MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We will commence this afternoon's sitting of the House at this time. Are there any introductions before we commence the daily routine of business?
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. BRUCE HOLLAND: Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the citizens of Timberlea-Prospect to present a petition signed by 2,461 citizens which represents a total of 8,331 people in my riding. The residents have signed this petition due to a lack of trust and faith in the process that led to the selection of a landfill site in their community. Although the Community Stakeholders Committee did a good job in developing a waste resource strategy for the metro area, it wasn't long before the consultants, directed by the proponents, took over the process. This is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop.
In an effort to correct this situation, the residents of Timberlea-Prospect are requesting the Minister of the Environment to ensure a mediated environmental assessment take place which the minister has the power to do, Mr. Speaker. I have signed this petition and I support its objectives.
MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 42 - Entitled an Act to Incorporate the LaHave River Valley Heritage Association. (Hon. Donald Downe as a private member.)
Bill No. 43 - Entitled an Act to Amend Chapter 235 of the Revised Statutes of 1989. The Interpretation Act. (Hon. Eleanor Norrie)
MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that these bills be read a second time on a future day.
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas three months into operations the new regional government in Cape Breton shocked taxpayers with news that a projected $6 million surplus is now a $9 million debt; and
Whereas Mayor John Coady has said Municipal Affairs policies and unrealistic transitional cost estimates have largely contributed to the financial mess now facing Cape Breton taxpayers; and
Whereas Municipal Affairs Minister, the Honourable Sandra Jolly, acknowledged that her department reviewed and agreed with the transitional cost estimates which were off by as much as $3 million;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Municipal Affairs publicly acknowledge and apologize for her role in creating the new regional government's financial mess and that she take immediate steps to ensure metro area taxpayers are not subjected to the same ugly and unexpected surprise three months after metro amalgamation comes into effect.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I have ruled that double-barrelled resolutions are out of order.
The resolution, therefore, is out of 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 many Liberal supporters were dismayed and disappointed by the slow, clumsy and offensive way that this government has gone about the imposition of tolls on Highway No. 104; and
Whereas Cumberland County and Colchester County Liberals felt more betrayed than any others, especially after they delivered an electoral sweep for their Party, unprecedented in recent times; and
Whereas the Liberal Government's version of fence-mending is new legislation designed to eliminate fairness and equity from the expropriation process that will be pursued for Highway No. 104;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the government to withdraw the secrecy, punitive measures and one-sided imposition of provincial powers that the Liberals wish to impose on expropriation for Highway No. 104 and all other future expropriations.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Minister of the Environment has approved the Pioneer Coal strip mine in Stellarton; and
Whereas the Minister of the Environment has refused to accept the recommendation of the Environmental Review Board that the Town of Stellarton be granted a per ton levy on coal strip mined by Pioneer; and
Whereas the Province of Nova Scotia will, pursuant to the Mineral Resources Act, collect a royalty per ton on all coal mined by Pioneer and that the royalty makes no distinction between coal mined in the traditional way and coal mined from a surface mine;
Therefore be it resolved that the Government of Nova Scotia review the royalty paid for coal extracted by surface mining and the province commit to sharing the royalties collected with the municipality or municipalities most directly affected.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Eastern Shore.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas for those of us who love our Eastern Shore, the Laughelton Gallery offers precious mementos from an amazing collection of talented artists and writers; and
Whereas the owners of Laughelton Gallery feel very privileged to promote the works of these creative people; and
Whereas the Laughelton Gallery celebrated their first anniversary on November 4, 1995, with the book launch by author Ronald Labelle's latest book, with award winning author visits by Budge Wilson and resident writer and publisher, Lesley Choyce, and well-known local artist Joseph Purcell;
Therefore be it resolved that this House extend congratulations and best wishes to John and Judy Brannen, owners of Laughelton Gallery, for many more successful years and for their outstanding promotion of the arts along the Eastern Shore.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.
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 Premier has been quick to boast about recent job growth in Nova Scotia; and
Whereas this is not surprising, since Nova Scotia failed to enjoy any increase in employment between March 1994 and August 1995; and
Whereas detailed reports now confirm that the province continues to lose full-time jobs, with growth confined to part-time work;
Therefore be it resolved that this House notes, with grave concern, the continuing drop in secure, full-time employment and urges the government to return to its promised top priority, a jobs strategy developed and pursued in collaboration with labour and management.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
MR. RUSSELL MACNEIL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Breton Education Centre Bears of New Waterford won the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation Division 1 Soccer Championship for the second year in a row on Saturday, November 4, 1995; and
Whereas Saturday's championship win caps a perfect winning season for the Bears, resulting in a 35-1 record over two seasons; and
Whereas this year's provincial crown marks the seventh title for the Breton Education Centre Bears and the most winning team in provincial history;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of the House of Assembly of the Province of Nova Scotia congratulate the Breton Education Centre Bears soccer team for their championship season and for dedication to excellence in their sport.
Mr. Speaker, I request 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 Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. DENNIS RICHARDS: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas in honour of the substantial community involvement of 4-H Clubs across Canada, November 5th to 12th has been proclaimed National 4-H Week; and
Whereas the Silver Sands 4-H Club in Eastern Passage enjoys a history of encouraging the community to be become involved in various projects at the club, country, regional and provincial level; and
Whereas Shannon Myers, a long-time, active member of the Silver Sands 4-H Club has been chosen as one of six Nova Scotians to attend the National 4-H Conference to be held November 10th to 12th in Toronto;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House of Assembly offer congratulations to Shannon Myers, as she represents the people of Nova Scotia, and commend the Silver Sands 4-H Club for their important role in the positive, enriched development of our youth in the Eastern Passage area.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for 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 health care workers in tertiary hospitals, public health, drug dependency and home care have since June 1994 been working without any certainly as to the future of their employment; and
Whereas despite long ago Liberal assurances that health care workers would have full participation in addressing labour adjustment, only the Medical Society has had such a role; and
Whereas health care workers have begun to visit Province House to try in person to gain some recognition and response to their concerns;
Therefore be it resolved that this House affirms that health care workers matter and should be treated and respected by this government as valued members of the health system, starting with full, open participation in determining the province-wide labour adjustment strategy.
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 U.S. President Clinton recently wrote that, "too often, public officials view gambling as a quick and easy way to raise revenues, without focusing on gambling's hidden social, economic and political costs"; and
Whereas one such group of public officials occupies the Cabinet seats in this House; and
Whereas Cape Bretoners, in particular, and all Nova Scotians can easily identify the social and economic harm resulting from the casinos that the Finance Minister is championing;
Therefore be it resolved that the Finance Minister should wake up and pay attention to the grassroots' disgust with governments' gambling addiction that is sweeping across North America and start focusing on the costs of gambling instead of infuriating Nova Scotians by viewing this addiction as a cash cow.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
Are there additional notices of motion? If not, that would appear to conclude the daily routine. We will now advance to Orders of the Day. The Oral Question Period today will run for one hour. We will say it is 12:16 p.m. now; therefore the Oral Question Period will run until 1:16 p.m.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Gaming Control Commission. When the Sydney casino was announced, the Minister of Finance said that 65 per cent of the profits which would accrue to the government from that casino would be divided between the native peoples and charitable organizations and community groups. The Minister of Finance, when he was painting a very rosy picture, actually, of the profits from the casino, estimated at that time that the annual profit from the Sydney casino which would come to the government would be in excess of $4 million.
Could the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation indicate how much money, over the first quarter of that casino's operation, has been accrued by the government and how much money has been distributed to charitable organizations or how much money is available after the first quarter to be distributed to charitable organizations?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think the honourable Leader of the Opposition is really directing it to the Minister responsible for the N.S. Gaming Corporation, although he did say commission in his initial question.
Mr. Speaker, we have not received a first quarterly report yet from the operation of the Sydney casino so I can't provide those figures. I will be releasing them publicly as we did with the Halifax casino as soon as we have them available and in the proper form.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, so the figures aren't yet available. Can the minister tell the House if a process has been identified for the disbursement of revenues from the Sydney casino to charitable organizations and community groups and could he explain how that process works and when the process will get underway?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable Leader of the Opposition for that question. Actually, it is a very timely question. The government has approved a draft criteria for charitable organizations that will be applying. A copy of that draft criteria will be supplied to both of the Opposition Parties probably before the end of the week and made public. We will then presumably hear representations as to whether people feel that that criteria is appropriate.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, by way of final supplementary, and I believe this question should go to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission for I understand it was she who negotiated the distribution of funds with the band councils. At that point, I believe, it was suggested and an ultimatum was issued to band councils that they would have to sign up by July 15th if they were going to share in the profits from this Sydney casino. Will the minister indicate how many band councils are now signed up to participate in sharing those profits and if the July 15th deadline has been extended or not?
HON. ELEANOR NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, I realize there is some confusion on which of the ministers is responsible for which responsibility under the Gaming Act. There are, are present, four band councils that have signed the agreement with the province, with the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission and the chiefs of those band councils. That letter that was written to the band councils with the June 15th or July 1st deadline was, in fact, sent to the band councils by the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation. The minister has agreed that the resale operation overseas of lottery tickets should not take place and he has also indicated that there is an agreement between the governments that such should not occur. I would like to table a copy of an advertisement that is run in the BBC Worldwide magazine, which offers for sale actually, Canadian lottery tickets. The minister has a choice, he can either be an accomplice in the sale of these tickets or the minister can announce that the terminals will be pulled from any seller who is suspected of taking part in such an operation. My question to the minister is which does the minister and this government choose, to be an accomplice or to pull the plug on any terminals suspected of being involved in a resale operation?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think we will deal with this in a responsible way. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation is aware of our agreements and responsibilities with respect to resale. The honourable member, himself, has indicated that he has taken some action with some of the police authorities with respect to a particular alleged reseller and I think the matter will unfold as it should.
The matter of enforcement specifically on regulations remains with the Gaming Control Commission, they are the regulatory body and I think I asked whether or not some of this information was made available to them from the honourable member. I don't know if he replied to that but in any event the authorities will deal with it as they should.
MR. HOLM: My question was dealing with government policy and I note that the minister chose purposely not to answer the question.
MR. SPEAKER: An editorial comment is not in order.
MR. HOLM: By checking the volume and the nature of the sales that go through the terminals, Atlantic Lottery Corporation can very easily determine if, in fact, there is reason to suspect that there is a resale operation going on. If the minister's own department, if his officials make inquiries, they too have every reason to believe that they would be able to detect whether or not such operations are going ahead. My question to the minister is, since it is so easy to monitor and to check why is it that Nova Scotians have seen absolutely no action from this government, other than to turn a blind eye and to allow the operations and the possibilities of those operations to continue?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think the question was, should we turn off the terminal of a particular individual if we have reason to suspect. I don't think we operate that way. In case the honourable member missed it, the policy is clear, the policy of Nova Scotia is the same as it is across Canada, it does not condone or encourage this type of operation. In fact, we would require, I think and any fair-minded person would, require a degree of proof, a degree of establishment of evidence that this activity was being undertaken. The honourable member has gone, very specifically, with one case and he has the process underway. Apparently, having started that process, he is not willing to wait for the result, it is simply not quick enough, it is not useful to him in the House of Assembly. Well, I am sorry, that was his choice.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, the short answer from the minister is that he does not consider that he has any responsibility whatsoever to ensure . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Question please!
MR. HOLM: . . . that the polices and regulations . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Question!
MR. HOLM: . . . of the Province of Nova Scotia are being followed. He is abdicating any responsibility on his part.
Mr. Speaker, it is quite clear, and employees have said that they have been informed about discussions that are being held between operators and, in fact, . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Is this a question?
MR. HOLM: . . . inter-provincial lottery corporation officials and that after such discussions, in fact, the coast is left clear. My question to the minister is, will the minister live up to his responsibilities? Will the minister ensure that, in fact, the policies and the protections that are in place will be followed and that the minister will have an active, aggressive investigation done to determine if, in fact, these resale operations are taking place and if there is any evidence to indicate they are, shut them down immediately?
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh-h-h!
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think perhaps I should call the RCMP this afternoon, tell them they are off the case, I am taking over because the honourable member wants me to take over. Now he has already done the investigation himself, I don't know why we are bothering to waste the time of the RCMP. Between the two of us, we can do this whole thing. We don't need these fellows in the red coats.
Mr. Speaker, if we talked about not answering a question, for two days now I have asked him, did he bring it to the attention of the Gaming Control Commission? Did he give them any evidence? Did he bring it to them? Did he ask them to perform the functions for which they are charged under the legislation? No answer. Both days, no answer. The game here is not enforcement, the game is political grandstanding.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission. I wonder if that minister might indicate to the House if she is aware of any education or prevention programs thus far undertaken by ITT Sheraton to combat gaming or gambling addiction?
HON. ELEANOR NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of any actual education programs that have been undergone. I do know that the ITT Sheraton are acting in a very responsible manner to identify any problems that may arise with the issue of gambling in the ITT Sheraton and we are working with them in that capacity of their jurisdiction over this within the confines of their establishment.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the minister can, on the one hand, answer my question by saying that she is not aware of any programs underway and then in the next breath suggest that she understands that ITT Sheraton is acting responsibly. Those two statements are totally contradictory and she has no knowledge at all, I suggest, of whether or not ITT Sheraton is acting responsibly because she does not have any idea whether any such programs are underway.
My supplementary for the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission is simply this, relative to the same issue and it is an issue, as she knows and you know, Mr. Speaker, that was very much the subject of discussion and debate in this House relative to the establishment of casinos, that is the question of what would or should be done to respond to those who found themselves in difficulty by reason of gaming addiction. I wonder if the minister will tell us today if she is aware, could she describe for this House the commitments which ITT Sheraton did make to government with respect to funding education or prevention programs to combat gambling addictions? Could she tell us what commitments were, in fact, made by ITT Sheraton?
MRS. NORRIE: I think the member opposite is aware that there was $1.2-something million identified to identify and to treat any problem gamblers through the Department of Health.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, that is a pretty general statement because the minister, you will note with great interest as I do, Mr. Speaker, does not indicate that those monies are, in fact, now functioning and supporting and sustaining an addiction prevention or an addiction response program. On December 21, 1994, the former minister responsible for the Lottery Commission issued a press release, Mr. Speaker, and he stated, and I will quote briefly: "ITT Sheraton, the casino operator, will conduct it's own program to combat problem gaming. The company expects to spend more than $250,000 annually in education and prevention programs. It will work closely with the Atlantic Foundation on Compulsive Gambling, the Health Department and other organizations.".
Mr. Speaker, I recently did some investigation and I have now found that the Atlantic Foundation on Gambling Addictions tell me that they have never yet heard from ITT Sheraton and they have never yet heard from this minister or any representative of the Nova Scotia Government. It makes me wonder, then, whether or not any of the rhetoric that we heard so many months ago has ever been acted upon.
I ask this minister if she will tell us what commitments, meetings, arrangements and funding support has she analyzed and assessed and addressed to ensure that the Sheraton is, in fact, in touch and in concert with the Atlantic Foundation on Compulsive Gambling and, as a consequence of those contacts and arrangements, what program is now the Atlantic Foundation of Compulsive Gambling being helped with?
MRS. NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, my role as the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission is to be in management of Part II of the Act. Now I am aware that the commission itself is pursing its responsibility in a very careful and methodical manner. They are identifying the areas of problem gaming in the province. They are also studying and making helpful observations of the recommendations they would have based on any study that they would undertaken and the knowledge they would acquire through those studies.
The commission itself is not a delivery of programs. We are there to measure the effect of gaming or otherwise on the people of the province and to make those studies, as we measure them, known to those areas that do deliver the program and we are in the process of doing that.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation. The minister knows there have been 52 permanent layoffs at the casino in Sydney. Now that the tourism season is winding down, can the minister indicate whether he and his partners, ITT Sheraton, are planning any further layoffs?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: As was the original plan, Mr. Speaker, it is our intention to allow ITT Sheraton to manage both of those operations in a business like way. We are not involved in the day to day operations of either casino.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, again to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation. Is the minister prepared to give his assurance today, in this House that those people who are still employed at the Sydney casino will remain employed?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely prepared to give my undertaking that we will not manage casinos in Nova Scotia.
MR. MACLEOD: My final question again to the minister, the minister promised great things for Cape Breton, including jobs, jobs, jobs. Is there a guarantee from his partner's ITT Sheraton that the casino in Sydney will remain open?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, the agreement we signed with ITT Sheraton for both locations provides for those casinos to operate over the extended period of time of that agreement, so I think that addresses that question.
With respect to Cape Breton generally and jobs, I challenge the honourable member to bring an example to the House or to me personally of an industry which was introduced into industrial Cape Breton, didn't cost the taxpayers a cent, put that many people to work and for which we are not at any risk, both now in the future and, on top of all that, will produce revenue for us. Produce a couple of examples from Cape Breton of industries such as that.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation. The minister has consistently said in this House that this government is in partnership with ITT Sheraton. He said that over and over again consistently.
It is my understanding, and I want the minister to confirm that ITT Sheraton has lost revenue during the first four months of operation when we had the G-7, the peak tourist season and the usually high tourist traffic. I would ask the minister to confirm that in actual fact the casino operations have lost money in this province?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I have in my possession the report which was made available. It is on the first quarter of operations. That has already been made public. When I have further quarterly reports, which will come in due course, we will make them all available. So all of the information that I will have with respect to the financial information, will be made available to the honourable member.
I can tell you one thing, that not last quarter, not next quarter, not any quarter, will the people of Nova Scotia lose money. (Applause)
MR. MOODY: I don't know about the people of Nova Scotia but the minister and his friends are not.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask the minister, given the fact that in the first quarter - he knows, the sheets are here - where there were no profits and I can't understand, since he is in partnership with ITT Sheraton, I would ask the minister what is he doing as a partner and what adjustments is he suggesting or being involved in, besides going to Vegas, on making this a profitable operation?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, we are in partnership with them. One of their parts of the partnership is to run the operations. I don't know anything about running a casino, maybe the honourable member does, but that is why we have them. They are among the best casino operators in the world. Indeed, yes, in the meetings in Las Vegas, sure, we discussed that. We wanted to get their views on how the operation can be improved, what their outlook is, now that they have been operating for a few months. They remain very confident that their participation will be a profitable and successful one here in the province. That is the information they give us.
Now, I can only tell you from our point of view, we have, right at this moment, $25 million in the bank. All of the terrible scenarios that the Opposition drew day after day after day haven't developed. Operations of government now in Health, Education and all of those other areas, are presently benefitting, even as we speak here, from that $25 million, Mr. Speaker. There is no possible way we can lose money.
I am interested in their position, obviously, I am interested in their profit, because with their profit comes more profit for us. But from this point of view, I am confident that they are going to proceed, perhaps a little slower than they had hoped, but our $25 million is in the bank.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, the minister may not have heard but I have been hearing horror stories about lives that are being affected by this casino, but we will get into that another day.
Now that the minister has indicated that they are partners and he is interested in their operations, I wonder if he could give the people of Nova Scotia some guarantee, as he says, that the government will never have any losses, would he give some guarantee that the ITT Sheraton will live up to their commitments? He has given a six month extension on the new casino to be built in Halifax. Will the minister be making other adjustments to the original agreement to fit ITT's business as they go along and find that their projections were off, will the minister be making more provisions in the way of forfeit of penalty in the future like he did recently or will that be the end of it, the one that he has made a short time ago?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, there were a number of questions involved there and I perhaps will have lost one or two of them in my response. Any adjustment we ever make as a government in an ongoing business relationship will be made for one reason and one reason only, that it is in the best interests of the public of this province. I think we have done a reasonable job in protecting the public interest and, indeed, getting the best possible deal for the public. That is not our opinion alone, that is the opinion of people in the industry.
We have some interest in how our partner is doing but they are a big corporation and they came into the agreement with their eyes wide open. They have a multibillion dollar world-wide operation. I don't feel too sorry for them, they will do all right.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission. In a release dated December 21, 1994, relative to Major Program Will Address Gaming Concerns, there was a reference in the following words, "The final component of the government's attack on problem gaming will be directed by the Gaming Commission, the new gaming watchdog established under the Gaming Control Act which is now before the legislature. The commission has a legal responsibility to monitor and report publicly to government on all problems associated with gaming in Nova Scotia.".
Against that backdrop I ask the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission if she will tell this House whether or not she has any personal knowledge as to whether ITT Sheraton has undertaken and is conducting its own program to combat problem gambling? The release indicated that the company expected to spend $250,000 annually in education and prevention programs and I ask the minister who has the responsibility to monitor this aspect of the casinos in our province, to tell this House whether or not ITT Sheraton has made a commitment in that amount or any amount to education and prevention programs?
HON. ELEANOR NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, the commission is in the process of preparing a backdrop, if you will, to identify the scope of problem gaming in the province and the public's perception in that area. The commission, through the process of an annual report, would report that back to the House on the programs that are now in place and the effectiveness of them. As the ITT Sheraton moves in that direction and has ways to identify problem gamblers who go into their institution, they do have a voluntary identification for problem gamblers, they would voluntarily stay away from the casino, a voluntary ban. I know we are working on developing policy, we are liaisoning with other departments in this area and as it is developed, it will be, I am sure, in the best interests of all the people of the province.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, the same release indicated that there was to be a direct contribution from the casinos operation to the Nova Scotia Department of Health and that contribution was to be, in the words of the release, at least $1 million annually. The hopeful sign was there that that may be increased if greater need is identified. It was noted that the $1 million is to come out of casino operations after the province takes its 20 per cent win tax and before any profit sharing. My question by way of supplementary to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Control Commission is to ask her whether she will tell this House today how much, if any, of that $1 million committed by the casino operations has, in fact, been transferred to the Department of Health for the purposes of offering programs to assist those who are or may be in difficulty with gambling or gaming addictions?
MRS. NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, members of the Gaming Control Commission and the Department of Health are putting a proposal together to go forward on how that funding should be dispersed. I would suggest that the Chairman of the Priorities and Planning Committee, the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation, could more identify where we are with that.
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, actually the reason that I might address it a little more directly is the money never touches down with the commission. They have a responsibility under the legislation to ensure these things are done but in fact, the money passes through the corporation, to the province, to the general revenue fund and then out through to the Department of Health.
The casino has to date contributed, I think, something in excess of $333,000. They are up-to-date on their instalments on that $1 million. They have made the payments and in point of fact I might add that the amount the casino has already contributed to treatment and dealing with the problem of addiction, is more in three months than the former government, I think, ever budgeted in an entire year.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I don't intend to tell him he is wrong on that but it is a very interesting observation that it also happens that we didn't have casinos in the Province of Nova Scotia when the former government was (Interruption) Mr. Speaker, my final supplementary, then, I would direct to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation, since he handles the money as it makes its way, presumably, to these programs. I learned from the commission, through the minister, that there is a proposal going forward, which leads me to the conclusion that we are just in that stage, a proposal stage, that there is no program organized. Now there may be some money in the bank, the Minister of Finance has referred to $330,000.
The question I would like to ask him, in his capacity as Chairman of the Priorities and Planning Committee, can the minister tell us whether or not, as of today, there is, in fact, a program in place designed in concert with ITT Sheraton, with the Commission on Drug Dependency and the relevant organizations, including the one which was promised to be a full player, the Atlantic Foundation on Compulsive Gambling? Is a new program to respond to people with gambling and gaming addictions in place now, being funded by the monies we have just been talking about?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think in the interest of getting the answer from the one best able to give it, I would refer the question to the honourable Minister of Health.
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question of the honourable member opposite and also the referral from the Minister of Finance. In 1993 we were faced, as the honourable gentleman opposite knows, with a problem of video lottery terminals which were scattered hither and yon and we budgeted in the Department of Health $400,000 to answer that problem in 1993-94. That program is inherent in the division of drug dependency. It continues to this date and we are just putting the finishing touches on the program that would expand, in a real sense, the identification, treatment and prevention program in this province in terms of gambling addiction, which we know, of course, is most threatened through video lottery terminals.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question through you to the Minister of Supply and Services. The minister will know and undoubtedly share in the regret that tragically a worker was killed on October 14th of this year on the job at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College while working for a contractor, Gedco, hired by the minister's department to perform some work. I would like to ask the minister if he could indicate whether, in awarding this contract to Gedco, the department considered Gedco's conviction earlier this year for occupational health and safety violations causing serious injuries to workers at the Imperial Oil Refinery back in May 1994?
HON. GERALD O'MALLEY: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for his question. The matter in question, the untimely death of the worker at the Agricultural College on the water tower who was employed by Gedco which had indeed, as the honourable member indicates, been convicted a year ago for violation of the occupational health and safety regulations. In the awarding of that tender, that company was checked out for its capacity and its ability to perform adequately on this particular construction site and it was found that indeed it was, the contract was awarded but subsequent to the accident, I have discussed this matter extensively with the Minister of Labour and we are carrying out a comprehensive investigation to determine what occurred and to take the appropriate action when that has been concluded.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, perhaps the minister could clarify the answer that he just gave me about what was checked and what wasn't before the bid was awarded to Gedco because in the procurement policy guidelines of the province, it talks about taking into consideration, quality, quantity, delivery and service capabilities of the contractor. I wonder if the minister could more specifically indicate whether in fact this particular contractor's health and safety record or, in this case, conviction under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, was considered before that contract was awarded to perform the work at the Agricultural College?
MR. O'MALLEY: Mr. Speaker, in answer to my colleague across the way, I have indicated that indeed an investigation was carried out, as it is with all respondents to tender calls for all jobs, to determine if indeed they have the competencies, the qualities necessary, to undertake the task. In the judgment of those who awarded the bid, our competent, professional engineering staff and our supervising staff, at that particular project, the judgment was made, erroneously or otherwise, that they were quite competent to undertake the job and carry it out safely and successfully within the confines of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations.
I might point out to my honourable colleague that a policy is forthcoming from the department that certification will be a requirement. Certification from the Department of Labour on those standards will be required before certification - I am talking now - before such tenders will be awarded in the future.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, my second supplementary I would like to direct to the Minister of Labour. I would like to ask the minister if he could indicate whether in fact his department has a process, perhaps he could give an indication, and, if so, what it is, to follow up and closely monitor the actions of companies who have had serious health and safety difficulties and infractions, in this case, when they have come to light, to ensure that it doesn't happen again. Could he indicate whether in fact they have such a process, and if so, what is that process?
HON. GUY BROWN: Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the question because this is a major issue when it comes to occupational health and safety. Do we have a complete process in place now? No, but in the Department of Labour we have been changing over our computer system so that we hope within a few months, in fact, the inspectors in the field today, if they are out there today, if they go into an industry, use their laptop, use their computer, they can call up the record of an industry.
The problem we have, governments, in my opinion, have not brought everything together. We should be tied in with the WCB, which we are working on now, because they have one of the best records that there is with regard to injuries on the job. That information, to this point in time, I don't think has been utilized by the Department of Labour. We are moving in that direction under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and we hope to have that system in place. So, do we have one totally in place today? No, but, Mr. Speaker, this government is working towards having the complete operation in place, hopefully within the next few months.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance and it has to do with the N.S. Gaming Corporation. The ITT Sheraton Casinos were expected to expend something in the order of about $176 million on facilities in this province of which the permanent facility in Halifax was going to cost something in the order of about $121 million and the one in Sydney, I believe, something in the order of about $20 million. The schedule, as we understand it, for Halifax is changed in that the $23.9 million supposedly invested in the present casino, that period of time between now and the construction of the casino has been extended. I was wondering if the minister could tell us if indeed the present $11.1 million which has been spent on the casino in Sydney, will that investment be increased to $20 million in that same facility or will the corporation be building a new facility?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I think the best thing for me to do with this question is take it on notice and provide to the honourable member and to the House exactly what amount was spent in both locations to date on capital expenditures and I undertake to do that.
MR. RUSSELL: My supplementary then is, is there any penalty with regard to Sydney if, indeed, construction or the plans for construction are not submitted to the government prior to a given time?
MR. BOUDREAU: Well, with Sydney, Mr. Speaker, the permanent casino is built, we built it. That took place, it was a decision I think the honourable member might remember very early on to construct the permanent casino.
MR. RUSSELL: I understand that. However, the point I am making is that $11.1 million was allocated originally for the Sydney casino construction but the total to be expended was $20 million. Now unless I am missing something, there is still $9 million of construction to take place in the casino in Sydney. Would the minister confirm that that is so or am I entirely wrong?
MR. BOUDREAU: I am a little confused by the questions of the honourable member but I say the simplest thing for me to do is just to indicate that I will get the exact figures for the honourable member and provide them to him, so we will all then know exactly what we are dealing with.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Chairman of the Priorities and Planning Committee for the province. I am wondering if there is a travel policy for the Province of Nova Scotia for the government employees?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: I am sure there is one, Mr. Speaker, yes.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Could you tell me, then, do government employees need permission from a minister before they can leave the province?
MR. BOUDREAU: Now I am repeating just from memory and I can certainly get more accurate information, my memory is not always perfect, but I think that with respect to travel within the province there is no pre-authorization required from ministers if that is the policy they choose. I think that was the question.
MR. ARCHIBALD: When a government employee leaves the Province of Nova Scotia on government business, is there a standard form he must fill out and does the minister have any involvement in approving or not approving whether the employee of the Government of Nova Scotia travels?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I can only tell you the practice in my department. In fact, all requests for travel within the country and, indeed, out of the country, find their way to my desk.
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: My question is to the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency. I think we understand now that there is, indeed, a form and permission must be received from the minister prior to travel for government employees outside the Province of Nova Scotia. Could the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency indicate to us why he cannot furnish the travel destination of employees of this government who have left the Province of Nova Scotia?
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: If I understand the question, he is asking why I can't furnish the travel destination of my employees. I don't know that I can't do that so I would have to, I guess, get a more specific question as to why he thinks I can't furnish that.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Thank you and I am delighted that the ministers of the Cabinet benches find it amusing. However, Mr. Speaker, in a response from a Freedom of Information request, we received notification from the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency that for a fee of $3,000, information could be made public as to why the people in his department were travelling to their destinations on government business, but without the payment of $3,000, that minister was unable to tell anybody who was travelling where. I am trying to find, the Minister of Finance indicated that all travel documents go to the minister's office, is his information and his desk so unorganized that he cannot furnish that information without 150 hours of staff time to just to tell us who has been travelling in the last 12 months within his department? I want to know is there a reason why the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency is not keeping any track or any tabs on the people within his department who are travelling at government expense?
MR. HARRISON: It is a fascinating logic, Mr. Speaker, that gets this question of whether I can or cannot divulge certain information. I think what he is objecting to is the fact that it may take my department a considerable amount of time to put information together that may or may not be of some value to either the public of Nova Scotia or, more importantly, the Opposition.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, the taxpayers who this government seems to have forgotten about along the way are very concerned and they want to know and I think they have a right to know how many people this province and this government is paying and how many civil servants are travelling, their destinations and what the use of the trip is for. If the minister indicates that he supports the letter that he sent to me earlier, that it would cost $3,000 to ferret out that information and 150 hours of work, I would say that minister certainly is keeping a very poor set of books. The minister . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Is that a question?
MR. ARCHIBALD: . . . should be able to tell the people of Nova Scotia. The taxpayers are paying, they want to know where the people are travelling. Will the minister undertake that he will furnish the information? I know the Premier is laughing and he thinks it is a joke.
MR. SPEAKER: Now, if we have heard the question.
MR. ARCHIBALD: I want the minister to make a commitment that he will provide for the people of Nova Scotia the expenses of the civil servants who are travelling and being paid for by the government of this province.
MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely astounding to me that a person who held the office of the Chairman of the Management Board would criticize any minister on the Treasury benches for keeping an inaccurate set of books. That is an absolutely astounding question.
The question is whether or not we account publicly for the funds expended in (a) my department; and (b) in this government. I believe there are procedures in place through the Freedom of Information that will reveal the information. If, in fact, it is deemed that it has a cost, based on limited value, then that is exactly the answer he has received. There are other times in the year when we account publicly over and over again for the expenditures of this department and of this government. I would put our accounting of expenditures up against that accounting of expenditures any day of the week. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: A new question, the honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of the Environment. On Wednesday of last week, (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Order.
DR. HAMM: On Wednesday of last week, the minister announced a strip mining project in the Town of Stellarton that would cover the next 13 years. The minister's decision to allow this strip mining process was based, in large measure, on a recommendation from the Environmental Assessment Board. The minister, himself, described this as one of the most extensive environmental assessments in history. However, the minister did not follow the board's recommendation in respect to granting a per ton levy to the Town of Stellarton.
My question to the minister, is the minister of the view that the board made a recommendation that was not legally sound, and which they had no authority to make?
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, the question is well put. My answer, straight to the point, is that the board can make recommendations and I am sure that in their wisdom that they are legally sound. But I have a responsibility in my ministry to do that which is legally responsible as the Minister of the Environment.
DR. HAMM: The minister had made a statement that he did not impose the levy because it was somehow beyond his statutory powers. Does the minister have any particular specific section of the Environmental Act or a specific regulation to which he could refer which would prohibit the minister or the Cabinet from ordering Pioneer Coal to pay Stellarton a per ton levy during the mining process over the next 13 years in Stellarton?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, let me respond by saying I think that precedence dictates the position that we find ourselves in. I think that the honourable member of the Opposition will recall that Curragh Resources did indeed provide economic resource to the town when they were going to do some strip mining there. The same principle, in my opinion, and in the opinion of those who advise me, would apply here. In fact, during the public hearings, the proponent of the Stellarton strip mine did, in fact, make an offer to negotiate a levy to the town and it is our belief that the town should take the proponent up on that offer and negotiate the levy. It is not our responsibility.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my final supplementary is to the Minister of Natural Resources. The Minister of Finance, in his former duties as Westray critic, released a study and indicated that it would cost no more than $15 per ton to produce coal at the Stellarton strip mine. He contended, at that time, a $40 per ton profit would be made by selling strip mined coal to Nova Scotia Power. Can the Minister of Natural Resources inform Nova Scotians, and particularly the residents of Stellarton, today, what it is likely to cost Pioneer Coal to extract the coal?
HON. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question. Obviously, I do not have a copy of this previous study that you are referring to. I would be very happy to look into that particular study. Our job is not necessarily to determine the economic viability of the mine in regard to what that operation has. What I am trying to do is promote economic development and promote mining in Nova Scotia. Quite frankly, I am very happy that this process and the strip mine itself has gone through one of the most rigorous environmental processes that we have in this country and it has gone through that test and it has won. The mine is going to be up and running, creating 50 jobs in Nova Scotia, in an environmentally sensitive way. I think for that we should be very happy.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister responsible for the EMO. The question is in regard to the new integrated mobile radio network. Could the minister explain what this new system will do to enhance the concerns being expressed over repeater links that become necessary when fire stations are out of range of the original signal? I know it is detailed, I have to go slow on it?
MR. SPEAKER: Would you like to repeat that?
MR. MCINNES: Yes, could the minister explain how this new system will work to enhance the concerns being expressed over repeater links that become necessary when fire stations are out of range of the original signal? Now I will go on. Several Digby County fire departments have expressed concern of late and made the point of a message going to Yarmouth on the 911 could be delayed at least 30 seconds before being able to be acted on by the Digby dispatch - I know it is detailed. If the message happens to take 30 seconds longer, it would simply be cut off. This is not very comforting to the people and the families attempting to call their local fire departments in the time of crisis. Will this new system, mobile radio network, alleviate this concern?
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: I am not going to pass the buck but I do want to say it is an opportunity for me to point out that we have a technical partner in the whole roll out of 911 and that is the Minister of Transportation and Communications. If you will, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that if he could respond to the technical course of this employment.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, the short answer is that the implementation of the integrated trunk mobile radio system will solve that problem. At present we have towers in Nova Scotia and an outdated system that allows for one channel to be used and only if you are within range of that tower. The integrated trunk mobile system would see a process put in place where the entire province would be covered if there are a few remote areas it is possible to bounce the signals and the messages and the dispatch off satellites. So the implementation of this system will, in fact, correct the problems that the honourable member refers to.
MR. MCINNES: I am sure the people of Digby will be very thankful for that answer. I guess maybe I should go back to the Minister of Transportation and Communications on the supplementary question. The Chief Fire Officers Association have expressed extreme disappointment in how the present government has continued to delay implementing the 911 system. They are very afraid that by 1997 or even by 1998 that this economy model will not be in operation.
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker this process that the government has gone through, and it has been a lengthy process, but it involves one of the most complex, if you will, and one of the largest projects ever undertaken in the Province of Nova Scotia where we are attempting to implement a wide area network both wired and wireless across the Province of Nova Scotia.
The honourable member will know that this involved the commissioning of a study on the information highway, the Nordicity Report, which made recommendations which were followed up on, which saw the tenders go out for a business partner to deal with this, to provide all the services that would allow the province to take advantage of opportunities.
We are going along that route. Also involved in this is the implementation of the Enhanced 911 system. That is rolling along and I think I can say that we are working on implementing that system. As the integrated wide area network system, the wireless trunk mobile system, rolls out, it will complement the 911 system and allow for a central dispatch, if that is what the decision is, if that is the route to follow, and it will - it is going along. It is a complex process and perhaps the worst mistake that could be made in dealing with such an issue would be to rush it to the point where opportunities are lost and opportunities are missed.
MR. MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's answer. I know we have to do it properly, I have no problem with that but my question was, when did he expect that it would be put in place? That was actually my first supplemental question. So my second supplemental question, if he would answer that one, I would also like to know, are the fire departments going to be billed extra for this 911 system? They are concerned about that.
MR. MANN: Certainly not to the best of my knowledge, Mr. Speaker, but I am certainly not the minister who is responsible for billing fire departments. But no, this system is the E911. Part of it has been monies that have been collected over a period of time through telephone charges and there will be systems in place to help pay for that.
Mr. Speaker, the Government of Nova Scotia has a partnership in rolling out all the components of this process. When you have partners, the like of MT&T, MT&T Mobility, IBM, SHL Systemhouse Inc., these are not small players. These are the people who do have the expertise and, through a very competitive process, were selected to work with the province in implementing this.
Parts of this process will be in place very soon. It will be rolled out in phases, so that we don't have to wait for the entire province to be done in order to have E911 service. It is in place in areas now and it will continue to be rolled out in a proper manner, in a very professional way.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to go back to the Minister of Labour on the whole issue of dealing with the enforcement of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The inquiry into the Westray disaster just started on Monday and, hopefully, we are going to find out a lot of information in terms of what contributed to that disaster. But clearly, the information that has already come out is that Westray was an example of an employer who was consistently breaking the rules in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as evidenced by inspection reports and orders written time and time again.
He has indicated that they have not developed a process yet for monitoring, for following up on employers who have these kinds of serious infractions. I want to ask the minister if he could explain to me and to other members of this House, what is taking him and his government so long in trying to develop such an important process to ensure that employers who break the rules and who allow unsafe and unhealthy practices in their work place to continue, why it is that we are not being more vigilant in trying to stop that?
MR. SPEAKER: There is time for an answer, but no supplementary questions.
HON. GUY BROWN: Mr. Speaker, we in this government and all Nova Scotians feel bad with regard to the tragedy at Westray. That is why this government is pleased that that is underway and we look forward to receiving the reports when this inquiry is over.
For that honourable member to get up here and say that this government has not put in place a program with regard to occupational health and safety in this province, I did not say that, I said where we are going. We have the report, we now have some of the program put in place and I think this government is moving very fast with regard to occupational health and safety in this province, faster than any other province in Canada over the past two years. I am proud of that and I am proud of what this government is doing with regard to occupational health and safety overall. That member should not mislead the employees and management in this province by saying we have absolutely nothing in place. We have things in place and we are expanding and improving on them daily in this province.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.
Before we hear any points of order or other matters, I neglected to advise the House that the Clerk had conducted a draw for the Adjournment debate at 6:00 p.m. this evening. The winner this afternoon is the honourable member for Halifax Citadel. He has submitted a rather lengthy resolution. It relates to the Two Rivers Wildlife Park and the availability of funding for golf courses at Bridgewater and I will invite him to read it and then we can debate that at 6:00 p.m. this afternoon. So the honourable member for Halifax Citadel is the winner of the draw this afternoon.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, could we revert to the order of business, Statements by Ministers.
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of the Environment.
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and pleasure this afternoon to rise and inform the House that we are and have today, at Lunenburg County in Whynotts Settlement, to be specific, announced a strategy for managing the waste resource of Nova Scotia. (Applause) I was trying to determine whether or not the members opposite had received an advanced copy of my remarks for this time. I sent one over just in case, because I understood from my remote location they were being delivered earlier, but I just wanted to make sure.
The strategy we talk of will cut the amount of waste going to the landfill sites across the province by the year 2000 by 50 per cent. It will reduce the number of landfills in Nova Scotia from the current number of 40 to between 7 and 10 landfills. There will be an expanded deposit refund system put in place, all beverage containers, except for milk, will be included. The public will pay a deposit on all applicable containers and receive a refund equalling half of the deposit upon return. The rest goes to the resource recovery fund to assist municipalities with diversion and recycling programs.
All new landfills have to meet stricter guidelines to prevent leachate and other problems associated with the current landfill situation. On April 1, 1996, beverage containers, corrugated cardboard, newsprint, scrap tires, automotive batteries and all leaf and yard waste will be banned from Nova Scotia landfill sites. (Applause)
A year later, Mr. Speaker, the ban will be expanded to include wastes, paint, automotive antifreeze and all compostable organic material from industrial, commercial and institutional sources. By April 1, 1998, steel and tin cans, glass, food containers and plastics will no longer be accepted for disposal in any landfill in our province. The open burning of solid waste will be banned effective April 1, 1996. Incineration that meets the National Air Emission Standards will be allowed to continue providing these waste to energy incinerators are not using the generation of energy in factoring in their 50 per cent diversion requirements.
In the area of job creation, Mr. Speaker, industry studies most recently have estimated that this strategy will place some 900 people at work in our province as a result of recycling, diversion and composting. The Resource Recovery Fund will be responsible for the marketing of all of our recyclable materials.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We believe it is a positive day for Nova Scotians as they face the future.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my opening remarks are comments of a complimentary nature to the minister for coming to the House with this announcement and, indeed, to express some compliment in regard to some of the substantive issues which are addressed in the strategy, as he calls it, which he has just now described.
The first question, I guess, I would have though, and there are a few, the minister says that all new landfills have to meet stricter guidelines to prevent leachate and other problems associated with the current landfills. I wonder if the minister is in a position to indicate to the House, perhaps even to indicate to me by way of a nod, yes or no, but I see he is engaged now with one of the Pages, if when the minister says that all new landfills will have to meet stricter guidelines to prevent leachate and other problems associated with the current landfills, whether he can indicate to me that those stricter guidelines are in fact now written, are in black and white and have been distributed to all of the municipal units across the province? (Interruption) They are available? They are done and written and so on? Okay. I wonder if the minister might be kind enough, at his convenience, to send a copy of those to me?
The policy which he announces, Mr. Speaker, says that the public will be able to participate in an expanded deposit/refund system. All beverage containers, except for milk, will be included. The public will pay a deposit on the applicable containers and receive a refund equalling half the deposit upon return. The other half will go to the Resource Recovery Fund to assist the municipalities in the diversion and recycling programs. I have to express some considerable disappointment in regard to that element of the issue simply because there is no reference, as I see it, in the minister's statement that the deposit-refund system deals with refillables. I take it, by reason of the fact that there is no reference of refillables, that they are not included. If they were, I am sure the minister would have said so. If they are not - well, I am now, Mr. Speaker, getting an indication across the aisle from the minister that they are. If that is the case, I am delighted that they are. It is our view that they should be.
What I am curious about, and we will have a chance, I am sure, to discuss on a future day, all of the consumers of Nova Scotia will now be asked to pay a deposit on these containers. That is a cost to the consumer. I recognize that there is a benefit that comes to the consumer, as well, namely that there will be a diversion and recycling program available as a consequence of the deposit/refund system. But what I would like to learn from the minister, if he would be kind enough to communicate with me, is what financial commitment is being made by the producer of the containers to this whole recycling and diversion project? If there is going to be a cost to a consumer then those corporations making a significant income off of the containers should, I think, be paying partners as well.
MR. SPEAKER: The time allotted has expired. I am sorry, the minister took only three minutes to make his announcement, four and a half.
MR. DONAHOE: Thank you. We will address these issues on another day.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I really would like to echo, I guess, the comments made by the previous speaker. I certainly am pleased to see that the government has finally started to catch up to what the public demand has been. The minister and this government is racing now to get ahead of the pack and to take some credit. I say that partly in joke, partly in reality because that is what has happened but I am, indeed, very pleased to see that the government is finally starting to take some action and starting to provide some leadership.
I think there are many positive elements in the minister's announcements. The minister will know of our views, as we brought them before this House on many occasions as recently as last Wednesday when I was pressing the minister to do many of the things he has announced today.
Mr. Speaker, one of the points, I guess there are a couple of observations that I would make, however, with regard to it. The member for Halifax Citadel was talking about reusable containers and I think that certainly there has to be, in terms of the deposit, an element of polluter pay and that those who are producing the materials or producing the beverage containers that are not reusable by being refilled and so on, that there should be an added charge placed on those to emphasize and to encourage greater reuse of the products. Of course that would help, by transportation costs, to create even more employment, by bottling and so on, here in Nova Scotia.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed if the minister is prepared to ban the disposal of papers and corrugated cardboards and organics from commercial and institutional facilities, certainly there is really no reason why we should still even be permitting the possibility of developing new incinerators in the Province of Nova Scotia. The minister, in his discussions about the open burning, could have gone a step further and said that certainly there will be no permission granted for the development of any solid waste - now it is solid resource, as we recognize it - incinerators to be developed in the Province of Nova Scotia.
I guess my final observation, Mr. Speaker, is that hopefully although it is going to be banning the organics from institutional commercial facilities, and so on, being disposed of in landfills, we do know that the major problems associated with landfills are directly related to the organics that are disposed of there. I believe we should have gone a step further and done a complete and outright ban on the disposal of any organics from residential facilities as well in the landfills.
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. 39.
Bill No. 39 - The Education Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to begin debate on the new Education Act. Obviously, the education of our children is important to the constituents of every member of this House. I believe this bill is progressive and, most important, it is student centred.
I would like to highlight the principles of the bill that demonstrate this, Mr. Speaker, but before I do I would like to inform the House that the bill has a preamble and I would like to take a few moments to read the preamble into the record because I think it very much sets the context of the bill. It reads:
"WHEREAS the education system of Nova Scotia is of vital importance to the future of Nova Scotia;
AND WHEREAS meaningful partnerships between and participation by students, parents, teachers, other staff in the public school system, school board members and the public should be encouraged to ensure a high-quality education system;
AND WHEREAS students should have a right and a responsibility to participate fully in learning opportunities, contribute to an orderly and safe learning environment and, in appropriate circumstances, participate in decisions that affect their schools;
AND WHEREAS parents should have a right and a responsibility to support their children in achieving learning success and participate in decisions that affect their children;
AND WHEREAS the education community, in making decisions, should consider the diverse nature and heritage of society in Nova Scotia within the context of its common values and beliefs;
Therefore be it enacted by the Governor and Assembly as follows: ", and then it goes on to state the principle of the bill. I think that is very much what the debate today is about.
Clause 2, "The purpose of this Act is to provide for a publicly funded school system whose primary mandate is to provide education programs and services for students to enable them to develop their potential and acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.". That preamble was put in the bill intentionally, to serve as the backdrop for interpretation of the bill itself. Often times, especially over time, the language in a particular Act might become outdated, as does some of the language in the old Act, and without a preamble to set the context, interpretations can be given that are outside that context.
I would like to trace the steps that brought us here. As I said at the media briefing last week, it seems I have been working at this bill most of my life. As a student, a teacher, an administrator, a parent, a politician and now finally as the Minister of Education and Culture. But I really must give credit to the thousands of Nova Scotians who helped shape this legislation. I am reminded of the tour that the Derrick Kimball Committee took, as we travelled through the province, during a period of about seven months where we had hearings throughout the Province of Nova Scotia on education. That same committee looked at difficulties with students, both with special needs and the gifted, so as a result it formed very much a backdrop for this piece of legislation.
Since I have become minister, starting as far back as October 1993, we started with an education round table. The Department of Education did not have a history of consulting with the people of Nova Scotia. We started with this round table to see if that was the appropriate way to do this. On a sunny Saturday, more than 100 people from all aspects of education came to Halifax from across this province to share their views on where we were going on education.
From there, we began developing a strategic plan for all aspects of education and culture. My staff travelled to communities all across the province to meet with Nova Scotians about their views. We also received hundreds of written responses and met with many more individuals and groups with a direct interest in education.
We then began to focus our discussions based on what we were hearing. In fact, we were hearing three messages very clearly: (1) Parents, and all partners in education, must have the opportunity to work together and support student success; (2) We must have clearer lines of accountability through well-defined roles and responsibilities; and (3) The first priority in education must be the student.
Let me restate, one thing we were told loud and clear at virtually every meeting, the students must come first.
My staff researched ways these ideas could be translated into actions in our education planning. Our initial plans were presented in a discussion paper released in May 1994 and entitled, Preparing All Students for a Lifetime of Learning. Again, we asked, and received many comments in writing, by telephone, by fax and the Internet and face to face. I might mention for all members of the House that that whole exercise sometimes became a bit heated and sometimes, if I might, a bit emotional, as we travelled the province listening to people. Education is a very personal thing and we came to understand that.
Recognizing the effects on school boards, my deputy and I visited every school board in the province to talk about the ideas of the discussion paper. My understanding is that no other minister took the time to visit each and every board or office, themselves. We met with them all to discuss issues like this, board after board without exception.
Again, we reviewed what we learned carefully, refined our plans and began developing our White Paper. Again, we travelled the province, Madam Speaker. I mention again that we sat with school boards, we met publicly, we met with union people, we met with parents, we met with students. I want to thank the parents and students who took time to write, to call and to attend meetings from Yarmouth to Springhill to Sydney Mines. I want to thank the school board members, teachers and administrators for their ideas and constructive criticisms that are very much reflected in the proposed legislation.
Madam Speaker, my caucus colleagues, led by the Premier, have been a constant source of support and information about what their constituents are saying about education. I might mention and give credit to members of the Opposition, as well, because they constantly brought both to the floor of the House and to myself, personally, concerns of their own constituents and I thank them for that.
I also can't say enough about the support of my department staff. Their commitment and hard work is testimony to the quality of the Civil Service in Nova Scotia.
The result of these contributions is now before the House and before the public for consideration, which brings us to today.
Madam Speaker, I realize it took a few moments to outline the background to this bill, but even at this, I haven't included the time the Black Learners Advisory Committee took preparing their recommendations. We also consulted specifically on Acadian and francophone education, special education and the list goes on. In fact, parts of the bill even date back to the Select Committee Report on Education from 1992. In fact, some of their recommendations are contained verbatim.
What is important to remember is the countless hours and days that have gone into this bill. Not just the time spent by me and my staff but, more importantly, the time and energies of literally thousands of Nova Scotians who care about education and about our young people. My commitment to them, Madam Speaker, is this: that I will continue to listen as we build this legislation through policies, regulations and action plans. I will continue to rely on the people in our schools, the people elected to our school boards and the people in communities from Dingwall to Dominion to Digby and beyond.
I also might mention, Madam Speaker, which is a matter of course for everybody in this House, that as the debate goes on, I am sure that some difficulties that might appear in the bill will be brought to light both here and in the Law Amendments Committee and I look forward to that, because this is the first time we have brought together all of the parts as we travelled and each element is now altogether and as a result, we can consider it as a whole.
Let me return to the most common theme people have stressed with us, Madam Speaker. The most important focus is on the classroom and the school, putting students first. The relationship between the teacher and the student is the cornerstone of learning. The quality of that relationship is key, and not only that, I would go so far to say, is the key. We must do everything we can to support the classroom and learning success. Which brings us to the bill and how it specifically supports the classroom.
I will begin with an issue very familiar to the people in this House, school board amalgamations. I have travelled to every school board office in the province at least twice and grew increasingly impressed at every meeting about how much our elected board officials care about education. But these boards have been faced with challenges not within their control. In many rural areas the enrolments are dropping through the floor, meaning less and less money for the boards to manage with. The fiscal situation not just in Nova Scotia but throughout Canada has meant making choices. We must choose less administration so more dollars and resources can be redirected to support the classroom.
That is one reason we wish to move from 22 school boards currently in the province to six regional boards and one provincial Acadian-francophone school board. There are other reasons, of course. For example, Madam Speaker, amalgamation builds on individual board strengths, for excellence in programs and educational leadership in a time of change throughout Canada and around the world. But again, amalgamation will certainly mean savings. Every dollar we rescue from administration and overhead is a dollar much better spent in the classroom.
The bill lays out a careful plan to provide for a smooth transition to the new amalgamated boards. One, the bill allows for coordinators to be put in place, people with experience in transition planning and change management to lead the process. But just as important, Madam Speaker, is the provision for local amalgamation committees including representatives from the existing school boards. These people will ensure the amalgamated board reflects what will work best in their communities and local amalgamation committees are another signal of our commitment to listen and learn from our communities as we plan for the future.
While I continue to believe amalgamation is in the best interests of the students, the effects of change on the people who work in education must also be considered. We have provisions in the bill that take this into account. For example, the regional school board will be the successor employer for the purpose of the Pension Benefits Act. The regional school boards shall continue to pay any pension or annuity being paid by a dissolved school board according to its terms.
Now I remember earlier in the session when one of the members opposite asked a very important question about non-union employees. I appreciate his concern and have on several occasions met with representatives of the more than 700 non-union employees across the province. You will find that the bill reflects this. Clause 8(1)(f) reads, "all persons employed by the dissolved school boards become employees of the regional school board, the employment and seniority with the dissolved board of each employee is deemed to be employment and seniority with the regional school board and the continuity of employment and seniority is not broken;".
So let me restate, Madam Speaker. We are pursuing amalgamation to direct as many dollars as possible to support the classroom. At the same time, we appreciate the contribution that the people who work in education have made and continue to make. I am not the employer and I am not saying that all jobs can be protected. What I am saying is, we will continue to talk to unions and non-union representatives and take reasonable action to minimize the effects of change on school board employees.
Let me move, Madam Speaker, to the matter often included in amalgamation discussions, but a matter which is much more about equity. The issue is the creation of the province's first Acadian-francophone school board. For the first time, Acadians and francophones will have their own provincial school board and local school councils to reflect unique circumstances in their own communities. The Conseil made possible in this bill will enable the Acadian and francophone community to make decisions about the direction and future of French language education across this province. Local schools councils will ensure the needs of students and communities from Sydney to Dartmouth to Clare-Argyle are reflected in decision-making.
Like we are doing with the anglophone boards, the bill contains transition plans and, of course, an implementation team with representatives from Acadian and francophone communities across the province. I would like to borrow some words from my colleague, Allister Surette, who has been working very closely with this implementation plan, last Friday he said, the proposed legislation fully complies with Section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Compliance with the Charter is obviously important, but Mr. Surette stressed that, just as important, the new bill supports excellence in education for the Acadian and francophone students.
It also provides the tools to develop programs that preserve and promote our language and cultural heritage while enriching the multicultural flavour of Nova Scotia. That is why we wish to proceed with the provincial Acadian-francophone board and school councils. And, for similar equity issues, why we want to proceed with other provisions in the bill.
To give another example of this, the Black Learners Advisory Committee presented government with evidence of a legacy of inequities in education for black Nova Scotians. But the BLAC also presented recommendations to government, Madam Speaker, to enable us to move forward, to make real and lasting changes at all levels to our education system.
Madam Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to suggest to all members of the House that my dealings with the black advisory group have been interesting at all times. As somebody from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia sits down and talks to a group of people with a completely different view of Nova Scotia, itself, and as it developed, I learned much and for that I am thankful.
Madam Speaker, I want to limit my remarks to the principle of the bill so I will not list all the actions we are undertaking. That will follow in the Committee of the Whole House on Bills and at the Law Amendments Committee. However, we felt it was necessary that our commitment to African-Canadian education be reflected in this legislation. Therefore, this bill provides for the province's first Council of African-Canadian Education. This council will promote the rights and interests of African Nova Scotians by making recommendations to me concerning programs and services in public schools and in adult education.
Madam Speaker, the legislation also strengthens our commitments to students with special needs. Most significantly, parents will have a legislated opportunity to participate in program design tailored to meet the individual needs of their child. The legislation also references the province's first special education policy now being finalized. The policy has been the subject of extensive consultation and, like the legislation, the special education policy is focused on the needs of the student.
Madam Speaker, I also have the responsibility for all students in the province, whether they attend school or not. There is a significant number of home schoolers in the Province of Nova Scotia. Parents of some children choose, as they have every right to do so, to educate their children at home or within a private school.
Let's first look at home schooling. The department respects any parent's choice to home school their child. But we must know that the child is receiving an education somewhere, which requires registration. We must also have some means to monitor programs to ensure a child's education needs are being met. In keeping with our decision to decentralize decisions more appropriate at the board level, the legislation assigns the school board this monitoring function. It is simply not practical or logical to monitor home school programs, some in far corners of the province, from Halifax.
Let me stress, Madam Speaker, home schoolers will continue to determine and direct the content of their programs, so long as the essential concepts and skills from the public school program are taught. In other words, we want all students to learn the concepts and skills needed to return to the regular school system, which often happens at later grades. Or, if they continue their home schooling, it is just as important to ensure that they have the concepts and skills they need for personal and competitive success after they leave school.
So let me stress, the quality of many of the home school programs is not the issue and school boards will not be able to arbitrarily make judgments on those programs. That is why we refer to a provincial assessment tool and why there is an appeal to the minister.
The provisions for private schools are different but again, based on the educational interests of their students. Along with registering, we are also responding to the request we have heard from private schools. For the first time, a private school can apply to the minister to recognize the school's program for a high school leaving certificate. This is good for the student and good for the school so long as, again, the essential concepts and skills of the public school program are met.
Let me restate, Madam Speaker, we will not interfere with what is working well. What we are doing is looking for ways to ensure the educational needs of the children are being met.
When we talk about meeting the needs of all students, that's also about creating a positive learning environment where teachers can teach and students can learn. Therefore, the bill ensures that principals and teachers have appropriate responsibilities in consultation with students and their parents for discipline matters. Such a transfer of authority leaves more room for students to be involved proactively in discipline, with peer mediation groups, for example. It also gives teachers and principals the authority they need to effectively manage their classrooms and our schools.
But perhaps most importantly, the bill recognizes the balance between the need to remove a student disrupting a classroom with the need to help that student. It simply is not helpful to suspend a student, then find him or her in the local shopping mall or elsewhere. Therefore, the bill requires that alternative educational arrangements, plus remedial help, be provided for students suspended for more than five days. This will help the student make an easier transition back into the classroom when the suspension ends. That's good for the individual student, Madam Speaker, and it is also good for the classroom.
Before I leave the topic of meeting the needs of students, I want to reference the section of the bill referring to respect for religion. Religion is a very important issue to most Nova Scotians. That must include Nova Scotians of all faiths. Let me stress, the new education bill maintains the teacher's responsibility to encourage in students a respect for religion. Since this issue is so important to the constituents of all members of the House, let me take a moment to explain.
The current Education Act states, Section 54, "It is the duty of a teacher in a public school to . . . (e) encourage in the pupils by precept and example a respect for religion and the principles of Christian morality, for truth, justice, love of country, humanity, industry, temperance and all other virtues;". The new education bill maintains the respect for religion with wording updated to reflect the recommendation of Mr. Derrick Kimball's Select Committee on Education Report and most significantly, requirements under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The clause now appears as Clause 26(1) and reads as follows: "Teachers shall . . . (m) maintain an attitude of concern for the dignity and welfare of each student and encourage in each student an attitude of concern for the dignity and welfare of others and a respect for religion, morality, truth, justice, love of country, humanity, equality, industry, temperance and all other virtues;". Simply put, without this change we would be requiring a teacher of a non-Christian faith to act against his or her faith. That is not legal under the Charter of Rights but even if it was, it is not right.
The legislation also allows for volunteers to help out in schools. This is happening across the province now but this gives some protection under the legislation to those people who are involved. Of course, the use of volunteers also relates to the importance of partnerships in our schools, partnerships between the school and the community.
This brings me to another principle of the bill. The legislation builds on the strength of those partnerships and the rights and responsibilities of parents to work with teachers and all partners to support students. As a starting point, the Department of Education and Culture, school boards, schools and communities must work cooperatively to strengthen our schools. I believe the legislation provides a framework to encourage the development of these partnerships.
School advisory councils will enable everyone to work together, to influence decisions and to keep the needs of their students on top of the agenda. This means more decisions affecting students can be made right in the schools and in the communities, instead of in my offices in Halifax.
Some people may argue this is too much responsibility for parents or that teachers don't want parents in their schools. In practice, this is simply not the case. Just this week readers of the Halifax Daily News saw an article on how partnerships are working, an article I am happy to table and I will do that. Yes, there may be some apprehension when this is a new idea and every parent may not be able to participate. But listen to the experience of parents and teachers at Hawthorne School in Dartmouth, I quote, "Many of the volunteers come back year after year, not content to simply follow their own child through the system.". And listen to the words of the teachers, yes, they say, it takes some getting used to. Again I quote, ". . . with time came trust, fostering a greater understanding of the roles both can play.", and I continue to quote, "Teachers have gained more than just extra hands. Opening up the classroom has created a body of parents more understanding and sympathetic to the fact teaching is work - hard work.".
Teaching is, in fact, hard work but with support like this, teachers and students will benefit. This bill hopes to encourage more of these experiences in more of our schools across the province.
The future of education must be built on partnerships but all partners must have clear roles and responsibilities. This means we will know what needs to be done in education and who is to be responsible for it. Which brings me to the final principle I will speak to, accountability; accountability for defining and meeting goals and accountability for public tax dollars.
Defining and meeting goals at the school level with school improvement plans created again by all partners, coming to the table to plan for better schools. School boards and administrators, not parents, are responsible for the day to day operation of the school as they should be. Responsibilities extend up to the responsibility of the department to set standards and measure results for meeting those standards along the way.
I, as minister, will be accountable for the program choices offered to students. Parents will not have to decide between essential programs, as some have suggested. Ensuring quality programs for all students will continue to be the department's responsibility. Of course, we are also accountable for how the tax dollars are spent, Madam Speaker. Provisions in the bill put appropriate accountabilities in place so we can meet this responsibility to taxpayers. This will support effective management of school boards because, when things are working well, there will be no interference, but if things are not working well, parents and taxpayers, quite rightly, come knocking on the minister's door because, in the end, the minister is ultimately accountable for the tax dollars.
One final note of interest which I shared at the media briefing. It has been 40 years since the last comprehensive review of the Education Act in this province. That was before our students today and many of their parents were even born. But now, we are looking to the future and I believe this legislation will mean a better future for our young people and a better future for this province.
Madam Speaker, the debate now continues and I look forward to your questions and reflections in the coming days on such important educational matters. I look forward, through you, that all members who address this bill, that if in fact there is something that we have missed we are very pleased to debate that so that the bill can be the best bill we can possibly make.
Therefore, Madam Speaker, I move second reading of Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education. (Applause)
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to open debate on second reading of Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education. I have had opportunity in recent weeks to do, as the minister has said he has been doing recently, and that is travelling about the province doing some consultation. One cannot help but be impressed with the concern that people have about the education process in Nova Scotia and whether, in fact, we are in reality preparing our young people for the realities of life in Nova Scotia as it exists today. The kinds of concerns that were certainly brought to my attention are concerns like whether or not we are in fact preparing all young people in Nova Scotia for entering adult life and the realities of the job scene in this province.
One of the expectations of Nova Scotians, of course, is that the minister will be addressing the particular concerns that are felt by many Nova Scotians that are not being addressed at this time. I look to perhaps the situation that faces many young people in Nova Scotia who are not capable of achieving an academic Grade 12. Those, I feel, are the group of Nova Scotians that are being failed perhaps most severely by our education system in that they are leaving our school system with no job skills and not a reasonable chance to ever rise above either a life of dependency or a life of low income earning. I see the minister nodding his head that he, too, is aware of this problem. Those are the issues that we would expect the new Education Act would give us some reasonable expectation that we will be addressing those particular concerns.
The minister mentioned in his opening remarks the fact that we are introducing an Acadian council for the first time. They will be one of the seven new boards that are being proposed. I was surprised, actually, when I spent some time down in the southwestern part of the province that there was not unanimity in those particular French-speaking areas as to whether or not this particular approach is, in fact, the right approach. There will be some debate within those communities as to whether or not the minister's proposal really does, in fact, reflect the majority of the viewpoints in that particular area.
As well the minister made reference to a council which will deal with Afro-Canadian educational requirements. I laud that particular initiative by the minister. The interesting thing is, regarding the way this bill was introduced, that the minister made reference to a lot of consultation and that he has visited every school board in this province on more than one occasion and that he, in fact, was able to garner the kind of information on his trips around the province that would allow him to come forward with a particular piece of legislation, table it in the House, before there was opportunity perhaps to allow the groups with which he consulted an opportunity to comment as to whether or not the bill truly reflects their particular input into the minister's initiative.
The minister had made, I understand, a commitment to the 22 school boards in the province that he would be reviewing the legislation with them before presenting it on the floor of the House. My understanding is that that consultation did not occur. There are many groups in the province that would wish to have an input into this particular legislation. The Teachers Union, the School Boards Association, the Home and School Association, many groups would want to have input. I am sure, for example, the disabled community and their organizations would want to have comment as to whether or not this particular piece of legislation, in fact, address their concerns and the ability of our province to educate young people with disabilities.
Now the legislation brought before us the minister has described in his opening remarks as being legislation that opens up the process and spreads around responsibility. However, the bill is certainly open to other interpretations. There are 37 instances in the bill in which the minister actually assumes control of situations that formerly were not wholly within the minister's jurisdiction. There are eight instances where the minister oversteps the authority of the board, in terms of employment issues. So the minister's interpretation of what, in fact, the bill is achieving is certainly open to debate and to question. There are those who would wish to debate with the minister in some forum as to whether or not what the minister purports that this legislation is, in fact, achieving is really achieved by the legislation before us.
One of the interesting things, Madam Speaker, again this is a review of the Education Act which I believe the minister said was initially passed in this province some 40 years ago. One would think that a modern piece of legislation would be appropriate. What isn't appropriate, however, is the fact that we have, by the minister's own admission, a very important piece of legislation to be tabled in this House and first seen by the members of the Opposition on November 3rd and then on November 7th the bill is called for debate.
You know perhaps it would have been more meaningful, certainly on second reading, had the minister gone forward with his original suggestion and his intention that he was going to make the draft legislation or the final legislation available to the School Boards Association and perhaps he would even have made it available to the Opposition benches to enable them to do some consultation on the matter before us.
So, you know, it kind of reminds me of the way the Regional Municipalities Act was introduced in the House and other complicated pieces of legislation that are being tabled in the House and then called for in debate with very little notice. It certainly hampers, I think, our ability to debate in great depth, on second reading, these extensive pieces of legislation and I would urge the government benches, as time goes on, when legislation of huge importance, and legislation that is particularly complicated, would be made available and not tabled and then called for debate after 48 hours or 72 hours which does not allow adequate time for study, adequate time for consultation, so that we can make meaningful response in the House and as well suggest, in a constructive way, how the bill can be strengthened.
I hope that the way the bill was introduced is not an indication that the minister is inflexible on this particular piece of legislation and that he is prepared to listen to the comments on second reading, and more particularly, to be prepared when the bill eventually gets to the Law Amendments Committee, which I have no doubt it eventually will, to listen to the criticisms, constructive or otherwise, of those who appear and is prepared to not be inflexible in his approach to his legislation. I know that the minister, being an educator of long time standing, I understand, has a particular interest and wants, I think, to leave his portfolio, whenever that will occur, having made a major contribution to the educational opportunities of young people in the province.
One of the difficulties that I have in terms of looking at the legislation is to absolutely determine to my own satisfaction that the legislation does a lot for what happens in the classroom. I see this as largely a bill that contributes to a great administrative change. Some of that administrative change, by the minister's own admission, is based on economic considerations and I speak particularly in terms of the reduction in our school boards from 22 to 7. The minister has suggested, on more than one occasion, that that was driven by financial considerations. I can't think of a single other reason why one would reduce the school board number in this province from 22 to 7 unless we were going to save some money, bearing in mind there is a price to pay for saving that money in terms of making the representation of school board members more remote from those for which they are elected to serve. We will have a little comment on that.
Now my understanding is that the school boards, who had initially been promised an opportunity to make comment on the legislation prior to its tabling, many of those have only received their copy as recently as yesterday and unfortunately, that does not allow them enough time for them to have any input into our remarks at this juncture on second reading.
The comment that the minister makes in terms that this is actually a decentralization process is one that I find difficult to accept. I know where the minister is coming from on this in terms of his site-based management process. In fact what this bill does is actually centralize, in a far greater fashion, the control of the education environment, the education structure in this province; it centralizes it within the minister's prerogative far more than the previous Act did, so I take strong exception to the fact that this is a decentralization exercise.
The other point, of course, is that going from 22 to 7 school boards can hardly be called a decentralization process. It just doesn't fit the definition and I have difficulty accepting the minister's interpretation as to what is happening with all of this process and that in fact it is a centralization process that results in the Minister of Education having tremendous power, going right down to the local school level, in a fashion that was not there before.
Now the minister and the phraseology in the legislation does make reference to an increasing role of parents. I don't take particular exception to that particular approach. However, if you look at the words that are contained within the bill, and this is in reference to responsibilities of parents, it suggests here that parents shall support their children in achieving learning success and shall communicate regularly with their children's school. Well, while I agree with the thought contained in those particular phrases, there will be some difficulty, I think, in the minister having any success in enforcing that when, in fact, some parents will not necessarily be anxious or willing or perhaps, in some instances, able to participate in that way in the schooling of their young people.
The unfortunate part is that not all parents are caring and not all parents are in a position to participate in a very meaningful way in the schooling of young people. A question, of course, is, where does that leave the minister in terms of enforcing those particular suggestions within the legislation?
The bill goes on and it makes particular note that teachers shall respect the rights of students and shall teach diligently and shall encourage students in the pursuit of learning. One could not certainly argue with that. I think in a way the term that comes to mind is it is rather a motherhood approach to the situation. One of the questions that opens up, of course, is that the bill does not make any particular reference as to what will happen if, in fact, the teaching experience provided does not follow the clauses in the Education Act. One would have to assume that it would still be the principal who would determine, if that principal agreed, that the duties of the teacher were being carried out.
The bill does not make any reference to any specific peer review process, a process which many other professionals in the province are exposed to and evaluated by. It well may be that some move in that direction would be appropriate for the bill, that a formalized peer review process could be encouraged and the process be somewhat more refined than, again, a process that falls squarely on the shoulders of the school principal.
There has been a lot of comment about the legislation, about the site-based management process. I have talked with some people who are involved in the process who are strong advocates of the process and I understand that down in Lockeport, in particular, there is a particularly successful approach to site-based management. But that is not to say that when the process is exposed, perhaps in every community in the province, that the same level of success will be achieved. In fact, I think there is good evidence to suggest that the contrary will be the case, bearing in mind that the site-based management process has failed in certain other jurisdictions and, in fact, in some jurisdictions has been abandoned.
One thing that is unclear is that my understanding of the principle of the bill is that the minister, in fact, will sign a contract with the school in terms of the provision of a site-based management council, or an advisory council, in that particular school. Depending on the response of that particular institution to that particular initiative, or perhaps the minister's response to what I believe could be an application by as few as eight parents in that school to form a council, it well may be that the situation that would be appropriate for that particular area would not be similar to perhaps even a community next door to that particular school.
My understanding is that there are some 480 individual school administrations in the province administering some 600 schools. We are looking at 480 different contracts and the possibility that in fact we will have 480 arrangements, no two of which would be exactly alike. The minister may wish to comment in his remarks, at the close of second reading, if his interpretation of that complexity is agreed to or whether or not he looks at perhaps three or four different styles of arrangement that would apply to the 480 school administrations who conceivably could request this kind of arrangement.
Already one of the responses that came from the home and school association, which we were able to generate on short notice, is that that particular association is critical of the process to which the minister has made reference, his consultative process. Their interpretation, that the minister, having done his consultation really can be criticized as having an attitude that he knows what is best, he doesn't require input and was quite prepared to table the bill without going back to major stakeholders in this process.
One of the surprising things, Madam Speaker, my recollection is that the minister provided $200,000 in funding for eight pilot projects around the province. It was our understanding at that particular time when that process was initiated that we would be hearing back from those pilot projects before we would go pell-mell down the road to site-based management. I am not aware that there has been a reporting back or an evaluation of those pilot projects and how much information the minister has back. Certainly I am not aware of any reporting back on those projects and it opens the question as to whether or not the pilots and the $200,000 that they are costing is money well spent.
If, in fact, the results and the recommendations and the conclusions that will be reached by these pilot projects are not reflected in this particular piece of legislation, my question is - and I am sure that the minister would be prepared to answer it - if in fact he was absolutely clear in his own mind that site-based management was the way to go, then what information he expects to be made available when these pilots report and whether or not the $200,000 was, in fact, money well spent?
The minister, as well, suggested that the school councils will be self-supporting financially. One would wonder if in fact that is absolutely for certain when one looks at the eight pilots that in fact required funding to the tune of $200,000, which opens up perhaps a question that I think is very key to the discussion about the amalgamation of school boards. Unless the minister can convince me otherwise, if the $11 million in savings that the amalgamation is designed to achieve are not forthcoming, then that part of the education reform is, in fact, without benefit. In fact, one could as well say that that part of the education reform will be of negative benefit to the province. I invite the minister to bring forward a detailed assessment of the savings that will be achieved by amalgamating the school boards which will add up to $11 million or whether or not those figures were not the result of a good analysis of the savings from the school boards reductions in the province. I think that is a key point.
The legislation makes provision for the appointment of coordinators to look at school board amalgamations. One wonders whether or not this is, in fact, worthwhile in the legislation because already the minister has started appointing the coordinators; I understand at some $30,000 for 30 days' work. If, in fact, the minister is able to do this, by the time we get through the process and the bill is proclaimed, it well may be that most, if not all, of the coordinators would, in fact, be appointed by the minister.
One of the questions that we see within this legislation, which is the centralization of more power within the office of the minister and a gradual assuming of some powers by the school councils, school board members - bearing in mind that they are elected and responsible to the electorate which they serve - are seeing a shrinking role that they will play in the provision of educational service in the province. It is unclear certainly in their minds and unclear in my mind as to, in the seven new school boards, what will be the actual role of an elected school board official, bearing in mind that the minister assumes new powers and I think we can be assured that school councils, when they are formed, will assume a certain amount of power and somewhere in between are the school boards, whose role is less clearly defined within this new legislation.
Now the coordinator will set up a local amalgamation committee which will be chaired by the appointed coordinator who, again with the minister's approval, will set up the initial salary and benefits of the CEO. My understanding, my interpretation of the bill is that the CEOs will be reporting to the minister. The minister is shaking his head negatively. He assures me that the CEOs will, in fact, report to the school board in the area in which they are functioning. We will have an opportunity, as we go through the clause by clause to absolutely evaluate if that is the case. There are those who are making interpretation, that they reach another conclusion other than that reached by the minister on those clauses.
It is clear in the legislation that it requires only eight parents to make a submission to start a school council for a school. The minister may wish to comment if there will be any other requirement other than putting together a petition to the board before this can happen, and how much discretionary power the board will have when it is faced with the request by eight parents to set up a student council and who ultimately - if, in fact, the board decides in its wisdom to say no - will make the decision as to whether or not a school council will be established in that particular situation.
The other question is about school councils in terms of annual reporting. Will they be making annual reports to the minister and what will be the requirements in terms of ongoing reporting of school councils to the board and in fact, to the minister?
The clauses of the bill contain phrases that allow a Governor in Council to impart on school councils any power that the school board feels like giving away. I relate back to my remarks when I was saying that within this particular piece of legislation, it removes from the school boards, bearing in mind that they are elected officials of the province, that there is within the clauses of this legislation opportunity . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member I really do hesitate to interject but I am going to call for order please. It is getting increasingly difficult to hear the speaker. Please proceed.
DR. HAMM: The point is that the legislation takes from school boards which were set up under the old Education Act and deposits in the office of the minister considerable power and now allows the Governor in Council to distribute other powers of the elected school boards and to distribute those to school councils. There does not appear to be any limit on how far this process could go. I think, again, that opens the door for the validity of the questioning of school board members as to what, in fact, will be the role of school boards in this new redesigned process.
I think it is fair to comment that the school boards will be perhaps setting up satellite offices, particularly in those areas in which their responsibility is distributed over a wide geographical area. There has been much comment as to the size of the board in southwestern Nova Scotia which extends around the southern end of the province from Hubbards to Bear River. Bearing in mind within that particular school board, there will be two areas of high concentration of population who will elect a large majority of the members within that school board and it has created the fear in the more rural areas of that jurisdiction, that the rural areas will be severely under-represented on that particular school board. They have already indicated to the minister that they would have felt far better served by dividing that particular area in two, which would have allowed stronger representation for the rural areas on their elected school boards.
When the minister assures us, which he has on occasion, that the $11 million in savings are there and they will be there after we reduce our school boards down to seven. I can't help but be reminded of the surprise that we got in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality when three months after merging they have come up with what had been described as transition costs or startup costs of somewhere in excess of $4 million. I notice that the Minister of Municipal Affairs has taken note of that statement.
The point in referring back to that is that we must be absolutely certain that what we are doing with school boards will result in the cost savings that are expected to be generated by the merging of the school boards, bearing in mind there is a price to be paid for merging the school boards and in terms of remote representation on those school boards. One keeps coming back to that particular point and I am hoping that the minister will be able, before debate is finished, to provide us with guarantees that the $11 million in savings are, in fact, there.
One group that did approach me at the local level as the process unfolded were the non-unionized employees of my particular school board, the Pictou District School Board. I understand there are some 750 employees of school boards around the province who are non-unionized. In my particular area and in the Pictou district there are in excess of 100 non-unionized employees. They are: 7 librarians, 51 assistants and 49 playground and lunchroom supervisors. Bearing in mind that they are going to be amalgamated with Cumberland and Colchester-East Hants and those who occupy the same positions next door, in Colchester County, for example, are unionized. That leads to their concern as to whether or not their particular successor rights and their particular opportunities to become employees of the new school board will not, in any way, be disadvantaged by the fact that they have, in their relationship with the Pictou District School Board, chosen to be non-unionized employees.
They have met with the minister and I understand have received some reassurance from the minister that their position will not be jeopardized, because of the route they choose to do in their relationship with their now employer, the Pictou District School Board. I am pleased that the minister is nodding in the affirmative that their concerns will be addressed and they will be in no way disadvantaged as they apply, as I presume they will have to apply, for positions with their new employer, which will be the new amalgamated school board.
In conclusion, Madam Speaker, as we get off the ground with analyzing the particular piece of legislation and bearing in mind that I have stayed away from referring to specific clauses, I think we will have opportunity to evaluate the principle in the clause by clause and whether or not the particular clause by clause examination of the bill does, in fact, bear out what the minister says is happening with this piece of legislation.
I would now like to summarize the level of our concern about the particular bill. First of all, the minister did not provide school boards with copies of the legislation before it was presented to the House, which prevented them from making meaningful comment before the bill was tabled. As well, the bill was tabled in this House a mere four days ago and here we are debating it already on a Tuesday, bearing in mind two of those days were weekend days. As well, one wonders about the hurry required in that the new school boards will not be elected, I understand, until 1997 and gives us ample opportunity to look at the proposed legislation, I think, in a rather more leisurely fashion than the minister is now permitting.
We cannot sell this bill short. We are spending $800 million in this province on education and we want to be absolutely sure, as does the minister, that we are getting $800 million worth of benefits out of the taxpayers' money. We have not yet seen the cost-benefit analysis, guaranteeing the $11 million saving and despite what the minister assured us in his opening remarks, there is nothing in the bill that indicates a guaranteed improvement in a student's position in the classroom in Nova Scotia.
The bill is highly technical. It deals with administrative change and does not provide the kinds of guarantees that I am hearing out in the communities that, in fact, many of the programs now, and which traditionally have been provided in our schools, will, in fact, be continued. They are expressing a real concern that what will ultimately be the school council function is to provide, at the community level, and at the community's expense, those programs that traditionally have been provided through school board funding and provincial funding. I am talking about maybe classes in drama, art, music and many of the beneficial programs that are available in certain areas of this province.
It is not our intention, as an Opposition, to halt this process. The minister made reference that we are looking at changing a piece of legislation and introducing new legislation to replace a bill that, in fact, is 40 years old. The Opposition benches understand that education reform is necessary and the Opposition benches understand that we have to provide an equivalent and hopefully a better service with less cost. We share the minister's commitment that we want the best for our children who, after all, will be the future of this province.
I am reminded at this time of Joseph Addison's words when he said, "What sculpture is to a block of marble, Education is to a human soul.". I am sure that the minister shares those sentiments expressed by Joseph Addison back in the 1690's. We firmly believe that Nova Scotians would be better served if this legislation could be reviewed and would receive the benefits of comments by school board members, home and school associations, parents and children, and the teaching profession.
We do not see that enough time has been allowed for consultation before the minister, in fact, put the final stamp on the legislation as it appeared before us. When we were discussing strategy, we entertained the possibility of introducing a motion to hoist. That would not achieve our aim because, in essence, that would in fact kill the legislation. That is not our intent. It is our intent that this piece of legislation have more examination before it receives its final stamp of approval by this Legislature, as it ultimately will. The numbers on the government side will assure that the legislation will eventually be passed.
I now, Madam Speaker, move the following amendment, that Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education, be now not read a second time but that it be referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources to seek information regarding the impact of Bill No. 39 on students, parents and teachers. I have a written copy of this amendment to be examined by yourself and will await your decision as to the admissibility of this amendment.
MADAM SPEAKER: Is the amendment also being circulated for the members?
DR. HAMM: Yes.
MADAM SPEAKER: Have all the members had an opportunity to look at this amendment? It has been circulated throughout the House. Thank you. I would like to rule this amendment out of order in that it is referring the bill in itself to a committee and I am therefore ruling it out of order.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: On a point of order.
MADAM SPEAKER: Are you speaking to the bill?
MR. RUSSELL: On your ruling, Madam Speaker. Dilatory amendments are permitted on second reading and it is very clear, I think, if Beauchesne is our reference in this House, that you can either make a hoist, you can make a referral to a committee or you can do something else. I forget what the third thing is but it never works. But there are two amendments which traditionally have always been accepted in this House and one is a six months' hoist and another is the referral to a committee. Madam Speaker, I would ask that you take a look at Beauchesne and I forget exactly what the reference is but however, investigate the amendment to refer this bill to the Human Resources Committee.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. I refer to Beauchesne's Rule No. 673, "Referral of Subject-Matter to a Committee", under "Amendments at Second Reading", where it clearly states here and I will just briefly read it, "(1) An amendment, urging a committee to consider the subject-matter of a bill, might be moved and carried in the House were adverse to giving the bill itself a second reading and so conceding its principle. But where further information is desired in direct relation to the terms of the bill before the House, the advantage of referring the bill to a committee could be explained in the second reading stage.". It says further, "(2) The amendment may seek further information in relation to the bill by either committee, the production of papers or other evidence.".
The reference in the amendment to a referral of the subject matter to a committee is fairly straightforward and I wondered if you could please cite where in Beauchesne is justification provided for ruling this particular amendment out of order?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. I would suggest that the reading the last honourable made was quite correct but it refers to referring the subject matter. You can't refer the bill to a committee, you can refer the subject matter under discussion. So, I think I would support the ruling made by Madam Speaker that the amendment as it was presented is out of order.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, on the point of order. Clearly what we are referring to in this amendment, I would suggest, or what is being referred to in this amendment is not unlike what is provided for in Beauchesne. Let's not get into a game of semantics here to try to find reasons to rule a particular amendment out of order. Clearly the purpose of referring this matter to a committee of this House, is to deal with the impact, to deal with the subject matter of the bill and that is provided for in Beauchesne. To get into a game of playing words on each other is not fulfilling the function of the Rules of this House, which is to enable debate to occur at each and every stage within certain parameters.
What we cannot do is use those rules to completely eliminate any and all debate. Just because of the fact that members of this House and on these Opposition benches are not in favour of a particular piece of legislation brought forward by this government does not mean that we throw this Rule Book out of the room and cannot participate actively in debate.
Now I think that things are getting a little bit carried away here when at each and every opportunity, an amendment is brought, in accordance with the rules of Beauchesne, in accordance with the precedents followed in this House for 175 years and all of a sudden we find every sundry reason as to why it is that an amendment that clearly falls under the provisions of Beauchesne which allows debate of an amendment on second reading. I think if we continue to proceed down this road we are going to be shutting down democratic debate in this House and that is not a route that I want to see us follow.
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. Perhaps the honourable member would mark the rules he wants us to follow and those he doesn't, so that we will know in advance. This is a very simple matter, the rule says simply that you cannot refer a bill. Now a bill is a very specific term, referring to a very specific item, that is the rule. If I am wrong, if that isn't the rule, then Madam Speaker will correct me. You can refer subject matter, you cannot refer a bill. It is a simple rule but you can't pick and choose which rules you want to abide by and which rules you don't.
MADAM SPEAKER: As Speaker I would now like to make one more clarification for the edification of all of the members who are obviously very incensed about this ruling.
AN HON. MEMBER: And so we should be.
MADAM SPEAKER: No, honourable member, I am sorry, no you should not be because it is very clear and so is Beauchesne very clear. The risk we have with instant expertise is that everybody will take a ruling in here and get to their feet and try and put some other spin on it.
The ruling I have made deals with (Interruptions) Order. The rule I have made is very clear, you cannot pass an amendment referring the entire bill; you could have referred the subject matter but in this amendment the attempt was made to pass the bill off to a committee and I have ruled it out of order. (Applause)
AN HON. MEMBER: When the amendment says subject matter, then it will be some other reference. Talk about the goal post continuing to change.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Madam Speaker, before I take my seat, I may be in a position to introduce yet another amendment and maybe the government will have an opportunity to try to think up reasons why that shouldn't be debated. Quite clearly, people in this province have not had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with this bill. This legislation, this government, this minister and all the colleagues on the government benches are trying to railroad this bill through this House before the people of the province have an opportunity to understand exactly what it is they are doing.
Madam Speaker, I . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Member, I would ask you to take your seat for one moment, please. Now I am going to set a certain standard of tone in this House and you are all very aware of it honourable members, I will not have you shouting back and forth. We are using electronic magnification and it isn't necessary to behave in such a disrespectful way, with such a disrespectful tone. I would ask you to tone it down.
AN HON. MEMBER: You see it all the time in here.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, you may think you see it all the time, but not when this Speaker is in the Chair. Thank you.
MR. HOLM: Well, I will do my utmost with my limited ability to speak in a monotone, I cannot help it if some semblance of the contempt that I feel towards what this government is doing shows in the tone and the expression that I put forward. I will try to keep my tone down to a level that is acceptable. But I have to tell you in all honesty that there have not been many pieces of legislation that I have had a chance to speak on in this House that I have felt more passionately about, and that I have more contempt for this government with what they are exactly trying to do.
Madam Speaker, we heard and I heard the wonderful public relations speech from this minister, about how his government and this minister have travelled over hill and dale, meeting with school boards and parents and individuals, trying to hear what people have to say about this legislation. That is bogus; he may have travelled, but he has not heard.
This government, this minister promised that the legislation, this wonderful piece of legislation in which they have such tremendous confidence, it was going to be shared with the people in this province, going to be shared with the school board, going to be shared with the home and school associations and with the parents of this province and with representatives of the employees. They were told that they would even have two weeks to consider the bill before it was called for debate in this House. Some two weeks. You can put as much confidence and faith in what this minister and this government has said in all other aspects of this bill as you can in the commitment and the way in which they honoured that commitment. This bill might as well be entitled: I am the Lord, so sayeth the Minister of Education, all power is to me, unless I decide that I want to abdicate or I want to shove off the responsibility to somebody else because I don't want to have to accept it or take it myself, but I have all powers.
That is what this bill does. This bill overrides collective agreements. It is stepping into areas where it is the responsibility for a collective agreement process. Tear it up. It is saying that boards have responsibilities and communities are going to be given powers, but then it turns around later on and says, of course, the minister has all the power to make the final decisions. The minister said in his remarks that he feels like he has been working most of his life for this piece of legislation. Well, Mr. Speaker, maybe he has, and the scary thing is that now, obviously, the minister has the power to put his vision, his view, in place and nobody else is to be considered.
Mr. Speaker, I want to take a look at some aspects, some principles, of the bill. I would like to take a look at some of the principles as I go through it and see exactly the kinds of things that this government is talking about doing. Now I grant you, there are wonderful, flowy, gushy words in the preamble. Of course, they don't live up to that in the bill. There are in this bill all kinds of wonderful statements about what should be done, what the responsibilities of boards are, what the responsibilities of educators are, what the responsibilities of parents are. Since one of the responsibilities of the parents is to ensure that children come to school with proper nutrition, maybe the Minister of Education even has an agreement with the Minister of Community Services to find out and ensure that those children who come from families living below the poverty line are going to receive assistance from the Minister of Community Services to ensure that in fact the budgets that they have are going to be sufficient to provide for proper nutritional meals.
I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, even though the last amendment was ruled out of order, that I was speaking earlier today with the president of the home and school association and I asked a direct question, would you support full, proper, public hearings being held on this legislation, and the answer was, without any hesitation, yes. Yes, because that hasn't happened to date.
Now let's take a look at some of the things that this bill does. Of course we are told that parents must have opportunities, that there must be clearer lines of accountability and that the first priority must be the student. Mr. Speaker, according to this legislation, the first priority is not the student. It is the proper thing to say, that's correct, but the first priority according to this legislation is the bottom line for the Province of Nova Scotia and for the provincial government trying to find ways to off load costs, to break collective agreements, to download services and to give the absolute power to the Minister of Education. That is not what the minister says this bill does, but I would suggest that in reality, that is what it does do.
You can pick almost any place to begin. First of all, of course, the Minister of Labour, I am sure, is very much concerned that this bill throws out subsections of Section 71 of the Labour Standards Code. Those subsections ensure that employees can only be dismissed for just cause if they have worked for 10 years because "notwithstanding clauses (c) and (f), Section 71 of the Labour Standards Code does not apply to a period of employment with a district school board.". If the minister says that is not true, I would be happy to table for him a copy of the Labour Standards legislation or he can go next door into the Clerk's office or into the Legislative Library and get a copy of that for himself because that is what it says.
What does it set out here? Now we are talking about shared cooperation. Under the district school boards, the Governor in Council - doesn't have to consult, doesn't have to take advice - may designate a geographic area for the province's school regions. The Governor in Council may establish regional school boards, not in consultation, it doesn't have to take the advice, it doesn't have to have any input from those boards, or certainly not follow it. We have seen that, for example, in two situations. The Colchester-East Hants, Pictou and Cumberland boards came up with a proposal that was not what the minister wanted to hear. The coordinator or the facilitator who was hired to help those boards come with a proposal, they came up with a consortium idea that was aimed at saving and they promised they would be able to match dollar for dollar the savings of this minister in his projections. What happens? It is rejected. Why? It doesn't fit the vision and the plan of this minister and this government.
The Halifax area - Halifax, Dartmouth and the county - the facilitator appointed by the minister would not accept the agreement arrived at by those boards because originally - although one board did favour, yes indeed, the super amalgamation - they all had agreed that they would go along with a two board scenario. But, Mr. Speaker, that provision did not fit with the minister's vision and plans and, therefore, the minister and his team reject it.
You know, the minister has the ability, according to this legislation, this bill respecting de-education in Nova Scotia as it properly maybe should be called. This bill gives the minister the powers to do anything that the minister considers necessary and advisable to obtain professional agreements, contracts. So the minister is going to be doing the negotiating on behalf of the regional boards, they aren't asked if they want the minister to do that negotiation or not, the minister decided that he is going to do that.
Those agreements will be binding on the school boards and the school board employees but not upon the Minister of Education who will be negotiating them. The minister can do the negotiations, he can do whatever he considers necessary, whatever that means, that may mean imposing his vision, his view, his collective agreement because he is tearing up other provisions of collective agreements by this legislation by giving himself the power to do it in this. He can do whatever he wants.
Now, of course, I am being told, listen to this tirade over there, suggesting what I am saying is nonsense. We have heard an awful lot of nonsense from the Minister of Education and I defy the minister to get many of the school boards or the unions or the home and schools to line up and support the minister and say that they believe and they have found that they can trust his word and that what he has promised to them in the past has, in fact, come true. Line them up. Let's see them appear at the Law Amendments Committee saying that they support the minister and they have tremendous faith and confidence in what he is doing and that they feel that they have been treated fairly by this government. Let's see him line them up if what I am saying is nonsense.
Of course, what I am saying is just not factual. I am reading here, do anything that the minister considers necessary and advisable to obtain a professional agreement on behalf of a regional board, including without limiting the generalities of the foregoing, the execution of an agreement. I am not factual. Then I guess I am reading something from the bill that isn't factual.
In this bill as well, another area for greater certainty ensuring in terms of what protections are going to be provided to employees, they are making sure that they say that managers, supervisors or those who they would consider confidential people, that could be a secretary working for a superintendent or in a management position where they may have confidential papers that come across their desk to appear before a board, anybody who is considered confidential and therefore cannot be unionized because they are confidential, then the Trade Union Act does not apply to them. It says, does not include those described in Subsection 2(2) of that Act.
We heard the minister in his statement saying that he is not the employer but you know, he said that he is very concerned and he will want to make sure that those who are employees will receive fair and proper treatment and he is going to ensure that. The member for Hants East says, good minister, yes indeed, good minister.
There is no question and throughout the entire education process that the minister described going back to the Kimball Committee, going back before that, going back to committee meetings that were held by the Human Resources Committee on special education, special needs, talking about those who have special needs whether they be because of a disability or because they happen to be gifted. In all avenues, in all areas, people of all sides, the stakeholders, expressed a willingness and acknowledgement that yes, indeed, the education system in Nova Scotia can be improved. They expressed a willingness to work towards that but what this is, Mr. Speaker, is an attempt supposedly on the basis that the government is cooperating and passing responsibilities out to the communities. This is a concerted effort by the Minister of Education to take almost complete control of the education system.
Mr. Speaker, I may, before I sit down, list some of the areas where the minister and his Governor in Council colleagues will take this absolute power.
AN HON. MEMBER: You will never have to worry about it.
MR. HOLM: Well, I am being told it is something I may never have to worry about, Mr. Speaker, and it is probably correct. You know, sometimes we don't congratulate the Premier on making wise decisions and there is one wise decision that he made because he is not in Cabinet.
Now I want to get back, if I may, to a number of other things. The minister, in his statements, talked about coordinators and about the establishment of these committees that are supposed to assist the coordinators, Mr. Speaker. Well, let's take a look at coordinators and the principle of what is being done here.
Now we are talking about the amalgamation, we are talking about all of these boards being joined together into these super-boards. Of course, the coordinator, the one who is to do that job, primarily charged with it, guess who might appoint that coordinator? I wonder if anybody in here has any idea who it is, who is going to decide who will design the structure and who will put in place who is going to be hired and the procedures that are to be followed, whether that be in the Lunenburg area, in Cape Breton, whether it be in the Cumberlands or in the metropolitan area, Mr. Speaker.
A coordinator, the minister, Mr. Speaker - surprise, surprise - is going to be the one to do that and there is to be an amalgamation committee to assist the coordinator and who is it who appoints that committee to assist the coordinator? We heard the minister say that it is going to be a committee to ensure that the interest and the concerns of those boards and those communities are being addressed but who appoints those who are to assist him? It may come as a bit of a surprise but the minister has his finger in that too. Do you know that even though the minister appoints a coordinator, the administrative structure that is to be followed has to be approved by the minister. But, of course, the minister is working in a cooperative way and the minister is trying to extend or grant powers to others. He is trying to make this a more open system. But, of course, everything has to be approved by the minister.
It is amazing, subject to the approval of the minister or the minister may, how often the bill has those words contained within it.
The local amalgamation committee shall do a whole bunch of things, subject to the approval of the minister, even determining the salaries. Everything is determined by the minister. Put in place the structure, subject to the approval of the minister. Great confidence that the minister has in these new regional boards being designed. Of course, the coordinators are being appointed even before those advisory committees are set up, Mr. Speaker. (Interruption) I am being asked by the Minister of Education if the truth bothers me at all. I have to tell you that quite honestly it does because if it wasn't, I would not be as upset by what the minister has been saying and doing.
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party is up here making statements that, in fact, are not the case. I would suggest that he call the people involved in the Strait Area board to find out that, in fact, the amalgamation committee he is referring to is the elected members of the board, elected by the members who are there. It has made the decisions and the coordinator has done exactly that.
His supposition that he is going forward with here is, in fact, not the case. As a point of order, I just put that on the floor of the House.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, if I might respond, it is the right of any honourable member to rise in his place and identify what he or she considers to be a point of order, but a true point of order would relate to some failure to observe the Rules of the House that had perhaps not been noticed by the Chair. A dispute between honourable members as to facts does not constitute a point of order, as many Speakers have ruled.
Therefore, I would rule that while the honourable minister has made his point, there is no point of order.
MR. HOLM: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The minister has made a point and I won't get into a dispute with him, . . .
MR. SPEAKER: You don't need to repeat the ruling. Carry on with second reading of the bill.
MR. HOLM: . . . the accuracy of the point he made.
We have heard a great deal about school councils and we have heard tremendous amounts about the abilities and the need to involve the parents, the students and the communities to a greater extent within the school community. Mr. Speaker, I could not agree with that sentiment more. That is something we have argued for and that we very strongly support, the need to involve and have greater community involvement in the schools.
Mr. Speaker, is it appropriate for legislation to say that a school board shall establish a school council if as few as eight parents request the establishment of that school council? So you can have a community, a school with 500 children, eight parents, no opportunity, no requirement to assess or get the views of the school community generally, eight parents can ask and therefore the school board shall create a school council. You can ask, what is wrong with that? Mr. Speaker, having a school council that is there, if that school council is going to just be acting like a home and school, if it was just to be baking cookies to raise money, fine, but school councils are seen to have far more power and responsibility. There is the potential that school councils, especially if they are only requiring eight individuals - not a majority of parents - not even a large percentage of parents, to be requesting one and to be showing their willingness to become involved, there is a concern that those school councils can be requested and controlled by a very small special interest group.
Mr. Speaker, the school councils can have tremendous powers. What people are failing to notice is that the minister can make a recommendation to his government colleagues on the front benches, his Cabinet colleagues. He can make a recommendation that those school councils be given any and all powers as he so determines or negotiates, powers of the school board transferred to that school council. So, all of a sudden, that school council can end up having, as it lays out in Clause 23, all of the powers of that school board. "The Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister, may transfer duties and powers of a school board to a school council for a public school and, upon such transfer, the school board ceases to have those powers and duties with respect to that school and those powers and duties are powers and duties of the school council.".
There are no caveats in there. There is nothing to prevent or to say which powers can and which powers can't be transferred. Those school councils, according to the way that is written, could be given any and all powers of the school board. We had a bill in this House before, which was setting up pilot projects and after some considerable discussion and after some considerable lobbying - and no, I don't take credit that we, in the Opposition were able to get the government to change their mind - but those who are knowledgable in the education field, from the home and school association, from the school boards association, from the teachers' union and others, did manage to persuade the minister to change it, to say that they only apply to those pilot projects which are only now in the start of their second year. What the minister heard two years ago, he has now developed selective amnesia and has now put back in place the same kind of provision that he had there before.
Mr. Speaker, if one were to take a look at the powers of school boards, and they are extensive, the general responsibilities and so on of the school boards, and powers - they are listed on Pages 33, 34, 35, 36 and so on and of course, almost all subject to the approval of the minister - those powers can now be passed to a school council. The school board does not have to agree, no requirement that the board agrees, there is no requirement that the majority of those who have children attending that school agree, and there are no provisions in this bill for the minister, once he has referred those to the school councils, to then disband that school council.
Yes, indeed, I have heard legitimately the requests and concerns of parents to have a greater voice and a greater say in the operation of what goes on within the schools. But you know, I have not heard parents saying that they want to actually run the school. Here, all of those powers, but of course we are being told, trust us because we do not plan to do any of these things. Trust us.
According to this bill, the way it is written, an individual employee, a teacher, can be basically now ordered to do anything by their principal and failure to do that would be (Interruption) Oh, I am told it is outrageous, Mr. Speaker. Maybe the minister would like to have a look at his own bill, Clause 26(1)(x) where it says, "perform such other duties as are prescribed by this Act or the regulations or assigned by the principal.". So, if a teacher is told that you will now be the coach of the soccer team or that you will take students away on a weekend trip, or whatever they are assigned, according to the way that is written, they could then be seen to be insubordinate if they fail to do that. (Interruption)
Well, Mr. Speaker, I am going to ignore certain comments. The chief executive officer, the superintendent, who do they even work for? These people, the people who are supposedly given all of these powers and responsibilities to be running and controlling the education system within that regional board. Now we are told, of course, that they work for the board but it is going to be like going down a river with feet in two separate canoes because yes, they have to report and are accountable to the board but who is involved in their evaluation and who do they have to take direction from as well but the Minister of Education.
So, Mr. Speaker, we have the chief executive officers having two separate bosses and that is by design. Even the minister has to be involved, I am sure he will delegate this to somebody on his staff, to the appointments of those chief executive officers and their evaluations.
Mr. Speaker, under this bill, the minister will be negotiating the contracts on behalf of all the regional boards for which he, himself, will not be held accountable. He does not have to pay any of the tunes, he is not bound by them, he will be able to do whatever he considers is advisable to obtain the agreements. He can determine what share of costs will have to be paid by the Conseil acadien and by any other boards. If they cannot agree, it is going to be the minister who will be doing the final deciding. He appoints the coordinators, he appoints the amalgamation committees, he approves the salaries and the benefits of the CEO's, on and on it goes.
Mr. Speaker, anybody who thinks that I am running up a red flag here, that I am dramatizing, that I am not talking about what is actually in this bill, I suggest that they take a look at the bill. Read it. Read the clauses. (Interruption) Indeed, they should understand it and that means don't necessarily take the word of the Minister of Education or just read his press releases. Why don't people read all of the powers that are listed and given under General, for example, in Clause 138, Page 59, all of the powers of the Minister of Education and continue on to read Clause 143 and continue on to read Clause 144.
Any suggestion that this bill is really about improving the quality of education, other than unless you consider just improving the quality of education following what the minister somehow sees as a vision. That vision is that somehow by amalgamation there are going to be these tremendous dollar savings. You know, those who are closest to it, those, for example, in the N.S. School Boards Association, those who have analyzed the books, they will tell you that those savings have already, largely been taken into account.
In fact, in the school boards association newsletter of October 1995, they say that, ". . . Government actions, the restraint program has not occurred in a vacuum. Many boards have simultaneously had to confront the effects of reduced funding caused by enrolment decline, and all face the prospects of paying for future Early Retirement Plan costs without the establishment of appropriate reserves.". They went on to say, "The Government has promised that school board amalgamation will lead to greater efficiency and moderate the effect of restraint . . .". They also point out, ". . . there is no evidence that school councils can ease the burden of fiscal restraint on schools and school boards; in fact it is clear that to become effective instruments for school improvement, school councils will require resources.". They say that, ". . . we are witnessing an education service in decline. It is not too difficult to envisage a return to 1970 student-teacher ratios and levels of support services.". They also went on to say the so-called savings that are coming about from amalgamation, almost all of those have already occurred because of the downsizing that has occurred. Yet, the minister is driving forward with his amalgamation agenda.
When one takes a look at another element of this bill that I find extremely disturbing, the minister talks about special education. That is something that this government has promised for a long time. They promised for a long time that they were going to be bringing forward a policy for special education and to ensure that there are programs and services that meet the needs of those children with special education needs.
When you read this bill, there are the clauses in the bill that say, and quite correctly, that parents should be involved with the school in designing the special education or a program that is suitable to meet the needs of those children. Yes, that is good. However, when one takes a look at Clause 64(2), there are no assurances that in fact that has to be followed because the way that the bill is written, Clause 64(2)(d), the boards could use that bill to actually exclude . . .
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The honourable member is saying things which are absolutely untrue, unfounded and on a point of order, he is not supposed to be referring to the clauses of the bill as we proceed anyway. What he is saying in this House is not true, in fact, the principle in the bill states clearly that, first of all, it is in the classroom and the justification at any time that has to be made for a focused classroom or a separation has to be based entirely on the best interests of the student, always, Mr. Speaker, and that is the principle. What he is doing here is outrageous.
MR. SPEAKER: Well it is not for the Speaker to pass judgment on the accuracy of the claims of fact made by honourable members in debate. I suggest that the very purpose of debate is to have alternative points of view aired, so there can be an expression of diversity rather than of unanimity on matters where there might be a disagreement.
The honourable minister has made his point; the honourable member will carry on.
MR. HOLM: I am pleased to hear the minister make a statement. However, you know the minister also promised that he would be providing the draft legislation to the integration action group and as in providing the legislation in advance to the other groups, it was not done.
Mr. Speaker, the minister says what I am saying is not true. Well, that is the minister's interpretation. I would suggest that people don't take my word, but that they actually sit down and read that clause which the minister points out that I am not allowed to refer to, Clause 64(2)(d). I would suggest that people read that and see how that reads to them, because I know that some who have children with special needs have read that clause and they have very real concerns, and it was pointed out to me by parents of children with special needs, the concern that that actually can be used by the boards as an exclusionary clause.
Now the minister can say that I am doing something of a disservice. What I am saying to this minister, who at least I am pleased to see is listening, is animated if not upset, what I say to the minister is I urge the minister to take off his blinders, to genuinely open his ears and to listen to the comments that others are going to make.
MR. SPEAKER: All right, now I am going to have to intervene at this point because that type of a direct personal challenge to another member of the House really has no place in a rational forum of debate. We are supposed to be expressing ideas here and to be addressing ourselves to the principles contained in the bill. I don't want provocative taunts being thrown back and forth. I would ask the honourable member to please confine his remarks to what he interprets to be the principle of the bill.
MR. HOLM: Well thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. You are absolutely correct and I apologize because yes, indeed, sometimes we do tend to get over-animated, a little bit exercised and I acknowledge I am doing that or I have done that here. But I have to tell you -and it is not an excuse, but maybe an explanation, what I see happening in this bill is very scary. I do not, in all good conscience, in all honestly, I do not believe that this bill is going to advance the quality of education in Nova Scotia. I quite honestly believe it is going to do the reverse.
Mr. Speaker, in the Education Act we have before us, it lists all kinds of responsibilities and powers of school boards, all of the wonderful things they are to do and to ensure, then in the very next phrase it goes on to say, however, notwithstanding all of those wonderful things that you can put out there in terms of a public relation exercise from the minister about what the responsibilities of the boards are, the boards are not permitted to spend any monies that they don't have to put any of those in place and, of course, it is the minister and this government that is controlling the finance purse strings. Even the municipalities, an age-old complaint of the municipalities in that they have absolutely no say into the amounts of money that this government and the former government were going to demand that they pay, even that has not been addressed here.
This bill is a wonderful piece of public relations in many areas (Interruption) I will let you use that word when you get up to speak. Somebody else is providing me a very good adjective and I won't steal their adjective and use it instead.
In all honestly, I hope that the people of this province, I hope that the school boards around this province, many of whom as of last night still had not had an opportunity and I shouldn't say many, I know of some that have not yet had an opportunity to see the bill. It was only introduced on Friday and it is not as easy to get it right across the province. All school board members should have had the opportunity, I am sure. It would be unreasonable to think that they wouldn't have been able to get it since Friday when it was tabled in this House. The mail or whatever would have got it to them and they would have been able to fully analyze it and have all of their input by now. Surely that is reasonable in the government's view.
I hope that not only all board members, not only the representatives of the workers, whether they be teachers or support staff, but I also hope that parents across this province will make themselves familiar with actually what is in the legislation. That doesn't just mean the spin doctor reports put out by the Minister of Education and it certainly also does not just mean listening to what I have to say but actually reading and finding out what is in the legislation. From everything that we have seen so far in the process that has gone on, this government has had, yes, their Government By Design, they have had their plan and their design is to implement their plan and to come up with whatever it is to back up what they say is right. This has not been as a result of a genuine, legitimate, open consultation, it is not.
This legislation falls far short of the commitment. If, in fact, the minister is really committed to a cooperative approach in education, to the delivery of a quality program across the province, then share some responsibility. Don't just impose responsibilities on others but actually share some of those responsibilities. Therefore, I would like to make an amendment and I would ask that a copy of this amendment be forwarded to you, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to propose: "That the words after `that' be deleted and the following be substituted therefor: `"Bill No. 39 be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.'".
MR. SPEAKER: The amendment is in order. The debate will therefore now proceed on the basis of the amendment and must be addressed strictly to the proposition that the bill be read six months hence.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, the amendment which we now debate is, I think, an important one, because it is my assessment of what has gone on over the past number of months that while there has been lip service paid and a show put on by the minister and by certain others to attempt to create the impression that there has been legitimate dialogue and review and analysis of the impact of this bill, I suggest to you that nothing could be further from the truth.
There was promise after promise made to parents' groups, the Teachers Union, school board associations, parent-teacher associations, home and school associations - made all over the place - that there would be a legitimate consultation and dialogue, that there would be a draft bill prepared, that the draft bill would be circulated in advance of its introduction into this place and that all of us - members of this House and those organizations and the members thereof which I just mentioned - would have the opportunity to review that draft. That just simply did not happen.
It happens further, Mr. Speaker, that if you look at the White Paper which was prepared, produced and published by the Minister of Education upon which the minister indicated this legislation would be based, you will find that there are dramatic differences in many cases as between what appears in the White Paper and what in fact appears in the bill which is now before us. I say on that . . .
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The honourable Leader of the Opposition has correctly indicated that there is a difference between what was in the White Paper and the bill because we travelled the whole province and listened to what people said and made adjustments based on what we heard. On the other hand, he is suggesting that we had not listened. I have great difficulties with the incompatibility of those two statements.
MR. SPEAKER: That may well be. But with deference, neither that point nor the argument that it answered or addressed relate to the proposition that the bill should be read six months hence. That is all that we are debating.
MR. DONAHOE: Yes, I understand that and I certainly understand you indicating that the minister was off the mark with his remark.
AN HON. MEMBER: And that you were off the mark too.
MR. SPEAKER: Make sure you do not get off the mark too.
MR. DONAHOE: The reason, Mr. Speaker, that the amendment which is before us now is important and is vital is that the bill, in my opinion and in the opinion of many people who have contacted me and contacted our caucus office, will put in place an education regime which will be retrograde as opposed to progressive and which, in fact, requires further consideration, assessment and opportunity for serious and significant input by those individuals and by those organizations.
The problem that we now face is that we have a new Education Act which in very many areas bears no relationship to the previous regime, much of which was not made known to those who are the leaders in education in Nova Scotia - and I refer again to the Teachers Union, school board associations and so on - and frankly I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is not possible for those organizations, in the context of the jammed timeframe that the government is attempting now to employ to have this bill moved forward, to have this in front of the Law Amendments Committee, as would likely be the case, within the matter of a day or two or a couple of days. It is not going to be possible for the expression of concern and the statement of intent to be made by those organizations to be fully and adequately assessed and considered.
In fact, I can tell you that I was just downstairs in a meeting with people who are very concerned about this bill and are very knowledgeable about what, in fact, goes on in the school system. They indicated to me and to others in that meeting that they simply do not believe that they have sufficient time to effect analysis of the legislation in order to adequately and effectively make their view known.
Mr. Speaker, this bill was introduced on Friday, November 3rd. It is now November 7th. There was a weekend intervening. To say nothing of the difficulty that those of us who actually had physical possession of the document by reason of being here last Friday, having difficulty getting our heads around being able to adequately understand, debate and consider the implications of this bill, there are thousands of people out there who have made it known to this minister, and he knows it. I ask you and all members to hear that and hear it loud and clear. This Minister of Education knows that there are thousands of Nova Scotians who are concerned about the implications of this legislation and who want and believe, for their sake and the sake of their children, that they have an opportunity to make those views known.
Mr. Speaker, I went to a couple of the public meetings. The minister says there was consultation all over the place; I met with all the boards and then I even had this series of public meetings. Well, I will never forget as long as I live a public meeting at the auditorium at Queen Elizabeth High School. I attended that meeting and it was nothing but a lecture from the Minister of Education in which he frankly abused virtually everybody who came to the microphone to offer an opinion or a view which didn't happen to jibe with his. Honourable members opposite are snickering and snorting.
MR. SPEAKER: And this is why the bill should be read six months hence?
MR. DONAHOE: This is exactly why it should be read six months hence.
MR. SPEAKER: We have to keep the debate relevant to that proposition.
MR. DONAHOE: Yes, exactly, and thank you, Mr. Speaker, for helping me complete the point. The point is just that the men and women who this minister suggests to us have had their say, simply have not had their say. It must be delayed and it must be read six months hence so that it is possible for those individuals and the organizations that are so vitally connected with and affected by the public education enterprise to have their say.
There are 37 elements of this legislation, at a minimum, which, if they were to be passed by this House, result in the minister assuming controls over the public education system which the minister today does not now have. People are contacting me. You don't have to say aye, yes or no, but I would not be surprised, Mr. Speaker, if they were contacting you. I know from conversation with certain government backbenchers that they are receiving contacts, that there are people who are very concerned and do not believe that they have had their opportunity to have their say.
This bill, if I can find the right clause, doesn't really have to have effect in the main until 1997. I offer that comment as justification for the view that there is not one Minister of Education, one teacher, one administrator, one student, one parent, a Nova Scotian who is disadvantaged if, in fact, this bill is given the six months' hoist. But there are thousands of Nova Scotians who are advantaged if it is, for the very simple reason that during that period of time it is then possible for them to make views known to this minister directly through government members, be they Treasury benches members or others, through members of the Opposition, through various organizations, to convey some messages to this minister which frankly he either never got or if he got, he simply had his mind made up upon receiving them and he ignored because he sure didn't act upon them when one reads this piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure you would agree that of all of the responsibilities which each of us has as legislators, there are a couple of those responsibilities which take paramountcy over most of the others. I would suggest to you that health and education, either in that order or a flip order, have to be at the top of the list with any other responsibility that any of us have as we function or attempt to function as legislators.
This legislation, Mr. Speaker, in its present form, has the potential to revolutionize the public school system in a way which I believe and, more to the point - and hence my urging that we give it the six months' hoist - despite the rhetoric from the Minister of Education that this opens it up to families and to parents and that we are going to have these wonderful relationships develop at the school level between parents and teachers and school councils and so on, the truth of the matter is that this bill, in its present form, consolidates nearly dictatorial power in the Minister of Education. I suggest to you and thousands of Nova Scotians who are contacting us and, I am sure, are contacting government members, indicating great concern that that is a retrograde and a dangerous step, the hoist, if it were to pass, as you well know better than any other in this place, doesn't mean that we can't have, prior to 1997, a new and redesigned Education Act. Not by any means, it doesn't come close to meaning that. It does mean, as you know again better than I, that the bill which is before us in its present form is put on the side burner for the moment.
Now this minister or any subsequent minister can, if he or she wishes, come forward on a future day with exactly the same piece of legislation, but the value and the point and the urgency and the need of the six months' hoist is to enable thousands of Nova Scotians who believe they have not been heard, who believe their views have not been taken into account as this bill has been drafted, would have that opportunity if this minister is prepared to listen to them.
One of the fundamental elements of the appropriate and reasonable administration of a public school system - and having been a leading administrator in that system, I am sure the Minister of Supply and Services would concur - is the whole area of the relationship between the Minister of Education and the employment of the professionals in that system. Well, I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, and I can tell you from careful reading and I can tell you from meetings with a great many people, that dramatic, fundamental, revolutionary and I think potentially, in some cases, dangerous provisions appear in this legislation that adversely impact upon the employment consequences of the professionals in our public school enterprise. Those men and women are saying to me - and I am saying to this Legislature for them - that they do not believe at all that they had the opportunity to make their views and concerns known to this minister.
There are many people, some might say unfortunately, in this province who, over the last two or three years, have begun to remove their children from the public school system of the Province of Nova Scotia. I will bet you that every member in this House knows of a person or a family who has done that with a child or children. I certainly do; I know many. It is being done, unfortunately, by reason of the fact that those families are, if I may put it this way, giving up on our public school enterprise. They are concerned and they are disappointed. They have said to me that they have attempted to meet with the Minister of Education, to meet with others to express their views and concerns and have, in effect, been shut out and, as a consequence, have made the decision to have their children educated in another fashion.
I spoke to a teacher the other day, Mr. Speaker, and the subject of private schools came up. I happened to be in the company of a person who was connected with the administration of a private school. The teacher in the public school system said to the person connected with the private school, well, I think you had better build an addition on your building because the flood to your school and to private schools across this province is going to get heavier and heavier.
Mr. Speaker, there are many who have great and grave concerns about what is going on in the public school enterprise. They do not believe that the regime which is established by this particular piece of legislation is in the best interests of their children. It does not do what the minister says it does and that is what they are saying to me, that they are saying repeatedly to the minister that to do some of the things which they now see is not in the best interests of their children and they want the chance.
They pay the taxes, Mr. Speaker, they are the ones who are paying the bills to run the public school system and they are saying loud and clear, we have not been heard by the Minister of Education, we have not been listened to and we are not satisfied that our children have the chance for the kind of quality education which they want, which they demand to have if this legislation goes through.
So what do we get if we have a six months' hoist? First of all, as I said a moment ago, I know what we don't get, we don't get any Minister of Education, any Department of Education bureaucrat or functionary or anybody involved in (Interruption) Functionary, yes. Bureaucrats, functionaries, people. (Interruption) Disrespect, Mr. Speaker, oh they are interesting over there, they really are.
MR. SPEAKER: Now I take it that the honourable member is taking his seat.
MR. DONAHOE: No, I am not, I was just looking (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: All right, the honourable member is seeking some material to refer to. Perhaps he is looking for the definition of functionary but in French fonctionnaire means a civil servant.
MR. DONAHOE: I was looking for a definition and I can't find it.
MR. SPEAKER: It means a civil servant in French.
MR. DONAHOE: Exactly. And it is not in any sense a disparaging remark. It has intrigued me greatly, forgive me following the rabbit tracks but you are helping me with your French. It is a French rabbit. You and I are following the lapin, oui.
Comment dit-on tracks en français?
MR. SPEAKER: Le chemin de fer? No, that is railroad.
MR. DONAHOE: In any event, it has always amused me. Functionary happens to be a very fine and non-pejorative word used by many people in the English language. Some of these members on the front bench have this uninformed notion that any time I use the word functionary I am somehow disparaging men and women who work in the Public Service.
AN HON. MEMBER: It is the tone.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, perhaps it is the tone.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, in deference, now, the function of the debate on the amendment is to defend the proposition that the bill should be read six months hence, so perhaps we should get back to that.
MR. DONAHOE: I understand that, Mr. Speaker, and I apologize for following those lapin tracks and I will resist the temptation to do that further. (Interruptions) Oh, I have no doubt, the Minister of Transportation says he will get me again. Well, those are interesting words from the minister. They seem to be symptomatic of the approach he often takes and the motivation which controls his doings, but that aside.
Mr. Speaker, the point of the amendment, as you know, and it is important not to be forgotten, will not disadvantage the Minister of Education or the Ministry of Education or, indeed, the public school system because we will undoubtedly convene here again in session -the Government House Leader and other ministers and the Premier would know better than I - in this place at such a timeframe that we will be back here in six months, and that period of time having passed, or during that period of time, more to the point, it will be possible for us and for the thousands who are concerned about the very serious adverse consequences of the bill in its present form to express those views and make them known in an environment which isn't available to them in the Law Amendments Committee situation.
We applaud and we pat ourselves on the back and with great justification, that this little House here in this little corner of the Commonwealth, in the only House of its kind which has that Law Amendments Committee process. That is to the credit of those who have gone before us and it is a magnificent institution and it is a tremendous advantage to individuals and organizations in this province or indeed, in some cases, people who are not residents of this province to come and make comment on legislation which we propose to pass here in this House.
MR. SPEAKER: Would you permit an introduction?
MR. DONAHOE: Yes I would.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.
MR. JOSEPH CASEY: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce in your gallery, members of the Town Council of Digby, Councillor Von Possell and Councillor McCallum; and Town Clerk, Mr. Barkhouse. I hope honourable members will give them a warm welcome. Thank you. (Applause) (Interruption)
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, we will find that definition, don't you worry. I will send an embossed copy of that definition to any honourable member opposite who doesn't know the definitionary meaning of functionary, I will send it along.
I was making comment to the effect that while the Law Amendments Committee process is a proud and effective tradition of this House, a concern which has been expressed to me by many when I say, well, you can come and make your views known on the bill in the Law Amendments Committee process, their response to me in relation to this particular issue is, Mr. Donahoe, this bill was introduced last Friday. If, as is likely the case, we finish debate on second reading here of this bill some time in the next 48 or 72 hours, we have a great deal of work and effort to even understand or make an assessment of the implications of so much of this bill and the time that is made available to us in Law Amendments Committee is, of necessity, rather limited. That is not a comment or a criticism at all of the Chair of the Committee or whatever, it is simply the process. I am sure the Minister of Justice would agree that there are often situations where a great many individuals and organizations want to make representations, necessity requires that their time be somewhat constrained and limited.
Education, Mr. Speaker as I know you know as a teacher, is such a vitally important element of the lives of every single family of this province and it is like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. Families living side by side on the same street with their children going to the same schools, can have very different views as to how their children are being treated and how well or poorly they are being educated and, indeed, different views as to how they feel they should be educated.
So, the six months' hoist makes it possible for those individuals and organizations to have access to the minister and access to all members of the Legislature. It would afford some of the members of this Legislature, including, as I have said, some back bench members who have already said to me that they are being lobbied by different organizations in relation to certain elements of this legislation. In one of those issues, in particular, that I have in my mind . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Who are they?
MR. DONAHOE: Many of the churches have . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: No, who are the MLAs being lobbied? I am not.
MR. DONAHOE: You are not. Well, I can understand, since the member for Cape Breton South has had virtually nothing to say since he has been here. So I can understand that the likelihood of anybody wanting to come and get him to say something in the Legislature is probably pretty slim. So I can understand that.
AN HON. MEMBER: I think you are drawing a long bow with the truth.
MR. DONAHOE: I am not drawing a long bow with the truth and I will invite the member for Cape Breton South, Mr. Speaker, if he would like to know which of his Liberal back bench colleagues have been lobbied . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Tell us who they are; they are told.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, perhaps the easiest way is for you to ask at your next caucus meeting which of your colleagues have been lobbied and they will tell you. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. One speaker at a time. Neither Halifax Atlantic nor Cape Breton South have the floor right now; the honourable member for Halifax Citadel does and I ask you to please listen to him.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, there are a number of principles that are enshrined in this bill, if it were to pass, that many people have contacted me about and I know I am not going to get into a reading of a long litany of those. When I am told and then when I do my own reading and I determine that it is at least this many, that there are 37 brand new elements of the administration of the public school system which are now to be controlled by the Minister of Education, much of it, I might indicate, Mr. Speaker, without even the comfort, such as that is, of knowing that there would be Governor in Council approval of various things which the minister would be entitled to do under this legislation, then I become a little bit concerned.
I say, and I say very truthfully and very sincerely, and I would say it whether the present minister was minister or anybody else on the Treasury benches or anybody else in this House, including my own caucus colleagues, what happened at this moment to be Minister of Education that I honestly believe, and that is the point that people are making to me and they believe they have not yet been able to make to this minister and have not been able to have enough of us legislators understand, the extent to which the minister has centralized control and power in his hands in this legislation is dangerous. It is just simply dangerous.
AN HON. MEMBER: What has the hoist got to do with it?
MR. DONAHOE: What that has to do with the hoist is that a six months' hoist - realizing, as the minister has already said, that nothing is adversely affected because this does not really come into play until 1997, will afford those people who have those concerns, otherwise than in a tightened Law Amendments Committee environment, to have the opportunity to outline and articulate that and those concerns.
I believe, Mr. Speaker, that we would come out the other end with a far better and a far stronger piece of legislation if this bill was widely circulated, as it could be during the period of that six months' hoist, and many hundreds and thousands of Nova Scotians who have a deep and abiding interest in what is going on with the public school system were to have their opportunity to have a legitimate time for review and their input.
Is it legitimate, Mr. Speaker, for 900,000 Nova Scotians? We are their representatives and we are supposed to speak for them. How can we speak for them if they do not have the opportunity from Friday, November 3rd, until whatever this is, Tuesday, November 7th, to even be able to get their hands on a copy of a bill which revolutionizes the education system, has 65 pages, 159 provisions, and they simply have not had their chance to even inform me and my colleagues and other members or - with the exception of a few who, I repeat, have spoken to me - government backbenchers, they have only had an opportunity just to really get an understanding of how dramatic the impact on the public school system is if this bill passes in its present form.
The minister has said, and he certainly has not contradicted me when I have said it here just now - and, to my knowledge, has not contradicted anybody else - that the real impact of the legislation he wishes to pass takes place in 1997. (Interruption) Well, now he is saying it doesn't. (Interruptions) Oh no, the coordinators. Well, that is the point, the coordinators are there now. Well, that is because the minister wants the coordinators there now. The coordinators don't have to be there now. The whole point is, we have elections which are not going to take place until 1997.
One of the things that is so interesting about this whole deal anyway is, quite frankly, many people are saying to me - parents included, not elected members of school boards - that they are starting to ask, why would anybody stand for election to the school boards anyway because if this bill passes, the minister has effectively emasculated the role, the function, the importance and the authority of elected school boards anyway. (Interruption) Well, I don't speak for anybody except myself. If the honourable surrogate Premier has views, surely he will get up and offer his opinions.
I say, Mr. Speaker, and I will end here, that this minister and the children in the school system and the parents and the teachers and the whole public school education enterprise, I suggest to you, is not in any way, shape or form impaired or disadvantaged if those who are attempting to understand the impact of this legislation - fair-minded, conscientious, concerned mothers and fathers, school board members, teachers, legislators - are trying to understand what this legislation really does - and we are being given 72 hours, or thereabouts, to get a handle on that - none of them are disadvantaged, nor is this Minister of Education disadvantaged if this bill were to be hoisted for six months.
It would make it possible, this is now November - December, January, February, March, April, May - we could be back here in May and, undoubtedly, will be here in May, but in May, this minister, after some further analysis and debate and discussion and assessment and dialogue on this legislation, can come back to this place with a piece of legislation which responds, I am sure, I am convinced, would respond in very large measure to many of the concerns which have been raised with him and with me and with other members of this place.
So I simply make a plea for fairness and equity, I make a plea on behalf of the tens of thousands of Nova Scotians who do not believe they have had a chance to be heard and that they would have a chance to be heard if, in fact, the six months' hoist were to be put in place. On their behalf and on behalf of the smooth and effective running of a public school system in this province for many years to come - because once a piece of legislation of this kind and magnitude is passed, it will be in place for many years - I plead on behalf of those who are greatly affected and greatly concerned, that we do support the hoist, that we make it possible for this minister to hear from thousands from whom he has not yet heard and that we give ourselves a chance and, more to the point, we give the thousands out there who we are purporting to serve, the opportunity to be heard.
On that account and on those bases, I support the hoist amendment and would very seriously ask and urge all members of this place to support the amendment which is now before us.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the amendment. I know the Minister of Education has been very serious about going around the province. It is true, what he says, about going to areas and visiting with school boards and visiting with some parent groups and other parties. But what I fail to understand - the minister has said and I don't disagree with the part - that this is a major overhaul of the Education Act in many years.
Now if the Minister of Education is as sincere as I always assumed him to be, then a matter of a few months of getting some reaction because what happened in the process, Madam Speaker, was the Minister of Education, yes, did go around the province and laid many of the issues on the table. Others laid issues on the table they felt were a problem in education. But the problem with this legislation is that the minister went back and wrote the bill according to what he felt he heard and what he felt should happen.
That is probably a natural thing to do and obviously, as with any minister, his biases will appear there as mine would or anybody's. I don't knock that but I think a bill that is going to affect so many people and children, students, parents, teachers, that if the minister said, look, I will now allow these people an opportunity to give me their feelings about the Act that is now written. Now I would have thought the government, and I don't know the government's agenda obviously, but I wouldn't be up on this particular motion if the bill had had a week or two, probably two weeks, for people to become familiar with the bill before it was rushed off to the Law Amendments Committee.
I would have less trouble and wouldn't probably get up and debate the very argument that I am debating now because I think there has to be an opportunity for people to react. Yes, Madam Speaker, they may have a difference of opinion with the minister, but in some areas, I am sure, they will have the same opinion of some of the clauses of the bill. But at least by hoisting the bill, maybe there are some areas where we can come to some common ground, whether it be the Teachers Union, whether it is the school boards themselves, their association, or the home and school groups. All of those people will then have that opportunity to bring their views and their interpretations of exactly what a number of these clauses will do.
I know, Madam Speaker, that what drove this bill, I think, from the very beginning was probably money. Although the minister says no, but he is quick to tell us, by moving 21 boards to 6, and then the seventh, we are going to save $11 million.
AN HON. MEMBER: Part of it.
MR. MOODY: That's part of it, okay. Part of the process, Madam Speaker, is money driven, not all, but part. (Interruption) I can understand that, but the part that I even fail to see is nobody, and maybe we ought to have some time, to know whether in actual fact there will be some savings of $11 million. We have heard that about amalgamations before.
I have a little difficulty with the large areas that are going to be amalgamated and what that is going to do to some of the communities. Somebody may say, well, you amalgamated to 21 boards some time ago but I think there comes a point where a board can just get too large. Some school board members will represent larger areas than I will represent. Somebody might say, well, that is okay, but, Madam Speaker, I am a full-time MLA, as most people in this room are. I don't know whether people are going to run for a school board and say they are going to be full time as I don't think that is possible. Therefore a lot of time is going to be spent in travel and going to all these kinds of meetings. So I am not sure there wasn't a saw-off somewhere between 6 boards and 21 boards that maybe we all could have lived with and probably would have worked better.
In this bill, maybe we could find out how the child's position in the classroom is going to improve because the minister says we have this legislation, we are going to make sure that this bill has an impact on the child in the classroom. I heard of a situation in Kings County that happened just recently, where a child who is 11 years old, because of the cuts in education, doesn't have an EA. The 11 year old took a pair of scissors, stabbed the female teacher and tried to make a cut at everybody, was held down for 40 minutes by a male teacher before they got control of that student. Obviously, that student needed some help. Well here is the help they got. They called Mental Health, which is the responsibility of the Minister of Health. It was three months before they can get assessed, before they can see the child to see if they can help.
AN HON. MEMBER: That's better than it used to be.
MR. MOODY: It is not better than it used to be, absolutely not. That child has been suspended, obviously, from school, but what are we really doing for that child? We might say yes, we are solving the problem, but this is what is happening. I can give you illustration after illustration because of the cuts to the students. We hear about consistency with the minister's policies, about the educational programs within regular classroom settings with their peer groups for students with special needs, but with absolutely no support. Then the other option is to suspend these young people. What kind of future are they going to have? Well, they are not going to have much of a future.
This bill has far more implications than, I think, many of the members know. I am not clear. I think if we had a six months' hoist, we might be able to find out. The minister has indicated that some of the board powers that are listed in the bill may end up, if he and the Executive Council so desire, can become the responsibilities of the councils. All I know is that I don't know whether the board members are going to have any power at all or whether we are absolutely going to need boards under this plan because the minister has a great many of the powers that the boards traditionally have. We have asked young men and women of our communities to run for office, to be an elected school board member, to give of their time with very little money, very little pay, to spend hours and hours representing their local communities and now the Minister of Education is going to say, we don't think you are important any more out there, you don't know very much so I am going to be the one who is going to be the king maker here and I am going to take the powers away from you.
He is talking about decentralization, but it sounds to me that centralization is what in actual fact we are going to get. So the powers are going to be with the Minister of Education in many cases and where the powers are with the school councils, that is going to be determined by the Minister of Education, what powers he is going to take from the school boards to give to the councils.
Now, I think that if you talk to various groups about what they think the effect this bill will have, they are quite concerned. Wouldn't it be nice if just once this government said, we would hear from those groups that have a vested interest in education - and sure they have a vested interest. If you are the home and school association you have a vested interest in the students. I suppose the Nova Scotia Teachers Union has a vested interest, no question. The school boards association, they have a vested interest. But there are also parents out there. Wouldn't it be nice if the minister went the final step and said look, this is what I think I heard, this is what I put together as a piece of legislation. I am willing to allow you opportunity to have some input on whether the wording and all of the principles are exactly what I thought the majority of Nova Scotians wanted.
Here is an opportunity, as I see it, Madam Speaker, for Nova Scotians. Maybe there won't be a lot changed in six months but there will probably be some things changed. I have never been part of a process or seen a process where you draw all these people together and yes, you won't get consensus on every clause but you will find that there will be areas that you will be able to reach a consensus and what I think will end up being a better bill for our young people.
Over $800 million is spent on education in this province. What we all want in this bill, it says a lot more about things than the quality of education, it doesn't spend a lot of time about the quality of education. What we all want, as members of this Legislature, is to pass a bill that will allow the system to produce students in a way that we can be assured that there is nothing but the best quality of education coming out of the system. The quality is going to be part of what we are trying to do, we all want that to happen. But I don't believe, Madam Speaker, that I could, after reading the legislation, in all sincerity, say that all aspects of the bill will help us reach that goal. There are some aspects of the bill I will agree with, there is absolutely no question. I am not standing on the floor of the House saying I want this hoisted because I think everything in this bill is wrong. That is not true, I think there are very many items in this bill that have merit but there are some other areas that have raised questions.
I think if the government would take the time to allow some of those questions to be answered, and maybe afterwards, whether it is the question of the number of boards, and maybe that is not up for grabs, but then let's go to the next step. What about the powers of the minister? All of those functions that are listed, is that best? Maybe if we look at the powers of the boards and then we look at where, in fact, the councils may go. If you look at other areas, about teaching and the roles of principals and all those things, some of those things are not all bad. But I think, Madam Speaker, if we had some time we could probably end up with one of the best education bills in the country. But because somebody has said, no, no, I have now decided that I have interpreted what has been said and what is best, we may not end up with the best bill and likely we won't because I haven't found that in the past we have had very many amendments in the Law Amendments Committee that, in actual fact, have been approved by this government that ends up enhancing the piece of legislation.
Even though we have the Law Amendments process, and I totally agree with it, it seems like people's minds go in there and say yes, we will listen, we hear you but we are not going to do anything about what we hear because the government made up its mind when the government sat down and drafted this legislation and it was caucused and everybody went through it line by line, the government caucus decided, hey, we are not willing to make changes, we have decided this is what we want to go with and we will not allow people the opportunity to come in and say hey, there are some amendments that could make this a better bill.
I don't know what else I can say, Madam Speaker, that would encourage people to change. I know that one of the concerns of the minister is that this bill, in actual fact the new members of the board and so forth, won't happen until 1997. But the coordinators who are being hand picked by the minister, who happen to be political friends of the Party, and maybe that is okay, but I look at them and I think, what educational background do they have to understand (Interruption) Pardon? Oh, well, it was George Unsworth I was thinking about. George is not an educator but I suppose you are looking for a balance.
MADAM SPEAKER: I just would ask the member to address the Chair.
MR. MOODY: I am sorry, Madam Speaker, I wasn't aware of all the people who have been chosen. But you know these people are going to be quite important, there is no question. They are going to be setting up the whole structure for the board, prior to the board itself taking over.
I still can't understand, if it is 1997 that we are going to have the new board, that there is a big hurry to get the coordinators going. Now maybe I am missing something and, if I am, I know that I will hear that when the minister summarizes. If he has an answer to that, I will be the first to say hey, I understand, maybe there is more of an urgency than I understand. But that is a question that I have to be convinced of. There are a number of issues and I know that whether employees are non-union - I will not get into an argument about the Trade Union Act and those sorts of things - but the people who have come to me are the non-union people who I am not sure, Madam Speaker, after reading this legislation, tells me exactly whether there is a lot more comfort for them than there was prior to the bill.
I understand the union people. I understand what it says. I am talking, really, about non-union. They have a lot of concerns. I have not been able to assure them that anything that I have seen in print, Madam Speaker, that says, hey, you are going to be dealt with - I guess what I am looking for - in a fair way. I think that that is what they are looking for and hopefully the minister understands that that is what they are looking for. Somehow, no matter what happens, what coordinator decides what or what board is elected, that it is in black and white that they will be treated fairly, that the hiring practice for the non-union members will be as fair as the union members.
They have nobody to fight for them. They are all individuals, but they are hardworking Nova Scotians who have given years of service to a particular school board and all of sudden their employer is gone. They have a new employer and where they fit in all of that. Many of those people are getting to, probably, the stage in life, Madam Speaker, where it is difficult to find a new job. So there is a concern.
I probably have said about all I am going to say about hoisting this bill. I have some issues that I will address, obviously, when we address the principle of the bill that I have not been able to address today. I hope that members will give some consideration to this hoist so we can, as Nova Scotians, say, hey, we do have a new bill. It has been 40 years but we have one that we can all support and be proud of and we have the support of the communities. We have the support of all the vested interest groups and that we will have a bill that will do the kind of things that I know we all want done. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Madam Speaker, I am rising to speak on the hoist, obviously. I would like to say that I think the minister started off rather well. He started off by putting out a White Paper, which I think is an excellent start for any change that you are going to make in legislation and you provide time for people to respond to that particular set of principles, set of proposals that the department that he represents has for the education system. As a result of that consultation process and the White Paper, the minister produced the bill that we have before us, Bill No. 39, a bill that we are attempting to hoist.
Madam Speaker, I am not really qualified to say whether or not this is good legislation or bad legislation, but I can state, quite truthfully, that there are many things in this bill that I would want adequately explained to me. I do not have any children in school, I am not a teacher, I am not a member of a school board, I have no vested interest at the present time in the education system in this province, although I think the education system in this province up-to-date has done a pretty fair job. I had a couple of boys of my own who went through the education system and did quite well.
What my argument with the minister is, quite simply, that he has come forward with a piece of legislation that is going to really rip to shreds the present system that we have had in place for many years and impose upon the people of Nova Scotia a brand new system. God bless him if he is right. Bang on. Go for it. He brought out a bill. He did something that I thought was step in the right direction, he came out with an index to the bill. So, at least we can find where we are in the piece of legislation when we get into discussing the principle of the bill and get into Committee of the Whole House.
My argument, though, with the minister starts with the fact that I think it is a travesty for the legislation to be pushed through before people have had an adequate opportunity to raise their concerns with the legislation, because we do not know - when I say we, I mean the people who are not with the Department of Education - whether those views that were brought forward by these discussion groups, these meetings, et cetera, were vetted by the minister and were translated into this legislation. We do not know that.
Secondly, Madam Speaker, we have to take the minister at his word in that this is a reform for the benefit of the students of this province and that is what the education system is all about. I do not think there is any argument about that, that the reason we should be revising this Act is primarily to put in place a better education system for the young people coming forward and entering the educational system in this province. As I say, maybe this is the way to go, but however, let us get back to where people have an adequate time to examine this bill to see if indeed those proposals or those propositions that they brought to the minister's attention have been acted upon in this new bill, and if not, why not?
I would hate to think, Madam Speaker, that we are amending the Education Act and the education system that we have in this province simply because of the fact that on an $800 million program we can save $11 million. I know that $11 million is not peanuts, but let's make sure that we are not reforming the system simply to save $11 million because I think that would be nonsensical. We do not even know whether or not there is $11 million to be saved by this piece of legislation.
If we had time to have the minister meet with these groups who have a vested interest in the education, either of their children or they have a vested interest because they are educated or because they are community-minded citizens who are worried about the future of the young people in their towns, cities and villages across this province, if they had ample opportunity to come forward and to express their views, well then I would say, that is great.
I do not think that we should be pushing this legislation through second reading in this House about four days after the bill first was issued to the members of this House and probably just one day after the school boards got it without affording adequate time and opportunity for people to respond to the legislation. This is serious business. It may not be complex legislation. In fact it is written, as I was saying yesterday about another bill, in English that I can understand. It is written in a way that I think any person that can devote some time to it can understand it, but it takes time. (Interruption)
Well, Madam Speaker, the House Leader on the government side is all upset because we have amendments. These amendments are made with a definite purpose and the definite purpose for making an amendment to this bill, to delay the passage of this bill, momentarily, not to destroy it, is simply to provide the opportunity for the minister and his department to provide answers to the people across this province who are interested in the future of education and who have some very serious questions that they would like to have answered before this bill is passed and proclaimed.
Madam Speaker, if I can just use a personal example of why I think we should have a hoist on this bill. Last night, in my constituency on Monday night, there was a meeting at the Three Mile Plains Elementary School in my riding. The reason for that meeting was because the school board is considering closing that school. Tonight, there is a meeting at the Newport Station School and the meeting tonight is to listen to the school board give their reasons why they are going to have to close the Newport Station School. There is a meeting tomorrow night at the Windsor Forks Elementary School for the school board to make a proposition why they should close the elementary school at Windsor Forks. That is three elementary schools in one system that the school board, at the moment, considers that they may have to close. That just tears the heck out of the elementary system in Hants West. Three elementary schools, three nights in a row.
Madam Speaker, the people in my riding are saying, what is happening to our education system. They would like some answers and they haven't got the answers. I do not think this bill, to be quite honest, is going to try to answer their questions. However, if indeed this bill was delayed for a period of time for the minister to go out and talk to the people in Three Mile Plains, in Windsor Forks and in Newport Station, who have children in those schools, and he could adequately answer their questions, then I would have no argument and I would think that the minister is doing the right thing and, indeed, that his plans for the education system in this province are taking us down the right path.
But, however, the minister is not going to do that, probably because he doesn't have time, because he is going to be in this House tonight, tomorrow night and the following night. These people deserve, I believe, the right to make known to the minister what they feel about this legislation, whether or not it is indeed going to lead for a better day in the education system for their children who are attending those three elementary schools.
Now that is in my riding, personally, Madam Speaker. I know that isn't general or across this province but, however, it could well be repeated in other school systems across this province. Now some of the questions, I think, that the minister is going to have to answer is why the minister, as the Minister of Education, is assuming unto himself powers that he has not had before? I would like the minister to explain to people at a public forum, at hearings or whatever we have to examine this bill over the next six months, why it is that he is assuming unto himself an additional 27 powers that he did not have heretofore? At least, heretofore, if this bill passes. I would like to know the answer to that question.
I would also like to know from the minister - and I am sure the people of Nova Scotia would like to know from the minister - what powers does he exactly intend to take away from the school boards and give to the councils because, as I understand the legislation, he can give away the whole store, if he wishes, from the school board to the school councils. School councils will rotate. They are not going to be there for any length of time. As long as they have a child within the system, they may be a member for a year or two, then they go and somebody new comes along. I don't think parents want that kind of power and the minister would find out whether or not the parents of students, the people of Nova Scotia, want to have the power of running schools. I don't think they do. I think they want to leave it up to the professionals within the schoolroom. They want to leave it up to the professionals who are running the school boards at the present time to do those managerial things.
Why should the minister say to a group of volunteers, you take over the school, you run the school? I think it is an open door, perhaps, to having vested interests taking over some of our schools; people with an agenda that may not be the agenda of the majority of the parents.
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. First of all, I think the honourable member is straying a bit from the hoist, but I would suggest to him that the answer to his question is very simple. The clause he is referring to says authorities to a particular school council of a public school because it is referring to such things as the Acadian-francophone situation in Pomquet, for example, and because of the Acadian- francophone board, specific things have to be able to assign if the board agrees with that because of the isolation relative to the board. That is the kind of thing Clause 23 refers to and it is very specific and you can check with the legal people. It doesn't say what transfer of powers from a school board to a school council, it says, what powers from a school board to a particular school council of a public school; so very specifically, one.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I will recognize you in a moment. I will just rule on the point of order. It is a point of clarification, but not a point of order.
MR. RUSSELL: Madam Speaker, if that was clarification, I am still lost. But, anyway, that is a point. The minister is right; it should not be argued while we are talking about a hoist but, however, it is a question that is out there. It is a question that I have and it is a question that a lot of people in this House have. They want the answers to that, and they want to be able to explore those answers.
This hoist is not done just to waste time. It is done to bring to the attention of the minister that indeed that are a lot of questions with regard to this legislation that have not as yet been answered by the minister. Other people - by that I mean other people outside of this Chamber - would like to ask the minister but will have no opportunity to get the answers before this bill becomes law.
So, Madam Speaker, I will be voting in favour of the amendment for a six months' hoist for Bill No. 39.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise for a few moments and speak to the amendment introduced by my colleague, the Leader of the NDP, to hoist the bill before us right now, Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education, for a period of six months.
The bill was introduced in this House on Friday, last week. Today is Tuesday. My understanding, Madam Speaker, is that the major organizations that are partners to the education system in the Province of Nova Scotia, the school boards association, the home and school associations, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, have all sent a very clear message to the minister that they are not happy with this bill as it stands and they need time and are asking him for time in order to deal with a number of concerns that they have with various provisions of the bill. That is what we have suggested by introducing this amendment, that we take some time.
The minister tabled this bill with great fanfare that the Education Act was 40 years old and that it had not been overhauled whatsoever and that that needed to be done. He is undoubtedly right, that should be done with every piece of legislation. It should probably not go beyond 10 years without it being updated. But given all the changes that we have seen in education in the Province of Nova Scotia and in the country, certainly there is a need to reform the legislation as it respects education. I don't think you will get any argument there.
The question is, though, what are you going to do through that reform? What changes are you going to make in how the education system is administered? How are you going to shift or alter the power relationships within the education system as they have existed and as they have evolved and the way you want them to exist in the future? What kind of changes are proposed in this legislation to do that? Perhaps most important, Madam Speaker, is, are the parties in education in this province agreeable to the changes, to the leaps of faith that are expected, to the commitment that has been made to a certain vision of how the education system in the Province of Nova Scotia will be organized? Are those major partners in favour of some of the changes that have been presented here by the minister?
As I indicated earlier, initial indications are that, in fact, those major partners that I have indicated have said no, they clearly are not and they want time to review this whole question, in order to deal with all of our vision of the education system for the Province of Nova Scotia, to make sure that whatever legislation comes out of this House in the final analysis is the best piece of legislation for the Province of Nova Scotia and for the students, not only in this generation but in future generations. I think that is an obligation we all have.
I don't think anyone here, certainly not me, Madam Speaker, would question the commitment and the sincerity that this minister has approached education reform with. But there is a difference between that individual and that personal commitment and conviction that a person has and a Minister of the Crown has in dealing with the stakeholders, dealing with the people who are actually involved in the system and trying to come up with a document or with a model that everybody can buy into, that everybody accepts, that everybody has had a part in developing.
We have heard in this House, on many occasions, about the consultation process that took place in this province over the past couple of years around the minister's White Paper. Some people felt like they had a white table dropped on them when the minister came into town with his White Paper. In fact, we heard from a number of different communities in this province that the first time many people saw the White Paper, the document, was when the minister himself came into the province and held a public forum in order to discuss the significance of education reform.
So, you know, there is some significant question about just how much of an exchange, how much interaction, how much play there was between people in different communities and the minister on his vision of education. But that having been said, let's recognize the fact that this is the real world. Let's not live in an ideal world where you are going to have to talk to each and every individual in the province before you can come forward with a piece of legislation. I think we all recognize that that is not feasible. It is not reasonable. It is not possible, Madam Speaker.
At the same time, there were great numbers of people who expressed opinions to the minister. There are groups who made significant contributions in terms of presentations in response to the White Paper. There are people who have been digesting the White Paper up until this summer who still want to have an opportunity to make representations to the Minister of Education on his vision, who have not had an opportunity to.
I ask myself, that given the commitment that this minister has to reforming education, given the commitment this minister has to overhauling the legislation and making significant changes as he has done in this bill, to shifting the balance of power within the Education Act, given that this is the outcome, this bill, Bill No. 39, is the outcome of his consultations around the province, I think it makes sense, Madam Speaker, that the minister table this bill and he says to the people of Nova Scotia, to the NSTU, to the home and school association, to the school boards association and others, he says this is what I have come up with. This is my crack at overhauling a 40 year old piece of legislation that responds, I think, says the minister, to what people have said, to what my vision is, to how the framework legislation should be established for education in the Province of Nova Scotia. What do you think? I suggest that the minister should do that.
He should table this legislation, as he has done, but he should know take the opportunity to say to the stakeholders and to Nova Scotians: this is what I have come up with, it may not be perfect. In fact, he said that himself when he introduced it. He said that he is open to changes and he is hoping that it will be a document that will evolve and that we can deal with.
But, Madam Speaker, we cannot do that in a period of a couple of weeks, of a few weeks, of even a couple of months, I would suggest. People will not have the opportunity, given the time constraints, given the pressures of moving the business of this House along and we all know that the Government House Leader is fairly skilled at doing that, or has become fairly skilled, let's say that. But what happens is, it is the objectives or the agenda of the House which supersedes the actual merits and the actual interests of any individual piece of legislation and I don't think we can allow that to happen.
I will touch on a few of the general areas that have been brought to my attention, that I am somewhat concerned about. I think that the minister has spent some considerable time at reviewing how he is going to reorganize education in the Province of Nova Scotia. So this is what he has come up with. Now let's get some reaction from people out there who have been working along with him, along with his reform agenda, some of them trying to keep up, some of them trying to slow him down, some of them trying to inject some reason and some wisdom into that process perhaps, but nonetheless, people that have been involved from day one.
Let's give those people an opportunity to analyze this document, to discuss the ramifications of various provisions of this document, to discuss it with their members, to have some of their concerns with respect to powers dealt with by legal counsel, to then participate in an interchange with the minister to exchange ideas, to participate in some level of debate, to try to address concerns and put forward alternatives. That can only be done if people are given some time to review it and to consult and to analyze, but to not just criticize or raise concerns and be asked to take the minister's word for it that something is okay, but set up a process whereby people can participate in dealing with their concerns, in dealing with the issues that are contained in this bill in order to make it the best piece of legislation that we possibly can here in the Province of Nova Scotia and not end up with a fiasco at the end which may occur.
Like a lot of pieces of legislation, it may not be the minister himself, the minister of the day who is introducing the legislation, that will be the problem but there may be somebody further on who, with access to the powers that are granted in this bill, may do things that are completely counter to what this minister has proposed. Those are some of the eventualities, I think, that we need to be conscious of, that we need to be sensitive to and that we need to try to avoid.
Again I say on that point, it would make sense to me, I think, that given the effort, the energy and the time that this minister has put into this bill and put into his reform process, that he likewise take the time to allow people to participate in a constructive manner in the analysis of this bill. If people are faced with two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, with which to try to create some change, to try to get some of their concerns addressed, I suggest that a natural reaction is for people to come out going full bore at the minister to try to create pressure to stop the bill, to get the minister to drop back. The natural reaction on the part of this minister or any other Minister of the Crown, when under that kind of aggressive threat, is to get their back up and say, come hell or high water we are going to put it through.
You close off your mind to the concerns that are being raised because the debate may be at a level that is perhaps more emotional than substantive and nothing positive comes out of the process at all. I do not think that that is something that will benefit any of us. Madam Speaker, let us not forget how important education is to this province. You know when we talk about the effects, the ramifications, the impact of globalization, for example, of companies being forced to compete with companies, not just in the next town, village, city or in Moncton, but companies around the world that are competing with our operations here, that we are often told, and appreciate I think to some considerable extent, the need to develop a skills base here in this province that will prepare us in order to meet the international challenges.
Madam Speaker, when we talk about the ability of our people, of Nova Scotians to be able to find jobs, we talk about the need for skills and education so that those people can then go wherever the jobs are perhaps or have the skills base and the knowledge and experience in order to create jobs here in this province. In order to do that, everybody needs a good solid base of education. I think everybody accepts that. Everybody in this House accepts that and I would say to you that probably everybody in this province accepts that. The question is how do you get to that point?
The minister is proposing, through this bill, to do a number of things that I think, at first blush, are contrary to that, Madam Speaker. We have seen over the past few years tens of thousands of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, being taken out of the education system. (Interruption)
AN HON. MEMBER: What does that have to do with the hoist?
MR. CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, I really would wish that the member for Hants East, at some point, would get on his feet and contribute to a debate in a fairly constructive way. Instead of just sitting back and questioning my right to participate and represent my constituents on a matter that is as important as public education in the Province of Nova Scotia. (Interruption)
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: You sit down right now and I will.
MR. CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, if the member for Hants East wants to get up, he can stand in line behind me. I am sure the member for Kings North would allow the member for Hants East to take his place. Certainly, because it is so unusual at this point. (Interruption) Well, let me just say what it has to do with a hoist is the fact that, I think, many of us would like to hoist the member for Hants East onto his feet in order that he could participate in the debates here tonight.
That having been said, Madam Speaker, the minister has introduced this bill in the House as his vision of how education should be run in the Province of Nova Scotia. The reason why we need to take the six months that is being proposed here in this amendment is because, I think, there are some conflicts in terms of whether or not this bill is going to do that, whether in fact this bill is good for education in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Many people have already indicated, have already expressed after only a couple of days review of this bill that there are significant problems. One of the things that has been discussed, Madam Speaker, is the significant amount of power that is being given to the Minister of Education to make a whole host of decisions from determining whether or not there is going to be a school council to determining what kind of collective bargaining is going to happen in the Province of Nova Scotia between teachers and other school board workers and the Province of Nova Scotia or the school boards. I mean the minister is asserting himself in legislation. Through this legislation the minister is inserting himself, if he so decides, at any time, by whim, by request from various members of a school board or whomever, to actually participate in the day to day negotiations, the collective bargaining.
Now we have already seen this minister assert himself in the collective bargaining process back in the spring of 1994 when, by threat, through pressure, he was able, on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia, to make significant changes in the collective agreement between the Province of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Madam Speaker, not only that took hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars away from teachers but also has led to a significant diminishing of the rights of teachers that were freely negotiated between them and the province over the number of years that they have been in existence.
The minister himself, Madam Speaker, asserted himself on the collective bargaining process and, through threat of massive layoffs, made significant changes in the collective bargaining process, in the collective agreement between teachers and the Province of Nova Scotia. Now what he is saying through this bill is that he wants to have that power always, forever, if not he then the next Education Minister. Maybe it will be me, maybe it will be the member for Sackville-Cobequid.
But I tell you what, I don't want that power because that is not my position. If we believe, Madam Speaker, in collective bargaining rights then we believe in collective bargaining rights. It is a lot like democracy, it is not something that you agree to when it is convenient, it is something that you believe in and that you uphold through thick and thin, even though at times it may be uncomfortable and it may be painful, it may be inconvenient, Madam Speaker. That is the way I believe in the principle of collective bargaining, not this minister, obviously. He sees it as an impediment for him to basically do what it is that he wants to do.
Clearly I think, and that comes out in a number of different parts of this bill, the minister sees himself as the boss and he wants to ensure that legally and legislatively, in the Education Act itself, he has the authority, it is recognized clearly that he has the authority to pretty much do whatever it is that he determines should be done.
Madam Speaker, there are many people in the Province of Nova Scotia who, as I said before, take this whole system very seriously. There are many people who think that changes that have been made and changes being proposed in this bill to education in the Province of Nova Scotia are not, as the minister asserts, designed for the benefit of the student in mind, not the student in mind in the classroom today or tomorrow or next year or 10 years from now, I would suggest.
But what has been done to the education system in this province and what is being proposed in this bill has more to do with an agenda that is being driven by the Minister of Finance, being driven by the money speculators and the bond traders, Madam Speaker, than it does by the actual stakeholders in education in the Province of Nova Scotia. Because what has been done and what is being proposed in this bill is making the system less expensive.
Not more effective; not in terms of trying to provide better education to students in this province; not as a means of giving students of this province a better education and, therefore, better preparing them for the challenges of our world today and tomorrow; not as a way to give parents and other taxpayers in this province a better bang for their buck in terms of how education is delivered and how the people that go through the system are benefiting and will be better tooled and better skilled and better prepared to meet the challenges, because that is going to benefit all of us if that happens. That is not what is being done here.
I think that we need to have that debate. I do not think it is good enough for the minister to just say this is my vision, I have been dedicated to education reform all my life and this is it and that is that. I do not think that is good enough. It is too important, Madam Speaker. It is far too important and we need to address the concerns that many people have.
I don't think that it is of benefit and everything that I have read on education and of learning, I don't think it is to any child's benefit to have classrooms of 35 and 40 and 45 and 50 in the elementary, junior or senior high schools, with no teaching assistants, with no access to special education specialists, in order to try to address the individual as well as the collective needs of that class and of all those students. I don't think that that means that we are heading down the road when we see more classrooms and more schools that are filled with those kinds of classes and that lack those kinds of resources. I don't think that is a definition of quality education, certainly as far as I am concerned. I think many Nova Scotians believe that to be the case also.
We have heard the government and we have heard the Minister of Education talk about how fat we are in terms of administration and how they have single-handedly taken upwards of 800 teaching positions out of the school system, Madam Speaker. But you know what that means is not only teachers in the classroom, but it also means technical aides, technical assistants, consultants to deal with the kinds of problems that the member for Kings West talked about earlier today when he cited the 11 or 12 year old in a classroom in Kings County who went berserk with a pair of scissors and stabbed somebody. They had no resources in that school to deal with that problem.
I am telling you, Madam Speaker, that is happening more frequently. That, to me, does not mean that students, that children are receiving quality education. That does not mean to me that the taxpayers of this Province of Nova Scotia are getting a good bang for their buck in terms of their investment in education in this province.
Madam Speaker, we cannot continue to shrink the system. We cannot continue to cut what some people call the fat, but is a capacity of the system to deal with the special needs of students in order to adapt the education that we give our children to prepare them to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.
That is not the answer, Madam Speaker. I think those are the critical questions that need to be dealt with before we get this bill passed through this Legislature. Let us not forget that not only has this government single-handedly torn hundreds of millions of dollars out of the education system over the past couple of years but we are being faced with changes in the federal system of funding education which are going to mean upwards of a 20 per cent reduction over the next three years in the funding for education in the Province of Nova Scotia.
This bill does not provide the vehicle by which we are going to talk about how we are going to make those changes. It does not provide an opportunity for people to talk about and to participate in the decisions on how our system is going to change to deal with those kinds of problems, Madam Speaker. All it does, for the most part, is set up the circumstances whereby the Minister of Education and his staff will make those decisions. I don't think that is the way to go.
Madam Speaker, I have touched on a few of the main issues here. Perhaps I will talk about them in more detail when I address the principle of the bill. I ask all members of this Legislature and members of government benches in particular, to take a look at this bill and at what it is that is being said, not only in this House but outside this House, by people who have been involved in the process and not to dismiss the concerns because they are seen as the Opposition or seen as being politically motivated or any other excuse. I am asking members to look and to think seriously about the concerns being raised because it is going to have an impact on us, it is going to have an impact on future generations, it is going to have an impact on whether Nova Scotia is going to be able to compete on a level playing field with other provinces in this country. If we don't have a sound education system in this province then I think our ability to compete is going to be damaged in a much greater way than it is by the depletion of natural resources, which in itself, you understand and all members understand, is extremely significant.
So, Madam Speaker, with those few words, I again urge the Minister of Education, given the work that has been carried out into this bill in the reform process in education, given the time he has put in and given his stated commitment to produce a positive and constructive education system for the Province of Nova Scotia, to listen to the concerns that some members of this House are raising, listen to the legitimate concerns of us and listen to the concerns of those stakeholders that he has had some dealing with over the past few years, and to allow some time for all of us to deal with that in order to ensure that this legislation does not create the kinds of problems that I think even he would agree are detrimental to the Province of Nova Scotia.
Madam Speaker, I just want to say that I am voting in support of the amendment brought forward by the member for Sackville-Cobequid, the Leader of the NDP, and I would urge all members to do likewise. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Madam Speaker, it is nice to see you in the Chair. This bill that the Minister of Education introduced the other day, on Friday, Bill No. 39, has the opportunity to revolutionize and demoralize education in Nova Scotia for years to come. This bill that was introduced last Friday needs a little bit of time, so that it can be studied not just by the members of this Chamber, including the government benches, many of whom have not had the opportunity as yet to look at the bill and review it, but it should be looked at by the stakeholders, whom the minister refers to time and again, so they can make their comments known.
There is no relationship in this document that he calls Bill No. 39 to any papers, any discussions with students, with teachers or with parents that has taken place over the last two years. Believe me - and I know that many of you as members have been hearing the same comments that I have been hearing in my constituency - every single teacher I have met in the last month has said, I am just at the end of my rope, I have no idea what the minister is trying to do with us. They may be able to understand if they read this bill, but the time involved has not been sufficient as yet because as late as yesterday, some of the boards had not yet received this bill.
The teachers who have laboured for 20 years in the system are suddenly seeing what they have built up over 20 years being totally destroyed. They are frustrated, they feel abused and they feel betrayed. The minister is trying to rush this bill through as quickly as possible so as few people will have had the opportunity to read it and study it and make educated comments. The minister may shake his head like I don't know what I am talking about, I am not an educator, that gentleman is but I have been able to listen to some of the people not just in the constituency I represent of Kings North but I have spoken with teachers from one end of this province to another and each and every teacher has a comment to make regarding education today.
The Minister of Education is not hearing what they are saying. Perhaps members of his government, some of them I know from the teaching profession, perhaps they can be prevailed upon to listen to what Nova Scotians, what the stakeholders in our future, are saying. It is not fair to the taxpayers of the province to spend $800 million a year and not allow the stakeholders and the people who are paying for it, the opportunity to be heard.
The parents are going to need time to adjust because, according to this bill, there is a new role for parents. The students are going to need time to adjust because there is a new role for students. Parents are going to have to support their children and cause their children to go to school, communicate regularly with them but what if they don't? What if some of the parents become the same parents after this bill comes into effect that they are today? In an ideal world, maybe this bill would work but we don't live in an ideal world, we live right here.
I have been to home and school association meetings where the biggest turnout was from the teaching staff and half a dozen parents. Now, miraculously, the minister has introduced this bill and every single parent is going to be there? We have to give the parents time to learn the proper nutrition because it is their duty to send their child to school properly fed in the morning with lots of rest. Now, I know, and you know as well, Madam Speaker, of youngsters who are going to school hungry and tired and what are we going to do about it? This bill doesn't tell me what we are going to do about it. We need time so the minister can set out the rules and regulations that tell me what to tell my constituents when they call on the phone and they say, listen, I can't get my darling child to go to bed at 8:00 o'clock. The little darling is staying up until 10:00 o'clock and 11:00 o'clock and he won't eat his breakfast, I can hardly get him out of bed in the morning. What is the minister going to tell those people because, obviously, he has considered them and he has said that they are bound in duty? What is the minister going to do to the parents who send their children to school hungry or the parents who allow their children to go to school hungry? He is demanding that that is the role they take and the student, as well.
The minister has made great heavy weather over the last two and one-half years about the absolute waste in the bureaucracy of the school system. He has pretty well zeroed in and he has pretty well narrowed it down and there are $11 million he can identify. That means that $11 million, if you divide it up among the school districts, it is just over $1 million a piece. That is going to be very helpful to the school boards. But, the minister needs the time because I know that the minister has - I bet, right on his desk - the cost analysis that showed where this $11 million came from. If we give him a little bit of time, that this six months' hoist would, I know that the minister would share that $11 million question with us. We are entitled to know. He has talked about it enough, but what the school boards, the parents and the teaching profession are telling me, that $11 million he is talking about was already absorbed in the system two years ago when the first cuts came. They want to know where the $11 million is coming from and I challenge the minister to produce any kind of a study that he can show $11 million. Is this just a number he pulled out of the air? Let's give him six months and maybe he can do that, but I doubt it.
AN HON. MEMBER: Can he do it tomorrow?
MR. ARCHIBALD: Tomorrow, I would like him to give it tomorrow. I would like to see it tomorrow. The minister spent many years in the classroom. He knows the difficulty that takes place when there is a change. Just try to change the school bus boundaries in your area and in your neighbourhood and you will find out what the parents think about that. Every parent decides where the child wants to go to school and they don't want the boundary changes. There will be parents protesting about a boundary change in a school bus. Well, can you imagine, what is going to happen with this when it is not just the school bus boundary, the school district boundary? The whole shooting match is up in smoke now and we are all going to have to suddenly adjust. The minister won't give anybody time to read this piece of legislation. Is there any fairness? Is there any concern? Let's give the minister the opportunity to show that he does know how to listen and he is concerned about students and education. Six months would give him time and he would still be able to bring in his changes by 1997. (Interruption)
It is frustrating to deal with teachers and parents who are concerned and then to sit in this House and have some gentleman from the back bench, from the government side, stand there, heckle and think it is a joke. Does he never go home? Does he never listen to the parents? I bet you that there are parents and students and teachers that are just as concerned in Hants East as they are in Kings North, yet the member has absolutely no interest in doing anything but heckling. By golly, that is not fair to the people of Nova Scotia.
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: On a point of order, Madam Speaker, I wonder, since the member was referring to my district, whether he would entertain a question? I wonder since the member waxes eloquently on hoisting this bill for six months, if he remembers in this House when many times over and over again he spoke about the cost and the restructuring of the educational system and how immediately it must be done, why now he would ask this government to hurry up and delay and slow its process for six months after this minister has taken on a very difficult task and has gone forward with it and he put this legislation before the House. Why would this member now reverse himself . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Question.
MR. CARRUTHERS: This is the question. Why? It is an interrogatory. I have to help you. You should go back to school. Why is an interrogatory. Why would you now ask us to hurry up and slow down, again?
MADAM SPEAKER: Well, honourable member, that may be an interrogatory, but it sounds like an oxymoron to me.
AN HON. MEMBER: Well, I am not so sure about the "oxy" part.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, I think that was a better answer than I could have given and, Madam Speaker, if I had called him what you just called him, you probably would have gotten mad at me. You can get away with stuff that I cannot get away with.
AN HON. MEMBER: An oxymoron. That is a big fool, isn't it?
MR. ARCHIBALD: Anyway, I appreciate the interjection that the member made and I am pleased that he is going to start listening. Perhaps, just perhaps, tonight he will take some time and read the bill and understand why we need the time.
I am not just exactly sure what his rush is about hurrying up and slowing down. You cannot do both at the same time. Now, if the member wishes to ask a question that is sensible and serious, I would be more than happy to answer it, but if all he wants to do is waste the time of this Chamber, it is not fair. (Interruption)
Madam Speaker, one of the interesting activities that this government has taken to its heart these days is what it calls reform. We have seen the reformation in Cape Breton, in the government, and the hidden costs. First it was $4.3 million that the Minister of Finance's friend was coming to pick up and then it was $6.3 million and now we are finding out that $10 million will not do it. These were the hidden costs. Now we were going to save a lot more money than that. But what if the Minister of Education has not done any more planning than the Minister of Municipal Affairs and this great saving of $11 million does not materialize? I am telling you, I do not believe for one second that the Minister of Education can produce any document that will show $11 million can be saved.
The hidden costs that we witnessed in Cape Breton in the regional government are going to be seen in this legislation as well. The school boards are telling me - and I know for a fact that they are telling members in this House because I have met with some of the same people that some of this Cabinet has met with and they have told them the same problem that they have - that they cannot make the savings that this minister is telling them that they are going to have to make without adversely affecting the children in the classroom.
This bill makes a lot of mention of children with special needs. The program for children with special needs in Kings County, as the Minister of Economic Renewal will tell you, has been changed and it is almost unrecognizable now from the time he left the school system.
AN HON. MEMBER: Sort of like the hospital.
MR. ARCHIBALD: No, the hospital you can recognize. It is just not there.
AN HON. MEMBER: Gone but not forgotten.
MR. ARCHIBALD: The teachers and the students and the professionals in education are very concerned. This bill has got them scared half to death because the minister is forcing it on Nova Scotia without any meaningful consultation, without taking any advice from the professionals that are his colleagues. He has the ideas and nobody else's ideas count.
The other day, I had the privilege of meeting in Kings County with the representatives of 700 non-unionized workers in this school system. They are concerned and I do not blame them. They are concerned for their future and the well-being of their families. Is this properly addressed in the legislation? The minister did not even know until a month ago that there were any non-unionized employees in this. Can you believe that? Dear knows what other surprises the minister is in store for during the implementation of this. But if he gave us six months, the home and school association, the school boards association, the Parent-Teachers Association, the students, they would give him some information so that he could bring in a proper bill that would have the children's interests first.
The first thing we should be thinking about is the future of this province and the children and their education come first and they should come first, but in this legislation we all know who comes first because on almost every page it tells you, the minister, the minister. I have never seen, I bet he has it monogrammed on his pyjamas. (Laughter)
You know, we have heard a lot of talk about partnerships from this minister. Partnerships, you know, sort of holding hands and going down the road together. This man, this minister, this government is not forming a partnership with anybody because there is not one single person in the education field that is going to stand up beside this minister and say, look, you have done a good job. There is not one organization, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, the school boards, the home and schools, are they going to be standing up in support of this? In six months time they might be able to help this minister bring in a bill that would accomplish what he really wants to accomplish and that is to help the children in this province at a reasonable cost. Doing legislation in the vacuum of his office, in the ivory tower, is not the way to get cooperation nor is it the way to help our young people.
The minister says many words in this piece of legislation. In an ideal world, the words would really make a difference, but we are dealing with reality. The minister knows what the reality of the classroom is because he was a teacher. I know the minister wants to make the classroom better and he wants to help with the education of our young people. But the minister has a goal, and to fulfil the goal he has to bring in legislation. You can pass this legislation with the majority that you have. You do not have to pay one bit of attention. Just sit tight, put in the hours and run it through. But is that what you were elected for?
Every single person in this Chamber was elected to help his neighbourhood and his community. To help your community you have to listen and know what they want, and I do not think there is a community in Nova Scotia that is saying this is the kind of legislation they want. Most communities have not seen it yet. The school boards have not seen it completely yet, but they are going to see it probably by the end of the week. Then you want to take a few days to look at it and study it and get ready to comment on it, but there is such a rush. We are trying to slip it through before the Law Amendments Committee so that the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the home and schools all cannot get in. I want to give them an opportunity to come in and pass judgment on this bill and the things that this minister said he would do, but the things that he says are in this bill are entirely different.
This bill, as no bill before ever, demands that we give this bill a six month reprieve from the people of this province. In six months, I am sure the minister could bring in a decent bill that Nova Scotians could support. With those few words, I will allow and I encourage another member of this House to stand up and speak. Perhaps a member of the government side could stand up and tell us perhaps why he supports this bill, if he dares, if there is anything to support.
I challenge the members of the government, stand up for your constituents and tell us what they are telling you about this bill. I know what the constituents are telling because they are telling me the same thing.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Madam Speaker, it is very clear that the minister wishes to bring a new law to education in Nova Scotia which will have a profound impact on education and the delivery of education in this province. I think it is very clear to anyone who makes an even cursory review of the bill that the bill is aimed not at what happens in the classroom but, rather, is aimed specifically at educational governance in this province. In fact, one would be hard-pressed reading the bill to find a single section which would cause one to believe, at the conclusion of reading it, that somehow the young person in the classroom is going to be infinitely better off as a result of the passage of this legislation than if we had never seen it.
It is, indeed, a new law. My fear is that what we may have here is an example of the law of unintended results, that, in fact, the impact of this bill will be rather different than that which is intended by the minister and by the government. I believe there is a greater possibility, if not probability, of finding that out, if, in fact, we have sufficient time available for all those interests, broad and narrow, those who would have an interest in this bill, to have the opportunity to put it to the kind of scrutiny that it so much needs and deserves.
The minister and many of the editorialists in this province have pointed out that this bill is the first major revision of the Education Act in 40 years. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald - if it were not such a serious matter, one would find this amusing - talks about the value of the bill and then, at the end of it, says if the bill doesn't work, well, the minister can tinker at it, like you might tinker to fix the timing in your car under the hood. Well that doesn't tell me that that editorialist knows very much about education. It does not comfort me to think that that editorialist would be of the view that in order to resolve difficulties that may arise out of this legislation because it is not complete legislation, the bill can be brought back in here at a whip/stitch and can be fixed up piecemeal and it will end up with anything other than a patched quilt for education in this province.
I don't think the minister wants that to happen; I don't think the minister intends that this bill should have to be brought back here session after session for amendment. I think the best way to assure that the minister accomplishes what he wants to accomplish, and that is good governance for schools in Nova Scotia, is to ensure that the people of Nova Scotia, whom he gave an opportunity to say what they thought should be in it, now would have the opportunity to advise whether they believe what he has included in it will benefit the young people in this province, and not only the young people in this province but, indeed, all people in this province because everybody must have an interest in education and in the output of our school systems. That output is measured by the capacity of the students who graduate to be able to find gainful employment and thereby contribute to the greater economy of this province and, of course, contributing to their own wealth and well-being.
There is a question in this bill as to what the linkage will be between the minister's office and the school boards and the professionals who work for the boards. There is a provision in the bill for inspectors, or what we used to call inspectors, if the minister so determines. It strikes me that the minister must have thought this out well enough to know whether there should or should not be people the equivalent of the inspectors, who traditionally have been the eyes and ears of the minister throughout the various inspectorates in the province. I can't understand why that question remains unanswered. Either there should be or there should not be. If there are going to be inspectors, then the minister should very clearly lay out in the bill what their responsibilities are. If there are not going to be inspectors, then it should be made very clear that that level of administration is gone and that there is going to be a new linkage between the minister's office and the professionals and the boards. That, in itself, also raises another concern. If there are no inspectors or no people who will take the place of the function that was formerly exercised by the inspectors, will the superintendents then be speaking in to the minister's office and the minister to the inspectors?
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. I think it is clear from the comments of the member for Queens, he is debating the principle of the bill. He is going through all of the clauses of the bill and he is debating the principle on top of it. There is no correlation between the arguments he is making and the principle that is before the House now, that is whether the bill should be hoisted and read six months hence. The member clearly is debating the principles and I would ask Your Honour to consider that those arguments are best made when we get back to debate on second reading on the principle of the bill.
MADAM SPEAKER: I thank you for your point of order. I think it is a point of contention but I would remind members on this amendment that you should try to restrict your debate somewhat to the amendment on the floor and not be too wide-ranging or hitting wide of the mark.
MR. LEEFE: The point that I have been trying to make and apparently it was lost on my good friend and colleague for Hants East is that with these significant changes, we must make absolutely sure that these will effect the kinds of change that we want to effect in educational governance in Nova Scotia. To jump this bill immediately from second reading into the Law Amendments Committee and then knock it out of the Law Amendments Committee into the Committee of the Whole House on Bills and then third reading and then into law, in my view would do a great disservice to education in this province and would, in fact, result in the minister doing a disservice to himself and what he wishes to accomplish.
The people must have the opportunity to review this bill at all levels. The citizens must have the opportunity to review this bill. Teachers must have the opportunity to review this bill. Current school board members must have the opportunity to review this bill. The organizations which are associated with teachers, with parents and with school boards must have the opportunity to review this bill, read, learn and inwardly digest this bill, think through what its impacts are and have the opportunity to come back to this minister who has said time and time again that he is open and wants to consult. Give him the opportunity to hear what those organizations and individuals feel are the shortcomings and the longcomings of this bill so that we can get it right the first time. I know that is what the minister wants, he wants to get it right the first time. That is why he has worked so hard up to this point to try to accomplish that.
What a shame for the sake of having the public once more, for a final time, exercise its opportunity to review this bill and enter into discourse with the minister, what a shame that the minister would knock all the wheels off his wagon that he had already put on it, simply because of a rush of this bill through the House.
This bill talks about the rights of students, it talks about the rights of parents. It also talks about responsibilities of students and parents. I doubt very much if there are very many parents in Nova Scotia who have had the opportunity to even see this bill, let alone to understand that they will, once this bill becomes law, have obligations under the law which they are required to meet. Is it not absolutely essential that every parent in this province is made aware of those responsibilities with which they are going to be charged, understands what those responsibilities with which they are going to be charged are and then has an opportunity, in discourse with the minister, to determine whether those responsibilities are appropriate to be included in the law of Nova Scotia or if they should be left outside the realm of Statutory law? Surely, that is not too much to ask.
The minister talks about students and involving students in decision-making. Should not that same opportunity be provided to students across this province, the opportunity to review not only what their rights are but what their responsibilities are. I have no doubt that those in the profession in which the minister and I have spent most of our working lives before coming to this place and also must have views, both with respect to those that will be put forward by the union which, undoubtedly, would look at it from a union perspective, but also from the men and the women who teach across this province and who, in teaching across this province, are the gutsy professionals that deliver teaching on a day to day basis and provide the backbone of our educational system. Surely they should have an opportunity to respond to this bill.
The minister knows and I know, having spoken with colleagues who are still teaching in the classroom, that the classroom today is a very different place than it was when we began teaching. My question and the question they must have and the question they must have the opportunity to ask of the minister is this, will this bill, in some appropriate and meaningful way, address the tremendous stress level under which so many teachers today find themselves working and which is having a negative impact on them, on their physical and mental health and, of course, then transferred to the students because they become aware of that as well?
This bill is all about governance. It raises questions about governance that should be addressed because this bill, whether the minister has reflected on this aspect of it or not, and this goes back to the law of unintended results, has the capacity to be a tool for social engineering, for changing society in Nova Scotia in such a way that I am sure no one in this House anticipates. It will, by virtue of the structure of the school boards, the size of the boards and the representation on those boards, cause those areas which have greater populations to be able to exercise much more significant influence than those areas which have smaller populations. The unintended result will be a higher degree of centralization of educational opportunity and educational institutions in the half dozen or so regional centres around this province and the diminution in our rural communities and in our small towns and our villages of educational facilities and education opportunity.
Do we want to see our schools, in places like Caledonia and places like Lockeport, communities like New Germany and so on, lose their schools or lose significant aspects of the educational opportunity that traditionally has been delivered through those schools? Do we want to see those small communities lose their senior high schools? Anybody who represents communities like that knows what the tremendously negative impact would be on those communities.
So the small communities in our province, the communities like I represent like the member for Lunenburg West represents, the member for Lunenburg represents, the member for Chester-St. Margaret's represents, the member for Shelburne, all of us must look at this legislation and ask the minister to give our small communities the opportunity to respond to it. To say to the minister, minister, yes we think this will be good for our small communities in Nova Scotia, or minister, we know you do not intend this, but the intended result -
MR. SPEAKER: Your time has just about expired.
MR. LEEFE: I will adjourn in a moment, Mr. Speaker - of this legislation will be to significantly change society and our community. I have further words I would like to offer with respect to this amendment and I move adjournment of debate on the amendment to this bill at this time.
MR. SPEAKER: The debate is adjourned. The honourable House Leader for the New Democratic Party to indicate tomorrow's order of business on Opposition Members' Day.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, the business during the NDP slot tomorrow will be Resolution Nos. 506, 462 and 242. We will figure out what kind of time we will assign each one of those once Question Period gets started.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, we will sit tomorrow from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. I move we adjourn until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the House do now rise to sit again tomorrow afternoon at the hour of 2:00 p.m.
The motion is carried.
The winner of the draw for the adjournment debate was the honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to have the opportunity to be drawn today, but I would like, with your indulgence, to defer and to offer my time to my colleague from Cape Breton West who wishes to address certain remarks to this resolution and would propose to do that at this point.
MR. SPEAKER: Very well. I would ask the honourable member for Cape Breton West if he would please read the resolution to begin with because I did not read it earlier today.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, the resolution is:
"Therefore be it resolved that the Premier immediately look into the actions of the Natural Resources Minister and inform the people of Marion Bridge why close to a million dollars is accessible from Liberal governments for a Bridgewater golf course, but $100,000 is not available for the continued operation of the Two Rivers Wildlife Park - an important tourist and natural resource asset for the whole island.".
Mr. Speaker, in debating this resolution tonight, I am asking the Premier to investigate the hypocrisy that has been shown by the Minister of Natural Resources.
MR. SPEAKER: Now just a moment. Hypocrisy is out of order. We do not use that word in here, it is unparliamentary.
MR. MACLEOD: I apologize, Mr. Speaker. The investigation should rightfully examine how one area of the province can have a major tourist attraction allegedly removed while costing only $100,000 and at the same time, provincial money of nearly $0.5 million is provided for an 18-hole golf course next door to the constituency of the Minister of Natural Resources. If this does not require a second look then I am not really sure what does.
The issue of closing the Two Rivers Wildlife Park, Mr. Speaker, is not just an issue that concerns the residents of Marion Bridge and it is not just an issue that concerns the people of Cape Breton West, it is an issue which concerns all the people of Cape Breton Island. This park has brought about an immense amount of tourism dollars to the many businesses in the area. In fact several businesses have gone on and expanded and improved their businesses while a new business has started. All of this has been brought about by the fact that there has been a large amount of traffic going into the wildlife park.
Mr. Speaker, not only is this a tourist attraction, but it also provides employment in an area of Cape Breton where employment is not easy to come by. The park itself employs three full-time people, two part-time people not to mention the four or five casual workers that are there during the season. Not only that, Mr. Speaker, these businesses that have been created, regenerated and improved also provide employment again in an area which dearly needs employment which is something that this government focused on when they came to power in 1993.
The residents of Cape Breton have accepted that they have to pay a fee. There is no problem with that. They understand that in these times of fiscal restraint we have to pay our dues and we have to pay for what is going on, but you know, if indeed we took the time to look at what is going on maybe even ask the staff about some of the ideas that they have of improving the efficiency of the operation we would not have to close the park. The about $60,000 that was raised at the gate is important. Not $60,000? How much was raised at the gate? (Interruption) Fair enough. The staff have some ideas.
The Two Rivers Wildlife Park has a lot of potential. It is an area that provides very much educational value. We have spent the most part of today discussing educational issues here in this House talking about the education bill. The wildlife park is a component of the education system that is used in all parts of Cape Breton and any given day when you go to that wildlife park, you can see a number of buses and school groups there that are coming to have the children learn what the animals of the wild are like for Cape Breton. They are there to get some ideas of how things happen. It is a very important educational tool that is used by many residents of the island.
The other thing we have to remember is that this wildlife park is located on the Mira River, which is the most famous body of water, probably, in all of Nova Scotia, if not in the eastern part of Canada. We have talked many times in this House about the fact that tourism is where we have to go. Infrastructure projects are what we should be doing for the Island of Cape Breton to make things more valuable and make the economy come back to life. We have an opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to keep that, have that and use that, and that opportunity is called the Two Rivers Wildlife Park. The people of Nova Scotia deserve to be able to see the animals of this province in their natural habitat in the area and to understand what kinds of animals we do have in our province. But more importantly, it is a place where people who do not have a lot of disposable income can go and visit and know when they leave home what it is going to cost them for the day's entertainment for their family. It is one of the very few places that you can go in the Province of Nova Scotia and know right up-front what it is going to cost you before the day is ended.
People love to see wildlife. There is no question about that. I don't think anybody could dispute that fact. It is a beautiful park with 500 beautiful acres to go with it. It is a nice place, it is right on the Mira River. It has never been given the kind of opportunity and promotion that it should have been given. If you are coming to Halifax, between Truro and Halifax you can see signs that are almost as big as the side of this building announcing where the wildlife park is in Shubenacadie, but if you are looking for a sign to go to the wildlife park in Marion Bridge, you would be hard-pressed to find one. I think it is our responsibility to do those kinds of things before we decide it is time to cut off the funding to that wildlife park.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I know that the minister will probably say that the people in Upper Clements were able to do this. Well, the people in Upper Clements already have a built-in tourist promotion package in the theme park that is up there. They have that which helps to draw people into that area. They have that which makes it easier for people to come. We in Cape Breton have many tourist attractions, too, but this is just another part of that project that we could have to make the people of Nova Scotia realize what a beautiful place the Mira River, Two Rivers Wildlife Park, is.
Wildlife, as I said earlier, is very important and a lot of people love to see it. If you don't believe that, you just have to go to the Park Lane Mall in Halifax this week and see the attraction of the wildlife there. Practically every city in the country has some kind of a zoo or wildlife park and you can go there, have a look at the animals and see the different kinds of species that are available in different parts of the world. Zoos are a major tourist attraction in many parts of the country and the wildlife park can be a major attraction for the Island of Cape Breton.
I mentioned earlier about the closure of Two Rivers Wildlife Park affecting all of Cape Breton Island. Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell you that the Sydney Academy Key Club have recognized the value and they are presently selling t-shirts similar to this. I would like to tell you that it says on this: Keep in Cape Breton - Two Rivers Park - Cape Breton. It is a project that the key club has undertaken because they have noticed and recognized the value of that project for the Island of Cape Breton. People want their wildlife park. The wildlife park will work and if the government will give us a chance, we can make it work. There are all kinds of little things that we could do that wouldn't cost the government a whole lot of dollars and one of those things would be to increase the signage to this park. We could promote it more, put out more advertising about it. There has been no real advertising done about the Two Rivers Wildlife Park. I am confident that the minister would be surprised at the results that we could achieve in the wildlife park if we took these kinds of initiatives to make it work.
In closing, I would urge the Premier to closely examine this issue once again and not punish the people of Cape Breton. Show some faith in them, give them another chance, instead of simply making an example out of them.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Natural Resources.
HON. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the member opposite, although I was very much looking forward to the debate with the member who made the resolution, Mr. Donahoe, but obviously he had other engagements that he felt were more important than dealing with this matter for which I think he should have stayed to address.
I, too, regret the decision that we have to make, as a government today, in light of all the mismanagement of the previous regimes, mismanagement of the monies of the Province of Nova Scotia, and because of those mismanagements of so many years in the past, this government today has to make some very tough decisions. The decisions that we make are obviously not ones that we enjoy making and are not the decisions that we find very easy to make, but are decisions we are forced to make because of the mismanagement and the abuse of the financial well-being of the Province of Nova Scotia.
In light of that, the Department of Natural Resources has obviously been forced into a position to make some very tough decisions, one of which is in regard to the Wildlife Division. In the Wildlife Division, Department of Natural Resources, about 40 per cent plus of that budget is to deal with wildlife parks. In light of an over 20 per cent reduction in our budget, we are forced to make some hard decisions. One of the decisions we made, obviously in regard to the debate tonight, is in regard to the wildlife parks. We have made a decision that the three wildlife parks: Scotian, which was closed in 1994, and the Upper Clements Wildlife Park, and upcoming 1995 and 1996, the proposed closure of the Two Rivers Wildlife Park.
I want to clarify a couple of points in the resolution, the inaccuracies of the resolution. First and foremost, as Minister of Natural Resources, my ministry has nothing to do with the infrastructure program. I happen to be an MLA in an area for which infrastructure works, but in regard to the other comment about $100,000 not available to continue the park is totally inaccurate; in fact, the operating cost of the park is $155,000.
Now as minister, I had the responsibility to deal with this issue. I could have simply gone ahead and closed the park. Secondly, I could have gone in and offered a process of privatizing the park or, thirdly, with the compassion and understanding that this government has, we had the opportunity to say look, we want to find a partnership, an opportunity for the community to work with government to find solutions, as was so well brought forward in the presentation today about not giving up faith in Cape Bretoners. I don't give up the faith in Cape Bretoners, I believe in Cape Breton. I believe in Cape Bretoners; they are the most tenacious and the most strong-willed people I have ever met.
He said let's talk about the ideas, Mr. Speaker. He talked about let's have the ideas that are coming from the area. I agree with him, I am listening to the ideas, I want the ideas. In fact, I have made the challenge to the community. I have gone to the community of Marion Bridge and to the park itself. I met with the warden at the time, who is now the Mayor of Cape Breton County, and I talked to the individuals up there and I offered them, our department is prepared and willing to go and sit down with the community at any time. We already have a team in place - and I have offered it now for months - to work with the community to find solutions. I have almost begged the community to come up with some solutions.
We have an idea, we have a plan that has worked in other areas of the province, a plan that has provided opportunities and cash, infusions of dollars in operating expenses, programs in capital construction, programs in staff and programs in taking over the operation that, as the member opposite has suggested, is a beautiful facility with lots of potential. We are offering that to the community to find a partnership and find solutions for that particular area.
Mr. Speaker, as he mentioned, the Goshen Park, the community has found a solution, they are prepared to partner with us, they are working with us and they will find a way to maintain that operation. The Upper Clements Wildlife Park, and don't get that confused with Upper Clements Family Theme Park, another great investment by the Opposition member's Party, a great investment of dollars in an area that obviously has created some problems. But don't confuse the two parks, the Upper Clements Wildlife Park, through the leadership of the community, people like Jim Horsfall and other members of their community, they set up a wildlife society. That society has worked in partnership with our department, the Economic Renewal Agency and that of the federal regime in regard to TAGS, and we found some solutions to a very serious problem. We have offered that opportunity to my friend opposite in regard to the Two Rivers Wildlife Park.
When they talk about the signage and the promotion, they were in power for so many years to talk about signage, promotion and development, they have never done a thing. They have done nothing to encourage the development of that park. We are sitting back now because of the lack of their investment and the lack of their will to show leadership in regard to this particular initiative and we are trying now to find solutions by working in partnership with the community.
I note with interest that the member opposite in running for the last election had all sorts of ideas and solutions to this issue. I am asking him to bring them forward, lay them on the table, bring them to my attention, give them to my department as a solution to the problem. If he was so willing, during the election, to say all the things that are wrong about this process, I challenge the member opposite to come forward with some constructive suggestions that I would be more than willing to sit down and look at.
I have a great concern about the area of Cape Breton. I have worked very hard in trying to find solutions to this initiative. I have had meetings, I have discussed it with people in the community. I have offered them all sorts of opportunity to come forward. I have faith in the people of Cape Breton. I have faith in the people of the Marion Bridge area. I have faith in the people of that particular area that they will come forward and find a partnership opportunity with us so that they can continue to have the employment in their area, so they can continue to find economic stability in their area and doing it in the way of a partnership.
We have had all sorts of individuals that have come forward and said look, on a privatization basis, Mr. Downe, I am prepared to do this on a private sector initiative. I said no, my first preference is to the community, to the people of Cape Breton, to work with the people of Cape Breton. I am sure that we will find a solution if members opposite, like the member who talked earlier, if he is prepared to show some leadership in this community instead of just criticism. Anybody can criticize and make fun of issues.
I have been constructively trying to find solutions in working with people and if the member opposite has any strength at all, any leadership at all, any ability to come forward other than with rhetoric in here and show some leadership, I am prepared to work with him. But I have been offering that to the community for almost a year now and I will continue to do that. Our door is open and we want to find a solution to this issue. The solution will have to be a solution that is consistent with what we have done in other jurisdictions of the province. I am open to that. I am open to find out what they have to offer. I know by working together, we will find those solutions.
I think the member opposite, if he wants to play politics with the issue, will continue to have gridlock. If that is what he wants, then that is what he is going to get. If the member opposite wants to show leadership and determination to find solutions as I am willing to do and this government is prepared to do, then I think we are on the road to recovery.
Now in regard to the issue of the infrastructure program, obviously, the member who brought the resolution in, I was a little bit teed off, as it were, in regard to the resolution and I wanted to take the fairway in regard to some of the comments that were made there. Obviously, the golf course does not fit under the Ministry of the Department of Natural Resources, it is part of the Infrastructure Works Program that fits under the Ministry of the Department of Municipal Affairs.
I am more than willing to get into the full range of discussion. Suffice it to say, the first initiative that came forward to us was an initiative on sewer and water in the Conquerall Bank area, which I strongly supported. The municipality later revoked that decision and then they came back with another proposal.
In the municipality, as members opposite and members of this House realize, the infrastructure program is derived from the towns' and municipalities' number one priority. Their number one priority, through the Municipality and District of Lunenburg, was this particular economic development initiative for a golf course and obviously, infrastructure programs around it which were supported by the South Shore Tourism Association, which was supported by the Town of Bridgewater, supported by the Municipality and District of Lunenburg, the Town of Lunenburg, the Town of Mahone Bay, local recreational facilities. All sorts of areas in our communities supported this initiative.
I think that particular initiative will do well for our community in developing tourism and economic benefit for which I am happy to see happen in our area as I like to see it happen in the beautiful area of Cape Breton.
I would like to close by saying, my door is open. We have a team that is ready to go to work with the great people of Cape Breton with a great ability to rally behind a cause and work toward finding a solution and, Mr. Speaker, my door is open. I believe if the members opposite in the Opposition benches were willing to show some leadership in working and trying to find solutions, then we will find a solution to this particular initiative. Thank you very much.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I do not know if this is fair or not, but I cannot resist. Whenever anybody says, look, my door is open and I am willing to sit down and talk with you about this, that and the other thing, it always reminds me of an employer who is trying to defeat the union and also somebody who isn't quite as prepared to get out of the office and actually get down on the floor and deal with the issues as they claim.
I think this resolution, really, represents the fact that this government is making choices. It makes choices every time that it decides to fund any given issue. It makes choices of whether or not to fund any given issue. The minister indicated that he thought the member who spoke on the issue from the Official Opposition was playing politics. Well, I mean that is what it is all about, Mr. Speaker, it is about politics. It is about making choices on how it is that you are going to spend the money that you have. That is what this government, that is what this minister is faced with, that is what the other ministers are faced with, how it is that they are going to deal with the fiscal parameters of the administration that they are dealing with.
When you talk about the Infrastructure Works Program, for example, I mean I play golf, Mr. Speaker, so I do not want to be too critical about the development of a golf course, but I do not think that is necessarily a place for the government to be putting its money. I say that because they are doing that at the same time they are cutting millions of dollars out of the health care system.
They are telling people to wait for months and months to get into the hospital to get elective surgery. They are telling seniors that you have to start paying the burden now of an increasingly costly Pharmacare Program. They are telling people in schools where classrooms are getting to the 40 and 50 pupil number, where they do not have any support in terms of aides or experts in terms of providing for special education, they are telling people, we cannot afford it. We cannot deal with these issues because the former government, and you have heard it all before and on and on it goes. We do not have the money. It is a question of choices. I do not think this was a very good one.
I think the member for Cape Breton West who rose and spoke made a good point that the Two Rivers Wildlife Park in that constituency is an important part of that constituency. It is something that should be maintained. It is something that should be developed to its fullest extent, not only for the people of Cape Breton West, but also for the people of Cape Breton and all of Nova Scotia, for the tourists that come to this province to enjoy the wonders of our province.
I also think of the people in Fiona Heights in Cape Breton West who have been having trouble with water and sewage.
MR. SPEAKER: It is Floral Heights.
MR. CHISHOLM: That is good. Somebody else was telling me it was Viola Heights here not too long ago. (Interruption)
Floral Heights, I did not campaign there, Mr. Speaker, in that particular community and I think it shows and it is a good thing I did not. Anyway, the point is that there is a problem in terms of infrastructure when the minister tells us that that golf course was funded under the infrastructure program. You know, I think to myself, now these people for many many years now have been dealing with water and sewer problems. That is infrastructure. Why has that not been dealt with? Why has the provincial government not been able to come up with monies for that kind of activity?
Again, I think it is a question of priorities and when people are faced with this government constantly telling them, we cannot afford this, we cannot afford the next thing. People on social assistance that are living in poverty who cannot afford drugs, who cannot afford, you know, whose children cannot go any more to receive dental care. This government is telling them, we are sorry but we cannot afford it.
Then people see the announcements, the provincial government is participating in the development with the private sector of a golf course in Bridgewater, a golf course in Baddeck, a golf course here and a golf course there and people are saying, excuse me, something is wrong with this picture. I am being asked as a senior to pay more and more for my drugs. I am being asked as a person who is not well, as a member of a family where somebody needs to get in to have a very serious operation and the government is telling me that this is the best we can do, you are going to have to wait, you are going to have to be patient. Then they see, Mr. Speaker, the government making these big bold announcements of the fact that we are participating in these infrastructure programs, developing golf courses in Bridgewater and in Baddeck and wherever else it is that they are announcing.
That is really the question. It is a question of choices. It is clearly a question of politics, Mr. Speaker, because it is a question of what it is that this government decides to fund and decides not to fund. I think they have their priorities all out of whack. I think the priorities that they are following now are very different than the ones that they talked to Nova Scotians about back in the spring of 1993, when they talked about jobs, when they talked about health care reform that would create a system of health care that was based in the community and that took into consideration the health and the wellness of Nova Scotians. But, instead, people are seeing the jobless rate continuing to increase. They are seeing part-time jobs growing at a rate that is overtaking full-time jobs. They are seeing unemployment rates in some parts of Cape Breton, that the minister talks with his hat over his heart about how much he loves, that some of those communities are experiencing unemployment rates of over 50 per cent. That is the reality that people are faced with.
Eleven million dollars out of industrial Cape Breton, out of the hospitals. Those are the kinds of things that this group, this Liberal Party and this minister talked about to Nova Scotians back in 1993, that they were going to do differently than the former administration. Yet, they have shown themselves to be following along the exact same priorities that that administration did for, oh so many years and for which the electorate of Nova Scotia turfed them out.
But, Mr. Speaker, let's be clear of the fact that voters have a long memory and it is getting longer and longer because of the injustices that they have suffered at the hands of politicians in this province. When it comes to election day in the Province of Nova Scotia, people are going to remember, whether it is in Marion Bridge or whether it is Bridgewater or wherever it is, people are going to remember the political choices, the priorities that this minister and his colleagues have set and they are going to make a decision at that particular time and we will see how it all shakes down. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: I hope there are no further speakers. If not, the House now stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.
[The House rose at 6:28 p.m.]