MR. SPEAKER: Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to call the House to order at this time to commence this afternoon's business. I am going to call on the honourable Premier first who wishes to address the House.
The honourable Premier.
HON. JOHN SAVAGE (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, I rise today to make a statement with reference to Nova Scotia's response to the issue of national unity. The result of the Quebec referendum Monday night raises very serious constitutional issues which must be addressed in a relatively short period of time if this country is to remain united. Although it is this government's responsibility to represent Nova Scotia on the issue, I feel it is important that the views of all Nova Scotians be reflected. To this end, I have asked the Leaders of the two Opposition Parties to meet with me to discuss the opportunities for developing a joint response to the constitution and national unity issues. They have agreed with this initiative. (Applause)
I also intend to discuss the constitution with leaders of Nova Scotia's aboriginal peoples. Today I am also announcing that we are in the process of setting up a 1-800 unity line so that all Nova Scotians can respond to these issues. I would like to thank Maritime Tel & Tel for their prompt cooperation in setting up the line. We will be making more announcements about this number shortly. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, the Premier is very right in acknowledging the events leading up to the crossroads every Canadian confronted on Monday night but let us make no mistake in seeing victory when we only have gained a reprieve. The federal government, the territories and the 10 provinces are today like grains of sand in an hourglass and on Monday night, the hourglass was turned. It is clearer today than it ever has been in our history that the status quo is no longer acceptable. Federalism, as it stands today, must be restructured and Nova Scotians must have a say in what that new structure will be.
We are tolerant and fair, as Nova Scotians, and have a major contribution to make to this challenge ahead. Nova Scotians respect regional differences but value a united country. I urge the Premier to remember the efforts of Nova Scotians in the last week as they reached out to Quebec and demonstrated their true affection and their respect for la belle provence. We do have concerns that must be addressed as well and we must acknowledge the need to eliminate regional economic disparity and strengthen our transportation infrastructure. Without these fundamentals, much needed jobs will never materialize.
With so much at stake, Nova Scotians must be included in any process that attempts to resolve our country's problems. On behalf of caucus, I make the commitment to the Premier and to all Nova Scotians that we extend to him, the Premier, our support in the challenge ahead. I congratulate the Premier for looking at the tripartite process, a recommendation I brought to the House by way of resolution on Tuesday, in preparing any position that Nova Scotians will take to Ottawa. Aided with the advice and the help of Nova Scotians, we can have an impact on the future of the country, a future all Canadians can believe in once again. I am very pleased to accept the Premier's invitation. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand and say that we certainly, too, are very happy to participate in the early discussions that the Premier is going to be having with us on this whole process.
Mr. Speaker, the future of our country is very important to all Nova Scotians. We all have a very real stake in our future. I know that the public wants very much to be involved. I know that it is going to require going far beyond the installation of a 1-800 number but that we have to be able and willing to involve Nova Scotians in a very meaningful way in that public process. We must engage Nova Scotians.
I am reminded, of course, of the Kierans Committee that was struck and did its public hearings between Meech and Charlottetown, where the committee went around and engaged Nova Scotians in public dialogue, which was fundamentally important in preparing Nova Scotia's position. At those hearings it was not the political Leaders or anybody who was associated with the Leadership of any political Party who were the principal partners or those who were leading those public discussions. I think in the spirit of the non-partisan approach and developing a genuine people's Nova Scotia position, it is important that we remember the lessons that were learned at that time and that we do in a very meaningful way engage Nova Scotians in a non-partisan fashion in this process. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: We will now commence the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Finance.
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table a message from The Administrator of the Province of Nova Scotia and to introduce a bill entitled, an Act to Revise the Gasoline and Diesel Oil Tax, the Health Services Tax and the Tobacco Tax and to Provide for the More Efficient Enforcement of those Revenue Measures.
I am pleased to inform the House that it does have a shorter title.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Finance tables a message from The Administrator of the Province of Nova Scotia in accordance with the Constitution Act of 1867, recommending to the House of Assembly that the House of Assembly pass a bill entitled, an Act to Revise the Gasoline and Diesel Oil Tax, the Health Services Tax and the Tobacco Tax and to Provide for the More Efficient Enforcement of those Revenue Measures and introduces a bill to that effect.
Bill No. 37 - Entitled an Act to Revise the Gasoline and Diesel Oil Tax, the Health Services Tax and the Tobacco Tax and to Provide for the More Efficient Enforcement of those Revenue Measures. (Hon. Bernard Boudreau)
MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be read a second time on a future day.
Are there any further Introductions of Bills?
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
Bill No. 38 - Entitled an Act to Amend Chapter 4 of the Acts of 1995. The Highway No. 104 Western Alignment Act. (Mr. Brooke Taylor)
MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be read a second time on a future day.
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas in its October newsletter, the Nova Scotia School Boards Association is warning that, ". . . today we are witnessing an education service in decline. It is not too difficult to envisage a return to 1970 student-teacher ratios and levels of support services."; and
Whereas at the top of the reasons for such a dramatic decline is the loss of some 762 teaching positions over the last two years; and
Whereas enrolment decline and the subsequent funding loss associated, and the huge costs of the government's special early retirement plan, has resulted in large classes, double-grading and cuts to programs such as music, art, physical education and French, not to mention shorter Primary days for many;
Therefore be it resolved that the minister face up to the warnings of the school boards association, address the challenge of curbing this downward trend, and live up to his government's 1993 election campaign promise that, "Liberals identify education as the one area where increased investment may well be necessary . . .".
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Education Minister said yesterday that he can make only selective commitments to school construction because since 1994, "Cabinet has basically a hold on all capital construction"; and
Whereas on August 23rd, the Transportation Minister, "assured continued construction of the Fleur de Lis Trail to Louisbourg," stating that, "provincial funding for the Fleur de Lis Trail will be provided through the normal capital construction program of the Department of Transportation and Communications";
Therefore be it resolved that Cabinet Ministers should make a greater effort to get their stories straight before they try to justify such irrational decision-making as refusing to plan school construction to meet proven needs.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Liberal Government introduced and passed new workers' compensation legislation over 10 months ago; and
Whereas there are thousands of Nova Scotians who have already received a decision on their cases but have as yet not received any compensation; and
Whereas the first targeted date for payment was to have been October 1995 and now has been deferred to February 1996;
Therefore be it resolved that this government, that is in such a hurry to implement regional amalgamations and school board amalgamations, divert its energies instead to get the compensation paid that is rightfully due to injured Nova Scotians.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Eastern Shore.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the ability to have 24-hour access to banking services is essential to the economic well-being and growth of communities along the Eastern Shore; and
Whereas currently there are no after-hour banking services in areas along the Eastern Shore, a cause of grave concern with residents, businesses, merchants and tourist operators; and
Whereas following an appeal to all major banks for automatic banking machines, the Scotiabank has confirmed they will soon install an automated banking machine in Sheet Harbour;
Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize the importance of 24-hour banking service for the economic growth and well-being of non-urban communities and encourage Canada's financial institutions not to abandon the non-urban areas of this province in the restructuring of their services.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Liberal Government continues to blame the former government for its actions, two years and five months later; and
Whereas this same government fully understood and addressed the province's financial situation prior to and during the election, while making promises to the people of Nova Scotia it knew full well it could not keep; and
Whereas the government should admit that it promised more than it could, in reality, offer the people, similar to the situation that it is now finding itself with regard to casinos;
Therefore be it resolved that this Liberal Government stand by its loud election cry and slogan of "Let's move on . . . together!" and move on with its promises and commitments it made to the people of Nova Scotia.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas this fall marks the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, the NSAACP; and
Whereas the NSAACP is being remembered and celebrated as the first provincial organization whose sole mandate was the fair and equal treatment for people of African descent; and
Whereas the pioneering work done by the NSAACP's founders is equally important today, when discrimination and systemic racism remain barriers to the full participation of all Nova Scotians in our economy and society;
Therefore be it resolved that this House recognizes the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the NSAACP by affirming the importance and value for every Nova Scotian of the fight against racism and in favour of equality.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: It is agreed that notice be waived.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Minister of Labour insisted that the appeal section of the Workers' Compensation Act that was passed over 10 months ago would be truly independent; and
Whereas the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board made a decision ordering the WCB to pay for medical therapies for a nurse with environmental illness; and
Whereas the Workers' Compensation Board has announced that it will not implement that part of the Appeal Board's decision;
Therefore be it resolved that the Liberal Government go back to the drawing board and review the recommendations made by this caucus to ensure that the Appeal Board is truly independent.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas upon returning from his whirlwind, publicly funded trip to Las Vegas, the Minister of Finance readily granted his friends and business partners at ITT Sheraton a six month reprieve from starting construction on a new, permanent casino; and
Whereas the original contract included a provision requiring ITT Sheraton to pay a $10,000 a day penalty for every day the casino opening is delayed, a provision the minister now says he will not enforce; and
Whereas by letting the ITT Sheraton partners off the hook, the minister has agreed to forfeit $1.8 million in provincial revenue;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Finance immediately withdraw his offer to absolve ITT Sheraton of its legal obligations to the people of Nova Scotia and that he use the $1.8 million in penalties to offset some of the many hardships his government's often reckless budget slashing has brought upon countless Nova Scotians.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Minister of the Environment has approved the Pioneer Coal strip mine in Stellarton; and
Whereas there are a number of homeowners who stand to lose substantially respecting the real values of their homes; and
Whereas many of these homeowners are dependent on modest and fixed incomes;
Therefore be it resolved that Pioneer Coal, working in cooperation with the community liaison committee, provide the option to these homeowners who are injuriously affected by the strip mine, the option of selling their homes to the company at fair replacement value as though the mine did not exist or buy or build new homes of no lesser size and standard than currently enjoyed.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
MR. RUSSELL MACNEIL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the New Waterford Underground Theatre Company is employing 15 youths between the ages of 16 and 24 and is sponsored by Human Resources Development Canada; and
Whereas this project deals with the whole person by helping identify attitudes and skills that influence decisions made on a daily basis; and
Whereas Breton Education Centre has generously supported the program by offering the use of its facilities;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House applaud the youth involved in the program, Human Resources Development Canada and Project Coordinator, Dan MacIntyre, for their creativity in fostering the careers of Nova Scotia's young people.
I would ask for waiver of notice, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas this government wasted a bundle on junkets to the southern United States for Cabinet Ministers and senior officials to investigation radio-telephone systems enabling the ministers to enjoy Creole Christmas in New Orleans but failing to advance the 911 system; and
Whereas another costly junket to the southern U.S. this time to investigate jails is departing; and
Whereas the Elizabeth Fry Society has joined the many Nova Scotians asking why one cent is being wasted on the fundamentally flawed privatization option;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the government to save the money it intends to waste on consultants, junkets and public relations to try and justify the unacceptable notion of bringing in Americans to run our jails.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas hundreds of citizens and several members of this House travelled to Montreal on October 27th to underline our love for Quebec and our desire that Quebec remain part of a strong Canada; and
Whereas Quebecers will have little reason to remain if they believe Canada is simply a drain upon their province and that francophone Quebecers are an isolated group under attack within Confederation; and
Whereas Premier McKenna has admitted that he used his participation in the Montreal rally and the referendum results to convince federalist business owners to leave Quebec;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges Premier McKenna of New Brunswick to cease the short-sighted activities which can only be viewed as an attempt to use Quebecers' decision to stay within Canada as an opening to further isolate and weaken Quebec's economy.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?
I hear some dissent.
The notice is tabled.
Are there further Notices of Motion? If not, that would conclude the daily routine.
I wish to advise the House that the Clerk has conducted a draw for the Adjournment debate at 6:00 o'clock. The winner this afternoon is the honourable member for Queens. He has submitted a resolution castigating the government as follows:
Therefore be it resolved that this Liberal Government be condemned for not fulfilling its promise to assume administration and control of solid waste and to implement province-wide solid waste management plans.
So we will hear on that matter at 6:00 o'clock this afternoon.
The time now being 12:24 p.m., I will say 12:25 p.m., the Oral Question Period of the day will run for one hour, that is until 1:25 p.m.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition, to begin.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question is for the Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. I will table this document in a moment but it is dated December 1994 and it is highlights of the casino announcement which was part of an announcement made by the minister when the casino was being sold to the people of the province as being a revenue generator and a job creator. The figures here for employment: 1,072 full-time jobs in permanent casinos; it talks about 800 jobs in interim casinos; and 1,017 employment years of work in construction spinoffs and so on.
My question now for the minister is, would he confirm today just how many jobs are in place in the casinos and what is his new projection as to the total number of jobs, the maximum number of jobs that these two casinos will provide Nova Scotia?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think what I will do, to some extent at least, is to take that question on notice so I can provide the honourable Leader of the Opposition with an up-to-date figure that was accurate to the person. But I can tell you that the last information I had was somewhere in the range of between 800 and 850.
DR. HAMM: I thank the minister for his undertaking, Mr. Speaker, to provide the information; I expect it will come along shortly and it will be a breakdown of full time, part time and so on.
Another bit of the sales brochure has to do with revenue to the City of Halifax. The proposal suggested that the City of Halifax would receive $5.98 million annually beginning in 1998, the completion date of the $120 million casino. This, of course, would soften the blow in terms of extra policing costs, extra social costs, and so on, of the casino. In view of the recent announcement that there will be a delay in the building of any casino and that it well may be that if another casino is built, it will not be a $120 million casino, it will be a $90 million casino, would the minister undertake to inform the House as to what exactly is ahead for the City of Halifax by way of revenues which would be generated by taxing the new casino when and if it is going to be built?
MR. BOUDREAU: The commitments and plans for the permanent casino have not changed. As indicated, what has happened is that the provincial government, as one of the partners in the project, has agreed to a six month delay. The commitment is still there to build the casino; the commitment is still there to build the type of casino that was described in the proposal. At this stage, presumably whatever the estimated revenue was, it will remain in place.
DR. HAMM: Again, to the minister, in the same document, the minister makes reference to annual revenues to the province from casino gambling of $50 million. He has recently made reference to the fact that the only guarantee is $25 million for four years. Is the minister still committed and confident and absolutely sure that the casino revenue will be $50 million annually to the province?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, as I said at the time, and I am sure to people who attended those press conferences and who subsequently questioned me on the issue, what we did was indicate to the people of the province what the projections were of the successful proponent. However, I indicated at the time that what we had used and what we were counting on, in our budget estimates, was the $25 million guarantee, which, I might add, was substantially larger than any other guarantee offered by any other proponent.
Mr. Speaker, I think we have to be a little careful when we discuss numbers in this issue. There was reference made to a $1.8 million lost revenue. The Opposition simply took the six month delay, multiplied by 10,000 and came up with a figure to give the impression that somehow $1.8 million was lost to the province. In point of fact, the decision was whether or not there would have been a postponement. If the decision had been that there would have been no postponement, the project would have proceeded, there would have been no penalty and no revenue lost.
In fact, what we have here is a casino which is up and running; all of the doomsday scenarios that we used to hear every day here in the House have not materialized and, in fact, Mr. Speaker, we are running an efficient operation which is contributing substantially to the revenue of the province, substantially to the employment in the province, substantially to the health care issues in the province in a financial way and it has been a great contributor on that basis.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to direct a question to the Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. Yesterday the minister told me that he was aware of the resale of lottery tickets operation matter that I had brought to his attention in the House and he certainly should be because information on that first started to be made public last spring. The minister, of course, will also know that there is a great deal of national and international concern about the resale of tickets.
My question to the minister is quite simply this, is it the corporation's and the government's policy that the plug should be pulled on any 6/49 terminal in Nova Scotia that is involved in the resale of lottery tickets?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, every province, I think, in Canada has agreed not to encourage or permit the resale, particularly in other jurisdictions, of lotto products. It has occurred and probably will occur from time to time in every single province in the country, including B.C. It is an ongoing effort. The policing of that is normally administered through the Atlantic Lottery Corporation. I am familiar with the specific case that the honourable member brought to the House yesterday but I am reluctant to comment on it any further than that for the reasons I explained when he asked the question then.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, certainly if the resale of tickets was legal or considered to be totally above board, one would suspect that the government, themselves, would have been involved in it but certainly the government has not.
The government, however, and the corporation was very quick and this minister was very quick to tell the operators who had a 6/49 terminal if they are involved in what this government considered to be inappropriate activities like operating the grey machines, that they would pull those 6/49 terminals without any hesitation from them.
My question to the minister is, why has he and the corporation not acted with the same diligence here, given the fact that he says he is aware of the situation?
MR. BOUDREAU: Well, Mr. Speaker, in this particular case, which I have said now for two days I am not going to comment on specifically, the honourable member has made his charge, presumably he seems to have convicted the individual without benefit of going through the normal process. He has suspicions, he has information. He presumably handled them appropriately. He went to the authorities and the authorities are now dealing with it. That is as far as I am going to comment.
MR. HOLM: I am not sure why you have to wait for somebody to be convicted of an offence if the minister can be assured that they are violating regulations. However, Mr. Speaker, that is an aside.
The Gaming Control Act that was established, or passed in this House, set up two separate ministers with responsibilities. The Minister of Finance, as it is now, is in charge of the corporation and the Minister of Housing and Consumer Affairs is the Minister in charge of the Gaming Control Commission which is there to monitor the minister and the minister's department and to ensure that there is not a conflict of interest.
So my question to the minister is quite simply this, how is it that the minister in charge of the corporation was provided with a copy of a letter to me from the RCMP that was delivered to the commission? The commission, by the way, which is supposed to be monitoring his department and overseeing it, how did he get a copy of that letter? Was it provided to him by the minister responsible for the commission?
MR. BOUDREAU: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the commission has the responsibility of regulating activities such as gaming in the province. One wonders, for example, if the honourable member approached the commission with his report before he decided to take the type of action he did here. The Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation is under the jurisdiction of the Gaming Control Commission just as any other body is. As a matter of fact, we are probably the largest single corporate entity that is under the jurisdiction of the commission which operates at arm's length from the government. When an item is brought to their attention, alleging an offense involving the corporation because we have responsibility in that area, they bring it to our attention, of course, they do. But that commission is there to operate properly to regulate. We went through a lot of trouble here in the session last time to make sure it was in place. I wonder if the honourable member took this complaint to them? I don't know, he hasn't mentioned it, but I wonder if he did.
The Gaming Commission is there in place and is functioning very efficiently to ensure the type of action that has taken place, for example, in British Columbia with the New Democratic Party Government and the bingo scandal, won't happen here in Nova Scotia.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition on an introduction.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Through you I wish to welcome to the House in the gallery opposite, Mr. Alex MacIntosh, a resident of the Town of Yarmouth and a former member of this Legislature. I would ask all members to please afford him a welcome. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: My question is for the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation. As you will know, Mr. Speaker, and of course, the minister knows, Section 11 of the legislation establishes that the Corporation is the partner with the Sheraton Casinos and not the Government of Nova Scotia. Section 12 provides that no MLA or minister is eligible to be a member of the Gaming Corporation Board. Section 14 provides that, "A majority of the members of the Board constitutes a quorum.". Section 24 of the legislation says that, "(1) The Corporation shall (a) subject to this Act and the regulations, comply with any direction given to it by the Governor in Council;". My question to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation is directly to ask him, did that minister direct the Board of the Gaming Corporation to make or approve the making of the amendment of the contract that is in place with the ITT Sheraton?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, as I indicated yesterday, prior to my raising the matter in discussions with senior management of the ITT Sheraton, I had discussions with the Board of Directors, discussions with the Premier and raised the matter with them. I returned and indicated, I think probably in response to a question from one of the media, that, in fact, I had had discussions with Sheraton and I was making a recommendation which I felt confident would be accepted that the extension be given. I have instructed the solicitor for the corporation to prepare what documentation is necessary to see that this is properly effected. If the honourable member now, with his renewed interest in law, wants to review the documentation, I would be happy to do so.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my good friend, the Minister of Finance seems to relish offering the observation that I have a new-found interest in law. Well, I have a continuing interest in the very piece of legislation which we are talking about. He knows that I had it at the time it was debated and I continue to have it. I think, notwithstanding the fact, that the minister just said a few moments ago, in response to the Leader of the New Democratic Party, that people are talking about doomsday scenarios and he doesn't think they should. Well, the fact is, I think it is clear from what is going on, with six month extension of agreements and so on, if we are not into doomsday we are into potentially very difficult circumstances here.
MR. SPEAKER: Question, please.
MR. DONAHOE: If the minister fails to recognize that, I would be very much surprised. I take it then the minister has answered me to the effect that he engaged in these discussions with the Gaming Corporation at a meeting at which there was a quorum of the Board of Directors of the Gaming Corporation. If he could, perhaps, confirm that as he answers also whether or not an Order in Council passed to clothe him, the minister, with the authority to extend that proposal for amendment to ITT Sheraton?
MR. BOUDREAU: As I have indicated to the honourable member, the documentation required to implement and effect such extension is now in the hands of the solicitor for the Gaming Corporation and that will be prepared and copies of everything will be delivered immediately upon its completion, to the honourable member's desk, so that he can review it.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, I find it strange that it is either impossible to answer or the minister would refuse to answer what I think is a pretty simple and straightforward question as to whether or not at the time, and I will ask it to him directly, at the time that the Minister of Finance made the proposal to ITT Sheraton, which he says was his idea and at his request, and he said here today that he spoke with the Premier, I am asking again if he will please offer us a direct yes or no answer, was an Order in Council passed authorizing the Minister of Finance to make that proposal for amendment to the contract with ITT Sheraton prior to the date or the occasion upon which the minister actually made the proposal to ITT.
MR. BOUDREAU: I think the question is, Mr. Speaker, was an Order in Council passed to authorize me to indicate at a meeting that I would make a recommendation and I was confident that recommendation would be accepted to effect such an extension. The answer is no.
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Well, that is interesting that when we look at the legislation which requires that there be such authorization made available to the minister, the minister is required under the legislation to have that authority but that is for another day.
By way of a new question, I go back again, if I may, to the Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. The minister has told this place and he has said publicly that he was proposing the change in the Sheraton Casino contract - it was his request, his idea - I wonder whether the minister will tell us whether the minister encountered any hard bargaining with the Sheraton when he put that proposition to them in his trip to Las Vegas?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think what I indicated was that there was an agenda for our meetings, specifically an agenda drawn up by me. I put that item on the agenda and I raised it with them. As to whether there was hard bargaining, no, I think our interests are fairly coincident in this matter. That is why we are in partnership, we both have an interest in these issues.
I think, Mr. Speaker, it makes eminently good business sense at this stage to contemplate such a six month delay, not release any partner from any obligation, either specifically or generally, but a six month delay in the circumstances in which we have seen ourselves. I raised it, I think they were quite pleased to agree to it.
I must say as well that they indicated in no uncertain terms that they recognized their obligations under the contract and were prepared to fulfil them.
MR. DONAHOE: Again to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation, yesterday the minister said that his recollection is that there were two days of meetings in Las Vegas and he has described to some extent the agenda items addressed there. Could I ask the minister to indicate to us just how much time was consumed around the board table with the Sheraton officials to address and complete the agenda items he has described?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, at the risk of descending into trivia here, I didn't put a stopwatch on it. In fact, we had two meetings; one with a larger group - I can't give you all the names at the moment but I am sure I could resurrect them - with senior staff of ITT Sheraton, at their headquarters, and also staff from the Halifax and Sydney casinos, who were also there for the purpose of these meetings.
The second meeting I had was a much smaller meeting, directly with the senior management official from Sheraton. I can't tell you precisely how long either meeting lasted. If I had known it was going to be a matter of interest to the honourable member, I would have kept better track.
MR. DONAHOE: I wonder if during those - I think the minister has said he was in Las Vegas two days, I wonder if he might be able to tell us whether or not, during his two days in Las Vegas, if he had an opportunity to play a couple games of golf at something like $126 per day for green fees and golf carts? If so, if he did play that game or games of golf, would he tell us whether or not the $126 green fees and carts was paid for out of the minister's own pocket, by his department or by ITT Sheraton?
MR. SPEAKER: This question is technically out of order but, nonetheless, the honourable Minister of Finance.
MR. BOUDREAU: It is interesting, the honourable member is back to his old habits inquiring as to my social activities. I thought we had seen the end of that last year. Mr. Speaker, I think this really descends into a level of trivia, as to whether or not I played golf when I was in Las Vegas. I am not going to answer that question, because I think it does descend into a level of trivia. However, if I would have played golf, the taxpayers would not have paid for it. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: I must caution the honourable member; he knows Beauchesne as well as I do, probably better. You know what a question is that is in order. Please stick to those criteria.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel, on a new question.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation. The minister has indicated now, seemingly on the basis of decisions which he is wont to take by himself - he did acknowledge some consultation with the Premier - there are no Orders in Council; there is no evidence of any minutes of board meetings of the Gaming Corporation that verify the discussions and the approval of the decision to extend the amendment proposal to ITT Sheraton, and I take him at his word that we will see documentation, if it exists, relative to those matters.
The activities of the minister, in that connection, clearly speak to a willingness on the part of this minister to make, what he says are on the basis of business considerations, accommodations to the Sheraton Casino. It is in that connection that I want to ask him another couple of questions. Will the minister here today give a commitment that he will steadfastly refuse to respond to any representation which would result in a further construction delay if that subject is ever the subject of discussion between himself and ITT Sheraton; that this six month delay is it, there is no more, and ITT Sheraton and the taxpayers of Nova Scotia know that that is the finite limit?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I will give only the commitment that I will act to discharge my responsibilities always keeping in mind the best public interest, and I will make decisions as they arise on that basis.
MR. DONAHOE: So, in the face of the possibility of further concessions to the Sheraton, I ask in the face, again, of the clear knowledge that the Sheraton Casino appears on the basis of this minister's business assessment of the operation to be in some trouble - it is in trouble, clearly evidenced by the fact that he has offered the six month extension - I ask this minister is he prepared today, here in this place, to commit that in his dealings, either directly or through the Gaming Corporation, with ITT Sheraton that there will be no change on the so-called free booze policy which has been much discussed and which, I understand, has been urged upon him and the corporation by ITT Sheraton? Will he commit that as long as that casino operates in Halifax and the one operates in Sydney, that there shall be no free booze policy in place?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I am sure the honourable member, by accident, slipped in a few statements there that might be misleading. First of all, to my knowledge, there has been no request by anyone - not ITT Sheraton, not the local management, not the national office, by no one - to provide free booze, as he calls it. He seems to suggest he wanted to slide that one by in the question. There has been no suggestion, there has been no discussion. In point of fact, that decision is not even a decision of my ministry.
I would say, Mr. Speaker, what the honourable member seems to forget is that we are in a business relationship with ITT Sheraton. We are running a business. Now he may not like that, he may object to it on all sorts of terrible grounds that he raised as we debated it here in the House. In fact, we did enter that relationship and any business decision will be made in the best public interest of our shareholder, the people of this province. Now if that coincides with the best interest of our partner in the deal, that is fine but our interest is to act on behalf of our shareholder, the taxpayers of this province.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I would ask by way of final supplementary, then, of this minister, if he will tell this House whether or not he will give an undertaking here because, and I will put it to him this way, that I believe it to be in the best interest of his shareholders and people whom he represents, namely the taxpayers of Nova Scotia and I include in that group hundreds of men and women who run businesses in somewhat close proximity to both, the Halifax casino and the Sydney casino. Will this minister give a commitment here today, in this place, that he will, under no circumstances, allow any agreement to be made whereby there would be put in place what might be considered to be a predatory booze or food pricing policy in either the Sheraton Casino in Halifax or Sydney which would have adverse consequences for the men and women running bars and lounges and restaurants in both the metropolitan units in which the casinos reside?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think that is already in place. That is contained, specifically, in the regulations. It was a recommendation of the Casino Project Committee. It came forward in draft regulations and was passed. We have no plans to change that. In fact, again, have had no request to have it changed. (Interruption) We have no plans or requests to make any changes in these areas.
I might say by way of comment, however, with respect to the businesses downtown, there has been some indication relayed to me - by the way, I get it, obviously second-hand, that many of the visitors who come to the casino are drawn to the downtown area by that attraction and then spend some of their money in the surrounding businesses. I think it has generally been healthy and none of the terrible things that were supposed to happen all around the casino have happened. There has been none of that.
So, that is why, Mr. Speaker, in an attempt to revive this issue, we see (Interruption)
Mr. Speaker, the honourable Leader of the NDP will have his chance. If he wants to ask me a question, let him get up and ask, not heckle from the side.
AN HON. MEMBER: That is all he ever does.
ANOTHER HON. MEMBER: Yeah, stick to their bingo parlours in B.C. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
MR. BOUDREAU: Well, perhaps I will wait for his question.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of the Environment. Yesterday, the minister released the conditions of approval for the Stellarton pit mine project. I have yet to see the full report so I cannot make any evaluation of the response of certain environment and health concerns that are of great interest to the residents. But the report does indicate that the Environmental Assessment Committee which sat for four days in Stellarton recommended a financial levy be granted to the Town of Stellarton which would be a partial compensation for a drop in the tax base which would be associated with the inclusion of a strip mine within the confines of the town. The minister has rejected this recommendation.
My question to the minister, would the minister not agree that such a levy would be appropriate to compensate the town for the inevitable fall in the tax base that will accompany this project?
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: I thank the honourable Leader for the question. The member asked the question would I agree or not agree that it would be a fair assessment to place a levy. I have to say at the outset that in my portfolio it is not my responsibility or obligation to do what I would agree or not to agree with. I take my legal advice rather seriously in that I am not in a position to express a levy to be charged against the proponent to the Town of Stellarton, in this case. I do recognize that it may be an arrangement that the proponent would make with the town on his own.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, well, the Environmental Assessment Committee reported to the Minister of the Environment. They recommended that a financial levy be granted to the Town of Stellarton. That report was ordered and received by the Minister of the Environment. Is the minister prepared then to recommend to his Cabinet colleagues that a financial levy be granted to the Town of Stellarton to recompense them for loss of revenues due to a deterioration in the tax base brought about by the inclusion of a strip mine within the confines of the town?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I don't find myself in the position to do that, because I think it would be inappropriate to ask my Cabinet colleagues to ask an independent business person to give money to the Town of Stellarton in this case. I don't think that would be appropriate. I think the proponent has made that offer and I think it is incumbent upon the town to take him up on the offer.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, again to the Minister of the Environment. When the previous proponent, Curragh, were negotiating to mine the same site, they offered a compensation package directly to residents who live in the immediate vicinity of that project. In this case, their property lines can be 30 metres from the edge of the working area.
Is the minister prepared to recommend that Pioneer Coal offer a comparable compensation package to those residents living in the immediate area of the working site of the mine to compensate them for the dust, the noise and the visual pollution that this project brings to their neighbourhood?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I have to stand firm and say, I cannot find myself in that position. Given the conditions that the member referred to in terms of the previous case history, that, again, was the proponent making the offer not government demanding that he make the offer. I do want to assure the honourable Leader and members of the House, as we have to the public yesterday in our announcement, that the conditions that have been expressed, concern with air pollution and visible pollution have been well addressed in some 60 conditions that I have attached to the approval.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question, through you, to the Minister of Labour. As the minister well knows, a report was prepared after an internal review of the Department of Labour and in particular the Occupational Health and Safety Division. The report was prepared in January 1995. There was a subsequent report presented to the minister by the advisory council to the minister on occupational health and safety. In both cases there was very significant concern raised about the numbers of staff in the Occupational Health and Safety Division and the ability of that division to carry out their functions to ensure that work places in Nova Scotia are safe and healthy. In fact, numbers were suggested, minimum numbers by the report, of 44 whereas we have 33. Also that the ratio was much lower than that in the rest of the country and also much lower than what exists in other Atlantic Provinces.
I would like to ask the minister, Mr. Speaker, given the fact that he had received those recommendations back in the early part of this year, what is it that he is waiting for before he beefs up such an important division within his department and within the government?
HON. GUY BROWN: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the honourable member. As he knows, we have had people working with the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council. We have had 50 people with labour on a volunteer basis and we have had 50 people from the business sector on a volunteer basis. Their final report has been tabled with me as of September and I am now moving forward with that report. We have introduced in that department, a retraining program and cross-training programs. Before, the inspectors would have to go out and do their inspection, turn around and come back to Halifax or do it by phone and some days later file their report. We have now purchased laptop computers for all of our inspectors in the field as they move in to check an industry, they have it right there. They can do a call-up and get all the information, all the stop work orders we have had or any other information pertaining to that industry.
Mr. Speaker, these people have improved their ability through cross-training and new equipment we have purchased. Once we finalize the report that came from the council, then we will sit down as the government and look at it at that time. We have just received this report, 30 days ago.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, the report from the internal task force, in fact, said that restructuring within the department and some of the things that the minister talked about, will certainly create some efficiencies, but they said very clearly that the understaffing would still be a serious problem. In fact, in the advisory council's report, they say that both employers and employees on that council agree that the capacity of the department to enforce legislation is seriously jeopardized by the lack of staff.
Again, I ask the minister, how long do workers in this province have to wait before his department and his government are going to move towards beefing up the Occupational Health and Safety Division so that that department can carry out its responsibilities in order to ensure safe and healthy work places in the Province of Nova Scotia?
MR. BROWN: Mr. Speaker, occupational health and safety is a priority with this government. (Applause) I want to tell you that we now have daily correspondence with regard to employers through WCB and through Occupational Health and Safety. We have that report and I want to tell you, all Nova Scotians should be very proud of the volunteer work by labour, as well as management, in this province and the report that was delivered to me in September, I want to tell you that government is now dealing with that. I will make the announcement at the appropriate time and Nova Scotia will return and be a leader in this province with regard to occupational health and safety. (Applause)
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's obvious sincerity in trying to deal with this problem. But let's be clear that workers in the Province of Nova Scotia, since the disaster at Westray, have seen both governments, the Tories and now the Liberals, cut back and cut back in the Department of Labour and in the Occupational Health and Safety Division. They have seen tens of millions of dollars cut from benefits for injured workers in the Province of Nova Scotia. I want the minister to give them an indication, an explanation, why in all sense of fairness, can his government not immediately allocate monies to ensure that the disaster that happened in the past will not ever happen again and that disaster can be prevented by having more staff in the Occupational Health and Safety Division carrying out their responsibilities to ensure that the rules are in fact enforced?
MR. BROWN: Mr. Speaker, I want to make it clear that this government supports its staff at the Department of Labour and works with them hand in hand. I want to tell you, we will develop policies in this province that will once again give Nova Scotia workers and managers, both, and the Department of Labour some of the best legislation that we have had. We have been in power about two years. We asked for a report which the previous government started. We received that report this September. I want to tell you, I ask the honourable member to hang onto his seat because you are going to see this government respond as we said we would. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Community Services. I know the minister probably supports, as I think all Nova Scotians do, the philosophy that the objectives of the Department of Community Services should be to take people off welfare and have them working for compensation in some field of endeavour. However, there seems to be a great deal of difficulty for people who wish to move off welfare and get involved in the job market.
I would like to bring to the minister's attention a case that is not unusual but one that was reported to me this morning. This concerns a lady who was on family benefits disability. She is drawing about $716 a month under that benefit. Her next door neighbour, an elderly gentleman, is confined to bed and his home. He is willing to pay her $40 a day or per evening to sit with him overnight. He has to have somebody in attendance.
She phoned Community Services and asked, if she took on that task which would pay her about $800 per month and she gave up her family benefits, could she be guaranteed that at the end of that period when the gentleman died or had to go to hospital, that she could pick up family benefits? She was told no, she would have to reapply and it may be three months to six months before she could get back onto family benefits.
My question to the minister, and I will apologize for the rather long introduction, Mr. Speaker, is simply this, why can't something be done so that people such as this lady, who wants to be perfectly honest about it, she is not going to get the money under the table as the Minister of Finance was suggesting this morning that so many people do, she was willing to do everything up-front and yet she is being denied this opportunity to go out and earn some money?
HON. JAMES SMITH: Yes, Mr. Speaker, there are many issues that the member has brought forward. I think it is difficult in the House of Assembly to respond to a specific case. I automatically have some questions as to the person's eligibility now, what is determined. They could be a single parent or they could be disabled. I guess the question is if the person was under disability, you have to review the extent of that disability.
I certainly will take it upon myself, if the honourable member would provide specific information, I would address this particular issue.
However, Mr. Speaker, I think it does really show the initiative that this government is taking and the system that we have inherited over the years that has developed into a very passive and dependent system that, in fact, penalizes people who want to go to work. I think the point the member makes is well taken. I think under the disability area we are making special exemptions and we are looking more now at a system that deals with case management of individual cases. We are doing this very much in the Cape Breton project that we are evaluating as we go along. This is initiative of social welfare reform that we are moving to a one-tiered system that will take people in on the short-term basis who are eligible for employment and who will be able to come up to standards of employment and others who will need more long-term disability.
The situation is well stated. I will certainly respond by correspondence later to the honourable member on this specific issue, which I am not at liberty to discuss in the House of Assembly.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, it is all well and good what the minister said, he said that they inherited the system. I would remind the minister that they have now been in government for two and a half years and it is time for them, as a government, to move if they have some ideas as to how the system can be remedied.
The reason I am bringing this particular case forward is not because this woman phoned this morning because there has been a series of cases of people who have phoned me with almost identical circumstances, who have been denied the opportunity to get off welfare. I don't believe, to be quite truthful, that the minister's staff or possibly the minister, himself, have been issued direction as to how to deal with these individual cases where, indeed, people can either for the long term or for the short term get off welfare. Would the minister ensure that there is some directive out to staff to answer these kinds of questions that come forward from people who are presently drawing benefits?
DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I will have to challenge the member when he uses the term, denies getting off family benefits. If someone has a job that will pay more money than they are receiving from family benefits and they are not a disabled person with special needs then, of course, they can come off the family benefits, we are not denying that. I think the issue of alternatives under those circumstances are real.
We have made initiatives, I do resent the comment that we have not. That honourable member knows about the Cape Breton project, if not, I will refer him some information on that project. That is 20 per cent of the province that we have undergone changes in. Those changes are proactive where it moves from the traditional way of the statutory, controlled, inflexible system; we have moved. We do have eligibility review officers that address particular instances and try to identify areas such as this.
Our workers are working hard. It is a very difficult job, there is a terrible amount of backlog of people who have never been visited over the years, perhaps, by case workers. We are addressing that issue, we are making headway and we have plans within this province of social reform that will address matters such as the one the member has brought before the House today.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, it is fine for the department to have plans, projects and pilot projects, et cetera, around the countryside to work out solutions to these problems. But the solutions are very simple. It is simply a matter of somebody with common sense saying yes, that will get this person off welfare, we will do it and that is all that it takes.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, the member trivializes some very important issues here. That member has asked me to guarantee that I, as minister, could guarantee that a person can come on and off benefits without meeting eligibility review. Is that what he is suggesting that we do here? I really think that would be extremely irresponsible.
There are other matters also, there are many people in this province who are working on minimum wages without benefits, without Pharmacare and that member know that. I think there is a balance that we are trying to strike. We have a plan, we have social welfare reform that has started in this province and we have a commitment to do that. We will do that and it will make a much fairer and equitable system for all Nova Scotians.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct a question to the Minister of the Environment as a follow-up question to the answers he gave to the Leader of the Opposition. I listened with disbelief to the way in which the minister answered because what he basically said was that he was not concerned at all about the citizens if it is not the air, not the water, whatever, but he wasn't worried about the other things. My question to the minister is quite simply this, he has rejected the recommendations that were put forward by the Environmental Assessment Board in their report, my question is did he, since he said it is none of his responsibility, request that the minister and the Department of Municipal Affairs do an assessment to determine how much the property tax values for those homeowners will be affected and to determine how it will negatively impact upon their quality of life?
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat puzzled by the question because he certainly has misrepresented everything I have said and everything about the process of the environmental assessment and the hearings that took place thereafter. I think that the results of the recommendations by the assessment board and my release of the same, have reflected nothing but sincere and extensive care and concern for the health and safety of the residents of Stellarton and the people who live around that choice site for the strip mine.
In terms of the compensation question he asked, I made it clear and I will state it again to help the understanding, that as the Minister of the Environment in this province or perhaps in any province, it is not legally correct for me to direct or demand that a private sector person pay somebody else compensation. If that person wants to make that offer, which he has done, then perhaps it is incumbent upon the town which received the offer through the assessment board to react to it. It is not my role. I am not refusing, we have gone the full nine miles, if you will, to compensate with some 60 conditions of release to those recommendations that protect the air quality, protect the groundwater quality and protect the right for that man to make a living and for the residents to live with a quality of life.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, the minister may have been a little bit puzzled by my question but there is no confusion in the answer. Obviously, the answer is that no, he did not ask that any of those impact studies, assessments, be carried out.
In the orders and instructions given down, there is a ruling that the process of arbitration agreed to by the proponents be mandated. In the assessment board report of the compensation that was to be provided to the town, 25 cents per tonne of that was to be set aside in a special fund to provide financial assistance for preparation to those who take their claims to arbitration. So, in other words, 25 cents per tonne to be set aside to assist those ordinary citizens, not the big company, they got their bucks, they got the minister's approval, without which they couldn't go ahead, but 25 cents per tonne to assist those ordinary citizens with the arbitration process.
My question to the minister, why is it that he was not even prepared to order that that 25 cents per tonne be recommended or to insist that his Cabinet support it before he would give them that permission?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, the member is asking a question of extreme mischievousness. The point is clear, legally, my advice is that I am not in a position to do that. I think that most people in this Houses understand that answer, at least I hope they do. That is the end of the answer.
To say that we did not look at the property assessments for the homes that would be affected, is not accurate, it is absolutely not true, Mr. Speaker. In that environmental assessment, there is a condition whereby the proponent has the option to buy the homes that are in the immediate, surrounding area of that strip mine operation. I think the people of Stellarton would be better served if we had accurate questions and relevant questions with the answers that they deserve.
MR. HOLM: I think the minister is looking for me to apologize, Mr. Speaker. (Interruptions) I would say to the minister that I think that the people in Stellarton might be better served if they had a Minister of the Environment in the Province of Nova Scotia and a government in Nova Scotia that was prepared to work together to protect the interests of the people rather than just obviously their friends.
My question to the minister, did the minister, who gave the authority, who gave the permit for this to go ahead, have discussions with his Cabinet colleagues and go to his Cabinet colleagues to get the authority and the assurance that those recommendations aimed at protecting the town, protecting the citizens, to ensure that the town doesn't suffer financially and the citizens are not disadvantaged financially trying to go to arbitration, did he do that? Yes or no is all that is required.
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I would remind the member of the Third Party that the condition of approval is indeed conditional. My approval is conditional on some 60 attachments so there is no carte blanche approval for the operator or the proponent to go ahead and mine. I would say that my Cabinet colleagues would share my belief that when we go through a democratic process, one that is judicially correct, that we respect the findings of that process and we address them as best we can to the benefit of Nova Scotians. I am surprised, that the people themselves can be surprised, the member of the Third Party would be attacking the opportunity for jobs.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. If, indeed, media reports are correct, it appears that the deficit has increased another $4.5 million in the last two days in the Regional Municipality of Cape Breton only after three months of operation. Will the minister, who I am sure is on top of this issue, (Laughter) would she please tell us what she understands that deficit to be today?
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I would caution the House and the honourable member that both Beauchesne, Paragraph 408 states that Oral Questions are not to inquire whether statements made in the media are correct and further, are not to be of a hypothetical nature. Bearing that in mind, the honourable Minister of Municipal Affairs will ignore the reference to the media, please.
HON. SANDRA JOLLY: Mr. Speaker, I think, as I have told the member, as he has asked a question to me each day on this issue, I have a meeting set up with the Mayor of the new Cape Breton Regional Municipality at which time we will have an opportunity to sit down and review all the numbers. There are a wide variety of numbers that have come out in the media reports as he has suggested and I think it is appropriate at this time that we get the correct information and deal with that.
MR. MACLEOD: Again, to our Minister of Municipal Affairs, Mayor Coady is on record as saying that the Municipal Affairs policy in place before amalgamation has contributed to the financial crunch that has been going on in Cape Breton. Does the minister agree with Mayor Coady's assessment that her department is largely responsible for this dilemma in Cape Breton and, in particular, to the taxpayers of industrial Cape Breton?
MS. JOLLY: Mr. Speaker, I know the honourable member has only been here a week but I would just like to clarify. I am the Minister of Municipal Affairs. I am not the mayor and I am not the council. (Applause)
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, Mayor Coady has said that the Amalgamation Commissioner, Charles Campbell, was way off on his estimates, that the transitional merger would cost $1.5 million and, in reality, it has cost $4.5 million. Can the minister tell the House if her department reviewed Mr. Campbell's cost projections and if they were satisfied that they were based on relevant information and facts at the time that they were made?
MS. JOLLY: Yes.
MR. SPEAKER: A new question, the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question to the Premier. Other Canadian Premiers have let their voters and have let the Chretien Government know their stance relative to the federal legislation, Bill C-68.
MR. SPEAKER: What is that legislation?
MR. TAYLOR: That legislation is the firearm control legislation, Mr. Speaker. The Premier of this province is on record as saying that he has established with the federal Minister of Justice, the Honourable Allan Rock, that there will be no cost to the Province of Nova Scotia. I would ask the Premier if he would perhaps expand a little bit on that statement?
MR. SPEAKER: There is one minute remaining.
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I would be delighted to give the information contained in the letter that we received from the federal Attorney General or Minister of Justice conveying that information. What I have stated quite clearly is that there are issues which are federal and there are issues which are provincial. It is the decision of this government that the issues which are federal will be decided by the federal government and those issues which are provincial will be decided by the provincial government. It seems to me an eminently sensible way of doing business. (Applause)
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, a diplomat is one who can tell a man he is open-minded when it means he has a hole in his head. My question to the Premier is essentially this, the statement is that the Premier has a commitment from the Prime Minister or Allan Rock, the federal Justice Minister. Will the Premier table that agreement because . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 28.
Bill No. 28 - Regional Municipalities Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The amendment is that the bill be not now read a second time but be read this day six months hence.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to resume the debate on Bill No. 28 and I suppose to start off by saying that perhaps it is somewhat argumentative as to whether or not you can support a bill in principle and, at the same time, ask for a delay in the second reading of that same bill. So what I would like to do during my remarks on this amendment is simply bring to the House the reasons why I believe that a delay during the second reading phase of this bill is advantageous not only to the municipal units that will eventually be merged, but also advantageous to the Department of Municipal Affairs and to the minister who, I believe, could gain a great deal by delaying the passage of this bill to enable the municipalities and others to have adequate input as to some of the shortcomings of the present bill.
Now I think that one of the things that should be examined in greater depth before this bill progresses through second reading and into Law Amendments Committee, Mr. Speaker, is the composition of what these regional municipalities shall be. The bill, as we know it, limits the amalgamation to a county. Perhaps, on second thought, the minister would reconsider as to whether or not a county boundary is an adequate edge to those municipal units which are to be brought together. Surely in some circumstances, particularly with the smaller counties who are, in fact, only one municipal unit, it rules out any eventual amalgamation and rules out, from the residents of those particular counties, the benefits that can accrue from regional amalgamation.
As I said when I started, Mr. Speaker, I personally have no argument with the principle of the bill. I have no argument against amalgamation generally, but I think when we are talking about this entire province and we are considering a product that will be in effect for, I suppose, 50 to 100 years before another change is made in the boundaries of these amalgamated units, that we should take some time for adequate consideration as to what size the regional area should be.
The second problem with the composition of these municipal units, Mr. Speaker, and the reason why I think we should delay passage of this bill is that we are talking about the majority of the municipal units within a county making a decision and being accepted without any reference whatsoever to population. Just as a for instance, I can go to my own particular situation in my own riding where I have, within my riding, three municipal units: the Municipality of the District of West Hants, the Town of Windsor and the Town of Hantsport. They are three and they are clearly the majority within Hants County. East Hants, as we know it, has only one municipal unit because, as I understand it, village units do not count so it has only one. So the Town of Windsor/Hantsport and the Municipality of West Hants could decide on regional amalgamation for all of Hants County.
In point of fact, I would think that East Hants - I am not too sure about the numbers -would probably have the majority of the population within Hants County. It may not be much more; it may, in fact, be just a little less. Nevertheless, three municipal units which are smaller than that whole of East Hants, would be making a decision for the residents of East Hants. I don't think that is fair and I think it is something that should be examined by the municipal units before we proceed any further with this legislation.
Surely we could have some kind of process, such as we have when we are looking at the revision of the Constitution of Canada, where we look at a certain number of units but, however, having a certain population at least less than one-half of the entire population of the country. I think something along similar lines could apply to the municipal units.
Another issue, I think, when we get outside the composition of the municipal unit, that we should look at is when this process commences. As I understand the legislation - and to be quite frank I have not, as yet, read through the bill in detail because there just hasn't been sufficient time. The bill, as you know, was only introduced last Thursday; the House didn't sit Friday; Saturday and Sunday were particularly busy, for this particular Party anyway, so we haven't had a great deal of time to examine the bill - any one municipal unit within a county can request that there be amalgamation. For instance, let's pick on Kings County for a moment. The Town of Berwick, which is a small municipal unit within Kings County, could call for amalgamation within Kings County. That request, Madam Speaker, would go to the minister, as I understand it, and if she thinks, in her wisdom, that Berwick has a fine idea, she can authorize a study. Or she can have the Town of Berwick, as I understand it, carry out a study and present the study to the minister.
Anything reasonable that I have ever heard about, when somebody wants something and it is going to affect a whole bunch of their neighbours, then the neighbours are consulted before anything happens. Surely to have, for instance, a very small unit saying to a whole host of very large units that we think it is a good idea to amalgamate, therefore you had better get on board with us, I think that is simply atrocious. It is a waste of money. I don't think it would happen because, obviously, the larger units, hopefully, would turn it down. Secondly, it is a waste of the minister's money and the minister's time going through the motions of putting a study in place and carrying it out and funding that study.
Madam Speaker, for that reason, I also think that it is well worthy of this particular piece of legislation being held in abeyance while those particular measures are examined in-depth with the players, and that is the municipal units, as well as other bodies that may be interested.
It was interesting, just the day after this bill was introduced in the Legislature, Madam Speaker, that one of the candidates for the mayor's position for the greater metro regional area came forward and pointed out an area which this bill doesn't even talk about but which surely should be part of this bill, and that is the matter of the funding of campaigns.
First of all, the expenditures that can be made for a candidate as an alderman, councillor, or as a mayor - I guess we don't have wardens any more, although we do in the interim, I presume, so a candidate for the position of warden - we do not have any limit on any money that can be spent and, secondly, they are not required to detail to any authority who contributed toward their campaign and how much and, lastly, as to whether or not all the money that was unspent was returned either to the coffers of the organization that raised the money or did it go into the pocket of the candidate.
Those are things that are spelled out very clearly for those who aspire to become members of this Legislature; they are spelled out very clearly for those who aspire to become members of the federal government. Surely, that is something that should be in place for municipal politicians, particularly in view of the fact that now those municipal politicians are going to be covering a much larger territory and a much larger population and therefore are going to be required to raise much more money to conduct their campaigns and carry out their advertising.
As an example, we were informed by one of the candidates for mayor of the greater city of metro Halifax, Dartmouth and Bedford that he would possibly spend up to $200,000 on his campaign for the position of mayor. Another candidate, I understand, was going to spend about $150,000 and another one said something in the order of $100,000, so there is a lot of money involved. But you can understand it simply because the fact that these municipal politicians now are certainly representing populations far in excess of what we, as provincial politicians, cover within our own ridings.
I think that, indeed, within this legislation at some time or another there should be an amendment made to cover election expenditures and to put some kind of cap on the amount of money that members can spend to get themselves elected.
There is also another issue that has been brought to my attention by the municipal units within my particular riding, and that deals with the matter of the appointment of a coordinator who is given the power to set up the actual administrative structure for that new municipal unit before the elected politicians have an opportunity to have any say in the set-up of that administrative unit that they will actually be running. The difficulty is, I suppose, that you do have to have somebody in there in advance who is going to put in place the basic apparatus for the new council and for the new area. However, it seems a bit much that that person should also have the authority, for instance, to hire the police chief, the building inspector, to hire the person who looks after environmental matters within the county and a host of other areas. Surely, that should be left to the elected council to do.
All that I would suggest that the coordinator has to do in the way of appointments is simply to appoint the chief administrative officer for the electoral unit, and then step aside and let those who are elected carry on the business of setting up the rest of the administrative structure.
Madam Speaker, for those reasons, I think that the minister should consider, not necessarily passing this bill or passing this amendment that we have on the floor at the moment, that is for a six months' hoist, but perhaps to adjourn the debate on this bill and let it sit on the order paper for another month to six weeks, to permit the people who are most involved in the municipal process to have the chance to speak to the minister and the minister's staff, to bring to her attention what they consider to be shortcomings within this bill, and then the minister having the opportunity to re-introduce another bill, to replace this one in this House, for this House to consider, that brings to the attention of members and to all the fact that she has truly listened to the wants and needs of those who are going to be affected by this bill. Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Madam Speaker, I rise to speak in favour and in support of the six months' hoist that was introduced by the member for Halifax Citadel. I believe the hoist will provide the municipalities in this province with an opportunity to go out and consult and they can talk to neighbouring municipalities as to just what amalgamation means and just what the union they may form or may not form, what the implications and/or ramifications are.
I think it is extremely important that the minister continue to do what she did last night, that was go up to Colchester County, Bible Hill. I believe she met with the Councils of Colchester County - the Warden of that county is Tom Donaldson, a very fine gentleman. Madam Speaker, you know we have a former great warden of the Municipality of the County of Colchester sitting over on the government side of the benches, and he is a very good member. He was a warden up there for 10 years. I know that member talked about amalgamation when he was the warden. He was a little concerned from time to time that the Grain Commission wanted to include different areas in Cumberland County and had talked about including Sheet Harbour, for example, in Halifax County.
I think it is important that the Minister of Municipal Affairs talk to the member for Colchester North because he certainly has a lot to say. She has talked to the member for Colchester North and she has talked to the Town of Stewiacke. This is what the hoist will enable. If we can, if you will, put it in this terminology, incarcerate the bill for six months, I think it certainly deserves support. Actually you know that six months' hoist, when you think about it, just to refresh people in case many of us may forget when that time expires, which would be approximately 180 days from the time that this House endorses and supports that motion, the incarceration period will expire approximately a month after the Pharmacare premium now that the seniors are taking out. So it is important to note that the six months' hoist will certainly give us ample time to do more consultation and it will enable the Minister of Municipal Affairs to do like she did last night.
Also, Madam Speaker, I believe last night the Mayor of Truro and some of the councillors from the Town of Truro were present. Colchester County was represented. I know the beautiful Town of Stewiacke had some representatives there and, of course, the Village Commission of Bible Hill. But they sat down and talked with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and, I don't know, maybe the member for Colchester North would like to speak in support of this six months' hoist, he is on his feet. Oh, he is not, okay, I thought perhaps he would.
We would be in a real quandary if we were to force amalgamations and again provide a mechanism for the old shotgun approach. I think the minister honestly does want to get away from the shotgun wedding approach respecting amalgamation. I think the minister, in fact I think this government has certainly learned a lesson. I think if they look at the six months' hoist, have an open mind. I would encourage the member for Inverness, for example, the honourable member may want to talk to some of his colleagues. It will give him an opportunity when he goes back, he is extremely busy down here in Halifax. I mean we all know the House sits for five days a week and, as an MLA, especially an outside member, you could live, my gosh, it could be hundreds of miles away for some of the members. They only get back on late Friday night or early Saturday morning; some of them have office hours in their constituencies.
It is much easier for the member for Halifax Bedford Basin, for example, to talk to his constituents. He may clean up his messages. He may also be very busy with the Halifax Fairview riding. I know he has dual responsibilities. The good citizens in Halifax Fairview, the people he is talking to - we could have a quandary here, Madam Speaker. The Liberal member may be hearing from some constituents who support the Regional Municipalities Act. The members in the Third Party, we know that the former Leader of their Party actually went on to greater things, or we perceive they are greater. But it will give this member, where he has such a broad responsibility now to look after two constituencies - he is nodding his head -the six months' hoist will enable him to get out and talk to his constituents in Halifax Bedford Basin, but also he can talk to Halifax Fairview. Now, we know they lost their member, and the Premier apparently isn't interested in calling a by-election, so I would submit and suggest that those citizens would support this six months' hoist.
The minister says that this is truly a voluntary piece of legislation and I know citizens in a lot of communities support a voluntary concept. Now, in Cape Breton, in that new regional municipality where eight units were amalgamated into one super-city, well, we are certainly finding out that a shotgun marriage can have its drawbacks. Not only did you have two unwilling bridesmaids, so to speak, that had to be, more or less, ushered up the aisle, we are finding out now that they didn't want to be ushered up the aisle for good reason. Perhaps they understood better than the Minister of Municipal Affairs that amalgamation has some financial implications that certainly were not addressed. When you are talking about taking over social services, such as is being done in Cape Breton, many of the municipal units on the mainland have some serious reservations about amalgamation.
Again, the minister has said that under the new legislation, and I have had a chance to peruse the legislation; I actually had an opportunity to attend the bill briefing when the minister brought this bill, and I believe it is Bill No. 28 - I am sure the Clerk can correct me if I am wrong - that we are talking about hoisting here, Madam Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: That is correct, you are speaking on Bill No. 28, on the amendment.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, on the hoist of Bill No. 28. Madam Speaker, I indicated, when I spoke on the principle and the title of the bill, that I had sent a letter out to numerous municipalities, nearly all the municipal units in this province, and we have received a lot of correspondence back on this legislation. I didn't have an opportunity, unfortunately, because of a rather busy and sometimes hectic schedule, to send out a subsequent letter relating to the six months' hoist - didn't even send out the inquiry - but we did hear back from two municipal units. That information, I believe, is in the hands of the member for Hants West and, perhaps, if he has an opportunity, he will dig in and find me the information that relates to the two units that came back and told us about the six months' hoist.
From what I understand, the municipal units are speaking in support of the six months' hoist. You could have a unit like the beautiful Town of Bridgewater, for example, or maybe in Lunenburg County. But I understand from talking to the member for Colchester North that the municipal units were very impressed that the Minister of Municipal Affairs took the time out of her very busy and very hectic schedule to go up to talk and meet with constituents.
Property taxes are an area that have to be addressed, whether commercial or residential. Madam Speaker, right now, I think you understand the reality. In fact, it is not perception that the rates that are applied really reflect the present business climate. So, particularly the commercial rate is an area that should be addressed. The whole question of assessment and the delay and things of that nature are very important.
I had a press clipping here from the East Hants area, from the weekly press. They are doing a lot of talking in East Hants about amalgamation and I think they would appreciate a six months' hoist. They are concerned about policing in East Hants, for example, and what they are saying, Madam Speaker, and to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, of course, through you, what they are saying is, can the taxpayer afford more? We are finding out down in Cape Breton - and the honourable member for Cape Breton West is raising some very valid, justified questions. He is concerned for the citizens in that new super-city - that they have an incredible debt down there really before the city really got incorporated or really got up and running. So there are problems.
Police service is costing municipalities mega-dollars. A lot of councillors are concerned about the mega-dollars that are being paid out. They would like an opportunity, I believe, to sit down and have a discussion, have some dialogue with the Minister of Municipal Affairs, just to see perhaps if it would be more feasible to go with the municipal police force as compared to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Now, a part of Halifax County that I have the pleasure of representing, Madam Speaker, is policed by the RCMP and a good portion of East Hants is policed by the RCMP. (Interruptions) A lot of hoists have hydraulic oil in them but this isn't the hoist we are talking about today here. For example, a lot of detachments relating to police and police services are concerned for their future so the six months' hoist will enable municipal units to sit down and talk about their police services.
The minister, by the stroke of the pen, by a directive, Madam Speaker, if you look at Bill No. 28, she can establish a regional municipality. Now the minister has said it will be voluntary and I honestly, irrespective of what some of her colleagues may think, have no reason to doubt her word. If she said that it will be truly voluntary, I have no reason to doubt her word irrespective of what her colleagues may think. Or, perhaps the Third Party may have some reservations about that, but I have seen that minister in operation go up and talk to municipal units. I sat in at a meeting up in Stewiacke. Unfortunately last night I didn't get to Bible Hill but the Village Commission sponsored a meeting up in that beautiful community last night and the minister did take the time out of her busy schedule to go there. Now I think East Hants and perhaps West Hants would like to sit down with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and discuss some concerns they have about police services, fire services and any of the services that a municipality might provide to its citizens.
Now Clause 89 of the new bill provides that Section 42 of the Education Act does not apply. As most people in the House will know, that section of the Education Act deals with the setting of area rates. I understand that some of the municipalities in this province would very much like to have continued that ability to set area rates. I believe I could speak on behalf of Bedford, if I may. Some of the schools in that beautiful municipality do set area rates and now that ability is going to be taken away from them. I think C.P. Allen and a couple of more schools. So whether you apply the area rate to the curriculum or you apply the area rate to . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, are you still on the amendment on Bill No. 28 or are you on the Education Act now?
MR. TAYLOR: Madam Speaker, thank you for the question. I am still on the six months' hoist.
MADAM SPEAKER: I just have the sense perhaps that you are going quite far off the mark here and I would like to remind you that you are on the amendment to Bill No. 28.
MR. TAYLOR: Madam Speaker, that hoist will enable municipal units to have some more time. That is the point I am trying to make. The Education Act, that Section 42, does not apply. Well, presently it does. So perhaps through you to different members in the House, I am sure the Minister of Municipal Affairs would agree that there will be some municipal units that will be very concerned that they will lose the ability to set area rates. You and I know that through area rates you can perhaps use some of the funds to buy uniforms for teams. Perhaps you may have a team at C.P. Allen School going down to the Eastern Shore and having a game of volleyball or something like that and it would be a shame if the children in the schools were affected in an adverse way because of Bill No. 28. The hoist will enable the municipal units to take their concerns to the minister and sit down with neighbouring municipal units and talk this thing through.
If the real intent and integrity of this bill is to be voluntary, and the minister states that the majority of the municipal units must agree to amalgamation, then I think the minister should speak, in fact, in support of this hoist. Perhaps she will after last night's meeting. I know they want more time up in Colchester County and I believe the minister knows that, that they want a little more time. The CAOs did a study and they addressed a lot concerns but it wasn't a thorough evaluation. I can't speak for the Mayor of Truro or the Warden of Colchester County or the Mayor of Stewiacke or the Commissioner of the Village of Bible Hill or the Commissioner for the Village of Tatamagouche, but surely to goodness they deserve six months.
Now as you may know, Madam Speaker, the County of Colchester did a study on regional government. It was prepared by Andrew P. Beckett, Executive Director of the Municipality of Colchester; Bob Christianson, who is a Clerk/Treasurer of the Village of Bible Hill; David Gilroy, Clerk/Treasurer of the Town of Truro; and Lillian Smith, Clerk/Treasurer for the Town of Stewiacke. You know Lillian Smith does a lot of work in the Town of Stewiacke. It is a very small municipal unit with some 1,200 citizens. I want to tell you that Mrs. Smith does a lot of work because she doesn't have a lot of staff. In fact, Stewiacke, as I understand it, contract out a lot of work because they don't have the resources to provide for a full planning staff, if you will.
The councils have suggested a functional alignment and with the six months' hoist, they talk about a council, a chief administrative officer, they talk about local police, RCMP, a director of corporate services and a clerk, a director of public works, a director of community development. There is finance to be considered during the six months, personnel, there are management information systems, Madam Speaker. EMO and fire services are provided by a lot of municipal units. Perhaps again I say Clare or Inverness, anywhere, the County of Pictou, would like to address concerns, whether it is solid waste, water and sewers, public property information, transportation and planning. A lot of these municipal units that could amalgamate, and we certainly support amalgamation but in a lot of instances we don't support some of the endeavours that this government has put the gun, if you will in a lot of cases, to the head of some municipal units.
A lot of planning departments, as we see now Bedford, for example, and Halifax and Halifax County and Dartmouth, all have planning departments. As a result of amalgamation, hopefully the duplication and triplication in a lot of cases, will be reduced. I think we all support that.
Now property information and things of that nature will certainly be enhanced if you have it all under one roof. With this hoist, that certainly will enable municipal units to go out and hold meetings.
I think the consultative process should be supported. Economic development, for example, you may have three units that honestly believe in one industrial commission or economic development board or whatever you would want to call it, Madam Speaker. I think I would subscribe to that because in a lot of neighbouring municipal units you have competition. A lot of the units may be competing for the same business or the same piece of pie. There are only so many pieces in a pie and there are only so many pieces to go around. That doesn't matter whether it is economic pie or apple pie, there are only so many pieces to go around.
Then we will have recreational and cultural services. Now in Halifax County we have a recreation department that I would suggest is second to none. I don't know what is going to happen to that department as a result of amalgamation.
The point I am trying to make now, Madam Speaker, is yes, it has already been legislated and that is unfortunate that they had to suffer the shotgun approach but this legislation will, if it is truly voluntary, do away with that.
I don't know if the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage is going to run. I think the nominations have closed for the election of December 2nd, but if he is having second thoughts I can certainly understand why.
If a municipal unit did a review of existing expenditures and staffing levels and did really look at the financial savings, if there were any, don't you really think that they deserve a little more time? The six months' hoist will give them that time. Again, I think it is important that the units in Cape Breton that weren't merged into a super-city, perhaps the Minister of Education would like to see them formed into one unit and then you would only have two regional municipalities on the Island of Cape Breton. I don't know if that is the government's intention but if the majority of the units subscribed to that and say, for example, the citizens of Inverness don't want to go along with it, they don't have any choice with the stroke of the pen. The minister should look at certain amendments to this Regional Municipalities Act, and I don't think we would have any problem supporting an amendment enabling municipal units to be truly voluntary.
Madam Speaker, as you recall - I am sure you remember my every word - I did mention that two more municipal units have called relative to this legislation, the Regional Municipalities Act. I want to tell you that Mayor Leigh Stoddart of the beautiful Town of Clarks Harbour has also spoken out against this bill. Barrington and Clarks Harbour suggest that they are so separate that it does not seem fair that the majority of other municipal units can dictate to them regarding amalgamation.
So, Clarks Harbour and Barrington - I don't think I am going out on a limb - based on the information I have received here from the mayor. I believe Clarks Harbour and Barrington Passage would support the six months' hoist. They had no knowledge of the bill coming forward and a six months' hoist would enable, perhaps the MLA for Shelburne would like to go down and talk to the chief magistrates of those municipal units. I know that member is a very outgoing MLA and likes to keep dialogue with his constituents and that would give that member an opportunity to go down and say, look, the Opposition is in here and they introduced a hoist. In fact, he could go one step further and he could go down to his constituents and say, off the record - and nothing is off the record, Madam Speaker - I don't think the hoist is such a bad idea either, but then he would face the wrath of Cabinet.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member you are getting all over the map and getting quite hypothetical here, so I will just remind you to rein it in a little bit to the amendment that is on the floor right now for a hoist and not be quite so hypothetical about what other members of this honoured House might want to do or not want to do.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, I don't know if I am hypothesizing or is it theoretical, but I always appreciate your ruling and respect it. Representatives from the Town of Clarks Harbour - and it wasn't the mayor - have requested a meeting with the minister to make representations against the bill. What I have done for the knowledge of the House is I sent out an inquiry, which I did table and I surely won't have to table that again, the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage requested that I table my inquiry, I did that, I sent it out to most municipal units in the province and we are still getting back responses. Now they are sending us responses in support of the hoist and we didn't even inquire about the hoist. So, I don't think I am drawing too far on that old bow when I suggest that perhaps some MLAs would like to go talk to their municipal counterparts.
A representative from the Town of Clarks Harbour has requested a meeting with the minister to make representations against this bill. This six months' hoist will enable the town and the minister to get together, if the minister is so inclined, and we certainly hope that she is so disposed. I don't think it is too much to ask.
With respect to social services, there is not a unit on the mainland that doesn't want the province to take over the responsibility and assume full control of social services. I think it is fair and I think it is proper. We heard about the service exchange and the minister told us that the municipalities would be responsible for police, roads, and my gosh, we speak about transportation, the six months' hoist would enable some communities like Hilden, for example, - and it is hard for most people in my constituency to understand; we saw a little bit of black top about the length of this House put down this summer - but come to find out that the property taxpayer is going to pay on a rate of some $10 to $11 per foot, which will be amortized or spread out over 10 years, and/or they can pay up-front, they can pay the total cost. That type of arrangement isn't referenced in the Regional Municipalities Act, Bill No. 28. I think that is another advantage to supporting the hoist. The Regional Municipalities Act does not make it clear how these units are going to look after the roads that they now are responsible for as a result of the service exchange.
Mayor Pope from the Town of Kentville also responded, Madam Speaker. I don't know if you had an opportunity to meet Mayor Pope, but Mayor Pope advises us that the only knowledge she had of the legislation, Bill No. 28, which is now proposed to be hoisted, was from a UNSM meeting. I honestly believe that Mayor Pope will support the hoist. I will ask the honourable member, my colleague from Kings North, if he would go down - perhaps he already has, I know he is a very busy man and he works hard in his constituency - but I think it is important that that member be given the opportunity and the six months' hoist will give that member the opportunity to go out to talk to the mayor of one of his towns.
Madam Speaker, what we are saying is, let's be open, let's be transparent, let's go down and talk to our municipal colleagues. If they had no input, but rather were just told that it was forthcoming at a UNSM meeting, do you call that real consultation? I certainly don't. Mayor Pope from Kentville does not support the implementation clause requiring only a majority of units requesting amalgamation; she doesn't support that component in the bill.
I think the minister has heard from a lot of municipal units and, again, when you don't attend a meeting it is very hard to determine, actually, and make conclusions about what took place and transpired. I will, when I get an opportunity, talk to the member for Colchester North, whom I know attended that meeting last night.
I cannot, for the life of me, believe that the municipal units in the County of Colchester would support that majority clause. They, I think, believe in consensus building and reaching a consensus. Therefore, I think I can speak on behalf of some of those units in stating that before they request amalgamation, they want unanimity not majority. I think that is what I would like to see too. There is nothing worse than having somebody kicking and screaming and you drag them along with you, whether it is a municipal unit or something else. It is incumbent upon the government, because there have been so many initiatives where there hasn't been proper study or proper evaluation conducted, and here we are saying, here is an opportunity for you, if it is truly voluntary, what is the rush? The hoist speaks to that; the hoist directly speaks to the rushing component.
Mayor Pope is also gravely concerned, as many municipal units are, about social service costs. She made the point about that fact, that the municipal service exchange was not properly (Interruption) Oh, I inadvertently referred to the mayor as a she and I should have said he. I certainly know it is Mr. Arthur Pope.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: You go right back to the beginning and say it right.
MR. TAYLOR: He has, as you know, the venerable member for Queens, a lot of experience, a school teacher, and he says if you don't do it right the first time, you go back and do it again. (Interruption) A colleague of yours, Madam Speaker, says the same thing, but I know we are under certain time constraints and we have to be germane and we have to be relevant and I am talking about the hoist here.
MADAM SPEAKER: Well, honourable member, I think now that you have noted once the correct gender of the mayor then that would suffice for this record.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Arthur Pope, Mayor of Kentville, is gravely concerned about social service costs. He made a point about the fact that the municipal service exchange was working toward this end and wondered how the progress had been going with the government, what timeframe now is the government under? If Mayor Pope of Kentville supports the hoist, will it give the minister ample time to address the concern of social services on the mainland? A lot of units are concerned if there has been any progress made relative to the takeover of social services and social assistance.
Madam Speaker, I had a phone call just recently from a constituent in another riding. It wasn't your riding, Madam Speaker, but a neighbouring constituent. She called and told me that her husband is out of work, he has been injured for some time. He applied for workers' compensation, he applied for disability UIC and when her social worker came out to meet with him, she told him that they would only provide him with $400 social assistance for a month.
Now what is happening, and it isn't addressed in this bill, is a lot of municipal units have different policies in place respecting social assistance and social services. I think we all agree that it should be based on real need, rather than perceived need. This Bill No. 28 does not represent that so the hoist will enable the minister to go back and revisit Bill No. 28, the Regional Municipalities Act. She can go back and look at the social services issue. She should spell it out clearly, before there are any further amalgamations in this province. It should be categoric, Madam Speaker, what the minister is going to do. She needs to clarify just what she is going to do, what is the government's responsibility relative to social services.
Now some of the municipal units have conducted studies that were financed by the units themselves. Now I wonder if the minister could tell me, and perhaps she could tell me at this point or later on, when she summarizes, Madam Speaker, if she will provide the units with funding studies - I know Pictou County has an opportunity. I wonder if she could tell me, for example, if West Hants and East Hants want to sit down and look at their services. Perhaps they might decide that they want Bridgewater, I don't know, but that would be the majority of units.
Does the minister still have fund available if units wish to conduct studies relative to amalgamation? Madam Speaker, if you have no objections, I certainly don't if the minister cares to respond to that question.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, the minister will have ample time at the close of the debate on the amendment to make any responses she would feel appropriate. If you have the floor you can carry on now. (Interruption)
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Madam Speaker. You know for once I believe that the Government House Leader has made a good point over there. It is hard to give him a whole lot of credibility these days but I think he did say something that was accurate.
Now, Madam Speaker, we understand that this bill went through the House, we were told that Bill No. 28, the Regional Municipalities Act, went through the House with a big swish, just like another decision that was made some time ago. If the bill actually went through and the decision to introduce and then call Bill No. 28 back - it was a big whoosh, yes, Madam Speaker. I am getting a little off base and I will get back on the topic here.
I believe that if the decision to introduce and call this bill back for second reading was made in a hasty fashion, then it is time that it was hoisted for six months. We have outlined numerous services; the fire departments are concerned. In fact we know that fire departments, as we are speaking, have no clarification of what their role is in the new super-city. That is extremely important.
The Municipality of East Hants has received a request for additional policing and they put that to council during their regular meeting on October 24th and they wanted to cover the municipality's share. Municipalities believe on paying on a PPR or a police to population ratio and I think all units should pay at the same rate. Doesn't it seem fair that a community would not want to pay for services that they are not receiving? I think we would all subscribe to the fairness of that. Presently, you have units that are paying on a different ratio and that certainly is not the way to go.
Said East Hants Municipality CAO Ian Glasgow, we are not asked to pay for services that we don't get. So you understand the CAOs in a lot of the municipal units are very concerned. I think if the minister has an opportunity, Madam Speaker, she might like to go talk to the CAO of East Hants, Mr. Glasgow, because he has stated that he is concerned. He is very concerned and he asked, can the taxpayers afford any more? This is relative to policing. I believe Bedford does have a municipal police force - I don't know if it has been clearly determined under amalgamation what the future role of that establishment will be - but I want to tell you, compared to policing costs in Truro, they have a municipal police force of 35 personnel and most of that budget goes to police officers. The budget for the policing services of the Town of Truro is $1.5 million.
Colchester County is policed by the RCMP. The present cost of the RCMP to municipal units is somewhere around $74,214. So, municipal units need time. The six months will afford units time to sit down and discuss. They may want to say well we have RCMP, you have policing. Which is the best way to go? We know that the RCMP provide a forensic service that perhaps the municipal unit doesn't. That is a consideration. They have serious crime investigators that perhaps a municipal unit may not have. There could be a drug squad, Madam Speaker. There could be a canine division but where do all these different services interact and how do they interact and intertwine? The six months' hoist will enable the units to sit down and talk. They may even, if the minister is inclined, talk to the minister about those services that they have certain reservation about and just what amalgamation will mean for them.
A lot of them have not had the funds to do a thorough evaluation of the merits of regional government. Madam Speaker, police services, fire services and emergency measures all fall under protective services. I am sure you know that, as a former chief magistrate of the beautiful Town of Bedford. I am sure you are aware that protective services are very much on the mind of constituents when you are talking of amalgamation. Are you going to receive the same level of service? Perhaps, Inverness might like to talk about municipal police force for that beautiful part of the country. We don't know that, but with the six months' hoist, those units will have an opportunity of approximately 180 days. As I pointed out, some units provide environmental health services and some do not.
I know my colleague, the member for Queens, is interested in environmental health services and things of that nature. A lot of units, I think, would consider merging community planning and development services. Transportation services, how are the units going to be affected? They want time. They want to talk about recreation and cultural services as I mentioned before (Interruption) and I am sure the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage will be quick to remind me that I did mention that before, but the hoist will enable them, Madam Speaker, to address all their services. I think it is important that they are given that opportunity.
Perhaps during the 180 day period that the bill is incarcerated, the minister perhaps would like to sit down and talk to the present Mayor of Halifax County, Randy Ball. Mr. Ball has suggested that he would support, and believes there should be public disclosure relating to the financial contributions to one's campaign during an election. Mr. Ball has indicated, we heard him speak on the radio and I don't know whether you consider that second-hand information or not but it certainly did sound like the Mayor of Halifax County's voice on the radio waves, is that first hand? My good friend from Queens could perhaps tell me if that is firsthand.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: . . . Mr. Fogarty was on the air.
MR. TAYLOR: You know, Mr. Fogarty has two constituencies to look after and he is a very busy man these days, I hate to ask him anything.
AN. HON. MEMBER: . . . a lot more air than usual.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, he does. Mayor Ball has suggested that he would support full disclosure and in fact, he is going to spend somewhere around $200,000 in his bid to become mayor of the new super-city. Madam Speaker, if you would let me digress just a wee bit, once we become a super-city, actually my colleague, the member for Halifax Citadel, is our only city MLA at that time and once we become a super unit, of course, then I will be included in the super-city. That was just one digression and I shan't do that again.
MADAM SPEAKER: You must be able to understand my facial expressions, you know that I am getting beyond the point of tolerating this wide a digression.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes. It is important that we all recognize that our professions are ones that are under attack. I think during the six months' hoist it will enable the minister to provide more detail, provide more consultation, more study, be it social, be it economic and that will help raise the profiles of all MLAs in this province, so the six months' hoist has a lot of merit.
The County of Pictou and the mayor was in here the over evening, I didn't have the opportunity to go up and speak to the Mayor of Pictou County but I know the mayor feels that he wasn't consulted, respecting Bill No. 28. I don't know if the member for Pictou West had an opportunity to talk to the mayor about the six months' hoist (Interruption) he did have an opportunity and I believe that Mr. Dunnewold would support the six months' hoist because the County of Pictou and perhaps the member for Pictou West will tell you better than I, possibly is looking at amalgamation, I understand a study is being done. It is important that we talk to our fellow councillors.
The Mayor of Oxford advises that they had absolutely no input in this piece of legislation, so we just can't get up and be very selfish and say look, you folks don't matter, we can't get up and say that. I think we have to look at our municipal colleagues and we have to look at them with a certain amount of sensitivity and we have to provide them with our full cooperation and I subscribe to that. I honestly believe, now maybe I am misleading myself but I honestly believe that the Minister of Municipal Affairs truly wants the municipal units to determine their destiny, she wants them to have a say in their destiny and we all support that.
Yarmouth was not consulted. Now, I don't know whether or not the MLA for Yarmouth has had an opportunity to go down and talk to his friends in Yarmouth but with a six months' hoist he will have time to get around to his constituents and say look, are you guys talking about merging with another unit here? Have you had a chance to study your services? Have you had an opportunity to consider the savings, or have you have an opportunity to consider whether or not there are liabilities? These are very important questions. Consultation is first and foremost and this government is coming forward with legislation that will enable municipal units to amalgamate, I think it is important and incumbent that they also provide our municipal counterparts with an opportunity to have some input in the framework of the bill.
They are telling us in Oxford, West Hants, Stellarton, Shelburne, Stewiacke, numerous units are saying, just give us a little more time. Through you to the minister, we are headed in that direction, but put that shotgun away. If it is really voluntary, you do not need the shotgun, and by the stroke of the pen (Interruption)
Well, Madam Speaker, the minister is laughing but she knows full well that she still has the ability, it is she and only she, I believe, who has the ability to establish a regional municipal unit. Clause 3(2)(b) provides that where, "a majority of the councils of the municipal units in the county request that a regional municipality be established . . . the Governor in Council may, . . .", and I think the minister agrees now with me that, Clause 3(2), ". . . the Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Minister, order . . .". That is what it says. Now shouldn't this bill be hoisted?
I wonder how many of my colleagues took the opportunity to sit down and look at Clause 3(2) of the regional municipalities bill? I know, Madam Speaker, that sometimes - and I am as guilty as anybody - we just do not have the time to go over things with a microscope and fine-tooth comb.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I would just gently remind you that we are not into clause by clause right now and we are on the amendment.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, we are on the hoist, yes, the amendment, but the principle, as you understand, will be hoisted with the rest of the clauses in this 98 page document. The point I am making is, Madam Speaker, with the hoist, we can remove that enabling mechanism that the Minister of Municipal Affairs has, and that is her ability, through a recommendation, or the Governor in Council, I am sorry, may, on the recommendation of the minister, order that a regional municipal unit be established. So, I think during the six months' hoist, that will give us a great opportunity to address that concern and a lot of the other concerns that I have outlined here this afternoon in my brief response to this amendment.
Just in closing, Madam Speaker, I would like to again advise the Minister of Health that if he supports this hoist - and I encourage the Minister of Health to support this hoist - that it will expire just one month after the Nova Scotia Senior Pharmacare Program expires. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Yes. Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the amendment this afternoon to hoist Bill No. 28 for six months. I want to say at the outset that I believe it is correct that we do have enabling legislation for amalgamation; however, the way the bill is put together and the way it was put together, a lot of municipal people and leaders across this province did not have the opportunity to discuss the bill.
I think, I can illustrate the fact that we need the six months' hoist in that the Honourable Guy Brown introduced a bill a couple of years ago, the Credit Union Act, and then he put it on the order paper and it sat there for six months. It was taken out to all the people who were involved, the credit unions, the people who were interested across the province, and the bill came back in here with certain amendments and it passed within an hour.
I had the opportunity a number of years ago to bring in the Trust and Loan Companies Act, which was 243 pages. That is what we did. We put it on the order paper, put it in for second reading and then it went out to all the trust and loan companies and I can tell you that bill came back in here and those people over there spoke to the bill - it was 20 minutes - and it was passed.
I say to the minister, if we took the time and took the six months, what is the harm? What is the hurry? I don't know what the hurry is. We have been talking about it for 40 years and all we are saying is to take another six months and let the people have an opportunity to have some input.
I give the minister credit, she met with the 66 units to have discussions. The problem was that she did not go back afterwards to tell them what they were going to do. I understand that she met with the executive of the UNSM and told them what she was doing, but all the other municipal units in the province did not have the opportunity to have input into this bill. All we are saying is, put it aside for six months, bring it in when you have the spring session and we could pass it just like that. Make some good amendments.
There are a few things that I think should be included in the bill. There should be some kind of an independent review group that could set the salaries for the municipal officials. The fact that you have to set your own salary is not right. I do not believe that is correct. That is the way our salaries are set, by an independent commission, and reviewed, supposedly every year. We did not get an increase for how many years? But the fact is that that is the way it would be done. I think that is a reasonable request. I think it could be amended through the winter and have that part included.
Also, another item that should be included in the bill is the fact that we could limit candidates' expenditures. My colleague, the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, raised the fact that one of the candidates running for the mayoralty of the great metro area is suggesting that he is going to spend $200,000. It kind of limits who is going to run, when you can spend that kind of money to run a campaign. I think you could run a pretty good campaign with a lot less money than that and give some ordinary people the opportunity to run. That is another reason why it should be suspended for six months. Or bring it in in the spring session, as I say. I guess you call that disclosure, as to the amount of money that a candidate would be limited to.
The fact that there is nothing in it with regard to social services I think is another important issue. My understanding from the member for Queens is that they had the understanding that social services was going to be paid for by the province, in doing their amalgamation. I understand that is not so. They are talking about April 1, 1996, hopefully, or words to that effect. It would come in place at that time. I think the municipalities across this province would be happy with the fact that they would be paying for the social services.
I am not going to go through all of this. My colleague, the Critic for Municipal Affairs, sent letters to all the counties and municipalities and towns in regard to what their thoughts were on the bill: Oxford, West Hants, Stellarton, Shelburne, Stewiacke. The County of Pictou, my own county, the warden just happened to be down here Monday night and was very pleased to have the opportunity to hear the debate on the bill. He certainly had not input. Actually, we got him a copy of the bill. They wanted to go home and study it and that is fine. But I say, what is the hurry? We have been trying to do this for 40 years. I say that it is the right thing to do. I think it is the right thing to do but not to force it on them. Let the majority of councils take the opportunity to have a study. I appreciate the minister giving money to Pictou County to have a study done, that is fine. What the study shows when it comes back, it will let the six municipal units in Pictou County have a go at it and see what they want to do.
Cumberland wrote back, Yarmouth wrote back, Windsor wrote back. The other two were Clarks Harbour and Mayor Pope from the Town of Kentville. My understanding is they all said that they would like some input. That is all we are saying. Put the bill aside for six months, put it aside until the spring session. Let the people have input. Add those things that I was talking about, my suggestions anyway - and some other people made them - about an independent review for the councillors' salaries, limit candidates' expenditures for disclosure, get the social services included and bring it back and we will pass it just like that. Thank you very much.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on the amendment that Bill No. 28, ". . . be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.". Let me say at the outset that the debate on this particular bill, and the debate on the amendment, has brought some responses from across the floor that would suggest that by supporting the hoist and, perhaps, by some of the initial reaction to the bill, that this caucus is not committed to municipal reform. I would say to you at the onset, that this caucus is committed to a voluntary, sensible and cost-saving municipal reform process and system in this province. Our efforts in this particular regard, I think, are to improve that process and to make sure that the particular model or blueprint or template legislation, however you wish to describe this, is, in fact, finally passed in the best form possible.
The necessity to produce an amendment that effectively will allow time for ample consultation, I think, is a responsible one. That time will be utilized by those who have an interest in this particular piece of legislation. I was particularly surprised when a couple of days ago I, by accident, ran into a senior table officer at the UNSM and began to, by way of dialogue, try and find out the particular input of the UNSM in this legislation. The information I received was that other than being informed that the legislation was coming forward, there was no opportunity for that organization to have any meaningful input into this blueprint legislation. That fact alone provides ample justification for the amendment that is on the floor and before us at this time.
All we are looking for, by way of this amendment, is to introduce into the process an opportunity for the government to get it right the first time. With that in mind, when we became aware of the legislation, my colleague, who has just spoken at length on the amendment, had circulated a letter to the municipal units of the province, dated October 27th, and asking for some specific input. This letter was directed to the municipal units of the province. Bearing in mind that was October 27th, already that member, the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, has received a number of replies that would indicate that municipal officials across this province, as well as their official organization, the UNSM, have not been consulted in this particular piece of legislation.
That is particularly surprising when you look back at the tremendous effort that the minister made in the spring of 1994, when that minister was introducing to those same municipal units her service exchange legislation. It seems to me that that kind of effort, bearing in mind the consequences of a false step, that that kind of consultation would be a good idea and a very positive thing before the introduction of this particular piece of legislation.
As well intentioned as the minister is, it would be folly for the minister to suggest that the experience of the merger in, let's take, for example, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality would, in fact, be that flawless that it would give ample experience to the minister and her ministry to come up with a piece of legislation and a way of doing things, in terms of amalgamation that . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member has the floor and there are a number of conversations going on that would be appropriate, if you want, to carry them on outside the Chamber. I would ask for a little more quiet in the Chamber.
DR. HAMM: Thank you, Madam Speaker, but one gets toughened to that kind of background interference after a few months in this place. The point is that we now have some experience in amalgamations. The one that is the furthest along is the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. I was as surprised as anyone, and certainly probably no more surprised than the minister, to find out that a piece of legislation that was debated extensively in this House has resulted in a municipality that announced over the electronic media just the other day that they have, after 90 days of operation, run up an unexpected deficit of, well, depending on which source of information you choose to believe, somewhere between $4 million and $9 million of cost overruns.
I certainly hope, as does the Minister of Finance, that that is incorrect. That particular piece of information, if it is correct, is of serious consequence to this province.
Regardless of where the costs have come from, I would suggest that it places the process in some serious doubt, until we can absolutely determine how that all came about, bearing in mind that when we saw that new municipality launched, we felt very confident, I am sure the minister felt very confident, that it was, in fact, going to be a self-supporting municipal unit and would, by its collective approach to things, provide a financially stable environment for the delivery of municipal services in that part of the province.
If there was perhaps a single reason for the minister to pause and reflect as to how all this is going, it would be that particular piece of information, bearing in mind that to this point the minister has not had the opportunity to meet with the senior elected officials of that particular municipality and determine exactly what those costs represent. Bearing in mind that there is a great similarity to the piece of legislation that established that particular municipal unit and the piece of legislation that is before us will be the blueprint for the remaining, well, let's see, we have 18 possibilities and there are three underway, so we are looking at 15 more amalgamations eventually, bearing in mind that this legislation confines us to county amalgamations, which is another point that bears some discussion.
I do remind the minister of the response that the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley is receiving from his letter requesting input, which went out only on October 27th, less than a week ago. The minister easily could have started that kind of correspondence some time ago to get some input from the local areas.
Now this particular legislation makes a lot of assumptions. One of them is that amalgamations are going to be made on the county basis. As I read quickly through the legislation, it seems to confine the whole process to those living within current county boundaries. If memory serves me right, we have 18 counties in the province and that would ultimately mean that when this whole process unfolds, the minister will be dealing with 18 separate municipal governments. Well, there is a vast difference in the size and the population and the municipal structure, make up of each and every one of our individual counties.
This particular piece of legislation would perhaps preclude amalgamation which would include within a new municipal unit, perhaps, a part of an adjacent existing county structure. Let's look, for example, at Clare-Argyle - Clare being part of Digby County and Argyle being part of Yarmouth County - so that would mean, with this particular legislation, that Clare would forever and a day be part of the Digby municipal unit and Argyle forever and a day would be part of the Yarmouth municipal unit. That well may be the preference in that particular area, I have no way of knowing, but it would seem to me that there should be some flexibility built into the bill that is not there now but which could be introduced into the bill if, in fact, the minister would learn by consultation that there are areas that might be looking at a different alignment than that which would be dictated by their inclusion into the current county structures. But that could only be learned by a process of consultation. That consultation could occur over the next six months, the six months which would be afforded by the hoist.
One of the disappointments that I have, and when I was functioning as Critic for Community Services, is that when we introduced the other particular pieces of legislation that will result in our three new merged municipal governments, is that there was not a process set up that would independently set the remuneration for elected municipal officials from one end of this province to the other.
It is not in the taxpayers' best interests or in the whole metro amalgamation process to have the old way continued, in that elected municipal officials can sit down and simply reward themselves at a meeting which is conducted and controlled and totally orchestrated by themselves. The inequities that will be caused across this province by using this particular policy and this program of determining remuneration should end here and now with this attempt - an attempt by the previous government and being followed up by this government -to simplify municipal administration across this province.
We must do some consultation and we must come up with a better way of setting the remuneration process, including the expense process and the travel process and all of the things that have a financial implication for the elected members in our municipal units. That can best be done by an independent external body. We have the opportunity now to produce and provide that kind of mechanism.
There has been discussion, as well, as to why, in fact, within this legislation, as part of the process, there is not a required disclosure clause in the legislation that not only allows but absolutely dictates that those running for public office in the municipal units are required to make disclosure as to campaign donations. I think it would be also in the best interest that there would be a limit to the amount that could be spent by any one particular person running for public office in the municipal units. It should not necessarily be such that those who have the financial capability of raising huge amounts of money, thereby giving themselves an advantage in this process, that they would have a carte blanche approval in the legislation which by exclusion they have, of raising an infinite amount of money to get themselves elected as a municipal official.
The amount of money that I am hearing that will be spent in the Halifax Mayoralty election is absolutely staggering for those seeking that particular office. I don't think that is in the public interest and I think it puts those who are incapable of raising those significant amount of funds at a distinct disadvantage.
The other reason for allowing more time for consideration of this bill which this particular amendment provides us with is to allow the Minister of Municipal Affairs and the Minister of Community Services to come up with a program and a calendar which will allow all of our municipal units to understand when it is that the government is going to come forward with its previous commitment to provide totally social services costs in the municipal units.
As you are aware, that commitment was fulfilled one time only and that was in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, that it has not yet been fulfilled in the Halifax area, there is no commitment of which I am aware, there is no commitment down in Liverpool-Queens of which I am aware. If these details have not been worked out, and that is a very important detail in terms of regional amalgamations and producing new regional municipalities, let's have some time to allow the departments to work out those particular details in delivering social services.
There are a great many things that can happen over the six months that this amendment allows. It allows for more consultation, it allows for study of certain new items to be a part of the bill, the disclosure, the social services, the remuneration question. All of these are very important aspects that I think should be addressed, as we move toward the amalgamation process from one end of this province to the other.
Again, this is a good amendment. It is going to allow time for those things to happen which have not yet happened. It is going to allow time for proper consultation. It is going to allow time for the UNSM to come up with, what I am sure will be, some helpful suggestions to the minister. All in all, a passage of this amendment will allow time for this particular piece of legislation to be strengthened and to be more appropriate to the job at hand. Madam Speaker, I will be voting in favour of the amendment. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to get up and speak on this hoist for Bill No. 28. The amendment would put the thing off for six months and I think that is very important. I think one of the reasons that that is important is some of the fall-out that we have had over the last few days from what happened in Cape Breton. We are not sure exactly if there is any blame or if there is any problem but what we are sure of, there is a lot of confusion. I think it is an opportunity now to make sure that that confusion does not happen for the other parts of the province. It is important that we take the time that is necessary in order for us to make sure that the right decisions are being made.
We have to get to the bottom line of what happened in Cape Breton. We have to find out where, indeed, the problems came from and how the problems were arrived at and if there is a learning lesson, then we should take those lessons and we should incorporate them in this new bill so that we do not have that problem in other parts of our province.
One of the things that is happening, and it has happened in Cape Breton according to the bill and the amalgamation that took place there, is the loss of community identity. One of the things that would be important, if we had the time, Madam Speaker, is to allow people to look at the implications that this does have on their communities and on their homes, because it is very important to people that they have their community identity and are aware of what they are and who they are and how they came to be.
Our job here is to provide the people of Nova Scotia with the best possible options and I think that would be incumbent upon us to go ahead with this hoist and allow people to look at the situation a little longer and make sure that the proper decisions are being made. I understand that the minister has gone around the province and talked to different people, and I applaud her for doing that, but I think there are still a lot of questions out there and again I go back to what is happening in Cape Breton today, yesterday, and in the last week. I think it is important that we make the proper decisions and we put forward the proper ideas for the rest of the province.
There are some people, when we talked about this bill, Madam Speaker, who would say that there are other problems that we have to address, there are other things that we have to address and again, if we extend the time, we will be able to address those problems. There are things like the emergency measures coordinator in an area that have to be looked at because people are saying that those things are not put into the original bill and it does not allow for us to have those people in place and make sure that the proper things are happening.
Then, of course, there are all the people who have gotten back and said that they have not seen what is going on and they do not understand what is happening - I keep wanting to call you Madam Chairman, I apologize, Madam Speaker. You know we have people from all over the province who have concerns and are really wondering if, indeed, that the consultation process that has been talked about has actually happened.
There are people who are worried about the social service aspect, Madam Speaker, and I would like to once again tell you that I think it is very important that these aspects be all looked at and when we, in this House, make a decision, that the decision is in the best interest of all Nova Scotians. I am not convinced, as of yet, that that is what is going to take place if we rush through with this bill. There have been many things that have been going on in the last little while and we all understand that we have to make changes, but those changes have to be positive changes and not changes just for the sake of change. That is why I think it is so important that we look at the six months' hoist.
What are we going to do about social services costs? What are we going to do for the municipalities with the service exchange when we are working toward an end and wondering about the progress that has been achieved or if, indeed, there has been any progress? That is what this is all about, Madam Chairman. I did it again and I apologize. I will get it right yet. (Interruptions)
I am getting advice from the wrong areas, here.
MADAM SPEAKER: You are doing fine, honourable member. You will not be the first one to use a different title.
MR. MACLEOD: Madam Speaker, the other thing that I have a real grave concern about, and many Nova Scotians and certainly people who I have talked to have expressed the same concern, and it is about where municipal units are counted and not the population being counted. When a decision as important as amalgamation is being considered, we believe that it should be considered by the number of people who are involved in the amalgamation and not just the number of units. When you are looking at a unit that is so small and does not have the population, we wonder if that is the right way to go. So, again, if we could go along with our consultation process, I am sure that we would be able to find out just how more people feel about that.
The fallout from what has happened in Cape Breton, again, has had a great deal of problems and concerns for a lot of people. I was just getting the Madam Speaker down pat and now I have to go back to Mr. Speaker. (Interruptions) So much for my maiden speech.
MR. SPEAKER: I don't know how maidenly any of us are but, in any event, carry on.
MR. MACLEOD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. But, again, I would like to press home how important I think this decision in this bill is for the people of Nova Scotia and why it is so important that we have the extra six months, so that we can talk to more people and get more input.
The people who have responded to the letter our caucus sent out have said they are not aware of what is going on, that they have not had enough consultation. I would move towards having more consultation with these people and making sure that people have a chance to have their input, because I believe that is what this process is supposed to be all about.
The Regional Municipalities Bill is an important bill and I am sure it is a bill that all the people in the Province of Nova Scotia are interested in seeing completed, but I don't think it is a matter we should rush into. I thank you for the opportunity to have this chance to say a few words.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, as I begin, I am sure that all members of this House would want to join with me. I can remember what it was like, I still sometimes know what it feels like when you stand up to speak in this Chamber, especially when very few people listen, but I can remember how difficult it is to stand to speak in this House for the first time. I want to very sincerely congratulate the member for Cape Breton West, my good Socialist friend to the right, the new member who was recently elected because, quite honestly, I think that for a maiden speech, standing up and speaking off the cuff, he did an excellent job, and brought forward excellent points. I would like to applaud him on his first speech as such on a bill in this Chamber. (Interruptions)
I am being advised that I had better be careful in my praise because we wouldn't want this to be in the campaign leaflets for the next go around. I am not going to worry about that at this stage of the game, Mr. Speaker. I just think it is important that one acknowledge the truth and that, in fact, is the truth.
Mr. Speaker, the resolution before us is a very simple one, it is not complicated to understand. It is making the reasonable proposal that we allow a period of six months, because that is what it is doing, it is saying that in effect this bill be hoisted, that it not be read but that it be read six months hence. The Legislature will be sitting next spring, I expect it will be sitting next spring, it may still be sitting next spring, and, of course, the time would still be included because certainly unless the government is planning to adjourn the House and not call it back to present a budget, so we can operate next year, we know we will have to be back.
Mr. Speaker, since we are going to be here, and I am not aware, maybe the Minister of Municipal Affairs knows some municipalities, maybe other members of the Liberal Government know some municipalities that want to move tomorrow or in the next week or two weeks or month to be amalgamated, possibly they do. But, you know, even if they do and even if they are prepared to accept the model this government has used in the past, then they could do a specific resolution or resolutions in their councils to ask the minister to prepare legislation for introduction immediately that would allow them to be amalgamated on the basis of the model that she introduced, for example, in Cape Breton or the model that she introduced in Halifax on behalf of the government.
So there is an opportunity for those municipalities, if there are any right now that are satisfied and have done all the studies that they feel need to be done and want to move ahead. Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that if the minister knows of any and presents this House with copies of the resolution for the councils asking that a specific piece of legislation be amended and this one, for example, could be retitled, and you insert some new names, so instead of An Act Respecting Regional Municipalities, it could be an Act to amalgamate the municipalities of whatever they may happen to be into the new regional municipality of whatever it is going to happen to be. I can assure members of this House that we would not hold that up at all. We would be quite happy, as we were with the legislation for Queens and Liverpool, to move that piece of legislation through this Chamber so that it could then get to the appropriate committee of this House for detailed evaluation.
But, Mr. Speaker, I have been a member of this House for long enough to realize that even though we like to talk about how wonderful our system is and that we have a law amendments process where people can come forward, proposed amendments don't get made unless the minister in charge of that department tells her colleagues on that committee to accept them and to vote for them.
Let's not hide from the facts but that is what happens. I am not saying that to cast aspersions here on this government because that, I believe, was the situation before.
AN HON. MEMBER: Oh, couldn't have been. (Laughter)
MR. HOLM: I hate to tell my colleagues to my right that that was my observation then, too, Mr. Speaker.
AN HON. MEMBER: I think your memory is bad, John.
MR. HOLM: I am being told my memory is bad. Well, whatever, Mr. Speaker. Others, and we are now dealing with my seatmate to the right who says, let's deal with the realities of today. The realities that we are facing are that we have before us a piece of legislation which is giving to the government the authority to amalgamate municipalities with some caveats - and I will acknowledge those in a minute - but which denies the citizens in those municipalities, the workers, those men and women who have given of themselves, of their toils, even taken pay reductions, to serve the citizens of their municipality, this legislation, if passed, will deny them the right that the people in the metropolitan area, in Cape Breton, where you live, sir, and the municipalities in that area that were amalgamated and denied the right that was also given to the residents of Liverpool and Queens, to appear before a committee of this House to express their views and their concerns and sometimes even though nothing is going to happen in terms of amendments or changes being made unless the minister agrees to them, they have often made very good points, provided solid, rational arguments and, as a result of that, the minister advised the committee or brought forward to the committee recommended amendments to change that legislation, to make it better, to make it stronger, to make it better meet the needs of those who live in those areas. This legislation does not provide for that opportunity, and with the greatest amount of respect, I suggest that is wrong.
Today in this House, the Premier, and I already thanked him for it, announced he would like to have a meeting tomorrow and I am waiting for the time so we can do the planning for it . . .
MR. SPEAKER: With deference, this is not relative to the amendment at all.
MR. HOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, I will accept your ruling and I will certainly try to make my points very relevant to the amendment before us. There is going to be an attempt made to provide opportunities for the citizens of Nova Scotia, rightly so, to provide their input into positions that the government will be taking on their behalf. That was the point I was going to make. The legislation before us does not provide that same opportunity.
So if the people who are living in Shelburne and Lockeport or in the Town of Shelburne or Barrington wish to go through an amalgamation process and the workers and citizens in those areas have some concerns about some of the elements of that amalgamation, there is no opportunity. We are showing them absolutely no respect because we are denying them the opportunity to be heard in this Chamber on an equal footing, in an equal manner that we did the citizens who live in other parts of the province.
That may be more efficient from the government's point of view, it may be seen as being more efficient in the sense that the Government House Leader will have one less piece of legislation to worry about how he gets it through this House, but I, personally, and I know my caucus colleague, we're more than prepared to spend an extra couple of hours or an extra day here to ensure, if that is what is needed, that citizens across this province are given an equal, democratic right to have their views heard.
Now, Mr. Speaker, it may be presumptuous for me to say that Nova Scotians all across this province have a right to equal and fair treatment, but if this bill is hoisted for six months, what happens, in effect, is that this bill becomes a draft piece of legislation. That means that this legislation can be distributed across the province, in those areas, whether it be in the Pictous, whether it be up in the Valley, whether it be down on the South Shore, or any other area where people are thinking about amalgamating, they will have an opportunity to review the bill, to understand the implications of that bill and, Mr. Speaker, if there are public forums held, then to be talking about how they would like that bill. If they are happy with it, to accept it and give the government carte blanche power to go ahead with it as it is. If that is the case, if that is the obvious sentiment from the public forums and the views that the people expressed, so be it, that is called democracy. But it will also give them an opportunity if they are considering amalgamating suggesting that we don't want to be part of this but that we would like to have our own special legislation being drafted and prepared for ourselves, that meet our own individual needs.
If members of the government benches, those who are listening so intently to every word that I am saying, I got a reaction from one person so I know that at least one person heard me, however, it may give those others an opportunity to realize that just as we, as a country, have a diversity of communities, here in the Province of Nova Scotia, we too have a diversity of communities. What may be suitable and appropriate at one place may not be an appropriate model in another. In fact, this legislation that is before us provides one option, one vision, the new super-municipality. Maybe they are going to pass out capes to all the new mayors as we have super mayors, 18 of them across the province and maybe that is the view.
In other places where other governments and yes, even New Democrat Governments, have taken the view that the best solution is to amalgamate and consolidate everybody together into one huge uni-city or community, they haven't all worked. And some of those uni-cities are starting to break apart and getting permission for communities because they don't meet the needs of those communities, to break off and to form their own separate municipal governments.
You know, six months would give the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities and others an opportunity to look at and bring forward, in a public way, alternate visions as to what is best to meet the needs of their communities. I don't know what the significance is or what the importance is to the government to have this railroaded through right now. I don't know what the rush is. Now I am being probably correctly chastised for suggesting railroaded because . . .
MR. SPEAKER: This amendment does not relate to railroads. It relates to the reading of the bill six months hence.
MR. HOLM: I was using railroad in terms of the speed or the haste because, of course, I would obviously be mistaken to be suggesting that there was any great rush in introducing this bill through the House. When was it introduced? Was it Thursday? The House didn't sit on Friday and it was called for debate on Monday. That, of course, gave municipalities and people across this province tremendous time to get to see what is in the bill and to understand what is in this thick bill. Had this bill gone through the House with the kind of speed of a uni-train that the government might have liked, it would be down at the Law Amendments Committee and we would be having the hearings.
I would suggest that something that is so fundamental as to be affecting as far as we can see into the future, the kinds of government that citizens, the men, the women and the children of this province, are going to be having in their communities, deserves to give enough time that they be able to look at the legislation and decide whether they want in or out, whether they would like to have their own piece of legislation crafted - maybe, yes, borrowing many parts from this - but designed to meet their needs.
Do all municipalities across the province, for example, want to say that whoever collects garbage - or the solid waste, I should not call it garbage - solid waste/resource in their areas should have total flow control? Or should those private businesses that have sprung up and shown the way, whether they be non-profit or for-profit businesses, that have brought this province to this stage along with those who are forward-thinking in the environment movement - it has not been as a result of leadership taken by this government, that is for sure, or the former one. Are we saying that we want to put in place legislation that would enable those businesses to be put out of business? Is that what we want?
Are we going to put in place a situation, as this legislation says, where two or three small towns can be virtually bankrupted by the decisions of this government, which they have the power to do and which they are currently doing by downloading costs to those municipal units, by transferring through service exchange and other means to two or three small towns, put them in a financial situation so that they know they cannot survive unless they put the tax rates right through the roof, so that those two or three towns might ask, let us have an amalgamation? Of course, there might happen to be another town around it or a municipality that might be faring better because they have not been singled out by this government, by design. They do not have a say, because if the others ask for it, the majority ask, bingo, it can be done. Instead, what the government is trying to do here is resell their ideas from the metro and the Cape Breton areas.
Mr. Speaker, the model that is set up will not even afford municipalities in an advisory capacity to have any kind of representation to the person who will be appointed strictly by the minister to design the structure of these new municipalities. They will not even have representation by population. So, you could have one town with, let us say, 2,000 people living in it and you could have another municipality that has 40,000 people in it and each would have one person to act as an advisor, but, you know, according to this legislation, it cannot even be an elected official from those municipalities. It cannot be a mayor or a warden or a councillor, something that would have given at least a semblance of democracy to the process in that the people would feel that they had been involved. Do the municipal units support that? I know that in the metro municipality some of those municipalities wanted to put elected representatives on, but, of course, they were rejected.
I would suggest that six months will give time to canvass municipalities, canvass the citizens to find out if they are satisfied with such an approach. Mr. Speaker, I wonder. It would be interesting to know how many people in industrial Cape Breton, those who are now looking at what will probably be increased taxes instead of savings, higher taxes to pay for the costs of setting up that municipality - the super-mayor should have a cape for this super-regional municipality.
AN HON. MEMBER: The former member for Cape Breton West got kicked out of caucus for telling the truth.
MR. HOLM: The former member for Cape Breton West, of course, yes, indeed ended up having what you would call a sudden exit from caucus for having expressed the facts.
Mr. Speaker, six months will give people an opportunity to think about that. Here we are talking about all these savings. What the minister said trying to sell this bill sounded awfully familiar. I heard that line first in Cape Breton, then we heard it in Halifax. We do not know what the final bill is going to be for setting up the Regional Municipality of the County of Halifax. We will find that out, I am sure, maybe three months after the new council takes effect, just like three months after the new council in industrial Cape Breton took office. Somebody who certainly does not make it a business of beating up on the government because of certain close political allegiances that they also happen to have with the government, so they do not have any partisan axes to grind - the Mayor of Cape Breton County has no partisan axe to grind when he brings up the fact that he wants a meeting with the minister and the Minister of Finance, to find out where there is going to be some financial assistance to help make up for the $4.5 million startup costs directly identified and associated with creating that municipality. But oh, that was not supposed to be there, it was supposed to be a saving -the same sales pitch with this bill as with that.
Mr. Speaker, the coordinator is, of course, no longer in place in Cape Breton County. The coordinator, who had all powers, the person who some might say underestimated costs and overestimated savings, was appointed by the minister.
AN HON. MEMBER: Under her guidelines.
MR. HOLM: Under her guidelines, correct. Did not have to answer to the elected representatives of those communities. In fact, they had absolutely no say whatsoever in the appointment of that coordinator. I would like to know how many municipalities across this province who are contemplating an amalgamation would like to have some say, some input into the selection of the person, if they are to amalgamate, to serve as their coordinator, and whether or not they would like to have some input or some say in the terms of reference and the parameters in which that coordinator must operate. Mr. Speaker, six months will give us time to hear from those people.
My bet, since we are talking a lot about gambling in here now, would be - because most if not all of the municipal councillors in this province are committed, hardworking individuals, working for the best interests of their community - that they would not wish to give up that power, to abdicate that power by giving it to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. They would want to take some ownership, some responsibility for the decisions that are made and they would not be afraid of it. At a time when Canada is talking about its future and we are talking about the federal government divesting some of its powers to the provinces so that services and decisions can be made at the community, at the local level, surely if that is the philosophy that this government is following, it would make logical sense that what is good for the goose is good for the gander and some of the powers that this minister and this government is so greedily wanting to control and invest only in themselves, that some of those powers could be passed on to the municipalities and to the municipal leaders to help design that structure, Mr. Speaker.
But, no, that doesn't seem to be the wish of this government. Six months - not a long time - will provide an opportunity for those municipal units and those municipal politicians and, more importantly, the citizens whom they represent - those who wish to do so - to acquaint themselves with the contents of this bill. I can just imagine, those members of the Liberal benches who were municipal councillors before, I am sure in their former roles as municipal councillors they wanted to act responsibly. I am sure, then they would not have wanted the province telling them, as the duly elected representatives, that they will not have any say in appointing and setting up the structure and the guidelines under which their municipalities are to be altered for eternity.
The coordinator can borrow money as if that person - he or she - is in fact the council. The coordinator isn't the one who has to pay it back; it is the citizens in those communities who have to pay it back through their taxes. Is it not reasonable to expect that as long as they are in office, as councillors, as council persons, alder persons, that those who have been elected by the citizens, by the ballot box, just as we have been, that they should have some say over the spending that is going to go on even during that transition period within their municipal unit, because they were the ones who were elected to look after the taxpayers' interests, the ratepayers' concerns, the provision of goods and services to the citizens in those areas, not the coordinator.
My bet, Mr. Speaker, if they were given the choice, not just like, oh we are consulting, by the way, at the UNSM, we are going to introduce a bill that will allow for regional municipalities to be amalgamated. So, we are going to do that, the minister said to the UNSM, and I can't remember whether it was October 13th or October 14th that she spoke and the bill, of course, was introduced here on the 26th, less than two weeks later.
MR. SPEAKER: I wonder if, while the honourable member has the floor, he might yield to the Chair for a few moments to make some remarks on relevance and repetition in debate. I have had the opportunity while this debate was underway to read some Speaker's Notes prepared for the usage of the Speaker of the Province of New Brunswick. I think they may be instructive to this Legislature in terms of their content. Under the heading of Relevance, the following appears: "The rule of relevance may be applied when a Member's remarks do not adhere as closely as possible to the question before the House. In general, a Member's remarks are irrelevant if their connection to the main question is not immediately apparent; or if, having called a Member to order for straying from the question, the Speaker is still not satisfied with the Member's explanation of the relationship, . . . . Debate on an amendment is confined thereto, and a Member is not justified in travelling over the same ground in speaking to an amendment that he or she would have covered in speaking to the main motion.".
I believe that those observations are apparent and self-explanatory to anyone of reasonable mind and it is the duty of the Speaker to protect the rights of all members of the House against the trespass on the time of the House consumed by tedious and repetitious irrelevance. I fail to detect the relationship of much of what is being stated to the amendment before the House reading that "Bill No. 28, An Act Respecting Regional Municipalities be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.". That is all that is before the House that and nothing else. If the honourable member is now making remarks that would more appropriately be made at second reading than the proper time to make those remarks would be at second reading and not on this debate relative to a narrow amendment.
HON. GUY BROWN: Mr. Speaker, is it not also true that it is your role to protect the other members of the House from those who do not have a reasonable mind.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I do my best that is all I can say. I feel that in this situation we are getting to a point where we are not having an efficient or effective use of the time of the House, and I wish to express my concern in that regard.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am sorry that you find my remarks tedious according to your interpretation of my remarks that they are in fact tedious. I am trying to, certainly in my not necessarily most eloquent manner or most eloquent way, my speaking abilities may be somewhat limited, but to try to put forward concrete logical arguments about kinds of concerns that can be addressed during a six month period.
Mr. Speaker, one would not be very rational, one would not be being very constructive, one would indeed be wasting the time of this House if you were not going to put forward the arguments and what can constructively be done during a period of six months. You have to, if you are going to be proposing. I am not about to stand here and just say, that since my colleagues of the right of the Conservative caucus introduced an amendment calling for this bill not to be read now, but to be read six months hence. If I was just going to stand up and say that I support that and I support it just because they said so that would not be being very responsible for me.
I have a responsibility to try to put forward, and in all of my comments that I have made are all prefaced with - I hope and I am trying to explain - the understanding that during a period of six months in an open genuine spirit of cooperation, and I would love to see, quite honestly, during that period of time a process where it could be totally non-partisan. Let's have some representatives from, and it would even be better if it was not politicians involved. If politicians are not even leading it. They can go and sit in the gallery or sit in the audience, but not try to direct it, but to have citizens who understand what is in the legislation. Have some public meetings (Interruption)
MR. SPEAKER: These alternative scenarios do not relate to the amendment. I do not want to exercise my right to request that the member yield to another member, but I will have to do that if this irrelevance persists. You have one last opportunity.
MR. HOLM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I certainly am not in a position to challenge the Chair. In six months time, then we could have this bill or a revised bill comes back to the floor of this House, which would be able to receive the unanimous support and which the people of this great Province of Nova Scotia would be supporting and buying into because they were treated with respect and given an opportunity to have some input and to have been heard about how it should be redesigned. Obviously, putting forward arguments on why and what, I think, in a constructive way could be being done over a six month period of time to review, revise and make this bill either come back in an improved form or be scrapped altogether, is irrelevant or tedious. I find myself in the situation where there really isn't much more that one can say.
I have to say, with the greatest amount of respect, that I believe it is my responsibility, and I will continue to exercise my responsibility, to make sure that if I am going to be supporting an amendment like this to delay the reading of the bill, I will do my darnedest to put forward concrete suggestions as to what needs to be done with that bill, what should be done with that bill, and ways in which that effort can be improved upon so that the legislation going through this House is the best piece of legislation it can be.
I am not going to support an amendment just because the Opposition proposed it. But I am sure not going to be supporting a piece of legislation just because the members of the government benches told me and told Nova Scotians that this is what we have decided for you and you will take it or you will leave it, but it is our way or the highway. Mr. Speaker, I believe Nova Scotians have a right to be respected, to be heard and to have input in important legislation that is affecting the kind of government they are going to be receiving in their home communities for as long as they live in those communities, and that certainly is not too much to ask from reasonable people.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on this amendment. I will try to be as simplistic as possible so that my rationale and reasoning are very apparent of why I think this bill should be delayed six months. This is not an idea to waste time in this Legislature. There is no question in my mind that there are improvements that could be made to this bill if it had a six months' hoist and came back and people who are going to be affected by this legislation are allowed the opportunity to have input. I have to say that the minister who said the other day, when the problems arose in Cape Breton because of the problems with the money on that last piece of legislation, she said, well, you people want more autonomy for the municipalities. This legislation, it is like the minister says I want them to have more autonomy, but only if they follow my rules. That I have a lot of difficulty with.
AN HON. MEMBER: It is called dictatorship.
MR. MOODY: For certain. If we take this legislation and allow the representatives of the municipalities to go through this legislation clause by clause to try to make it fit, just maybe, if the minister was listening to what they were saying, because I know in Kings County they are not talking of amalgamation, they are talking about shared services. Well, maybe some legislation like this could have dealt with both of those issues with an Act Respecting Regional Municipalities, and could have dealt with the municipalities having shared services, so that we could all reach the goal that we all want to reach, that is, we are having amalgamation because we want to save money.
We know that this legislation is modelled after Cape Breton and the one in metro. We know the Cape Breton one didn't save money. Was it done wrong? The minister said that it would save money. So you have to ask yourself, if it was done wrong, why would we have a piece of legislation that is going to allow some more to be wrong? So if you are going to correct something, you have to know what the problem is. I don't believe this government has allowed enough time because the minister rose in the House the other day and said, I don't know why they have a $4.5 million deficit. It is a good question, I have no idea, I have to ask somebody. But she says, here is some legislation we are going to ram through that may cause the same kind of financial hardship on municipalities around the province and cause the same kind of disaster. She is going to put that in. Again, if you ask her, she has absolutely no idea.
Well, if you are going to have this kind of legislation you have to have an idea of where you are going and what effect it is going to have on the taxpayers and on the residents. This government continues to ignore people who are in real need, ignore people's advice and to ram things through. That is why we need six months for the people of this province to have a look at this kind of legislation.
We know if you go around the province and ask the heads of various municipal units, whom we all have a great deal of respect for, they say, we never saw this legislation, we never had an opportunity to sit down with the minister. We were told that this legislation was coming at the union meeting in Yarmouth and that is all.
So this government can go off priding themselves on consultations, working with people. This government has failed miserably. They are so far below the minus line on consultation and working with people and working with the municipalities of this province and those leaders that it has totally failed. I would almost be ashamed, if I was a former municipal leader, to go out and face those people because of how you have treated them. You haven't treated them with respect, you haven't treated them that they really know something, that they can contribute to the kind of things that can happen in their municipal unit, not at all. You treat them with contempt, you treat them as if they know nothing and you know everything because you got elected.
MR. SPEAKER: I hesitate to intervene when the member is in full flight but the honourable member knows that remarks must be addressed to the Chair. If these statements are made to me, I deny these things. But, in any event, I don't think they were.
MR. MOODY: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, and I apologize and that is true.
Through you, Mr. Speaker, I want to say that one of the things I think could be changed, if we sent this out, to understand, and I have heard this from municipalities, if this had six months to go out and to be assessed, and I have yet to realize why the Minister of Municipal Affairs seems to think that this is going to be better legislation now than you can make it in six months. What is the hurry?
The minister has said that we are not pushing anybody else into amalgamation, we are not shoving anybody, only those who want to go, on a voluntary basis. If the majority of the municipal units within a county agree or want it, then this legislation is what will happen.
There may be cases that this legislation doesn't allow for if this had six months to be canvassed around the province. Mr. Speaker, there might be boundaries that go beyond counties that may make more sense than within counties. But where is the time or rationale to understand if that is what municipal leaders want (Interruption) or even the authority? It is not here, it is not in this legislation. So that is an area that the government would find that if they went back in the six months, bring this in next spring, a bill that is supported by all of the units and the leaders, now what is so terrible about that? What is so terrible about bringing in a piece of legislation that you have total support for? This minister has a real habit of standing up and saying, yes, everybody wants it. But you can't find them, they are not lined up.
One of the things that this hoist could do, too, would be have a look at the powers of the coordinator. I think that there is no question that the powers of the coordinator are almost like the powers of a dictator when you look at what has happened in the two forced amalgamations in this province. They seem to answer to nobody. The government and the minister says, I am sorry, that is the coordinator's job; that is the coordinator setting the salaries; that is the coordinator doing this.
I was appalled and shocked to hear the level of salary for the Mayor of Cape Breton compared to the Premier of this province, compared to your prestigious and important job that you have, I was really amazed and really surprised. I think that that was set by the coordinator. The government had no way of saying, wait a minute, let's assess this on merit and see how this is going to work throughout Nova Scotia. One of the things that this legislation doesn't deal with is that kind of an issue. It wasn't even set by the municipal leaders, so the minister can't say, well it's autonomy at the local level. That is not true. So that is one of the things that could be done.
The controls in the legislation - and I think we are seeing it in metro, that as amalgamation takes place the amount of money being spent prior to getting there, it is like it is flowing pretty freely - I don't see in this legislation the kinds of controls that are needed.
One of the things that this six months' hoist would do is what has happened in the amalgamation thus far, and we all know how complicated and how important union contracts are, Mr. Speaker, you know how complex negotiations are because you are a man of the working individual, you have demonstrated that over the years, so you understand the kinds of issues these people face.
If this legislation would allow not only municipal leaders to have input but union leaders who represent these workers and the workers themselves could have a chance in the next six months to have input so that the transition and the kind of legislation you end up with, the transition would go smooth and not create undue hardship and stress on individuals and all of those kinds of things.
So much of that could be avoided with proper planning by government, proper openness by government in allowing those people to have input into this legislation before those things took place. In other words, these people would have an opportunity to also have a say as this legislation was put together, as it affects the workers because we are hearing we have got to protect the taxpayer, and we do, we have to protect the taxpayer. But remember, if you were a worker in one of those municipal units, you would have to have some feelings for them too, because their lives have been affected by a decision of this government. You might say well, it is really not me that is affecting their lives but sure it is affecting their lives and part of it is because these people didn't do their homework at the beginning, to allow the kind of protection and the kind of negotiation that probably should have taken place prior to this legislation being put together.
So in this legislation we have no concern for those people. It seems as if we have not learned. I know there are still problems in Cape Breton. I feel that a lot of these issues could be avoided. I feel, too, that even more so than in the two forced amalgamated areas, we have volunteer fire service, now more so than the rest of Nova Scotia, where amalgamation will come under this legislation, which is going to be quite different than when you get the paid fire departments in the amalgamated areas that we have now. They don't seem to feel that in the cooperation or input that they have any say. So you have to keep asking yourself if all these people who are talking to us, and I know talking to government, have feelings like this government puts through legislation without proper consultation, then you have to say yes, I believe that is correct because as I analyze it and I watch this government, consultation and input by various groups is totally neglected.
I suppose that is for a reason, Mr. Speaker, but the reason goes beyond my understanding because I believe we would end up with better legislation. Also, if we had a six months' hoist, we could have an opportunity, and I believe a committee of municipal leaders could quite nicely do this, to look at disclosure because I am totally convinced that what we see happening, that I think we all agree shouldn't happen, is people have that right, whether you are rich or poor or whatever or you have a lot of friends or a few friends, you have the opportunity to run for office. But if you were running and wanted to run for mayor of one of these municipal units and even one of these, there is no limit. In other words, the richer you are, the more friends you have in high places and the more wealth you can accumulate, the better opportunity you have to get that top job.
MR. SPEAKER: This appears to me to be a discussion of the bill itself and not of the amendment.
MR. MOODY: Well, I am trying to point out, Mr. Speaker, that during the six months' hoist the issues that would come forth could be addressed by the government and this legislation would come back with changes.
Now I know, Mr. Speaker, you are probably going to say to me that people can put in amendments to the Law Amendments Committee and those issues will all come to the surface. Well, I don't believe the Law Amendments Committee has worked in a consultative way. I know the Minister of Labour, who was the former Minister of Consumer Affairs, he introduced legislation and allowed a six months period for the kind of consultation.
Mr. Speaker, when that bill came back to the House, did you hear this side making amendments? Did you hear this side holding it up? Did you hear any of that? I didn't hear any of that. The reason you didn't hear any of that is because the proper kind of consultation had taken place, so nobody held it up. So if you want to do your homework ahead of time, then you won't get held up in this Legislature. But if you ignore your homework and don't do it, yes, you are going to find delays in the system. I know it is annoying to government but the fact of life is, if you do it right you don't get that kind of thing happening.
So, Mr. Speaker, what this will do more than the Law Amendments Committee would ever do is allow people who don't have to come to Halifax, it would allow people to take the time to go through this legislation; it would allow councils time to go through this legislation -even clause by clause if they so desired - and to bring forward their ideas of the kind of changes that should take place.
I believe there is great merit in having this bill, because this bill affects so many people. It affects taxpayers, it affects municipal leaders, it can even affect programs within a municipal unit. So, we have a piece of legislation here that is pretty important, so that is another reason why this bill should be hoisted.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that I have made some points that I think are important. I am hoping . . .
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member would entertain just one very brief question? The member was making what I thought was a very good point earlier when he was saying that we now have seen and are having an opportunity to evaluate the actual results of the Cape Breton County amalgamation. We are having another election here in December for the new municipality and I am wondering if the member would explain what his thoughts are, because that new one is supposed to take effect April 1st. Do you believe that there is any need or reason, or does it make sense to leave enough time to evaluate that process and the consequences of that, compared to what happened in Cape Breton, to find out if there is an ongoing flaw in the legislation and some ways that that can be better addressed, other than what we have before us?
MR. SPEAKER: I am not sure that question relates to the amendment.
MR. MOODY: I think it does in a way, in the sense that why we should allow a six months' hoist is obvious to learn from the legislation that was previously passed. Because, Mr. Speaker, I know you are familiar, as all members are, with these pieces of legislation and we know that if you go through the legislation clause by clause, which I am sure everyone did, the similarities are there. So, if you say, we can learn from a mistake in Cape Breton - and, obviously, we flawed somewhere - and if the same flaw turns out to happen in metro, then obviously the six months would allow us to make those corrections. If we go ahead and push this through, we will not have had time, I believe, to assess what areas of this legislation are flawed - because, obviously, there are some areas flawed - so I think there is a connection.
Mr. Speaker, with that, I know I will have the opportunity to speak on the bill and, more importantly about a number of clauses, but I hope that members will give due consideration to the rationale behind hoisting this bill for six months.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of the amendment, introduced by the Progressive Conservative caucus, that suggests that we delay further debate for the passage of Bill No. 28 for a period of six months. I want to speak on that; I think that amendment has some considerable merit. I hope, as a result of my intervention, I can explain why I feel that is, in fact, the case.
Mr. Speaker, since the government, led by Premier John Savage, came into office in the spring of 1993, we have seen a very significant change in the way they have addressed the whole question of municipal funding or municipal operation, the operation of municipal units in the Province of Nova Scotia. Before they were elected, when they were in Opposition, there was some considerable doubt in their caucus at that time, and in the Liberal Party, about whether amalgamating municipal units would, in fact, do what some have suggested it would do, and that is to save costs, that by combining many smaller units into one larger unit, would create efficiencies just simply in the elimination of duplication.
They said that, I believe, at the time because of the fact that there was no evidence to suggest that the conclusion reached by the former administration, the Progressive Conservatives of the day under the leadership of Donald Cameron, that amalgamation would do that very thing, it would lead to significant cost-savings and efficiencies as a result of amalgamation. There was very little evidence of that fact and the Liberal caucus when they were in Opposition had many concerns about that, Mr. Speaker. In fact our caucus agreed.
After the election in 1993 and in the ensuing year, I believe, the government now went through somewhat of a conversion in that they came up with, I guess, a change of heart or a change in belief that now all of a sudden what the Tories had said when they were in government about municipal amalgamation being a great thing and being a significant cost-saver and really the way to go in dealing with the stresses and strain of less money for municipal units and in the public administration, that in fact was the answer and that was the way to go.
Well, you know, Mr. Speaker, as well as I do, that we have spent several hours in this House over the past couple of years discussing the whole question of municipal amalgamation both as it related to a bill introduced to amalgamate the municipalities in the region of Cape Breton in industrial Cape Breton and with the bill to amalgamate the municipal units within the County of Halifax. What has been missing during all of that debate is any solid evidence to give foundation to the conversion that the government underwent that on the one hand when they were in Opposition, municipal amalgamation would not save money and then now when they were in government, municipal amalgamation would save money.
The reality, I think, in reviewing all the studies that were done, not only by Mr. Hayward, the Commissioner that was eventually asked to come in and head up the amalgamation of the municipalities in metro who did a study on the costs and so on back in 1992-93, there was some real question as to whether much of that evidence of cost-savings because of the fact that it was based on previous years experience was relevant to the real expectations that we could have and the taxpayers of metro Halifax could have. Once the municipal units of Halifax County, Bedford, Dartmouth and Halifax City were amalgamated that there would in fact be significant cost-savings realized.
We have had the debate there was a contrary report produced by a consulting firm, UMA Consultants that questioned very significantly the predictions made by Mr. Hayward in his original study of the cost-savings associated with amalgamating metro.
Now we are faced with another piece of legislation dealing with amalgamation at the very same time, Mr. Speaker, that we are seeing out of the first amalgamated municipality in industrial Cape Breton some serious weaknesses to that belief that amalgamating those municipal units would save money. It has been reported, and hopefully after the minister has her meeting with the Mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality we will learn the true significance of this, that the new municipal government in industrial Cape Breton is already experiencing a deficit of over $6 million.
MR. HOLM: Shocking. Three months.
MR. CHISHOLM: That does not translate very well, does not compare very well to the predictions made previous to the amalgamation that this was going to save money, it was going to reduce duplication and it was going to create a more effective and efficient administration, Mr. Speaker. So, to put the best light on it, the information about the deficit, a few months after this municipality has been set up, I think raises some very significant concerns that we have to consider before we proceed with any future amalgamations in this province. Any evidence that I have seen, any reports that I have read from people, here in this country in particular, who have examined the move to consolidating municipal units either in terms of regional municipalities, two-tier or one-tier, it basically appears to me that the jury is still out on whether or not to do it for cost-saving reasons. Reasons of saving money are sufficient to create the chaos, the havoc and the disruption in service and threaten the accessibility for ratepayers and voters in that municipality. It suggests that there may in fact be very little basis for carrying out the move to consolidate municipal units.
Again I say, Mr. Speaker, to the minister and other members of this House that, given the fact that this government's first experience with amalgamating municipalities in Cape Breton appears to be on the financial end, anyway, having serious problems, then I think we should stop at this particular juncture and examine and evaluate what is going on there before we decide to proceed any further. While the minister in presenting this bill, Bill No. 28, to the House, talks about the fact that this is voluntary, I think it is important that we all realize that it is voluntary in the final analysis, if a municipality in Cumberland County or Pictou County or whatever decides to amalgamate, they are going to do it on the basis of the rules set out in this legislation. In other words, it is going to be a majority vote of those municipalities. There won't be another situation where the minister brings in a bill in this Legislature which deals specifically with those particular municipal units.
That is really the only difference. It is enabling legislation effectively, that if municipal units decide - and we will talk about the merits of whether there are any real options here - it is enabling legislation that if certain circumstances arise and they decide to take that option, then the rules and so on are in place. But again I go back to our experience that we are going through now and the way that the municipalities in the municipal units in industrial Cape Breton were pulled together and the chaos that has been created in terms of combining bargaining units, shifting employers from one unit to another, in terms of sharing and dividing up all the different responsibilities, Mr. Speaker, and my understanding in speaking to people involved in that process, both at the managerial and at the employee level, is that this process has been less than smooth. There have been some very serious problems created; some people have lost jobs, careers have been disrupted. There is some question now as to whether or not taxpayers are going to end up being stiffed with a pretty heavy bill in the upcoming taxation year and in following years, Mr. Speaker. That should be of significant concern to all members of this House.
So I think we should try to learn from that before we entrench in enabling legislation a situation that has created real problems already in one municipality. I think we can probably learn from what has happened in Cape Breton and, for that matter, here in Halifax, that is at the early stages of combining its administrations. This government has not taken the time, first of all, to examine closely and to consult, to examine closely the costs and benefits and the disadvantages of amalgamating municipalities before they went ahead with Cape Breton and before they went ahead with Halifax, Halifax County, Dartmouth and Bedford.
Now we are beginning to see that there are problems. So why, at least at this point, don't we stop, step back and take a look at exactly what has been happening, what is good from the process, what is bad from the process, learn from that and apply it to anything that is done further, in terms of setting the conditions whereby municipal units may or may not decide to participate in amalgamation. To me that makes some sense.
You know, we often, especially when we discuss hoist motions in this House, we are often ridiculed by the government as suggesting this hurry up, slow down business. But, Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to recognize that it is not a sign of weakness to want to examine and evaluate your actions, so you don't repeat mistakes. I would suggest that it is an indication and a sign of good government that doesn't want to repeat mistakes, that doesn't want to do and create the problems it has already created as a result of the lack of whatever, preparation, consultation, poor decisions.
I think, Madam Speaker, that is my advice and that is why I am supporting this motion, that this government should take the opportunity to evaluate what is happening now, in relation to amalgamation, heed the warning signs coming out of Cape Breton that this may not be a method of saving money and let's make sure that this doesn't happen again.
Madam Speaker, the problem I have with this legislation in the first place, the suggestion that it is voluntary and all the rest of it, is that while it is enabling legislation, while on the face of it, it may appear to be voluntary, certainly in relation to the ham-handed, dictatorial type of iron-fisted legislation that came forward in preceding sessions dealing with Cape Breton and with metropolitan Halifax, it effectively is the same thing because the only reason this government is moving forward with amalgamations in the first place is because they believe it is the only way to save money, that it is the only way they can deal with the reality that their downloading of many costs has resulted in a deterioration of the ability of municipal units to carry out their business, that as a result of the lack of job creation in this province, as the result of the lack of economic activity and growth in Nova Scotia, municipal units are losing the tax base in many areas of this province in order to support the services and the service levels that have built up and that their citizens are demanding. They are losing the ability to be able to cope with the costs that have evolved down from the federal government to the provincial government and that the provincial government is handing over to them.
Municipal units are much more than simply another layer of administration, another outlet or another suboffice of the provincial government for the delivery of service. This has been discussed at great length by people much more learned than myself in the theory of municipal governments. In this province, for example, there are hundreds of years of history within many of our communities that tie together the fabric of those communities, that allow people within those communities to survive the increasing pressures of joblessness, of economic recession, depression and the lack of hope that many generations are beginning to experience in those communities. The only thing they have left, in many cases, the only thing that they have binding them together as they try to search for solutions to the problems that they are experiencing, is the history, the identity of community that has developed over so many years of their existence. One of the effects of them amalgamating or merging is going to be to lose a lot of that independence, that sense of self-determination, that sense of control that they have over at least their community and how their community is administered.
I understand, as do most people from one end of this province to the other, that those abilities to control even that local administrative side of their lives, of their experiences is becoming much more difficult as we begin to lose such institutions as the rural post office and the local courts and different offices that provide services and schools, railroads and other transportation systems, the bus system and so on. All of these changes are having a very significant impact on our communities and the ability of our communities to respond to such trying times.
The idea that the only way to deal with the funding difficulties, the fiscal realities as they are often described, for public administrations is to amalgamate, I think, is showing itself and has shown itself in other jurisdictions to not be the answer. For example, in London, Ontario, where there was a significant urban concentration which was brought together with a rural and suburban population. In this instance, the rural areas had volunteer fire departments. After it was all amalgamated into one unit - and as is suggested here, you know, we are going to keep our volunteer fire departments - before long the experience in London was that the people in the rural areas expected that they would get the same levels of services and there were great pressures on the council looking after that new regional municipality.
Eventually what happened was that those volunteer fire departments were no longer. The fire services in those rural areas were part of the urban system, so that the costs of delivering fire services in that municipality grew considerably. That was not a cost that was anticipated at the outset. That is an additional cost that is not anticipated here but the experience in other jurisdictions, jurisdictions where you are combining a heavily concentrated urban section with a wide and sprawling rural and suburban area, is that there are going to be pressures to deliver services which the new council is not going to be able to withstand. As a result, there will be, inevitably, costs that have not been considered in this current determination to go forward with amalgamation, based on the fact that we will save money.
Madam Speaker, I have said this before in debate on the other two bills that we have talked about here that had to do with municipal amalgamation. Just because we are not going to go for administrative, across-the-board, political unification of municipal units does not mean there is not a place for some cooperation and coordination of the delivery of some services. That is done and has been done effectively in some places and it is something that you can do in a controlled fashion so that you are always on top of exactly what changes are taking place and what costs and benefits are, in fact, developing.
The experience in some areas, the creation of the uni-city in Winnipeg has been somewhat successful. Again, different conditions exist here in Nova Scotia. The creation of the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, it has been suggested, did create a greater opportunity for planning and service delivery at the regional level. Again, let us not forget that that is a two-tiered level, but there was some effect of coordination of delivery of services at that particular time. When that consolidation took place, it was not simply on the basis of saving money, which is really the driving factor behind the current amalgamation craze here in Nova Scotia. It had to do more with being more effective and efficient in meeting the political challenges of the day, in terms of meeting the agenda of economic development in that particular centre. There is also some question, Madam Speaker, as to how effective that has been.
In Nova Scotia we are dealing with a whole different set of circumstances. It does not matter, I think, how you shuffle the cards, how you shake it up. In Nova Scotia we are experiencing extreme economic and social problems as a result of political decisions being made at both the federal and provincial level. We are not experiencing the kind of job growth, the kind of economic growth in this province. Some would suggest the priorities in terms of how money is spent is contributing to the fact that our public administrations have considerably less money. That is going to happen and that is going to exist, I would suggest, regardless of how you stick municipal units together.
As you know, Madam Speaker, the unemployment rate in many parts of this province is upwards of 20-plus per cent and some would suggest the real rate in some communities on the mainland is up as high as 35 per cent and in parts of Cape Breton it exceeds 50 per cent. The answer is not just to throw everybody together and to effectively put more people out of work, to provide a lesser quality of service and inevitably expect in all of that mix local property owners, business owners to pay greater taxes because that is what is going to happen. It is going to happen partly because of amalgamation, but more because of the fact that we are not generating the kind of revenue to pay for the services that we already have. So that is the way that this government is deciding to deal with it.
The point of the hoist is to take time to examine what has already been done. To examine what has happened in Cape Breton, in industrial Cape Breton. To put that area under the spotlight and examine what it is that has happened. To examine whether or not it has all been done perfectly the right way or to determine whether or not there may be strategies that could be used in different facets, whether it is combining bargaining units, whether it is sharing services, whether it is the number of councillors, the number of polling districts. I do not know, but examine the way things have been done, evaluate what has been done and use that knowledge and use that information to effect the decisions that are made in the future as they relate to other municipal units.
Madam Speaker, I think what we are already seeing in Cape Breton and I am very concerned about what is going to happen here in Halifax, as a resident and MLA in both the City of Halifax, and the County of Halifax. I have some very serious concerns about what is going to happen to the services that people get in both the county and the City of Halifax and to the ability of a new super-council to meet the needs and to deal with the pressures that they are faced with in these times.
Those realities are not going to go away by simply making the units bigger, by removing municipal level of politicians from the people. In my riding, for example, the representation ratio is going from one alderman to 5,000 to one alderman to 16,000. (Interruption) I have about 20. It is about the same amount. The ability of the municipal councils to deal with those kind of street level needs that people have in the county and in the city, I think are going to be greatly reduced from what they were. Municipal government is going to become much less accessible, Madam Speaker, than it has been in the past.
I think that there are some lessons that have to be learned from what we have already done. I thought the decision to force amalgamation on Cape Breton and on Halifax municipalities was the wrong one. Not because I am against amalgamation, but from everything I have read and from everything I have seen, I did not understand the merits of it fully.
We said to the voters in 1993, as did this Liberal Party when they were running for election in 1993, that those were the facts, that there was no clear evidence that it was a good idea or a bad idea, so we had to take a look at it and before anything would be done, the people of the region would be consulted before they went forward. That didn't happen, Madam Speaker, and I think that was wrong and I don't think this legislation makes that any better.
There are a couple of other things I wanted to deal with. I wanted to go back just briefly on the whole idea that this creates a situation where municipalities decide voluntarily to participate in consolidation, in amalgamation. As I suggested earlier, I think it is clearly a misnomer. That is not the reality, that there will be municipal units that will not be in the majority as it is spelled out in the bill who will be forced against their will into amalgamating with another unit. That is not voluntary.
Again, and every time I raise these questions and raise these concerns, I keep going back to the fact that there is no solid evidence, not even any shaky evidence, to suggest that this idea works, Madam Speaker. It is nothing more, nothing less, than a desperate measure to cut costs and we are seeing that that doesn't even do that. The impact that it will have on a lot of the municipal units, the smaller ones in particular in this province, will, I think, be not only unfair, but, in many cases, devastating. I mentioned earlier that I thought we had to take some time to learn from our experience, learn from what is happening in Cape Breton and in the municipality of metropolitan Halifax and one of the issues has to do with the role of the commissioner. The commissioner - Charlie Campbell in Cape Breton and Bill Hayward in Halifax - who has overreaching powers to just go in and set things up almost any way they choose, to pick and choose who is going to fit certain positions, to set rates; it is just phenomenal, the power. That is here. That is here in this bill but we are beginning to see that there are some serious problems with that.
We are going to find out the explanation of why there is a $6.3 million deficit in Cape Breton, but the commissioner had some considerable responsibility for that deficit and creating the conditions, either had the opportunity to create the conditions where that deficit wouldn't be created or creating the conditions where it would be. That is something that should be examined because why would we get into those kinds of problems again if we didn't have to. The only way we can do that is if we step back from this, examine what is going on there and make the appropriate changes, even if we are going to go through with this legislation in six months time, Madam Speaker.
There are a number of other issues in this legislation that need to be and should be dealt with; the whole question of disclosure of campaign funds. Imagine, if you will, we have the new amalgamated municipality of Halifax where the candidates for mayor are going to be spending upwards of $200,000 and they have absolutely no reason to declare any of that money, to let the taxpayers know where that money came from, who contributed to that, who contributed that amount of money and what the amount of money was.
I think it was obviously an oversight in the past that there wasn't that requirement on behalf of municipal politicians to declare those campaign contributions, whether they were running for the City of Halifax, Dartmouth, Sydney or whatever. That should have been there but it wasn't. But now we are reaching campaigns that are a lot more, for example, than what I spent on my campaign. Where I am required, under legislation, to list each and every campaign contribution that I get over $50, as we should, my colleague reminds me. Madam Speaker. It is the whole question of accountability.
It is not that any municipal politician is going to do anything shady or illicit or in any way that isn't totally above board and something that all taxpayers would respect. But the problem is when it is not out in the open, and we have found it here in this province at the provincial level and that is why we did something about it in this Legislature, when it is not declared, when it is not out there, when it is not transparent, with the level of cynicism that already exists in the public with politicians, Madam Speaker, I think you are further contributing to the level of cynicism and, for that matter and let's face it, encouraging abuse by not having these contributions declared.
It has been suggested here by several speakers, and I think it is reasonable and possible that that change, and maybe even if we don't wait for six months, maybe this is a change that the minister can bring in at the Law Amendments Committee when the bill comes back to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills and that it be retroactive to the beginning of the campaign. Let's be clear, this government does not hesitate to bring in legislation that is retroactive, that has an impact retroactively on people in Nova Scotia. So, that certainly should not be a reason for them to hesitate to make these changes.
Madam Speaker, the final comment I would like to make is that I think it is time in the Province of Nova Scotia that we have some debate at the public level, that we have some debate within our communities about how this government and all governments should be dealing with and responding to the current realities, be they fiscal, economic or social, that before this government continues down the road of dismantling many of the institutions that are so important to the viability and the sustainability and the identity of our communities, we talk with each other, as Nova Scotians, about what we believe is important.
Let us not forget that this government was not elected to go out and combine all the municipal units, as it was not elected to cut and slash in health care and education. I think it is time - this government seems to be frantic in its drive to respond to the shrinking resources - that we have a debate in the public, amongst Nova Scotians, about how we should be responding to the fiscal, economic and social crisis of our time, before we go any further down the road in taking on changes to many of those institutions that have sustained many of our communities for hundreds of years here in Nova Scotia and, as many people would suggest, may sustain us for many years to come in the future. This government has no mandate to tamper with that, I would suggest, and we need to deal with it, especially in light of the fact that we now have the Premier of Nova Scotia talking again, in light of what happened with the referendum and the debate about the existence of Canada and whether Quebec is going to stay or go, about consolidating, amalgamating the provincial units in the Atlantic Provinces as a way to save money.
It is no different than what is being done municipally. There is no evidence to show that it works. Why in the name of Heaven would we head down that road, full steam ahead, to make the same mistake at the provincial level? I think the Premier has to show some respect to the people of Nova Scotia, to talk to them about what they want to do with respect to some of these important decisions in terms of the quality of our communities and the very existence of our communities, not only here in Nova Scotia but also in the Atlantic Provinces.
Madam Speaker, I want to say in conclusion that I do not support this legislation any more than I supported the other two bills that provided for amalgamation in Cape Breton and in Halifax. I think it is a desperate response to cost-cutting measures and it is not going to deal with the real problems, the need to create jobs and the need to generate some economic growth in the Province of Nova Scotia. It does not matter how you shake up the apples, you know there is still going to be the same number. There are still going to be the same problems here, it does not matter how much dust you create.
I urge all members of this House to think about what is happening to their communities, to think about the real problems and the fact that shuffling the cards is not going to solve any of those problems. At the very least, we take the six months, as provided for in this motion, to evaluate what has happened in Cape Breton, to evaluate what is happening in Halifax, to look with some level of focus at the whole question of municipal amalgamation, why we are doing it, what can be gained from it but what also can be lost from it, have a debate among Nova Scotians on those issues before we head any further down this road. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you. There being no further speaker, are you ready for the question?
The question is on the hoist. Would all those (Interruptions)
A recorded vote is being requested by more than one member? Two members? Could we agree on 10 minutes of the bells ringing, House Leaders? Could we agree on a 10 minute time? No agreement.
Ring the bells.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MADAM SPEAKER: Are the Whips satisfied?
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Donahoe Mr. Barkhouse
Dr. Hamm Mrs. Norrie
Mr. Russell Dr. Smith
Mr. Moody Dr. Savage
Mr. Holm Mr. Gillis
Mr. Chisholm Dr. Stewart
Mr. Leefe Ms. Jolly
Mr. MacLeod Mr. MacEachern
Mr. W. MacDonald
THE CLERK: For, 8. Against, 28.
MADAM SPEAKER: I declare the amendment is carried in the negative.
We are now back to debate on the main motion.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Madam Speaker, I am disappointed that the amendment didn't pass because I think the minister missed a golden opportunity to afford the municipal units in this province an opportunity, along with the general public too, who have a vested interest in the matters contained within this bill, to bring forth to the minister their views on the bill, so that she could incorporate in this bill before it gets to the Law Amendments Committee and out of second reading, some of that valuable input that those people who administer our municipalities could bring to this legislation.
I think that is one of the big problems with this bill. It is a bill that, admittedly, I think all of the municipal units knew was coming. It is a bill that is very similar in nature to two other bills which we have discussed in this House at some length earlier in this session, one for Cape Breton and one for the metro area. I think for that reason perhaps the Minister of Municipal Affairs feels that she has heard all the arguments put forward by the municipality, by the Opposition and by the people of Nova Scotia as to why those two particular bills did not fully meet the requirements of the municipal units. Thus she has gone ahead and drafted a bill without any consultation in reality with the user groups whatsoever.
Now it is true that the minister mentioned in her address to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities in Yarmouth that she was going to bring this legislation forward. However, Madam Speaker, I can assure you that it was a complete surprise to the municipal units that this particular bill should just be introduced into the House without any further meetings or consultation with them or their respective townsfolk as to how they should go about setting up a blueprint or a framework for amalgamation. This bill, as we all know, is a bill that is going to eventually lead to a dramatic decrease in the number of municipal units in this province. I guess we could bring them down to probably something in the order of 16 municipalities to 18 municipalities in the province from the present 61 municipalities or whatever it is that we have. So it is a piece of legislation that is going to affect every resident within the province.
That is why, Madam Speaker, I was surprised that the minister didn't say that even if she wasn't willing to go for the six months' hoist which would have destroyed the bill, but at least she could have gone for a tactic to have left the bill in the present state in second reading, gone out and met with the municipalities and then brought it forward from the order paper at some later date in either this session or the next session of the Legislature. After all, why is there a rush? This is not urgent legislation that is going to do something to lessen the number of unemployed that we have in this province which surely must be one of our priorities. It is not a bill that is going to do something to commence to fix up the wreckage left from reform of the health system within this province and it is certainly not a bill that is going to do anything to allay the fears that students and parents alike have when they survey the effects of reform on the educational system in this province.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member is drawing rather a wide bow in this debate on the principle.
MR. RUSSELL: Not at all.
MADAM SPEAKER: In my opinion, as Speaker, you are.
MR. RUSSELL: Not in any way whatsoever.
MADAM SPEAKER: So I am just calling your attention to that.
MR. RUSSELL: I am just pointing out to the minister, why are we rushing into this bill when we have so many more urgent pieces of legislation that we should be dealing with, so many more urgent matters that we should be concerned with in this House? If you went out, Madam Speaker, and spoke to the people of the province and said, in what order would you place jobs for our young people and for the unemployed, fixing up our health system so we can accommodate those who need to have elective surgery done, to look after an educational system for our children, for young adults who want to attend the campuses in this area, you could go right through a whole gamut of subjects and the last one on that list would be legislation to do something with the (Interruptions) . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, you have been in this position of Speaker before and I have admonished you now that you are drawing a wide bow in the opinion of the Speaker. This is the second time I will call your attention to it.
MR. RUSSELL: Very well. Well, I will get back then to directly speaking about this legislation. If the legislation had no flaws, if the legislation was perfect, then we would not be getting any complaints from municipal units across this province who have asked that they be consulted before this legislation proceeds. I know that it is all very well and the minister will tell us, well not to worry, this legislation is going to go to the Law Amendments Committee and then people have the opportunity to come forward at the Law Amendments Committee and fix up the bill.
If the minister was doing her job and she had consulted with the municipal units, she had consulted with the people across this province, she had consulted properly with whoever drafted this bill - I presume it was her staff plus the Legislative Counsel - then we would have before us a piece of legislation that would not require fixing up, but as it is we have a piece of legislation that requires dramatic amendment before it is going to be acceptable to the municipal units in this province, certainly before it is going to be acceptable to the Opposition in this Legislature.
I know that the minister, as I said, thinks she has a perfect piece of legislation because she came forward with two similar pieces of legislation earlier. Let me just talk about what the municipal units tell us is wrong with this bill. One of the things that is wrong with this bill, Madam Speaker, is the methodology whereby you achieve the amalgamation of municipal units. This bill is premised on combining municipal units within one county. In other words, the county boundaries are the boundaries of an amalgamation. In other words, you could not have a municipal unit in one county, even though it was right on the border, aligning itself and going into amalgamation with a unit in an adjoining county.
I can give you an example, Madam Speaker, and the minister, I am sure, is interested in this as well. We had a special piece of legislation in this House at one time a few years back which dealt with school board amalgamation. We dealt with the small town of Hantsport. Hantsport belonged in Hants County. However, it was not advantageous for that town to become part of the amalgamation that was taking part in Hants West even though that is where that town was. They decided to amalgamate within the Kings County school system. (Interruption) I am sorry, I am getting all kinds of feedback from across the floor here and I do not know what the minister is talking about. I hear 1972. I think this happened actually back in about 1983 or 1984. (Interruption) Colchester right on .
MADAM SPEAKER: Would the honourable member direct his remarks through the Chair. I know it is easy to get sidetracked.
MR. RUSSELL: Yes indeed. Well, Madam Speaker, if you keep the front bench across the way quiet and make them listen to what they are being paid to listen to, then perhaps we would make great progress here.
What I am saying is that in that particular case, Madam Speaker, it was advantageous for the Town of Hantsport to amalgamate with Kings County for that one specific purpose.
When we go into the amalgamation program as laid out in the bill that the minister has brought forward that would not be possible. If Hantsport wanted to get into an amalgamation it would have to amalgamate with the Town of Windsor and the Municipality of the District of West Hants. There is no other way it could possibly do that, but even those three could not amalgamate without including the Municipality of the District of East Hants, which is quite a large portion of my particular county.
In fact, Madam Speaker, the Municipality of East Hants which is a single municipality, populationwise has almost the same population as Windsor, Hantsport and the Municipality of the District of West Hants all combined. They are almost equal. Yet this bill, this piece of legislation says that if the Town of Hantsport, which is a nice town but a small town, said we want to amalgamate, they phone up the minister and say, Madam Minister, this is the Town of Hantsport, the mayor speaking, I want to amalgamate the Town of Hantsport into a conglomeration of municipal units in Hants County. In other words, the smallest unit within the county can force amalgamation on the remainder of the municipality.
All right, the minister is answering the phone and she answers the phone and she says, yes, Mr. Mayor . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: It appeared to me the minister was answering something beside the phone.
MR. RUSSELL: It says on page whatever it is of the Act that I have produced, that is all you have to do, phone me up and tell me that you want to amalgamate.
Now, is that right? Can any reasonable person think that that is cricket? Can anybody tell me that that is the way it should be? Well, the minister can, I know. But I am suggesting to the minister if she went out and asked the folks out there that are going to be affected by this kind of treatment if that is the way it should be, I am sure they would tell her, no, they would not want that. Certainly, you should have a majority of the municipal units but the majority of the municipal units should add up to at least more than 50 per cent of the total population within that area that is going to be amalgamated. That, to me, would make perfect sense. However, it is not in this bill and I do not know why it is not in this bill.
I believe the reason is because it is not in the Cape Breton bill and it is not in the bill for the Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford, metro area, because it didn't have to be, because here we are talking about large municipal units. I am talking about areas with very small municipal units, populations of less than 1,000 in many cases. Those one with very small populations have the opportunity, as I say, to cause an amalgamation with units that are so much larger and have so much more power, et cetera, than the smaller units.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Some of those small towns can almost fit in one big apartment building.
MR. RUSSELL: That is right, they could, in the city, as my friend to my left, from Sackville has just said, you could take some of these smaller municipal units and move them into an apartment building in the city and they wouldn't even fill up that apartment building.
Now, Madam Speaker, I mentioned a few moments ago that we in our caucus have contacted I think every municipal unit across the province in the past few days with the exception, perhaps of those that are already amalgamated, that is the city down here, Halifax, Bedford, Dartmouth and the county, and the industrial Cape Breton municipal units. But we have contacted all the rest. They have all said the same thing, that they do not, in any way, oppose amalgamation. They can see benefits to amalgamation providing that that amalgamation takes part in accordance with a set of rules that is going to afford them some advantage.
That, Madam Speaker, I should say right now, is why I am going to support second reading of this bill because I support the principle of the bill for amalgamation. I think that amalgamation of municipal units is the way to go. But, however, it should be done in such a way that it is advantageous to the municipal taxpayer and to the present municipal governments.
Does the honourable minister have a question?
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Municipal Affairs.
HON. SANDRA JOLLY: Madam Speaker, I just find that the honourable member and a few of his colleagues continue to go back and forth on both sides of the agenda. We put this bill in because we heard from many municipalities and from the UNSM that they wanted to have control over their amalgamations. They wanted to have input, they wanted to know what the formula would be, they wanted to know how it would work. That is exactly why we have introduced a bill before any more amalgamations happen, we have a bill that they know what they fall under.
The only way that amalgamations will occur, there are two steps that are very clearly outlined. One, if a municipality and a county thinks that amalgamation is something they should look at, they will request a study. They request the study. We will do as I have done three times already, inclusive of last evening, go to that area and meet with all the municipalities in that county, to understand if there is a general feeling that a study should be done. Yes, one municipality can ask for it but I will meet with all the municipalities, to get a sense of whether there is even a willingness to discuss it or talk about it, which I have done three times already.
The second part is, after a study is done and if the study recommends amalgamation, then the majority of those councils in that county, should they request it, it will come forward and it will happen. I just don't know how much fairer we can be, to empower the municipality, to have a study before anything is done, to do it at the request of the municipalities and, at the same time, ensure that if the study is done and says it should be done and the majority of them want it to be done, then it should follow through as well.
Should one municipality hold up the other five and say it never can be done? Is that what they would say is fair? Is there not any sense that the municipalities should have control? I just don't understand how much more they want. I think we have a large portion of what was requested in this bill and we have done it to empower the municipalities to have a bill that they would know what would happen and that there is a formula and a set procedure to be followed, and I followed that procedure three times in the last month and a half.
MADAM SPEAKER: I am not sure if there is a question there for the honourable member but at least there is a point of clarification.
MR. RUSSELL: Well, I thank her for her intervention, Madam Speaker, but she hasn't solved anything. She hasn't done one amalgamation under the parameters of this bill. And further to that, in the cases that she has done, there has been an implicit promise that they will be taking over the costs of social assistance within those amalgamated units. There isn't a darned thing in this bill that says there is, indeed, some advantage for the municipal units, some advantage for the municipal taxpayers if, indeed, we have municipal amalgamation.
Now I don't know what the minister was going to say a moment ago, did she have something? She didn't have anything to say, I didn't think so. In fact . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, with respect, you do have the floor and, if it is necessary, I would recognize the minister if she was on her feet for an intervention or a question. You do have the floor.
MR. RUSSELL: Thank you, I appreciate that. Madam Speaker, there has not been an amalgamation under this legislation. This legislation, the discussions she has had to date with municipal units have been a give and take. In other words, they have been negotiations; you give a little, I will give a little; we will talk to you, we will talk to you, et cetera, et cetera. Once this bill is in place, Madam Speaker, we then have, in her words, the framework, in her words, the blueprint, as to how future amalgamations will take place. That is not a bad thing. It isn't a bad thing at all to have a blueprint or a framework or whatever you want to call it, for amalgamations. People know where they are coming from, they know where they are going to. (Interruption)
She is not listening, Madam Speaker. What I am saying is, let's make sure it is the right blueprint, let's make sure it is the right framework on which you can build because if you don't have the legislation there that people are going to accept, people are going to be dragged screaming and kicking into amalgamation. You put the right framework in, you put out the right legislation and, I suggest to you, the municipalities will come flocking to the door of the minister, requesting that they indeed be amalgamated because with amalgamation, there is no doubt whatsoever that there is an economy of scale that can be achieved, particularly with regard to staffing, particularly with regard to purchasing, particularly with regard to clout.
By that I guess I mean clout within the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities and clout within the minister's particular department, the Department of Municipal Affairs. There is no doubt that if I am the warden of a small municipality or the mayor of a small town and I go down to the minister's office, I am not going to have as much say and as much access to the minister as I would if I was the Mayor of Sydney or the mayor of what will be Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and the county, obviously. However, if I have what is presently a whole county that I am mayor of or warden of well then, indeed, I am going to get that type of access. Also, I am going to have that type of buying power which will enable me to purchase goods and services for the municipality at a reduced rate. I am also going to have the ability, not necessarily to hire better people but perhaps people with a wider range of skills than I have at the present time in my smaller municipality. So there are advantages and I don't doubt for one minute that they will come, eventually, with amalgamation.
I have gone through the matter of boundaries, I have gone through the matter of getting amalgamation kick-started, and I would like to talk about what happens after this takes place. As I understand it, there is no referendum or anything within the municipality. It is the present municipal councils, as I understand it, that will make the decision that there will be amalgamation. I don't know if that is a good idea either, particularly if you permit the councils of a lessor number than 50 per cent of the population of a county decide whether or not the county will be amalgamated.
If you permit them to go to the stage where there is a plan drawn up for amalgamation, et cetera, and that is the case, that the mayors and councillors of, say 40 per cent of the population decide it is a good idea to amalgamate but 60 per cent decide that it is not a good idea to amalgamate but however, the 40 per cent, because they have three municipal councils and the other side only have two and they go ahead with amalgamation, I don't think that is democratic. I don't think that is what the people want and that is not what the people deserve.
I think that if the minister wants to stay with that kind of an approach to amalgamation, then it should be preceded by a referendum of all the municipal voters within the county to decide whether or not they agree with amalgamation, and that is only fair. But this legislation doesn't do that. This legislation simply says, okay a majority of the municipal units within this county want to amalgamate and the mayors and the aldermen think this is a good idea, maybe we can get better salaries out of this, let's go right ahead and do it and they do. I don't think that that is right. I think that, obviously, one or the other should be changed and either we have a referendum or else, preferably, we have councils representing more than 50 per cent of the population making the decision to amalgamate.
So eventually they decide to amalgamate and the minister appoints a coordinator. Now, obviously, there is going to have to be somebody that is going to have to be appointed to carry out the initial arrangements for the setting up of this super-municipality, this super-council that is going to come along. I suppose that that person should be appointed by the minister. I say I suppose that because I don't know whether, really, the minister should be going around appointing people, because she could perhaps be accused of patronage or perhaps appointing friends of the ruling Party to that position, so perhaps it should be somebody else who would appoint the coordinator and perhaps that can be done by a committee of all Parties of the House, perhaps.
However, regardless, there is going to be a coordinator appointed and this person has a very powerful post as we know with Mr. Hayward in the city here. (Interruption) Well, Mr. Hayward was not the first choice of the minister. If I remember correctly, there was somebody else. What was the name, I forget? (Interruptions) Mr. Morash of Deloitte & Touche. Actually, I suppose, what the minister is telling us is that we have the second best coordinator for the City of Halifax to carry out the coordination in this area.
So we appoint this coordinator, Madam Speaker and he gets a mandate that is pretty all-inclusive. First of all, he gets to set his own pay, which isn't bad and then he gets to choose the person who is going to be the CEO, the chief administrator of the county. That is not a bad job either, I suppose. It runs probably in most cases around $80,000 or $90,000 a year. (Interruption) Well, I would imagine. Well, okay, $110,000 maybe. Then, he also gets to appoint the chief of police. He gets to appoint the chief building inspector, the fire chief, the dog catcher. (Interruption) Oh, I am sorry. He doesn't get to appoint the dog catcher because the dog catcher is appointed once the by-law for dogs is in place and he can't put those by-laws in place. But, however, he is still a very powerful person, this coordinator. So the coordinator comes along and he puts in place the apparatus that is going to run the county. The council is not elected yet. He puts all this in place which is virtually what normally a council would do, appoint heads of departments, et cetera, and that would be done by elected officials within the county. Now we have a person from outside, a political appointment of the Minister of Municipal Affairs, who comes in and puts all those people in their places and then she says to the people, okay now you can have your election. You are going to have an election to appoint people who are going to run this county except that they can't appoint any of their own department heads, can't even appoint their own chief administration officer because I, as coordinator, have already done that.
Now, I think that is wrong. I think that any sane person would think that is wrong. I think if the minister really has to appoint somebody and I don't even believe in going that far, but if she does, the only person she should appoint is the coordinator, and the coordinator, the only person he should be able to appoint, is a secretary to help him out while he is going about his business and getting things established for the new council. The council should be voted to power and then the council makes the decision as to who will be working for the council.
The minister opens her mouth. She opens her mouth, nothing comes out, because she can't believe herself that she is doing this. I could not possibly, she says. I couldn't possibly be doing something like this, but she is.
AN HON. MEMBER: I am shocked and appalled again.
MR. RUSSELL: Well, I am shocked and appalled, too. I really am because I am shocked and appalled that the people of this province who are going to be affected by this legislation for years, this legislation she is putting in, Mr. Speaker, isn't just for her while she is Minister of Municipal Affairs, this is for the Minister of Municipal Affairs in the year 2025. It might be 2050. That Act will still be on the books and it will still be there. It is there forever until somebody comes along with more sense and changes it, I guess. So we are talking about big business.
What is the next step along the road to amalgamation? Well, we have an election. Mind you, before that, though, the coordinator decides how many councillors there will be. Now what business would it be of a councillor, say from downtown Halifax, that comes up to Pictou and says this is the number of councillors you should have or comes up to Hants West or Hants County and says this is the number of councillors you should have or to Kings County or wherever? Why should somebody that does not probably even know the names of the local villages be there deciding on the number of councillors that there should be within a county? No, Mr. Speaker, that person should not have that right. The number of councillors within the county should be decided by the councillors who are presently serving in that particular county. They should at their last meeting have a combined meeting with all councillors, mayors, wardens, what have you and decide on the total number of the incoming council for the whole region. They are the people who should be doing it, not some outsider who comes into the area not knowing anything about local interest, local boundaries and what have you.
This coordinator says that you should have such and such number of councillors and nomination day is such and such a day, Mr. Speaker, and the councillors go out and they get their prerequisite number of signatures on their ballot and away they go knocking on doors to get themselves elected to this new super-council municipality within the county.
We come to another anomaly within this legislation. It was brought to the attention of the people of Nova Scotia shortly after this legislation came into this House by one of the candidates to become mayor of the super-city of Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and Halifax County when he said there should be a ceiling on the amount of money that we can spend as candidates for election, there should be disclosure of who makes a contribution to my campaign and there should be a reconciliation of my expenditures as a candidate along with the amount of cash that I have collected. Of course there should be. It makes eminent sense that that happens.
We are now talking about councillors and aldermen who are serving populations in many cases greater than the members of this Legislature are serving within their constituencies. They are also going to be paid probably far more than members in this particular House of Assembly. So they have the impetus, the desire and they also have the reward at the end of a successful campaign to warrant spending large sums of money on their campaign. Yet this Bill No. 28 does not say anything. It does not have any accountability for aldermen, councillors, wardens or mayors running for office. It does not say how much they can spend. They spend $1 million, I suppose, if they could raise it. We are told that one of the members running for mayor is going to spend $200,000. How much did you spend on your election, Mr. Speaker? You did not spend $200,000.
MR. SPEAKER: I think it was about $21,000.
MR. RUSSELL: Right. Well, $200,000, completely unaudited, unaccounted for. You do not know where it is being raised. It could all be coming from one source. Maybe it could be coming from one of the Liberal trust funds. We do not know. How about that?
What is even worse, Mr. Speaker, is that I could go out there and run a campaign, and perhaps be exceptionally lucky and raise $0.25 million, spend about $10,000 and I have $240,000 left and I just put that in my pocket and I would walk away and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is not a bad deal at all. But there are no records, there is no auditing, that is the way it is. (Interruption) Oh, absolutely. As a matter of fact, yes, we should think about, well, it is too late now, I guess. (Laughter)
Mr. Speaker, there should be a cap on what can be spent on a campaign. I think that makes absolute sense. There should be a recapitulation of the expenditures made during a campaign. In fact, probably we could lift from our own Elections Act and our House of Assembly Act as well, I guess, and take that part and parcel and put it into this bill, An Act Respecting Regional Municipalities, and it would work very well because we should require from those municipal politicians, I think, exactly what the public expect of us, what they expect of the representatives federally. I think people who are running for election should be prepared not only to show how much money they spent but should show the source of the monies they spend and also some accounting as to what happened at the end of the campaign with any funds that were left over.
Now, Mr. Speaker, we have gotten now to the stage where people have run for office and they have been elected and the council meets. The first thing the council has to do when they meet is to set their salaries. Well, we in this House, until about 1982 or 1983, Mr. Speaker, as you and some other members here well recall, we used to gather in this House every December and the last thing we would do before we went home for Christmas was to have a debate on a bill to look after the remuneration paid to members of the House of Assembly. It was always a short debate, if I remember. In fact, if I remember correctly, the bill used to come in and was read the first time around about 10:00 o'clock in the morning and around about 10:15 a.m. it was through second reading and by 10:30 a.m. it was into third reading and it passed. That is the way it used to be and it was wrong. (Interruption) Well, you will learn.
Now we have a system, Mr. Speaker, which removes from our own Chamber the ability to set our salaries and expenses. I think that is right. I think that just as it would be wrong for us to go back to setting our own salaries and expenses, et cetera, it is equally wrong for municipal politicians to have to make that kind of a decision as well. There has to be some other system, either tying the salaries of an alderman or a councillor or a mayor or a warden to some other position, say, within the Civil Service or the legal profession or something, that they can tie their salaries to and say that that will be the salary for a person occupying that particular elected office. I do not think we should be in a position whereby they are able to, in a meeting of the whole, decide on what their salaries, et cetera, should be.
In fact, if you will recall, Mr. Speaker, in Cape Breton, I think it was at their first meeting, they went along with setting their own salaries and they did that very quickly. Then, they got into setting their expenses. If you will recall, Mr. Speaker, they had some expenses that they were able to claim, I believe, for every day that they were at a meeting or something, something in the order of about $40 per day over and on top of their normal per diem, over and on top of their normal expenses, et cetera, that they would be able to claim for matters that were not covered under those other myriad of different headings.
Anyway, be that as it may, one of the things that is missing in this legislation - and I know the minister is over there making a note of this right now - is the fact that there should be something in there that deals with the matter of the remuneration and expenses for elected officials. Perhaps that is something she will add.
When we looked at the amalgamation, Mr. Speaker, of the City of Halifax, Dartmouth, Bedford and the county, one of the difficulties that we ran into was the amalgamation of the fire departments. When you get out into rural areas - your area probably wouldn't qualify, but I am sure there are a lot of members in here whose areas do qualify as a rural area insofar as the fire departments are concerned - we are aware that the coverage for fire protection is entirely voluntary. In other words, you have dozens and dozens of volunteer fire departments across the rural areas of this province.
They are a very important part, I might say, of the communities that they reside in. They not only look after protecting us from the hazards of fire - and, incidentally at the present time, also providing some ambulance service in those areas where we don't have a proper ambulance service and they also go to car accidents where they use the jaws of life to lever off car doors, et cetera; they do a whole range of those essential things - but on top of that, they are the spark plugs, the things that get things going in the small communities. They are the ones who organize the toy repairs for kids; they put on picnics for disabled children; they do all those dozens of things that make communities real communities and a real pleasure to live in. So, volunteer fire departments are very important.
When you get to an area where you have paid fire departments and you have volunteer fire departments and you are going to bring them all together, Mr. Speaker, you run into problems. That problem we already have, at the present time, in the amalgamation of this city, as you are probably aware. I don't know how it can be resolved, but there is nothing in this bill that resolves it, I can tell you that. So, it is going to be up to each municipal unit across a whole county to decide how they are going to look after volunteer fire departments.
The problem is, is that there are professional firefighters - they are all professional firefighters, but there are some professional firefighters who are being paid for being professional firefighters - and they are all, I shouldn't say they are all but the majority of them are members of unions, just as most of the members of the police departments are members of unions. When you amalgamate municipal units and bring them together and you start cutting down on the number of fire departments, who gets what? Who gets to own what?
For instance, in the Town of Windsor, if I may take that as an example, we have a volunteer fire department. In fact, the fire department owns City Hall, and that is not a bad idea. The volunteer fire department raised enough money many years ago; they built a building; they invited the town to come in as the first tenant. (Interruption) Yes, it is a great place, Guy. It is a beautiful building; in fact, they just put an elevator in there the other day so that it is accessible to those who need that kind of access.
They also put a town clock in, probably the first town clock that has been installed in Nova Scotia for a long time. In the Town of Windsor we now have a town clock that chimes the hour every hour and the quarter hours and the half hours. It is sitting up on top of a steeple on the fire department and it was just built last year.
I won't say that it is a wealthy fire department, but it has a wealth of equipment. It has a beautiful building which is rented out partly to the town and is doing very well, thank you very much. It has a large complement of officers who man the department. In fact, all the people opposite know Mr. Bev Wade who was associated with the fire departments for many years down in the Valley. He used to say that the Windsor Fire Department under Fire Chief Walter Stephens, who was the fire chief at that time, was the finest fire department, regardless of where you went in the Province of Nova Scotia. Bev Wade was indeed a great fireman. (Interruption) His voting habits were not that great, I know. However, he was a nice fellow, I liked him and his son.
Back to firefighters, there is a problem when you bring together unpaid volunteers and paid professionals and there is nothing in this bill that says how that shall be treated. The bill talks a little bit, much better than the original Act that came out for Cape Breton, about union and non-union employees and talks about succession rights and what have you. That is all in the bill and it is much better on that side than it was for Cape Breton, so I guess we have learned something as we have gone along. However, it does not look after fire departments and I think that is a shortcoming in the bill.
The other item along the same lines is the matter of police departments. You can always talk best about your own riding, as you well know. I suppose that is natural because you know what is going on. For instance, not too many people know that the Town of Hantsport has its own police force. They hire their own officers and they do their thing. The Town of Windsor, a bigger town, uses the RCMP. They have a detachment of the RCMP downtown. So you have a variety.
No matter where you go around this province, in towns, villages and counties, people have a choice and the reason that they have a choice is because we have individual municipal units. They don't have a choice within a municipal unit but they have a choice within a county for every municipal unit to go its own way. Under the amalgamation process proposed in Bill No. 28, within a county there will only be one municipal unit, there will only be one form of policing.
Just say, for instance, that the Town of Hantsport which I spoke of earlier, the smallest municipal unit within Hants County, decides they want to amalgamate. They phone the minister and say, Madam Minister - maybe it will be Mr. Minister by then - we want to amalgamate. She says, bang on, have a study and let me know the results and they come back two weeks later and they say the results are fantastic, they say that we should amalgamate. Now that is fine for Hantsport. However, it is now applicable to Hantsport, Windsor, West Hants and East Hants, they all amalgamate. Within that area we have a private police force in Hantsport and we have the RCMP in the rest.
Now Hantsport is the driver of this amalgamation and they say we have five policemen in the Town of Hantsport and we don't want the RCMP. Our policemen are all under contract to us through the Labour Statutes of the Province of Nova Scotia, your police are only on a yearly contract. Fire the RCMP and hire your own police force. Not practicable? Ask the minister. She doesn't explain that in her bill. She doesn't explain what the solution is to problems such as that which are very real, ones that are going to come back to haunt her and ones that the people of this province want answers to.
Now, there is a part of this bill that I must say I am not clear about, Mr. Speaker. In this bill it says that Section 42 of the Education Act does not apply to a regional municipality. That is, a municipality that is amalgamated under this bill, we have Section 42 of the Education Act not applying. Now one of the problems is that the Minister of Education, who I don't see around at the moment, is going to introduce a new Act. Now is there something in Section 42 of the new Act that will apply to this bill or is it Section 42 of the old Act that is not going to apply.
Under the old Act, Section 42 deals with area rates. So what that means is that you can no longer have area rates for education. Now think about it. We are going into a system of school amalgamation, amalgamating school boards. The boards may not be amalgamated. In fact, we know darned well they are not going to be amalgamated along the same lines as the municipalities. In other words, if I might just take an example again down my way, Kings County is Kings County insofar as regional amalgamation goes and only units within Kings County can be part of that regional municipality. Hants County is Hants County insofar as municipal amalgamation is concerned and nobody outside Hants County can be a part of the Hants regional municipality.
But the Education Act, the amalgamation of the school boards of this province that is coming, (Interruption) Pardon?
AN HON. MEMBER: Can go beyond counties.
MR. RUSSELL: Can go beyond counties. In fact, where am I? I am in Hants West. Hants West goes with Kings County. Hants East goes with Colchester, I believe. It is true. That is exactly the way it is. So I am asking you right now, why indeed if the boundaries are not the same, how for Heaven's sakes can you say that there can be no area rates for education? Where did that come from? Who dreamed that up?
MR. SPEAKER: Now the time is just about . . .
MR. RUSSELL: Well, Mr. Speaker, I would be pleased to adjourn the debate on Bill No. 28.
MR. SPEAKER: Very well, the debate is adjourned.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Tomorrow we will be sitting from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. and we will resume debate on this bill, Bill No. 28. I move we adjourn until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.
MR. SPEAKER: Very well. The honourable member for Hants West will have six minutes or seven minutes remaining tomorrow morning to complete his discourse on the second reading of the bill. Now we had a submission for the Adjournment debate submitted by the honourable member for Queens whom I would now be prepared to recognize. The House is adjourned until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.
The honourable member for Queens wishes to debate the following:
Therefore be it resolved that this Liberal Government be condemned for not fulfilling its promise to assume administration and control of solid waste and to implement province-wide solid waste management plans.
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, in 1993 the now government, then Liberal Party in Opposition, included in its election platform a plank on solid waste management. It stated that, "Under a Liberal Government, the province will assume administration and control of solid waste through implementing a responsible policy of management and direction which will include: landfill siting standards and operating parameters; development of a province-wide hazardous waste network; waste disposal as a cost of doing business in Nova Scotia, using a user pay model; a 5-10 year province-wide waste reduction, reuse, and recycling program will be an integral part of the management plan; the existing funding arrangement will continue until negotiations towards service/boundary realignment occur; Regional Waste Management Authorities will be a feature of service realignment; Pending development of technologies to eliminate residual waste stream (present volume: 20% of total), we cannot rule out incineration as an option," said the Liberal document. Now, two and a half years hence, Mr. Speaker, we find that this promise still goes unfulfilled.
I know the minister may well stand, as one would hope he would in the very near future, and say that the municipal solid waste policy for the Province of Nova Scotia promised by this Party in Opposition, and for which we have been waiting so long since they formed the government, is now available to Nova Scotians, but that statement would deny the fact that in the absence of that very self same policy, the municipal units which comprise the metropolitan area of the capital region here in Halifax have had to go their own way, in order to deal with the vexatious problem of what to do with respect to closing out the Sackville landfill and opening a new, thoroughly modern landfill.
In the absence of that policy which was promised by this government and which should have been available, if their word was good, to guide the municipal units in this metropolitan area, we have found that the metropolitan authority's credibility collapsed, the Municipality of the County of Halifax took over the responsibility and now, with amalgamation, we find that responsibility will be absorbed by the new municipal unit.
We have found that some very responsible things have been done by the municipal units and by the various agencies, particularly volunteer agencies, which have assisted the Municipality of the County of Halifax in moving towards the choice of a site for a new landfill. However, all of that has happened in the absence of a clear and distinct government policy. In fact my own municipality has been touched by this, as have three municipal units in the County of Shelburne.
Just let me give an example of how the failure of this government to act has stymied communities across this province with respect to dealing responsibly with municipal solid waste. There were four municipal units; the Municipality of the County of Queens, the Town of Liverpool, the Town of Lockeport, the Town of Shelburne and the District of Shelburne, which banded together and made application for funding assistance under the management public/private ownership cooperation section of the cooperation agreement to promote private sector participation in municipal infrastructure.
Those municipal units decided on an action they wanted to pursue. They made application and on the 15th of September, 1995, they received the following letter, and I will table the letter for the House, Mr. Speaker, a letter signed by W.J. Grant, the Program Director for ACOA. It says that the Department of the Environment, the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment in adjudicating this application for funding had the following to say; ". . . for NSDOE to support such a proposal, it should be compatible with the proposed solid waste management strategy currently under development.".
Mr. Speaker, I ask you and all fair-minded people, how in Heaven's name can those municipal units that want to move forward file an application which meets standards and criteria which are not yet developed? Again, an example of a government which does not have actions to match its very fine words. That is becoming one of the great hallmarks and one of the great consistencies of this government.
We also find with respect to the matter of municipal solid waste and the metropolitan area a great deal of confusion with respect to how the waste stream will be managed once the new site is chosen and once the new landfill is up and operating.
Another group of people who have an interest in this, and again I will table this letter at the end of my talk, Mr. Speaker. This is a letter to the councillors of the Halifax County Municipality, from a lawyer in the firm of Flinn Merrick and Mr. Dufferin R. Harper. Mr. Harper writes the councillors Re: Concerns on the Draft Metropolitan Halifax Solid Waste/Resource Management Implementation Plan "Draft Plan".
One line that I will share with the House, Mr. Speaker, says the Metropolitan Independent Waste Haulers Association ". . . is concerned that the objectives and principles of the Strategy are not reflected from the Draft Plan.". Again, that draft plan was created by the municipality and by a lot of really good-hearted volunteers in the absence of the very plan which was promised by this government two and one-half years ago.
So the minister comes forward with his plan. That may be helpful in the future to those municipal units which are looking at re-siting landfills or opening new landfills, but it will do nothing to alleviate the vexatious problems which have faced the citizens of the metro area.
There have been no citizens who have been more directly effected by the failure to site the new landfill than the people of the Community of Sackville. Mayor Ball tells us that if a new site is not chosen by November 30th it will be absolutely impossible for the new landfill to be opened in time for the Sackville landfill to be closed on December 31, 1996.
What a tragedy it would be if the people of Sackville have to go into the year 1996 and the knowledge that landfill with which they have suffered for so long may not be closed down when promised. One of the reasons that that is a possibility, but we must hope not of probability, is because this government did not in the timely fashion, which it promised, provide a solid waste management policy, plan and strategy which the municipal units in the metropolitan area could look to for guidance, direction and quickly apply to the situation here. They had to go out and reinvent the wheel.
Mr. Speaker, that is not good enough. It is not good enough that the municipal units in my community and in the constituency next to mine, the constituency of Shelburne should be stymied in their efforts to deal with municipal solid waste in a responsible manner because this government has not acted on its promise.
My hope is that this minister may finally come forward with that policy and that the policy will be well thought out and will be able to be implemented very quickly so that units such as mine which are looking forward to developing a cooperative and regional landfill will have the opportunity, not only to do so in an ordered way, but also will have the opportunity to access those funds which are available from various levels of government to assist them in doing that.
I hope and pray and I hope perhaps the minister may be able to reassure me tonight that by being stymied from successfully applying for funds through the cooperation agreement because of the absence of this policy that these municipal units including Liverpool, Shelburne, Lockeport and Shelburne and Queens Municipalities will not find themselves reapplying and being penalized for applying to late. It is not their fault. It very clearly is the fault of the government which has not acted in a responsible and a responsive manner.
One thing that every politician who has ever gone to a doorway knows is that one should never ever promise something which is not in their back pocket to give. The Liberals in Opposition promised something which they did not have in their back pocket, something which was not in any pocket at all, something for which we are still waiting, a solid Waste Management strategy for this province, one to which all municipal units in this province can look in order to resolve what certainly is one of the vexatious difficulties of our time and that is the siting of new landfills. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of the Environment.
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to address this topic and to inform the House, and the citizens of this province, of the strides that we as a government have taken since we arrived in government. Studies have shown that during their lifetime, the average Nova Scotian throws away 19 garbage truck loads of material. It clogs valuable land, pollutes the air and threatens the purity of our waters.
When we were getting prepared to assume our responsibilities as a new government in Nova Scotia, we asked ourselves some rather pointed questions. Isn't there a better way in which we can dispose of our garbage and handle our waste disposal? Is there not a better use of the material that we throw away on a regular basis? If, in fact, we could reuse some of this material, could we not become more resourceful? Of course, the resounding answer to all of those questions is, yes.
This government came to office with a commitment to the people that we would protect their environment and promote economic growth. We discovered that both the economy and the environment were compatible and really had to be a union of marriage, if you will. No governmental economic decision is made without considering its environmental ramifications or consequences. Mr. Speaker, no environment action is taken without asking ourselves the question, is there a way to turn an environmental challenge into an economic prospect of opportunity? This has resulted in a situation where Nova Scotia is solving its environmental challenges and creating a spinoff in environmental jobs. Jobs, Mr. Speaker, real, sustainable jobs.
For example, let's look at Minas Basin Pulp and Power. That is a well-established Nova Scotia company, that is literally turning garbage into gold. With the assistance of my colleague, the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency, we as a government have assisted Minas Basin to expand its job base by recycling cardboard. What used to be a throwaway product, Mr. Speaker, is a feedstock for a Nova Scotia company. The result is 50 new, well-paying, stable jobs for Nova Scotians. That is the type of action we have taken to ensure continued environmental and economic progress.
This government came to power with a commitment to consult with the citizens of this province. The new Environment Act was a result of listening to the people across this region and, as a result we have an Act that has won praise not only from the general population, but also from my colleague, the honourable member for Queens. Today, I am a bit disappointed that he would stand to question the public's participation in the current exercise of waste resource management.
It is that spirit of consultation, Mr. Speaker, and cooperation that is also an important part of our plans for a solid waste strategy for Nova Scotia. We went to the people, as we promised we would; we consulted with the municipalities, as we promised we would. We have listened, we have consulted and we are very soon about to take action.
I would remind my colleague, and others who would be suspicious, that after conception there is time before delivery.
The document that I have here, Mr. Speaker, the Public Consultation Report on Solid Waste which was done by two outstanding Nova Scotians, with the cooperation of all Nova Scotians - and I would highlight the participation of one Susan Holtz, who is a well-experienced, well-respected environmentalist here in Nova Scotia, and Mr. Martin Janowitz, who is the Executive Director of the Clean Nova Scotia Foundation - who put together a rather well-defined document toward a solid waste management strategy for Nova Scotia. That document contains the will and the wishes of Nova Scotians from all walks of life: elected, non-elected, business and private.
AN HON. MEMBER: When was it tabled?
MR. ADAMS: I tabled that document on April 19, 1995, and as I said earlier, and the member was obviously not listening, that after conception there is time before the delivery.
Over 30 municipal units in this province have also been closely involved in the consultation process. Just a few days ago, I spoke with municipal leaders from across the province to hear their opinions on how to develop this program that is environmentally progressive, without being economically regressive for the local taxpayer, in fact, for all taxpayers.
The solid waste management strategy that we are preparing will continue to emphasize the three Rs: reducing, reusing and recycling what we used to call garbage. We are committed to ensuring a strategy, Mr. Speaker, that will benefit the environment, assist our municipalities to avoid the Sackville situations or experiences, and to ensure our public's cooperation.
We are the first province in Canada to adopt the national objective of a 50 per cent diversion of waste. There are those who say it cannot be done. Well, Mr. Speaker, they do not share my faith in the people of this province because all we need to do is look at the experience and the situation in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. In Whynotts Settlement, Mr. Speaker, municipalities have come together, abandoning the 19th Century tactics of waste management and showing us the way things can be done in the 21st Century. In that area of the province up to 70 per cent of the waste stream has been diverted. They are making gold out of garbage by selling newsprint, cardboard, plastic and creating compost which is, indeed, marketable. They are examples to all of North America of what can be accomplished. In fact, the Whynotts Settlement experience here in Nova Scotia is an example for the whole world. We recognize delegates who come from all parts of the world and define the recycling and composting facility at Whynotts Settlement as a world-class model. That is something we should be proud of because we are all participants in realizing that world-class model.
The people are helping us with our plans, the people of Nova Scotia that is. The people will be well satisfied with that plan when it is ready to be unveiled, which will be very soon. I remind members opposite once again that after conception there is the time period before delivery. Delivery time is coming close.
A recent public opinion poll that I have in my hand, Mr. Speaker, shows that the problem of consumer waste is considered the number one environmental issue in this province. The same poll reveals that Nova Scotians' satisfaction with their Environment Department continues to increase; 67 per cent of Nova Scotians rate their Environment Department to be either good, very good or excellent. That is partly because we work with the people to develop laws and regulations in concert with the people. We listen to their concerns and we provide forward-thinking solutions. We have relegated the role of enviro-cop, Mr. Speaker. We did it with the Act and we will do it with solid waste resource management and work with the people who become the authors.
Today 65 per cent of Nova Scotians do some household recycling. The number will grow, Mr. Speaker. The people have told us they want more recycling, more composting and we will give that to them because attached is economic growth - jobs, Mr. Speaker, sustainable jobs.
When we look at the thousands of people who lined up all over the metro area to buy composters this past summer they are proof positive that our plans will win overwhelming acceptance.
Mr. Speaker, my colleague once held the portfolio I now occupy. I know he has a deep and sincere belief in promoting and protecting our environment. I can predict that when we release our forward-thinking plan and our forward-looking plan, he will be among the strongest of our supporters.
Mr. Speaker, I want to clear the record in terms of the accusation made that municipal units have been left to work alone. I have reviewed on a regular basis, in fact on a daily and weekly basis, to find out that our municipal units are not working alone but are working in concert with our staff in the Department of the Environment. I have found none that are wondering what to do but I have found some who have thanked us for the cooperation.
Mr. Speaker, I want to say that we came to government with the promise of environmental management in our pocket and we will deliver our promise on environmental management.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the member for Queens for having brought the topic to the floor. I also want to congratulate the Minister of the Environment for having given what I think was a very excellent public relations speech. I am pleased that the majority of Nova Scotians rate the department very high. I sincerely hope that some day the citizens in this province will also rate the minister and the actions of this government with regard to the environment at the same approval rating because I think the ratings are two separate things.
Mr. Speaker, before the government took office, when they were in Opposition, they talked the talk. After the election, once they assumed office, what has become extremely evident is that they are unprepared to walk the walk.
We heard this evening yet again something we have heard over and over again that the solid waste management strategy of this government is soon to be released. Well, we have heard that it is soon to be released for the last two years.
We are hearing this government say that they are doing all of this consulting and that they therefore have delays, even though they have had a report for a long time. They say they are listening to people and the people are telling them what they want, so we are now going to deliver. Obviously, the government doesn't believe in the principle that what you have to do sometimes is show a leadership role. I would suggest that the people in this province have been years ahead of this government and, in fact, the former government. The people of this province have been willing and demanding opportunities to be involved in recycling and composting and have been expecting the government to take the leadership role for a long time.
The minister talked about a great project, the Minas Basin Pulp & Paper project for recycling. Do you know I asked in this House last spring, at the time when that was announced and the provincial monies were being made available to it, how much they could recycle. The answer given was that they could recycle more than is being used and produced in Nova Scotia. Yet we are still disposing of cardboard and paper products in the landfills. Why? There is a ready market here in the province.
The minister has praised the Whynotts Settlement project in Lunenburg County, as well he should. It is integrated, it involves composting, it involves the whole of recycling and so on, not just rehashing of promises but they are actually doing something. The minister has said that it is an example to the world, a model to the world. Then why is it not a model to this government?
We have communities and municipalities around this province that are struggling now trying to site new landfills. The minister knows as well as I do, as did the former minister, that the major cause of problems at landfills has to do with the organic materials that are being disposed of in those landfills. He knows that is what attracts the rodents, that is what attracts the gulls, that is what produces gases that create the obnoxious odours, that is what produces leachates. So, if we know what the cause is and we know that those organics can all be composted and we know that there are markets - and the minister himself has admitted that - for that compost, why doesn't this government simply do a bold initiative for a change? Simply state by regulation, if they aren't prepared to come up with a solid waste management strategy in total right now, that in no new landfills to be developed will we permit the disposal of organics.
You can compost, as they do in the Lunenburg example, not just table scraps like vegetables and so on or yard wastes, leaves and grass clippings, but they also take lobster shells, they will take bones, dairy products, anything that is organic, because the containers that people were provided with to place on their properties for collection at the curb are rodent proof. They are taken and in a proper composting facility they are broken down very quickly. Those items do not need either to be disposed of in a landfill.
We have the technology. It is not new, it is not revolutionary. What is new and would be revolutionary would be for the government to make a decision. It was a former Liberal Government back in the 1970's, without a proper environmental assessment that imposed the landfill in Sackville. There wasn't the proper monitoring, there wasn't the proper enforcement. To his credit, I will say to the former speaker that when he was Minister of the Environment, after I raised questions about the water in the Sackville River, which was only tested once a year and that during the dry summer season when the leachate problem was, of course, greatly reduced, he, at my request from the floor of this House agreed to have that water tested monthly. All of a sudden a whole bunch of problems were found and all of a sudden, Mr. Speaker, there was a need to make some changes and improve the collection system and the treatment system at that landfill to correct the problems.
Mr. Speaker, why isn't the minister and this government prepared to say right now that problem will not exist whether that be in Queens County or Shelburne County, wherever the new landfill is going to be located or that problem will not exist for the residents who will live in an area close to the new landfill that is to be located to serve the residents of Halifax County when the Upper Sackville landfill finally closes. Those problems will not exist because those materials will not be there and we will ensure that the penalties will be such that if during our inspections we find breaches they will pay dearly.
This is a private company that is going to be running the one for Halifax County and the metropolitan area, the new super-city. It is not even regulated. It is not even a public utility, Mr. Speaker. We have to have assurances. The solid waste management strategy should not be held up until after those decisions about the siting for that new landfill are made and what is and is not permitted in it. Let's see some action.
The minister in his resolution that he introduced in this House earlier praised the Clean Nova Scotia Foundation for their efforts on waste reduction week and that I was pleased to see. I do not think in the resolution he mentioned the word composting. Mr. Speaker, I had the pleasure of going to the opening ceremony where all of the materials were put out. Composting was a major element of that and I honestly do believe that the vast majority of Nova Scotians, businesses and residences, want a comprehensive and common sense waste management strategy.
It is not going to be more costly, in fact, it can make money, greatly reduce the cost of it, Mr. Speaker. I would suggest that, yes, indeed there will be some who do not want to follow that initially. Unfortunately, sometimes governments have to make decisions for the good of the majority and if there are a few businesses, for example, that are unwilling or find it too inconvenient to separate their materials as they are being sent out for collection, well, that is too bad. I am sorry, I am of the view that has got to be required.
Mr. Speaker, there is not enough time to go into all of what I want. I do not know how much time I have left.
MR. SPEAKER: According to the clock you have one minute left.
MR. HOLM: Great. I will take that full minute and I will explain why I am grateful afterwards, Mr. Speaker.
In the letter that the minister himself wrote, or signed anyway, to the Business Journal in October, the minister pointed out quite correctly and this is paraphrasing, that the decisions that we are making now will affect our environment of the future. Also you could say, Mr. Speaker, equally true, that the decisions that we refuse to make now will affect the environment of the future. He praised Lunenburg for turning garbage into gold. He said, what we have here is an opportunity, an opportunity that is waiting to be grasped.
Mr. Speaker, what Nova Scotians are wanting and looking for is for a minister and a government that are committed to that opportunity, that opportunity not only will be environmentally friendly and ecologically sound, it will also make good economic sense. It will help to create employment. It will create wealth from waste. Therefore, I urge the minister, not just to give a public relations speech the next time, but to announce concrete actions on the solid waste management strategy. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The time allotted for the Adjournment debate having expired, the House stands adjourned until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
[The House rose at 6:30 p.m.]