MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would like to call the House to order at this time to commence the day's proceedings. Before we begin the daily routine, are there any introductions of visitors? If not, we will commence the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency.
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas October 30th to November 3rd is National Cooperative Education Week and the 1995 theme is Co-op Works!; and
Whereas in appreciation of this special week, cooperative education students, employers and host universities and colleges from across Canada and Atlantic Canada are banding together to celebrate National Cooperative Education Week; and
Whereas the Nova Scotia Economic Renewal Agency recognizes the importance of cooperative education, by supporting co-op students with work placements all year long and by assisting Nova Scotia businesses with cost-sharing co-op positions; and
Whereas since 1993, the Nova Scotia Government has created close to 1,000 co-op positions, giving much-valued experience to bright and eager students, much-needed financial assistance to Nova Scotia employers in the private sector, municipal government and non-profit organizations;
Therefore be it resolved that this Legislature recognizes the importance of National Cooperative Week to our students and to our employers.
Mr. Speaker, I would 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. (Applause)
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 39 - Entitled an Act Respecting Education. (Hon. John MacEachern)
MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be read a second time on a future day.
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
RESOLUTION NO. 496
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas in announcing the Pharmacare Reform Working Group in September 1993, the Minister of Health said, this government will not ask seniors to pay any more toward this plan while there exists in the program inefficiencies and elements that do not contribute to their health; and
Whereas the government and the Minister of Health have yet to act on most of the recommendations of the Pharmacare Reform Working Group - recommendations designed to improve the efficiency of the Pharmacare Plan; and
Whereas despite his promise to seniors in September 1993, the minister has imposed a new $215 yearly premium for single seniors and a $430 premium for married seniors;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Health acknowledge he failed to keep his word and that he apologize to Nova Scotia's seniors for making naive and misleading statements which have only added to their distrust of this Liberal Government and its promises with respect to health reform.
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 Finance Minister reluctantly acknowledged yesterday that all governments have agreed to prevent lottery ticket resale operations, which are illegal and highly questionable; and
Whereas that minister and his officials have known since March that lottery ticket resellers, fleeing a law enforcement crackdown, set up shop in Nova Scotia; and
Whereas that minister is refusing to lift a finger to enforce his own anti-resale regulations, despite frequent Liberal claims that he will not make Nova Scotia a haven for shady gambling operators;
Therefore be it resolved that in the opinion of this House, the Premier should select a new gaming minister who will be vigilant against illegal and questionable gaming operations, rather than letting the present minister continue to drag Nova Scotia's good name in the mud.
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 the City of Halifax and the Halifax School Board are at odds as to whether the city should be spending monies it has set aside for the service awards for retiring teachers; and
Whereas the city justifies wanting to utilize the $3.1 million in funds before amalgamation because it believes that future service awards will be paid by the new school board and they will have money for that; and
Whereas it is highly doubtful that redirecting funds now will mean that an amalgamated board will magically have funds to cover such items as teacher service awards when they combine fortunes, however worthy the projects the city intended that money to go toward;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and her amalgamation coordinator ensure that there are some safeguards that can be implemented to see that these and other such monies are directed to what they were intended and that any redirection must await the metro municipal amalgamation.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the member for Cumberland North and the Minister of Education travelled to Amherst earlier this year with a Cabinet approved promise of relocating 75 provincial government jobs to offset the impact of the closing of the School of the Deaf in that town; and
Whereas the Minister of Human Resources now says he cannot make good on that promise as it appears to be physically, humanly impossible to deliver on it; and
Whereas from jobs to taxes to casinos to municipal reform, this government finds it apparently physically, humanly impossible to keep its many promises to Nova Scotians;
Therefore be it resolved that the Savage Government apologize to the people of Amherst, in particular, for creating false hope of 75 government jobs in its vain attempt solely to buy political favour.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the late Jack Cunningham is Nova Scotia's 1995 inductee into the agriculture hall of fame; and
Whereas throughout Jack's life, he was an author, farmer, auctioneer and community leader, well known for his tremendous contribution to the agricultural industry, farm organizations and his community;
Therefore be it resolved that this House extend to Mrs. Cunningham and the Cunningham family, our sincere congratulations on the distinction and honour posthumously bestowed on Jack Cunningham for his outstanding career and community leadership.
MR. SPEAKER: Is there a request for waiver of notice on the congratulations to Mr. Cunningham?
MR. MCINNES: Indeed.
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 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 the Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission hosted a meeting of provincial commissions and advisory committees to discuss the implications of the Canada Health and Social Transfer; and
Whereas this national meeting confirmed the fundamental principles for the achievement of equality of persons with disabilities; and
Whereas the meeting strongly recommended that all governments ensure accessibility based on need, adequacy in relation to need, the right to appeal, full financial disclosure and accountability for use of federal funds and ongoing, meaningful participation by persons with disabilities;
Therefore be it resolved that this House endorse the Disabled Persons Commission's call for a strong national strategy to ensure adequate social service to Canadians with disabilities, in accord with the recommendations of the commissions and advisory committees mandated to deal with the issues of disabled persons.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to 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 Cape Breton South.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas this past weekend, 1,000 members of the Progressive Conservative Party gathered at the Sheraton Hotel and Casino in Halifax to select their new Leader; and
Whereas a number of convention participants decided to partake in some of the many gaming activities that the Sheraton Casino has to offer; and
Whereas it seems obvious that so many of the 1,000 Progressive Conservatives gathered at the Sheraton enjoyed themselves so much that the former Leader of the Opposition is eager to see the completion of an even larger casino in downtown Halifax;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House urge the member for Halifax Citadel to exercise some patience and assure him that the present casino in Halifax can serve needs of his fellow Progressive Conservatives until such time as a permanent facility is built. (Laughter)
I would ask for waiver of notice on that.
MR. SPEAKER: I hear a No.
The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party and then Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, in that order.
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 Finance Minister yesterday declared because his so-called 20 per cent win tax comes off the top of every dollar gambled in the Liberal Government's Sheraton Casino, his view is that the more people gamble, the better; and
Whereas this naked desire for most Nova Scotians, on each visit to a casino, to gamble away more than the cost of a week's groceries, is destroying Liberal credibility; and
Whereas the government's declared aim is now to find new ways to lure the vulnerable into the casinos;
Therefore be it resolved that this House warns Nova Scotians to beware the promised campaign to try and pluck more losers more often at the Liberal casinos.
I would ask for waiver of notice on that. (Laughter)
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed that notice be waived?
I hear several Noes.
The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. DENNIS RICHARDS: Mr. Speaker, I will be asking for waiver of notice. (Interruption) I am sure that it won't raise any negative comments from the opposite side.
MR. DENNIS RICHARDS: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas community-based policing is a new initiative of the RCMP to pursue partnerships between the police and the community with a focus on long-term problem solving; and
Whereas RCMP Commissioner Philip Murray will conduct the official opening ceremonies of the Eastern Passage office - the first RCMP community-based police office in Nova Scotia - on Saturday, November 4th; and
Whereas community-based policing for Eastern Passage, Cow Bay and Shearwater area will involve an RCMP officer designated to meet the unique policing needs of our community in addition to regular patrol duties;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of the House of Assembly congratulate the people of Eastern Passage, Cow Bay and the Shearwater area for their interest in enhancing the quality of life in our communities and extend best wishes to RCMP Constable Glen Rees for every success in the completion of his duties as our first community-based police officer.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
No further Notices of Motion? If so, that concludes the daily routine. We will now advance to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
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 debate was adjourned by the honourable member for Hants West whom I advised had approximately six minutes remaining to conclude his observations on the bill.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, good morning. I am pleased to continue the debate on Bill No. 28. I think yesterday, during the debate, . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Even in the absence of the minister.
MR. RUSSELL: I was going to mention that. In the debate, I mentioned major shortcomings with this piece of legislation and I presume that that is what the minister is doing this morning, is making amendments to that bill, the most important of which will be done by staying this bill, placing it in abeyance until such time as the bill reflects what true amalgamation is and also meeting the needs of the municipalities of this province which will be most directly affected by the ramifications of amalgamation.
I think I have covered all the major items with regard to Bill No. 28 yesterday, Madam Speaker, but in the time remaining to me I would like to bring to the attention of the House and the people of Nova Scotia one major effect of this particular piece of legislation with the way it is stated in Bill No. 28, that is the ability of an amalgamated municipality to very rapidly set themselves up with the trappings of power in the way of new offices and equipment, et cetera, and rapidly incur a major capital expenditure and a major capital debt.
That is evidenced very clearly in the recent amalgamation that occurred in Cape Breton where we are told that the municipality, which is only 60 days of age at the present time, has already gone into the hole to the extent of $4.6 million. If you translate that over a period of one year, that means a debt of $25 million in a year which is even worse than what Sysco was doing in its previous life. Fortunately, we hope that Sysco is doing better today and I would hope that the Municipality of Cape Breton will do much better also at a future time. I think there should be something in this bill that does indeed lay out that existing buildings, existing infrastructure within the combined municipal units should be utilized for the administrative functions of any new amalgamated municipality.
So, Madam Speaker, that concludes my remarks on Bill No. 28. I sincerely hope that the minister will take to heart some of the remarks that I have made on this bill. Indeed, when we get to Law Amendments, as I know this bill will in the next few days, then we will be faced with a number of amendments which will be forced by the municipalities and hopefully some of them, as I say, will be brought forward by the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Madam Speaker, the bill that is before the House today in principle is a sound bill. It is a bill that certainly I must support because it reflects in many instances the specifics of the bill that I introduced in this House last May which was duly passed by the House and is now resulting in the movement towards an amalgamation of the two municipal units in my own constituency, namely the Town of Liverpool and the Municipality of the County of Queens. By supporting this bill I am also consistent with the support that I provided with respect to the principle of the legislation in both the Cape Breton and the Halifax merger bills. Consistency is, I believe, essential in public life and it is incumbent upon us as public figures to provide a high level of consistency in our actions so that we do not cause the electorate to view our actions as other than being in their interests and understandable.
Madam Speaker, that said, I think it is fair to say that it is appropriate that there be general legislation which provides the opportunity to municipal units across this province to move together voluntarily into association with each other, an association which would lead to amalgamated municipal governments throughout the province. That said, I think it is also important for us, and I hope for the minister, to understand that there are certain shortcomings in the legislation as we look at it today, shortcomings which I believe can be overcome if the minister is prepared to accept certain amendments or, indeed, if she is prepared to put certain amendments forward which we would support. Some of those areas of concern have already been mentioned by colleagues and I will be referencing several areas of concern which I have with the bill as well.
I do hope that the minister will reflect on the recommendations that we make in second reading with respect to changes that should be made in the bill and I do hope that the minister, when we move on to consideration of the bill in the Committee of the Whole House will be open to some of the changes, if not all of the changes, that we will be putting forward. It certainly is not my purpose nor is it the purpose of my caucus nor, I think, any member of the Opposition to approach this bill in a vexatious manner. It is absolutely essential that this bill, since it will provide umbrella legislation for the entire province, be done right and be done right the first time.
In that respect, I think it is important that we seize the opportunity to reflect on the longcomings and the shortcomings of the legislation which has created the new Cape Breton Municipality so that we can ensure that where that legislation has done the right things, we continue those right things in the legislation before us today and where that legislation has done things wrong, we do not continue the problems that arise out of inadequacies in that legislation. We can indeed learn from the past, and in this instance we can learn not only from the immediate past but, indeed, from the present.
I note in the press release from the minister's department that she says in the second paragraph of that release, "The new legislation will be used only when requested by municipalities. It's voluntary. It's there when they choose to use it.". The Chronicle-Herald in an editorial which is generally positive with respect to this legislation also restates generally what the minister has said, from now on Nova Scotia's municipalities will have a choice when it comes to regional amalgamation.
Well, perhaps the author of that editorial in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald should have read further in the minister's new release, that is further than the second paragraph. Indeed, in a further paragraph, I believe paragraph five it is, the minister goes on to say that first, there must be a study requested by one or more councils in a county; second, there must be a request for regional government by a majority of municipal units. The power to establish a regional municipality cannot be exercised unless the majority of the councils in a particular county request it.
Then, Madam Speaker, we see that the words of the minister with respect to the voluntary nature of this legislation in the early going do not necessarily reflect the reality of what is in the legislation. In fact, not unlike some Halifax Chronicle-Herald editorials, she seems to take two opposing views in one particular review of this piece of legislation, views that are inconsistent with each other. You can't be voluntary and involuntary at the same time any more than one can be woman and man or there can be night and day in the same instance.
Madam Speaker, the bill provides, as the minister has pointed out, that one or more councils in a county may request that a study be done, the purpose of the study to determine whether or not amalgamation is in the best interests of the ratepayers and, indeed, of all the citizens in those municipal units. I agree with that aspect of the legislation, somebody has to kick-start the process, somebody has to ask that a study be done. In many instances, or at least in instances where there are only two or three municipal units within a county, then I think that where one requests a study that that should be sufficient for all of the municipal units to be caught up in that study.
However, Madam Speaker, where I differ is in that once a majority of the councils in any county adopt a resolution for amalgamation, then all municipal units in that county are swept up, whether they want to be there or not. I want to use some examples of what could happen. I will stick to my end of the province because I know it best. I think it is important for us to reflect on how, in fact, majorities in population could be dragooned into amalgamation on the basis of a request being made by a majority of councils, those councils representing a minority of the population in a county in Nova Scotia. I won't use my own county because, of course, the job is well on the way to being completed there.
Let's take a look at Shelburne County. It is comprised of a number of municipal units; the Town of Shelburne, the Town of Clarks Harbour, the Town of Lockeport, Barrington Municipality and Shelburne Municipality. The total population of the county is 18,100.
But would one not normally anticipate that in a democracy the majority would rule? I would think so, and that is a majority of the populous. The Municipality of Barrington has 7,774 citizens within its bounds. It is quite possible and, indeed, the Shelburne Municipality has 5,450 in its bounds, so roughly 13,000 of the 18,100. But let's assume for a moment that the Town of Shelburne asks that a study be done and that study is undertaken and that study catches up all the municipal units in Shelburne County. Let's say that at the end of that study three of the five municipal units in Shelburne County say to the minister, we want amalgamation in our county and let's assume for the moment that those three units, which advised the minister that they want to amalgamate, are the Town of Shelburne with a population of 2,200, the Town of Clarks Harbour with a population of about 1,000, and the Town of Lockeport with a population of 798. What this legislation makes possible because of the involuntary nature is the dragooning of approximately 13,000 people who may not want amalgamation, into an amalgamation with the other 5,000 people in the county.
I don't believe that that is in the public interest, I don't believe it is in the interest of good government in Nova Scotia and I hope that is not the interest that the minister is hoping to serve through this legislation. My assumption is that she wants to provide legislation which is equitable. Because of the shortcoming with respect to the sole requirement that a majority of councils must ask for amalgamation, then there is a possibility, if not a probability, of injustice being built into the legislation which is before the House.
I think it is interesting to take a look at my neighbour to the east of my constituency, namely, Lunenburg County. Lunenburg County has a population of about 49,000. The Municipality of Lunenburg has a population of 22,575. The Municipality of Chester has a population of 10,789. There are three towns in Lunenburg County; Bridgewater, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg - Bridgewater with a population of 7,200, Mahone Bay with a population of about 1,000, and the Town of Lunenburg with a population of 2,700 - about 11,000 of the 48,900 in Lunenburg County.
Let's assume that the Town of Mahone Bay decided that it was going to ask for a study of municipal amalgamation in Lunenburg County and the minister granted that study would take place. The study takes place and at the end of the study, the Town of Bridgewater, the Town of Mahone Bay, and the Town of Lunenburg decide that amalgamation is in the best interest of their citizens. But Lunenburg Municipality and Chester Municipality decide that they don't want to have anything to do with amalgamation. Because three of the five municipal units support amalgamation, it is possible, if not probable, that amalgamation will be forced upon the two of the five municipal units which do not want it, Lunenburg Municipality and Chester Municipality, thereby a small proportion of the population would be creating an inequity for the larger proportion of the population.
Digby County, I think, provides another example of the same. In Digby County there are 21,700 people. Within Digby County there is the Town of Digby, the Municipality of Clare, and the Municipality of Digby. The Municipality of Digby and Clare Municipality each have a little over 9,000 residents. The Town of Digby has a population of 2,311. What would happen, for example, and remember we are talking about county boundaries, what would happen if two of those three municipal units, any two of those three, were to request the minister to amalgamate the municipal units within that county. The other one, it may be Clare, it may be Digby Municipality with a large population, would be sucked into an amalgamation which they neither asked for nor wanted.
So there is a very serious shortcoming in this legislation, a shortcoming which can be easily resolved by the minister. It can be resolved by the minister through an amendment to this bill which would result in amalgamation not occurring unless the councils which favoured amalgamation represented something more than 50 per cent and perhaps as much as 60 per cent of the populations of that county area.
Now there is another problem with this bill. Again, it is in the same area of studies within counties. County boundaries really have no meaning other than providing a geographic line to delineate one part of Nova Scotia from another. There are no county governments in Nova Scotia. We have municipal governments in Nova Scotia. I find it strange, other than perhaps for the purpose of trying to conceive of a community of interest, that the minister has restricted amalgamations to municipal units within county boundaries.
For example, it may well be, and I don't know that this is so but I believe the option should be made available, that the residents of the Municipality of Clare and the residents of the Municipality of Argyle may have it in their minds to create a municipal unit which would essentially be an Acadian municipal unit, albeit with a significant anglophone population. This legislation would prevent that not only from happening but even being considered because the Municipality of Clare is in Digby County, the Municipality of Argyle is in Yarmouth County. I am sure that we would find other examples as well but I leave those two with you for your consideration.
I believe that what we should do is amend this bill so that we break away from the very inadequate definition by county boundary. Again, a simple amendment will do that and make this much better legislation and provide greater options for the people of this province, the people who reside in our municipal units, and greater options to those who govern those municipal units on behalf of those people and, I think, will serve the public interest and, at the same time, will achieve what the minister hopes to achieve and indeed what we all hope to achieve, those of us who are supporting this legislation, providing a voluntary opportunity for municipal units across this province to enter into an amalgamation with one another.
I also find a flaw in this bill, one which causes this bill to be, I believe, less adequate than the bill which the House supported unanimously which has resulted in the amalgamation of the Municipality of the County of Queens and the Town of Liverpool. It is with respect to process between that period when the councils vote to amalgamate and the period when the new government takes over. In my case, April 1, 1996, for the new Regional Municipality of Queens.
In the bill, which everyone in this House supported - and I want you to think about that - to amalgamate my two municipal units, we established a coordinating committee which consisted of the coordinator, the mayor, the deputy mayor, the warden and the deputy warden. Those four persons who were duly elected by their respective municipal units have a fair and equal role to play in determining what decisions will be taken respecting the organization of the new municipal unit. In fact, the only time that the coordinator himself will intervene in the process is if there is a hung jury, a disagreement in equal proportions between those four persons who are sitting on the coordinating committee.
So what we have in the municipality, as we move towards a regional government in Queens County, is a coordinating committee consisting of the first magistrates of each of the municipal units and their vice-chairs and the coordinator working together, working cooperatively, with a tremendous volume of public knowledge available immediately within the coordinating committee, and I say working successfully. This coordinating committee has worked really well to date and I have no reason to believe that it will not continue to work well. I have had a number of conversations with John Morash who has been appointed as the minister's coordinator in this amalgamation and he is very happy with the process.
So I ask myself why for municipal units across this province, and we now are talking about small municipal units, we are not talking about another Halifax, another industrial Cape Breton - we are talking about the Port Hawkesburys, the Inverness Counties, the Richmond Counties, the Arichats, we are talking about the Guysborough Counties and the Cansos, we are talking about the Antigonish towns and Antigonish County, the Truros and the small communities around Colchester County - if the model that this House unanimously adopted for the two smaller municipalities in Queens County was a good model, and everyone in this House thought so, why would we not then extend that model into the new legislation instead of recreating in the legislation which is before us today the kind of situation where the coordinator, in effect, has absolutely immense powers and is not bound by any kind of consideration brought forward by those who were elected in the most recent municipal elections here in Halifax to speak on behalf of the people.
So, again, this would be a significant amendment but it would be an amendment in keeping with the bill passed by this House, a bill which the minister and I, on many occasions, discussed as it was being drafted, a bill with which the minister felt comfortable and I wonder why she has not applied that same process in this bill which she so vigorously supported in the bill which I brought forward and which was duly passed last May. That is a change that I think should be made in this legislation and we will be looking for that later on.
There are references in this bill which is before the House to the Municipal Elections Act. Of course, moving towards the election of the newly amalgamated municipal units into regional governments across the province, the Municipal Elections Act is one of the most important tools upon which we must rely. There is nothing wrong with that, but where this bill falls down is in the same place that the Municipal Elections Act falls down. It does not meet contemporary standards with respect to the right of society to know what is being done in society's name, and here I refer specifically to the failure of this bill to address the principle of full disclosure by every person who seeks municipal office in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Every member of Parliament who represents us in Ottawa, by law is required to disclose where his or her election funds came from. Every member of this House is required by law to tell the public where his or her election funds came from. Who gave, how much did they give, and yet we are not requiring the same in this legislation, nor in the Cape Breton legislation, nor in the Halifax legislation nor, indeed, in the Queens legislation, for the same level of disclosure.
Stop and think of it, Madam Speaker, there are more electors in the City of Halifax, in the new Regional Municipality of Halifax, and there are more electors in the Regional Municipality of Cape Breton than there are in many of the counties which encompass rural and small town Nova Scotia. There are more in those two regional units than there are in many of the constituencies represented here in this House. Why, then, is it not incumbent upon us, as legislators, to ensure that no lesser level of disclosure is applied to those who would seek municipal office than to those who are elected to this place? I cannot think of any rationale for not moving in this direction at this time and including in this bill, a provision for total disclosure.
I think it was mentioned in the House yesterday and it bears repeating as an example, that there is a rumour afoot around the metropolitan area that one or perhaps more candidates standing for office are being funded by certain private trust funds. My friends in this House may say to me, can you prove that, Mr. Leefe? Of course, the answer is I can't prove it, I can't disprove it. The reason I can neither prove it nor disprove it is because there is no disclosure. Were there a law requiring disclosure, then we would know. In fact, were there a law requiring disclosure, I dare say that if it were offered, no candidate would ever accept donations from a trust fund because I don't think the public would view that as being in the public interest.
A failure to provide for disclosure results in that very kind of rumour and that very kind of rumour further eats away at the underpinnings of democratic representative government in our communities and in our province. We can help to shore up local governments; we can help improve the reputation of those good men and women who seek public office by ensuring that they are required, by law, each and every one of them, to provide full disclosure.
I hope the minister will recognize this as a very serious shortcoming in this legislation and that she, either by her own amendment or by accepting an amendment from the Opposition, will rise to the occasion and will include in this bill, when it goes to the Lieutenant Governor for proclamation, a clause which will require no less level disclosure than each and every one of the 52 of us is required to provide to the public and in the public interest.
I think also, Madam Speaker, that we should give consideration as we move through this bill as to whether or not this bill should also include ceilings with respect to the amount of money that individual candidates can spend. The Liberal Party, the Progressive Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party have all set limits with respect to the amounts that candidates for leadership of their respective Parties can spend. That is good, that is in the interest of the Parties, it is also in the interest of the general public. Is it not then, by extension, also in the interests of the general public that we, through legislation, or at least through regulation, should provide ceilings for the amounts of money that can be expended for those who seek public office within our municipalities? I believe that to be in the public interest and I believe the public would deem it to be in the public interest as well.
Madam Speaker, the legislation makes the assumption that an old municipal unit may continue to exist after the new regional municipality is created. I wonder why this is so. I wonder if this is not incompatible with the purpose of the bill, a bill which is intended to promote amalgamation. For to allow both to exist and function is, in fact, to increase municipal government bureaucracy, not to reduce it. That is a matter which I hope the minister will address as she closes second reading.
There is a clause in the bill which gives new municipal councils the authority to establish severance pay for outgoing councillors and, presumably, also if they so determine as appropriate, to provide severance pay for themselves. We live in a time which requires that those who are elected spend more and more of their time devoted to their public duties and less and less time being available, therefore, to meet their private responsibilities. I think, for example, in my own constituency of the 500 or 600 men and women who work at Bowater Mersey Paper Company Limited, the vast majority of whom are on hourly wages. It strikes me that if one or more of those people, as is the case with hourly wage earners throughout the new regional unit are prepared to offer for public office, that they should not suffer financially as a result of that. One of the ways to ensure that those who have given many years of their lives to public service do not suffer financially is to make provision for a severance allowance. So I am pleased that the minister has included this in the legislation. I think it is important, I think it is timely and I think it reflects the reality of our time.
I must say that one of the areas with which I have great concern and this really reflects the one concern I do have respecting severance as well and the concern is this, that we expose, through this legislation, our municipal officials to a public scrutiny to which they should not have to be exposed. I think, particularly, with respect to the provision of remuneration to those public officials. Because the public officials, the councils are given the express responsibility of setting their own remuneration, the minister puts them in an untenable position. They will be put in a position whereby they have to decide how much they will pay themselves, a decision-making process which is fraught with many errors.
How much better it would be if in this bill we required each municipal unit, immediately after an election, to strike a committee of citizens within that regional municipal unit and extend to that group of citizens the responsibility for defining what the remuneration should be for the councillors and for the first magistrate in that municipal unit. Wouldn't that make far more sense than requiring the municipal councillors, themselves, to set those rates? Isn't there a much greater possibility of a fairer and more equitable level of remuneration being made available to those councillors and to that first magistrate? Is there not also the possibility and we would hope the probability if indeed not the surety that the stigma which is attached to elected officials setting their own remuneration would be removed and the public interest be better served and I think the democratic institution be better served by that independent body making those critical decisions. I hope that the minister will give consideration to making a change in this legislation which will reflect that public necessity.
Here I find the same potential flaw that we see in the other three pieces of legislation which have passed this House regarding municipal amalgamation, regarding the definition of openness. I have been in this Chamber now, beginning my 18th year, some members have been here for 25 years, the member for Antigonish and Mr. Speaker and have just celebrated their 25th Anniversaries of election to this place. I do not recall in any of my 18 years, nor do I think probably do they recall in any of their 25 years an instance when this Chamber met in camera to conduct the business of the people. In fact, I suspect that many members in this Chamber will militate against any suggestion by any member, irrespective of where they sit in this House, that any of our business should be conducted in camera. Yet this bill, it seems to me, provides for a rather extensive opportunity for matters of public interest and public concern to be dealt with, not in the open forum of council but rather in camera.
I understand that there are certain things which are better dealt with in camera but those things are very few in nature and they should be made so specific that it would be difficult if not impossible for any municipal unit to use an excuse to make public decisions in camera, decisions that should be made in the public forum of the council before the citizens who have elected it to do their work. This is a serious shortcoming. It is one that I think requires a lot of thought. It is a shortcoming which I believe we should seek to remedy here. It is a shortcoming which I believe may well be able to be remedied in advance of the debate in the Committee of the Whole House if the minister is prepared to sit down with members to try to find that definition to bring to the House, but it is a change which I believe we must make.
Every one of the 52 members of this House must be saddened whenever we hear our democratic institutions being attacked. But it is not enough to be saddened when we hear and see those attacks. What we must do is respond to the legitimate attacks in a legitimate way and to reduce the necessity for legitimate attacks to occur. One of the ways we can do that is to ensure that we optimize the degree of openness with the municipal councils, an optimization which I do not believe is made available in the legislation currently before us.
There is a fundamental change effected by this legislation, a fundamental change which was effected in the Queens legislation, a fundamental change which was long ago realized in the City of Halifax and I think probably in the City of Sydney although I am not sure there; there is a former mayor of that fine city in this Chamber and I am sure he can provide me with the correct information.
But the change that is built into this legislation which is absolutely essential to good government and good administration in Nova Scotia is the change which separates governing from administering, separates those who are elected to public office in our municipal units from those who are charged with the responsibilities of administering the day to day government in our municipal units. What has generally been called city manager government here can, indeed, be applied and should be applied and will be applied, successfully in my view, to the smaller municipal units across this province.
It is going to be difficult for some municipal councillors who will be re-elected from the old councils to the new regional councils to accept that they cannot have the same degree of, shall we say, interface with the men and women who work in the day to day administration of municipal government in Nova Scotia, that they must deal solely with the Chief Administrative Officer. But that is good, it is desirable, it is in the public interest and I applaud the minister for including it in this legislation. I believe it will work. Did I believe otherwise I would not have supported it in the bill which I brought before the House with respect to the amalgamation of the two municipal units in Queens.
Taxation and assessment are both very important tools, in fact absolutely essential tools, to municipal units with respect to the raising of revenues. I think that we should not lose sight of the fact that the minister has created what I believe to be an injustice, at least with respect to the way in which taxation will be raised in our municipal units, by applying a 1991 standard with respect to assessment, a standard which reflected the boom of the late 1980's, in a period which, in effect, is very much still caught up in the impact of the recession of the early 1990's.
I think we should build into this legislation something which was not built into the other municipal amalgamation legislation that has already passed this place, a provision whereby assessment will be based on the most recent assessment, not on the assessment which is chosen by fiat, by the Cabinet or the minister of the day. That I think is essential to the delivery of good government and to the provision of fair taxation, the provision of a taxation system which will not put at jeopardy, as we are told is the case because of the choice of the 1991 assessment year, put into jeopardy particularly the businesses and small businesses which exist throughout this province and which employ so many thousands of Nova Scotians. Small business is after all the biggest business generator in Nova Scotia. Small business is big business in that respect.
There is an anomaly built into this bill with respect to the discussion of education area rates. What we will have to do today, as quickly as we can, is to wade our way through the, I think, 160 or 170 sections of the new education bill, to determine if the new bill, once passed, is compatible with the reference to the Education Act that is made in the bill which is currently before the House. If there is compatibility, then we have no problem. If, however, we find that this bill, An Act Respecting Regional Municipalities, is incompatible with the new Education Act, then I believe we must be prepared to amend this bill to reflect the provision that will be made available through the new Education Act or if it is deemed that this bill provides the proper provision, then the government must speak in advance to its preparedness to amend the Education Act so that it will become compatible with this bill. We can't have it both ways. There must be compatibility. If that compatibility does not exist, then it is incumbent upon the government to create compatibility where compatibility does not fit.
There is a reference in the bill to landfills. Last night in the late debate, the Minister of the Environment, the Leader of the New Democratic Party and I had a debate respecting solid waste management. I suppose there is no more vexatious problem facing any municipal unit than the question, where will we site the new landfill? Certainly, there is a tremendous cynicism afoot, at least in the metropolitan area, a cynicism that overflows throughout much of the province as a result of the very bad experience the municipal unit of the County of Halifax has had respecting the Sackville Landfill.
I believe that this section gives us further evidence of the failure of this government to live up to the promises that it made in 1993 respecting assuming responsibilities for administration of municipal solid waste in Nova Scotia. That is something that I think could be remedied in this bill.
I think, too, that we should seize the opportunity in this bill to ensure that whenever an initiative is undertaken within a municipal unit for the siting of a new landfill that there should be a provision made for intervenor funding to be available to a legitimate, publicly supported, publicly recognized citizens group which can, in effect, be a watchdog on the process. That intervenor funding may indeed be made available by the municipal unit itself. It could be assisted by the province through the Department of Municipal Affairs or possibly the Department of the Environment. It could be made available, in part, through any private sector partner which may be involved in the promotion of a new landfill. In fact, for private sector partners involved, why in Heaven's name wouldn't that private sector partner provide proportionate intervenor funding for a group which is established by the community to watchdog the communities' interests with respect to the siting of a landfill and the whole process that swirls around that?
Madam Speaker, those are the few remarks that I wanted to make respecting this bill. The principle of this bill is good. It is a bill which reflects the principle which we, when we were in government, supported. It is a bill which reflects the principle which we have supported as a caucus in the Cape Breton amalgamation bill and the Halifax bill and in the Queens bill. There are, however, as I have delineated, a number of shortcomings in this bill, some of them very serious, shortcomings which can be repaired if the government is prepared to listen and to respond, shortcomings which once repaired will cause this to be, I think, excellent legislation which will serve our municipal units and which will serve our municipal units and the citizens of those municipal units in the many decades to come, legislation which we must make sure will serve those who will inhabit Nova Scotia through the next century, as well as the legislation we are leaving has served those who have shared Nova Scotia with us during this century.
I support the bill and I look forward to the minister accepting many, if not all, of the reasoned arguments that will be put forward by members of the Opposition during the course of debate and of consideration of the bill at other stages. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to follow my colleague, the member for Queens, who delivered a very thoughtful appreciation in second reading of Bill No. 28. We have spent some time on second reading bringing forward our thoughts on this particular piece of legislation. As previous speakers have made mention that in principle, we are supportive of the bill but have serious reservations on particular clauses, particular omissions, and the fact that the bill has been introduced with such a small amount of consultation. Bearing in mind that we are, in effect, now providing legislation that will be the blueprint for municipal change in those parts of the province that are now not undergoing that process, namely those in Cape Breton, the Halifax metro area and the Lunenburg-Queens area.
It was the position of the previous government that municipal amalgamation and municipal reform would have to occur and it is still the position of this caucus that that is, in fact, the case. So we are not debating this bill to suggest to the minister or to members on the government side that we are not in favour of a simplification of the delivery of municipal government in this province. It is long overdue and it is required and, if properly brought about, will result in savings to the Nova Scotia taxpayer.
The surprising thing is that the bill came forward with so little input from municipal officials and from the UNSM. It would appear that the minister is prepared to have her blueprint on the legislation and is not prepared to share with others the ideas that could result and would result in this being a better piece of legislation for us to follow as we go forward in our attempts to reduce the number of municipal units in this province.
I will confine my remarks to some specific principles of the bill which, at this point, are not supportable. It is unfortunate that there was not broader consultation before the bill was brought before the House and it well may be that had that been the case, there would be far fewer contentious issues in the clauses of the bill that the minister has brought forward.
The bill does provide an easy access by any municipal unit to request of the minister a study. The financial situation of the province and of many municipal units certainly will motivate individual units and councils to, in fact, avail themselves of the opportunity within this bill to have a study done in their area which will outline the benefits and otherwise of a municipal amalgamation. However, when it comes in terms of municipal councils requesting the activation of the bill in order to provide a new type of government within their area, the bill makes provision that a majority of the councils within any one county can, in fact, trigger an amalgamation that well may affect a population that is not represented by those councils by anywhere near close to a majority. That is the kind of thing, I think, that the advice and the counsel of the UNSM should have been requested before that particular approach was taken.
There are instances within the province whereby a very small percentage of the population, because they are represented by small municipal councils, could, in fact, trigger an amalgamation and the large majority of the population represented by a smaller number of municipal units may well be brought along into that amalgamation and that there is nowhere near close to a majority representation asking for the process to begin. Again, that is the kind of discussion that should have taken place with the municipal units and with the UNSM prior to this legislation being brought to the floor of the House.
In terms of the alignment, really what this bill says is when this process comes full circle, we are going to have 18 municipal governments in this province. The bill makes specific reference that the amalgamations will occur within existing county lines. Now those county lines were set up many years ago, many of them after the Municipal Incorporation Act over 100 years ago, so the relevance of those particular boundaries are less clear and less distinct than they were at the time when the original geography of the counties was established.
There should be opportunity within this bill and flexibility within this bill to allow consideration of amalgamations that do not follow the existing county line structure. An obvious example, of course, is down in the southwestern end of the province where Clare is, in fact, a part of Digby County and Argyle is a part of Yarmouth County. The flexibility should be in the bill that would at least allow an opportunity for perhaps Clare and Argyle to consider forming a municipal unit. Now there well may be no will in that particular area of the province to have this occur, but it would seem to me that that kind of flexibility should be allowed in the bill.
There are other instances whereby there are communities that are on the periphery of one county and have established a stronger relationship with communities in the neighbouring county rather than within their own county. There should be flexibility within the bill that allows consideration of that particular area perhaps to become part of an amalgamated process with the adjoining county. Again, these are the kinds of things that further consultation before being presented to the House may have resulted in a somewhat different bill than we have before us today.
The process of running for municipal public office has not been clarified or improved by this particular piece of legislation. We still have a situation in which there is no limit established for campaign costs for anyone running for municipal office. Perhaps even more importantly, there is no provision within this particular piece of legislation for disclosure.
This opens the door to huge amounts of money being spent by candidates running for municipal offices. It makes no provision for the public to determine who it is, in fact, who has financed those particular campaigns and I think it leaves the whole process open and suspect. As well, by not having limits on the amounts to be spent on a campaign, I think it gives unfair advantage to those who have the contacts or the wherewithal to raise huge amounts of money and to spend those huge amounts of money in campaigning. This does not necessarily result in perhaps the most effective representatives of the people ultimately achieving municipal public office.
Now, the other situation that has not been addressed - and is a weakness that is in the three pieces of legislation that have already passed this House that have set up the amalgamation process in Queens, Halifax and Cape Breton Counties - and that is there is no independent mechanism to establish the remuneration of elected municipal officials across this province. This is a fundamental weakness to the reform process as it has been presented by this government to this House and it absolutely escapes me why the government and the minister do not seize this opportunity to establish an independent body which will set the remuneration for all elected municipal officials in this province as the whole process of amalgamation and municipal reform takes place.
The process in which the coordinator has been given the opportunity and the power to set the initial salary levels is absolutely inappropriate and that process should have been begun day one by an independent body. This would provide protection to the taxpayers that, in fact, their financial responsibility through their tax rates in paying their municipal officials is absolutely fair and equitable from one of this province to the other. This is an opportunity lost and it absolutely escapes me why the government has not seized on the opportunity to put some rationale into the setting of municipal remuneration right across this province.
Now, being supportive of the municipal reform process right across this province does not necessarily mean that we shouldn't stop from time to time if, in fact, we see a problem has developed. A problem has developed and much has been said over the last few days in this House of the financial problems that seem to have arisen over the last three months as the Cape Breton Regional Municipality gets up and running.
Many people were caught off guard, including myself, including the Minister of Municipal Affairs and, I understand, even many municipal councillors in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, when it was announced that after approximately 90 days of operation, there was a cost overrun in excess of $4 million. That has got to send up a signal that perhaps we should pause and reflect and analyze very quickly what it is that went wrong in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Were the initial projections faulty? Were there not enough guidelines in the bill in terms of the transition from eight councils to one council? Were there not enough safeguards in place to ensure that all of the spending didn't occur in the initial few months in terms of infrastructure, to provide for the delivery of a one council service for all of Cape Breton County?
The point is that it is a very serious situation that has been reported up there. We want to make absolutely sure that the same kind of situation does not occur in the initial few months when the new Halifax County merged council takes over and we want to be sure that the same thing doesn't happen down in the Liverpool-Queens area. A signal has been sent up, there should be an ample opportunity to examine what has gone on in Cape Breton to cause the cost overrun and to make sure that the process that we are following, does not result in the same kind of cost overruns in the early months of the new municipalities as they come on stream.
When the government and the minister were discussing early on, and this was in the spring of 1994, part and parcel of this whole municipal reform process was a single-tiered, social services delivery system provided for by the provincial government. Somewhere over the summer of 1994, that commitment to the municipal units of this province disappeared. Thus far, the only beneficiary of that commitment of government has been the Cape Breton Regional Municipality which has its social service costs totally paid for by the provincial government. Other units, including the soon to be mergered Halifax County, Bedford, Dartmouth, Halifax unit, will be looking for the same kind of benefit. I am sure that down in Liverpool-Queens, I understand they feel very strongly that they had a verbal commitment when they went into this whole process that they would be in receipt of the same kind of consideration by the provincial government that the Cape Breton Regional Municipality has received.
I know in my own particular county, we have one unit in particular that is in serious financial difficulty. We have two other units that are perhaps in less serious difficulty but over the next year or two will have great difficulty in covering their cost of service without making unreasonable demands on the local taxpayer. Now a study will be going on very shortly in Pictou County to outline the benefits that they will receive by a merger perhaps not unlike the one that the minister has ordered in Cape Breton County. But we want to be sure in Pictou County, for example, that we are not embarking on a process that will have the same result as we are seeing up in Cape Breton. We don't want to, for example, engage down this road of amalgamation having had a study and then a coordinator appointed and then find after three to four months of operation that we are faced with huge new transition costs that will ultimately be borne by the taxpayer.
Even after all of the discussion and the emotionalism comes out of the whole amalgamation process, the bottom line for most citizens is, are we going to have an increase in our tax rate? Will this amalgamation process result, in fact, in, ideally, a lower tax rate but, at the very least, no increase in taxes? That is an extremely important point as far as the majority of property owners all across Nova Scotia.
Those are my brief remarks on the bill. I am very anxious for this bill to move on to the Law Amendments Committee. We need more input into this bill, we need input from the UNSM, we need input from municipal officials right across this province and we will get it in the Law Amendments Committee. It is interesting that our critic in our caucus, the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, has, in fact, written to all the municipal units in this province asking for some input. That input is starting to filter back to our caucus office. It is interesting that the one comment they all seem to make is that they have had no input into this and they are most disappointed that they have not had that opportunity to provide their ideas on how the minister should proceed with municipal reform.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I will be supporting this bill going on to Law Amendments Committee and at some point I will be looking forward to an indication from the minister that, in fact, she has been listening to debate and she will listen to what comes to Law Amendments Committee by way of advice on this particular piece of legislation and that she will bring forth amendments which reflect the considerations of others in terms of this particular piece of legislation and that she will be prepared in committee to accept amendments brought forward by our caucus on this particular piece of legislation.
I hope the minister is going forward in this particular process with an open mind and is receptive to constructive change in this particular piece of legislation. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise and speak for a few moments on Bill No. 28. I have had an opportunity, in part, to speak about the principle of the bill, as I did during debate on the amendment to hoist the bill, when I tried to explain why I thought that was a wise resolution and something that the minister should give some consideration to. Unfortunately, that amendment was defeated but, nonetheless, I will try as best I can to indicate what my concerns are with Bill No. 28 and why it is that I think the government is travelling down sort of the wrong road, in terms of priorities and in terms of process.
Mr. Speaker, when the minister introduced Bill No. 28 to the House and to the public of Nova Scotia, she said with some considerable satisfaction, I think, that she, as the Minister of Municipal Affairs, had listened to the municipal politicians, had listened to the UNSM, had listened to their concerns raised about the bill that she had introduced on amalgamating the Cape Breton Municipality and the bill to amalgamate the Halifax metropolitan municipalities, that she had listened to the concerns that had been raised about the fact that she was proceeding in those cases in a top-down, anti-democratic, dictatorial manner, that she was imposing her government's will on the people of those two regions and that people were not given the option.
So she is saying here we have a bill that doesn't impose on any given region, any given group of municipalities, any given counties, a decision to amalgamate, to consolidate their municipal units into one, but it provides for voluntary determination of that same process. In other words, as she explained it and has since, the bill is an enabling piece of legislation in that if the majority of municipal units in a county or within county boundaries decide that they want to merge, amalgamate, consolidate, then they will work through the process outlined in this bill in order to do that, and there are some steps and I will perhaps talk a bit about the principles of those later.
The issue actually remains the same in that there is still a circumstance here that the government obviously is convinced that amalgamating municipal units is the way to go in dealing with the fiscal crisis, the economic and the social crisis, facing all layers of government in this province and in this country. What they are not providing and what the minister is continuing to provide in this bill, as she did in the Halifax bill and in the Cape Breton bill, is a situation where people will still not have an opportunity to participate in the specific details of how an amalgamation will happen.
By that I mean, Mr. Speaker, we have raised concerns before about how, in both Cape Breton and Halifax, the minister appointed an all-powerful commissioner who has powers well beyond that of the council. In fact, that commissioner has a responsibility to determine a lot of the conditions which will affect that mayor and council, and that is too much power. In fact, we heard not too long ago from the member for Queens about how the process in that community, the county and the Town of Liverpool has engaged in in Queens, has been different than that. In other words, the roles and responsibilities of the commissioner as proposed in this bill, in Queens is being handled by a committee, like a management committee of which the appointed commissioner is one. That it is a much more of a process whereby the elected officials, the people that had been elected by the residents of those municipal units, have a direct opportunity to participate in the conditions upon which those municipal units will consolidate their activities.
I think that is an important distinction to be made, that while, yes, to some extent there is a difference here in that it will be the municipal units that will call the minister and say we want to talk about consolidation, instead of the minister calling them and saying you will consolidate, nonetheless, once that phone call is made, that is the only part of it, really, that is voluntary. Because, as is laid out in this bill, all of the conditions upon which that amalgamation will take place are already laid out. In other words, it is like the municipal units give the minister the go ahead and then it is all done. The problems are twofold. One is that the municipal units, as in the case of Queens, should have the opportunity to determine the conditions upon which that amalgamation will happen. Secondly, people should have an opportunity within that municipal unit to have a say on the process.
One of the other aspects of this bill which is of concern, as it relates to democratic process and so on, is that if, for example, the municipal units in the County of Cumberland decide to amalgamate, that the political leadership in those municipal units have suggested that that is the way to go, then once that process has been set in motion, it will just happen. There won't be any opportunity for groups or individuals within those units, other than maybe through letters to the commissioner or at public meetings or whatever, to really have the opportunity to voice their concerns and to participate in having some effect on the eventual outcome. Whereas, if it was a piece of enabling legislation that was particular to that municipal amalgamation, then those residents both through their representatives here in this House and through the Law Amendments Committee process, would be able to appear before members of this House to raise their concerns and to add their contribution to the debate and the final determination of what that legislation will be that will enable those municipal units to amalgamate.
I think those are some important concerns that I think when the minister tries to portray this bill as completely voluntary and leaves the decisions all up in the hands of the municipalities, misses those important points. I think it is important for us all to consider the ramifications.
Another point that I want to make about this bill is again, the assumption that is underlying the bill and let's admit that the primary reason for this bill and for the move to amalgamate, to consolidate municipal units is financial. The way to do that and create efficiencies and cost-savings is to combine municipal units, whether they be rural or urban or whatever, to combine their activities from a number of competing municipal units into one regional uni-city, uni-municipality, in order that they are not competing in areas of economic development, that they are not competing in questions of different levels of service, that they are not duplicating the services that are provided to residents and then instead of having three or four different bureaucracies to carry out service delivery in that particular county, that it all be done with one.
I indicated the other day in my comments that from what I have been able to read of the literature on the whole question of municipal amalgamation consolidation, is that the jury is clearly out on whether or not combining municipal units into one, is necessarily going to lead to cost-savings. In fact, probably the largest consolidation to a municipal unit was done in Winnipeg in 1972. It was enabled by the Ed Schreyer, New Democrat Government of the day and that experience has had some difficulties. Some problems have been realized there. It has had some successes also.
The point I want to make is that nonetheless, in 1991 the residents of a western portion of that uni-city in Winnipeg, residents of a community called Headingley, pressured the provincial government to hold a referendum about secession because they felt strongly that the interests of their particular community were not being well served by the uni-city concept. In fact, as a result of that referendum, as a result of the overwhelming decision by those voters, the provincial government allowed, in 1992, the community of Headingley to secede from the uni-city and establish their own municipal administration.
One wonders if we are not heading down that road here. In other words, the point, I think, that is important is that this isn't necessarily the answer to the fiscal problems that are being deal with by any municipality and that we have to give some consideration to the communities who in fact want to maintain their identity in terms of political identity, cultural identity, economic identity and social identity, Mr. Speaker.
One thinks, of course, of the Town of Bedford which some years ago decided that their interests were not being adequately represented in the Municipality of the County of Halifax. They eventually moved successfully towards the establishment of their own municipal unit and formed the Town of Bedford. The Town of Bedford, as a result of the move to consolidate by this minister and by her government, will now be forced into an amalgamation with the municipal units of the City of Dartmouth, the City of Halifax and the County of Halifax. In a number of different ways the residents of Bedford have clearly expressed their displeasure at being forced again into being part of a municipal unit that included areas other than their town. They wanted to maintain their identity, they wanted to maintain their control over how their community developed. They did not feel, and still do not feel, I believe it is safe to say, that those interests will be properly represented and properly addressed by a mega or a super-council covering the whole County of Halifax.
Whether it is now or whether it is later, there are going to be pressures within this municipality for the residents of the Town of Bedford to be let out. That is not any different than any of the towns that are remaining in the Province of Nova Scotia within a county who don't agree with the move to amalgamate. So, under this bill, if you have two or three municipal units in a county that decide to amalgamate into one and one or two that don't, the one or two that don't will be forced into amalgamating, without the opportunity to even appear here in the Legislature, through the Law Amendments Committee, and raise their concerns and try to encourage the government of the province, that was enabling this process, to reconsider and to give some voice to their concerns.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think the point I am trying to make is that there are many concerns and questions about this whole process of consolidation that should clearly be addressed. I am still somewhat perplexed by the argument for amalgamation which says, and this was often used here in metropolitan Halifax, that for reasons of economic development, and that is often used and that was one of the prime motivations for consolidating the municipal units in the County of Halifax, but what was hurting us here and holding us back was that we had each municipal unit in the County of Halifax competing for business, competing with one another to attract business to their communities.
The minister and her colleagues in the government expressed time and time again, and probably continue to do so, that that kind of competition is a bad thing, that it is better to have one strategy for economic development, one industrial commission, one committee for economic development in this county that will present packages to any businesses that might be interested in coming here, to attract them. That goes against the idea that competition will ensure that efficiencies are, in fact, maintained and that the concern is that when you have a monopoly, in effect, that inefficiencies will creep in and that you and the residents of these communities will not be well served by the fact that you have one vision, as opposed to four or five competing visions which work against each other, combine with each other to create a certain level of dynamism and creativity, to generate different proposals that might make our region more attractive for companies that might be interested in coming and setting up within our province.
Mr. Speaker, I am still perplexed. I know that in the literature economic development is often cited as a rationale, as a reason for combining municipal units but I am still somewhat perplexed by that because I think it is right to be concerned about the fact that large bureaucracies, large administrative structures have their own costs that are not dissimilar to a lot of the costs of smaller administrative units and that government monopolies, and, for Heaven's sakes, we have heard about that over the past number of years when this government and other governments in this country have talked about selling off public services and Crown Corporations to the private sector, that the government monopolies are, in fact, to be feared because of the potential for inefficiencies to creep in and without competition, to remain.
There is also, I think, a concern that one of the things that the amalgamations are attempting to do is to deal with the fact that more urban, highly concentrated communities, are best able to raise revenues and that more rural parts of a county of the province are having difficulty developing a sufficient tax base in order to maintain a level of service. If you combine the urban with the rural, you are going to deal with that, you are going to be better able to spread out the revenue side and supposedly you are also going to be able to better spread out the service side.
I think the rural parts, for example, of Halifax have already expressed some considerable concern and I think it is rightly so. While they will be in a position to pay greater taxes in order to support a larger administrative structure, a larger municipal unit, they have some doubts about whether they are ever going to be in a position to realize the same kind of service that is being realized within the urban parts of that particular riding. I think there is clearly some foundation to that.
The other concern, and I mentioned this the other day, is about the rural parts of any municipality or county, for example, that are being jammed up together with the urban parts of the riding. You and I, Mr. Speaker, both know that many people move from the urban part of a municipality to the rural parts because of the characteristics of the rural part of that particular riding and the reality that, in many cases, they are subject to lower taxes and other costs which are less than in the urban area.
In the example that gave earlier of London, Ontario, when that large urban area took in, again, quite a large chunk of rural area, one of the effects was that eventually, over a period of a couple of years, the rural part of the municipality lost their volunteer fire department because of some specific conditions and the whole idea that people in the rural areas felt that they were paying a certain level of taxes and that they should get full-time professional firefighters, with some of the volunteer firefighters moving into the full-time paid positions in the urban area. Eventually what happened was the pressures were such that the full-time fire department moved into the rural parts of that community. That meant a greatly expanded paid fire service in the municipality of London, Ontario, which again increased costs considerably in that particular situation. That is something that has not been considered here.
Mr. Speaker, you know with your experience in the County of Halifax, that the volunteer fire service is a very important component of many of our communities in the county. I know that in the communities of Herring Cove, Harrietsfield and Sambro, the volunteer fire departments in those communities are really, in many ways, the focal point around which much of the social activities of those communities take place in terms of fund raising, in terms of bringing people together on various issues that affect the community and so on. They play an important role and I think that people are concerned that, as was the case in London, once this amalgamation goes forward that that, too, will be lost because of the pressures.
That leads me into the whole issue of cost savings, the advantages of amalgamation based on one municipal unit being able to save costs. We are seeing right now in the municipality of the region of Cape Breton that the costs of that amalgamation have greatly exceeded the predictions. The predictions of over $1 million have now moved up to $4 million and that the municipality . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: They are still climbing, it could be $6 million or $6.5 million.
MR. CHISHOLM: That's right, the municipality at this point, right now, is faced with a deficit of over $6 million, Madam Speaker, before they even start. In fact, already, less than a year after that legislation was passed through this House, there have been amendments brought forward because of the fact that they have realized such significant costs in the process of amalgamating, there have been amendments introduced in this House which will allow that municipal council to introduce area rates throughout that new municipality. In other words, in contrast to the promises made to the voters, to the residents of each and every one of those municipalities that were amalgamated into one, they are going to be hit inevitably with additional taxes simply in order to pay for the process of amalgamation, let alone the ensuing costs that will come because of the very nature of the larger administration and of the demand for services that is in the urban areas and were not in the more rural areas, but there will be more pressure for those same levels of services to go into the rural areas. That is clearly a concern.
It seems noteworthy that along this line, in Cape Breton a number of the municipal units that were consolidated were being funded through emergency funding from the province and that that ability of the province to grant emergency funding, or the very process of doing that, was cancelled because it was felt there would no longer be the need, especially in this case with the regional municipality, that they would be self-sufficient and they would be able to handle it themselves. Now we know that the mayor, or we understand it is being asserted, Madam Speaker, that the mayor of the new municipality is coming to the province cap in hand, asking for their assistance in dealing with the $6 million-plus deficit they are faced with before they even get started.
Madam Speaker, I think that the whole question of cost and benefit has not been adequately dealt with by this minister and by her government. Again, I suggest to you and to all members of this House that the previous legislation that dealt with specific cases of amalgamation, as well as this piece of enabling legislation, is a desperate response to the cost-cutting measures being employed by both the federal and provincial governments. In light of the fact that this government is completely devoid of any answers on how to deal with this situation, they were going to try and shuffle the cards, they were going to try and create enough dust so that people don't know and don't realize exactly what is happening. There need to be more jobs created in this province, there needs to be more stimulation of the economy, there needs to be more activity generally, there needs to be more of a thrust towards the future in order to build up the capacity of this province to carry out the very demands that we as citizens have for things like quality health care, accessible education, social services and so on, Madam Speaker.
I believe very much that this is a piece of legislation that should be just pulled out and put on the table somewhere or stuck on the shelf; that if, in fact, there are individual counties, groups of municipalities, that want to entertain the concept of amalgamation, it should be dealt with separately by each and every municipality; that there has to be a debate held within those communities, not like what was done here where the process was conducted without any debate, completely contrary to the promises made by this government when they were running for election in 1993, when they viciously attacked the then government of the day under Premier Donald Cameron for ramming down the throats of the people of metropolitan Halifax their concept of municipal amalgamation.
It is not going to change under this bill. That problem is not going to change under this bill, Madam Speaker. Residents of each community are still going to have something imposed on them and we don't feel that that is the way to go. If it is the will of the residents as well as the leadership of communities to move in this direction, then the province should assist that by conducting studies, by sharing information, in order that the decision is made with everybody having their eyes wide open and understanding not only the benefits but also the cost implications. That is the only way to proceed with the kind of change that is being proposed in this piece of legislation.
Again, the only part of this that is voluntary is the fact that instead of the minister calling the municipal units and telling them that this is going to happen, the municipalities originate the call. As I suggested the other day, because of the downloading that is happening from the province to the municipalities, they are being squeezed so badly in terms of their capacity to fund services that they provide that in many cases they will be faced with no options whatsoever. We are seeing that more and more in this whole plan to swap services, the whole service exchange program.
I just recently got a copy of a letter from the Mayor of the Town of Windsor which she wrote to the Minister of Municipal Affairs raising concerns that the issues within service exchange are changing. In this particular case she is talking about the costs of the transfer of the responsibilities of the Department of Justice and that it means upwards of $900,000 from the rural units to some towns. In other words, still, a year after the legislation was passed with respect to service exchange, under which there were promises made by this government as to the fact that it would be flat, in other words, if anything it would be of no cost to the municipal units to exchange service responsibilities with the province, for them picking up responsibilities for roads and for paying the costs of some matters around corrections and other issues that are normally under the purview of the Department of Justice, the province would pick up fully the cost of social assistance, for example. Still, a year later, the municipal units are being faced with a lack of information and, in fact, the numbers are continuing to change.
Madam Speaker, the member for Kings South has indicated he would like to make an introduction.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you. The honourable Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency.
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Thank you, Madam Speaker, and thank you to my colleague for allowing me to interrupt this debate. I would like to introduce a group of students in the gallery this morning who are from Horton District High School with their teacher, Ms. Peach. They are a Grade 11 French immersion class, une classe d'immersion.
They are here on a rather historical day in terms of the Education Act being tabled this morning. We had a chance to talk a little bit about not only the importance of that Act but the fact that this coincides with their visit. As that Grade 11 class of French immersion students, just three days after the most significant referendum in the history of this country, they are living proof that there is yet another way to redefine this nation.
So I would ask the honourable members of this House to greet these students with warm applause. I trust that you have an enjoyable day here in Halifax. Thank you for coming. (Applause)
MR. CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, I guess the point I was making is that this whole question of amalgamation, the whole question of consolidating municipal units, the whole question of service exchange, continues to be up in the air and the minister and her government have not been able to nail down what the costs are, nor have they been able even themselves to determine what their costs are going to be. When the question with respect to the deficit faced by the new municipality in Cape Breton was raised the other day, the minister said quite clearly that she didn't understand either why the deficit had reached in excess of $6 million for that new municipality.
So all I am saying and what I think many people are saying is that instead of moving down the road, the amalgamation track, what we need to do - and I think it would only be an indication of responsible government - is examine some of our actions, that this government examines the impact of some of their actions in order to ensure that they don't continue the same mistakes. The same mistakes mean greater costs not only to this government, but greater costs to the taxpayers who are paying the bill. That has to be one of the utmost concerns of this government.
So, with those few comments, I want to say that I am no more in favour of this bill than I was of the other two bills. The minister says this is a voluntary bill; I think that is a misnomer. I think it still sets up all of the conditions that were wrong with the bills to amalgamate the municipality of the region of Cape Breton and metropolitan Halifax. I think all she is doing is ensuring that what was done wrong then is done wrong again as it affects communities in rural Nova Scotia. I think that is a problem, Madam Speaker, and I think it needs to be reconsidered. I think the people of Nova Scotia deserve an opportunity to have examined and to examine for themselves the costs that will be generated, the costs that will impact on each and every one of them as a result of this drive to consolidate, to amalgamate, municipal units.
So, Madam Speaker, along those lines, what I propose to do is introduce an amendment. The amendment would read as follows and I will pass these out. An amendment that says, "That the words after `that' be deleted and the following be substituted: `the subject matter of Bill No. 28 be referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts so that the impact of the bill on taxes and government finance can be fully explored.'". I so move.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you. I will just give the opportunity for the amendment to be circulated to all members in the House.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Madam Speaker, are you willing to hear representations on the amendment or admissibility of the amendment?
MADAM SPEAKER: Yes.
MR. MANN: Madam Speaker, I would maintain that this request for a referral to the Public Accounts Committee is really meaningless. What is the Public Accounts Committee going to examine? There is no amalgamation proposed in the subject matter of Bill No. 28. It is enabling legislation that would, upon the request of municipalities, permit the amalgamation process to begin. I don't know what amalgamation could possibly be looked at by the Public Accounts Committee since no amalgamation is referred to in the bill.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, that doesn't surprise me that the Government House Leader wouldn't see the implications of this particular bill and is prepared to carry forward with this kind of action with his eyes closed, but I think the purpose of this amendment is to deal with the principle of this bill which provides for amalgamation. The request is and the suggestion is, in fact, that the Public Accounts Committee, the committee of this House responsible for examining these kinds of questions, would examine what evidence there is because it doesn't appear that the minister has anything available to her; evidence that is available in terms of the impact of these kinds of amalgamations. In fact, I would say that we have plenty of evidence already on the ground in terms of the impact of what is happening in Cape Breton and what is happening here in metropolitan Halifax as well as (Interruption)
MADAM SPEAKER: You have the floor, honourable member.
MR. CHISHOLM: I am trying to make a submission to you, Madam Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: And I am paying attention, believe it or not.
MR. CHISHOLM: I am not admonishing the Speaker. I am trying to express the reasons why I think that this should be done. The Clerk is too. I am sure that his words are as valuable as mine, if not more so. I just don't want to preclude what he has to say any more than I do want mine to be missed.
My point simply is that we have an opportunity through the Public Accounts Committee to take a look at the impact that this kind of legislation will have on the towns and villages in Nova Scotia and that we have an obligation to ensure that those impacts are, in fact, analyzed before we allow this kind of legislation to go forward.
HON. GERALD O'MALLEY: On a point of order, Madam Speaker, at this reading of this bill we are dealing with the principle of the bill. I believe it is therefore necessary to identify what is the essential principle of the bill. The honourable member opposite is assuming that the essential principle of the bill is either fiscal or economic in nature. I would submit that that is not necessarily the essential principle of the bill. It may be a spinoff effect of the bill, but the essential principle of the bill is all of the benefits that may come to a society from amalgamating into a greater unit. There are a multitude of spinoffs that may occur as the result of that kind of an amalgamation, not only economic efficiencies, efficiencies in the delivery of the service. A wide range of possible economic spinoffs may come from the essential content, the basic principle of this bill, the bringing together of small social units into a larger social unit for a multitude, a myriad of spinoff reasons, only one of which is economic.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would say that the last intervention was complete nonsense. We are not discussing at the moment the principle of the bill, we are talking about an amendment to Bill No. 28 and whether or not the amendment is in order. Clearly it is in order because it refers the bill to a committee of the House.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you, if there are no further interventions, will you give me a moment.
Thank you, honourable members, for your patience. I am going to rule that the amendment is out of order. If it were just simply referring the subject matter of the bill to the committee then I would accept it, but whereas it is choosing to focus on the further question that the impact of the bill on taxes and government finance be fully explored, that is the reason I am giving for ruling this amendment out.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Thank you, Madam Speaker, I appreciate your ruling, but we had an amendment yesterday which would basically do the same thing and, of course, it was voted down.
As I said before, I don't know what the hurry is about this bill; I really don't understand the hurry. We have Cape Breton, and the Halifax metro being put in place, and there are problems in Cape Breton with start-up costs. I think if we would take our time on this bill and look at the ramifications, that it wasn't a bad idea to hoist it or, in this case, send it to committee for people to have the opportunity to discuss and take part in what could be amendments to the bill.
As I said yesterday, and I say again today, I am generally in favour of the principle of the bill, the fact that it is enabling legislation to give municipalities the opportunity, if they want to, to amalgamate and form one unit.
My colleague, the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, had written to all of the mayors and wardens across this province asking whether they had any input in this bill. He received replies from Oxford, no input; from West Hants, no input; from Stellarton, no input; from Shelburne, no input; from Stewiacke, no input. Our warden from the County of Pictou was present the night the bill was first discussed, and certainly has not been consulted and has many concerns regarding this legislation. No doubt, many municipalities will appear at the Law Amendments Committee when, in due course, it will get there. We know that will happen because the government has the majority and they have the right to do that.
The County of Cumberland, the warden there was away; in fact, he was in Montreal with the group that went from Nova Scotia; 360 of us went. By the way, I was very pleased to have the opportunity and I thank the Premier and whoever put the package together. They certainly did an excellent job, and it was an opportunity to show those people that we were proud of Canada and proud of Quebec and, if I could for just a minute, Madam Speaker, say that a lot of people came up to me personally - we had the flags - and said, thank you very much for coming, we really appreciate you taking the time. But Gerald, the warden from Cumberland County, was on that trip, so he did not have the opportunity to have any input either.
Now, the District of Yarmouth says they were not consulted. They had not even had a chance to look at this bill. The Town of Windsor were only aware of the legislation from the comments made by the minister when she attended the UNSM a couple of weeks ago, but really there was no input from that group. There were a couple of other groups, I believe the Mayor of Kentville, and another group that had responded to my colleague saying that they had no input.
The minister did go out prior to the bill, last year, and visited all of the municipalities across this province. I congratulated her and say it again, I am pleased that she was able to do that. The problem was, though, you could go and listen, but you have to come back and discuss it with your staff, and then go back and tell the people what you are going to do. Don't just come in here and bring legislation in that people really had no input on.
The Honourable Guy Brown, the member for Cumberland South, introduced a bill two years ago on the Credit Union. What he did, he put it on the order paper. Then the bill went back to all of the Credit Unions, to all of those groups that were interested and they had input and they made amendments and changes to it. The honourable minister brought those amendments in and put them in place. It went through the Law Amendments Committee, just flying, it came in the House and I think it passed within 20 minutes after it was introduced again.
Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity, myself, to introduce a bill a number of years ago, a bank and loans company Act; it was 253 pages. We put it on the order paper, it sat there and when the next session came around - it was in the spring session in this case - we brought it back and people had an input. That bill passed, again, in 15 minutes. I couldn't believe it, a 253 page bill. People outside had the opportunity, and that is all we are saying, that the principle of the bill is fine but let's give the people an opportunity to have input.
Many of the members on the government side of the House and beside me here are former municipal councillors. I am waiting to hear their comments on this bill. We have been at this bill pretty well all week and I have yet to hear anyone, other than the minister, say anything in regard to this bill. I know they have a lot of good experience and that is important. You people could have good input and we would love to hear you get up. I understand the Minister of the Environment was a municipal councillor. We would love to hear from you people as to what you think of this bill.
Clause 3(2) of Bill No. 28 provides that . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I just would caution that we are not into the clause by clause debate at this time. We are just on the general principle.
MR. MCINNES: Oh, I am sorry. All I can say is that there are a number of items in the bill, the Education Act does not apply, and one other important point that I wanted to make note of was the fact that the matter of taking over social services is not included. They have done that for the Cape Breton region. I understand that for Queens, which volunteered to be amalgamated, their social services are to be targeted for April 1, 1996. I think a lot of the municipalities would be very pleased if that was in the bill, that the provincial government would be taking over the costs of social services.
There is nothing in the bill regarding the setting of salaries. That is another item. Councillors themselves will have to set their salaries and I feel very strongly that there should be some type of an Act or regulations or whatever to set up the fact that it would be done by an independent committee, as ours is done.
There is also the concern expressed regarding disclosure. The candidates can go out and spend as much as they like. I don't think that is right. We are certainly limited in what we can spend and I think that is correct. How can the average person on the street, man or woman, go out and spend a lot of money if he is running against somebody who has a lot of money? One person suggested they might be spending as much as $200,000. Is that right? I don't think so. I think that could be included in the bill, Madam Speaker.
Now in today's paper, and I will table it if you want me to, in The Daily News, Friday, November 3rd., "Councils have until January" is the headline. They asked for time and they got it. "Municipal Affairs Minister Sandy Jolly has agreed to allow the four area municipal councils until January to discuss issues over forming one regional government.". Well that is good, I think that is wonderful. "Stewiacke Mayor Ross Wickwire told the minister his council is interested in continuing discussions but is still trying to determine benefits to the town.". I think that is good, that it is being delayed a little and giving them an opportunity to have input.
Now what did Mayor Carter say? Mayor Doug Carter ". . . told the minister it is important the councils know what the expected tax rates will be under a regional government . . . We have to know the costs . . .". That is all people are saying and that is all we are saying, is take some time, table this bill for the time being and bring it back in the spring and have the municipalities come in and make presentations and put the bill in proper order.
The minister is going to have a study done for the County of Pictou and she agreed to that study and that is good too. Now I just got the terms of reference for that study this morning, the minister was kind enough to send us a copy. It is giving the consultant or whoever gets the job, I believe there are four that are going to make a second proposal and the submissions have to be in by November 15th and it will close by the end of November.
I think that is good, that gives them an opportunity and they are supposed to, among other things, obtain the views and the opinions of the citizens through a number of public meetings held throughout the county. They are to consult extensively with the elected and appointed officials for all existing local governments in the county and also to examine how the existing services are working and identifying strengths, weaknesses in how local government delivers those things and also to review the current financial status of the existing municipalities and assess their ability to sustain increasing costs. In general, they are to examine the advantages and disadvantages, financial and non-financial, of adopting a regional structure for Pictou County, taking into account the principles of accessibility, accountability and cost-effectiveness.
The consultants will report back to the minister and to the various units and I think that is great. But I think this bill should also be left for some time or at least give us the opportunity to make some amendments. I am sure during Committee of the Whole House on Bills that we will take the opportunity to make the amendments. Now I don't want to be repeating myself but I think three of the major items are; the fact about disclosure, the fact about no references to social services and the other one is in regard to setting of salaries.
I am going to vote for this bill, for the simple reason to bring it ahead to the Law Amendments Committee when the time comes. I would hope that the minister, when she sums up her bill will suggest to us that she will have some amendments to bring forward to the Law Amendments Committee so that we can look at them because I think it is the proper method, it is the proper thing to do. If she would just leave it on the order paper until next spring and everybody would have some input, the bill would come in here, we would just pass it right away and everybody would be happy.
Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the opportunity this morning to participate in this debate on Bill No. 28, an Act Respecting Regional Municipalities.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on Bill No. 28, an Act Respecting Regional Municipalities and I am a little disappointed. One thing this government hasn't learned in a little over two years, it is still as arrogant as ever, it is still as forceful to push ahead and it hasn't learned yet that there are other ways to deal with people, other than in a dictating way that does not allow input by people that are affected by the policies that they sit in the bunker and dream up that affects the citizens of this province.
This legislation (Interruption) No, I won't. I was tempted but I won't.
AN HON. MEMBER: Just like Donald Cameron.
MR. MOODY: Well, you know what happened, he lost and that is what is going to happen over here because you are not listening either. That is exactly the good example of what happens when you stop listening. It is just that you stopped listening early in the game. Let me say, Madam Speaker, I was quite disappointed from the very beginning that this legislation was announced to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities leaders in Yarmouth.
AN HON. MEMBER: What are the odds?
MR. MOODY: Well, I think their odds are better than at the track. (Laughter) Let me say, Madam Speaker, that one of the things that is being complained about, we understand that we should have regional municipalities and I think everyone in this Legislature agrees, the basic reason was that it would cost less, we would provide better services to the people in the area and so therefore regional government was the way to go. When this government brought in the legislation to amalgamate the Cape Breton region, it said clearly - like this legislation which is very similar - and I will mention a couple of areas where it is not similar regarding social services costs and a few others, but it is very similar. The idea was that municipalities would save money and services would be better and there would be lower taxes in a particular region.
Madam Speaker, the framework that this government put together in Bill No. 28, which is very similar to the bill that put together the municipal region of Cape Breton, very clearly has demonstrated that it doesn't save money. Remember, the former member for Cape Breton West stood up in this House and because he dared to speak out against this government and said, what amalgamation is going to do to the people I represent is higher taxes and it actually is not going to save money, and that is exactly what has happened. The people in those municipalities in Cape Breton are now faced with an increase of taxes.
Now the mayor is coming to Halifax and, just maybe, this government will see fit to give that mayor $4 million to $6 million so that they can start out even because it is not the mayor's fault he didn't start out even.
AN HON. MEMBER: How do you know?
MR. MOODY: Well, I have a feeling it might have had something to do with the coordinator and the way the legislation went and maybe the House Leader is saying what we are saying, maybe we should find out. If we find out, if we have the opportunity, we could correct it in this kind of legislation. (Interruption) They have told us many things are wrong. There is absolutely no question. We will get to that, Madam Speaker, when we get into clause by clause. But since we are talking on the principle of the bill, obviously I can't go into the particular clauses but I know there will be some amendments probably brought forward by the minister, I suspect. There will be some amendments proposed by, I am sure, both Opposition Parties. But this legislation is being rushed in and I have not heard the minister at any point in time stand up in this Legislature and tell us and all Nova Scotians that there is a timeframe that this bill has to be introduced or things aren't going to work.
Now I know that other municipalities are looking at amalgamation. We had Queens County amalgamate on their own with a promise by this government that they would take over social services costs. Now, as yet, that commitment has not been kept but I assume it will be. If it is not, then this government didn't live up to its promise or commitment that it made and misled those people in Queens County into amalgamating and said that they would take over full costs of social services. But what has happened is that we have other municipalities looking at amalgamation but they are a little gun shy. Yes, they didn't get caught in the shotgun wedding that the minister did with the two large municipal units - who now says she is putting the shotgun away and it is going to be done peacefully - that you are not going to be forced into it, but what is happening is that the municipal leaders in those other areas are saying wait a minute, we are hearing what is happening in other regions; we are hearing that there is a multiple number of problems occurring because of the legislation this government put in place. Something went astray. We don't want to amalgamate in a particular area and find out that the costs go up, there are no cost-savings, and in actual fact the government does not even live up to its commitment to take over social services costs. Then what is the rationale behind amalgamating? There is none.
Even though some of these municipal leaders are saying, we need more time, the minister says, more time won't help, we have to move on. Well, I don't know that any of us would not admit that the more time we have to assess those that have already gone forward, I am sure there is something we can learn and improve the legislation that comes after it. This government has taken the attitude that it is not going to look at what has happened or what the problems were, but in actual fact it is going to move on with a mirror-type legislation. So, I doubt whether Colchester and Truro and Stewiacke and those areas will quickly move into amalgamation, if they are not going to be pushed by the minister, until they understand the full financial impact that may occur if they move forward.
I know in Kings County, Madam Speaker, and there is nothing in this legislation that affects this, they are not looking at amalgamating but the sharing of services. They seem to think that they want to move in that direction, and maybe that is where the cost-savings are.
One area this bill doesn't address, and I think there are some municipal units around the province, is cross-county boundaries. If you look at Digby, we have the Municipality of Clare, the Municipality of Digby - they are all within Digby County - and we have the Municipality of Argyle. Maybe it makes sense for Argyle and Clare to amalgamate - maybe, who knows - but this legislation doesn't allow that outside of county boundaries. I look at Hants West. Whether it is school board or whatever, it has always been closely associated with the Municipality of Kings. Many of the services, schools and other services have been shared in that direction, wherein in East Hants it has obviously gone the other direction. But if you follow this legislation, you are looking at a marriage within Hants County itself. I think you have to look at geography, you have to look at other common areas where municipalities may want to amalgamate. This does not allow cross boundaries. That is something, I think, that very well could be looked at. Obviously, financial reasons is probably the largest one.
One of the areas that this doesn't address is the work force in municipalities. I think in Cape Breton they are still having a great deal of difficulty working out contracts and union people versus non-union people. Some of these negotiations could take place ahead of time. We are going to have this with the police forces if we amalgamate and we are going to run into, I feel, a lot more problems than we need to.
If the minister wasn't in such a great rush, some of these areas, I am sure, could be worked out ahead of time. I know one of the areas is the volunteer fire service. It has always been worried about amalgamation, paid and non-paid fire departments, and how their funding that is occurring might be affected. There is no guarantee in this kind of legislation that supports, in the way it should, volunteer fire services, or gives that kind of guarantee from a regional government.
The coordinator - and I think we have learned that from setting up the Cape Breton regional government, and metro - obviously had a great deal of power. It was the coordinator who said that the mayor of the Cape Breton region should receive $90,000-odd, plus expenses and all the other things that go with it, which, Madam Speaker, is more than the Premier of this province gets.
I have to question, if we are looking at paid representatives in this province, why, (Interruption) Well, I honestly believe that the Premier has more responsibility than a mayor of a regional municipality. I honestly believe that. If we are saying the Premier is underpaid or he is not, and I think that there was some way to make it fair throughout, and then there will always be the argument of whether one is or isn't. The problem I see with it, you are making the pay for the mayors higher than the Premier then the taxpayer has to say hey, what is going on, at a time when we are paying and can't afford to pay more taxes (Interruption) Wage restraint.
There was no wage restraint for the new mayors. If you were the mayor of the Cape Breton region I am sure you were not making $90,000-plus before amalgamation. So the government just turned a blind eye. The minister said there is nothing I can do, it is the coordinator. Well, who in the world is directing the coordinator and who in the world is making the decisions?
So the coordinator has all these powers to appoint people in positions and prior to the amalgamated board taking over. So there has been some controversy about how much experience here is worth, compared to looking for somebody outside of the province.
One of the areas this bill doesn't cover is disclosure. Any municipal candidate who is running doesn't have to disclose where they spend the money or where they get the money from. Now maybe this government, in my mind, doesn't want to do that because they might be putting some of their Liberal trust money into a candidate's campaign and how would you know? There is absolutely no way to know that that money isn't being taken from the Liberal trust fund and given to a particular candidate, no way. I heard one of the candidates who is running in metro say he is going to spend $200,000. Well does he raise $300,000? If he does, what happens to the money? How do we know he raises $200,000? Who are his friends after he has gotten the $200,000? Who does he owe favours to?
One thing about running in provincial elections is that all the money is disclosed as to where it comes from, how you spend it. It is all there for public scrutiny. That is what has to happen. All we are doing is setting ourselves up. Let me tell you, we are setting ourselves up because there is no way of knowing what is going to be spent. I will bet you there will be big bucks spent in the mayor's race right here in metro, as there probably was in Cape Breton. We have no way of knowing whether or not those funds are used above board.
I think it is high time that we make sure that for all funds raised and spent on elections there is a disclosure for the public to see. There is nothing wrong with that. I think that the government had the opportunity to put this in legislation, and I am worried too, Madam Speaker, that if you are a common person with a small income, how can you compete for a position of mayor in metro who is going to spend $200,000? It is not equal. There isn't anybody in this province that I feel that if they get the nomination they can't run for an MLA because the amount of money and all of that is within some sort of reason and there are controls.
There is not one bit of control in running for offices in these positions that pay more than the positions we are running for. Even the mayors are receiving more than MPs. I can't understand, for the life of me, why this government sits on its hands and says, that is okay, we don't want to interfere in any way and say that there should be disclosure. Well, I haven't heard an argument from anybody on the floor of this House who says disclosure would be wrong. If they do, I am saying we are looking for trouble down the road. I really believe that, I believe the public has the right to know and deserves the right to know.
The other area in this legislation is about area rates, the Education Act and the problems that I see there. The problem also, going back to severances and all of those things, could have been done better in this particular bill. Another provision in this bill and I don't want to get into the clause by clause but the Education Act does not apply in regional municipalities. Now we have a new Education Bill coming in today and I have to say, to be honest, a very thick document, I haven't read it so I don't know what is in the new bill. I doubt if many others have read this bill, except for those that were in the know in drafting it and were part of it.
I think one of the other areas that we are going to see and this is a matter of reassessment that is going to occur. I know it has been put off in metro for a year, as I understand it, but I honestly believe that when we see a reassessment, we are going to see a lower assessment on the commercial side and a much higher assessment on the residential tax side. What has happened in the commercial buildings, say in downtown Halifax, is that the rents have gone down substantially since we had the last assessment. We also know how the taxes are structured are based on the rents of those properties. Some of them are down very low and so what is going to happen, as we lose millions of dollars on the commercial side, there is only one other taxpayer to pick it up and that is the homeowner.
There are other areas of this legislation that I know will come up when we get it back from the Law Amendments Committee, but I was hoping that the government would have taken the opportunity to finally put together a piece of legislation by taking out parts of the legislation that I think are flawed or filling in the gaps that aren't there. Until that happens, I am not sure that the minister is going to get as many mergers as she would like, unless she holds up that financial carrot of saying, absolute, you join us and we will take over the social services costs. I think that is the only carrot that is going to get municipal leaders to say, it is good for us. I haven't heard many of them say yet that financially, it is the way to go.
I suspect that what this government will do is after the next election, if by small chance they happen to return to office, there will be shotgun weddings again, in other words, you won't have the opportunity. What they are doing as they lead up to an election is saying, look, we know we forced two amalgamations, we know we have angered many municipal leaders but now we want to kiss and make up and what we want to do is go easy, we won't force you. But the minute they get the new mandate, they will be back at their throats and saying, sorry, the time limit is up, you are going to come whether you want to or not and you have got to be part of the marriage.
I will be interested to hear what municipal leaders say and to watch how many rush to fall under this legislation without some of the guarantees that I talked about. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak on the second reading of the Regional Municipalities Act, Bill No. 28. We are debating a legislation here today that a great number of regional municipality representatives have said they haven't seen. Yet the minister tells us she has gone around and met with all kinds of people, and I congratulate her on going around and meeting with the people of the Province of Nova Scotia and holding the meetings, but my question would be, indeed, did anybody come to the meetings? It appears to me, from the information that has come back to us, that nobody was in attendance at these meetings because nobody knows what went on. We have a number of regional and municipal leaders who have stated to us that they did not know about the implementation clause. They are not happy with the sharing of the services when the amalgamation takes place, and they are worried about the social services costs.
The social services costs - and I will go back to an area where I am more familiar - in Cape Breton there has been a problem there. There seems to be people falling through the cracks when we talk about social services. The type of social services that were available under the municipalities and what is available under the new Act has created problems and there are people falling through the cracks, Madam Speaker. Since that is the case, we should take some time to look at this legislation and make sure people are not falling through the cracks. It is my belief that it is our duty to make sure we put forward the kind of legislation where people will get the best bang for their buck. I am not sure that this is going to happen with this legislation.
It is very important that the people get the type of services they need, and people who are receiving social services are receiving it because they need it, not because they want it and not because they like to be on social services. We have to make sure that that component of this bill plays a major role in what takes place in the lives of those people.
We are talking about rushing through this legislation and making it happen now, yet when the minister met with the people in the Truro-Bible Hill area, they asked for more time and she gave it. That is what we are asking for. We are asking for more time so that people will have a chance to review this legislation, have a chance to make sure they have all of the input. It is important that we do have amalgamation and it is important that we go forward, but it is important that we do it right and we do it right the first time.
If there is any reason and any strong argument for us not to be in a hurry, it is what has happened in Cape Breton. We are still not sure what is going on; the minister is not sure and nobody else is sure. I am certainly sure that the people who are living in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality have no idea what is taking place, Madam Speaker, and it is incumbent upon us to bring forward the best legislation, so that what has happened to us in Cape Breton doesn't happen to the rest of this province. At the end of the day, the same people are paying the bills, but we have to be sure that they are paying them properly and we have to be sure that we are looking after their best interests.
We are putting forward a template, something here that is supposed to be good legislation for everybody and, again, Madam Speaker, I am not convinced that that is what is taking place. I think we have to look at it a little more closely. I do not like to keep on going back to what is happening in Cape Breton, but when we are talking about $4.5 million in overexpenditure, when we are talking about an implementation that cost $4.5 million when it was only supposed to cost $1.5 million, when we are talking about a process that the minister said she has seen and she agreed to and yet it still cost $3 million more, there must be a flaw in the system and we have to address that before we go any further.
The new legislation says that a majority of the municipal units in a county can put forward and suggest that we should have amalgamation. But that isn't based on population and it is population that, I think, should play a much greater role in what is taking place here because, again, we are here to look after the people of the province. It is very unfair, in my opinion, for two or three small municipal units to put forward the idea of amalgamation, especially in the case where they have been serving and receiving emergency funding. They put forward the idea and they are passing the buck on to people in the other areas. I think it is important that we make sure the population is in favour of the bill, not just a small number of municipal units and a small number of municipal leaders.
The other thing we are losing sight of here - and again I want to go back to an area that I am familiar with - happened to us in Cape Breton. There are some of the smaller communities there that have lost their identity, or felt they have lost their identity. Louisbourg, for example, feels they have really lost their identity, that they aren't a part of any part of the county or the regional municipality (Interruption) Well, I can say that Louisbourg has still found that they have lost their identity, because they are different, they are unique, they are a special community and, they certainly did support this current government.
That all being said, their right to be a separate community was taken away from them and that is not fair because it is a unique special area and I think they should be allowed to keep their identity. There are more areas of this province that are unique and those things should be taken into account when any legislation is being put forward.
Everybody, again, thinks that we are moving too quickly. I am not sure that we are not moving too quickly, Madam Speaker. It is important that we have the right type of legislation and that we do move forward but at the same time, it is important that this legislation meet the needs of the people that we are here to represent and does not just meet the needs of a political Party that is in a hurry to get something done. Change for the sake of change is not always the best thing and it certainly is not the way that we should be operating. We should be making change that will make a difference to this province and will help the people that we are trying to represent.
The minister has told us, Madam Speaker, that she is not a councillor or the mayor for a certain area. She is the person that puts into effect the laws that affect the way these people operate. She is the person that these people look to for guidance and for some operations and for some vision as to where this province is going. I don't think that the people of this province are getting that vision and that guidance through this bill. It really worries me that we are trying to force these things when what is going on, again, as I say, in Cape Breton, has not been a pretty sight. We have been into it for three months, we are looking at a large overrun of costs and we are already talking about a major tax increase.
The former member for Cape Breton West, who spoke out on behalf of the people of Cape Breton West, who warned us about the fact that there would be tax increases, when he spoke out, the people across the other side of the House, Madam Speaker, they sent him home, they said he was not welcome, that he should not do that. The governing Party of this province, who I owe a great debt to because if they had not done that, I would not have the opportunity to come here and speak to you today.
The fact of the matter is, he spoke the truth and he was told to sit down. He was told that it was not the proper place to say it. If we cannot say those things in this House, I would like to know where, indeed, we can say them. That is our job to look after the interests of the people that we are sent here to represent. I think sometimes some people do not keep that in sight. It is a scary thought in my opinion.
It sounds like something that we should not have to put up with in this province or in any other part of this country. It sounds like the legislation that we put forward has to have some positive improvements in what is taking place in our province. In my mind, what is taking place in this legislation is not as positive as it could be or should be.
There are many other things that have taken place, Madam Speaker, with this type of legislation. Again, I go back to what happened in Cape Breton when they had the amalgamation of the fire services. We had a number of volunteers who were not allowed and could not get involved in the fire services. The call for jobs went out and people were not allowed to apply because they were not certified. We have a problem when we have paid people versus volunteers and we have to address that now.
We have a problem with the severance packages when this bill was put forward. It is still going to be a problem as time goes on. It is very important in my mind and in the mind of a lot of people from Cape Breton West that the amount of money that is allowed to be spent, again, in public office become public knowledge. There has to be spending limits put on the top of this whole type of system. It is important that people know how much is spent to gain public office but it is also important to know who helped supply that money for people to become members of the public office.
Madam Speaker, it is also important that people understand why people run for public office. It should not be because of dollar values. The amount that is being paid - again I go back to an area I am familiar with, to the Mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and the councillors - is too much and people are very upset with that process. The new legislation should include those things and allow people to know exactly up-front what these costs are going to be.
I would hope, Mr. Speaker, that the minister will look at all these concerns that have been expressed over the last little while, take some time and do like she has done for the people of Truro and Colchester County, and give us some more time so that we can be sure that this bill is the type of bill that will do the best job that can be done. Thank you very much for your time.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. If I recognize the honourable minister, it will be to conclude the debate.
The honourable Minister of Municipal Affairs.
HON. SANDRA JOLLY: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand and give a few brief comments with regard to this bill and the suggestions and concerns that have been expressed by both of the Parties opposite. One of the aspects I want to deal with first is the question of disclosure and election campaigns. I can tell the honourable members that one of the things we have set up in consultation with the UNSM is a legislative review committee which consists of a combination of the UNSM members, members of the staff of the Department of Municipal Affairs and members of AMA, the Association of Municipal Administrators. They, in actual fact, are working on that issue. The UNSM had asked me to pass that issue on to that legislative review committee and they, in fact, are working on that and had requested actually that that stay in that committee and the committee have an opportunity to bring forward their recommendations of how they would deal with disclosure and how they would deal with election campaigns. So I can tell the honourable members that that is where that is and that was a request of UNSM and I reconfirmed that request with the UNSM this morning when I met with them on this particular bill.
There has been ongoing discussion with the UNSM. I met with the UNSM this morning for an hour and one-half, actually - that is one of the reasons I was late getting to the House - to have further consultation on the bill and some of the concerns that they have with regard to certain issues. One of the issues that came forward was whether we should be looking at boundaries other than the county and I have discussed that with the UNSM, as well. People don't seem to know how to deal with that. If you go beyond the county which was something we looked at originally, there is a concern that amalgamation is going to be wide open and there are no restraints to it or there is no definition to it which, if I had brought in the fact that we could amalgamate regions, I am sure the discussion from the Opposition would be, what is a region and how do you decide what a region is. So we decided to be very clear on the fact that we would use the county boundaries and I think there is general acceptance on that with the UNSM, recognizing that no matter which way you go, you either include too much or you exclude some. So we have come in with the county aspect.
The suggestion that counties if they want to get together, can't get together, I don't think is correct, Mr. Speaker, because I think we have seen in the past in Queens, where it was a voluntary amalgamation, if areas want to come forward with the suggestion of how an amalgamation may occur, taking into consideration other areas, or two counties or some areas, we would be more than happy to sit down and look at that. I think that's the beauty of this piece of legislation. It gives a framework and it gives a guideline which was specifically what was requested. Things that it hasn't addressed or things that it hasn't addressed as totally as people would like, certainly on that county or region basis, we would be happy to hear from the municipalities that have a concern in that aspect.
It is only in certain parts of the province that going beyond the county and going into a region is a concern and that is part of the difficulty when you have a general bill that is going to cover the complete province. You can't identify some of the concerns of a specific area, but, certainly, we would be happy to talk with the municipalities in those areas, and as a matter of fact, I addressed that with the union a week ago Friday and I addressed it with them again this morning, whether we should go beyond the county aspect. I think the general consensus is, that is sufficient at this time and if there are areas that want to deal further than that, they should come forward and we would be happy to sit down and talk with them.
Concerns have been expressed about the coordinator. I guess, Mr. Speaker, one of the difficulties is if you give certain people any power, people believe they have been given too much power. At some point in time there have to be decisions made. I guess that is why I see this bill as important to be introduced and to be dealt with in this session and at this time. All delaying this bill does, I believe, it set up more opportunity for uncertainty. People will say, well, we don't know what the final bill will be because we don't know what the final bill is. I think that uncertainty that could be created by delaying this bill at this time would not be good. I think there is a number of authorities and powers that have been brought forward. I think there have to be decisions made by certain people.
I would say, Mr. Speaker, that in the question of the study or whether amalgamation goes forward or not, that will be done based on input from the public and the elected officials. That is why a study needs to be completed before an amalgamation can occur. That is why I believe the bill addresses the amount of input and the discussion that could be accomplished before a decision is even made or a recommendation is made on whether amalgamation would occur.
Mr. Speaker, I think that deals with most of the issues raised by the individuals. Certainly as I mentioned earlier, I have had discussions with the UNSM and actually we had some consultation this morning on areas they might like to see amended and that discussion is ongoing. I look forward to having the bill discussed in the Law Amendments Committee and seeing what amendments, if any, come forward from the Opposition, as well as any amendments that may come forward in the Committee of the Whole House on Bills.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to move Bill No. 28 for second reading.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 28. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay. (Interruptions)
Please don't interrupt the vote.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, the rule reads, I believe, that if two members ask for a recorded vote, then the Speaker will conduct a recorded vote. How many times do two members of this House have to ask for a recorded vote for you to listen to it?
MR. SPEAKER: Please be seated.
Sergeant-at-Arms, please ask the honourable member to be seated.
I will entertain such a request in due course, when I have recognized the member to make such a request. Is there such a request?
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Yes, we have made a request.
MR. SPEAKER: I was attempting to conduct a vote and all I could detect was an interruption. There has been a request by two honourable members for a recorded vote. Therefore, there will be a recorded vote.
Ring the bells. Call in the members.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MR. SPEAKER: Are the Whips satisfied?
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Barkhouse Mr. Holm
Mrs. Norrie Mr. Chisholm
Mr. M. MacDonald
Mr. W. MacDonald
THE CLERK: For, 38. Against, 2.
MR. SPEAKER: I declare the motion carried.
Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.
The honourable Government House Leader.
MR. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 25.
Bill No. 25 - Government Records Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West adjourned the debate and he has up to one hour to speak, if he wishes.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Bill No. 25 is a bill that probably will not generate too much debate or too much controversy but, nevertheless, it is an important piece of legislation. It is a new Act, an Act as most members know, to replace an Act which was commonly known as the Public Records Disposal Act but in point of fact, in 1992, when that original Act was amended it was amended to become an Act to Provide for the Disposal or Preservation of Public Records.
We have always been very fortunate in the Province of Nova Scotia in that we have had, ever since government commenced in this province back in 1758, a fairly selective and orderly storage and retention of those records which are considered for archival purposes to be part of our history, part of our heritage, et cetera. Thus, we have had in place for about 240 years, a system which does indeed protect our public documents. This new Act just carries that one step forward and does indeed, in some respects, enhance that process that was in place.
In 1984, in this province, we had nobody in the government that was qualified in records management. In fact, there was only one course in Nova Scotia which was graduating people in the art and the management of records. That was a course at Acadia University. We were able to hire, in 1984, the person who was running that course, a lady whose name escapes me now, but we took her into the Public Service and she set up a regime within the Public Service, within the departments of the government, a methodology for managing, retention and disposal of documents and setting up schedules for individual departments to manage the sometimes vast amount of paper that they created on a daily basis.
As part of that system, we only had the one person who had taken the course in records management and her first task within the government was to have the departments appoint a person within each department, who would become the records management person within the department. That person then went across to the Management Board and took a short course, about 10 days in duration, in how to manage records and how to initially set up a system so that documents could be destroyed, which would save a lot of money from the point of view that we had warehouses all around the city just stuffed with paper and also, as to where our records could be transferred to that had historical interest, whether or not they should be going off to the archives or possibly off to one of the universities that specialized in that kind of documentation, that kind of subject.
That was done and the system was put in place. The schedules for retention and the length of time the records must be maintained before being destroyed was set up and required Cabinet approval before they could be destroyed or disposed of.
So, Mr. Speaker, while I think this is a good bill that has come forward, I don't think there is anything dramatically new within this system being set up, except for the fact that we do have a Government Records Committee that I think I should comment on, headed up by the archivist of the Province of Nova Scotia. The remainder of the committee is made up of people from government and from the private sector but people who obviously have a great interest in the documents of importance to provincial history. So I think that is an excellent system.
The first archivist of this province, I should mention, was Thomas Beamish Akins. I was actually very fortunate when I purchased my property in Falmouth to purchase the home of Thomas Beamish Akins. He had a very large acreage out there. He was one of the first persons to receive the Crown grant of 1,000 plus acres, I think it was 1,016 acres. On that acreage he built his family home. It was a magnificent house. On the second floor of that house he had his library. In fact, when I moved into the House the library was still intact and I turned it over to the Archives of Nova Scotia.
So, Mr. Speaker, with those few words, and as I say, I felt I had to speak on this bill because it is, as I say, a housekeeping bill but, nevertheless, I think it is one of great importance for the point of fact that I believe that history and historic documents are of great importance, particularly insofar as governments are concerned because it is so easy for documents to get stuffed into corners, in boxes, as we can see. Actually I guess Westray would be a good case and point, where there was invaluable documentation that wasn't being hidden but it had simply been misplaced and perhaps in that particular case the disposal and records retention schedule did not include the notebooks, or whatever it was, and thus they almost became trash and almost were not available for that inquiry.
So, Mr. Speaker, as I say, with those few words I will be voting in favour of this bill and I thank the minister for introducing the bill.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, as was the case with my colleague from Hants West, I propose to be brief in my remarks relative to Bill No. 25, An Act Respecting Government Records in Nova Scotia but I do want to make just a couple of comments. The introduction of the bill affords me the opportunity to make a comment or two about the archives itself, if I may. I don't think I stray too far from the principle of the bill to make reference to that institution.
I had the distinct honour, as does the Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia, the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, the person who occupies the position of Leader of the Opposition, and a few others, to be a member of the Board of Governors of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. The archives, as it happens, is physically situate in my constituency. It is a place which I and the members of my family have visited many times. It is a place to which and in which now reside quite a number of artifacts from my father's career in public life, indeed from political campaigns in which relatives of my mother were involved. So the archives is well known to us in our family and is a vitally important institution in our province.
I want to say, as but one part of just a few brief remarks relative to this bill, that I would hope that the minister who introduces the bill, as the legislation will now require him to do as he deals with the Provincial Archivist and the Deputy Minister of Finance, the Auditor General, the Deputy Attorney General and the others mentioned in this legislation relative to the collection, maintenance, protection and repository of, or depository of the archival records in the archives, he will, along with his colleagues, take a look at the very real needs of the archives itself.
One of the things that during my time in government I attempted to do, and a couple of budgetary rounds with some success and others with less success, was to ensure that the Public Archives of Nova Scotia was funded to an extent which made it possible for it to function at what all of us in the province would consider to be even an adequate or a modest level of efficiency and service. These have been difficult times in the past number of years, five years, six years and, as a consequence, as the minister who has introduced this legislation will know, Mr. Speaker, and I know you will know, the archives has been faced by reason of budgetary restraint, with having to reduce its level of service to the public. It has had to reduce the numbers of hours which it is open and available to the public and it has had to lay off staff.
It happens, if my information is correct, that in March of this year, both Mr. Carman Carroll, the Provincial Archivist, and his 2 i/c, Mr. Allan Dunlop, both will be able to avail themselves of the early retirement package and, again, if my information is correct, both are going to take advantage of that opportunity. So the government will therefore in a very few months have the opportunity and the obligation to replace both of those individuals, and both of them have in my opinion, if I may pay tribute to them here in debate on this bill, both Mr. Carroll and Mr. Dunlop have provided just a magnificent service to the archives but, more to the point, to the people of all Nova Scotia by virtue of their deep and abiding love and commitment for the work and professionalism which they both brought to it. They will be difficult to replace. Nobody is impossible to replace, but they will be difficult to replace and I wish this minister and his colleagues well as they advertise and make choices in that regard.
But regardless of the men and women who will be at the archives running that vitally important institution, I hope that the minister will be able to prevail upon the Premier, who is a member of the board, and my friend and colleague, the Leader of the Opposition, and others, to make the case that the archives is entitled to significant financial assistance because it is what it is. It is the repository of the record of us as a people. It is our history, our culture, and our heritage. It is what we are and if the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, by reason of financial restraints or lack of space or lack of the availability of appropriate technologies and so on, is not able to be the repository of our culture and our heritage, then this generation but, more importantly perhaps, future generations, not only of Nova Scotians but of Canadians and people around the world, will be the lesser for it.
The minister will know, I am sure, and I may overstate this but not intentionally - if I do it is inadvertence or a misapprehension of what I was told earlier, but I don't think I am too far off the mark - to suggest that our Nova Scotia Public Archives, in the realm of genealogical study and research, has been dealing with as many people who are resident outside of Nova Scotia as are resident within the Province of Nova Scotia. It is a tremendous resource for many people who live in other places in the world and, in some cases, places very distant from us here in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Without beating it to death, I will leave my comments about the Public Archives there, with the hope and the plea and the invitation and the encouragement to this minister and his colleagues to do everything that their fiscal capacity will realistically and reasonably allow them to do to ensure that the Public Archives does not suffer any more financial constraint than is absolutely necessary; on the contrary, if it is possible, to see that the budgetary allocation for the archives could grow. It occurs to me that that is in the long-term best interests of future generations of the Province of Nova Scotia.
Having said that, Mr. Speaker, and I appreciate your tolerance in allowing me those few moments to talk about the Public Archives. Now, back to the bill for just a moment. The legislation, you will know - I failed to mark the section, but the minister knows it well - enables the minister to make decisions along the way as to whether or not certain public bodies will, in fact, be included on the list of those which are to be considered public bodies for the purposes of having to prepare records retention lists and, in turn, reporting to the committee which is established by the legislation. If my recollection is correct, among them are such organizations as municipal units, school boards, universities, colleges and so on. They, at the minister's order, presumably confirmed by Order in Council, I think, can be designated as public bodies for the purposes of records retention. I support that provision and encourage that it be pursued vigorously.
In that connection I would hope that the minister would, in as timely a fashion as is possible for him and his officials, make contact with those very organizations, the municipal units and the universities and the school boards of the province. He will know as an educator himself that the records of our school boards, of our individual schools, of our universities and colleges are a fabulous story of the life of, in the main, young Nova Scotians. Their story as young Nova Scotians is vitally important and adds to the history and to the value of the archival record.
When it is possible for somebody doing research or whatever to find, if we could use as an example, somebody will one day want to write a doctoral thesis or a volume, a manuscript, about the current Speaker. I am sure a number of academics will probably be beating down the doors of the archives trying to be first in line to get at the records for that purpose. Seriously, if the school boards, as an example, are included as a public body for the purposes of having their records made available and preserved at the Public Archives, in my example, as humorous as it might be but it is meant with serious intent, if somebody as distinguished as a Speaker of the Nova Scotia Legislature is the subject of study on a future day, how much more interesting can that analysis and that publication be if some records which reference his or her youthful days in our public school system or university or college system is also available. Again, without beating it to death, I would encourage the minister, in as timely a fashion as possible to make contact with the schools and the school boards, the municipal units, the universities and the colleges of the province.
There was only one other comment I wanted to make. I note that the legislation states as a matter of public policy what it applies to but it also states what it doesn't apply to, in part anyway. It does not apply to Clause 4(2)(b), "personal, political, party or constituency records of a member of the House of Assembly or the Executive Council;". I am not going to suggest today that it should and that we should amend that to say that it shall apply to but again, I know mostly from my father's experience, that after one has finished one's time in public life - I am not saying that the way I want to - in the course of all of us pursuing our time in public life and meeting our responsibilities in public life, we create and amass a great record, some of it much more important than other parts of the record, some of it we would probably, as individuals, just as soon never saw the light of day again. But a great deal of it forms again, in a fundamental and an important part of the warp and woof of the political and the public life of our municipal unit, or of our province or indeed, our country in the case of Members of Parliament and Nova Scotia federal Cabinet Ministers and so on.
The point I want to make and the comment observation I wish to make here is that while as a principle the legislation says that the bill doesn't apply to records of those of us who are in the public life here as members of the House of Assembly or Executive Council, to our ". . . personal, political, party or constituency records;". I would like to suggest that the minister would consider an approach and an invitation on a regular and consistent basis to each and every one of us who serve here, as members and as Cabinet Ministers, to all of those who have served here and whose whereabouts are known to the minister and that the invitation is extended to them to canvass their records and their memorabilia to determine whether or not they would be prepared to, in concert and in consultation with the committee described in the legislation, gather together materials which would be of interest, in the opinion of that committee, would be of value to be saved.
Otherwise than that, I want to compliment the minister and his colleagues for having designed the legislation in the fashion in which we now find it before us. I fervently believe in the importance and the value of the Public Archives, as I have said, and this piece of legislation makes the mechanics and the logistics of the archives having available to it, very important records and historical data relative to the life of the Province of Nova Scotia, somewhat easier, simpler, and less complex than it was previously.
On that account, I think the legislation has merit and deserves support and I certainly will be supporting it. I would hope that the minister might take to heart a few of the other comments I made about the archives itself and about invitations to all of us in public life at present, our predecessors in public life and maybe the development of a regime which would introduce new members of the Legislature and the Executive Council and at municipal and federal government levels, to the idea as they begin their career in public life that what they are doing is vital to the historical record of the province and that they have in mind, as they conduct their public affairs, the notion that one day they may, indeed, have a very valuable contribution to make to the Public Archives. So with those remarks, and I hope at not too great a length or too tedious, Mr. Speaker, I compliment the minister again and am pleased to support Bill No. 25.
MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the honourable minister, it will be to close the debate.
The honourable Minister of Supply and Services.
HON. GERALD O'MALLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let me first say I want to extend my profound thanks to the Opposition for the very valuable remarks they have made on the bill, including the remark of the honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party on technology and the disposal of technological equipment. The honourable member for Kings is not with us this morning. The honourable member for Hants West has certainly summed up the importance of the matter and the anecdotal point he made on his own occupancy of the home of the first archivist in the Province of Nova Scotia. It was a very interesting one but I think it was a very important summary of the whole realm and need for documentation. I think his concluding remarks on Westray and what has occurred as a result of the honourable Justice Peter Richards and his need for records in that complex issue and where they have been found scattered hither and yon, it is very important that we do something about that.
AN HON. MEMBER: You might say that the member for Hants West is becoming quite an interesting archival record in and of himself. (Laughter)
MR. O'MALLEY: Yes, yes. Well he has the beginning (Laughter) (Interruptions) I have some of the finest colleagues. There is more room in Barnum and Bailey's, I can assure you.
I want to make the comments of the honourable member for Halifax Citadel. I do, indeed, recognize that the archives do, indeed, form the repository for culture and history. They are, of course, the educational resource for work such as Professor Murray Beck, who has done so much for Nova Scotian political history and so many others.
I will see that the appropriate thanks and congratulations go on to the current archivist, Mr. Carrol and Mr. Dunlop, as he has suggested. All of his points were, indeed, I think very positive suggestions, very meaningful suggestions and I will do everything I can within my power to ensure they are implemented because as I have said, they are indeed positive. With that, Mr. Speaker, I would like to move second reading of Bill No. 25.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 25, The Government Records Act. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 26.
Bill No. 26 - Motor Vehicle Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to call this bill for second reading. I introduced this bill last spring in the House for first reading. There are three changes, I guess, made in this piece of legislation. The first one will allow for the expiration date on vehicle registrations and drivers' licenses to be set by regulation. At present in the Act it is specified that the expiry date is at the end of the month and year endorsed on the license or on the permit. This will allow, for example, something we have been looking at to allow for the expiry date on a license or permit to be set by regulation to coincide with an individual's birthday which probably would serve as a better reminder to the individual and would also allow the department to avoid the long line-ups that occur in the last couple of days of every month at the registry. That is when the public has identified the longest line-ups occur and this would allow for an even distribution of the work load across an entire month. One would think that birthdays would follow a pattern that might be more consistent. This would allow for such things to take place.
Also, this bill would enable the municipal governments in a town or rural municipality to enact by-laws to regulate parking by means of parking meters, similar to the authority given to the councils in a city. It would allow for them to enact by-laws to provide for parking exemptions, if they chose to, similar to that provided in a city.
At present, the towns and municipal units can do it but they have to go and seek permission from the regional parking authority and this would give them the same powers as cities presently have with respect to parking in their areas. That is what is included in this bill and I would move second reading.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am pleased to rise this afternoon and speak on the Act to Amend Chapter 293 of the Revised Statutes of 1989, the Motor Vehicle Act.
Mr. Speaker, there are clauses in this bill, and I know we cannot be specific about the clauses at this time but they provide that every vehicle registration and driver's license expires on dates specified or determined by regulation. Certainly, at present, vehicle registration and driver's licenses expire at the end of the month and year endorsed on the permit or license.
There is a provision that authorizes a council of a town or a rural municipality to enact a by-law, as the minister has said, to regulate parking by means of meters. There is also a provision where the council of a town or rural municipality can enact a by-law to provide for exemptions from parking restrictions as is already authorized for a council or town.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the bill amends two different areas of the Motor Vehicle Act. Thus, we must speak to two different principles that are being represented here this afternoon. The first principle is the removal of something from the Act, vehicle registration and driver's license expiry dates. The minister intends on putting them into regulations instead and we cannot help but ask to what end he plans on doing this.
The government has, again, put the cart before the horse. They have already been collecting registration fees once a year for two years of registration at a time. The minister knows full well they have been doing that and, according to the Act, this is not permissible. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the minister has been contravening, or at the very least, transgressing the existing legislation.
Our caucus received many calls and inquiries about this move with many saying that it would be a great financial hardship to have to pay for two years of registration at one time. I don't know how many letters the government has received relative to that concern but there are, certainly, a lot of seniors in this province who are on a fixed income, Mr. Speaker, and they only have a certain amount of money budgeted for the registration and, of course, for other bills and things that must be met around the house.
It is hard to agree in principle with something that has been changed without consultation and that is going to put Nova Scotians at an even greater monetary disadvantage, Mr. Speaker. The minister may, perhaps, and I cannot speak for the minister, but he may consider this to be housekeeping, but for a lot of people, it puts them in a certain hardship.
Another amendment to the Act gives towns and municipalities the ability to restrict parking. I presume that the various towns and municipalities across this province have requested this.
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities meeting in Yarmouth where a variety of resolutions were passed. Several of the resolutions did pertain to provisions in the Motor Vehicle Act. One in particular had to do with fines for parking violations. I believe it was the UNSM Resolution No. 57A put forward by the Town of Liverpool. The Town of Liverpool is saying that:
"WHEREAS Section 152(9) of the Motor Vehicle Act restricts the fines applicable to parking violations to five ($5) dollars; and
WHEREAS cities are permitted to have both higher fines and a two-tiered fine system whereby the fine increases if not paid within a certain number of days after the offence; and
WHEREAS a similar motion was made by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities in 1993, and no action was taken by the Province; and
WHEREAS the Town of Liverpool attempted the enactment of a Private Members Bill at the Fall session of the 1994 Legislature to deal with these issues; and
WHEREAS the Legislation, after presentations by the Departments of Municipal Affairs and Transportation declined to adopt the Bill;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities request that the Province amend the Motor Vehicle Act to provide Towns, Municipalities, and Regional Municipalities the same enabling legislation with respect to the enforcement of parking meter violations as is available under legislation incorporating regional municipalities.".
I should tell you, Mr. Speaker, that the committee overseeing the resolutions for the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities strongly recommended that resolution. A number of cities do have the ability to have a two-tiered fine system and yet towns and municipalities in this province do not, and they would like to be able to adopt a similar system. Now did the government listen to any of these concerns and requests that were raised by the UNSM in this regard? So while we agree, in principle, with the extension of the provisions applicable in cities to towns and municipalities, did the government listen to other requests from towns and municipalities, equally important issues?
So, those are just a couple of the concerns we have with this bill. We do support it, in principle, but we can't help but wonder why the many towns and municipalities in this province were not listened to when they requested a provision that if afforded to incorporated towns and cities in this province. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, we have had two explanations about what is said in the explanatory notes on the bill, so I don't really think that I need to do it again.
AN HON. MEMBER: One explanation is an echo.
MR. HOLM: One explanation, I am told, is an echo. I really just rise in my place today to day yes, indeed, I do support the legislation that is before us and I will be voting in support of that. My colleague is wondering what he is supposed to do and we, in our caucus, have the unique ability to be able to be split 50/50 on matters or to be 100 per cent united, but I am sure that my caucus colleague will be supporting this bill.
Seriously, Mr. Speaker, we are united. Sometimes, after some of the heated debates have gone on in the House, for example, as we did a little earlier today, sometimes it does all of our mental health a little good to have an occasional laugh at our own expense. However, the amendments that are before us are, you might call them housekeeping, but they are also responsible ones and that is to provide to the councils and the towns the ability to enact certain kinds of new regulations covering things like parking, parking meters and so on.
I wonder if there is going to have to be a new amendment come forward? I am not sure with the way that this is worded, Mr. Speaker, because it is towns or municipality. I guess municipality would cover regional municipalities. It could be used to be interpreted that way because when the government finishes what their plan is, their master design and vision for Nova Scotia, we will in effect have 18 municipal units in the Province of Nova Scotia, down from the 59 units we have now which is down from the 66 units we had before. I am wondering what might also have been a very appropriate way to have done this, would be to have incorporated into the bill that the minister expects to have governing all of the municipalities across the provinces are all united into these super-uni-counties. It might have been appropriate to provide the possibilities within their own charters or to provide them with charters and to have then in their own respectful way, things covering the matters like parking meters and giving those municipalities the rights to enact by-laws.
So that could have been put directly in it. Regardless of where it is being done, we certainly will be supporting it. Also, I think that it does make some sense although one might wonder, as some of us are starting to move along, we can't necessarily count on the fact that we want to remember our own birthdays so that may not trigger us to remember to renew our permits. But I think it does make sense to have the two of them coincide. The permits actually on your vehicle to coincide, as your license does right now, and people remember to renew their licenses on their birth dates and it would make some sense to have your motor vehicles coincide with that. The only concern that I might have is that if people are changing vehicles, there may be an overlap period. To ensure that there isn't an added short period of time when registration fee for one might have to overlap that of another, but I think that that is a very minor situation that can actually be addressed because you take your plates with you in any event, Mr. Speaker.
So with those few brief remarks, it is not a controversial bill and our caucus has no hesitation in saying that we are 100 per cent united in support of the bill that is before us.
MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the minister, it will be to close the debate.
The honourable Minister of Transportation and Communications.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank members opposite for their comments. I guess there wasn't anything that really required a response. I would point out to the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley that the two year registration plan which is in effect and has been since January 1994, I don't recall seeing a letter of concern about that for probably eight months or nine months now, maybe more. Certainly people who are paying this year didn't have to pay last year so I guess they wouldn't complaint this year and those that complained year, but don't have to pay anything this year, they are happy this year.
The honourable member wasn't with us when we first got elected in 1993 but he would know if he did or wanted to check with one of his seatmates, Mr. Archibald, I believe, that that plan had been in the works and we inherited it and finished it off. So with those few remarks, I would move second reading of Bill No. 26.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 26, the Motor Vehicle Act. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 27.
Bill No. 27 - Railways Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Communications.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Again, Mr. Speaker, I would offer very few remarks with respect to the Railways Act. The amendments proposed at this time are, for the most part, administrative amendments to the Act that they are intended to; clarify the original Act, to simplify some of the approvals procedures contained in that Act and to make some of the language more specific.
MR. JOHN HOLM: A question, Mr. Speaker. Thank you. I appreciate the fact that the minister agreed to take a question before he sat down. This is a bill to amend the Railways Act of 1993. The question is, that Railway Act really has not yet been proclaimed, that is my understanding. Maybe the minister might help our debate if he could indicate if and when that is actually going to be proclaimed?
MR. MANN: I am hoping, Mr. Speaker, I guess that the passage of this bill, these amendments, will enable us to be comfortable, to go forward in proclaiming that. As the member opposite would know, the private railway that is operating in the province now is doing so under an agreement with the province. All the federal legislation that Transport Canada has for railways to operate are the rules that are in place. Most of those have been mirrored in the Provincial Railway Act, which was introduced in 1993, following the approval to have the sale of the short line. It is certainly anticipated and I would indicate to him that it is my intention to have the bill proclaimed when, in fact, these amendments are passed. This, as I said, clarifies some provisions of the original Act, simplifies some of the approvals procedures and makes the language more specific. It includes an amendment to make, for example, contravention of an emergency directive from the minister an offence, which it was not previously.
It allows for the licensing procedures of railways to be the responsibility of the minister of the department, as opposed to the Utility and Review Board because virtually all other safety matters relating to the railways are the responsibility of the minister. Since the licensing provisions relate so much so to safety, and the URB would agree, we felt that would be the best way to deal with it. They will continue to deal with the administrative matters relating to the railways, such as the approval of the apportionment of costs associated with an individual responsible for a crossing and those types of things.
This amendment also includes the provision that rail operators will be required to maintain financial viability, in addition to meeting the safety standards and insurance levels. Of course this is an issue that I believe the member opposite made reference to when the original bill came in, about the viability of rail lines and not de-marketing and that. So this will require for their financial viability to be maintained and to be available to the regulator.
We have also included in the amendments the practice of the railway as a determining factor in safe operations of rail lines. That has been added to it. Of course it also covers off the operation of the Windsor and Hantsport railway line by allowing that the agreement put in place to operate that is recognized and will authorize future agreements with other railway companies, if they come along to run lines that presently do not exist or, in fact, a line that can be saved.
We have very good success to date with the private operators in increasing business and maintaining a rail service in Nova Scotia in the areas they operate. I don't know if there will be other private operators come forth in this province at the present time. We don't see any but, in the event it should happen, the amendment will also authorize that.
So with those remarks, I move second reading of Bill No. 27.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In rising to speak on Bill No. 28 I do so not because I am Transportation Critic but because of the fact that I do, indeed, have a private short line within my constituency.
I, too, am intrigued by the matter raised by the Leader of the New Democratic Party when he states that the other bill has not as yet been proclaimed. It went through the House, as you recall, Mr. Speaker, in 1993, two years ago. The Act has been in abeyance ever since then.
I do not wish to pursue this, but I am not at all sure that it has been legal, for instance, for these short lines, notably the one in Cape Breton and the one in Windsor, to have operated in that time. As I understand it, the Railways Act is the piece of legislation that in point gives the authority for a short line operator to actually be in business on rail within Canada.
Be that as it may, the lines are up and running. In particular, Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased with the success of a short line rail operator in the Windsor area. This was an old CP line that ran from the gypsum mine in Newport Station, through the Town of Windsor and then down around to Hantsport carrying gypsum to the gypsum ships which have a base there and pick up the gypsum and cart it down to Maine for processing into wallboard. It has always been a viable short line, even when it was part of the CP system, in that there was always an assured approximately 200 cars a week, I believe, something in that order, of gypsum that was running backwards and forwards between the mine and Hantsport.
However, the big thing was that when this new company, the Windsor and Hantsport Railway, bought this length of track from CP, at that time CP was transporting approximately 200 cars per year of freight other than gypsum. Since this new railroad line has been in business, Mr. Speaker, and it is only over the space of 12 months, that line has increased those 200 cars per year to a total now of 200-plus per month. It has been a dramatic increase and it has been done simply because of the fact that it is a private operator out there chasing the business, generating business, and to such an extent that the line now is expanding, they are upgrading the track that they have. The track that will be in place on that line running from Windsor to New Minas will be the best in the country; not just in Nova Scotia, the best in the country (Interruption) I presume it is Sysco track. I cannot answer that question. I do know that the line has completely new ballast, new ties and new track. It is a high class line and it is making money and it is employing people.
I think that the naysayers - and that was the government of the day, opposite - were very much opposed to privatization.
AN HON. MEMBER: I think the Minister of Finance led the charge.
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, I believe that the Minister of Finance was engaged in leading the charge from the Opposition about what a terrible thing this was. Yet look at just those two lines that have become established and I am sure there will be others in this province, Mr. Speaker. They have become very successful and they have become successful primarily because they are small enough to be hungry enough to run out and chase the business, whereas CP and CN, with a commitment across this country, down into the States, thousands and thousands of miles of track, thousands and thousands of employees, could not do the job when it came to a very small area. They just said it is not worth our while and would have abandoned them if they could not have found somebody to purchase those tracks.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted with the success of the short line railroad history, as short as it is, in the Province of Nova Scotia. I know that in the years ahead it is going to succeed and expand. This bill, which in part is permitting the Windsor and Hantsport Railroad to become licensed, must go through the House and I presume that it must also be part of another bill which we hope will be proclaimed in the very near future.
With those few short remarks, Mr. Speaker, I will take my seat.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to raise the question with the minister and the fact that he answered my question, my understanding - because I didn't think it would have been proclaimed unless they had done it in the last week or so - that the Act still has not been proclaimed, and the minister is hoping, after these amendments go through, that the Act will finally be proclaimed.
What I don't understand in part, quite honestly, is that even though there are some amendments coming forward, why it was the Act we already passed, that supposedly is almost the law in Nova Scotia, was never proclaimed in the first place. I don't know if opposition to proclaiming it came from the government, because the government had some concerns, or maybe it came from some other private railway operators who didn't like some of the provisions in it; therefore, on the basis of that, the government decided not to proclaim it.
One of the things in the statement that the minister and the government made when we passed the Railways Act back in 1993, said that the current Act - and that was the old Railways Act in Nova Scotia - was rescinded. Well, one of the things I am wondering is since the Railways Act, itself, of 1993, was not passed, then was the old Railways Act rescinded? I don't believe it could have been because, although it said it was to be rescinded, the railways have been sitting in a state of limbo here for a couple of years.
I am not going to be opposing the bill, I am not going to be voting against the bill at this stage, but there are a number of points that I would like to raise. Maybe the minister will address them in his closing remarks, and/or maybe there will be some comments made at the Law Amendments Committee, quite possibly, that could address some of them.
Under this, and the minister went through them a bit and I am not trying to be repetitious in terms of looking at the individual clauses, but just to refresh my memory as I am going through them so that I can make the appropriate points, the first one, "Clause 1 provides that a permit to construct or alter a railway line is to be issued by the Minister of Transportation and Communications instead of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.". Possibly the department has within its human resources that kind of expertise. But one of the purposes, certainly, of the Utility and Review Board is to provide, at arm's length, independent review and assessment.
HON. RICHARD MANN: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe, and I would have to check since it was last spring, it is the URB that requested this because they do not have the expertise to make judgments on the safety issues pertaining to the licensing of railways. All of those responsibilities, or most of those responsibilities - safety matters - are within the department and, subsequently, by agreement with Transport Canada officials is where they are actually at, who deal with these. The URB do not have staff or the expertise to deal with these matters, so they requested that that, as well, be with the department. So, it is not a request from government, if you will, it is a request from the URB.
MR. HOLM: I can understand what the minister is saying there, particularly on the safety aspect. But when we are talking here though, for example, "Clause 1 provides that a permit to construct . . .", certainly they are a different element. One would be a permit to construct it on the basis of whether or not there should or should not be a new railway line being constructed, a new railway line in a particular area in where it is going. That can have some public policy implications. (Interruption)
Well, Mr. Speaker, the minister is saying that the government has to decide, but it is also sometimes a very good idea, for example, the Utility and Review Board, if my memory serves me correctly - and others who have followed this a little bit more closely than I might be able to refresh my memory if I am wrong - if the Nova Scotia Power Inc. were to request a new major power line route through particular areas, that would have to receive the approval of the Utility and Review Board for that corridor that they are going through. I believe that information is correct. I am just drawing a comparison here.
I am thinking that if, for example, the Utility and Review Board has the power to determine whether or not it is proper for new high volt power lines to run through a particular area, that it would make some sense to allow that same kind of independent review for the development of new rail lines that could be running through particular communities and areas.
One of the statements in the press release that came out when the new bill came forward, back in 1993, one of the highlights was that the license shall be issued to an applicant that can demonstrate financial viability. Obviously the government has admitted they were wrong then because they have an amendment here which is going to require that the holder of the license to operate a railway service, to maintain prescribed financial viability. So in other words, they were boasting a little bit about something before that they couldn't properly boast. In other words, they are now admitting, and as a point I raised at that time, that indeed, there should be some assurances and guarantee that there are going to be those financial viabilities and that it is going to remain viable.
I certainly have no difficulty with the whole idea of the department and the department's staff monitoring and checking over things, to make sure we do have proper and safe railways and safe standards in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately there have been a number of accidents on the private railway lines, and I don't know how their rates compare with other lines. There was another one not too long ago that I am sure we all read about in the press. I am not going to be happy until we have no accidents at all.
I would like to hear from the minister if the ministry and the minister's department is going to become responsible for ensuring safety of those rail lines, inspections and so on. I would like to know what kinds of resources are going to actually be committed to that and what kind of staff allocations are going to be apportioned to that. If I am not mistaken, currently it is still the federal regulations and so on that are in place and the federal inspections and inspectors who are still checking the rail lines here in the Province of Nova Scotia.
I would like to find out from the minister, because I think my information is correct, if it is the intention of the government to continue to contract that service to the federal agency to be doing that investigation and inspection or if it is the intention of his department to try to duplicate that service by developing its own expertise and its own inspectors to be doing that kind of work. Certainly on a matter as crucial as rail safety, and, Mr. Speaker, rail safety and concerns don't only mean that a car could go off the line and dig up a few tracks. The trains travelling through this province are carrying on these private lines, too, as the minister knows very well and I am sure would take very seriously, very often very hazardous and dangerous material. So we have to ensure that rail safety and rail construction of lines and crossings, et cetera, are at the very highest possible standards, that they are constantly being inspected and checked on and that any hint, any scent, any slight sign that there may be a difficulty, that remedial actions would be taken.
I have no hesitation, Mr. Speaker, saying that fine, if the minister has a plan, and maybe that can still be contracted to the federal agencies to be providing that kind of inspection services, or whatever, but I wonder if it still would not make some kind of sense for the Utility and Review Board to have the legal authority to still be doing some overall monitoring and checking. They may not have on hand the constant staff with the abilities to do that, but for specific kinds of situations, they could have the powers to hire the experts who would be needed to come in, sort of like spot checks, to review, to ensure, that the highest possible standards are, in fact, being met.
Mr. Speaker, my fundamental concern is for the safety, not only of those who are using the trains, but a disaster in terms of a rail line. If some cars go off the tracks and are carrying chlorine or many other very hazardous materials, the consequences are very severe, so this is a matter that needs the greatest amount of scrutiny and I am looking forward to the minister's comments when he wraps up, and also, any concerns, any suggestions, that would be coming forward in the Law Amendments Committee dealing with the topics I have raised this afternoon and/or any other issues relative to the bill. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, in this bill amending the Railways Act, I know they are small amendments that are being put forward, but I think railways in this province have a role to play in the future. I think that in certain areas of this province this government can look at a way where privatization can not only be effective in the moving of freight, but I think down the road we should be looking at a way to move people.
As we continue to grow, and I know people in this area who live in the Sackville area and work at the VGH and that area, are two hours getting home by transit bus because of all the stops and places where a bus could go, the transfer and all the rest. I think probably not many years down the road that we have to look at some way of moving people out of the city, other than by the present method of the road and the bus, obviously. I think rail can be an important part. Obviously it has to be a system that pays. Although one might say, well we subsidize the bus system, what is the difference in subsidizing another rail type of operation?
I know that this bill would allow the government to allow a permit for the construction of a rail system to Bedford, Sackville, that area. The Minister of Transportation could issue such a permit, it could be done on the line that is presently there. As the member for Hants West indicated, the short line system that is operating up in Windsor and operating to New Minas into Sackville-Bedford has begun to upgrade the line. Obviously, if we are going to be effective, lines will have to be upgraded, obviously for speed and smoother rides and all the rest, if we are going to get into moving people besides freight. I know the old argument has always been, and I still believe, that there is no question that the line between New Minas and Halifax is viable. It is viable because a private operator has gone out and has made it viable, gone out to solicit business. I am not convinced, that there may be other areas that the private operator could make it viable with people.
I know the line to Cape Breton, and I am not as sure of the financial status of that line or the increase as I am of the one from the Valley. But I hope that this government will take rail lines seriously. In other words, I think rail lines can play a very big part. We were very quick when the National Rail Line wanted to tear up the lines.
I remember being the Minister of Transportation that went to one of the first hearings on behalf of the province to oppose the tearing up of the lines. Part of the reason was that we see our highways torn up by heavy trucks. For years the heavy fuel moved into Greenwood safely by rail, now we have all of that fuel being used at the airport in Greenwood moved in by transfer trucks. Yes, one might say it creates some jobs in the trucking industry but I can tell you one thing, the road to the Valley has to now keep being recapped because of the heavy loads and what it does to the highway. So, we are destroying our highways where we could be moving some of our freight by rail.
I don't think it was wise of the federal government to allow the rails to be torn up. Maybe in some parts of the province, because of population and lack of business that might be so, but we have seen some lines torn up that I think we will be sorry that they have been and we could use them in the future.
This government is now where the federal government sort of was down the road of being the overseer of rail lines in this province because now they are the overseer of the private rail lines which I think is probably what we are going to see all across Canada; I think you are going to see private lines. So as this government talks about railway inspectors, they are going to ensure that they are safe and ensure that the holder of a license to operate a rail line service maintains that line and obviously, hopefully, it is a viable line. I think this government, even though we tend to, I think, shut out the future of rail line in this province, I think we ought to be thinking about where we could go with it.
I believe, it if is viable for the short line in Windsor to start replacing the track, basically, to New Minas, I am not so sure that we couldn't see some additional tracks laid in the future to extend that line. I would love to see that line extended as far as Greenwood. Michelin had the set-up whereby they would have had a track into the Michelin plant but when all of the lines were being torn up and you couldn't depend on whether rail was going to be there, they have obviously gone to truck transportation.
I think for a lot of reasons this bill, even though it is a small amendment, the powers it gives the provincial government could have quite an impact if the government wanted to make rail a priority down the road and not ignore it. Hopefully, the previous legislation and this legislation which I know will go through the House, that they will be both proclaimed and the government will have the foresight to see that rail is important and will be important in the year 2000 and well beyond. Mr. Speaker, I will be supporting this piece of legislation. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the minister it will be to close the debate.
The honourable Minister of Transportation.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, again I thank members opposite for their interjection on Bill No. 27, an Act to Amend the Railways Act. I have a couple of comments to close up. The member asked about the validity of the current operations, they are done by an agreement which was set out and approved between the government and the railway in accordance with federal Transport Canada regulations with respect to the operation of railways. There has been no compromise whatsoever, obviously, if we are following the regulations that have always been in place and are in place for other railways across the country. There has been no compromise on safety initiatives and any enhancements that have been made or will be made will only be made to enhance the safety factors, not to diminish them.
The Leader of the New Democratic Party asked about the resources being allocated to carry out investigations. In fact, there have not been resources allocated because this is done on a cost recovery. Transport Canada officials carry out the investigations in accordance with the agreement, the costs are then recovered from the private operators by the province; so the net result to the province, there is no expenditure for this.
The member for Kings West was just referring to the licensing and replacing rail. That is how licenses are granted to the railway operators, it is based on the speed they are allowed to operate on the track. If the rail lines are not increased, then the license will be reduced, so the companies have to reduce the speed on the tracks, thereby making them less efficient, and this ensures that the companies will continue to maintain and to probably enhance the condition of the tracks.
The safety issues are taken very seriously with respect to rail. Unfortunately, there has been a fatality in Cape Breton where the train hit a vehicle. I saw a report on that from the motor vehicle's side, but the federal transport officials did a very thorough investigation on that. They looked at all matters related to it: the grades, the distances, the warning systems, all of the signage, everything. Unfortunately, at times, accidents do happen that no safety matters have been compromised, but there are accidents. We will continue to be diligent in this.
The member for Hants West also suggested or he had the opinion that we will see a lot more short lines across the country. I suppose that is true. Whether we will actually see them going from one area of the country to another area of the country, because the minute they cross a provincial boundary, they fall under the jurisdiction once again of the federal government, not the provincial. So the only way you have provincial authority is if the short line railway is completely within the boundaries of the province. So I don't think we are likely to see many more in Nova Scotia unless they are new rail lines; I guess we would all jump up and down in support of that.
I will certainly be looking closely at the need to proclaim the legislation and how quickly that can be done. As I said at the outset, I suspect that the passing of this amendment, this legislation, will see the Railways Act of 1993 proclaimed. With that, I move second reading of Bill No. 27.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 27, the Railways Act. Ready for the question?
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 30.
Bill No. 30 - Fisheries Organizations Support Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Fisheries.
HON. JAMES BARKHOUSE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In moving Bill No. 30 I would like to take a few moments to explain the purpose of this particular bill which is cited as the Fisheries Organizations Support Act. This is a bill that we believe is charting new courses for fishermen. For the last two years there has been a considerable amount of dialogue with the industry to provide the enabling legislation for mandatory dues for limited entry license holders. This bill consists of 14 clauses and is meant to provide an enabling process to the fishermen in six regions of the province.
Madam Speaker, I say that with considerable consultation with the industry it has been received throughout the province and a considerable number of round tables have had a copy of the draft bill to discuss it and to have improvements made to it. I believe it is something that will assist the organizations in this province to their further development at a time when the fisheries have been experiencing some difficulties.
So with those few comments, Madam Speaker, I will allow other members on the floor to speak to this particular bill.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Speakers on this bill?
The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Madam Speaker, it is something of a pleasure to have the opportunity to begin and end the day in debate in this Chamber, particularly on a Friday which, of course, is one of our longer days. The purpose of this bill is laid out at the beginning of it and the purpose of the bill is clearly stated by the minister in his introduction of the bill for second reading. I would think that there are a number of questions which arise out of the bill, questions that I hope the minister will be able to answer in wrapping up second reading.
I would gather that once this bill becomes law, those who do not belong to the organizations that have been accredited by the minister will be deemed to belong to an organization and will, therefore, be required to make a choice as to which organization their annual dues will be paid. There will be none who will be given the opportunity to determine that they do not wish to belong to any organization and, therefore, not pay the mandatory dues. As I understand the purpose of this bill, it will catch everybody up in it, in any region where a vote is taken and the vote is affirmative with respect to creating a situation where mandatory dues are the law.
License holders are referenced in the bill, and understanding what a license holder is is essential to understanding to whom this bill is directed. It is fairly clear, I believe, that by a licence holder we mean a boat owner. It would cover a number of fisheries, not just the groundfish fishery. The lobster fishery could certainly be part of that as well. It covers a number of fleets, the longline fleet, gill net fleet, dragger fleet, handliners and so on. So, it has a fairly wide application. I wonder if the minister could tell us just how many license holders there currently are in Nova Scotia so we can get an indication, then, simply by multiplying by 100, what the maximum amount of money is that may well be forthcoming from those license holders to support the various organizations which will be applying to the minister for accreditation when that moment comes?
There is a rather curious definition here. There is a reference to a license holder, in Clause 3(2), being one, ". . . who customarily returns from fishing to a place in that region.". Mind you, these vessels, I believe, are all currently represented under the Trade Union Act, but I think of companies like Mersey Seafoods, for example. Those are offshore vessels, whether they are scallop or groundfish or shrimp, and they do go a long distance away from their home port, but they do, nonetheless, have a home port. So, I take it what the minister really means here is what we would traditionally call the inshore and midshore fisherman, vessels of the smaller boat fleet, perhaps the under 65 foot fleet. I would appreciate some clarification from the minister on that so we can understand more precisely what it is we are dealing with.
The minister also states that the province will be broken up into regions. I think it would have been helpful had the minister defined the regions for us in the bill. I think that would be particularly helpful for the people at whom this bill is aimed. I am given to understand that there is some considerable discussion as to whether there should be five or six regions in the province. I would like the minister to inform the House, and through the House the community, whether there will be five or six regions, or perhaps four or or seven or however many. I would also like him to explain why, in fact, those regions have not been laid out in the bill.
There is a process laid out in the bill for determining by vote whether or not the fishermen in a given region will fall under the general ambit of this bill, yet I think the thing that I find most difficult is that there is no arm's length relationship between the minister and the voting process. I think if we take a look at the Trade Union Act, we will find in the legislation a very clear, well-defined, unequivocal process for conducting a vote, for what happens after that vote has been conducted, whether the result is in the affirmative or in the negative. That vote is not conducted by the Minister of Labour, but it is conducted by the Labour Relations Board, which is at arm's length from government, at arm's length from the minister of the department to which the board replies. I think it is essential to the public interest that the minister institute some kind of an arm's length process here so that he is not responsible for taking that decision. The government should lay out a process but then the application of that process should be made by an arm's length body. It may well be that the minister may be able to convince the Minister of Fisheries, he may be able to convince the Minister of Labour, to have the Labour Relations Board undertake that responsibility. That would be fine, because it is, as I have stated, an arm's length body.
There may be other bodies able to do this. I do not know what they are. The minister indeed could choose to establish an independent tribunal which would oversee this process and would, at arm's length from government, take the decisions which are available under the Act when it becomes law. I think it is very important that the Minister of Fisheries, once having established a clear, unequivocal process, does not become embroiled in any disputes between those who are participants in the process and the best way that can be done is to provide an arm's length process which will set him aside from it and allow the appropriate decisions to be taken by persons who, in effect, have virtually a quasi-judicial function to perform. The minister might well want to look at Section 25 of the Trade Union Act to get a more full description of what it is that I have in mind.
When a vote is taken, pursuant to Clause 5 of the bill, it is deemed to be an affirmative vote if at least 60 per cent of the license holders in the region have voted. I wonder how the minister arrived at 60 per cent. I wonder why it is not 50 per cent plus one. There must be a rationale for the number. Most people view 50 per cent plus one sufficient to make a decision of this nature. Certainly I believe that under the Trade Union Act 50 per cent plus one is what is required to take these kinds of decisions with respect to accreditation of a bargaining unit within the Trade Union Act.
Once the results of the votes have been made known - and by the way, with respect to the vote being made known, there is nothing in here that provides a level of protection to those voting, to ensure that their democratic choice is known only to them. There is no provision in here for the ballots to be destroyed and so on, as is the case in voting within a trade union vote.
Reference is made to public notice of the result being given. One way that is going to be provided is through the Royal Gazette. Now the Royal Gazette isn't really your best-seller, so that really is a perfunctory notice. Newspapers, yes, that as well. But we know who each and every one of these license holders is in each of these regions. It strikes me that to ensure that each of these license holders is aware of the result of that vote, the department should notify these license holders by registered mail. That way nobody can complain that they missed it, they didn't see the newspaper.
Just stop and think for a moment; if it is in a daily newspaper and it is published two weeks in a row and a fisherman, a license holder, happens to have been out fishing for an eight day period, it is not impossible that that fisherman could miss the two consecutive weeks because those two papers would have come out during the period when he was at sea. To publish two consecutive weeks is insufficient, it probably should be published three consecutive weeks. I feel confident that would then make sure that all who were involved in the vote would have opportunity to see that. But again, not everybody in rural Nova Scotia gets the provincial newspaper and not everybody gets the local newspaper. So I say again that the best way to ensure that all those who participate in the vote know the result of the vote is to inform them by registered mail.
I gather from the legislation that there may well be several organizations accredited within a given region. When one looks at the almost 60 organizations purporting to represent fishermen around this province, one understands that there may well be a number of organizations within a region. My reading of the legislation says to me that several organizations, once accredited by the minister, may well be deemed to be eligible to collect mandatory dues. I would gather then that this provides a menu for the license holders in that region to choose which of those accredited organizations he or she wishes to send their annual dues to.
Again, there is a problem here because it is the minister who is going to decide on accreditation. Again I think if it is essential to due process, to good administrative law, that the minister remove himself from that decision and that decision respecting accreditation be made by an arm's-length body, such as the Labour Relations Board, although, as I have said, it need not necessarily be that board, it may be another agency that the minister establishes to cause that to happen.
I notice, too, that the $100 is a minimum, that if an organization chooses to charge more than $100 then that is the amount that a license holder must pay if he chooses to belong to that particular organization. Probably the effect of that will be to have most of them decide not to go above the $100 level, so they are offering the best price they can.
I wonder why the $100 is even in here. It strikes me as an odd place to insert the amount of dues that an organization would collect. That means the minister is intruding himself into the business of the organization which has been accredited and telling that organization what its dues will be. It may well be that an organization determines the dues that it wants to pay is $75. Why then should that not be the amount that must be collected in order to comply with the law? I don't understand the $100 figure.
I also notice that if the dues are not paid annually, then that becomes a debt owed to the organization which the license holder has chosen to belong to and I gather then that the organization may take out a judgment against that licensed holder, place a lien against that license holder's property and at the very least, get a dunning letter from the organization's lawyer.
Accreditation, once rendered, is good for up to four years. The question that comes to my mind is what if the organization ceases to exist? More appropriately, what if the organization joins with other organizations to form a new organization? It seems to me that we should say something to the effect that accreditation lasts for four years or until such time as the organization ceases to exist or until such time as it amalgamates with one or more other organizations. I noticed too that the minister not only can grant accreditation, he also can cancel accreditation. Again we see the need for an arm's-length process in this legislation.
I have contacted all of the fisheries organizations in the province. I have had some considerable response from them. I am told that the Eastern Fishermen's Federation, for example, has asked for five regions but they have certain concerns regarding this bill and I assume and I indeed hope as I am sure does the minister, that that organization will appear at the Law Amendments Committee, to make recommendations for any amendments it deems are necessary to effect legislation which is in the best interests of the license holders. We have also heard from the Inverness South Fishemen's Association, Artie Graham is their representative. Mr. Graham and his organization believe that any license holder should have the right to belong to the organization of their choice.
The North Cape Breton Fishing Vessels Association, that is Cliff Aucoin, he says that he was not aware the bill was being brought forward at this time which is an indication that these men and women who are license holders are hardworking people, they have their noses to the grindstone, they are struggling on a day to day basis to compete in a very difficult fishing economy. They are fearful that the Government of Canada, through the Oceans Act, is going to impose all kinds of additional costs on them and so it is not surprising that they might miss a bill being introduced in the House.
So I hope that in order to ensure, if the minister has not already done so, that each and every fishing organization in Nova Scotia understands the bill that is here, understands the process through which this bill will proceed and most particularly, understands that each organization and indeed each member of that organization has the right to appear before the Law Amendments Committee, that he will have his staff personally contact the president of each of these fisheries organizations to lay out all of this information for them and to do it sufficiently well in advance that they will be able to prepare themselves to come here and appear before the Law Amendments Committee.
Sandy Point Fishermen's Community Wharf Association, Robert Welsh, in Shelburne County. Mr. Welsh's group feels that the $100 is an outrageous amount, so that is one of the reasons that I asked the minister to address that question. Why $100? In southwest Nova Scotia, the Fixed Gear Association. A very quiet fellow by the name of Gary Dedrick happens to be the president of that association. To know Gary is to love him. Gary provided a personal view of the legislation, he didn't purport to speak on behalf of the association. To use his words, he thinks the whole thing is a joke. Well, I can't say that I entirely share Mr. Dedrick's views, but nonetheless, they are serious views expressed by a person belonging to an organization which takes itself seriously and which I take seriously. I believe it is important that those views be given the opportunity to be trotted out before the Law Amendments Committee so that by the time the bill comes back for Committee of the Whole House consideration we know exactly how the community which is being focused upon in this bill feels about its content.
Madam Speaker, those are my remarks with respect to this bill. It is an interesting piece of legislation. I think it needs a lot more work before we pass it through third reading. I think the public interest and the minister's personal interests are tied up in creating an arm's length process for voting, for accreditation, for lifting accreditation, all of these kinds of measures. I think we can look to the Trade Union Act for some direction in that matter and I look to the minister to provide the leadership I know he will want to provide to ensure that each and every one of these fishing organizations is notified well in advance of the date when the bill will appear before the Law Amendments Committee so that those organizations can make their presentation and make us all the wiser. How vitally important that is, because there is not a single person in this Chamber who has earned their living in the fishing industry. We should not assume to ourselves the right to determine what is in the best interests of those men and women without first hearing them out and then responding as directly as we can to their concerns and their recommendations. Then we will be able to create the right kind of legislation to do the job the fishermen and fisherwomen of this province need in order to fulfil their own destinies. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, my colleague to the right, the member for Kings West, who is well aware of the fact that I am from the Valley originally and grew up there, said to me, what do you know about fishing? I probably still don't know very much but I do have a lot of fishermen in my riding. I have done my best over the past four plus years to try to learn as much as I possibly could about the stresses and strains facing people in the industry and how we as legislators can best assist those people in carrying out their responsibility and also in representing the interests of the whole of the province and the whole of the country in terms of how best to manage our fishing resource so that it not only benefits the current generation but it benefits generations well into the future.
Madam Speaker, let me say first of all that I applaud the minister for coming forward with this piece of legislation. I know it has not been easy and I will comment on that for a moment. But I just want to say that I have had the opportunity to be involved in forums called Round Tables on the Fishery held here in Nova Scotia beginning this March.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable members, if it would be possible to lower the level of conversation in the room, I would like to be able to hear the speaker who has the floor.
MR. CHISHOLM: I have had the good fortune - I think sometimes not so good fortune - to be involved in four forums on the fishery that have been organized by fish harvesters and groups representing communities and other people involved in the fishery, as a facilitator, since March. Those meetings have been held as a result of the number of the organizations -and the number of harvesting organization in this province has ranged from in the mid-50's to now, I think, it is up to the low 60's in terms of the number of fishing organizations that have been formed to represent the interests of fish harvesters; this is primarily in the inshore sector - attempting to respond to the crisis in the fishery here in Nova Scotia, particularly the downturn in the groundfish fishery, and the changes that have been coming down from the federal government through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The organizations are trying to cope with this within an organizational structure which, basically, what exists at the current time is that - the estimates have said - 70 per cent of fishers are not represented by any of the organizations even that exist at this current time. So, it has been a problem for those organizations, number one, to try to meet because there are so many of them to come together to come up with common positions on many of the challenges facing the industry, but also to try to represent the industry knowing that there are a great number of people who aren't paying into the organizations and aren't, therefore, funding the organizations and don't have a commitment to the decisions those organizations make. So, it is in many ways a very fractious industry in terms of the organizations, to say the least, Madam Speaker.
There have been a number of issues primarily motivated, I think, by the downturn in the groundfish fishery that have motivated the organizations to try to work together on some of the important decisions that are being made about how the industry is going to be organized and how the fishery is going to be managed. The whole issue of licensing fee increases, the question of the Atlantic Licensing Policy Review, the initiative by the federal government to move to a policy of co-management, working more with the industry and with fishers and communities to manage the fishery more specifically than to be making all the decisions independently from Ottawa, all of these items, all of these issues have been coming down upon fishers and coastal communities that are affected by the decisions that occur within the industry. They have been creating some enormous pressures on the organizations to try to respond in a concerted and coherent manner.
The round tables that I indicated, they were a forum that the harvesters within the industry or sector pulled together and decisions were to be made on a consensus basis. There was never any less than probably 17 or 18 different organizations represented at these round tables and there were a couple of them where there were upwards of 30-odd represented. So, the participation was fairly good, certainly nowhere near perfect.
In terms of the legislation that is before us, I think what you see in this legislation and what I have seen at two of the round tables where we have discussed the specifics of this mandatory dues legislation - and as the minister indicated a draft was before the round table meetings held at the end of August and we discussed some of that again in our meeting in October - I really think there are two principles at play here that are operating parallel within the industry in Nova Scotia. That, I think, is represented in the bill and it may create problems, but nonetheless, I don't see what other avenue the minister has available to him.
I think there are two things, and I think they are quite separate. One is that there is a strong drive within certain segments of the industry for greater strength, larger organizations covering more fishers and communities across the province, from one end to the other. The idea is that if you have fewer organizations that are participating with the federal government and if those organizations are better resourced to be able to handle the challenges of all of the important policy decisions that have to be made, then they are going to be in a better position to represent a fisherman at the table. The whole idea of mandatory dues is to try to develop larger, stronger organizations to better represent the interests of fishermen. That is one.
On the other side of it, you have, I think, a strong sense within parts of the industry that fishermen should be permitted to participate in any organization regardless of size. If people want to have an organization around a single wharf that has three members, some people say they should have that opportunity. But what you want to have, and why they support mandatory dues legislation, is that you want to ensure that all three of those people, and anybody else affected by the decisions of that organization, pay in to support the organization. The fact that, as I said before, the estimates have been that 70 per cent of fishermen don't belong to any organization and, therefore, don't pay any dues, and they don't make any contribution to the abilities of the organizations to be resourced is thought to be a problem.
So I think there are two somewhat conflicting principles at work there. One of them is looking for larger and stronger organizations and the other is looking for greater participation within organizations but there is no minimum from that camp in terms of the size of organizations. So in other words you could have the situation you have now, with 61 organizations or more representing fishermen from one end of the province to the other and from that camp that is not seen as a problem, as long as everybody is paying in.
I won't get into what I think about those two ideas, Madam Speaker. I just wanted to raise the fact that I think those two principles are, in fact, reflected in this bill. I understand that, having tried to facilitate a meeting on this particular draft from a very disparate group of organizations across this province, to try to come up with a consensus on what we wanted to recommend to the minister. It was an interesting meeting, to be charitable.
That having been said, let me just spend a very few moments looking at the bill itself, if I can find it. There have been a couple of concerns raised about this particular piece of legislation and I think they have been passed on to the minister not only out of the round table at the end of August, where an official from his department attended but, perhaps, subsequently. I think those concerns will be brought in by representatives of different organizations during Law Amendments Committee.
The powers of the minister in the bill are of concern to some. The fact that the minister shall prescribe areas of the province to be the regions. Some people think that should be laid out quite clearly as to what those regions are going to be. If anybody thinks it is going to be easy to come up with or it is easy to come up with what regions are going to be what and how they are going to be determined, they haven't chatted very much with some of these organizations. I think at that particular round table we spent upwards of three or four hours discussing regions alone. We came up with five regions, but I understand now that the minister's department is talking about six regions because of the fact that the region in South West Nova is so large; the idea is to try to divide that up. I understand the rationale for that but, again, the concern with the bill throughout is the powers that are prescribed to the minister.
The fact that the minister will appoint an employee to conduct a vote, to decide whether or not fishers within a region will decide to join an organization, and whether they will decide to participate in a mandatory dues situation. In other words, this is almost the enabling part of this legislation that is of some concern to people and then it goes on later and talks about the fact that for a vote to be eligible, there has to be 60 per cent of the fishers within that region participate. As I indicated, some have suggested concern with the fact that that may be very difficult, given the way fishermen have participated in organizations in the past and the fact that the minister's department has held a number of consultations across the province, heavily advertised, where fishermen overwhelmingly have said we believe that the times merit our moving to mandatory dues and so the question is, why do we have to hold these votes all over again?
The question again about the regions should perhaps be set out and maybe if it can't be set out in the legislation, maybe a process for determining those regions in agreement with a committee, maybe from the round table or a committee representing different regions, or maybe the same committee that met at the airport and decided in the affirmative to go forward with mandatory dues, but at some point there should be some consultation with the industry in order to determine what those regions should be. I think that can be done.
As I said, we came up with five regions out of the round table and I am sure that, for the reasons that have been explained to me, we could find consensus on the sixth region for the reasons that have been cited. But there has to be an engagement there, I think, and I am sure the minister, because he has worked so hard at doing this, he understands that.
The other question about the criteria is somewhat problematic, I think. Again, that is all being left up to the discretion of the minister. Maybe this can be dealt with simply by tabling draft regulations that lay this out and maybe again we can have that discussion within the industry in order to come to some definitions of what those criteria would be that would be acceptable. Again, you have those conflicting principles that I spoke of earlier that are at play. Some are concerned that if you are not specific enough and if you are trying to be too inclusive, that you are going to end up with 100 organizations of five people each and you may not get the resources in order to develop organizations with the capacity to deal with some of the issues facing the industry. But I think that that needs to be discussed, perhaps at the Law Amendments Committee, or at some point we can discuss that a little more completely.
The other concern is over the issue of the dues and how they are going to be paid and how this legislation ensures that they will be paid. There have been some methods discussed in terms of attaching a payment of dues to the issuing of licenses. There has been talk about cooperation with Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the province in trying to come up with a process that doesn't bind up the organizations, basically, in the courts in trying to recover these debts, in terms of unpaid dues, in order to set up a process whereby people within the industry are given some incentive to participate in this legislation in a positive way.
I think it is important that that Clause 10(2) perhaps be discussed at some length and we try to develop some specifics in there. Maybe that could be done in an easy way that is not overly specific but yet, talks about the incentive and ensuring that there will be a process in place that encourages, in a very clear way, fishers participation in this mandatory dues system.
The other section that causes some concern is the question of the minister's ability to cancel the accreditation of an organization. I think there needs to be some understanding of what that means. Again, it is a reflection of the overwhelming power and I know that the minister has a great deal of respect or is held in high regard within the industry and that his motives are not questioned, but Heaven forbid there be a shake-up and you get somebody else that doesn't have the commitment to this sector and to this process. I think that is a matter of some concern and I would ask the minister to take that under advisement, perhaps, and try to give some consideration to the fact that that issue needs to be addressed.
I know in the earlier draft there were three or four clauses that talk with an almost decertification process. There were problems with that in that it was almost like you could move to a decertification within the first three or six months and it was a question of instability. At the same time that did specify a process by which an organization could lose its right to represent fishers. In that sense it was good and it was much more comparable to the Trade Union Act. I would hope, maybe, that the minister would consider those kinds of changes as we proceed to the Law Amendments Committee and back to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills.
At this point I think I am raising some concerns that have been brought to my attention. Some of the impressions that I have in how this has all come about as a result of my participation with the harvesting sector over the past few years, I think many people in the industry feel that we have come some considerable distance in having this legislation tabled in the House and see that as a good sign. Even those that are opposed to the legislation itself, will feel some compulsion to support it, simply because it moves forward.
Yet, there is a real scepticism among others within the industry, given the increasing pressures on fishers and their organizations to respond to the co-management issues, to the licensing fee increases, to the whole licensing policy review process, given the pressures for the industry and harvesters to concentrate their resources and the pressures for greater corporate control, fishers and many others within the sector feel that there is a need to build strong organizations and to build them now. There is some concern that this legislation, with the number of steps that are in there, may be somewhat problematic.
Again, there is another large group of people within the industry that are saying, let's do this now, let's get it through and let's get on with it. I think in the final analysis, that is what many of us are saying and I include myself in that because I have been involved in this process, not only with the industry but with the minister's department. So I will be supporting this legislation going through to Law Amendments Committee. I will be encouraging my colleague, the Leader of the NDP, to support it. I would urge other members to support it. I look forward to listening to the presentations at Law Amendments Committee.
I hope the minister will keep an open mind to some of the issues that have been raised and that will be raised. Perhaps we can fine tune some aspects of this legislation, in order that we can see this process go forward in a positive and constructive way, in order to assist the industry here in Nova Scotia to be in a better position to respond to the challenges being faced not only now but in the near future. So with those few comments, I will take my seat.
MADAM SPEAKER: Are there further speakers on this bill? If there are no further speakers, I will recognize the Minister of Fisheries to close debate on second reading.
The honourable Minister of Fisheries.
HON. JAMES BARKHOUSE: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I am very pleased and I personally want to thank both members of the Opposition, the member for Queens and the member for Halifax Atlantic for their very thorough review of the legislation, Bill No. 30. I think the considerable time and effort put into it by both members shows the consideration that has taken place here in the last two years. Their valuable input is really appreciated because I know the member for Halifax Atlantic, having shared some of these round tables, has understood the complexities and the various principles which this bill has brought forth.
This is a piece of legislation made in Nova Scotia by Nova Scotians, by fishermen and their organizations. I had pledged two years ago that I would provide this enabling legislation for mandatory dues. It has taken considerable efforts on behalf of many fishermen and their organizations and the members opposite to make this happen and to enable me to bring it here today and to have this second reading.
The participation of the industry in Law Amendments Committee I believe will be a very valuable part of the process to fine tune, as the member for Halifax Atlantic expressed. This fine tuning is required. It does not have the unanimous consent of everybody but this is an enabling process, enabling by allowing people in the proposed six regions of the province but it can be adjusted. I am quite flexible to the will of the fishing industry, whether it is six. We proposed six because of the parameters and the regions within the province. I believe that six has been chosen as a fair number, for flexibility and adaptability to the communities.
The very many questions that have been asked I believe will be more readily answered in Law Amendments Committee because of the participation by industry. I have asked them to be prepared to make their presentations on behalf of the various members. We do have acceptance, and I will read from a RapidFax that I received from the EFF. It says, "Good work on getting the dues legislation through first reading. Hopefully, there will be no problems with the second reading, and we can address a few minor revisions or changes at Committee. On behalf of the nine EFF-member associations in the province, thanks.". I will table a copy of that, Madam Speaker, because it does show the appreciation from the organizations. They have spent hundreds of thousands of hours in deliberating and helping us form this piece of Nova Scotia-made legislation. Every other province has organizations but of different structures and to make it available to our Nova Scotia industry who, as the members opposite noted, they have difficult situations to deal with at the present time. This is a means of facilitating membership dues.
I think that with those few comments, I will close, because there will be a very thorough review in the Law Amendments Committee. I appreciate that members have taken considerable time to put good input into this. Again, I appreciate their help in working with industry to bring this forth. Madam Speaker, I move second reading of Bill No. 30.
MADAM SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 30, The Fisheries Organizations Support Act. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Yes, Madam Speaker, I am prepared to move adjournment until Monday. I would advise members that we will be sitting on Monday from 4:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. The order of business will be Public Bills for Second Reading, beginning with Bill No. 31 and in the order they are shown on the order paper.
I move that we adjourn until 4:00 p.m. on Monday.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you. The House stands adjourned until 4:00 p.m. on Monday.
[The House rose at 2:50 p.m.]