay as a provincial Crown Attorney if they had the opportunity to go to the bench, even if that was not what they were interested in, because the economic benefits are so disproportional. I think that certainly it is very important that we attract top quality people to the Provincial Court but it is equally important, Mr. Speaker, that we keep top quality people throughout the system.

The honourable member who spoke last had indicated that the Family Court, this would be only a purely passing concern of the Family Court. Mr. Speaker, being from rural Nova Scotia, I have a great deal of concern about the situation of the Family Court because the reality is that the unified Family Court system may never come to rural Nova Scotia. It is on the never-never plan; maybe some day, but this is a plan at the moment that is going to benefit particularly metro, and certainly I have no problem with that, but the benefit of that program should be not only for metro but for the entire province. (Interruption)

Mr. Speaker, that is right. It is nice to see that reasonable people can come to a reasonable conclusion on these matters and that we can see the importance of implementing this important reform for one-stop shopping for people in the family law system so that you do not run around from one judge to another judge saying, no, I am not the judge who can help you, and you have to go somewhere else on another day and wait in line so that another judge can help you.

Mr. Speaker, while I await with anticipation the new, unified family division of the Supreme Court in this province, I think that there is going to be significant work for the tribunal to do with respect to the Family Court for many years to come. I see no indication that the Family Court is in the imminent throes of being wound up. I think that we are going to be looking at not only Provincial Court judges, but Family Court judges for many more years to come, in determining the salaries and other non-discretionary benefits. If the federal Liberal Government in Ottawa had provided adequate funding to that program, the Family Court judges in Nova Scotia would be moot to this discussion and, because unfortunately

[Page 3728]

they didn't, the much-vaunted ability to obtain finances is once again shown to have not been as successful as it might otherwise have been.

I think that it is important to note that there are two components to this bill. One is dealt with by the Supreme Court of Canada - and I think that there is no question about the importance - that is the non-discretionary benefits. I am however somewhat concerned about the provisions in the bill that deal with discretionary benefits. By definition, a discretionary benefit is a benefit that you can choose to give or not to give. It is something to be dealt with by the government of the day, and given or not given, and that, frankly is why they elect us, and we may be right and we may be wrong, but the people put us here, and if they don't like what we do, the people can put someone else here.

Mr. Speaker, there are some members here . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: But not yourself.

MR. BAKER: Of course, not myself, but there are other members here that we could all perhaps have another view on, but I think it is important to recognize that I have some concerns about the issue of discretionary benefits. The discretionary benefits should be discretionary. If the government chooses to give a discretionary benefit, then so be it. If the government chooses to withdraw a discretionary benefit, as a result of provincial budget considerations, they should withdraw it.

AN HON. MEMBER: . . . at their discretion.

MR. BAKER: That is right, Mr. Speaker. The mind boggles at what might be perceived by some people as a benefit the government should provide. If I understand the Supreme Court of Canada correctly, I don't think that discretionary benefits are integral to the decision, so that what we are forced to deal with is the issue of non-discretionary benefits, salaries, pension plans and the like.

As this process moves forward, I look forward to the amendment process, both at the Law Amendments Committee and the Committee of the Whole House on Bills, to examine the issue of discretionary benefits. Having said that, we certainly support the principle of the bill, which underlines, underscores the rule of law. We have to recognize that the rule of law is absolutely integral to the system. That is why so much had been said the other day about the issue of illegal cutting on Crown lands, because it is fundamental to the rule of law. I hope that the members opposite, who introduced the bill, recognize that they are standing there as Ministers of the Crown, as the bulwark of the rule of law . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: Bull what?

[Page 3729]

MR. BAKER: Ministers of the Crown, and a bulwark that is supposed to protect the integrity of the rule of law in our system. It appears to me as if we can't suck and blow at the same time, to use the old metaphor. We have to apply the law fairly and evenly to everyone.

Mr. Speaker, in closing off this debate, I would like to hope that the (Interruptions) Yes. Some honourable members want to hear me from the beginning, but I expect not all honourable members may feel the same.

[10:30 a.m.]

I would honestly suggest that this is a bill that does deserve very quick, but timely, consideration. We have to make sure that the bill that comes out is the correct bill. I am prepared, as a member of the Law Amendments Committee, and I am sure other members of our caucus are as well, to give this bill the priority it deserves, but to make sure the bill comes out the other end as the right bill for the people of Nova Scotia, recognizing the importance of ensuring that the Supreme Court of Canada decision is implemented.

I hope that the government will give the justice system the attention it deserves. I know the Minister of Justice has many other weighty duties these days, but I hope that he can give at least a portion of his attention to the Department of Justice. We have many serious problems in this province in the justice system. Frankly, if you talk to one's fellow citizens, one realizes that there is a lack of confidence in the justice system. While the independence of the judiciary is fundamental to confidence, it is not the only issue of confidence. Until we deal with some of the other problems in the system, such as the provincial Crown Attorneys, the system will not be moving to be improved. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to stand and say a few words this morning on this bill, Bill No. 68, the Provincial Court Act. As I do so, I think that one of the things that is pointed out is that obviously our Minister of Justice, the Attorney General in this province, who is also our Minister of Health, must be very much overworked. Certainly when one takes a look at the importance of this legislation and the ramifications of this legislation not passing, that should give the Premier of this province reason to pause, because my good friend the Minister of Health, who certainly has been around this House for a long time and is carrying many of the responsibilities, very heavy, weighty responsibilities of the government, obviously has too many things on his plate that he is unable to, in an efficient and timely manner, channel all these things through the House.

I find it very disturbing that we are placed in this situation, basically because of the incompetence of government. I am not laying this on the Attorney General, as the responsibility or incompetence just of the Attorney General. You have a Cabinet and a

[Page 3730]

Cabinet makes decisions and a Cabinet must know (Interruptions) Somebody said I drove somebody out of the House, Mr. Speaker, and that may be the case.

The reality is that this is not something that this government has only known about in a short period of time. In fact, the current Attorney General was not the Attorney General for the last 14 months, but the Liberals have been in power in this province for the last 14 months; the Premier has been Premier of this province for much of those 14 months. In fact, I think math would say all of those 14 months. This is a shared neglect on behalf of the front benches of the Liberal Government here in Nova Scotia. We are facing the situation that this minister is obviously so overworked, trying to handle all of the fires that are going on in all of his different responsibilities, that he has not had the opportunity to pay attention to this very important matter.

I know the minister quite well. I am sure he would never want to see criminals, those who are before the judicial system, being set free because the government that he is part of and that they have been given 14 months to do something about, was so incompetent that they did not bring forward this legislation. I am not suggesting for a moment the minister would be trying to do that but reality is, the incompetence of the Liberal Government has placed us in the situation that we now have, in effect, to 1:00 p.m. today to finish up second reading on this bill.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Just vote against it.

MR. HOLM: The minister says, just vote against it, no, no, no, Mr. Speaker, I am going to be voting in favour of it going on. I want the minister to know that. I want to support my friend, the Minister of Justice. (Interruption)

Mr. Speaker, here we have (Interruptions) They are getting animated over there. They are saying sign off. They do not like to be reminded that what they are doing is giving us another 2.5 hours today to complete this on second reading because if second reading is not concluded today, it cannot appear in the Law Amendments Committee on Monday. That is fact and the Law Amendments Committee is somehow going to have to hear this, if we are going to be fitting within the rules, it is going to have to be processed through the Law Amendments Committee on Monday. So we cannot allow too many people to be coming forward should they wish to speak on this bill in the Law Amendments process.

Mr. Speaker, it has to be reported back from the Law Amendments Committee to this House on Monday so that it can be considered in the Committee of the Whole House on Bills on Tuesday. Then even if we committed through and we agreed to put it through the Committee of the Whole House on Bills on Tuesday, we will have to give unanimous consent to have this bill go to third reading in order to meet the time-frame of the court order.

[Page 3731]

HON. MANNING MACDONALD: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, this is all very interesting what the member is saying but it has got nothing to do with the second reading on the bill. He is talking about House procedures here and he is talking about the workload of the minister. Mr. Speaker, maybe you should rein him in a little bit and talk to the bill.

MR. SPEAKER: I have heard the honourable Government House Leader but I do not think there is a point of order. We have allowed considerable latitude to members on both sides of this House in debate.

MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I just want to try to be helpful to the Government House Leader because we are talking now about the principle of this bill. One of the important principles is that the Supreme Court of Canada in September 1997 ordered - correct? - that this legislation dealing with the non-discretionary benefits be passed by November 18th. That is a very important principle. The reality is, to continue my point that I was making, if we do not agree on Tuesday to give third reading of this bill, if everything speeds through at rocket pace, if we do not give that approval, then this government is in contempt of the Supreme Court ruling of September 1997 and that is a contempt that will be borne by all members of this House, forced upon us by this Liberal Government's incompetence, their mismanagement and failure to bring this legislation forward in a timely fashion.

Do you know, Mr. Speaker, we have very capable staff in the Attorney General's Office. We also have very capable staff in the Legislative Counsel Office and that very capable staff was more than sufficiently capable to have drafted this piece of legislation, as they have with other pieces of legislation, and to have brought it forward so that it could have been introduced and dealt with in a timely fashion. Maybe the government doesn't like hearing that and they obviously don't. However, the reality is, that is a situation that the Red Team, front benches, the Liberal Party has placed us in. We are facing the situation and I resent that, that we really have had our hands tied by this government's incompetence, that we are not able to get into the kinds of lengthy discussions that we might like to, especially with regard to the non-discretionary benefits, that are contained within this legislation.

The previous speaker and he spoke well about how he would like to see, through the Law Amendments Committee process, quite possibly some amendments being made, amendments to deal with those items that are not specifically covered in that Supreme Court ruling. I don't question, I am not challenging, I am not disagreeing with the learned judges on the Supreme Court, I don't claim to have that kind of expertise, I am not a lawyer, I am not learned in the law. But I do know and do have tremendous respect for our Supreme Court and the decisions that they make. I may not always understand them but I believe that they make decisions, whether you like them or not, based on the finer points of law and so I don't challenge that.

[Page 3732]

If they say that in order for the judges in our Provincial Court and others, to actually be seen as well as to be acting in an independent manner by having this independent body to look at the benefits such as salaries and pension benefits and those kinds of things, I am not challenging that. I am not prepared to run the risk that some persons who are sitting before the courts and I seem to remember, I believe, it was on Prince Edward Island that a challenge had been made once before, that judges were not independent of government because the government set their wages. I am not prepared in this province to run the risk that some, who are facing the judicial system, could potentially be set free on the basis of this government not honouring the order of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Other benefits, those which are not controlled or not contained in the Supreme Court order, things that are discretionary benefits, we in this House now find ourselves in the situation since everything is contained in this bill, both parts, we would find ourselves in the situation of trying to, in the Law Amendments Committee process or in the Committee of the Whole House on Bills, be trying to negotiate or to be battling to remove certain provisions or change some of those clauses which can tie up the process and further put us in contempt of the Supreme Court on those things that they ordered. That is the situation that we are in as a consequence of this government's mismanagement.

So I say, Mr. Speaker, through you, that that is certainly a good reason - and I am not laying this just at the Attorney General's feet - why the Premier should be taking a look again at what kind of responsibilities are being placed on one individual. One individual can do only so much and be on top of everything. The government has got to be willing to bring things forward. I don't know why this bill couldn't have been brought in even two or three weeks ago, it would have been addressed before now. It could have been brought in last spring, that was eight months after the Supreme Court ruling, that would have given plenty of time and they couldn't then have been accused of being total incompetents. They don't need to be accused of that, because they demonstrate that on their own every day.

[10:45 a.m.]

Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of other things, and other speakers have spoken eloquently about other matters when it comes to the judicial system and the need to have an independence. The judges, those who are sitting at the head of the court, those who are on some occasions making the actual decisions, those who are presiding over jury trials have extremely important responsibilities. But you know, a judicial system will only work efficiently so long as all parts of that judicial system are going to be strong.

I know that the Crown Prosecutors in this province have been trying for a long time to get a process to negotiate what is a fair wage envelope, a fair package that would include both benefits, direct benefits in terms of wages and pensions, and other kinds of benefits for themselves. We know that in this province, the Crown Attorneys are still working under very difficult situations, and that only now are they starting to get the kind of equipment, both

[Page 3733]

electronic and staffing, that are necessary so that they too can do their jobs, so that they can appear in a timely manner before a member of the bench, to bring forward their evidence in cases. It is powerfully strange that this government tends to neglect the whole judicial system, the whole legal system, now at the last minute, they bring in this bill and call it for debate. They have still have failed to address those other matters.

I was interested too, of course, in the comments made, I would say by the previous speakers, about the commitments that were made to unite the Family Court, and to unite the court system here, I seem to remember, quite clearly, when we were debating that bill, that that was a commitment, not only made for metro, but it was something that was going to be started in the metro area, and almost, not a pilot project, but that was where the beginnings were to take place, and then it was to be moving very quickly throughout the rest of the province.

It was something that we supported at that time, it is something that I certainly know that I myself continue to support, but it is another area where, obviously, the government has been unable to get the support of their federal brothers in Ottawa, and to get that moving through as quickly as possible. (Interruptions) Well, the minister says we have great support from the federal government and we will hope, therefore, that the funding and everything will be in place to ensure that that is going to move forward, because it is a very important process. It was something that we all said at that time that we were in support of.

Mr. Speaker, I don't know if there are going to be others who are going to speak to this. We find ourselves, however, as I said at the beginning, very much with our hands being tied behind our backs in terms of the time line, because of government mismanagement and incompetence. I would just hope that we will not be finding ourselves with other surprises being brought forward where again we find ourselves in a situation where we have in fact run to the end of the time limit, where we are under the gun, and where we are forced to pass something without being able to give it the kind of due consideration, in a timely manner, that important matters such as this prescribe.

With those comments, I want to indicate that I will be voting for this bill to go on from second reading to the Law Amendments process, where I hope we will be able to address all of the issues, and do it in a timely manner, so that we can get it back and hopefully, find ourselves able to pass it, so that we are not in contempt of the Supreme Court ruling of September 1997, 14 months ago. Thank you. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the minister it will be to close the debate.

The honourable Minister of Justice.

[Page 3734]

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I thank honourable members for the support on this important bill. I think, with the recent speaker, I would take some objection. I would like him to be better informed on the great success we are having on the unified Family Court and the great support we have received from the federal government. In fact, I would say we are keeping a little quiet because we have done so much better than other provinces.

This bill is part of the legislative package of this government. The sky is not falling around us and will not fall and, next week, life will go on. The Law Amendments Committee will receive any representations on this particular bill and it will proceed. In saying that, I would move second reading of Bill No. 68, the Provincial Court Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 68. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 62.

Bill No. 62 - Maintenance Enforcement Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the opportunity to speak to the legislation to amend the Maintenance Enforcement Act. Many of the amendments we are proposing are really the result of what we have learned in operating the program since January 1996. As is usually the case, there is always room for improvement as new programs become operational. The amendments we are proposing are designed to improve service and increase our enforcement capabilities. We have conducted a comprehensive review of the Maintenance Enforcement Program. We felt it was timely and important to examine the program and to focus on the needs of the client. We place children first, here in Nova Scotia, and programs such as this support that fact.

There were 18 recommendations contained in the report. We talked to a number of stakeholders, including representatives of each caucus and we want to thank them for their input. We will be releasing the report and its findings shortly, but before releasing it, though, we did want to think about our response to the recommendations, and we will be providing that information as well.

[Page 3735]

One of the recommendations contained in the report deals with formalizing arrangements with the Department of Community Services. Currently, there is no direct authority in the Act to collect maintenance monies paid by the Department of Community Services, therefore individual assignment agreements are required for each case. The amendment to Section 9A removes the need for separate agreements, therefore streamlining operations and improving efficiency.

The second amendment clarifies the process for orders that do not clearly state a specific amount of maintenance. For example, the order may refer to a rate, agreed upon by the parties, which is difficult to enforce given that there may not be agreement on the actual amount intended. This amendment provides for clarification of orders, and therefore more efficient enforcement. Currently, we require payors to advise the program how they intend to pay the maintenance by filling in a form. It is not binding and, really it is an example of unnecessary paperwork. We want to eliminate this requirement which does not affect collection or maintenance in any way.

We intend to broaden our record-keeping requirements. While there is a very efficient automated system in place, improvements are always welcome. Our internal auditors have made some recommendations regarding statistical reports, and this amendment allows us to broaden the base in our collection of statistics, and this means that we can do a more thorough examination of the program and its effectiveness in future.

We are also stepping up enforcement in a couple of areas. We will be accessing locked-in pension monies or RRSP funds. This method of enforcement will be used only as a last resort and is geared to those who refuse to cooperate with the program. For example, there are individuals who move from job to job to avoid any garnishment of wages, they simply quit their jobs when the program catches up with them. This amendment gives us more power to secure funds from these individuals.

In order to consider this enforcement action, the individual must be three months in arrears, there can be no contributions currently being made to the plans and no benefits being received. This option is used in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Again, it is used as a last resort and only after notice has been given to the individual. If the individual still does not make arrangements to pay maintenance, we will have the option of going after these funds.

Another new area of enforcement made possible with these amendments is the ability to report a person who has defaulted on maintenance payments to a consumer reporting agency or credit bureau. This can be effective in encouraging payment should an individual wish to secure a loan for another purpose.

[Page 3736]

These amendments are designed to help us improve our service. More importantly, though, they help us to offer some protection to our youngest citizens. We must look after our children's interests. In so doing we put children first in this province and frankly, they deserve nothing less. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak on Bill No. 62, an Act to Amend Chapter 6 of the Acts of 1994-95, the Maintenance Enforcement Act. I thank the Minister of Justice for his introductory comments on this particular piece of legislation. I stand in support of this particular piece of legislation though I do feel there are some comments that need to be made and hopefully, at the Law Amendments Committee, some amendments can be made to this legislation.

I want to first start with the concept of Community Services being involved in the process of collection on behalf of women and men, predominantly women but men as well, who have child support custodies against their spouses. The Minister of Justice is correct, it is the children who will benefit from increased powers for the Maintenance Enforcement people under his Department of Justice because it is the children in the end who will, hopefully, get more money from this spouse who is not paying the support and indeed that money can go to a lot of things that are required. As we all know, the amount of poverty that is being placed on single parents because of a lack of support payments being made by the non-custodial parent is a problem in this province and across the country.

The Department of Community Services, under these amendments to the Maintenance Enforcement Act, would have the power to require a custodial parent who comes to Community Services looking for assistance because support is not being paid, would allow them to sign an assignment, basically, or a piece of paper that would require that if family benefits or social assistance is being paid to that individual and then in the future collection is made from a non-custodial parent for support payments that that money in family benefits or social assistance will be clawed back in the equivalent amount from the non-custodial parent support.

I don't think anyone would have a problem with that, if the Department of Community Services is in the process of temporarily assisting those who need the money then indeed it would be helpful if they would be in a position to then be able to try to collect it. Indeed, it may give some incentive for the Department of Community Services or the Department of Justice or some branch of the government that will be actually doing the collection, to require them to collect because they know they will be getting the money back that they are putting in, there is a motivation there on the part of government. Though I do think that there are a couple of points around that.

[Page 3737]

The legislation doesn't specifically - it just says, anyone being assigned, and some people that we have spoken to with regard to this process, I am just not clear, maybe the Minister of Justice can explain this now or through the Law Amendments Committee process, as to whether or not this would apply both to family benefits and social assistance because I think that is an issue that needs to be clarified, obviously, social assistance being short term and family benefits being long term. But I just want to clarify whether both types of income support are the type in which an assignment will be required to be signed where there are outstanding support payments.

[11:00 a.m.]

Also with regard to this, I think this is a golden opportunity, and I think it is important to put this on the record, for the Government of Nova Scotia, while they are amending the Maintenance Enforcement Act, to change the perspective as to how that is done. As we all know, family benefits, and social assistance, is not a treasure in the amount that people are receiving. It is an amount that is given to them but I would hope where someone has a support agreement signed, or an order from the court saying that support must be paid, that the government would be very active in attempting to try and obtain that. Obviously, the cost to the individual parent, if they have to come for social assistance or family benefits, they are not in a position to be able to go out and seek legal support in many cases or where they are the working poor, where they actually have work, do not necessarily need family benefits or social assistance, but are in a situation where they are not making much money and there are support orders outstanding and non-payment is the circumstance.

I would hope, Mr. Speaker, that in those cases the government would take a lead role in attempting to obtain that support money because if we are talking about wealth distribution or if we are talking about money being obtained that is available from one non-custodial parent to the custodial parent, I would hope that the government would play an active role to ensure that that money is transferred as easily and as quickly as possible and on as routine a basis as possible because in the end that makes it so much easier to ensure that that custodial parent does not require the assistance of government.

Basically, if you are to be a parent of a child and for some reason the relationship does not work out and you are required to pay support, it is better that you pay the support to your child for so many reasons, for emotional reasons, for financial reasons, for government policy reasons, it is so much more important that that non-custodial parent pay the support than the government step in and actually pay it. I would hope the government would take the opportunity to try and ensure that enforcement powers are increased and that the government plays a more active role, whether that be through more legal intervention to ensure that support is being obtained, whether that be through greater powers, but what we have here I guess are two particular points.

[Page 3738]

One is basically institutionalizing what is already the case, that the Department of Community Services will have an assignment signed by the receiver of social assistance or family benefits, I presume, in order to ensure that they will get their money back which seems like more of a protection for government than it does for the individual because at the moment the individual can receive the benefits and is still required to have to pay it back but this gives more weight to the government to ensure that they will be able to claw back whatever support is provided to them.

I would hope that this government, while at the same time it is taking the opportunity to cloak itself in further legal protection from any potential beneficiary who may decide not to pay back the child support, would also take the opportunity to enforce it so that we are not in a situation where the assignment must be made.

The best situation, Mr. Speaker, is one in which a custodial parent who has a support order against a non-custodial parent does not have to come to the government. This government is taking the opportunity to strengthen the powers for it to be able to claw back any support money that is eventually paid, when benefits are paid out by its Department of Community Services. I would also hope it would take the opportunity to actually enforce its legislation and ensure that some support is given to those custodial parents so that they do not have to come to the government.

Again, the best situation is, where the government does not have to get involved with a non-custodial parent, in a situation where either by hook or by crook they are going to pay that support because it is the best thing for all of us, not only them, not only for the custodial parent, not only for the children, but for all of us because we all benefit when the children do not have to necessarily be on the benefits of Community Services but are able to actually rely on the parents that are responsible for them. So I would hope that the government would take that opportunity in this particular case.

Unfortunately, they have not. They have taken an opportunity to cloak themselves and allow themselves to be in a situation where the Community Services are being covered and that they are given more power to actually claw back the support but are not given the support to ensure that the legislation is enforced for those who truly need it. I think that is a shame, Mr. Speaker, I really do.

I want to talk a bit about the issue of pension benefits and RRSPs in clawing back those. Basically, Mr. Speaker, the government, again this is in theory a very good concept, one in which the government is in a situation where it will try as a last resort, as the Minister of Justice stated, where it cannot get the money from any other source, to reach into RRSPs and pension funds to try and obtain the money. Great. If a person has the money to be putting into RRSPs and pension funds, then presumably they should have the money to be paying their support to the custodial parent and their children. Obviously, what we need is a

[Page 3739]

circumstance in which that is being done, not one in which they are able to squirrel money away and not have the government be able to reach at it.

I do have some specific concerns with the criteria in which that does come up. Three months in arrears, I don't think, is a problem. You don't want to be using the long arm of the law and the legal costs of having to obtain it without actually ensuring that there is a fair bit of money owed. If it is one week or one month, maybe that is not enough; I accept that as a reasonable criteria.

I want to turn to Page 4 of Bill No. 62, which adds Section 27E and comes under Clause 5 of the bill. It says in Clause 5, Section 27E(1), "The court, on application by the payor, may order that the payor's pension entitlement is not to be attached where the court is satisfied . . .", of the following criteria. So that means that the government can give notice to a non-custodial parent that they are going to collect this money from a pension fund. They can announce to the pension fund that they are going to do it, they can go through all the hoops to get this money but, in the end, if an application is made to a court to stop it on certain criteria, the non-custodial parent can stop it.

Here are the criteria: "(a) the payor . . .", the non-custodial parent, ". . . is not in arrears in an amount not less than three months' payments respecting an obligation under a maintenance order that is filed in the office of the Director;". As I said, that is fine; three months seems like a reasonable amount of money that is required to be paid. "(b) the payor is a member of a pension plan . . .", and a pension plan is defined, Mr. Speaker, in Clause 5, Section 27A(c) as, "'pension plan' means a pension plan governed by an Act that permits a pension entitlement to be attached and includes (i) benefits, (ii) monies that have been transferred to another plan, . . . and (iii) monies earned by those transferred monies referred to in subclause (ii).". So, again, it is just a registered plan that deals with the issue of payments. However, under Section 27E that would be added to the Maintenance Enforcement Act, Clause 5, Section 27E(I)(b), "the payor is a member of a pension plan and (i) is required to make contributions to the plan that the Director proposes to attach, . . .".

If the government knows that a non-custodial parent has a pension plan and wants to reach into it, they are not allowed, according to the way I read Clause 5, Section 27E, if the pension plan is one in which the non-custodial parent is required to make payments. Well, maybe the Minister of Justice can clarify this point, but there aren't many pension plans in which the party is not required to actually make payment; the whole idea of a pension plan is that it is required, otherwise it would be an RRSP, one in which you can make payments from time to time on a voluntary basis. I would like to clarify whether or not the vast majority of pension plans are excluded from this Act because, in circumstances where the payor, the non-custodial parent, is required to make payments into the pension plan, the government is not allowed to reach into those plans and actually take the support money out.

[Page 3740]

It goes on, Clause 5, Section 27E(1)(ii), the government isn't allowed to take money from pension plans in which, "the payor's employer is required by the plan to make contributions on the payor's behalf to the plan that the Director proposes to attach;". So many pension plans have employers where the employer is also required to put the money in. Again, we are eliminating a large section of pension plans that are exempt from this particular legislation.

In those two circumstances, Mr. Speaker, what we have, by the way, is an or between; it is not where both parties pay in, it is one or the other. So any pension plan the non-custodial parent owing support pays into, is required to, or one in which his employer is required to pay into, is one in which the government has no authority to reach into. Maybe there is a legal reason for this; maybe the Minister of Justice will have an opportunity to explain why we have exempted almost every pension plan in Canada from this particular piece of legislation.

If you are going to create legislation and enforce it properly, you not only have to have the power, you have to ensure that certain pension plans are going to be covered. Basically, what we have here is a piece of paper that says, we are going to be able to reach into pension plans, but most of the pension plans we are not going to be able to touch. Well, then that is really not acceptable, I don't think, and I would hope that at the Law Amendments Committee we might have an opportunity to address that.

Finally, in Clause 5, Section 27E(1)(c), they are not allowed to reach into a pension plan where the payor, the non-custodial parent, ". . . is receiving a pension benefit pursuant to the pension plan . . .". So someone who is retired, potentially - now we see people retiring at a fairly young age: it could be 50, it could be 55, it could be earlier, depending on the type of program you are in. People who retire at a fairly early age and may still owe support to their children, might be in a circumstance where there is not an opportunity to reach into those plans either. It is almost a salary, maybe garnishing is the alternative, and maybe the Act already allows for garnishing of those pension plans.

As I read Clause 5, Section 27E, there are a lot of loopholes in obtaining money from pension plans, and if the Maintenance Enforcement Bill is this government's attempt to truly strengthen it to ensure that our children and the children who legally have the right to support from a non-custodial parent, if we are going to allow that to really be truly a strong bill, then we can't allow these kinds of exceptions, these broad loopholes that allow you to drive a truck through them, for lack of a better term. I would hope the government would look long and hard as to why they have done this, and whether or not it really is in the best interests of the children of this province.

Overall, what we have with this particular piece of legislation, as I said earlier, is one in which the government stands up with a lot of pride and says, we are doing something for maintenance enforcement. We are doing something for the children of this province, as the Minister of Justice said. But then when you really look at the detail, when you really look at

[Page 3741]

what this government is doing, it isn't going far enough. It is an attempt to try to address the issue of maintenance enforcement by allowing Community Services to claw back support from parents who are owed money. I may not disagree with that. If Community Services is going to pay the money, then they should have the opportunity to claw it back. That is not really strengthening the Maintenance Enforcement Act, that is protecting the Department of Community Services.

If we are going beyond that, we are looking at a bill that says, well, we are also going to be able to claw back from RRSPs and pension funds, but lo and behold, the vast majority of the pension funds are going to be exempt from the bill. Those are some serious loopholes, and really we aren't talking about a bill that is improving maintenance enforcement in this province to any great extent. Of course, there are many pieces of legislation that many parts of government ask to bring forward, and it is only a few that make it to the point where we have second reading and move on to the Law Amendments Committee. I would hope the government, when it would take the opportunity to introduce the Maintenance Enforcement Bill, it would take the opportunity to look at broad public policy, and why we need to improve maintenance enforcement.

This legislation, as I say, takes baby steps toward doing that, but doesn't really address the long-term problems of lack of maintenance enforcements in this province, and the inability of children in this province to receive the support they want. Going back to one of my original points, it is much better for children who have support orders from non-custodial parents to get the money from their parent, for a lot of reasons, not only for the financial support that they require, but it is more likely to allow that parent to become an active part of that child's life. That is an important aspect also; there are emotional, psychological and mental aspects of this whole process that need to be addressed as well.

I would hope that in these circumstances, the government would see fit to try to strengthen that bill to the point where we do have opportunities for people to actually have the support from the non-custodial parent, and not have to go to government. What we have are circumstances where the government will, with a lot of rhetoric, say that this is good for Nova Scotia, but in the end, really doesn't go far enough to ensure that the children of this province who have support orders against non-custodial parents really do have an effective route to try to get it.

Even though I support this bill in principle, and that is why I want to move it to the Law Amendments Committee, I would hope that there is an opportunity there to address some of these concerns. It isn't baby steps that the children of Nova Scotia need right now, it is large adult steps that we need to try to ensure that they have a future that we can all be proud of. Thank you. (Applause)

[Page 3742]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cumberland South.

MR. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on Bill No. 62, an Act to Amend Chapter 6 of the Acts of 1994-95, the Maintenance Enforcement Act. As well, our caucus will be supporting in principle these amendments to the Maintenance Enforcement Act of Nova Scotia. I believe, as we all believe, that Nova Scotia does have a good Maintenance Enforcement Act, although it is lacking one thing, and that is teeth.

My experience over the years, 20 years in law enforcement, in dealing with a lot of families in different situations where they had been before the Family Court, gone through the process, they have had decisions made regarding their financial situation, to their children, to their future. I have seen the chaos that has been left in their lives. Children have been left without support, not just things in life that they like to have, but things in life that they need, necessities. The courts have left these families in a situation where they have left it up to the two parties to mutually agree on meeting places, to mutually agree on amounts of money to be paid.

[11:15 a.m.]

It is wrong because these parties who appear in Family Court are not at the conciliating stage in their lives, but in the confrontational stage. Some of these people are months - and I have even seen some that have been years - in front of the Family Court waiting to have their lives put back in order. It is very disruptive for the two people involved as the head of the families but, more than that, it is ruining the lives of some children. They need some order put back into their lives, and what we need is a court that will impose sanctions on families, on the spouses, keeping one thing in mind and that is the future of the children, they are the ones most hurt by these situations.

The proposed amendments to the bill, for the most part, I think, are very good. I question whether the monies, with regard to the Department of Community Services, whether we are actually more worried about the government or more worried about the families and children; that remains to be seen. Hopefully there will be people who will appear in front of the Law Amendments Committee who have been through the process, through the Family Court system, who will come with recommendations that will help in the future for other families that are faced with the same problems. We also have to allow for an updated record-keeping system that will take us into the next century, something that will make the process easier for all involved; the government, the people, and the courts.

With regard to tapping into locked-in RRSPs, I am not sure of the legal process, how it will be effected. I question whether in the event it is stating that after three months, in the most serious cases where the person either leaves his job to avoid his commitment, that we could possibly tap into his locked-in RRSP. I question whether, if there is three months of back payments owed and an individual had, for example, a $20,000 locked-in RRSP, is that

[Page 3743]

going to collapse the whole system or are they going to be able to tap in and get three months back time? I would suggest probably it is going to collapse the whole system and the Income Tax Act of this country may allow for that or it may not, but it will also put that individual into a situation where he may be out a lot more money than he owed for the three months of back payments to his family.

It also talks about notifying credit bureaus, and you put an individual in a situation where he won't be able to extend his credit, and I also question whether, in fact, that will put a family's life on hold or whether that will really serve to benefit what we are attempting to do here.

The enforcement of the Maintenance Enforcement Act of this province is something that I question. As I stated earlier, in 20 years in law enforcement I have had the opportunity to deal with a lot of families that have been involved in the process and were before the courts. To me, the enforcement part of this bill is what has to be addressed. When we have families in conflict who are not able to deal with the problems themselves and are looking for the system to help them, when it is left to them, a problem that arises today could be months before the court can have that addressed.

You have to go back to lawyers and try to get this back before the system, and the system is so bogged down with the cases that are before it now that it opens up the opportunity to criminal acts occurring as a result of it. I am talking with regard to people who are in conflict, having to try to solve their own problems and the opportunity arises where we look at things happening such as assaults that normally wouldn't happen if these cases were dealt with in a timely manner, and the processes were in place to deal with them and eliminate the decision making and take it out of their hands.

The Maintenance Enforcement Act, as I said earlier, is about enforcement. I believe the spouses in this province who have children, this is about commitment to their children that they have brought into this world. I think we have a real opportunity here with this bill to put some teeth into it, to ensure Nova Scotian moms and dads are forced to provide for those children they brought into this world and I will hope that there will be people who appear in front of the Law Amendments Committee that have been through this process, and who will make good recommendations that we will be able to tap into and address in the amendments.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak on Bill No. 62 and I look forward to further discussion in the Law Amendments Committee. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the bill. I am not going to spend a lot of time going into the actual details and so on of the bill in terms of

[Page 3744]

the various provisions. Certainly, I would say as an overview that I support the principle of the bill and I am going to be supporting the bill going on.

What I would like the government to do, and I say this with all sincerity, I would like to see the government consider expanding the bill. This bill is going to provide some protection, but mainly for the Department of Community Services. I am not suggesting that what they are attempting to do here is incorrect, but what this is going to do is enable government, through the maintenance enforcement, to recover monies that it has contributed to those families, those individuals who are receiving benefits. We have many other members of our community, from one end of this province to the other, who are also being denied, and whose children are being denied the benefits that have been ordered they be paid by the courts. We have in this province many families, and it is normally women, but not exclusively, who are having the responsibility of bringing up children. We do know that they, on an income basis, tend to fall, as a percentage of women make about 60-some odd per cent of what men do.

We have many women who are trying to raise their children who are not receiving any provincial benefits, who are falling into the category of the working poor. These individuals are not assisted by the Maintenance Enforcement Act. I say through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Premier, to the Minister of Community Services, to the Minister of Justice, let's expand our horizons. A family of working poor in this province and those children also deserve to have the parent who is not making payments provide for them, whether you are receiving assistance or not.

I will go a step further. I would say that the government has a moral responsibility, if not a legal responsibility, to ensure that the orders of the courts are enforced so that if a woman, for example, has the responsibility of raising the children, trying to provide for the children, all on her own, because the other partner is failing to live up to their court obligations, I believe the government should step in and collect the monies that are owed to them as well. That could have a cost implication because the government could say, we would like to do that but that would mean more money for the maintenance enforcement program.

I will go a step further. I will say, let's make this a user-pay system. If somebody is in default, if they are not meeting their obligations to their children and to their ex-partner as ordered by the court, I believe the government should not only have the powers to go in and to seize for them, whether they be RRSPs or wages, I believe that person or persons should also pay the costs that the government has had to incur to collect those monies.

The Premier knows and members of this House know, because I am sure I am not the only one who has had people come to me who are unable, for a variety of reasons, to continue the battle to force their ex-partner to meet their obligations as laid down in the court. Although they may be the working poor, they do not qualify for Legal Aid. People in this

[Page 3745]

House know that your income level, in order to qualify for Legal Aid in matters such as this, is extremely low.

Mr. Speaker, a family member, a mother let's say, who is trying to bring up a young child or young children, who is trying to figure out how is it that she is going to put food on the table for that child, how is it she is going to provide the materials that the children need for school and the clothing that they need, how can she get out of her budget that she cannot stretch to meet her needs, the monies that would be required to hire a private lawyer to take her case back to the court to try to get an enforcement, to get those court orders honoured. That is a real problem.

I know that the Minister of Community Services would be aware of that problem. I am not suggesting that the person who is negligent should only have to pay what is owed. If there are costs involved in making that individual honour the commitments that they are required to honour by the court and if they knowingly, willingly, are thumbing their noses at the court and not honouring that legal obligation, then they should pay the costs that are incurred by the department collecting those monies. Let's bring a level of fairness, let's bring a level of equality and justice into the system.

I say to the Minister of Community Services, I am not opposing what the bill is doing, not at all. I am just saying let's raise the level of the bar a little bit higher. Let's actually consider moving forward and putting a system in place that is going to protect all. Is that unreasonable? Is that irresponsible? I do not think so. We can talk in the extreme cases, if one partner is making $150,000 a year and the other ex-partner is making $30,000 a year and if the person who is making the $150,000 is not making their payments to the ex-partner who is making $30,000 and who is bringing up their children, you could say, gee whiz, they are making $30,000 but if a court ordered that, if a court has ordered that those payments be made, and I am using high figures here because I am just trying to get the point across, it does not matter. Most cases do not fall into this kind of a salary range or difference.

The point that I am trying to get across is if the courts of this province make an order that payments are to be made for the support of children, regardless of where they fit in the income brackets, then the province should ensure that those court orders are enforced, pure and simple. I do not care where you fit in the income brackets. I say, secondly, that those who have the means and who are flaunting the system should pay a penalty and the penalty should be that they pay the costs that the government is incurring in enforcing that they honour their obligations.

It is not going to, therefore, be a major cost item to the government at all, quite to the contrary, and it would send a very clear message and the message is that in the Province of Nova Scotia we believe that children come first because the failures to do that are extremely heavy in terms of the costs. Members of this House, many people in a previous profession, or as a result of their employment in here, whether they have been, some in this House were

[Page 3746]

teachers, or in medical professions, law enforcement officers or simply as politicians, have seen the consequences and seen the strife and the stresses in families, not just families who were on assistance, but families from the working poor and the low middle-income families; pressures and stresses that would have been alleviated had the ex-partner been meeting their obligations.

If you have a child go to school, and that child doesn't have decent clothing to put on, they don't have sneakers or a nice warm jacket or they can't afford to buy the school materials that are required in the schools, that has a very traumatic effect on that child. I am sure you know that, Mr. Speaker. I am sure all members in this House know that. That can have a major consequence on their abilities in school, to be able to function and to be able to get the education, because all those things are major roadblocks.

[11:30 a.m.]

If the reason that they are in that situation is because one of their parents is not meeting their legal obligations as laid down in the courts, then I suggest that we, as legislators, have a responsibility to put in place a system of law, a system of enforcement that can capture those dollars and put them into the use that the court decided, in other words, into the support of that parent's child. I think that that is reasonable.

I say to the members of the government benches, I say to the Minister of Community Services, who as an individual and I appreciate that there would be difficulties within the department in getting the initial start-up, in terms of the additional staffing and getting in place the system to actually do it, to expand it in other words, but I think that the Minister of Community Services, at least I hope, but I think I know her well enough to believe that she would support the notion that all should pay that which they are supposed to pay. I also think that she would be concerned about the children of those families.

Mr. Speaker, what I am saying is that I think we have to go a step further. I would welcome, I would love to be able to support amendments brought forward by government that would restructure this in such a way that, no, it can't be done tomorrow, and I am not suggesting we can have everything up and running and in place instantly, but to make amendments to this legislation in such a way that it is going to be broadened to include all, and to have within it, time lines as to when those procedures and when those things are going to be done. Part of the problem being on the Opposition benches, and part of the problem in bringing forward certain of these kinds of amendments that we might like to do ourselves is that we are prohibited, on the Opposition benches, bringing forward any amendment that could be classified as costing money. If we bring forward an amendment that would require the expenditure of public funds, then the Speaker or the chair of a committee would rule it out of order, because we don't have that ability in the Opposition, yet.

[Page 3747]

Government can do it. I say to the Minister of Community Services, I say to the Government House Leader, I say to the Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs - who I am sure, from his former life as an educator, would also be very familiar with these kinds of situations - let's have the government think a little bit about how we can expand this in a way that is not just going to be costing government more money. Let's make those who are defaulting on the system actually pay a penalty for defaulting on the system; not only have to pay what they owe, but they can pay the costs of enforcement. Children do come first, they are our future and whatever neglect we allow to happen now will, unfortunately, prove ever-increasingly more expensive not only to that child but to society as a whole in the years to come. We have an obligation and we also have an opportunity. I challenge the government to take the opportunity to meet the challenge which is very clearly out there before you and to be willing to bring forward legislation amendment changes that will, in fact, broaden this to meet the needs of all Nova Scotians, especially the working poor who are not currently being protected by the Maintenance Enforcement Act in the Province of Nova Scotia. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, just a few brief words on this bill to amend the Maintenance Enforcement Act of 1994-95. Many of us in this House had an opportunity to participate in that debate as we looked forward to a more workable approach to maintenance orders here in the province. As MLAs, despite the fact that the new Act is in place, there are still many problems that we have to address that revolve around maintenance enforcement and the inability of the aggrieved parent and children to access the money that has been awarded by the courts.

Part of the problem and I hearken back to the remarks of the member for Cumberland South who said that enforcement is part of the problem. In the bill to amend that we are debating here today in second reading, there is a provision to access Registered Retirement Savings Programs. If you go back to the original Act it talks about garnishment, it talks about seizure of money in a deposit account, it talks about liens against property, it talks about suspension of drivers' licenses. The question that I would ask the minister to address during some portion of the debate is, how often, in fact, these penalties are now being enforced and how aggressive are we pursuing those deadbeat parents that, in fact, are not owning up and providing what has been ordered by the court. So it is not going to be a great step forward if, in fact, we add that particular clause to the bill and yet we are not willing to actually impose the penalties that are provided by way of the original Act and now by way of the amended bill. So in other words, enforcement continues to be a problem within this particular piece of legislation.

One very positive aspect of this bill to amend is the fact that maintenance enforcement payments can be assigned to the Department of Community Services. All of us are so aware of those that are receiving family benefits when their family benefits are being calculated by

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way of budgeting, the maintenance enforcement income is included in that income. That works fine as long as they are receiving, on a monthly basis and in a timely fashion, the maintenance enforcement payment. The glitch comes when far too often there is an interruption for whatever reason in that payment and then the difficulty that the payee has then over the next short time until the maintenance enforcement problem can be addressed, is receiving adequate income through the Department of Community Services. There always is a hold-up, there is a period of anxiety and a period of adjustment.

I look at this amendment as solving that problem that the monthly payment will be guaranteed, whether or not on that particular month the maintenance enforcement payment is made. So I look upon that as a very significant improvement in maintenance enforcement in this province. I would venture to guess that not a single MLA has not had to deal, at least once, with that particular problem and to intervene on behalf of an aggrieved parent.

I look upon this as strengthening an Act which has proven not to be perfect but that continues to move forward in providing a more reliable process that aggrieved parents and children can access, in terms of receiving their maintenance payments. I congratulate the minister on addressing this. I believe there will be some comment in the Law Amendments Committee, in terms of problems this may create for RRSPs but we will look forward to that kind of comment with a great deal of interest and see if, in fact, that the approach that we are taking with the bill is, in fact, the very best approach in terms of accessing these funds to ensure the maintenance enforcement policy is being adhered to.

I look forward to seeing comment on this bill but the one point that I speak to with great favour is the fact that we can now, once passage of this bill has occurred, assign maintenance enforcement to the Department of Community Services and that will make the responsibility of the department and the minister's responsibility more effective in serving those that department is there to serve. So we will be, with great pleasure, voting to have this bill move on to the Law Amendments Committee for their input. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg.

MR. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, I am going to be, likewise, very brief with respect to this bill. I think the premise of the bill is a good one. I have had an opportunity in my professional practice to deal with many women - and it is primarily women - who have had difficulty in collecting child support payments, family maintenance payments, spousal support and so forth. It is a very distracting and disrupting thing. If this bill goes anyway at all towards ending the difficulty of disruption in payments, that will be a great thing. While it may not be as comprehensive as some of us would like, if there is some assistance to those people who are in receipt of social assistance, who now have access to a non-disrupted source of income, it will be great.

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The plight of many of these women living on very marginal incomes is bad enough, but to have no assurance that the income is going to be received is abominable and I know the honourable Minister of Community Services is well aware of the plight of these people who have by all accounts very low incomes, and to have any one of those people have a disrupted income stream is a great problem.

For one, Mr. Speaker, I must be honest and say that one of the difficulties with the whole child support, spousal support, system that we have in this province is that we have 100 per cent claw back, and even if a portion of those benefits were to go to the recipient (Interruption) Well, there is a very great deal of costs involved in many of these women in pursuing benefits. In fact, I run into women all the time who are told by their social worker that they have to pursue their ex-spouse. That sounds fine and dandy in the abstract, but these people live in rural Nova Scotia and they oftentimes need to make four, five or six trips to court to obtain the benefits that they are entitled to, which are being deducted from their cheques in the present system or the non-binding assignments that perhaps are being used by the department.

That is a great problem. It is a great problem for these people because they are looking at having to drive to court, sit around court, get child care, a whole bunch of expenses, and they are not really seeing any benefit for this, Mr. Speaker, because the benefits in the cases of these women are being clawed back. I think it would probably assist a family income level if a small amount of the benefits were retained but, more importantly, it would give them an incentive, because they would have a real incentive to pursue these people to make sure that everyone benefited: their children, themselves, and the system. I would ask - and I do this completely humbly - that the minister look at a system to improve the system for people on social assistance benefits of any type, so that they would have that ability.

The other problem, of course - that was alluded to by an earlier speaker - is the fact that legal aid, for practical purposes, is only available to those on social assistance. The levels of coverage under the legal aid program for pursuing an ex-spouse or partner, parent, effectively means that virtually everyone who is covered by legal aid is on social assistance. There is no practical legal aid coverage in this province for anybody who is not in receipt.

[11:45 a.m.]

The working poor are not getting any real help from the legal aid program and that is most unfortunate because that is part of what leads to the cycle of the five and six trips to Family Court. These people, in many cases, do not have the appropriate legal representation to assist them to pursue their case properly. (Interruption) Maybe the ex-partner does not have coverage and should, in some cases, have coverage as well. Frankly, a lot of times the adjournments are to give people the chance to get lawyers. They cannot get the lawyers and they come back again and they give them another chance to get a lawyer, and the cycle

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continues. No benefits are being paid, people are losing time off work to come to Family Court, and it is a great hardship.

Any small thing we can do, even if it may not be as much as we hope, would be, I guess, an improvement. I, like others, look to the Law Amendments Committee, to pursuing a system that will work. I know there are some concerns about the effect of de-registration and how that is going to work in practice with RRSPs and pension plans, but I think that is what the Law Amendments Committee process is for. Also, I will say - and this, again, is from working in the system - the real problem with the Maintenance Enforcement Program in this province today is lack of resources, lack of personnel resources, and lack of cash resources.

I will never forget the first time that I had an opportunity to be in a professional group and meet with the Maintenance Enforcement Program officials. We were asking this particular lawyer with the Maintenance Enforcement Program how many lawyers were on staff to assist in the implementation of this important program, and the lady at the time, the female lawyer in question, said, well, it's just me. This was to implement a program that was province-wide, with thousands of participants. That was a lack of resources being committed to that and I am hopeful that the government, as part of the review of not only the social assistance system, but of the whole benefits program, will look at these kinds of problems.

There is no point in having a maintenance enforcement system unless you staff it properly. I think it is a shame that we should create a legislative package that may have a possibility of working, but when you talk to people, the ordinary men and women in Nova Scotia, both payers and payees, there is a great deal of concern among those people because they feel the system is not working. The payers are, in many cases, as unhappy as the payees about the system. It takes a great deal of skill when you can accomplish that, because if you can make both the payers and the payees wrong, then something needs to be looked at.

In any event, I look forward to this matter going to the Law Amendments Committee and, hopefully, the matter will go to the Law Amendments Committee in a very few minutes and this bill will be improved, I am sure, when that process is finished. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Health, I would like to move second reading of Bill No. 62.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 62. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

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Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, this completes the government's business for the day. We will reconvene Monday at 6:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. At that time, following the daily routine, the government will be calling Bill No. 52 for second reading, the Business Efficiency (1998) Act, and also the Condominium Act, Bill No. 64.

AN HON. MEMBER: What about Bill No. 54?

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Not at this time. Sometime at a date in the future. Those two bills will be called Monday evening.

Mr. Speaker, I move that this House do now adjourn until the hour of 6:00 p.m. on Monday.

MR. SPEAKER: There is a motion to adjourn.

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

The motion is carried.

The House is adjourned until Monday.

[The House rose at 11:50 a.m.]