MR. SPEAKER: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We will now commence this afternoon's session of the Legislature. Are there any introductions of guests before we move into the daily routine of business?
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Communications.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform this House that we are moving forward with our plan to complete the western alignment and achieve an important safety improvement on the major highway system in this province. (Applause)
As soon as possible, a negotiating team representing the province will begin to negotiate a contract with Atlantic Highways Corporation leading to a public/private partnership to design, build, operate and maintain this critical road. The consortium, which includes a group with the experience of developing Ontario's Highway No. 407, and the two local construction firms, Nova and Tidewater, is supported by a strong team of environmental, engineering, legal, financial and project management consultants.
As members will know, Mr. Speaker, we received proposals from three very competent pre-qualified consortia.
These proposals were reviewed by a multi-disciplinary evaluation team, who developed detailed analysis of each proposal, based on the major criteria established by the Department of Transportation and Communications.
That analysis and the proposals were used by a selection committee of three deputy ministers to make their decision. The deputy ministers also heard oral presentations from each of the respondents.
The selection committee has advised Cabinet that Atlantic Highways Corporation is the consortium most qualified and able to complete the proposal which best fulfils the Department of Transportation and Communications' objectives for the project. Based on that selection, Cabinet has authorized the Department of Transportation and Communications to begin negotiations that will see this road completed within two years, at an affordable direct cost to the taxpayers of this province.
The negotiating team will include representation from the Department of Transportation and Communications, the Department of Justice, the Department of Finance and the necessary legal, business, financial and project management expertise.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the progress we have made toward completing this highway. I would at this time thank publicly those three deputy ministers and the evaluation team who spent many very long days conducting the review and analysis of the proposals.
I also appreciate the efforts of the three consortia in responding to our request for proposals. Their confidence supports Nova Scotia's efforts to work cooperatively with the private sector to build a better economy and to provide critical infrastructure. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I don't think too many people would question the need for an alternative to the present highway that runs from Masstown, Colchester County to Thomson Station, Cumberland County. The new highway will most certainly help reduce the number of deaths and injuries that are all too frequently happening. It will also greatly assist the movement of goods, both ours and those from other jurisdictions. So in that respect I welcome the minister's announcement and I congratulate the consortium.
However and unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, there has been a great deal of controversy and anxiety relative to this whole project. With due respect, I honestly believe that Nova Scotians question the integrity and the credibility of the Minister of the Department of Transportation. The minister wrongfully relieved $26 million from the Strategic Highway Improvement Program. This money, as the House knows, was dedicated to the construction of the new highway. We also know that because of public outrage and opposition, the minister finally returned the funds. I also somewhat reluctantly understand that while negotiations are underway with the successful contractor that perhaps all proposals should be kept confidential. Notwithstanding, the 120 days the minister talked about yesterday, I very much encourage the Minister of Transportation to immediately release all proposals as soon as the deliberations are secured.
In closing, may I remind the Premier and the Minister of Transportation that the people of Colchester County and Cumberland County are still very much opposed to tolls on the Highway No. 104 western alignment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for making his statement in the House, although it says very little. The minister hasn't pointed out the obvious in his statement, for example, that still it is going to be the taxpayers in one form or the other who are going to be paying 100 per cent of the cost of this highway, whether that be through government contributions or tolls and that this private partnership won't see the private developers putting one plug nickel into the development.
It doesn't address the issue of tolls and whether or not the final costs of the highway construction are going to be higher as a result of this being a private partnership than if it was being developed by the province alone. The minister's statement doesn't mention, for example, that one of the major ways the government plans to save money is through the one-sided expropriation measures that the Minister of Justice introduced in the House earlier this session. It doesn't mention whether or not the environmental concerns and the safety concerns of the proposed route have been addressed. It makes no mention whether or not the consultants who have been involved up to this stage are going to be prevented from being part of the consortium that is going to be building that road, Mr. Speaker, which certainly would appear to be a conflict of interest.
It didn't make any mention, of course, finally in the fact that when the government first announced back in 1993 that this was going to be going ahead and their route that they were going to be following, it didn't mention the fact that since that time, they really have spent $1 million on consultants - we see where we are, at the present time - nor the fact that when they announced it back in 1993, that that road was to be completed six months from the present date, Mr. Speaker, so we still have a lot more information to find out from the minister. I am pleased he did make an announcement, even though, in fact, the announcement tells us very little. Thank you.
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Bedford-Fall River, on behalf of the government.
MRS. FRANCENE COSMAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Mr. Philip Riteman, a resident of Bedford and a survivor of the Holocaust is attending a solemn ceremony in Ottawa as a special invitee of the Canadian Government to unveil a new Canadian stamp to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Holocaust; and
Whereas Mr. Riteman visits schools and continues to educate young people in this region about the Holocaust and the dark era of death and destruction visited upon millions of Jews and non-Jews by the Nazi death squads; and
Whereas November 9th also commemorates the 57th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when the Nazis began the widespread killing of Jews, as well as the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials;
Therefore be it resolved that this House pause for a moment of silence to remember the millions of innocent victims who died as a result of the Nazi Holocaust and reaffirm our continual commitment to working with women and men of good faith to build a peaceful and just world for all peoples.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice and passage without debate.
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 motion calls for the observance of a minute's silence, in honour of the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
[One minute of silence was observed.]
Is there an introduction of a class in the gallery?
The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. DENNIS RICHARDS: Mr. Speaker, this afternoon it gives me great pleasure to welcome to our House of Assembly the Grade 6 class at Colby Village Elementary School. This afternoon there are 39 students with this group. They are accompanied by their teacher, Jane Cordy, and leaders Susan Lawley, Kerry Latham, Lee Ayer, Anne During, Marilyn Heard, Mr. Samarasekera and Angela Henry.
I would ask the group to stand and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: I am going to call on the honourable member for Inverness, who has a motion to present on behalf of the government.
MR. CHARLES MACARTHUR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas on Wednesday, November 8, 1995, our House of Assembly expressed unanimous support for the veterans of both wars and the Korean conflict; and
Whereas the federal government is moving toward reduction in certain veterans' benefits;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House of Assembly in the Province of Nova Scotia urge the federal government to reconsider any reductions to veterans' benefits.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: The request is for waiver of notice. Is there agreement that notice be waived?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried unanimously.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: 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 federal Minister of Fisheries is presently reviewing options for the cost of icebreaking and navigational services for commercial users of Canadian ports; and
Whereas the Port of Halifax represents 7,000 jobs and $233 million in income; and
Whereas the levying of these new costs on Canada's commercial ports should not be allowed to hinder economic growth at the Port of Halifax and, in the process, provide unfair advantage for other ports across Canada;
Therefore be it resolved that the Premier and his Ministers of Economic Renewal and Transportation vigorously oppose any actions by the federal government that would impose icebreaking charges on the Port of Halifax.
Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver on that motion.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas these Liberals claim that they are the fearless deficit-killers, dedicated to the elimination of public sector debt; and
Whereas the same government has imposed amalgamation startup costs of $4.5 million upon Cape Breton Regional Municipality taxpayers, then urged that the costs be turned in a medium-term debt; and
Whereas the Liberal solution increases the interest costs and debt burden of the new municipality;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the Liberal Government to adopt the principle of no taxation without representation and apply it to their expensive amalgamation schemes by requiring the approval of local elected officials for all costs that will be paid by local taxpayers.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the federal Liberal Government used the issue of the rejection of the purchase of EH-101 helicopters by the previous government as a bargaining tool with Canadian voters in the 1993 election; and
Whereas with his silence at that time, the Premier offered his consent to the rejection of the project which would have brought hundreds of high-tech jobs to our province and a renewal of the fleet of helicopters for land and sea rescue as well as for our military; and
Whereas now, two years later, the federal Liberal Government has finally announced that at least 15 helicopters will be purchased although the best that the Defence Minister can offer is that the purchase will be, "somewhat less than the ones previously outlined by the former government", and may only be leased, with maintenance to possibly be contracted out, a decision which is highly questionable;
Therefore be it resolved that this government apologize to Nova Scotians, who will lose in this deal which does not appear to be the money saver originally touted to the taxpayers in 1993, for not fighting the feds on the issue before it was too late and to seek details from Mr. Collenette on just whether or not this will be an adequate replacement for what was lost with the rejection of the original EH-101 helicopter project.
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 until now, the people of the Eastern Shore had to travel significant distances to receive health care services from specialists located in urban centres; and
Whereas the new pilot telemedicine program introduced by the Honourable Ronald Stewart, Minister of Health, will have a site located in Sheet Harbour on the Eastern Shore under the leadership of Dr. Brad Atkinson; and
Whereas through the use of computer technology, medical data and patient information will be transmitted back and forth from Sheet Harbour to specialists in Halifax, resulting in patients on the Eastern Shore receiving quality, on-site health care without leaving their communities;
Therefore be it resolved that this House applaud the telemedicine initiative of the Honourable Ronald Stewart and the staff of the Department of Health and the work of health care professionals such as Dr. Brad Atkinson of Sheet Harbour who will use the telemedicine technology to better serve the health care needs of the citizens of the Eastern Shore.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.
MR. SPEAKER: The request is for waiver of notice.
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 Health Minister has denied again and again that political influence by Cabinet Ministers is necessary or useful for Nova Scotians who cannot gain needed health care; and
Whereas the Education Minister, who knows how the system really works, called first upon the Health Minister's office when a constituent could neither afford nor obtain needed health care services for his terminally ill mother; and
Whereas it is a disgrace when Cape Bretoners, including other Cabinet Ministers, have to seek political intervention to secure basic health care;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the Health Minister to halt all further cuts in Cape Breton until he delivers adequate home care, long-term care beds, respite and palliative care, and hospital beds dedicated to priorities like adolescent mental health.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
Perhaps I should take a look at it before it is put on the Table. Please bring it up here.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas this province conducted one of the most intense reviews of beverage container disposal ever done in Canada, concluding in October 1994 that the best choice was to require the use of refillable containers; and
Whereas that review confirmed that the New Brunswick deposit refund system falls far short of the recovery, reuse and recycling target set for Nova Scotia; and
Whereas even the soft drink industry is protesting this minister's decision to simply imitate the failed New Brunswick model;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the minister to accept the soft drinks industry's wish to pay only for the costs of its own containers by requiring the containers be refillable, with the industry responsible for the refilling system in the same manner that beer bottles are now handled.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
I have here before me a proposed notice of motion. I am going to rule it in order and tabled but I will request the deletion of the second whereas which makes spurious charges against the Minister of Education which, in my view, are a breach of privilege. I therefore declare that that section is removed.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, how does it make spurious, I mean . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I have made my ruling. It is subject to appeal only by . . .
MR. CHISHOLM: I can show the newspaper ad from which it originates.
MR. SPEAKER: I have made my ruling.
MR. CHISHOLM: That doesn't mean I have to agree with it.
MR. SPEAKER: Sergeant-at-Arms, please remove the honourable member for Halifax Atlantic, Mr. Robert Chisholm.
MR. CHISHOLM: You have to be kidding. To make an order like that, it doesn't make any sense and I am not allowed to say anything about it?
MR. SPEAKER: Mr. Chisholm, honourable member for Halifax Atlantic, you are named for disregarding the authority of the Chair.
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 statistics released by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation show that only 2 per cent of the employees at ITT Sheraton are persons with a disability; and
Whereas the legislation allowing for the establishment of casinos in Nova Scotia requires ITT Sheraton to follow the equity hiring practices of the Nova Scotia Government; and
Whereas the percentage of employees with a disability working at ITT Sheraton is significantly less than the percentage of Nova Scotians with a disability working in the Nova Scotia Civil Service;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation show less concern for the interests of his ITT Sheraton business partners and substantially more concern for unemployed Nova Scotians with a disability by establishing an independent review committee which will investigate ITT Sheraton's equity hiring practices to make sure they are consistent with those of the provincial government.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Bedford-Fall River.
MRS. FRANCENE COSMAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas every year, Remembrance Day provides an opportunity for all of us to remember and salute the significant contribution made by thousands of Canadian women who strove to end conflict and achieve peace throughout the world; and
Whereas nearly 50,000 Canadian women sacrificed family and personal security to serve in the Armed Forces, with 4,500 serving as nursing sisters, often working dangerously close to the front lines, plus an additional three-quarters of a million women who supported the war effort at home by working in war-related industries; and
Whereas approximately 1,700 Nova Scotian women served in the Armed Forces during Canada's involvement in various conflicts and 323 Nova Scotian women served as nursing sisters;
Therefore be it resolved that as Canadians pause to remember all who fought to end conflict and to restore peace to our world, the members of this House pay tribute to the valiant efforts and sacrifices made by many thousands of women in this great country and provinces, in the pursuit of lasting peace.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice and passage without debate.
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 this week of November 4th to 12th is Veterans' Week, for Canadians to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War and all the efforts and battles which led to the final victory and peace in the summer of 1945; and
Whereas the students and staff at Cole Harbour District High School have written, directed, and performed in a musical collaboration of 34 scenes depicting the lives of different people who lived during the times of the First and Second World Wars, titled "Voices of War"; and
Whereas these students and staff were motivated to create this inspiring production because of their need to understand what really had been sacrificed for them and the desire to share the emotional experiences of people who lived during these times of war with an audience;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this Assembly extend congratulations to the talented students of Cole Harbour District High School for their outstanding creativity and recognize the dedication and significant contributions of the Musical Director, former student, Melanie Baillie, and the teacher-directors, led by Mr. Tilly.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: It is agreed that notice be waived?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
If there are no further notices of motion, I am asked to advise the House that the Clerk has conducted a draw for the Adjournment debate at 6:00 p.m. The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley has won the draw this afternoon. He proposes the resolution:
"Therefore be it resolved that the Liberal Government should live up to its commitment of openness and accountability by responding to freedom of information requests responsibly and not placing an excessive price tag on its original commitment to openness.".
So we will hear discussion of that matter at 6:00 p.m. this afternoon.
I also have received a notice from the Premier, which follows on the heels of the motion that we adopted unanimously in honour of the victims of the Holocaust, advising that there will be a Dignity Day ceremony this afternoon beginning at 5:45 p.m., beginning in the yard here at Province House and prominent political figures, unnamed, but I take it that they will include members of this House as well as members of the Canadian Legion and representatives of the Jewish Student Federation, will be leading a parade from here to the Cenotaph where appropriate observations will take place. That event will commence this afternoon at 5:45 p.m.
The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, will the House adjourn so that all members will be able to attend that event if they wish?
MR. SPEAKER: Well, by unanimous consent, that would certainly be possible. The Chair is in the hands of the House on a matter of that type. A motion to adjourn is always in order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: We could, I think, break at 5:45 p.m. and resume at 6:30 p.m. I guess the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley will then have to determine what he would want to do with his late debate, which would be scheduled for 6:00 p.m. But I would be agreeable as would our caucus to closing down at 5:45 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., if that is agreeable with the member who has the floor at that time.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, would it be possible to put off that debate until Tuesday, is that out of the ordinary?
MR. SPEAKER: Well, if there is no late debate, we would be in recess until 6:30 p.m. and we would have another draw on Tuesday, I would suppose, for another late show.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Obviously, Mr. Speaker, that would not affect us. If he could get the agreement from the Third Party that he could have his late debate on Tuesday, I am sure we would have no objection whatsoever to that.
MR. SPEAKER: All right, that seems to be agreeable.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The late debate that was scheduled for today will take place on Tuesday and we will hear from the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley at that time.
That appears to conclude the daily routine.
We will now advance to Orders of the Day. The Oral Question Period today will run from 12:33 p.m. until 1:33 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 for the Premier. In responding to the reprieve won by Marine Atlantic to maintain its ferry service until the results of an economic impact study were complete, the Premier was quoted as saying that it is now up to the communities to demonstrate the case for retaining the ferry during the winter.
My question to the Premier is, is he saying that he will be guided only by the results of the economic impact study and that he will be guided by that and that alone in determining whether or not he is prepared to try to influence Ottawa to maintain the winter ferry service from Yarmouth to Bar Harbor?
HON. JOHN SAVAGE (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, what I said at that time was that by going to Ottawa and by talking with the minister, we were able to convince the Minister of Transportation that the project should be looked at in the light of an incomplete project, which has since been completed. The issue of whether or not the ferry stays open from January, whereas it was scheduled to close before, will be a matter for the Minister of Transportation at the federal level. I will convey and have conveyed some concerns and continue to convey concerns of the people in the area. But it is a federal decision and a decision will be made by the federal government.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, the Premier is aware, of course, of the federal government's responsibility in terms of ferries between a province and a foreign country, which is clearly outlined in the Constitution Act.
My question for the Premier is, by way of first supplementary, is the government planning to do economic impact studies on all future highway construction projects to ensure that the cost of building and maintaining highways in Nova Scotia is supported by economic analysis. If not, can the Premier explain what he believes distinguishes a vital transportation link by water from a vital transportation link by land?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, one is on water and one is on land. (Interruption)
The issue of community economic impact is always borne in mind by the Department of Transportation and we had a good example today, if I may comment on the announcement of Highway No. 104 that he made today. Here was the announcement that many hundreds of jobs - numbers, I am not clear - that will be created in this push for Highway No. 104 and that will indeed be part of the decision. So, yes, we always consider the economic development in everything that we do.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I don't recall an economic study being done on Colchester County and Cumberland County to assess the effects of tolls on their economy. The Premier's Ministers of Natural Resources and the Economic Renewal have said that the loss of the winter ferry service will be devastating for business in South West Nova and the Premier has said that a job maintained is as good as a job created. My question for the Premier is, is he prepared today to give the business people of southwest Nova Scotia his absolute assurance that he will do everything he possibly can to make sure that the winter ferry service between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor will be maintained?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I would remind the member opposite that were it not for my intervention, that ferry would be closed now. (Applause)
The interventions that I will continue to make on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia will probably unfold as time goes on, but the people of this province need never worry about us assisting them in talking to our federal colleagues. That is part and parcel of our philosophy, but the federal government, Mr. Speaker, will make the final decision.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question, through you, to the Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. Through you, I would like to tell the minister that I have heard that some of the Sydney Casino employees have been told to expect that there will be another 40 people laid off there and that there are going to be additional layoffs at the Halifax Sheraton Casino. My question to the minister is quite simply has the minister been advised to expect further layoffs at either or both of those casino operations?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, the answer is no.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, employees at the Sydney Casino have also heard that the casino plans to shut its doors there in January and to leave them closed until the tourist season starts up again. My question to the minister is, does the minister have any evidence that such a shutdown is warranted or is that yet another well-orchestrated effort on behalf of the ITT Sheraton to try to wring even more concessions from this government, like they did with the sale of liquor and the suspension of penalties?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, the member, in his usual style, gives me two choices: either the shutdown is warranted or they are doing it for some devious reason. I think there may be other possibilities but, in any event, let me address the question directly and say, I know of no such planned shutdown. I have no information of that.
MR. HOLM: Of course, we have in the past been given all kinds of assurances about how many jobs were supposed be going to be created, how many were going to be full-time, and, of course, that there weren't to be any concessions. My final question to the minister is a very simple question and it is not one that will have different choices. My question quite simply is, will the minister guarantee that there will be no more concessions made to the casino operators unless there are public hearings, public consultations?
MR. BOUDREAU: I think what I will guarantee to the honourable member is that we will act always in the public interest in our dealings with our partner, ITT Sheraton, Mr. Speaker. We have in the past, we will continue to do so in the future.
One of the things I might say to members, such as the honourable member, who are constantly sniping at this operation, perhaps they have some responsibility to tell the people of Nova Scotia where they would get the $25 million that is now working in health, education, social services and all of the other government areas? Where would they get it back if this casino is not there?
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance in his capacity as the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation. I wonder if the Minister of Finance would (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Carry on.
MR. DONAHOE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wonder if the Minister of Finance would indicate to this House just when it was that he lost confidence in the Chair of the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I have not lost confidence in the past, nor do I lack confidence now.
MR. DONAHOE: That having been said by the Minister of Finance, I would like to ask the minister why, then, if that is the case, if he has not lost, hadn't lost and still hasn't lost confidence in the Chair of the Gaming Corporation, why it was that the minister was in Las Vegas at all to have conversations with ITT Sheraton and engage in the discussions, which we have discussed here in this place, about amendments to construction contracts relative to the new casino?
In fact, the minister is not a member of the Gaming Corporation, by law he is prohibited from being a member - all the members of this place are - and I ask the minister to indicate that why it is he was there in Las Vegas engaged in those discussions in the first place, when it should have been the Chair of the Gaming Corporation?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, in fact, the Chair of the Gaming Corporation was there, at all discussions, and engaged in all discussions. I was also there, as the minister responsible, because the government is the sole shareholder. As the minister responsible, I have a particular duty to protect and observe the public interest. It is very much like the decisions that that government made for Sysco, where there was a Board of Directors, but the decisions, fundamentally, in the future of Sydney Steel, for example, were made by that government.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the Minister of Finance, in that same capacity as Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation, would indicate to this House whether or not he has a resolution or a written communication or confirmation from the Board of Directors of Purdy's Wharf Development Limited agreeing to the proposed amendment of the casino agreement? The minister will know that Purdy's Wharf is a signatory to the agreement; he, the minister, is not. I ask the minister if he will tell us whether or not he is in receipt of either a Board of Directors' minute from Purdy's Wharf Developments or has written communication that they support, or are indeed even aware of, the amendment proposed to ITT Sheraton?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, as I indicated to the honourable member previously, when this issue was raised, the package of legal documentation required to implement the decision is in the hands of the solicitor of the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, and when that package is complete, I have already undertaken in this House to deliver it to the honourable member.
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: So, we don't know, then, whether Purdy's Wharf was consulted or consents or agrees and a file of paper will be fixed up after the fact, presumably . . .
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
MR. DONAHOE: Well, what other conclusion can the taxpayer reach but that it will be fixed (Interruptions) He doesn't have any Orders in Council; he doesn't have anything from Purdy's Wharf; he doesn't have any resolution from the Board of Directors of the Gaming Corporation. He is just playing king here with his buddies at ITT Sheraton. (Interruptions)
I wonder if the minister will tell this House if he has ever received from ITT Sheraton, or any of its officials, any kind of benefit, gift, gratuity, present? If so, could he tell the House the nature of such benefit and the time such benefit was received?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Well, Mr. Speaker, it is ironic, a moment ago he didn't even want me in Las Vegas, now he wants me to do the legal work. It is quite clear, I answered in this House that we had discussions with them in Las Vegas, ITT Sheraton. That is their international headquarters, that is where their senior personnel reside. We had discussions with them.
I indicated in those discussions what my recommendation would be and that I was confident that that recommendation would be followed. I remain confident that it will be followed. In fact, some of the implementation has already taken place. I want to make it clear, Mr. Speaker, that I don't do the legal work for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, but when it is complete I will present the package to the honourable member.
MR. DONAHOE: Through you, Mr. Speaker, to the minister, contrary to the guidelines for monthly reporting of ministerial expenses tabled in this House by the Premier on June 14, 1994, which we were told with great fanfare by the Premier was an edict which was required to be followed by all Cabinet Ministers, this Minister of Finance has failed to file expense reports since June, four months behind in the requirements for such filing. I ask the minister if he will give his undertaking to this House today that he will table in this House tomorrow copies of his expenses since June, including the expenses incurred during his recent trip to Las Vegas?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I can indicate that I have signed off expense reports at my office which go to the end of August. All the receipts are back and they are in appropriate order. Those have either been submitted or, indeed, they have been signed off by myself. We will carry on with the submission of expenses in the way that we do in the normal course. I would expect that the expenses for September and October will be submitted very shortly.
MR. DONAHOE: My question is again to the Minister of Finance. I ask the Minister of Finance if he will tell this House whether ITT Sheraton or the Nova Scotia taxpayers picked up the cost of the golf games played by the minister during his trip to Las Vegas? I need a yes or a no.
MR. BOUDREAU: That reminds me, that question, that in fact I didn't respond to the second part of his first question. (Interruptions) Mr. Speaker, the people in the back benches over there, the Opposition, have not taken to heart their Leader's promise in his leadership campaign.
Let me say very clearly that I am aware of all the reporting requirements under the Members and Public Employees Disclosure Act. I am aware of all of them and I have religiously followed each and every one.
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of the Environment. It is clear that many issues remain outstanding with respect to the approval of the Goodwood landfill site. This is near the metro area, yet in spite of its proximity to metro, it may well be a significant wildlife habitat. For example, I do know that there is a resident moose population there.
Understanding that the construction of landfill infrastructure and the landfill itself and the operation of that landfill would have an impact on wildlife habitat, will the minister guarantee that a full wildlife habitat survey will be conducted before he gives permit approval for the Goodwood landfill?
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I am interested to hear the member's intervention there, in terms of the wildlife factor. We have not been made aware of that heretofore but I do remain as I was yesterday, waiting for an official request for any kind of assessment on that site. I would be prepared to look at it once I receive it.
MR. LEEFE: I thank the minister for his response to ensure that management and operational problems do not plague Goodwood, as has been the case with Sackville, understanding that the minister's inspection staff is hard-pressed to meet demands with respect to their day to day work now and also understanding that with the introduction of the Municipal Solid Waste Strategy which the minister made public the other day. The management of that landfill site is going to be significantly more complex than was the case with Sackville. My question to the minister is this, is he prepared to make as a condition of permit for Goodwood that a Nova Scotia Department of the Environment inspector would be given full-time responsibility for Goodwood and that the municipality would reimburse the province for that staff person as part of the cost of landfill operations?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, today I can't give that undertaking but I will remain committed to responding with all due process to the requests that we receive but I cannot undertake to do that today.
MR. LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged by the minister's close when he said he can't undertake to do that today. I assume therefore that he will give it consideration. My final question, in an article in this morning's Halifax Chronicle-Herald, Marilla Stephenson named several individuals and companies which stand to realize financial gain from Halifax County Council's Goodwood decision the other night. I ask the minister again today as I did yesterday, in order to ensure the decision is fully transparent and to ensure no one's integrity is unfairly questioned, will the minister demand disclosure of municipal campaign contributions by those who are currently sitting on Halifax County Council and who are candidates in the upcoming Halifax Regional Municipality election?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I believe I understood the question to be am I going to ask for disclosures of candidates? I don't really believe it is my responsibility to do that.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question through you to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. My question to the Minister of Municipal Affairs is with regard to the meeting that she had yesterday with Mayor John Coady. He was meeting with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and the Minister of Finance, I believe, to discuss the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's three month lack of funding, I guess it would have to be called a deficit figure. Would the minister confirm that the figure for deficits is between $10 million and $12 million?
HON. SANDRA JOLLY: Mr. Speaker, I am sure the honourable member is well aware of how deficits are run up and the things that result from running up deficits. I have said each time I have been asked the questions, these are the numbers that belong to the regional municipality and I would suggest to the honourable member if he would like clarification of those numbers he should speak to the regional municipality responsible for them.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, through you I would like to ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs another question. Can the minister tell us, in her discussion with Mayor Coady, where the mayor made reference to the new administration which is so over budget, were the policies of the Department of Municipal Affairs which were drawn out by the minister and her staff, were those the problems that have driven up the costs to $12 million, is that what the problem has arisen from?
MS. JOLLY: No, Mr. Speaker.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a further question to the minister through you, of course. I was just looking at this little pamphlet that was out and I think it is very lovely, "Nova Scotia Open to the World". One of the headings is, "Cape Breton County Charts Its Economic Future". How telling this is when we have the mayor in town looking for $10 million to $12 million from the minister and the minister standing in the House saying, it's not my problem - if you want to find out go ask him. Would the Minister of Municipal Affairs take her responsibility seriously and would she request the Auditor General for Nova Scotia, Mr. Roy Salmon, to go and examine the deficit situation in Cape Breton and make a recommendation to the provincial government so that the taxpayers are not saddled, unreasonably, with this new and unexpected $12 million debt?
MS. JOLLY: Mr. Speaker, if there is one thing this Opposition cannot accuse me of, particularly as minister, is not taking my job responsibly. (Applause) With all the consultation and the discussion that we have had with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities over the last two and one-half years and with the fact that they are telling me continually to slow down, stop doing amalgamations, you are moving too fast, and we have here a specific example of where amalgamation is making a major difference, in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. There is a $4.2 million savings because of amalgamation. They don't seem to understand running one municipality is cheaper than running eight municipalities. It is about time they did their own arithmetic. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: A question to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. Mr. Speaker, as you know, and as we have said in the House, it has been raised that the residents in Cape Breton, in the new super-municipality, the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, discovered that they have a bill, a startup cost bill in the range of $4.3 million. They found that out too late and they also discovered that there were no tax revenues set aside to match the expenditures of those startup costs. The minister's suggestion to them was that they should add those costs to the medium term debt which, of course, would drive up their interest rates.
Well, Mr. Speaker, the clock is ticking and I would like to ask the minister, now that we have the metro amalgamation clock ticking, if the minister would please advise us what the startup cost for the metro merger here, what those costs have been incurred to date and what kind of bill she and her department expect to pass on to the local taxpayers in the Halifax, Dartmouth, county metropolitan area as a result of these startup costs?
HON. SANDRA JOLLY: Mr. Speaker, let me make it very clear, I, as the minister, am not passing along debts to the new regional municipality. That is the responsibility of the elected councils of an elected level of government. I am responsible for the management of my department, Municipal Affairs, and the services I provide to the province and so is the municipality to the services they provide to their citizens.
MR. HOLM: Great answer, wrong question. (Interruptions) Mr. Speaker, the minister is obviously unfamiliar with the principle of no taxation without representation. This government is expecting the local taxpayers to pick up the multimillion dollar tabs, the costs, without having had any control whatsoever over the expenditures authorized and approved only by the coordinator appointed by this minister, not the municipal politicians.
My question to the minister, is there a budget that the coordinator and the amalgamation officials that are at work, is there a budget that they must follow and if yes, will the minister table that budget here in the House today so the taxpayers will know what kind of dollar figure they will be facing once this amalgamation takes place?
MS. JOLLY: Mr. Speaker, I am very glad that this member asked this question because it gives me a chance to say that the staff that had been hired in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and the staff that have been hired in the new Halifax metro municipality are two of the best staffs you will see from municipalities in this country. The people who are putting together these new municipalities, the staff of those individuals, they are second to none. We have done cross-country interviews and Mr. Meech, who was appointed here in Halifax, and Mr. Gerry Ryan have come out on top of the list. The staff there are excellent people and they are doing a very good job.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, through you, as civilly as I can to the minister, what we are seeing is the expenditure of large amounts of public funds that receive the approval or review of no one. Those funds are not reviewed in this House because they are said to be municipal, yet this minister and her government refuse to allow the municipal elected representatives to be involved in the process, to have any say over those expenditures.
My question to the minister, who set up the process to whom the coordinator responds, is there a budget for the startup costs of the metro amalgamation and if there is, why are you afraid to put those facts on the table?
MS. JOLLY: Mr. Speaker, there are ongoing developments of how the municipality is coming together. That is exactly why we hired a coordinator and that is why we have been able to have, as I say, some of the best staff that is going. All the honourable member has to do is look back at the two reports that were done. We did reports in 1993 that outlined what was going to be needed to be done. There have always been startup costs in starting up a new business. When you start up a new business, there are startup costs. When they want us to deal fairly with the employees who are no longer going to be with the new regional municipality, would they suggest we not give them any severance, not give them any layoff notice, not give them any ability for early retirement? What is it they think is going to happen to those individuals if there aren't some startup costs?
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. I am sure the Minister of Health is aware of the urgent financial crisis facing the Yarmouth hospital. I would ask the minister, what is he doing along with the board and the administration to seek some solution to the crisis that has occurred at the Yarmouth hospital?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I could indeed confirm that we have been in rather frequent contact with both the Western Regional Health Board and the board of that facility to engender discussions as to the particular problem. We will continue to work with them towards a resolution to this. I would give that undertaking to both the board and to the honourable member opposite.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, a supplementary question to the minister. The minister has indicated that he is prepared to help with the resolution. As I understand it, the hospital is facing a shortfall of $400,000. That, I understand, is attributed to a number of factors, one being an increase in outpatients because there has been a shortage of physicians in the areas; and some reduction that was unanticipated in the acute care budget. Since the minister has indicated in the House the willingness to help resolve this crisis, my question to the minister, is the minister prepared to financially assist the Yarmouth hospital through this very important crisis that has occurred because of some factors, all factors, that the hospital themselves cannot control? The minister said in the House just a few moments ago that he is willing to assist. Can he assure us that he will assist financially to the hospital in this crisis?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I certainly have pledged the work of my staff, particularly my staff who work in that region, and they will be assisting the hospital in every way to look at the causes. There are many reasons given and there are various permutations and combinations that can be worked out. We are working with the facility, we will continue to do that and as I mentioned, of course, we will be assisting in that way.
MR. MOODY: Well, apparently, the hospital officials haven't heard that they are going to get some financial assistance. I have a press release that I don't mind tabling and the hospital officials say that we have nowhere to turn, there is no place left to go, that is why we need to see the minister. If the minister recognizes that there is a crisis facing the people of Yarmouth in health care, then will he agree today and not avoid the issue, not run away, but personally meet with these people who are requesting a meeting with him to make sure there is a solution in the immediate future so the people of Yarmouth can adequately get the kind of health care that they need?
DR. STEWART: I want to assure the honourable member opposite that the people of Yarmouth will, in fact, receive their health care in a system that is reinvigorated and renewed. I would, obviously, give that undertaking. However, what we are not going to enter into are negotiations at the last minute when something, patchworking can be done, as has been done in the past. We are going to work very carefully with the board. I will give that undertaking to do that. It is not as if the minister comes in and throws money around at problems which may, in fact, be solved in other ways. We have planned a meeting and that is going to come about, rather soon in fact, and I will look forward to those discussions.
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my question, too, is for the Minister of Health. The minister is aware there are many Nova Scotians now who don't have a family practitioner, in communities really from one end of this province to the other. The minister is also aware, of course, that an incentive package has been designed and the minister has arranged for a recruiter to be put in place.
My question for the minister is, to this date how many physicians have been signed by the recruiter to fill the vacancies across the province created by physicians moving, most particularly to the United States?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the honourable member opposite, particularly following on some recent media attention. I can certainly find out the actual numbers. I know we are in discussion with some 35 or 36 physicians. Again, the gentleman concerned in terms of the recruiting has been operating for only two months now so it takes a little time to get the contracts in order.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, again with the Minister of Health, 17 areas have been designated as qualifying for the incentive package. I understand the recruiter is concentrating on these 17 areas. The Village of New Germany has been searching for a physician for three years and they have not made the short list; in other words, there are not one of the 17 areas that have been designated. Is the minister prepared to go and meet with the people of New Germany to see for himself the need for a family doctor in that area? Is he prepared to take that information to the JMC and review the situation, to give consideration to placing New Germany on the list that qualifies for the incentive package?
DR. STEWART: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I would again reiterate that we have a system in place that is far beyond what we have ever done before. This ministry has never been involved in recruitment; we could not be, by the contract that was in place. (Interruption) Oh yes, we did, we had major underservicing in various regions. We had at least 11 rural areas that were chronically underserviced over the last decade, maybe 12. If New Germany has specific needs, we will address that and we will be bringing to bear the resources that are pledged from the Medical Society and the partnership that we have with it. We are very encouraged that this is working in the last several months, to do some very good things.
DR. HAMM: The minister made reference to the fact that there are far more than 17 underserviced areas in the province and at one time that under was 33, and since that time I believe more areas are being identified.
My final question, by way of second supplementary, could the minister describe for us here in the House, or table the criteria that are used to determine why one underserviced area qualifies for the incentive package and another underserviced area does not?
DR. STEWART: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to table those criteria developed with the Medical Society and with the rural physicians section of the Medical Society, which is new. I might say in answer to the honourable gentleman opposite that there has been major progress over the last three months. We are talking about three months, maybe four months of effort, in terms of the ministry and the partnership of the Medical Society.
We can name the areas that have been chronically underserviced over the last decade which now have full-time physicians. We can name the Bass Rivers, the Cansos, the Guysboroughs, the Caledonias, the Sherbrookes, the Parrsboros, the Freeports, the Cheticamps of this province that are now serviced by full-time physicians permanently there. We can mention as well the 15 general practitioners who have recently come to the province and located in small town rural Nova Scotia, the three specialists going to small towns in rural Nova Scotia. We can certainly mention, too, that GPs have just located in the smaller towns: Reserve, New Waterford, Glace Bay, Shubenacadie, Port Williams, Enfield, Wolfville, Musquodoboit, Tantallon, Antigonish and I can go on with some others. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. Emergency Measures Organization spokesperson, Mike Myatt, said recently that 911 emergency response system has had another delay and is not expected to be in full operation for another two years.
Last December 14th, during debate in this Legislature on the implementation of 911, the honourable member for Kings South, the Minister responsible for EMO at that time, stated, Mr. Speaker, ". . . I understand that Colchester County is more than ready to go and we are more than ready to go with them but we are . . . going to take the time necessary to ensure they have the finest equipment.". I might add that this was before a house burned to the ground in Upper Stewiacke early this year after the local fire department could not be reached because of a malfunctioning system.
Both the Minister of the Environment at that time and the present Minister of Transportation stated that the new high-tech equipment would not mean any additional cost to the fire department. However, Mr. Speaker, at a meeting . . .
MR. SPEAKER: However, is there a question?
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, there is a question. This is the question, Mr. Speaker. At a meeting of the Chief Fire Officers Association in early October, the association was informed by Mr. Myatt that the province has no intention whatsoever of setting up a secondary answering service and/or paging service, and to the Premier, . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I must rule this question out of order. It is not a question, it is a speech.
MR. TAYLOR: My question to the Premier is simply this, Mr. Speaker, are you, Mr. Premier, aware that your government is insisting upon putting many rural fire departments into dire straits and forcing an extra cost burden upon them?
MR. PREMIER: Did you rule that out of order?
MR. SPEAKER: I ruled the question out of order, but following that, he resumed the floor and made a short question which I rule in order. The speech was out of order, the question is allowed.
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, if the member opposite doesn't know, the rest of the House does. The Emergency Measures Organization does not fall under my direction, it falls under the direction of that of the minister, and the minister is going to answer it.
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, the short correct answer is that this department, as would no department of this government, put any fire department in such a situation, the answer is no.
MR. SPEAKER: A short, supplementary question.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, obviously the minister isn't aware. Now, my first supplementary, I would like to go to the Minister of Transportation and Communications. A tender closed on May 1st of this year dealing with an integrated network service that would enable the government to create a province-wide emergency 911 service. The tender was awarded to MT&T, Maritime Tel and Tel. They were one of only two Nova Scotian companies to actually submit a bid, the other being Simmonds Communications of Dartmouth. At the same time . . .
MR. SPEAKER: This is another speech. I cannot allow these speeches, it has to be a question.
MR. TAYLOR: Okay, the question is, Mr. Speaker, can the Minister of Transportation and Communications better define what he is doing and how, in the end, it will lead to a province-wide 911 enhanced emergency system?
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, the honourable member did correctly identify that the consortium chosen to deal with this issue is led by MT&T. It includes MT&T Mobility, IBM, SHL Systemhouse and other firms joining their consortium bringing areas of expertise to it. He, in his first lengthy preamble or speech, whatever, to the question that he directed to the Premier, identified the problem that we presently have; equipment that fails. So what we are attempting to do is bring an infrastructure into place in Nova Scotia that will ensure that we do have a system that is state of the art, that will allow for central dispatch, that will allow for multi-channel and multi-band use, that will allow not only for the transmission of voice but the transmission of data, for the transmission of photos and will allow for all of that.
We are well along in the process. It is a stage process from the very first, together with the former Minister of the Environment who is now the Minister for the ERA. One of the fundamental concerns and the fundamental guarantees that we sought in dealing with anyone on this was that the local fire departments be accommodated without them having to incur significant additional costs. That has been paramount in our negotiations; it will continue to be front and centre and we will look after the interests of the fire departments as we go through this process. (Applause)
MR. TAYLOR: Somebody said it is better to understand a little than to misunderstand a lot.
The acting director of communications and technology, through his Department of Transportation, said on March 1st this year that more than 450 project inquiries had been received from around the world, from Britain, Japan, Germany and the United States. (Interruptions) Mr. Speaker, somebody wants to ask a question.
MR. SPEAKER: I hope you do. (Interruptions) Please, let's hear this question.
MR. TAYLOR: Does the minister have any idea why only two companies would submit an actual proposal after some 450 companies initially expressed an interest in the project?
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, I guess he used the number 450 and if that is what I said, that is what the people in charge of this who fielded the inquiries and provided information, that's what they did. Why some of the Baby Bells in the United States, why some of the companies from Europe that expressed interest in receiving information on what this was all about, haven't pursued it and put a bid in, I really have no way of knowing that. What I do know is that two very qualified consortia did submit bids. They put together teams of very qualified companies that are capable of doing what is necessary in Nova Scotia. Why other companies did not bid, I have no idea why they did not bid.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Natural Resources. Some 10 years ago the Canadian Heritage Rivers System was created with the intention of identifying and then protecting the most special of Canada's rivers. There were 27 rivers nominated and, to date, Nova Scotia is one of a minority of the provinces and territories which has yet to move nominated rivers to designated status.
My first question to the Minister of Natural Resources is, what is the current status of the Margaree River in Cape Breton, which was nominated as a heritage river in August 1991? Can Nova Scotians expect that the government will meet its own anticipated designation date of September 1996?
HON. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, in regard to the Margaree River, we have been working with a committee within that jurisdiction to have the designation for that period of time. But I will get back with a specific area of what our time schedule is now.
MR. LEEFE: I thank the minister and look forward to receiving that information at his earliest convenience.
I have a similar question respecting Shelburne River. It was nominated in January 1993, and I wonder if the minister could advise if he believes that his department will be able to meet the government's anticipated designation date of February 1996?
MR. DOWNE: As I indicated to the honourable member opposite, we are working very closely. In fact, just recently in his own riding we had meetings with regard to the parks organizations across the Province of Nova Scotia. The heritage rivers associations boards of directors and our staff have been in constant contact with the national body in regard to these particular areas, as well as working with the local communities in trying to have the designation available during that period of time. The specific update as to where it is today, I would be happy to provide that information to the member opposite, what the time schedule looks like as of today.
MR. LEEFE: Again, I thank the minister. Mr. Speaker, I think about a year ago, or perhaps a little more than a year ago, the minister, quite properly, struck a parks and protected areas task force, under the able chairmanship of John Mullally, a former deputy minister of the department. I wonder if the minister could indicate when he anticipates that he will be making that task force report public?
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, in the near future.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question, through you, to the Minister of Labour. The minister will undoubtedly know about the two Labour Relations Board orders that have been issued against Future Inns, a company that has been involved in a dispute with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. The dispute involves five women whose employment was terminated last winter by Future Inns. These two orders that were issued called on Future Inns to reinstate those employees and to pay them the amount of money that they would have normally earned, had they not been terminated. The employer ignored the July order, there was a subsequent order in October which they have also ignored. I would like to ask the minister if he, in fact, is going to proceed, as has been requested, and prosecute Future Inns?
HON. GUY BROWN: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question. Today there was in the office, at about 7:00 a.m., a fax from the union with regard to this. At that time I directed my staff that I wanted some type of action taken on this issue today because when the Labour Relations Board gives a ruling, then I think it is morally wrong and unfair that an employer, and I don't care who it is, continue to protest. I would hope to have an answer today for the honourable member. I don't know if they will pay, I don't know if they will be prosecuted but I will tell you this, the issue is going to be resolved one way or the other.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's answer and his obvious commitment. I would just like to follow that up with a copy of a letter that was sent to his attention - for the information of other members - by the Labour Relations Board which explains the fact that two orders had been issued by the board. It says, and I would just like to read this into the record, the interim chief executive officer of the Labour Relations Board says, "An orderly resolution to labour relations issues in the province requires that the pivotal role of the Labour Relations Board be understood and respected by the parties to proceedings, members of the labour relations community and the general public.". I wanted to read that into the record and I will table this and urge the minister to move in a very positive way, on the basis of this recommendation, to see that this matter is properly resolved.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency. Last May, the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency and the Minister of Human Resources both gave assurances that the people of Nova Scotia would be given an accounting of the $6 million of provincial money that was spent on the G-7 conference. In Hansard, May 4th, Page 1436, is one example of where the commitment was made that the accounting would be made public and tabled in the House. That has not happened as yet and I am wondering if the minister today would table in the House, for us and the people of the province, where the $6 million was spent and how it was spent for the G-7?
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I doubt very much whether we committed to table $6 million of expenditures because consistently throughout, we talked about a ceiling of $5 million, some $3 million of which was devoted to our share of the infrastructure projects. We tabled information then, we have sent freedom of information to the gentleman opposite who posed this question, which detailed every single project under the infrastructure agreement, as per his request under the Freedom of Information Act.
We will be delighted to table any and all information as the receipts come in and full budgets are declared, including a full reporting of the G-7 impact on the Province of Nova Scotia, one that Nova Scotians were proud to host and did a fine job throughout this province in welcoming the world. (Applause)
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the honourable minister, unless the freedom of information that I requested arrived today, the minister has not sent it. In May the Freedom of Information officer for his department called and said look, we will give you that information shortly but we need a little time, so I said all right, a little time. In August again there was a request for freedom of information sent to that minister's office. I would like to ask the minister if he could tell me why the day the gentleman called and said we need a little more time was the same day that the deputy minister wrote and said we are sending the freedom of information to the wrong office?
I now understand why this government cannot account for the money that was spent on the G-7. Could the minister please tell us that he would table it before this House?
MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I can only repeat what I have just said, that a full accounting of the G-7 expenditures will be made, has been made, has been sent to the gentleman opposite or to his offices and that we will be happy to continue to supply information as receipts become available. We have nothing but pride in what we have done as a province, as a government and the people of Nova Scotia deserve the information he is asking for.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, through you to the minister. The minister indicates that he wants to provide the information. When will the minister provide that information? He indicates to the people in the House that he has already done so. Mr. Speaker, he has not because they have not replied to the freedom of information that we have.
For the minister to stand up and wave himself in the glory of the G-7 is not what we want. Everybody in the province thinks the G-7 was a marvellous event and it worked well and everything went marvellously, but the people are entitled to know where the money was spent. This minister is telling us he has tabled the information and he has not.
MR. SPEAKER: All right, we have heard the question.
MR. HARRISON: Well, we are having a battle here as to whether something happened or hasn't. Mr. Speaker, I have told him that we have tabled one set of information, we have given him other specific information and we promised to complete the task when all the information is in. All three promises we have kept, are keeping, or will keep.
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance, in his capacity as Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. I wonder if he will tell this House whether or not at the meetings in Las Vegas, Purdy's Wharf Developments Limited was represented at the table?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I am sure the honourable member will know that it is not my intention to indicate the detail of any meetings I may have had with our partner. I will indicate to him that my conversations were with the senior officials of ITT Sheraton.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, the plot thickens because this member purports to speak to the person he refers to as his partner when, in fact, in law that entity is not this minister's partner at all. The partners are ITT Sheraton Limited, Purdy's Wharf Development under the name of Metropolitan Entertainment, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, and the Sheraton International Incorporated.
Now he tells us that he is not going to tell us about any dealings with Purdy's Wharf or whether they were at the table; they were a party to the document and this minister is not.
I ask this minister if I may, by way of supplementary, if he will tell us this then, would he please explain why it was necessary that he went to Las Vegas at all when, in fact, what he has already told us to this point is that he was simply making a request of ITT Sheraton, presumably without consultation with other partners to the document, that he was making a request of ITT Sheraton as to whether or not they would consider a delay or a postponement in the construction, why was it necessary to go to Las Vegas? Why couldn't that have been done by fax, by telephone, by couriered message, by some other means of communication?
MR. BOUDREAU: Well, Mr. Speaker, we are into micromanagement by the Opposition here. What, in fact, we did, I have indicated that we had an agenda that I, as the minister responsible, was interested in discussing with the most senior people in the partnership, and both myself and the Chairman of the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation went with that agenda and had discussions on a number of issues, including the extension.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, I ask the minister to tell me this, will the minister tell me whether or not, when he went to Las Vegas, he was armed with some written communication?
AN HON. MEMBER: No. No, he wasn't armed.
ANOTHER HON. MEMBER: No, it was an iron.
MR. DONAHOE: I ask the minister to tell me whether or not he was in possession - if we don't like the word "armed" - was this minister in possession, when he went to Las Vegas, of any documentation verifying or confirming that Purdy's Wharf Development Limited, carrying on business under Metropolitan Entertainment Group, concurred in the request or proposal which was being put by this minister, without any legal authority, to speak for anybody in this process? Did he have a written confirmation from Purdy's Wharf that they either agreed or did not agree to the proposal that the minister was putting to ITT Sheraton?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, let me repeat what I have said before. I went there, along with the Chairman of the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, to discuss a series of important issues, issues important to the public interest in connection with this relationship. I had those discussions, I have returned. One of the things which emerged from that meeting is an extension of the construction schedule. We will complete the legal documentation. I will present it to the honourable member. He can give me his comments if he is so anxious to offer legal opinions at this point. He may give me his opinion and I would be happy to receive it, but the documentation required to effect a change along those lines will be in the hands of the solicitor for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel. There isn't enough time for supplementaries, but certainly there is for one question.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question, with the time running out, is simply again to ask the minister to indicate to us why it was not possible to communicate the position which the minister wanted communicated to ITT Sheraton without the necessity of trekking out to Las Vegas for that purpose? I simply don't understand why it was not possible to communicate the request. The one request the minister talks about having made was let's extend the contract. Why was it necessary to trek all the way out to Las Vegas for that purpose?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Well, Mr. Speaker, I suppose I could have sent a fax saying, would you mind extending this construction period for six months. But that was only one part of a very serious discussion that we wanted to have at the senior levels with our partner. In fact, it dealt with such things as marketing, the results to date, affirmative action, all of these things that have been raised in the House and other things that have not been raised in the House. It was a wide-ranging discussion between two partners involved in a very serious business venture at the most senior levels.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 39, and I would indicate that the Minister of Education should be here very shortly. We have assigned someone to take notes until he arrives but he will be here within a few moments.
Bill No. 39 - Education Act.
MR. SPEAKER: When the debate had adjourned, the honourable member for Queens had the floor, he was speaking to an amendment, the amendment being that the bill be not now read but be read this day six months hence. He had used up, I believe, 14 minutes of his time, so there is lots of time. You have 46 minutes left to address that proposition.
The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, in the intervening 48 hours since I last had the opportunity to address the motion which is on the floor, that is the motion to hoist the bill, all of us as legislators, have had the opportunity to have conveyed to us either personally or through the media concerns by various groups that are particularly interested in this legislation. One of those, of course, being teachers in general and, more specifically, their representative professional organization, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
There is no doubt that this bill will greatly impact on teachers, perhaps more so than on any other single group, understanding that this bill may or may not impact favourably or unfavourably, or, indeed, any way at all, with respect to the students. So, again, the six months' hoist would provide opportunity for the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the teaching profession across the province generally to respond in a full manner to what is proposed in this legislation. Time is not absolutely critical, because, of course, the minister himself has said that the new boards would not come into effect until 1997. So we do have a year and a bit so that that should not constrain the minister from agreeing to the six month's hoist.
The same observation can and indeed should be made of the interests that the Home and School Association has in this bill and the time that they should have available to them to respond to it. The Nova Scotia School Boards Association also should have that opportunity. I believe there are many other groups and individuals across the province who must have the time available to them to read this bill, to comprehend this bill, to develop a response to this bill, to underscore for the minister the areas that they believe are in the public interest and to additionally underscore for the minister and for the government those sections of the bill which should be amended or perhaps even removed from the bill altogether.
There is ample reason for hoisting this bill at this juncture and it would, in my view, not destroy the minister's initiative but would lend itself to strengthening the minister's initiative, thereby strengthening the bill and doing a service to Nova Scotians that may become a disservice if, in fact, we rush holus bolus into passage of this bill without giving it due and fair consideration. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I too would like to speak in support of the amendment. I certainly agree with my colleague, the member for Queens, that there are very many reasons why we should support this bill. We do know that the Nova Scotia Teachers Union has numerous concerns relative to the new Education Bill. I also understand that there was a need to combine the Education Act and the old school Act, I understand that those pieces of legislation are nearly 40 years old. I also understand that several schools across this province are working toward restructuring the trustee system and the trustee association and are forming school councils.
I this with the six months' hoist the school councils will be better able to dot their i's, cross their t's, conduct meetings and get hold of not only parents, teachers, students and community representatives but it will be an opportunity for those stakeholders to sit down and just talk about the relationship that the various partners will have. The minister, I know, has done extensive consultation relative to this piece of legislation. I would like to mention at the outset the fact that the Minister of Education reneged on his promise to the boards to pass along to them a draft copy of the bill for their input. The minister included in his bill briefing, his statement relative to the Education Act that, in fact, all of the partners or stakeholders would receive copies of the legislation.
I had an opportunity to speak to two principals of high schools in this province and neither of the principals received a copy of the document. I would think and again, perhaps I am misunderstanding the intent of what the minister was saying but I would think surely the principals would be afforded a copy of the new Education Bill. That has not happened. I think the hoist will allow for better perusal, better understanding, closer examination and certainly, more scrutiny of the Education Bill.
The bill is some 65 pages is length and it repeals the current Education Act, as well as the School Boards Act. That is a very significant document so I don't think we are asking too much. We have outlined some of the concerns we have with the new bill and we understand that the minister is moving towards decentralization with the advent of school councils. While decentralization has merits in certain areas, there are still numerous questions relative to the transition time, if you will, between a trustee becoming a member of the new council, what will be the role of the old trustees and so on and so forth.
I believe there are many ideas people could agree with. However, many of the minister's apple pie statements, if you will, Mr. Speaker, included in the legislation, have absolutely no place in the legislation.
The minister talks a lot about roles and responsibilities of parents. He says, and I agree with him, that parents shall support their children in achieving learning success. I think that for the most part, parents have been doing that right along.
He also states that parents shall communicate regularly with their children's school. Now I honestly believe again that most parents are presently doing that. Most parents do have a profound and very real interest in their children's future. The unfortunate part is that there are those, as the minister has pointed out perhaps, there is a small number of parents who do not care. I believe that is entirely a different matter altogether. The parents who don't care about the future of their children and they don't care about their children achieving learning success perhaps could be addressed in another manner. Perhaps that doesn't need to be included in the legislation.
We have had comments made by several of the stakeholders with whom we met and they are very concerned about the powers of the minister in the bill. A lot of people feel that the powers of the minister are dispersed in the bill in such a way that it is very hard to get a handle on just what powers the minister has afforded himself, if you will. Perhaps the minister would be kind enough to list the powers that he has awarded himself, so to speak.
Now decentralization towards a hugh power grab is a reason to be concerned and centralization of powers in the hands of the minister is another reason to be concerned. We do know that the President of the Federation of Home and School Associations has some very real concerns about this legislation. In fact, at the minister's press conference the President of the Federation of Home and School Associations made some very interesting comments. She said she was pleased the bill allows for a school council to be what is presently the Home and School Association on the site. Nevertheless, she went on and continued that she found it disturbing that there are shades of Bill No. 104 within the new Education Act. Of course everybody knows that Bill No. 104 was a piece of legislation pushed through by the minister on the eve of the end of the spring session in June 1994.
Now we know that right across this province, be it on the mainland or in Cape Breton, that people do have concerns about the legislation. I am very pleased that the member for Cape Breton South told me not to worry, he didn't tell me not to worry about Cape Breton, he recognizes that Cape Bretoners have a problem with the piece of legislation. But, lo and behold, on this side we have somebody to look after Cape Breton interests.
MR. SPEAKER: I see the honourable member for Cape Breton South rising to make an introduction.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: No, I am rising on a point of order. The honourable member opposite made a statement that I said to the people of Cape Breton that we are concerned about Bill No. 104. I didn't say that, I said he was talking about Bill No. 104, when we are not even on that bill. I would suggest that he stick to the bill that is on the floor.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, actually it is an amendment that is on the floor that the bill be not now read but be read this day six months hence. Now that is what we are talking about. I had been in conference with another honourable member and wasn't paying close attention to the debate but I would invite the honourable member to please address his remarks to the amendment.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, for the purpose of clarification, I would like to outline to the member for Cape Breton South that what I said is that I was pleased he didn't rise to tell me don't worry about Cape Breton, that is usually what he has to say, because we have a member for Cape Breton West here who is more than capable of looking after Cape Breton's concerns. But many members from Cape Breton have concerns about this bill and I think teachers, parents, community members, municipal officials would support this hoist because, again, there are just so many areas where there are reasons to be concerned.
There are a lot of items that are going to cost money before the boards, schools and classrooms see a nickel of the minister's purported $11 million in savings. For example, this bill allows for the minister to appoint coordinators for each new region. Now, my goodness, it is interesting to note that the minister has already embarked on this process without the need for the legislation. The minister has gone forward and, in fact, started this initiative. The first choice was perhaps, coincidentally, Mr. George Unsworth for the Strait region. We have certainly heard Mr. Unsworth's name in the past.
AN HON. MEMBER: It is friends and family first for this government.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, my most learned colleague from Cape Breton North made a very interesting comment and observation, Mr. Speaker, that I think you perhaps would probably agree with but, nonetheless, I will let him raise that concern again when he speaks to this issue.
So, with those very brief comments on the hoist, I will be waiting for other members to take their place and speak to the amendment. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Are there any further speakers to the amendment? I believe the honourable member for Cape Breton West has not yet spoken to the amendment.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to be able to get up and speak today on behalf of this hoist. I think it is an important issue that we are dealing with here. I would say I, too, agree with the honourable member for Queens and the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley when I say that not all things in this legislation are wrong.
I would like to refer the minister's Education Horizons, White Paper on Restructuring the Education System. The proposed restructuring of our education system has one objective: to offer young Nova Scotians every opportunity for the highest quality of education. I compliment the minister on that. That is why I think this hoist is so important, Mr. Speaker, because I think it is incumbent upon us to make sure that as much input and as much debate as possible can take place on this bill so that we can, in time, down the road, deliver the best education we can for our children. I speak as a parent who has three children in the school system and I have grave concerns about some of the things that are happening today and I do believe that we do have to make some changes.
Yesterday, and previous to that, I had taken the time to call different people in our constituency, and different areas of Cape Breton West, who indeed have some real concerns about this legislation and about this bill. They want to have more time to look over the document. They want to have more time to have input. I believe that if our minister is truly serious in making the best effort he can for the children of this province, that he will take the time to listen to those people to get that type of input, because we are not dealing with facts and figures, we are not dealing with buildings, we are not dealing with stone and mortar, we are dealing with the lives and the livelihoods of our children. It is a very important task that we are about here. It is a time, Mr. Speaker, when we have to be sure that we are doing the right thing and I am not so sure that everything in this legislation is the proper thing for our children.
I have served some time as a trustee of a school board. I don't know that this change that the minister is advocating is the right thing. You know, to have a school of 500 or 600 children and have eight parents to be able to come forward and form a council for that school may not be the best option that is available for all the people in the province. There are many other issues that have been brought forward by different Home and School Associations, by the different unions and locals of the Teachers Union and it is important that we take these type of things into consideration, Mr. Speaker.
When we talk about the Education Act, we are talking not only about our children but we are talking about the future of our province and it is not a business that we should take lightly. There are many different things that are taking place that have to be looked at. If, indeed, the education system has failed as long as it has according to the minister, then, well, we can wait another couple of months to make sure that we get it right this time. We have to make sure it is a proper program that is being put forward and that our children are going to be the winners in this situation.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to be allowed to get up and speak on this amendment. I would like to tell you that I will be voting in favour of the amendment and I thank you very much for the opportunity.
MR. SPEAKER: Now, are there any further speakers to the amendment? If not, we will now hold the vote on the amendment.
The amendment is, that the bill be not now read (Interruption)
A recorded vote is being requested.
Have the bells rung. Ring the bells. Call in the members for a recorded vote on the amendment.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MADAM SPEAKER: Are the Whips satisfied?
The amendment that we are about to vote on is the hoist amendment, just to refresh everybody's minds. I would ask that the Clerk reads the roll, please.
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Donahoe Mr. Barkhouse
Dr. Hamm Mrs. Norrie
Mr. Russell Dr. Smith
Mr. Moody Mr. Boudreau
Mr. Holm Mr. Gillis
Mr. Chisholm Dr. Stewart
Mr. Archibald Ms. Jolly
Mr. Leefe Mr. Mann
Mr. Taylor Mr. Casey
Mr. MacLeod Mr. Gaudet
Mr. M. MacDonald
Mr. B. MacDonald
THE CLERK: For, 10. Against, 28.
MADAM SPEAKER: I would declare that the hoist amendment is carried in the negative.
Now we will have speakers on the main motion.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise to speak on second reading to Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education.
I think I find myself at some disadvantage and I am sure that all members in the House do, as well. I can certainly attest from comments made to me by them that essential stakeholders in the education enterprise in the Province of Nova Scotia, such as the School Boards Association and the Teachers Union and the Federation of Home and School Associations and other organizations as well, find themselves disadvantaged by reason of the unseemly haste with which the government appears to want to have this bill go forward. It was introduced and within a very few days it was called for second reading.
When it was introduced, Madam Speaker, you will be aware that it contained and does contain a tremendously wide range of legal principles which bear relatively little relationship to principles which were set out in previous documents made public by the Minister of Education. In fact, you will recall, too, as I well do, that the Minister of Education made one of his many solemn promises that he would make available to all Nova Scotians, including all members of this place, a copy of the draft of the bill prior to its introduction. Of course, that was not done. What was made available was sort of a precis document, a review document, which even when that document is compared with the language and the substance and the principles espoused and enunciated in Bill No. 39, bore little or no relationship in many essential elements to the provisions which are, in fact, set out in Bill No. 39.
I think I will begin by indicating that my principle concern about Bill No. 39, relative to everything we have heard from the minister and, indeed, on the rarest of occasions from other of his Treasury bench colleagues, is that the minister would have us all believe, and indicated at the press conference some days ago which I attended when he did the bill briefing, that this piece of legislation is all about our young people and their circumstances and welfare and progress in the classroom setting and all about their ability to learn. In addition to that, it is all about a partnership between those young people, those children, those students and some of them not children, some of them older students, and their parents. He suggested that it goes even further than that, that it is a partnership between those students, parents and the professionals, principals and superintendents and school teachers in the public school enterprise and that, indeed, Madam Speaker, you will recall that it goes even further, in that it is a partnership among the students and among the parents and among the teachers and administrators in the schools and in the classrooms and it is a partnership which goes even further and includes the to be newly created school council regime.
It goes even further, to extend into that partnership the school boards, and on and on spoke the Minister of Education about this expanding partnership. If one didn't know something about what really does go on in the school system - and I suggest with the greatest respect that the minister has had so much to say in the last while about this bill and about what he thinks it does that I am absolutely convinced that he is one of those in Nova Scotia who has exhibited that he knows relatively little about what the day to day reality is in the school system - but for those who do know something a little bit about what goes on in the school system, they are very concerned about the long-term, adverse consequences and implications of so many of the principles enunciated in this particular piece of legislation.
Madam Speaker, Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education, isn't anything at all about the partnership which the Minister of Education talks about. What it is about, and the principle which is clearly enunciated and riveted in legislative language in this legislation, is clearly the concentration of power and authority and direction in the hands of the Minister of Education. It isn't with the students, it isn't with the teachers and the administrators, it isn't with the school boards, it isn't with the school councils, it isn't anywhere but in the hands of the Minister of Education. There are so many references and I will attempt to make but a few in my limited time to make that point.
As difficult as it might be for some to believe, it is in fact the case that Bill No. 39, the bill we now consider here on second reading, has by my count, and I probably have missed a few, has something like 37 elements of the public school enterprise and the education enterprise generally which are now either totally, or to a very considerable extent, in the hands of and in the control of the Minister of Education. I would like to recount and recite a few of those because I think it is important that they are placed on the public record and I will do it by way of not reference to individual sections, and I know the purpose of our debate on second reading is to talk on the principle of the bill and I will do my best to honour that requirement and talk about some principles.
This bill, Madam Speaker, provides among other things by way of principle and by way of result and effect some of the following, that the minister will have, if this bill passes, the general supervision of public schools and education in the province. The minister may appoint coordinators and local amalgamation committees to coordinate and facilitate the establishment of regional school boards or the Conseil acadien. The minister must approve the administrative structures of the regional school boards and the conseil as developed by his coordinators, the coordinators which he will have appointed, with the assistance of the local amalgamation committees. The minister must approve the remuneration paid to the members of the Conseil acadien. The minister determines the cost-sharing per board for the new chief executive officers in the interim period before the establishment of regional school boards.
Subject to a provision in Clause 21, which provides some very broad parameters, the minister shall determine the initial composition of the school councils. The minister, not the community, not the men and women. He talks about school councils as if that is evidence of the fact that the community is going to have rise, from within its number, men and women who will be the school council. But not this minister; the minister shall determine the initial composition of school councils.
This bill enshrines the principle that the minister must be a party to any agreement signed between a regional school board and a school council concerning the composition and responsibilities of that school council. The minister must also be privy to any subsequent amendments to that agreement. So the minister will have a direct hand in and control of the doings, the creation of, the composition of, and the doings of the school councils.
The minister will determine the form and the content of annual reports to be prepared by school councils. The minister may recommend to the Governor in Council that duties and powers of a school board should be transferred to a school council.
Now, Madam Speaker, let me just stop and detain you and other members who may be interested at that point. This bill has included in it a principle which says the following; That the Cabinet, "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.".
Well, I guess I have to ask, Madam Speaker, and I do ask, what is the point of men and women of good will who are interested in standing for election for school boards and they are doing so because they believe fervently that they have the abilities and skills and the background and the talent to bring some judgment and positive initiative to the workings of their local school board and they stand for election to the school boards.
But this minister wants to establish school councils. If, in a perfect world, we had both school boards and school councils, with clearly defined roles and authorities and responsibilities, in a perfect world we might get along fine and there might well be a tremendous synergy, as between those school councils and the school boards. But this minister is prepared to perpetrate an assault on the school boards if, in the opinion and on the recommendation of the minister, he can convince his Cabinet colleagues of the day that that should be done.
Madam Speaker, I ask what is the rationale, what is the justification, what is the point, what is in the best interests of the children in the schools if we are going to have a regime which has a school board fully elected, the choice of the electorate of a particular region of the Province of Nova Scotia, elected according to the other provisions of the Act, to run the schools in that district or in that region? Then we come along and we find a provision in this legislation which says that if the minister feels like it, he can strip the powers of that school board from that school board, transfer them holus bolus to a school council and, at that moment, the power and authorities of that school board are functus, gone, dead, over. I think that is a highly inflammatory and, may I say, dangerous and retrograde step.
That principle is enshrined in this legislation and I think it is fatal if this legislation were to come out the other end in final form with that authority.
I have not heard the minister offer any explanation at any point. He didn't bother to explain why he felt that was important when he moved the bill for second reading here. By my recollection, he didn't offer any comment when he had his press statement as to why that was a reasonable or an appropriate term or provision to have in this piece of legislation. I can tell you because they have told me, this is a provision which, if you can believe it, comes to the knowledge of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association - an organization which, on other days, I have heard the minister talk about in the most glowing of terms, how important the School Boards Association is, the good work that the School Boards Association does, the nature of the relationship which he has with the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, the positive relationship and the effective work that he, as minister, and they, as association, have been able to do in the past - without any consultation with the Nova Scotia School Boards Association. The first time that that association reads they are in the process of potentially being stripped of their powers and authorities by a school council, at the discretion not even of the school council but at the discretion of the Cabinet, on the recommendation of the Minister of Education, the first time that the School Boards Association learned of that is the first time that I learned of it, when we saw the bill here, some few days ago.
Well, can you imagine the attitude and the disheartened and dispirited sense that now pervades the minds and hearts of the men and women who have, honest to God, believed that they have been providing a service to their children and their community by standing for election to school boards and those men and women who are in good spirit, or were in good spirit, contemplating standing again for school board election, and then they come upon a piece of legislation, newly introduced, which says that if the Governor in Council is so minded, on the recommendation of the Minister of Education, that the powers of that school board can be transferred to a local school council? Madam Speaker, that is a very dangerous principle enunciated in this legislation.
To go further to describe and carry on with my recitation of the powers and authorities which will reside in the minister, if this legislation passes in its present form, Madam Speaker, let me indicate that there is a principle enshrined in this legislation whereby teachers must administer such evaluation and assessment instruments and keep such records as required by the school board or by the minister. Well, who is the master? Who is their master? (Interruption) Well, the minister is now back and the minister says, the school board. The minister is right because the bill does say that the employers of the teachers are the school boards. Well, I ask, if that is the case why is the principle adulterated then by adding the language that would accord unto the minister a further, in my opinion, unnecessary control and authority to make it a responsibility that teachers must, Clause 26(1)(j), "administer such evaluation and assessment instruments as required by the school board or by the Minister;". They should be required to respond to the legitimate and appropriate direction of their employers and their employers are the school boards.
The bill goes on further by way of principle to establish that the minister approves the form of teaching contracts used for all but substitute teachers. The minister must consent to a special election being conducted for school board representation. The school boards are accountable to the minister and must abide by policies and guidelines developed by the minister on a range of issues, including the special education of students, school closures, conveyance, tuition matters, student discipline and suspensions, staffing, school-based fund raising, tendering for services, and so on.
The minister's authorities go further and deeper, Madam Speaker. The minister must approve any by-laws developed by the school boards concerning, Clause 67, ". . . the conduct and operation of a public school and the exercise of the powers of the school board.". Further, the minister may relieve a school board of its authority and appoint a person to carry out the responsibilities of a school board, Clause 68(2), "Where, in the opinion of the Minister, (a) the health, safety or educational welfare of the students of a school are endangered or the resources of a school board are not being used in a responsible manner; and (b) the school board has failed to comply with a request of the Minister to take corrective action,".
In the legislation there is no - none that I have seen, at least - indication as to what the ground rules are, what the parameters are, what the circumstances are. (Interruption) Oh, the minister is being very helpful again. It is going to be in the regulations. Well, if it is going to be in the regulations, I would like the minister to table the regulations today so that we could understand what the future of education is going to be in the Province of Nova Scotia because, with the greatest respect, it is not good enough to suggest that the ground rules and the parameters of a minister relieving a school board of its authority are going to be found in regulations which are as yet unseen. (Interruption) They will be worked out with the school boards. I can't believe it. Oh, God. I have been in this place 17-plus years and I found it to be just a wonderful place. My good friend the Minister of Labour agrees, it is a wonderful place. It is also a place in which some of the most inane comments have been made during my time, and I just heard one from the Minister of Education.
The reason I say that is because he says it is going to be worked out with the School Boards Association, I presume the same way he worked out the design and the inclusion in his legislation of Section 23. I won't read the section but again I will refer to the principle. He is going to work out with the school boards all these regulations and the school boards will be tickety-boo and happy because he is going to consult with them, I presume the same way he consulted with them in relation to Section 23, which enshrines the principle, Madam Speaker, that the Governor in Council, on the recommendation of this minister, can transfer duties and powers of school boards to a school council and the first time the School Boards Association ever heard about it, this same association that he says he is going to discuss the regulations with, the first time the School Boards Association ever heard about it was when the legislation was tabled in this place.
What an absolute joke. The minister is notorious for talking about vision and nirvana and the New Age and all the wonderful things that are going to happen. Then he produces a piece of legislation of this kind and the New Age and the nirvana is going to come, says he, after he then negotiates with all the people who are required to negotiate within the context and the confines of his vision, as perverted in some cases, as I suggest it is in educational terms, after the legislation is already passed. What a joke, what an absolute joke. The minister knows it is a joke. More to the point, the men and women on the School Boards Association and increasing numbers of parents and students across this province understand it is a joke.
The list goes on, Madam Speaker, indicating, as I have said, that this is not a bill about children in classrooms, this is not a bill about learning, this is not a bill about making the best for our children, this is a bill about centralizing authorities and powers in the hands of the minister and the Ministry of Education. The minister can relieve a school board of its authority and appoint a person to carry out the responsibilities of the school board, where this minister or any subsequent minister considers that the health, safety or educational welfare of the students of a school are endangered or the resources of a school board are not being used in a responsible manner and the school board has failed to comply with a request by the minister to take corrective action.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, it sounds strange to me, possibly like you are reading from the clauses in the bill. I am not sure if you are.
MR. DONAHOE: No, Madam Speaker, I am not. I am reading from a document which is a precis. It is a narrative describing the principles in the bill. There are no section numbers, I am not reading from the bill . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Okay, thank you.
MR. DONAHOE: It is a document prepared to describe the principles enshrined in this bill which result in increasing and excessive and virtually total control ending up in the hands of the Minister of Education, and I am not reading from the bill.
The evidence of increasing authority residing in the Minister of Education goes further, Madam Speaker. There is a principle in this bill whereby the minister controls the funding of school boards, the provisions relating to finances and the sale, purchase, lease or construction of school premises not having been amended to any significant degree. The minister's approval is required, in many instances, but not significantly more than in the past. The minister can, however, withhold payment of all or any part of financial assistance payable to a school board where the board fails or refuses to furnish such schedules and reports that the minister may, from time to time, further require concerning the administration and operation of public schools.
Well again, under what ground rules, under what guidelines, as a result of whose thinking or analysis, where funds will be withheld by the minister from time to time, or maybe, if the minister says he requires further information concerning the administration and operation of the public schools.
Further, the minister gives himself an authority in this legislation, Madam Speaker, to approve the use of special reserve funds for capital purposes. This minister gives himself an authority to appoint an auditor where the school board fails, neglects or refuses to appoint one. This minister by regulation gives himself authority to determine the generally acceptable accounting principles to be used by auditors in reporting the financial position of school boards. The minister, by way of further authority which he assumes unto himself in this legislation if it passes in this present form, may from time to time at his discretion appoint an auditor to conduct an independent audit of the records, documents, books, vouchers or accounts of a school board or school.
The minister, by way of further principle and further authority unto himself and the ministry, must approve any school board by-laws dealing with the permanent closure of schools and, where there is no such by-law, the regulations made by the minister shall apply. Further, the minister's approval is required where a school board determines that there should be a board of trustees for an area consisting of two or more school sections.
Well, why would the minister's approval as to whether or not there should be school trustees appointed, why would the minister have to make that decision? Why, if a community, and the legislation sets out the provisions whereby the numbers of people necessary to convene meetings of trustees or to propose the establishment of trustees, why is it necessary that the minister has to provide his, or any subsequent minister would have to provide approval to determine that there should be a board of trustees for an area consisting of two or more school sections.
I get the impression that an assumption of that authority by the Minister of Education is a recognition, or statement more to the point, that the minister is not prepared to trust the best judgment of the men and women who live in the region served by the school or schools. This minister and this government talk about consultation and the democratic process and power to the people, returning a role and function, particularly on educational terms, to the hands of the families, the children and the families affected by the public school enterprise, yet they have to have the minister's approval to establish a board of trustees.
Further, Madam Speaker, the minister, by regulation, establishes the guidelines for home education and also designates the assessment instrument to be used in order to determine the child's education in progress. The minister also makes the final decision with respect to whether or not a student should be allowed to continue home education or should be required to attend a public school.
Well, I know that there are pros and cons to the argument relative to home education, but I also know that the law at present, unless and until it is amended by the law before us, is that those parents who wish to have their young people out of the public school system - and that number of families and children is increasing I might add - the number of young people and their families who want their young people to be educated outside of the public school classroom now have to deal with the Ministry of Education. To my knowledge there has been little or no difficulty in that regime.
I recall some experience with it from earlier days and I have had contact with people who are engaged in exactly that process at the present time. Those who are supporters of and practitioners of home education are, as the minister knows, very concerned about the principle or policy change which is reflected in this legislation relative to home education.
I know anecdotal information is just that; it is anecdotal information. One robin does not a spring make, and all of those good things. However, let me say this, I don't think the minister was present but I know that his administrative assistant or executive assistant, whichever title is correct, Mr. Trainor, was present. The Premier was present but had to leave the convocation early and I don't know if he was there at the time, but the Premier was present at the convocation for a while. Two or three Saturdays ago, I went to the convocation at Dalhousie University on the occasion not only of the convocation but the ceremony to install President Travis as the new President of Dalhousie University. I was part of history. I wasn't in any way, shape or form responsible for the history but I was part of it.
On that particular day at the Dalhousie convocation about three weeks ago, the youngest person ever in the history of Dalhousie University walked across the stage and picked up an Honours Degree in Computer Science. The youngest graduate in the history of Dalhousie University, a 14 year old boy, Erik Demaine But do you know what is intriguing in the context of what we are talking about here, home education, his father took that boy out of the public school in Grade 1 and that young boy did not darken the door of a public school from the time he left in Grade 1 until he went to classes at Dalhousie University. He completed a four year Honours Computer Science Degree in two years and he walked across the stage to collect that honours degree.
I said a moment ago, anecdotal information is but that, it is anecdotal and there may well be some of those who are being educated at home who don't have the God given skills and obviously outlandish talent and capacity that this young man has. But I haven't heard, prior to the introduction of this legislation for instance, I hadn't heard from the Minister of Education that there was a serious difficulty with home education. I hadn't heard that the administrative processes relative to home education had to be revamped because they didn't work. There is a real concern and there is a real fear now. It may not be founded but it is a concern and it has to be addressed and it is one which I trust the Minister of Education will address. To this point, those who wish to have their young people educated at home, have dealt with the Department of Education and it worked, I think, reasonably well.
The amendment here and the new principle to be enshrined in the legislation here would require that the school boards, in which the minister has so much confidence he is going to take away their authority by turning it over to school councils, the school boards would have the opportunity to make the judgments as to whether or not, in their opinion, the home education program should take place. Frankly, a number of people who are engaged in the home education activity at this time have made contact with me and they are, frankly, very concerned about the fact that there is an inherent conflict of interest, potentially, in the situation with the school boards and the home education issue. I don't know whether that is the case.
The frustration and the problem is that if there are such concerns and they are being expressed to me and they are being expressed to the School Boards Association, they are being expressed all over the place, if this minister had conducted himself in the way that he had undertaken that he would, namely that he would have provided a draft, given all the relevant stakeholders - including all of us as his colleague legislators - an opportunity to see and understand the principles which he proposed to enshrine in a new Education Act, that and a whole range of other issues could have been avoided. So I find it difficult to understand the necessity of the change made in that regard and on clause to clause on a future day, we will have an opportunity, I am sure, to come back to that.
I mentioned earlier and I think there are lots of flaws in this legislation but one of the most fundamental flaws by way of principle is contained in Clause 23 and that is the clause that says, if the Governor in Council wants to on any Thursday on the recommendation of the Minister of Education, they can transfer the duties and powers of a school board over to a school council. I repeat again, what is the point of inviting and encouraging men and women of ability, intelligence, good will, good spirit and interest in education and our young people to stand for elected office as school board members, if the Minister of Education - and I don't personalize it with this Minister of Education - this Minister of Education or any subsequent Minister of Education, can if he or she and his or her future Cabinet deems some day that the school boards' powers and authorities should be emasculated and obliterated and that the school board power should be transferred to a school council. I just simply don't understand how that principle can make any sense.
When one reads the principle established in Clause 23 in that connection with the principles enshrined in Clause 68(2), "Where, in the opinion of the Minister, . . .", no mention of any parameters or any context in which the minister is supposed to come to that opinion or come to that conclusion at all, "Where, in the opinion of the Minister, (a) the health, safety or educational welfare of the students of a school are endangered or the resources of a school board are not being used in a responsible manner;" then the minister, imagine, the minister may appoint a person. What person? Before he was ripping authority out of school boards and delivering them up to school councils. Here, the minister may appoint a person. What person? What person with what qualifications? What person with what knowledge of the needs of the school, and more to the point, the children in that school? Clause 68, "the Minister may appoint a person who shall carry out such responsibilities and exercise such authority of the school board as the Minister determines . . .". So, again, it is going to be the minister who calls the shots and it is going to be the minister's boy or girl, man or woman, person, who is going to take over.
I just find as a matter of principle that that is exceedingly dangerous. It is again, as I said when I began, Madam Speaker, but one more example of a long litany, and I am not through the litany yet, but one more example of instance after instance where this bill doesn't at all represent an educational regime which is intended to ensure and has any real possibility of ensuring that the best, the maximum and the full potential of our young people will be realized, the principle of this bill is the consolidation of power and authority and direction in the hands of the Minister and the Ministry of Education.
That's what the principle of this bill is and that is threatening and that is wrong and I plead with this minister, if he is interested at all, that he engage now as he should have before introducing this bill, in discussions with his colleague legislators, in discussions with N.S. School Boards Association, with the Teachers Union, with those who are into home education, with the municipal units and all the relevant stakeholders, and he review this document, clause by clause, issue by issue, principle by principle, to ensure that when we finish our work here, we come out the other end with a piece of legislation which has some reasonable chance of being in the best interests of the young people of our province and is not, what it is now, a power grab and a coalescing of power and authority in the hands of the minister and the ministry.
By way again, of principle, Madam Speaker, the minister controls, or would if this legislation passes, the registration of private schools which he may cancel or suspend in certain circumstances. Well, I would caution him to be pretty careful in that regard. There is a growing turn by many families in this province to private schools, to have their children educated in private schools. Whether that is right or wrong I don't know but it is growing. I don't have any particular problem at all. Indeed it is appropriate that the minister have an authority to ensure, either directly or through a school inspector or whatever, that the curriculum being offered at that private school bears sufficient relationship to the approved curriculum in the public school system.
The choice taken by families in this province as to whether or not their children go to a private school is their choice. It is not one that should be tampered with lightly at all. Those men and women and families pay taxes just the same as the Minister of Education and I pay taxes. If they determine that it is in the best interests of their child to be educated in some place other than the public schools - I am not advocating that this should happen, but if those parents do - then I caution the minister to be very careful about any controls or restrictions imposed there because not only in addition to paying all the taxes that he and I pay, these families are, for their reasons, and their reasons may be valid or otherwise, making the decision that their child have an educational experience other than that in the public school system.
This minister has the authority, under this legislation, to control the registration of private schools and he can cancel or suspend those private schools.
Madam Speaker, this minister under this legislation may appoint regional educational officers to act as an education advisor to school boards and to visit schools and report back to the minister and to visit and to assess private schools, et cetera. There is no real difficulty with that, that is consistent with the old provisions, or more or less consistent with the old school inspector situation.
Again by another principle and authority available to and residing in the hands of the minister, the minister's approval continues to be a requirement of a community facility agreement. The minister, further, determines the terms of reference for the Council of African-Canadian Education, appoints the members for that council, Clause 137(4), ". . . for such terms and upon such conditions as the Minister determines.". One can take no serious issue with that but again, it is another evidence of an authority residing in the minister's hands.
The minister may, Madam Speaker, again established by way of principle in this legislation, "Clause 138(n) effect improvement generally in the conduct and administration of school boards, and, among other things, consult with, assist and advise school boards, develop proper methods of school board administration, financing, accounting and auditing, collaborate with public education organizations and other bodies and collect, compile and disseminate education statistics and information;", and, further, "Clause 138(o) do such other things as the Minister deems necessary to carry out effectively the Minister's duties under this Act.".
I read that and I think others read that, Madam Speaker, as language which makes it possible for this minister to roll into any school board any time he might please and indicate that we don't really think you are employing proper methods of school board administration, financing, accounting and auditing or any other, what does it say, deem necessary, do other things or a whole range of unlisted and unpublished things which the minister might believe was that a sign to me, Madam Speaker?
MADAM SPEAKER: I am not aware of anyone giving you a sign.
MR. DONAHOE: Oh, I thought I was perhaps detecting a time sign. How much time do I have, please?
MADAM SPEAKER: You commenced at 2:31 p.m.
MR. DONAHOE: So again, Madam Speaker, I read that language as clothing the minister with an authority that potentially could be a very dangerous one.
Further, under this new legislation the minister may require an audit of any benefit plans where the minister pays a portion or all of the costs of the plans. I don't have any particular problem with that. If the minister is a paying partner, then there is theoretically nothing terribly wrong with that.
The minister has authority to make all kinds of regulations. He just hollered across to me earlier that he is going to make regulations down in the Cabinet Room that will deal with the school boards and how a council takes over a school board and all that sort of thing. This minister is going to have regulatory-making authority, "Clause 143(1)(b) prescribing the time in session, holidays and vacations of all public schools; (c) prescribing the minimum number of hours of instruction to which students in the public schools are entitled; (d) prescribing reporting systems and forms for the administration and effective carrying out of this Act; . . . (n) for the support, conduct, operation and management of public schools and services; . . . (q) respecting school councils; (r) approving a financial management system . . .", to be adopted by school boards.
Those regulatory-making authorities are ones which, in my opinion, if they are not done and undertaken in consultation with the school boards, have the potential for very real conflict. I am not for a minute suggesting that it is inappropriate that there be a regulation-making authority, but I am saying to this minister that I sincerely hope that he has the decency, the courtesy and the professionalism to deal with the School Boards Association and the Teachers Union in the course of the development of that regulatory regime.
Madam Speaker, there are some real problems, as I see it, in this legislation relative to control by the minister in regard to certain employment matters. The minister shall (a) negotiate professional agreements on behalf of regional school boards and the Conseil acadien until such time as the minister considers it advisable that regional school boards or the Conseil negotiate on their own behalf. Well, I know that there is an interim and a transition period here but I have very serious reservations about the minister negotiating the local professional agreements on behalf of regional school boards. What is wrong with the local regional school boards and the Conseil acadien negotiating their own agreement? Why does the minister have to? Pardon me? (Interruption) They have asked. The School Boards Association asked that. Well, I am intrigued to learn that and I didn't know that.
Perhaps the minister can help me here because there is another control relative to employment matters by the minister. Clause 11(5), "The Minister shall (b) do anything that the Minister considers necessary or advisable to obtain . . . execution . . .", of the negotiated local professional agreement ". . . until such time as the Minister considers it advisable, that all regional school boards and the Conseil acadien are to negotiate on their own behalf.". Again, he has been asked in that regard, too, I presume.
MR. MACEACHERN: Not that one.
MR. DONAHOE: No, I didn't think he was asked in that one. Then, it goes on to say that the minister must approve the initial salary and benefits of the chief executive officers as determined by the local amalgamation committees. Well, I wonder whether we want the Minister of Education approving the salary and benefits of the chief executive officers? The local amalgamation committees has power of appointment, why is it that the minister has to make the judgment on the salaries? Principals must, Clause 38(2)(f), "ensure that provincial and school board policies are followed;". The chief executive officers must, Clause 39(2)(d), "oversee the carrying out of the Minister's and the school boards' policies . . . (k) co-operate with the Minister and other departments and agencies of the Government to ensure the effective and efficient carrying out of this Act and its regulations;".
The chief executive officers must oversee and carry out the minister's and the school boards' policies. Well, the school boards are the employers of the CEOs and the teachers and there are provisions all over the place in this legislation, Madam Speaker, which, as I read them, and I trust I am reading them accurately, that simply find the minister with his fingers in the whole relationship as between the school boards and the school boards' employees. These people don't work for the minister, they work for the school boards and what we are seeing in this legislation is, in my opinion, an assault by this minister and by this government on school boards in the Province of Nova Scotia.
How can you determine otherwise when you pass or introduce a piece of legislation which says there shall be school boards. Then you have a follow-up section which says, however, if I have a school council which I like, and I think they should take over authority from the school board, I, the minister, can direct that the council take over from the school boards. Well, interesting. Let's ask this question. What happens? It is not at all provided for or clear in this legislation and we could have chaos and we could affect not only the children but we could affect some very many professionals. We have a school board, it runs some schools, this minister and this Cabinet decide they want to take power away from the school board, give it to a council. Does the council then become the employer of the CEO, of the teachers?
No, and the minister is saying no, no, no, he is shaking his head very knowingly and wisely over there, no, no. The problem is, how can you have principals and teachers who are being told what to do by school councils who are the employees of school boards, which school boards have just had their authority taken away from them.
On clause by clause we will get into a discussion about advisory because (Interruptions)
MADAM SPEAKER: Order, the honourable member has the floor.
MR. DONAHOE: In regard to employment matters, Madam Speaker, this legislation provides, among other things, that the minister may participate in the hiring and annual evaluation of superintendents and chief executive officers. I have to wonder why. I know a lot of people in this province are wondering why. Why is a partisan, political minister, whether it is this minister or any future Minister of Education who would deal with this legislation if it passes in the form in which it has been introduced, and I don't personalize it to this minister but he happens to be the minister today and there will be ministers follow him, what is the point and what is the education-based rationale for the Minister of Education to participate in the hiring and annual evaluation of superintendents and chief executive officers?
This minister or subsequent ministers, Madam Speaker, where are they going to get their views as to whether or not candidate A or candidate B is the appropriate person to be hired as a superintendent or a chief executive officer? They are either going to get it out of personal bias - I see the Minister of Transportation probably showing me exactly the way the Minister of Education will do it. He is going to flip a coin, that is the way the Minister of Transportation and Communications thinks it might happen. That shows you the degree of seriousness with which some of the Treasury bench members think that this issue could or should be handled. This is a very dangerous piece of business. Do we want a partisan Minister of Education, of whatever colour or stripe politically, to be engaged in the hiring, the annual evaluation and the hiring of the superintendents and the chief executive officers, who are men and women who don't work for the minister, they work for the school boards.
So what is the Minister of Education doing sticking his or her fingers into the hiring of the superintendents and the chief executive officers? That is what this bill would have happen. It is called control. It is called control in the context of something as sacred as education, tinged by the possibility, as it should never be, by partisan influence by a practicing partisan political Minister of Education. The Minister of Education should have nothing to do with the hiring of the chief executive officers and the superintendents.
If the minister is going to hire them, why wouldn't this minister just come clean and set out in his legislation exactly what he really is attempting to do here, that is do away with the school boards of the Province of Nova Scotia? Why didn't he put that clause in and come clean and have it out once and for all? Yes, this province will have school boards or no, we won't. But that is exactly what this piece of legislation is all about by way of principle.
Madam Speaker, I have taken a great deal of time, and I did so intentionally, because I felt it was important to describe, which by my count is something like - on one little review document I had prepared - some 37 elements of control exercised by the minister and on another, some 10 or more. This minister, I honestly believe - well I will say it this way - I have very serious doubts whether, and I mean this, and he can scream at me or laugh at me or do whatever he wants and I do not particularly care, I do not believe that this Minister of Education understands one iota about what the reality is for children and teachers in the schools of Nova Scotia today. I really do not believe. He has this idea of nirvana, this idea that the new age is going to dawn as a result of his rhetoric and the language in this legislation.
I wonder how many times he seriously sits down with hardworking, able, effective, dedicated professionals in the school system. Maybe he might even ask them this, could you teachers tell us what is your experience in having the parents of the children whom you teach come to your parent-teacher nights to even find out about how their children are getting along in school? I wonder how often he has asked that. Well if he does not ask that, he should, because he will find out when he asks that of the teachers of the Province of Nova Scotia that it is exceedingly difficult.
Madam Speaker, would you mind asking the Minister of Transportation either to stand up and contribute to debate on the bill, or afford me the opportunity to do so?
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I am not aware that you are having a problem making your speech. You have the floor until 3:31 p.m. (Interruption)
MR. DONAHOE: I am having a considerable amount of problem with the babble from (Interruption) I have what?
MADAM SPEAKER: You have the floor until 3:31 p.m. I am not aware that you are having a problem.
MR. DONAHOE: Thank you very much for your help, Madam Speaker.
I ask the Minister of Education to speak to the teachers. I ask him to speak to the teachers and ask them the question that I just put because I have and I know the answer that he will get. It is exceedingly difficult even for the teachers out there, the good, able, dedicated, concerned, committed teachers out there. Even to have a reasonable number of the parents of the young people they have in their classes come to the parent-teacher nights to discuss with them how well or poorly their children are doing, that is very difficult for them.
I see the Minister of Economic Renewal, who is an educator, shaking his head. Perhaps that was not his experience. Well perhaps he might want to talk to some school teachers about what really is going on in the schools these days in terms of the time and the effort and the energy which the professionals in our schools are now required to commit to doing, not an awful lot more in so many cases than simply maintaining law and order in the school buildings of this province.
Here, we have this minister who has this - through rose-coloured glasses - notion about school councils and we are going to get the students and the principals and the teachers and the parents and we are going to have sweetness and light and we are going to have all these councils, and these councils are going to be so good we are going to take away the authority from the school boards because the councils are going to be able to do it all. I, frankly, am very concerned about many of the principles which are enunciated in this piece of legislation and I am very worried.
I sincerely hope, as I conclude my remarks, that this minister will understand that this piece of legislation is seriously flawed. It does not reflect what he said to the Nova Scotia School Boards Association it would reflect. It does not reflect what he said to the Nova Scotia Teachers Union it would reflect. It does not reflect what he said to the Home and School Associations it would reflect. It does not reflect what he said at a number of public meetings that it would reflect. It is not a representation of the undertakings and the commitments that he had made.
Madam Speaker, this bill is very badly flawed and by reason of that fact, I propose now, with your indulgence, to make this motion. I would ask a Page to please provide one to the Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: Do you wish to read it, honourable member, because your time has expired?
MR. DONAHOE: Yes, Madam Speaker, I do. I would move that the words after "that" be deleted and the following substituted, Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education be not now read a second time but that the subject matter of the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources to seek information regarding the impact of the provision of Bill No. 39 on students, parents and teachers.
I believe the substance of the amendment is clear and the purpose is clear, that it is to enable that committee and to enable all of us to seek and secure information regarding the impact of the provisions on students, parents and teachers.
MADAM SPEAKER: The amendment is being distributed. There is a desire, obviously, to intervene on this amendment but before I recognize anyone on an intervention I just would like to suggest that if we are going to have a series of interventions, we restrict it to one intervention from each of the Parties in the House.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. I certainly have no hesitation with the Speaker making a suggestion but I certainly think that that is a decision that the respective political Parties have a right to make for themselves. In fact, all members of this House, even those on the government benches, have a right, as elected representatives in this House, to make interventions on any matter that is before this House for debate. Madam Speaker, I would like to inform you in advance that when this has been accepted, it would be the intention of all members of my caucus, the two of us, that we both will be making interventions on the amendment before us.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, just to clarify, I am not ruling out speakers on the amendment, if it is accepted. What I was suggesting was that each of the Parties may wish to make an intervention. I hope we don't see 15 or 20 interventions before I rule on the amendment.
MR. HOLM: I apologize then, Madam Speaker. I thought you were talking about being able to speak on the intervention. I misinterpreted what you were saying. I thought you had ruled it in order and were suggesting only one member from each Party.
MADAM SPEAKER: No, no. Just to be very clear on this, I think it is in the interests of the time of the House that if there are to be interventions, each of the Parties of the House may wish to make an intervention before I rule. That was what I was stating.
I would recognize the honourable Government House Leader. You have been on your feet three times.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Madam Speaker, since my time in this House, seven years, the Speaker has always determined when interventions on the admissibility of an amendment were to cease.
Madam Speaker, I notice, and not that it is important, this amendment was drafted on November 6th, on Monday, actually before we started debate on the bill. That is not an important fact but I would suggest that it is remarkably similar, the proposed amendment, to the proposed amendment that honourable Madam Speaker ruled out of order on Tuesday.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you for your intervention.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Madam Speaker, I do not recollect that there has ever been an occasion that an amendment has been ruled out of order because it is similar to another amendment that was ruled out of order on a technicality. In your previous ruling the amendment that had been introduced by the Leader of the Opposition was ruled out on a technicality in that it referred the bill to the committee for review. It was pointed out by yourself at that time that the proper thing to do is to refer the content of the bill to the committee for review. The amendment we have before us today, in fact, takes that advice that was given by the Speaker, the learned legal advice from the Minister of Finance and others who had interjected at that time. I believe that the amendment is, indeed, very much in order and is in keeping with the ruling that the Speaker made previously, when she ruled the other one out of order.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you for your intervention.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Madam Speaker, I was just trying to find your ruling from, I believe it was, Tuesday. I can't find it right at the moment but if I recollect Madam Speaker's ruling on that particular day, a dilatory amendment was certainly in order, except that on a technicality, because we had referred the bill rather than the subject matter to the committee, it was ruled out of order. In this particular amendment, we have referred the subject matter of the bill to a committee for (Interruptions) The honourable member has already had his opportunity. He can have another go in a few minutes, if he so wishes, Madam Speaker.
I would suggest to you that both Beauchesne and your previous ruling would cause you to accept this amendment as submitted by the member for Halifax Citadel.
MADAM SPEAKER: I thank the honourable members for their interventions. I would have been happier with this amendment if it had read, the impact of the subject matter. Having stated that, I will accept this amendment. It is to refer the subject matter to the Standing Committee on Human Resources and it is in order.
I recognize the honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Madam Speaker, this amendment that we are debating refers Bill No. 39 to the Human Resources Committee. The Human Resources Committee, as we well know, was set up to consider matters normally assigned to or within the purview of the ministers of the Departments of Labour and Education and matters relating to the Status of Women. So this is, indeed, the correct committee to refer this particular bill to.
The purpose of referring this bill to the Human Resources Committee is simply to permit the stakeholders within the education system in the Province of Nova Scotia their opportunity to make known to the members of this House and to bring to the attention of the minister, what they consider to be shortcomings with this bill. Then, having heard from all the stakeholders within the system, the honourable minister can either accept or reject that information but at least the stakeholders will have had the opportunity to make their views known.
I have a meeting tomorrow morning, very early, about 6:30 a.m., to meet with the teachers within my constituency. The teachers didn't receive this bill until Tuesday of this week. That was their first opportunity to review this bill. I would have liked to have met with them earlier but however, they didn't have the bill, they didn't have a chance to analyze it. Now they have and they want to meet with me tomorrow.
It would be much better if they had the opportunity to speak face to face to the minister and bring to his attention, in the Human Resources Committee, what their particular views are on this piece of legislation, what it does for the child within the classroom, what it does to the teachers and what it accords in the way of educational satisfaction to the parents of those children. For instance, Jennie Ernst, the Chairwoman of the Nova Scotia Home Education Association has evidently had an opportunity to read this bill and she says it downgrades home schooling. Perhaps the members of her particular organization, who educate their children at home, would like to have the opportunity to speak to the minister and to bring to his attention directly across a table her organization's particular concerns with the bill. The teachers, themselves, as I have already said, would certainly like to have that opportunity.
This bill deals with the setting up of school councils and the transfer of some of the mandate that school boards presently have to those school councils. Some people, such as Sandra Porteous, in a column in The Daily News says . . .
HON. RICHARD MANN: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. I have been listening to the honourable member talk about the contents of the bill, the principle of the bill, school councils, which is not the amendment to which is to refer to a Committee on Human Resources. I have great respect for the Chair and fully accept the decision that the amendment is in order but the amendment to which we are now obligated to speak is for a referral to a committee, not about the content of the bill or the principle of the bill any longer.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. The resolution that we are now debating is referring the subject matter of the bill to a standing committee so that that subject matter can be then talked about in terms of the impact that that will have on students, parents and teachers. In order for one to be putting forward the concrete arguments in support as to why that has to go to that committee, it is necessary to talk about some of the subject matter so that you give substance to the arguments that you are advancing as to why that committee has and should have a right to hear and have citizens come forward to make representations before that committee on the subject matter of the bill. Therefore, you have to identify some of those subject matters that are of greatest concern to the citizens in this province.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. The whole circumstance of this amendment is to place the bill within the Human Resources Committee so that the people of this province may have the opportunity to make interventions. What I am trying to put forward and to convince the government caucus of, is that this is indeed the way we should be going and give the reasons why it is necessary for these people to have a voice within the Human Resources Committee to speak directly to the minister and to the members of government caucus with regard to the impact of this bill.
MADAM SPEAKER: I thank the honourable members for their points of order. I think they have all been interesting points but strategically I don't think that any of them constitute a true point of order. I would remind the member who has the floor in this debate that I would like you to make every great effort to speak to the amendment that is on the floor.
MR. RUSSELL: I will certainly do my best, Madam Speaker. As I said, with regard to a lady by the name of Sandra Porteous, who writes for The Daily News, she, for instance, is saying that she would like to bring her views to the attention of the government, to the attention of the Minister of Education, and her views talk about parental involvement in the school system, whether or not that is really a good thing. She would like to know more about the school councils before she would say either Yea or Nay to the involvement of school councils and school councils taking over the mandate, as I said before, of the boards of the schools.
Also, Madam Speaker, there is another large player within the educational system that is being completely ignored, and that is the municipal councils. The municipal councils are not aware of this bill, at least they weren't on Tuesday when I checked. They weren't aware of the ramifications of this bill and they, too, have a vested interest, I would suggest, in the education within their present areas, and perhaps their future areas if the bill introduced by the Minister of Municipal Affairs ever sees the light of day by proclamation.
So, this would give the opportunity for municipal councillors, for mayors and wardens to appear before a committee of this House and to make their views known on Bill No. 39, before it proceeds through the Law Amendments Committee and on its way to third reading and eventual proclamation.
Parents are particularly interested in one - at least they are in my particular riding, Madam Speaker - with regard to the fact that now we are transferring under this bill the closure of schools to school boards. That may be right or it may be wrong, but I know that parents in my particular riding are quite upset about that. They would still prefer, in most cases, to have the minister responsible for the closure of schools rather than the school boards. So, they too would like to have the opportunity to appear before the committee to make their views known on the impact of Bill No. 39.
One final observation that I would like to make, Madam Speaker, is that to date we have not received from the minister anything in the way of an economic impact document to show us where the $11 million he says is going to be saved, is going to be saved, and where the $11 million - if that $11 million is saved - is going to be spent. Is it going to be spent, for instance, in the classroom where it should be spent, or is it going to be gobbled up by administration within the Department of Education? We would like and we would hope that within the Human Resources Committee we can get this information from the Department of Education, or perhaps from the minister himself, to show a financial impact study on the amalgamation and the reduction in the number of school boards across this province.
So, Madam Speaker, I will be voting in favour of the amendment to refer this bill to the Human Resources Committee. I would hope that members of the government caucus would join with the Opposition in voting in favour of the amendment to Bill No. 39.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Madam Speaker, I want to say a few words about this amendment and why I think this amendment should be carried. We have had a piece of legislation that has only been distributed in the last week or so, introduced last Friday, and many organizations are finally having a chance to go through the bill, line by line. The problem is that a lot of parents don't have the same opportunity of having legal people hired, and so forth, that maybe the Teachers Union and the School Boards Association, have of going through this piece of legislation. Those groups that have gone through the legislation are obviously, from all reports and from people I have spoken to, Madam Speaker, are having a lot of difficulties with many aspects of this bill.
Clearly what we have to do is allow the Human Resources Committee to seek some information on the impact it will have on students. I hear very little being talked about by the minister except he always says this legislation that $11 million will go directly to the classroom.
I can tell you, Madam Speaker, that that has to be studied because the minister continually gets up in the House and has continually gotten up in this House and said that the cuts to education in the past have not affected the classroom. Well that is a lot of baloney, a lot of untruth. I can you take you down to Kings County, I can take you to any school board, I can take you to any school and I can take you to many parents who will tell you the difficulties they are having with students and the difficulties the schools are having because, in actual fact, the lack of funding is having an impact on the quality of education. It is having a long-lasting impact on many of our young people who are now not going to have the opportunity, because there are not EAs, and they are not going to have the opportunity to even reach their fullest potential and will obviously become a heavy burden on society, through no fault of their own.
The reason they are not going to receive the opportunity is because of the impact that this minister has made on education and the cuts this minister has made in education. So it is fine for us to get up and say or for the minister to get up and say yes, this government has made all these cuts, like this bill is going to put money back into the classroom when I can stand here and cite example after example of where, in actual fact, there is a great deal of difficulty in the system.
The teachers are demoralized, the parents are demoralized and even the students are finding it difficult to cope. We are all ignoring that because we have a piece of legislation that hasn't had the time for groups and parents and others to come forward and make sure this bill does and has the kind of impact the minister says it has. There are so many parts of this bill, Madam Speaker, that gives the minister all of these powers. Shouldn't we have this committee to hear whether it is or not that whether the parents and whether it is not the School Boards Association, the PTA and all of those groups, the Teachers Union and the works, agree that the minister should have all this power? That, in actual fact, the powers given to the minister is going to have a positive impact on the quality of education in the schools.
I can't believe that the minister is saying he is going to decentralize when, in actual fact, he is centralizing all the powers to the minister's office. Now what kind of an impact is that going to have, by centralizing all of these additional powers to the minister's office? What kind of an impact is that going to have on the kind of quality of people who are going to seek election to be on a school board that is going to have little, if any, power? The minister is going to have it all. What is defined in this bill that is going to be given to the school boards could be taken away by the minister and given to the school councils.
Now I don't understand why anybody would put themselves in a position to run for elected office with so little powers and, in actual fact, may end up with hardly none, with regard to schools that the minister decides the school councils are going to take all these particular powers from the school boards. If you look at the make up of the school councils, how are they more democratic than the elected school boards?
We have a lot of unanswered questions regarding - I cannot even figure out who the minister determines the form and content of the annual reports prepared by school council, reports to whom? Are the school councils under the the school board or under the Minister of Education or is the Minister of Education going to give them additional powers and they report directly to the minister. In my mind, I do not think it is clear that, in actual fact, the school boards will have the powers over the school councils because the minister, obviously, by order in council, can strip away many of those powers.
We have to understand the effect. I am not clear on these annual reports and he is going to determine the form and content of them, but in actual fact what value are they going to be depending on where they are going to go. So what impact are they really going to have and is action going to be taken by whom? By the school board or by the minister after these reports are done annually?
Those are the kinds of questions that could be answered in this committee. Hopefully, people could come forward who are in favour of school councils and support school councils so that we could fully understand what it is they expect, what powers they expect to have that is going to improve the quality of education within that school system.
Madam Speaker, no matter what, we do not have any information that says - other than what the minister has said - that by amalgamating 21 boards to 6, plus one is in actual fact, going to save $7 million. Maybe that through this committee we could understand, is there an initial cost to that? Is there is an initial cost to amalgamating a number of these boards into one? Now we have seen a large cost in amalgamating municipalities in Cape Breton. Is that cost going to raise its head when we amalgamate school boards?
Then in actual fact, initially they will be no savings, in actual fact, initially they may be greater costs. Now, if we refer this to the committee and we could get some data - because the minister has given us no data - to show me that in actual fact that by amalgamating into a smaller number of boards that I am going to see that $11 million into the classrooms. I have no evidence of that, the minister has given us no evidence to convince me in any shape or form.
Those kinds of questions could be dealt with by this committee so that we would better and fully understand that by doing this amalgamation, initially, we are going to have a greater cost in the first year - $10 million, $12 million, $15 million. Then it is far down the road before we get the cost-saving because if you are dealing with people, may be this Human Resources Committee could deal with the non-union people who are involved in the amalgamation. A number of these people are going to lose their jobs. What kind of severance packages are they going to be given? Is that severance money going to come out of the classroom money? Obviously, we are going to have fewer administrators or need fewer administrators. Is the package going to be given to those people? Is that money coming directly out of the classroom that the minister talks about in the saving? I am not sure.
If we had this committee we might be able to figure out, in actual fact, and let us be upfront, look, if amalgamating these boards initially has a cost price tag to it of $10 million, $12 million or $15 million, let us tell them upfront and then they can do their severances, they can do all their things and then it is down the road that we get the impact. But, the minute we have a cost to amalgamating these boards, we are depriving young people of a quality of education within that classroom and that is what we are doing. By referring this to the committee will get a better handle on maybe just what effect it will have in many classrooms around this province. That has to be looked at, as well.
When we talk about teachers must administer such evaluation and assessment instruments and keep records as required by the school board or by the minister, we at no point know what the minister means by the types of evaluations done on teachers. Are they going to be evaluations and assessments done by the principal? Are they going to be done by the school councils? Are they going to be done by the school boards? After these are done, what happens to them?
In the past, when principals did evaluations, they were for the board's use. I am surprised that the minister has gotten in in that area and, as I go through this legislation, it occurs to me that the minister is going to run the whole show on education. The minister will have all of the powers to do everything that boards have traditionally done and done well in the past. The minister has taken many of those responsibilities in saying, look, I as the king in the Province of Nova Scotia, as Minister of Education, I should be doing those things.
One of the parts that I am not sure is good, is that the minister will participate in the hiring evaluation of superintendents and chief executive officers. Maybe this committee could find out - first of all, I assume superintendents or chief executive officers work for the school board; they have in the past - why is it that the minister wants to participate in the hiring and the annual evaluation of the people who do not directly work for the minister? If they are going to directly work for the minister, and I understand that they are going to report to the boards and to the minister, and I have difficulty understanding how a superintendent can have two masters, how can you report to two different masters? You either work for one or you work for the other. I think there is going to be a lot of confusion, and conflicts of interest are going to occur, because the chief executive officer must oversee the carrying out of the minister's and the school board's policies.
In the past, we have had inspectors to carry out the minister's policies and the chief executive officers carried out the school board's policies. I am at a little bit of a loss to see how this person will fit in a dual role. If we refer this to the committee, maybe we can find out how that is going to better the quality of education as we know it, because, in actual fact, what any Education Act should be all about should be to improve the quality of education. Maybe this committee could have a look at this legislation and say, in actual fact, what is it doing for the quality of education of our young people. If it is not addressing in some manner the quality of education, then maybe this is not such a wonderful thing.
The minister is going to set standards for professional development for teachers and administrators. Well, I do not think that is altogether new. I think that, although the boards have directed professional development at a board level and there were various, I am sure, standards probably from one board to another, I think that is something that occurs to me that the minister, again, is saying to an area, I am going to put my finger in the pie. So all through this legislation we see that evidence, and I think the minister also has said, when you question him on many areas of this legislation, that many of these things we are going to see in regulation.
Now if this was referred to the committee, the minister would have the opportunity to bring out the regulations so that we could fully understand because, as you know, Mr. Speaker, legislation is one portion. The regulations have a lot to do with the interpretation and how this Act is carried out, and by referring it to the committee, we would not only see and study the impact of the legislation as we read it, but would have a better understanding if we saw the total regulations that went with the legislation.
I know of another group, and a couple of my colleagues spoke about it, and that is home educators. I have to confess, Mr. Speaker, that I don't know a great deal about home education. I didn't go through it myself and none of my children went through it. That is by choice. I know some people feel that there are some advantages and have got permission in the past from the Minister of Education to do home education. Now these people are saying that there is a defect in the bill because they feel that no longer is it a right, it is going to be a privilege determined by the board. That aspect could be addressed by the committee. They could hear the minister's rationale for making the change. They could hear the home educators and their point of view and come back with a recommendation after hearing both sides.
There is the issue of - the trustees will disappear and we will have school councils - area rates. As you know, Mr. Speaker, area rates in some areas of the province have enhanced education funding.
MR. SPEAKER: If the member would just be seated for a second. I would hope the member is not going through the bill almost clause by clause and then ending on the comment that it would be better if it would be referred to the committee. Effectively you would be debating this matter clause by clause. You have to restrict your discussion to the impact of the subject matter on students and why it would be a benefit to have it transferred to the committee, not go through the bill clause by clause, which you wouldn't be able to do on second reading at all, yet on an amendment, which is more restrictive, then go through it clause by clause under the guise that this would be well referred to the committee. So I would ask the member to stay narrowed on the focus. What about the committee? What benefit would it have by being referred to the committee?
MR. MOODY: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for your direction. I am sorry if I gave the impression I was going through it clause by clause. I don't even know exactly what clauses I am referring to other than I know that in the bill, it talks about area rates. I didn't mean to go through it clause by clause. It was not my intent to go through it clause by clause and I am not reading the bill clause by clause. I will try, obviously, to do my best to comply with your direction and I do understand where you are trying to take me.
I guess the point that I am trying to make with regard to area rates was that the impact of area rates, if they are taken away, obviously will have an effect on the education of our young people in that particular area. I guess by referring this to the committee, I was hoping that the committee would take a look at saying, or not, whether that impact was such that maybe that clause could be put back in. Now I don't know. That's something that the committee could deal with and that's the point I was trying to make and to do an assessment.
Also, I think the committee could look at how the coordinators are going to, in actual fact, set up these newly amalgamated boards. I guess what the committee could look at would be the powers of these particular coordinators and to know whether or not they were narrow or should be given a broader mandate. I guess the committee could look at how the coordinator could be appointed. Is it best to have a coordinator from a particular area who is very knowledgable and has some education background or is it better to put somebody who has a totally financial background in place, which would maybe have a better, positive effect? I have talked about school councils and I think that is an area, again, this committee could address.
I would hope that all members of the House would give consideration to this amendment, knowing that this education bill affects thousands and thousands of students and parents from one end of this province to the other. I would hope that by accepting this amendment, knowing the full impact of the bill before members have the opportunity to vote for or against the bill, couldn't do anything but enhance the bill and allow us, I think, to make a better decision. In other words, the more information we have about how in actual fact this will impact on the quality of education in this province and how it will impact, I am sure, back in our own area, then we as MLAs, by getting the report from the Human Resources Committee, by having that information, would be able to make that vote in a much wiser way.
I think there is so much merit in allowing committees to function in that way. We have seen committees function in that way in the past, whereby they seek information and allow people to come in and have their say. It is different from the Law Amendments Committee. In the Law Amendments Committee, they are in there to try to make small amendments, or sometimes a large number of amendments, on the bill clause by clause. In Law Amendments Committee in no way do you get to study the full impact of what this bill really does.
I don't disagree with all of this bill, that is the difficult part I am having. There are parts of this legislation that I think have a lot of merit. But there are parts of this legislation that I am having difficulty with and then there is another part of the legislation that I don't know the full impact. I think if we as legislators really believe that we want to do the best job possible and really believe that we will want to listen to not only the vested interest groups that are out there that are already in place but also any parents and students who may want to add to this opportunity, then to me, that is democracy at its best. I have been on both sides of the House. Sometimes government gets an agenda driven by elections and certain events and they forget about how good they could make a piece of legislation by doing the consultative process and knowing the full impact, not being driven totally by finances or by time.
By referring this bill to this committee, we would fully understand not only the financial impact, which is pretty important, but we would also understand the impact it would have on our young people of today and tomorrow. I think that is why I want to make sure this gets referred to that committee. Thank you very much.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, a couple of pieces of paper have just very recently come across my desk that I think add even greater urgency to the need for members of this House, for this government, to step back to re-examine what is in the legislation, in the best interests of the children of this province, those who are in the system now, those who will come, of the parents and of the teachers.
Mr. Speaker, we are being told and we have been told over and over again by the government that this legislation has come about as a result of a major consultative process, that people are in support of what is being done in this legislation. Government members have heckled members of this side of the House when we have spoken and they have said nobody is concerned. I want to refer to two pieces of paper that just recently came across my desk; one is a press story out of Cape Breton and it was part of the reason why I think it is important that this committee should have an opportunity to review this bill, so we can see things in context, and another one is a press release from the Halifax County NSTU.
Mr. Speaker, one of the press reports that came today that I have just now read is talking about a meeting in North Sydney where teachers from that area, 200 of the 400 of the Northside-Victoria local teachers attending a meeting called on their provincial executive about talking about changes needed to this particular piece of legislation. That said that everybody is quite upset. It talks about how the language of the bill concerns them very much because it seems to give the education minister an awful lot of leeway. That is attributed to the president of that local. It really leaves the door wide open for the minister, the kind of thing we have heard over and over again, that the minister is given carte blanche power. She predicts that her local is just one of a number that will be speaking against the proposed bill.
Well, Mr. Speaker, another memo came across my desk a few minutes ago. This one is from the Halifax County local of the NSTU, which is the largest local in the province. At its regular meeting last night the membership of the Halifax County local of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union passed the following resolution: Be it resolved that the Halifax County local of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union demand the provincial executive to take the strongest possible action, including strike action, after a strike vote, prior to the passage of Bill No. 39, in order to have Bill No. 39 withdrawn or changed in a manner satisfactory to teachers and the teaching profession.
Mr. Speaker, obviously this matter is heating up. I will table a copy of that, Mr. Speaker, with no hesitation. When I stood in my place the other day, and I admit and I can feel it coming in me again and I am trying to control myself, when I took a look at this piece of legislation and saw the implications it has for the children of our province and for all the partners in the education system, who, by the way, care every bit as much, thank you very much, as the Minister of Education and the Liberal Government for the quality of education our children receive.
The other day, yes, I freely admit, somewhat lost my cool. Some might say that I exploded a little bit, Mr. Speaker. It is something that I still feel bubbling inside me as I address this bill. The legislation we have before us, and I have not yet had one call from anybody who has looked at this legislation who hasn't expressed dire concern about what this bill does and the power that it gives to the Minister of Education. I have spoken to chairmen of school boards who have, in fact, said that they see this bill is dangerous, something I said when I started my debate on this bill in the House on Tuesday.
Mr. Speaker, the more I go through the bill, the more convinced I am of those very words that I said at that time.
Mr. Speaker, it is not just the Teachers Union out there trying to protect their own selfish interests, as some might have people imply. It is not the school boards out there only trying to protect their turf. It is not only Home and School Associations out there who are trying to protect the name, Home and School Association. The minister has said that this bill is about children, about improving and ensuring that we have the highest quality of education possible for our children. People who look at that bill, who examine it, can find absolutely no evidence to back up what the minister is saying. That is not what this bill is about. If this bill was truly about that and put in place the processes for that, I would be standing here in my place supporting this bill.
MR. SPEAKER: If the member would understand and just take his seat for a moment, . . .
MR. HOLM: Yes, I know what you are going to say.
MR SPEAKER: . . . you are not debating the principle of the bill. That is for second reading. You are debating the amendment. As you, yourself, had said, those were the exact words you used in the debate on the bill. But we are not debating the bill. We are debating the amendment and I would ask the member to restrict himself to the amendment.
MR. HOLM: As I started to say, Mr. Speaker, probably speaking out of turn, as I was taking my seat, I know what you are going to say. Indeed, on this occasion, I was right. I am trying to do that. I know it is not an excuse but I do feel very passionate about what is going on here and I do feel very passionate about the need for those partners to have the opportunity in that committee to examine the contents of the bill and those impacts that they will have.
Now I have had the advantage - some might say a disadvantage maybe - of having sat on the Human Resources Committee when it did more basically than what it does now, which is basically make the appointments. That is the major thing that it does. It does some other things as well, but the appointments to the boards and committees. I have sat on the Human Resources Committee, as did the Minister of Education when he was an Opposition member, when the Human Resources Committee delved into education matters in some detail and made very concrete, specific recommendations to the former government, to the government of the day.
That committee held hearings. It held hearings around the province. It delved into issues dealing with special education, those children. We went, toured, visited and talked to parents and had people come before us, talking about the special needs of children that many of us, even some of us who have an education background as educators, were unfamiliar with because there are many different aspects to special need. Special need may be as a result of somebody who has a learning difficulty or it could actually be because somebody is gifted in certain areas. They are both special, different but special.
So the Human Resources Committee - I guess the point that I am trying to get at - not only is it in its mandate that education is one of those areas that it has a right to look at, it has a history in this province of delving into education issues and it is not unusual for that committee to go on the road and also to have witnesses come before it, and also, Mr. Speaker, for resources to be provided to that committee so that the background research and so on can be done on the different issues.
Mr. Speaker, trying to get back to this bill in relationship to that and the subject matter and the kinds of impacts. What we have before us is an enabling piece of legislation. The bill, when we are talking about the subject matter to be referred, we are talking about, not what the minister says he intends, we are not talking about what the minister and the government say, well, we mean to do this, not that. This bill that is before us is a list, a structure of powers. With the greatest amount of respect the bill should say clearly, unequivocally where the lines of authority are and it should also clearly say not what somebody in the back room says that they intend, but it must say in legislation what they are permitted to do.
This is a legislative framework, and I can stand here and I can dramatize, if I want. I could list the powers that the minister has or that the Governor in Council has. I could dramatize how that will impact on students and the minister can say, but that is not what I intend. Mr. Speaker, I am not saying the minister does intend some of those things, but I have no idea who is going to be minister after this minister. Also in addition to that this minister's credibility with a lot of the stakeholders is rather low because if we are to have an education system and if we are to be taking a look at the impacts that it will have on children, upon parents, upon teachers. It is important that the actions match the deed.
If people are to have confidence in what the bill is supposedly intended to do then, especially, Mr. Speaker, when they have been promised one thing in terms of consultation. You can understand why some might have some questions about well, how reliable are those commitments that are made when other commitments that have been made have not been followed through.
The Nova Scotia School Boards Association, Mr. Speaker, they certainly are one of the major partners in education. I do not think that you or any member of this House will question that the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, people, like you and I, who decided that they had a calling, that they wanted to serve and sought election. They went to the people in their communities and put their name forward along with a platform about how they wanted to help to improve the quality of education for the children in their neighbourhoods. To improve the position for teachers in the schools so that those teachers can better educate and do those things for which they felt called.
The Nova Scotia School Boards Association, and I might add too, some might argue that their calling is a lot stronger than ours. If you look at remuneration because most members who are elected to the school boards are virtually volunteers in terms of what they get paid. They do not get a salary or anything comparable to what we receive. So they are into it for the right reason, concerned about education. As the resolution is talking about and the impact, how it is going to affect the parents, the teachers of students, that is what got them involved in the first place.
Well, you know, Mr. Speaker, the School Boards Association has spoken out. Not only are the teachers angry, legitimately I might add, and to suggest that if they are talking the way they are talking now, then I would say they figure it is affecting them very directly. But the School Boards Association believes that the legislation we have before us is contradictory to what the government's stated purpose was.
The government talks about how it intends to decentralize decision-making power. But, in reality, the bill we have before us is a concentration of power under this framework, in the hands of the minister.
MR. SPEAKER: Once again - the member be seated - you are debating the pluses and minuses of the principle of the bill. That is for second reading. You are going to have an opportunity to do that. We are on an amendment now. You should save those excellent comments to when we debate the bill on principle, but restrict yourself now simply to the question of the benefit of referring this matter to a committee, if you would. This is the second time now.
MR. HOLM: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. My next sentence would be . . .
MR. SPEAKER: You can't make it better by adding a sentence.
MR. HOLM: No, Mr. Speaker, but I can put the rationale. I am not being argumentative but the point I was going to make is that if we are talking about the impact on parents, teachers and children, one of the things that has to be looked at is what kind of impact the centralization of power in the hands of one individual will have . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Once again, the member please be seated. That is not what we are debating here, we are debating whether the subject matter should be referred to the committee, so that committee can look at those matters. What we are debating here is not whether there is any impact on students, that is obvious. The question here is whether it should go to the committee.
Once again I am going to ask the member to restrict his comments as to whether this matter should be referred to the committee.
MR. HOLM: Well, I thank you very much for making my case for me, Mr. Speaker, because in your admonishment of myself you are making the very valid point that, in fact, that is the kind of thing that the committee can do. The committee, if this subject matter is referred to the Committee on Human Resources, this very committee that has a history of looking at education matters, just like the Standing Committee on Education did, can look at the value and impact. That is what I am trying to get at.
You said it far more succinctly and better than I did, Mr. Speaker, and I thank you very much for your assistance and help in that because you made an excellent argument, maybe not intentionally in helping me, I am sure you would not have been trying not to help me, but the way that you intervened there was, in fact, very important in making the case, I believe, that this Human Resources Committee would be able to address that, and it is an important reason for referring this to the committee.
Now, Mr. Speaker, one of the other things here, of course, has to do with students. That is what this is all about in the first place. That is why teachers are in the classrooms, that is why education dollars are paid to school boards and so on, to pay teachers and to pay for the buildings and the materials and the heat. It all has to do with the children, with the students.
Now, Mr. Speaker, this bill and the impact it will have on the ability of those children to learn and how the administration of those learning facilities can best serve the children is important. For example, and I will touch on school councils in regard to how it impacts on parents, teachers and students and why I believe the Human Resources Committee should have an opportunity to have a look at that.
I appreciate the gesture, Mr. Speaker, and believe it or not, I am trying. I am not trying to be trying; I am trying to stick as closely as I can to your ruling. (Interruption)
Well, others want to be the judge of that and that is fine. They certainly will be the judge of that, as others will be the judge of members like the Minister of Economic Renewal on whether or not he does or does not stand up and take a position on this bill.
The Human Resources Committee would have the ability to take a look at the whole idea of school councils and to determine if that is going to benefit children. Under the legislation, there is a major difference between what the minister has said and what is in the bill. The minister has said that school councils are advisory; I do not see that word in the legislation at all. I believe that there can and very legitimately can be different reasons why some school councils in certain situations maybe should have certain powers, whereas in some others they should not. For example, in the Acadian Board where you can have one board running from one end of the province to the other, it is going to be extremely difficult to administer a school, let us say, down in Clare-Argyle, in the metropolitan area, in Pomquet, up in parts of Cape Breton. So, maybe those school councils, it would be appropriate for them to have very specific powers and to be beyond an advisory role.
Mr. Speaker, that is not what the legislation says; it does not separate one from the other. Under the legislation, eight individual parents, and I think that students, I think that teachers, I think that the children have a right to expect to be heard on whether or not they believe eight individual parents, out of who knows how many in a school, could ask for and be given, therefore by right, a school council. The Human Resources Committee could look at the appropriateness of that. Under this legislation those school councils can be given every single power of a school board. Why do we have school boards then? Maybe the Human Resources Committee should look at it. I even see a couple of puzzled faces looking at me. It does not say that; it sure does.
Any power that the school board has, whether that be to enter into contracts, whether that to be hire, to fire, to enter into contracts for conveying students, for entering into agreements with another education facility, to have education done in other places, to decide if integration is the best way to educate a particular child or children with learning needs, or whether separate classrooms is the most appropriate, any power that the school board has according to this bill can be given to a school council. I think that the Human Resources Committee should be given an opportunity to hear witnesses, to hear people, the stakeholders, the ones who have the most on the line and are every bit as committed, in fact, I would suggest more committed, to the quality of education than some others may be in here. That is what is driving them; they are not being driven by the bottom line, the dollar. The Human Resources Committee can look at it. Is that appropriate? Should those advisory councils be advisory, or should they be given the absolute power and, if so, which powers?
The Human Resource Committee has a history of being able to look at that and it will take a little bit of time. We are told that this is urgent, we have to get this through because we haven't had amendments to this bill in over 40 years, major overhauls, we have had certainly a lot of amendments. The Human Resources Committee should be given a chance to look at that.
In terms of the divisions of power, the chief executive officer, who does the CEO report to? Is it possible for a CEO to have two masters? On the one hand, the Minister of Education who not only is involved in the hiring and the setting of salaries and the evaluation, but also the school board. It is in the best interest of the children in the school to have a chief executive officer of the board who knows clearly who their master is, who they work for, so that they can focus their attention on trying to meet the educational needs in the best way possible for the children. Parents of those children expect no less; quite honestly, neither do the professional teachers or the other support staff who work within that system.
I think that the Human Resources Committee has a very valuable role to try to sort through this and to make concrete recommendations to this minister in a constructive way. When you are hearing people talking about strikes, when resolutions are being passed, that certainly is not in the best interests of the children. But I have got to tell you, people are frustrated, they are angry, they have had it up to here. They want to feel valued, they want to be treated as partners.
It is not money, they are trying to do the job in the best way that they possibly can and they are tired of being dumped on all the time and blamed for everything. Let the Human Resources Committee try to mediate, try to bring together, try to come to some kind of resolve, where each and every side can show some respect, can listen, can hear and help to design a bill which is clear, precise, which lays out the distinctions and powers between each other, which clearly lays out the responsibilities and what the consequences are, which can hive off what is in this bill which doesn't belong here, which is currently in collective agreements but which the government wasn't able to get changed in a collective bargaining process so they introduced a little slide-in into the bill, a way to get around it, neat little trick.
This bill also in the Human Resources Committee deals with not only education but other things as well. I believe that health matters can be looked at by the Committee on Human Resources. This bill has even got major implications for labour relations in this province because there is a neat little clause in there that will just zip off to the Labour Relations Board any contracts, any agreements, once an amalgamation takes place. So even though, supposedly, you have your successor rights, uh-uh, this bill zigs it away. That is snuck in there. The Human Resource Committee . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Snuck in. Now just a moment while we are on snuck in, that snuck into the bill and it seems to me that the honourable member is debating the bill itself on second reading and analysing its perceived faults, rather than advocating its referral to the Standing Committee on Human Resources. I just make that observation in view of the turn of phrase that seemed to invite some response, things being snuck in.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I knew I couldn't sneak anything by you but the government might try some times. The point that I am getting at is that the Human Resources Committee will have the ability, and I am sure, the resources potentially made available to it so that those kinds of little zingers can be identified. Because that is not in the best interests, Mr. Speaker, to have these little zingers in there. That is not in the best interests of the teachers, it is not in the best interests of any of the employees and it is not in the best interests of the parents and the children. The Human Resources Committee can look at those kinds of labour relations matters and try to ensure that we have proper labour matters in there.
I know that the Nova Scotia Teachers Union has written. In fact, they wrote on November 6th and they sent, by fax, a letter to the Minister of Education. The Minister of Education in his response to that letter and I might add that they identified a number of areas of concern. They said that they would like to get some answers from the minister, from the government on what their position was before they went to their membership, that they do not want to be inflammatory, that they want to be working in a cooperative way with the government.
Mr. Speaker, the minister wrote back on November 7th. The kind of gobbledegook that was in the minister's letter of November 7th to the olive branch, to the extension of a hand from the union to the minister trying to seek clarification on these issues was an insult. The minister could not even get it right in terms of when the bill would go to the Law Amendments Committee, suggested that it would go there, they could be taken into consideration by the Law Amendments Committee prior to, believe it or not, second reading. Never knew before the Minister of Education's letter that the Law Amendments Committee can recommend and consider changes to the bills before they have even left this Chamber in second reading. That is what he said. What that tells me, more than anything else, is how quickly he was dismissing the concerns which are leading to the calls for strike like that which I referred to earlier from the largest local in the province.
Mr. Speaker, the way that this bill is set up with the preamble at the start - and nobody is in disagreement with the thrust and the sense of what is said in the preamble to the bill, but you know, the minister in his statements points out that that is to be used in any kind of legal battle or whatever or any kind of dispute for interpretation purposes, to give added strength. That affects the children, the students, because according to that there are things not that the students are suppose to do, but that they shall do, and by whom and that the parents shall do. How is that to be evaluated and by whom? Are they going to be fined up to $2,000 because little Johnnie did not go to bed the night before and did not get enough sleep or did not get breakfast?
MR. SPEAKER: I feel that this is becoming very irrelevant to the motion before the House. Please get back to the motion.
MR. HOLM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My point, I should be doing this more often, is that the Human Resources Committee can evaluate and look at those kinds of things. Let us see what the ramifications of that are. Can a parent be, in fact, the Human Resources Committee could say. They could bring forward witnesses. What does this legally mean? If a child comes to school who is hungry, can that parent be charged and what are the consequences and is that appropriate? Is that good human resource development? Is that the kind of thing that we want, Mr. Speaker? The Human Resources Committee, as I have said before, has looked at complicated issues relating to education in this province and I think that that would be quite appropriate.
The same thing, the Human Resources Committee, Mr. Speaker, could have an added ability that we don't have here on the Law Amendments Committee. First of all, if this goes to the Human Resources Committee, that committee has the ability, with your help, of course, Mr. Speaker, because we know that committees, if they are to take on extra functions, extra duties that would require additional allowances of expenditure, the Human Resources may have to go to the Speaker for additional funds to be able to carry out their responsibilities and duties that they would need in order to do that. I know that that would be something that would have to be considered and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, it is something that you certainly in a very responsible way would look at.
MR. SPEAKER: I am looking at this amendment and it certainly doesn't deal with that at all. It simply deals with referring the subject matter of this bill to that committee. The mechanics of paying for the committee's meetings are a very separate matter, I should think.
Now, that is the third time I have had to interject here, to call you to order. So I hope I don't have to do it a fourth time or a fifth time, I won't.
MR. HOLM: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Now, the Human Resources Committee has the ability to travel around the province. The Human Resources Committee doesn't, if it is able to, only have to meet down in the Red Room or in the Uniacke Room downstairs or in one of the committee rooms. One of the key advantages if we are interested in education, if we are interested in hearing what the parents and what the children have to say in this province about the impact of this bill, and giving them an opportunity to assess what that impact would be. The Human Resources Committee can travel to my community of Sackville, it can travel to Lunenburg, it can travel to Yarmouth, it can travel to Sydney, Mr. Speaker, in other words, it can go to where the people are. It can set up its own schedule and its own method of even holding meetings.
One of the things that we talk about a lot are children who are dropouts. Something that I have often thought would be a good idea and that the Human Resources Committee could even do, is set up in malls where they may meet occasionally some children and have those kids be able to come forward.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I am not trying to draw a long bow and I am not even trying to get off the topic. I am trying to talk about some advantages of the Human Resources Committee and the ability to actually get out there and to hear and to come back with recommendations, concrete, solid recommendations. If the Human Resources Committee is given that chance, and hopefully in that process, defuse the pressures and the tensions that are mounting. I had a call from a Home and School Association this morning, where, Mr. Speaker, the parents had originally agreed they wanted to talk to me about another matter and our called had been arranged on the basis of that, until they saw this bill. Bang, concerns.
The Human Resources Committee has met with school boards, has met with Home and School Associations in the past, it has that reputation and is a forum to defuse and to try to meld and to bring together those views, including the Department of Education officials. They can be brought to it. Because, unfortunately, I don't think a lot of those who were drafting this, and what they may have intended was one thing, but obviously their good intentions are going to have negative impacts for the parents, students and teachers in that system.
MR. BRUCE HOLLAND: On a point of privilege, Mr. Speaker, I recall distinctly, last year when the minister introduced his White Paper to the boards and the boards filtered that down to the schools and asked them to have some hearings in the schools with parents and students and what not. I attended one out in Bedford, I think it was, and the parents were there and this member and his colleague, were there and they stood up in that meeting and said, we don't like the process that is going on here. One after another, the parents got up and said, why don't you sit down, we want to be heard. The parents were heard; they were heard that night and they have been heard all through this process. So I am sick and tired of hearing that the parents have not been heard.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable has made his point, however there is no point of privilege. But I must again caution the honourable member . . .
MR. HOLM: May I, on the point of privilege, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: I have already ruled that there is no point of privilege.
MR. HOLM: No, but I would like to make a comment on the point of privilege.
MR. SPEAKER: I am not prepared to entertain comments . . .
MR. HOLM: . . . because I wasn't at any meeting that he is talking about.
AN HON. MEMBER: Your memory is not the best. (Laughter)
MR. SPEAKER: Are there further speakers to the amendment?
MR. HOLM: I am getting ready to wrap up, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Okay, I will be lenient.
MR. HOLM: I don't know how much time I have left. I only have a few minutes, I think, left anyway. But I have to say, that I have been to a lot of meetings around the province on White Papers. I have been to meetings on the travelling road show where I have gone to Sydney Mines. I have been to the huge ones in Halifax, in the Valley, in Yarmouth where meetings were held on that White Paper, Education Horizons. I have also heard back from people who were at those meetings and have looked at this legislation and have said quite clearly that the minister didn't hear a thing. Quite obviously, some other members of this House didn't hear either. (Interruptions)
Now, Mr. Speaker, I know I haven't a great deal of time left and I can understand that some members might be starting to feel a little bit of heat and it would be a very difficult spot to be in to try to have to be a member of the government defending this bill because I certainly couldn't do it. I might even be inclined to get up and walk out or cross the floor if I was in that kind of a situation and would want to sit as an Independent. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order.
MR. HOLM: But, that having been said, I believe that if this government and this minister, are genuinely concerned at all about the quality of education that our children are receiving now and will receive, if they are concerned about building an alliance, a partnership between the parties in the education system, instead of imposing their will, their way, because, I have the power, Mr. Speaker, and I can do what I want. If that is not the attitude, if it is genuinely a cooperative one, listen to what everybody else who is a partner in education is saying and I would suggest one of the best ways to do that, one of the most respectful and constructive ways to do that, will be to refer the subject matter of this bill to the Human Resources Committee where it can be examined, improved and recommendations can come back. The bill won't be killed. There won't be a need to introduce a new piece of legislation but you can have concrete, meaningful, respectful involvement of all partners instead of the top-down, dictatorial approach that we have seen so far. Thank you.
AN HON. MEMBER: Hear! Hear!
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Hear! Hear! A little applause.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, it is good to have friends. I appreciate the opportunity to speak this afternoon on the amendment put forward by my colleague, the member for Halifax Citadel. We, of course, are debating whether or not this legislation should be referred to the Committee on Human Resources and the purpose, of course, in doing that, is to seek further information regarding the impact of the provisions of this bill, Bill No. 39, on students, parents and teachers.
I have no quarrel with the minister or with the government with respect to responding to the question, is it timely that we have a new Education Act? I think all of us would agree upon that. I also have no quarrel with the minister with respect to some of the provisions I find in this Act. As all colleagues in this House would know, I have spent some time, as did you, Mr. Speaker, and have others who are now members of this House, in the classroom and that experience, I think, would help us with respect to understanding the provisions of this bill.
This bill will have a profound impact on organizations and on individuals, not the least of whom are the children of Nova Scotia, once it becomes law and that is why it is so absolutely essential that we get it right the first time. We must not assume that we can bring the Act, once it is an Act, back in and make modest changes to it in order to overcome any shortcomings that may be found in it. Now is the time to determine where shortcomings reside in the bill, so that when we complete third reading of the bill we have the very best piece of legislation available to us, as in fact, I believe we accomplished with respect to the Environment Act when the minister now responsible for the Economic Renewal Agency brought it into the House and listened carefully to all kinds of good advice provided him, and not only provided amendments himself, but indeed, accepted a number of significant amendments from the Opposition.
The process that is allowed us here, because we have had a rule change since that time, is rather different and is all the more demanding, therefore, that we should find an avenue whereby this bill can be given further consideration beyond that allowed within the Rules of this House. That is why, of course, we are recommending that the bill go to the Human Resources Committee.
Once the subject matter of the bill is before the Human Resources Committee, then those organizations and individual Nova Scotians will be in a position to come forward to make representation to that committee and through that committee to the House and through the House to the government with respect to the adequacies and inadequacies, the long-comings and the shortcomings of this legislation. One of those groups, of course, will be the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and, indeed, individual teachers who comprise the membership of that union. The points of view put forward by the union may not always exactly mirror the points of view that individual members within the Nova Scotia Teachers Union may hold. Indeed, my experience with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union suggests that the union not only accepts the right of its membership to differ but indeed, encourages them to come forward and state their case.
I do not think by inviting the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and teachers across Nova Scotia to come forward and speak to this legislation, speak to its long-comings and shortcomings, to put forward proposed amendments, that we in any way are providing an opportunity for a monolithic approach by teachers in this province with respect to this legislation. I suspect that the responses will be as varied and as interesting as the talents of teachers across this province allow. Perhaps here I may sound a little self-serving but do not mean to be, by any stretch of the imagination. They are, I think, by and large, a pretty talented lot indeed.
So the Teachers Union and the teachers across the province, those who belong to the union, those who have chosen not to, albeit, they are a small group, should have the opportunity to participate in a direct and meaningful way, through the Human Resources Committee, with respect to shaping this bill into what it will be when it passes third reading in the House.
From a different perceptive we also would want to provide a similar opportunity to the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, an association composed of persons who have been elected by all Nova Scotians of voting age and who represent all the Nova Scotians in each of their districts including those who are not yet of voting age. Just as indeed we represent all our constituents not only those who have reached the age of majority with respect to the right to vote.
The Nova Scotia School Boards Association, I think, also brings forward a perspective which is important and indeed is vital as is the viewpoint of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and teachers in this province of respecting this bill and how it will impact on education in Nova Scotia. Certainly, nobody can suggest that the Nova Scotia School Boards Association is a vested interest group because its only interest is vested in those whom it represents which is the people in each of their electoral districts. I think it is fair to say, and I doubt if any member of this House would suggest otherwise, that like the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, like teachers, the Nova Scotia School Boards Association and individual school board members have a great deal to offer with respect to shaping this bill.
I think also of the Home and School Associations, Parent-Teacher Associations across the province. What group of people, indeed, are closer to what is happening in our schools and who have a greater stake in what is happening in our schools than the parents and their children who greatly influence the parents with respect to how the parents feel about the educational process in Nova Scotia and how they feel about school governance and that really is what this bill is all about. It is about educational governance.
Parents across this province should have the opportunity made available to them whether they choose to exercise it or not, individually or through associations to respond to this bill and to shape it for the future. Because, again, like the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and like the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, they have an absolute well-defined interest in ensuring that we have the best Education Act possible in order to provide the best educational opportunity we can for our children and that, of course, to prepare those children to become contributors to, as well as benefactors from, the Canadian economy. In our case, more specifically, the Nova Scotian economy.
There are also parents, albeit a small number of parents, who believe that they can provide an alternative education opportunity which is no less valid and in the view of many of them perhaps an educational opportunity which they believe is even more valid by providing education in the home, that is outside of the school institution.
This afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition and I had the opportunity to meet with a number of those parents who spoke in a very matter of fact, articulate way of the values that they see in home education, not disparaging institutional education at all, but simply speaking of the alternative which should be open to them. They have concerns about this bill, concerns that I believe, in many instances, are entirely legitimate and should be given that additional airing through the Human Resources Committee which would be available if this resolution were to pass.
We know, too, that there are organizations that reside outside the normal educational framework in Nova Scotia which have a direct interest in the provision of education in the mode of educational governance in Nova Scotia because they understand that the school system is directly tied to the economy. If we do not have a good educational system then the economy is going to suffer. The economy suffers, we have less money for education and the system will only deteriorate further.
Of course here, I am speaking to the various organizations which represent business interests in the province. I think, for example, of Mr. Peter O'Brien and the small business organization which he represents. I think of the Canadian Manufacturers Association and the interest it takes in education. I think that they too should have the opportunity, through the Human Resources Committee, to express what they see as the economic benefit of education and how that economic benefit can be strengthened by ensuring that the bill that we pass is the very best kind of legislation indeed.
I think also of organized labour in this province. Organized labour has a very direct interest in this legislation. Organized labour has interest not only in trades training and vocational education but also in the education made available through the academic, non-academic public school system. I would think that the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour as well as perhaps some of the individual trade unions might well want to seize the opportunity to provide the very best advice they can to the Human Resources Committee so that that advice can then be transferred to the members of the House and through the House to the minister and to the government.
The results of this legislation are going to be with us for a very long time. If we need proof of that we need only look at the Acts that the minister is proposing we leave behind us in favour of the legislation he has in front of us today. We want to make sure that if we are going to create legislation for the future, that it is created as thoughtfully as those who created the old Education Act and School Boards Act, 40 years ago. That legislation must have been fairly far forward-looking because it has, for the most part, served Nova Scotians well, albeit now it is time to move to a new bill and to combine those two old Acts up into a single Act.
We must make sure that we are as farsighted as indeed the authors of those Acts were. We must ensure that we look ahead at least half a century insofar as we are able to provide the kind of legislation which will serve our people, our province, our country, our economy and most particularly, our children, the very best that we can. We can only achieve that if we optimize the opportunity of the public to participate in determining what this legislation will look like when it becomes law. The best way to do that, in my view, at this juncture, is to extend the opportunity to all and every group which may wish to participate through meeting with the Human Resources Committee.
If the committee is going to get a true picture of the mind-sets of individuals and organizations across the province, understanding that even though we are a small province there can be quite a different viewpoint expressed between Yarmouth County and Victoria County or Cumberland County and Halifax County. The committee should, in its deliberations, move around at least to the regional centres in the province so that people regionally can meet in Bridgewater, Yarmouth, Kentville, Halifax, Truro, New Glasgow, Amherst, the Strait area and in the Sydney area. A meeting a day, that can all be accomplished in a week and provide ample opportunity for people to be able to, with ease and without financial hardship, come forward and make presentations to the committee.
I would think that the committee, once having heard those representations will be able to draw a number of basic tenets out of what the presenters have offered to the committee and by so doing be able to come back and reporting to the House to underscore for us where the people feel the great strengths are in this bill and where people feel the great weaknesses are. It will make sure that we do not in any way undermine the strengths but at the same time, that we seize the opportunity to repair the weaknesses. This clearly is the appropriate committee because we are talking, after all, about Human Resources.
I think too, Mr. Speaker, that it is vitally important that we not send the committee out on a mission which would take it forever to report. I would be prepared, for example, if the minister would be willing to accept the amendment, to support an amendment which sets forward a reasonable time-limit for the committee to report back to the House. We would need a week and a half, 10 days for them to move around the province and have the hearings, time for the committee to put its report together and make that report and then bring it back to the House.
I would have to say, Mr. Speaker, if that is done through the Human Resources Committee, that it could well significantly reduce the time that will otherwise have to be expended in Committee of the Whole House, when we bring this bill back in, after the Law Amendments Committee. In fact, I would venture to say that it would almost assuredly reduce to a pittance of time the length of time that the bill would, itself, be in the Law Amendments Committee because all of those organizations or groups would already have had their opportunity to be heard.
We then could bring the bill back in, we could make the amendments which reflect what the public is telling us, as legislators, and, more particularly, the government and the minister, they want to see in the new Act. It is, after all, their Act and not ours. Then, before Christmas, we could have the bill become law. The minister then would be in a position to massage it into effect as we move towards the point where new school boards will be elected.
Madam Speaker, this legislation provides us with a singular opportunity. It is an opportunity presented to the House and to Nova Scotians by the minister and I thank him for that. It is the opportunity to shape our future and to shape the future of our children and, indeed, our grandchildren if, through careful deliberation, through carefully listening what the public has to say about this bill as introduced by the minister, is carefully attended to and results in the kind of amendment which will cause this legislation to be a cornerstone for Nova Scotia and Nova Scotians, for the young people who are in our schools and those who are yet indeed even to be born, for those who strive to expand our economy and provide greater economic opportunity for Nova Scotians to participate in creating just that very kind of cornerstone.
Madam Speaker, this can be done. It can be done easily, it can be done if the minister is prepared to provide just a little more patience. I know he has worked very hard to date to get out and meet with people, to meet with individuals and organizations in the creation of this legislation. But I think if he wants to do himself justice and if he wants to do the process justice, he should be prepared to be just that little bit more patient to accept this amendment, as I said, perhaps with a subamendment which would provide a reasonable limitation on the time that the committee had to deal with this matter, to create that very cornerstone of legislation upon which we can build the school governance for the next half century, as we have with the old legislation.
We can create a new school system which will provide opportunities for our children, which will allow them to enjoy the fruits of life in this society to the same extent as we have been allowed; indeed, with respect to those who choose to educate their children outside the institutional system, to ensure that they too, as citizens, have equal opportunity to make the kinds of decisions for their children that those of us who have chosen to send our children to public schools have had the opportunity to do.
Madam Speaker, I commend the amendment to the House and to the minister. I ask the minister to think on the words which are offered, not in criticism, but in support of change. I ask him to think of this amendment, possibly with a time constraint attached. I say to him that if he is going to achieve what he has set out to achieve, then he must not falter on those last few steps at the end of the journey. He must seize upon this opportunity offered in this amendment to ensure that the men and women across this province have ample opportunity, legitimate opportunity, reasonable opportunity, to fashion this legislation in such a way that it will form that cornerstone to help us build into the future, that cornerstone to which I have alluded on a number of occasions in my rather modest offering to debate this afternoon.
Madam Speaker, I do commend this amendment to all members of the House and hope that the government and the minister will smile upon it favourably. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Madam Speaker, again, may I say what a pleasure it is to have you sitting in the Chair while I address this amendment and I do want to thank you for allowing this amendment to stand. I know the only reason the amendment is worded so well and was accepted by you was because your advice was followed the other day when an amendment very similar was turned down because there were a couple of words you didn't like.
MADAM SPEAKER: It is very heartening to me to hear that the advice was followed, honourable member.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, thank you, and I will, during my . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: You said the same thing to me, George.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Listen, I was lying when I was talking to you. (Laughter)
AN HON. MEMBER: There's nothing new in that.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Madam Speaker, I want to say that I support this amendment suggesting that it not be read now but the subject be referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources. I, among several others in the House, happen to be a member of that committee and we meet quite regularly. Usually we meet on the ABCs, the agencies, boards and commissions, where we approve the recommendations that Cabinet send over. I don't think we have turned one down yet so the government members certainly have their say on that committee.
The committee, last year, you would be interested to know, did quite a bit of work thinking and learning about education in Nova Scotia. One of the most important facets that we had, and one of the most interesting discussions that we had, and all members agreed when we left that committee that day, was the presentation from a principal of a school in Cape Breton who has done some innovative things with regard to school discipline.
The principal came in and he said, look, we were having some problems with discipline so what he did in his school, Madam Speaker, was they established a separate classroom for youngsters who had disciplinary problems, whether it was truancy, inappropriate behaviour in a classroom such as throwing rocks through windows or misbehaving at a dance. Those youngsters would report to the classroom and there was a designated teacher in that classroom. Each young person would be in a classroom with its own separate washroom facilities. The student would be there and he would not be particularly associating with other students within the school. (Interruption)
One of the honourable members opposite said, what does that have to do with the bill and I say everything, absolutely everything to do with this amendment because it shows that already the Human Resources Committee has an interest in education. We have the ground floor laid. Now we can build on that and we can expand. As the honourable member knows, because he was at the committee meeting that day when we had the principal there from Cape Breton when he was telling us, he knows that it was well-attended and it was probably one of the most beneficial meetings we had. (Interruption)
You, the honourable member for Cape Breton South.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, try not to be side-tracked, please. Just try and retain your focus on the amendment in question.
MR. ARCHIBALD: All right. This principal amalgamated three schools for the disciplinary problems and the success rate was astounding. It was so impressed upon the committee that we asked that copies of that representation be made available to other school boards throughout the province because it was innovative and it was succeeding and it wasn't expensive because it was shared among three schools. That is really one of the reasons that I feel so strongly that this amendment is in order and that that is the proper place for this bill to be considered.
The members of the committee under the chairmanship of the member for Lunenburg Centre, have already expressed an interest in education and with the knowledge gained from last year's presentations on education, I think we could use that as the ground floor and build from there.
This Bill No. 39 is not popular with a lot of people. This Minister of Education indicated to Nova Scotians in his press release, and I hope you would not mind if I read what he said in just one little line from it . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Actually, honourable member, I think I would mind, so I would like you to stick to the topic at hand and that is the amendment.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, the Minister of Education would like to be remembered as the minister who brought in reform to the School Boards Act. In order to do that, he travelled around the province and he indicated he met with about 3,500 people and they made presentations to him regarding education of the children in Nova Scotia.
You know this bill is here for parents, for students, for teachers. It is here for Nova Scotians and it is here for our future. I do not think that by allowing the Human Resources Committee to have some time to look and study and work with the minister on this bill that it would do anything but improve his stature in the eyes of all Nova Scotians. At the present time, the way this bill is presented to us, it has some major flaws that can be helped with a little bit of cooperation, a little bit of consultation and a whole lot of cooperation. We can, together, make this Minister of Education outstanding not just in Nova Scotia for this year, but for many years to come.
There will be Ministers of Education from across Canada who will want to know, how did you reform education in Nova Scotia? How did you make education work so well? Why is it that Nova Scotia students are leading all of Canada? The minister will be able to say, I introduced a bill and it went to the Human Resources Committee and MLAs and interested parents and interested teachers and students made presentations and, together, Nova Scotians brought in an Act.
At the present time this minister can say, I did this myself. Now this is not what we need. The minister wants to help education and Nova Scotians. He has been involved in education all his life as a student, as a teacher, as an administrator and now he has reached the lofty height of being the Minister of Education. That is a goal that many people would like to achieve, but few do. So he is in a position to make a difference and he has a choice to make: he can help education and help the children or he can pursue this bill without amendments.
We need to hear from the students. We also need to hear from the teachers. As recently as just moments ago, I received a copy of a fax that I read and I was most interested in it because the Teachers Union is urging very swift action. The Halifax County local is talking of things that we haven't heard in Nova Scotia for years. They are talking of strike action, strike votes, closing of schools. This isn't me saying that this is what is going to happen.
The teachers in this province are teaching school because they want to help the children, they want to help Nova Scotia grow and become all that it can be. But when teachers and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union are getting faxes from local organizations, I think, perhaps, we should listen to them. Let's allow them with open arms, welcome them to come and meet with the Human Resources Committee and share with us the experience that they have gained from many years of teaching in the classrooms, many years of working with the youngsters and watching their careers. Teachers just do not look at the children the day and the year that they are in a class. Teachers follow the pupils as they progress.
The other day I met my Grade 4 teacher and that was nice to meet her and I was surprised she still remembered who I was.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I am delighted you met your Grade 4 teacher, but it is irrelevant to this amendment that is on the floor. So would you please make the effort to retain your focus.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, that may very well be that it is irrelevant, but I thought it was nice that I had met her.
MADAM SPEAKER: I am sure it was.
MR. ARCHIBALD: The point is I want you to understand (Interruption) What do you want now? Cripes, haven't you got enough problems?
MR. BRUCE HOLLAND: A question, Madam Speaker. As a member of the Human Resources Committee, which I know the honourable member is and knowing full well that this bill was coming forward, maybe not at this particular time, but knowing that it was coming forward and that probably as much as a year ago when the White Paper was introduced, I wonder why he did not take the initiative to start calling some of these people to appear before the Human Resources Committee or at least ask the Chair, to do that.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, thank you. What a marvellous interjection from the member who also happens to sit on the Human Resources Committee and I can tell you are just cracking to get this bill over there and you cannot wait. It was a little hard to call the people and ask them to come and discuss contents of a bill that had not been introduced yet. Now that the bill is in and it is so very different from the White Paper and all the other things that we were expecting, I think that we could probably fill that meeting room pretty near every day for, you know, a week maybe longer.
I am quite anxious, as I know the honourable member that asked the question is anxious and interested in having the interested parties come before the committee. I appreciate your interjection. I appreciate the support for this amendment that you have just shown. (Interruption) We did that, the member for Lunenburg Centre.
One of the things that was indicated by the minister regarding the importance of this Bill No. 39, and I know that it is not paramount, his main thrust was the children and their education and the young adults and their education. The other main point that this minister is so prone to speak about is the deficit and that we have to start saving money and that is good. We do have to start saving money. I do not think anybody in this Chamber is going to argue that we are in a time of restraint, but the minister indicated to us all that we could save $11 million by bringing in this bill.
I think that if we took this bill and presented it to the Human Resources Committee for a little while, we could do a cost-analysis and decide whether the startup costs of these new regional boards are going to be as expensive as it was in Cape Breton. Now, I almost thought we were running a backwards auction when we heard about the amalgamation of the Cape Breton County Municipality because it started out at $4.3 million then it was $6.2 million then it was $8 million then it was $10 million. Today, we read in the paper their unexpected surprise cost is in excess of $12 million. Now that was unforeseen, unplanned by the Minister of Municipal Affairs. The Minister of Municipal Affairs indicated that we were going to save money through amalgamation.
This Minister of Education says we are going to save money by amalgamation and he even told us how much, $11 million right to the penny. Less than 1 per cent of his budget. Now that is really good figuring, but where is the table that we could study, you see. Is he sure, positive, absolutely certain that $11 million has not already been absorbed by the school boards across the province because members of the school board in Kings County tell me that they have made substantive cuts, they have done a lot of cutting and the $11 million he is speaking about is already accounted for. They are telling me that the startup costs for these new regional boards will be far in excess of the startup costs that they have discovered in the Cape Breton amalgamated municipal unit.
Why couldn't we take the time to check and see the accuracy of the minister's $11 million? I would like to know that and I know the committee would like to know that as well. Why can't the minister furnish the numbers? Why won't he give them to us and say, this is where the $11 million is coming from, I am getting $100,000 here and $40,000 here and this is what I am doing. We don't know that, he just pulled $11 million out of the air just like the Minister of Municipal Affairs pulled $12 million out of the air in Cape Breton.
Who is going to pay? In Cape Breton it is going to be passed onto the taxpayers just as the honourable member for Cape Breton West indicated when he spoke at his place and he was expelled from the Party for speaking his mind and warning the people in Cape Breton exactly what was going to happen; they were going to be out of money and their taxes were going to increase and that was the end of him. I am telling you, members of the House and the minister that this $11 million saving will disappear. It is not there, it is not a real number and there is no concern? After the lesson we had in Cape Breton when it went from $3 million to $12 million in one week you would think that some people in the government benches would start getting a little bit suspicious, but they are not at all.
The hidden costs, where do we see them? I hear again from the honourable Minister of the Economic Renewal Agency, oh, you are such a wizard with numbers. We cannot get any numbers from that minister, even on the money that was spent on the G-7 Summit and . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member I have given you a fairly wide latitude. I will ask you once more, please get focused on the amendment. You are really shooting wide of the mark now on the G-7 Summit and in your comments. Now you have the floor if you can retain your focus.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Thank you, Madam Speaker, I will do precisely that and I do apologize for their interjections but when they interject, I want to interject right back. But I won't do it any more. They can say whatever they want and I will just speak to you and me.
Madam Speaker, the chief executive officer of these school boards is going to be appointed by, guess who, the minister. Where is he going to come from? In the letter that he wrote back to the non-union employees, they wrote him and had some questions and one of the answers to a question was, he hoped that the CEOs would be chosen from national competitions. Not local people, Nova Scotians are not quite as good, we need to bring some more people from Ontario to come down here and really help us. Well, I happen to think that Nova Scotians should be able to apply and be able to compete and for the minister to say, I want it to be national, it sort of indicates to me his lack of confidence in Nova Scotians. The same lack of confidence in Nova Scotians and school boards that this bill shows us on page after page because the minister is the one who is going to make all of the choices and all of the decisions within this bill.
MR. ROSS BRAGG: Madam Speaker, I'd like to ask a question. It is unfortunate that the member opposite in his remarks have misled people to the extent that they think that Nova Scotians can't apply for this job. The competition that he talks about being national in scope, does not exclude Nova Scotians. I would ask the member if he would tell us if he thinks that by advertising nationally that that excludes Nova Scotians from this competition that he talks of?
MR. ARCHIBALD: Madam Speaker, no. I did not indicate that Nova Scotians were excluded but - I dare not quote exactly what he said - it is my preference that superintendents be recruited nationally. That is his preference and that is what he wrote. It is his preference that the national scope be brought in so that we can bring in more people to help us. But you know something, what I have to tell you is that when you go across Canada and you see the number of success stories that Nova Scotians, right across Canada - I remember last year the Minister of Health telling us what a success he was when he was in California. He is a Nova Scotian. So, Nova Scotians should not be excluded.
AN HON. MEMBER: They are not excluded.
MR. BRAGG: Well, a preference should not be for national people. Thank you very much.
MR. ARCHIBALD: One of the interesting things, too, I think, that this amendment would lead to is boundaries discussion. The boundary decision may be made by the Governor in Council. You know as well I know the confusion about boundaries, be they school boundaries or electoral boundaries. You know, Madam Speaker, from the representation that you had from the district you represent, how sensitive boundaries are and how sensitive they can be. But when the boundaries are decided by Governor in Council, look how far removed that is from the local input of the parents. I think parents probably would be interested and I think local people would be interested in the boundaries of the schools.
Where are the youngsters that are having difficulty in school? We need the committee to have a few people come and talk to us about education in areas that sometimes are not covered in the normal academic school setting. They are a group of young people that are going to fall through the cracks and this should not be allowed to happen. The Human Resources Committee, by its very name, these young people, and I met them when we used to have them at one of the community colleges in Kings County. They were not doing well in the academic section, they went to the vocational part of the school, they received academic upgrading, they received some training, they received encouragement and, in many cases, their academic pursuits improved just along with their vocational training.
I am very concerned that this small group of young adults is not going to find a place any more. There are going to be young people in our school system that are going to frustrated with the normal academic classroom setting. In the legislation, in this bill, it indicates the role for the student, for the parent and for the teacher. It gets me right back to my original starting point, on discipline. When the young people are having a great deal of difficulty academically in school sometimes they lash out and become a problem with discipline. Many times that is just a cry for help: I need help, I want something different. That difference is no longer going to be available to them. We are just going to have academic schools and we are going to have community colleges, but where is the vocational training that used to be so helpful?
Madam Speaker, I would like to adjourn debate so that we can all take part in the service at the Cenotaph. I would like to resume again at 6:30 p.m.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you, honourable member. By unanimous consent earlier this afternoon, the House did agree to recess at 5:45 p.m. until 6:30 this evening.
I would declare that the House is now recessed until 6:30 p.m.
[The House recessed at 5:45 p.m.]
[6:33 p.m. The House reconvened with Deputy Speaker Mrs. Francene Cosman in the Chair.]
MADAM SPEAKER: I will call the session back in. We adjourned the debate with the honourable member for Kings North on his feet; he has 36 minutes remaining.
The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to again stand in my place and talk on the amendment that would suggest that we move Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education be not now read a second time but that the subject matter of the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources.
That is where we left off and for any people that may not have been in the Chamber when I left off, this is what we were discussing. I went over several points with regard to this bill that are very pertinent and I think I outlined earlier that the parents, the students and the teachers were uppermost in the minds of the minister when he brought forth the bill. Parents, students, teachers and Nova Scotians in general must be of the utmost concern to each and every one of us in this Chamber. I know that they are, otherwise we would not have stood for public office. We wouldn't be here, we wouldn't be politicians, if we were not most concerned about the well-being of the classroom.
Now, one of the reasons that I really feel that this bill, An Act Respecting Education, should go to the Human Resources Committee is that committee is suited as no other committee to look at education and to look at some of the pitfalls and some of the opportunities that are available to us. When I stopped earlier, I was speaking about the greater need than what I have been able to ascertain is in this bill regarding the special needs that we have in Nova Scotia for vocational training for young people.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Eastern Shore on an introduction.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Madam Speaker, to you and the members of the House of Assembly, I would like to introduce Mr. Austin Mannette. He is the Vice-Chairman of the Halifax County-Bedford District School Board. Would you all join me in applause and in a warm welcome from the House. (Applause)
MR. ARCHIBALD: Thank you, and I appreciate the opportunity and I, too, want to welcome our visitors and hope they enjoy their visit to the Legislature and I appreciate that the member would take the time to introduce them while they are here among us. I think that is marvellous and I welcome him to the House, as we all welcome visitors to the House.
We are talking about the Education Bill, as it is now, and the importance of it going to the committee so that this bill may become what it is possible to be, and that is the best Education Act in all of this Dominion. Really and truly, with the input of many of the people that are interested - the School Boards Association, the home and school associations - all the people that are so interested in the well-being, they can make a contribution. I think we should allow them to make the contribution.
They would come in from my area, I think, and we would talk about this new school that the minister is going to be building some time in eastern Kings County. They are calling it the super-school. Horton is a school that is in need of renovation and we were going to renovate it starting in the fall of 1996 which is very close. There was a plan by the previous government to renovate that tired old school. However, the new government came in and they said, that plan is not any good. We are going to bring a super-school and it is going to be one of these new private/public partnering adventures that this government is so keen on.
I think the parents could come in and the educators could come in and some of the non-education people, the non-professionals in the education business that want to get involved in building, manning, cleaning and operating the school system for us. They could explain in greater detail so that I, and others like me, could understand exactly what this new super-school is and where does this new super-school fit in here, where each student has a computer at his or her desk all day long. It is going to be linked up with the world on the Internet. It is going to have frequent changes in the computer system. There will be a lunch counter, there will be a lunch room, a cafeteria, a dining room. It is going to be really something special because it is going to the cornerstone of education in Kings County.
But you know, what happened along the way is that there is the Kings County District School Board and within the Kings District School Board there is a high school in my area of Canning, the Cornwallis District High. In Kentville, there is also the Kings County Academy (KCA), both offering high school grades and then there is Central Kings where youngsters from Kings North go to school. What those youngsters are saying to me is, look, we are going to this regular school for high school learning, but some people are going to be going to this super-school. Are they going to be getting advanced training? Are they going to be getting advantages in the job market, in placement at university, in scholarship funds that we are not going to get?
I think this is something that could be discussed most vigorously at the Human Resources Committee. What exactly is a super-school because it is not defined in this bill? But yet, we are going to have them. Now that we are going to regional boards, taking from Hants County all the way through to Digby County in one board, how many other high schools are going to have the same attitude as some of the schools that we have in Kings North?
Are they all going to say, we are going to have one high school in the entire Hantsport-Kings-Annapolis District because everybody is going to want to go to this super-school to get a super-education. That is what we can do at the committee level. We can solve the problem before it arises. I am sure the minister could lay to rest the problems that I foresee because it is a real problem when some of the youngsters are telling me that they do not have the same opportunities as others.
Their parents are paying taxes. They live in the same county. They live in the same province. How come I do not have a computer on my desk? How come I am not linked up to the great wide world on the Internet? How come I cannot take credit courses at Acadia University? What is happening? What is wrong with me? This is what they are saying and can you imagine the frustration.
Well, let's get this bill to the committee so we can get to the bottom of this. Is it a real or is it an imagined problem? Is there really going to be a super-school or is it just another regular high school teaching the same courses. Pardon me? Does the minister want to say (Interruption) Where in the name of time has this minister been? I now understand, Madam Speaker, why people are saying the minister has a great deal of difficulty understanding. I did not think. This has absolutely everything to do with the bill because we are talking about the education of our young people. That is what this bill is supposed to be for and we have an opportunity to send this bill to a committee so it can be studied and come back and it will be a bill that even the Minister of Education will admit is an improvement over what it is now.
How many members of this House can honestly stand in their places and say I read the bill and I support every clause in it. How many members of this government can stand up and say, I support every clause in this bill? How many can say, I read each and every page in this bill and I support it? If we send this bill to the committee it will give each and every member of this House an opportunity to understand the ramifications and believe me they are lesions in this bill.
This bill will change education like it has never been changed before and it will change education without the permission of Nova Scotians. Did this minister or this Premier campaign in Nova Scotia in 1993, saying we are going to have education upside down, that we are going to amalgamate school boards, that we are going to put teachers out in the street, we are going to put the non-union employees out on the street (Interruption)
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I would ask you just to bring yourself back to the focus on the amendment to send this to the committee. Thank you.
MR. ARCHIBALD: The Human Resources Committee, Madam Speaker, could have a look at this bill and just maybe they could make some sense of it because I cannot find support for this bill anywhere. If the minister can find - and he says, ah, he does not care - some group to come into this Chamber and appear at the Law Amendments Committee and say this is a good education bill, I would like to know who that person is right now. Because there is not anyone that I have seen.
We have the faxes from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. We have the faxes from the home and schools. We have the briefs. Those are people who are interested in education. Not one of them said, hurry the bill through. All of them have useful points and useful information. I met with some people that would like to appear at a committee meeting and discuss this bill in very calm (Interruption) I met with representatives of - and, oh, they were impressed too, Mr. Minister - 91 non-union staff of the Kings County District School Board in Kentville.
Across the province, there are 730. The 91 in Kings County are concerned for their future and who would not be? As politicians, we know what job security is, every four years, but we chose this profession, if it is a profession. We chose to be politicians, nobody twisted our arms. We are here because we want to be here. Those 91 people took jobs in Kings County. They felt they had a job, they felt they were secure, they felt they had a pension plan, a medical plan and all of the good things that go with it. Suddenly, how many of those 91 people are going to be employed under this new system? How many of the 730 across the province are going to be employed? What are the ramifications of areas in Nova Scotia? Just in the Valley Regional School Board in Kings County, compared to Annapolis, some people are union people in Annapolis and they are not in Kings and some in Kings are and some aren't. There is kind of a conglomeration of job descriptions. Who is looking out for those people? Who is concerned for those people and their families and their children? We should be. The minister should be concerned for the future and the security of those people. There is not a thing wrong with having compassion, with having interest.
This bill does not settle all of those difficulties. What about seniority? Does a non-union person have the same seniority as a union person doing the same job, from county to county? There are questions and the answers are not here. Early retirement and compensation for people that are non-union, that know that they are going to go, is the package available for them? The benefits of the non-union support staff, is there going to be retraining for staff that are laid off in Kings County and cannot get on with the new board? Can they apply for retraining?
Upon establishment of the new regional boards, the board is the employer in all matters. The minister is going to do the negotiating. An agreement binds the boards and the union but not the minister. The Labour Relations Board is going to be busy, but it doesn't have to be that way. If we had a minister who is caring, who was interested and concerned for all of the people in the system, we could have an opportunity. The Human Resources Committee could address the troublesome issues. We could solve the problems before we have legislation. What is wrong with doing that? What is wrong with seeking out the problems and solving them? There are two kinds of people in this world, I believe, there are people who create problems and there are people who cause problems. Why don't we make this bill, through the Human Resources Committee, a problem solver, not a problem creator? We have an opportunity to make a difference in 730 people's lives who are non-union employees, we have an opportunity to make a difference with all of the students and all of the teachers.
There is nothing more critical in the development of our province at this very threshold as education. It involves economic development, it involves the future of this province, it involves the future of the country because our young students are going to be travelling to different areas and different provinces. We better equip them to compete in the 20th Century as best we can. I can guarantee you, with this bill that is brought before us the way it is today, we are going to be tied up the same way they are in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. We are going to be caught up with startup problems and startup costs. There doesn't seem to be an answer.
If we, as legislators, take this bill to the Human Resources Committee and say look, let's sit down, let's not criticize the minister, let's work with the minister, let's bring in a bill that we can all be proud of, the possibility is there to do just that. You know, Mr. Speaker, there are very dramatic changes and provisions within this. What is the role and function of the school boards? We should find out, we should hear from the School Boards Association, so we could find and get an outline of their role and importance.
We have an opportunity to make a difference. If we do not, as members of this Legislature, allow this bill to go to the Public Accounts Committee, the Human Resources Committee, we are not doing all that we should do. The implications are going to affect each and every person.
What about the contracting out of services? What about partnerships that this government speaks of with industry? The referral to the committee will give the minister an opportunity to come to the committee with the regulations and with the changes that he proposes. He will give us the nuts and bolts of his idea of education and where it should be and where he is and where he wants it to go.
He does not have any opportunity in this Chamber to make those feelings and suggestions known. But if he goes to the Human Resources Committee with the wide-ranging areas, the way it can operate, he can explain himself and he can explain this bill so that each and every one of us can understand.
The levels of authority in jurisdiction between the minister, the boards, the CEO, and we know that he is going to appoint the CEOs, the principals in the schools, the teachers, the parents, the students. Clarification must be given to the role of the teacher and the parent and the student because what on earth are we going to do to the students and the parents who do not fulfil their role as prescribed by this bill?
I think we have an opportunity, Mr. Speaker, that only comes once in every 40 years apparently, to sit down as Nova Scotians and make this bill better, tell the parents what is going to happen to them if their child goes to school undernourished and not well rested. We tell the student what happens if you go to school and misbehave and don't have the proper respect for the teacher or if, in fact, the teacher doesn't have the proper respect for the student.
This is a very large role in this bill but what are the consequences? What is the role of all these positions? Clarification could come from discussion and nobody is going to fault the Minister of Education for appearing at the committee and meeting in frank and open discussion with each and every Nova Scotian who wants to talk.
It is becoming clear that the list already of people who want to appear at Law Amendments Committee is growing very long. We know how Law Amendments Committee works; you have a very few minutes to make your presentation and you make your presentation. Then the bill comes back with or without amendment.
However, it is a more free-ranging and a more congenial, a more collegiate atmosphere at the committee meeting. It is wide open for discussion. At the committee meeting the minister could get the benefit of free advice from all the people who want to go to Law Amendments Committee. It would give the minister an opportunity, that Law Amendments Committee does not afford, for the minister to explain the legislation to the people who are interested so they, too, could have the same enthusiastic feeling that he and his colleagues seem to have toward this bill.
AN HON. MEMBER: Like in the Law Amendments Committee?
MR. ARCHIBALD: In the Law Amendments Committee the minister is not there. In Law Amendments Committee the way it operates, and I am sure each of you have sat in on the Law Amendments Committee: the presenters come in and sit at the table and speak for their 10 or 15 minutes, depending on how much time the Chairman gives them, they read their brief; questions are asked by the MLAs around the table, the brief is closed; the next brief comes in and away they travel. There is no opportunity for a back and forth between the minister and the presenters of that group. However, the committee would afford the minister the opportunity to have a freewheeling discussion, question and answer, because there are more answers than this bill is providing. This bill is simply giving us questions. It is question after question without answer.
The minister has an obligation to give answers. The minister is very pleased that for the first time in 40 years there is going to be a change in the bill. Well, that very well may be and perhaps the minister is right to be so proud that he is doing it, but would it not be better if the Minister of Education would bring in a bill that people would respect him for, a bill that they could understand and a bill that the people could understand what in the name of time the minister is trying to do with education in this province. The theme that runs through, all the criticism that you hear is that this bill is making the minister all-powerful, right from choosing the districts, to choosing the CEOs, to superintendents from a nationally selected panel.
Mr. Speaker, at the committee level, the minister could explain that he really doesn't mean Nova Scotians are not qualified to be superintendents. He just wants to expand it, if that is what he means. You see, in the letter that he wrote to the non-union employees, he indicated that preference was given definitely to outside Nova Scotians. But the minister apparently doesn't really mean that. He is just going to let them have a look and maybe he will or maybe he won't hire them. But it would make a lot of Nova Scotians feel a little better if he could clarify this statement that his preference would be to give the opportunity to non-Nova Scotians.
At the Law Amendments Committee, people do not have the same freewheeling that they will at our committee. I can promise you that the committee would be most receptive and most interested and more than anxious to hear from the hundreds of Nova Scotians who want to talk about education, and there are that many. The referral to the committee will give the minister the opportunity to be there. He will be able to explain to us just exactly what his position is on contracting out, and that is an important point in this bill. The minister will be able to tell us how the CEOs will be evaluated, and what it is going to take to change the boundaries. We constantly hear people saying our boundary isn't just the way we would like to see it. It should be a little different, it should be here and it should be there, but there is no opportunity for the minister to really discuss that with the ordinary, interested Nova Scotian.
He met today with representatives of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and I congratulate them for having the . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I hesitate to interrupt the honourable member because his efforts, while they are perhaps not a model to emulate, are not that bad, but certainly when he is getting into what he is getting into right now, he is deviating from the thrust of the amendment.
AN HON. MEMBER: Grow up.
MR. SPEAKER: Carry on, please.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I do appreciate your interjection, because you have been in the Chair for a long time; you have been in the House for a long time and you know the rules and I certainly don't want to stray off the course in the least.
If we as legislators met at the committee level, we could tell the non-government employees what is going to happen to them. The stress and the staff morale around the province is not conducive to good education at the present time. That is not fair. We have people working in the school and education system who are fearing for their very jobs at the present time. A lot of this stems from the fact that the minister is trying to find $11 million and I am sure he knows where he can find it, but I am not sure where he is going to find it and I don't think there is anybody else in this Legislature who really knows where the $11 million is going to come from.
But the interesting point, and the point that this minister has always made, is that it will not affect the classroom. The classroom is the most important part of this whole bill, but I think the parents from Kings County have a right to come in and go to a committee meeting and ask the minister, how in the name of time is he telling us that this bill will not adversely affect the children in the classroom when the children in the classroom are adversely affected already because of the antics of this minister. This minister has taken money from the District School Board in Kings County, one way or another, and the number of teacher's aides and assistants has decreased. The number of students in each classroom has increased under this minister and the level of education has been lowered. It cannot help but lower because there are more children and fewer staff and that is a direct result of this minister's actions.
Now the minister should be able to come in and explain to us why the early retirement package is working so well and what effect that is having on the need for this. What effect that is going to have this spring when the school boards have to pay each and every teacher on early retirement the extra money that they had not budgeted for. There are so many questions that need answers that the Human Resources Committee could solve a lot of problems for this minister. Not just in this bill, but in some of the other areas of education under his domain that are directly affected by this bill.
It goes on and I do not think there is anything more important than education for our children. It is the children who are more important than a minister being able to take credit for bringing in an Act. The problem I have with this bill and the way it was presented that I do not hear any comment from other members of his government. I do not know whether the other members of his government have seen the bill, have supported the bill. Did they read it? This scares me and this is one of the questions that people have been asking me outside in the halls of this Chamber and people have been calling me on the telephone and people have been sending faxes.
Is the government behind this or is the government just behind the minister? There is a distinct difference. Did the minister bring this in and in order to save face everybody is going to support it? They just kind of close their eyes and tremble and say all right, he did it, we are with him on it and we hope it is not as bad as we think it is and as bad as everybody is telling it is. I am telling you, there is not one single group, there is not one single corner of this province where you can find any support for this bill. There is not one corner of this province you can find any support for that minister and that is, indeed, unfortunate.
MR. SPEAKER: Again, I caution the honourable member. The absence or presence of public confidence in the minister is not the subject matter of the amendment. That would be something you could discuss on second reading of the bill, but it does not relate to this amendment.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, Mr. Speaker, I was trying to be helpful because I think if the minister would agree, and agree right now, to take this bill to the Human Resources Committee for study and improvement that his estimation in people's eyes would soar. We could bring in a bill that could be supported, not just by the people the minister knows he can count on, those people sitting in the government benches, but we could support the bill, too. Would that not be an advantage to the government to have unanimous support for an education bill? We would support the bill if it was worth supporting and I think we could make it a better bill by spending some time at the Human Resources Committee.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for your advice and your counselling and allowing me to speak in this Chamber because this is important. I will take my seat and allow another member to stand up and I hope that this time it will be a member of the government Party that will stand up and defend this bill as much as every other single speaker has stood up and condemned this bill. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand this evening. I rise in support of the amendment as put forward by the honourable member for Halifax Citadel and my colleague. The amendment is essentially, "I move that the words after `that' be deleted and the following substituted, `Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education be not now read . . .
MR. SPEAKER: We know what the amendment is, honourable member, please address yourself to it. We don't need to have it read into the record another time.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, I am speaking in support of the amendment and the principle of the amendment is to refer Bill No. 39, the subject matter of that bill to the Standing Committee on Human Resources. Why we are sending this off to the Human Resources Committee is to seek information regarding the impact of the provisions of Bill No. 39 on students, parents, and teachers.
This is a practical amendment. This amendment is utilitarian, it is worth supporting, there is no question about it. It permits and enables and grants the stakeholders an opportunity to make their views known relative to this legislation, Bill No. 39, An Act Respecting Education. By supporting this amendment, it will provide all of the partners in education with a mechanism or a vehicle whereby they will have a chance, they will have an opportunity, a convenience, a time to convey some of the concerns that they have.
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union, for example, feel that this bill is pretty much dictatorial. They could come in to the Standing Committee on Human Resources which is, as the previous speaker has mentioned, a flexible, more wide open type committee than compared to the Law Amendments Committee. The NSTU could come in and talk about discipline because the bill states that teachers shall, it talks about, a student shall. There are a lot of shall clauses in the bill.
We understand from the legislation that every person who contravenes this bill or the regulations is guilty of an offence and liable on a summary conviction to a fine of not more than $2,000 or imprisonment for six months or both. What I have suggested is that the partners in education may want to come in. This amendment will enable them to come in and express their concerns.
What type of mechanism is put in place? Who is going to monitor every person who contravenes this bill? Why type of court is put in place? Is there an appeal process? There is nothing in this bill that states that there is an appeal process. The bill is very ambivalent, it is contradictory and it is inconsistent.
Now, the Government House Leader, I would certainly yield the floor if he wanted to rise and speak on the bill. I don't believe that is what he would like to do. The bill talks an awful lot about the responsibilities for students, parents, teachers, principals, school councils, it says school councils shall. If the government would just support this amendment, they would be able to come in and listen. The Minister of Education would have an opportunity, a chance.
There has to be more clarification, there has to be more explanation, there has to be more definition relative to this legislation. Home education, for example, in the legislation and you know as well as I do that there are parents in this province who very much like to teach their children at home. But the legislation states that you must teach in the home. So if you had a grandparent, for example, who had a Ph.D. on . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Please, before we get into grandparents with Ph.D.s, you wanted to read the motion in the record, perhaps you should read the motion, silently and then address yourself to the motion. The motion has nothing to do with grandparents holding Ph.D.s, nothing. (Interruption)
AN HON. MEMBER: Grandparents with Ph.D.s could go to the Human Resources Committee.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, that is the point I am trying to make. (Interruptions) For example, I think people in Nova Scotia, whether they are grandparents or uncles or aunts or whatever, may want to come down to the Committee on Human Resources and convey some of the concerns they have. I use grandparents just as a figure of speech, Mr. Speaker. But if you did have a Ph.D. and took a child out of his home and taught him, maybe you wanted to take him to a museum or something like that, you are contravening the Act. The penalty for contravention is a penalty of not more than $2,000 or imprisonment of six months. So I think everybody has a very profound interest in this piece of legislation.
Now it is important too, Mr. Speaker, that we look at the composition of the Human Resources Committee. The Human Resources Committee, as you are well aware . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I am well aware and that is the problem. Just while the honourable member is gathering his thoughts, and by no means as anything more than a very mild admonition, I would like to read to the honourable member and the House from Sir Erskine May's treatise, one of my favourite volumes, The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament. In Sir Erskine May's Treatise, Chapter 19, under the heading of The Powers of the Chair to Enforce Order, appears that paragraph headed, Irrelevance and Tedious Repetition. The paragraph reads;
"If any Member wanders from the question under discussion, the Speaker will interrupt him and remind him that he must speak to the question.". Which I, from time to time, do. It adds, "If a Member persists in irrelevance or a tedious repetition either of his own arguments, or of the arguments used by other Members in debate, Standing Order No. 41 empowers the Speaker, after calling the attention of the House to the Member's conduct, to direct him to discontinue his speech.". Now that is the end of the quote.
What that means is you are not supposed to state the arguments that have already preceded you from other members in debate. Now we have heard this treatise on the beauty and harmony and wondrousness of the Human Resources Committee umpteen times now and, quite frankly, I am somewhat intolerant of hearing it again. So I caution the honourable member to that extent. Continue. (Interruptions)
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for that very . . .
MR. SPEAKER: We all know it is a nice committee, it is good and it is there. We know that.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, and thank you very much for that very refreshing ruling.
Mr. Speaker, one of the key factors that I must mention is the fact that the Minister of Education reneged on his promise to the boards to pass along to them a draft copy of the bill for their input. I think that is enough reason alone to support this amendment.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the overview provided as a substitute - that is what it was, a substitute - it was by no means a suitable vehicle by which boards and perhaps even our municipal units might have addressed some of the key questions that they have relative to this bill. This bill will forever change the education landscape of this province.
So when you bring a bill before the House, and it is some 65 pages in length and it repeals, as you know, Mr. Speaker, the current Education Act as well as the School Boards Act, there is certainly reason, very good rationale, why the stakeholders would dearly love to come in and make an appearance before the Human Resources Committee.
Now, Mr. Speaker, why this government and this minister could not have allowed even a day or two more is beyond reason. What was the rush? We have talked to the Federation of Home and School Associations, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and we have, of course, talked to the 22 different school boards around the province and we have asked them for some input. They have expressed many concerns relative to this legislation, but they did not receive a draft copy of the legislation. I understand the stakeholders in metro did, but it is very unfortunate that those outside of metro did not receive a copy.
So based on that, Mr. Speaker, there are several reasons why we support the amendment to have this piece of legislation go to the Human Resources Committee which, as has been pointed out, is comprised of a very broad cross-section of individuals representing different constituencies across this province and certainly chaired by a very able chairperson.
Mr. Speaker, the minister in this legislation talks about the roles and responsibilities of parents. It says that they shall, Clause 25(1)(a), "support their children in achieving learning success;". It does not say they will support their children, it states that they shall. Now, again, a lot of parents will have concern with the dictatorial nature of the wording in the clauses. We come from the parent perspective. I think it is important. I think perhaps at one time or another most of us here had children, or have children, going to school. The parents across this province, from Yarmouth to Cape Breton, certainly will have some concern.
Teachers, Mr. Speaker, the education bill says, shall, Clause 26(1)(a), "respect the rights of students;". They shall teach diligently. They shall encourage students in the pursuit of learning. They shall, they shall. What teachers out in the system can be faulted for not doing any and all of those things right now? Are not the teachers in this province, presently, respecting the rights of students? I am sure the teachers would dearly love an opportunity to come in before the Human Resources Committee. We know the member for Timberlea-Prospect is on that committee. I think he would like to hear the concerns that the teachers have.
Mr. Speaker, the minister does the same thing with the responsibilities of the student. Who will regulate is a very big question. It is not clarified. It needs to be explained. Who will regulate the section of the bill beyond what is already done voluntarily? Somebody or some mechanism must be in place, but in this legislation there is only one clause that refers to it. Again, that is another reason to support the amendment because people find out that, in fact, with all respect, this could be some type of a kangaroo court. I really do not know how it will be set up, what type of mechanism. Will there be an appeal process? My goodness, a student violates the Act or a teacher violates it or a parent, they are subjected to a fine, not more than $2,000. (Interruption)
MR. SPEAKER: I hear complaints of repetition and I warn the honourable member again to please avoid repetition. Tedious repetition is specifically forbidden by the rules.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, there is no mention in the legislation, another reason and I feel that I am raising valid points as to why we should support this amendment. This legislation nowhere, to my knowledge, states, explains, points out where there will be money available for any school that embarks on site-based management.
We know that there are several pilot projects across this province, but the minister said earlier in the year that councils will be self-supporting financially, another reason to come in before the Human Resources Committee. So what was the purpose in giving the pilot projects when the others will be responsible to finance themselves? Will the boards have to divert money to the councils? We know that the minister, through this legislation, has incredible powers. The minister has a lot of powers. (Interruption) He is a very incredible minister.
There are a lot of items that are going to cost money before the boards, schools and classrooms see a nickel of the minister's purported $11 million saving. For example, Mr. Speaker, you know that the minister can appoint coordinators for each new region. Now it is interesting to note that the minister is already embarked on this process without the need of the legislation so, again, we may see even some of the coordinators sit back as interested spectators and listen. We don't know who will come in. Perhaps the Human Resources Committee is an open committee, but if we support the amendment, that would enable education partners to come in perhaps and sit in. I have to be honest. I understand hundreds and thousands of people are extremely interested in this legislation and through the daytime, I understand, the Metro Centre may be available. Perhaps we could make some arrangement with the Metro Centre to have a real good forum where all the stakeholders can come in.
MR. SPEAKER: I do feel that this is becoming irrelevant. Surely, whether the meetings are held in the Metro Centre or held in some coliseum somewhere is utterly irrelevant. This is the last time I will admonish the honourable member.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, the President of the Federation of Home and School Associations stated at the press conference that while she is pleased to have decision-making based at the home and school or school council level, there are still many decisions and types of decisions that should be left in the hands of the district. We do understand that Home and School Associations have grave concerns about this legislation. We understand again that many of the education partners have concerns.
Mr. Speaker, I probably will have something else to say when this bill comes back, irrespective of this amendment passing. This is a very important amendment and I would encourage members to take a look at this amendment and stand up, take your opportunity and speak on Bill No. 39. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity, once again, to rise and speak on Bill No. 39, and to address my attention to the amendment that has been proposed that we refer the subject matter of Bill No. 39 to the Human Resources Committee, that committee charged with the responsibility of looking at, among other things, matters that come under the responsibility of the Minister of Education.
Mr. Speaker, I am not the Education Critic for our caucus. The Leader of the NDP has carried out that responsibility for a number of years. He has worked closely with a number of the partners in education to try to help develop the caucus' policy on education to keep himself and our caucus apprised of what changes are happening within the education system in the Province of Nova Scotia and he makes reports from time to time. He has informed us over the past number of months and the last year or so as the Minister of Education has set out on his reform process following his reform agenda.
He has explained to us in our caucus the kind of reaction that the Minister of Education has been getting out in the communities from one end of this province to the other, especially on matters like the White Paper, for example, and how, when the minister would roll into a community, handing out basically the White Paper, then hold a public forum to discuss the specifics of that White Paper, the level of dissatisfaction in the community from not only teachers and school board representatives but also parents with the process that the Minister of Education was undertaking under the guise of consultation.
I don't know that we truly appreciated the level of dissatisfaction that was building within the education community across this province. After the minister produced his bill in this House and he presented it as being a lifelong work, that it was something that he has been wanting to do for a great number of years, perhaps since he was a child but certainly as he began his career in the education field. He saw that there were important changes that had to be made to the way the education system in the Province of Nova Scotia is organized, managed and administered. He now, as the Minister of Education, has the opportunity to do that.
He brought forward An Act Respecting Education, the bill that is before us now, as having been a process of consultation with the partners, a process of taking a 40 year old bill, bringing it not only up-to-date but changing it in a way that would allow the government and the Province of Nova Scotia to deal with the challenges that are facing us in the future. He talked with great pride about the process that he went through in order to do that, the process of consultation, the process of discussing education with the stakeholders; with students, with parents, with teachers, with elected officials on school boards, with administrators and so on. That has all led him to the bill that we now have before us.
That is an enormous challenge. It was an enormous undertaking and it is an enormous challenge for that minister, for any minister, to bring forward change that is being proposed here in a bill that has not been renewed for over 40 years. Let's not underestimate that. But given the rhetoric that we have heard from this Minister of Education, rhetoric which seems somewhat hollow given the representations by our caucus Critic on Education, that there was a fair bit of concern and even resentment in some areas with the process of consultation, I was anxious, as a member of this Legislature to take a look through this bill, to examine it and to try to understand the important changes that the Minister of Education was proposing.
I have tried to do that over the past few days since we have had this bill in the House. What I can't get over, with a major piece of legislation like this that is being presented here, that will drastically change the way education is administered in the Province of Nova Scotia, and given the Minister of Education's stated commitment to working with the partners to evolve a piece of work that will benefit Nova Scotia, I can't get over the negative reaction by those very partners to Bill No. 39 tabled by the Minister of Education. I can't get over the level of anger by some of the organizations, the level of concern by others, but the overwhelming agreement that this bill has to be pulled, that this bill has to be delayed that this bill has to be reviewed, has to be discussed and has to be revamped.
That is what organizations seem to be saying with one voice. They are saying that the minister in his consultations, be they adequate or not, said to the partners that he will bring forward a piece of legislation that they will have an opportunity to participate in the finalizing of. As was suggested by the President of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union the other day when he was commenting on the Education Bill, he said that for us to be able to do that with a bill of this magnitude, with a bill with this kind of impact on a matter like education that is so important to all of us in Nova Scotia, for them and for us as legislators, to be able to have that kind of input over a period of a month, for that to be a positive and constructive process is really dreaming in Technicolor. I think that is absolutely correct and that is why there is so much merit in the amendment that is before us right now that suggests that this bill be referred to the Human Resources Committee.
Even though I have reviewed some of the correspondence that we have received from various organizations - I have had a number of telephone calls from constituents and other people in this province that are concerned about this bill - I would like to have the opportunity, as I am sure my colleague would, as I am sure many members of this Legislature would, to sit down and to hear detailed presentations, and maybe not so detailed presentations, but presentations from people who are concerned about what it is that is being proposed here.
Maybe some of it is emotional reaction given the importance, given the significance of education in this province. Maybe with further study, with further debate with further consultation, we will learn that some of those concerns do not necessarily have any foundation. Well, if that is true, then we have to work through that process. Surely it makes sense to the minister and his colleagues that we need to work through a process whereby a significant piece of legislation like this does not come out the other end with a great number of the partners in education and many others, perhaps tens of thousands of Nova Scotians, opposed right from the start to what it is the Minister of Education is proposing. That, to me, does not spell a positive and constructive government.
If the minister shows that kind of commitment to consultation, debate and discussion and engaging with the organizations, with the partners in education, as well as parents and students and members of the community to discuss these issues, if he is actually committed to doing that I think that he would show it by allowing this bill to be referred to the Human Resources Committee. Giving sufficient time - we are not talking a year, we are probably not talking six months, but a reasonable period of time, maybe three months - I do not think it would overly burden the agenda of this government if this bill were to be held up for a further three months. We know, through experience, already in this House that legislation comes here and the government is ramming and jamming it through and it does not receive Royal Assent, for Heaven's sakes, for months and months. Let us not forget what happened with workers' compensation; that bill still has not received Royal Assent.
The point is, if we take that three months and participate . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I want to just make an observation here and nothing more. This is not a three months' hoist. There is nothing in the amendment that refers to any specific time duration. The process envisaged could take any number of months, hypothetically perhaps three, perhaps longer. I just want to point out that this is not a three months' hoist.
MR. CHISHOLM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. You are absolutely correct. I am suggesting perhaps that might be a period of time that would be reasonable that the minister may allow, or the committee might take that. It is not a long period of time. We would be into the first part of March, let's say. These changes, I would suggest, aren't probably going to affect this school year anyway, even if the bill goes through before Christmas. Anyway, your point is, I think, well taken, Mr. Speaker.
My point is that if we take that period of time and we allow for some engagement of people, for people to make presentations, for us to discuss some of the implications of some of these matters, then perhaps we will do what we are supposed to be doing here and that is to ensure that the legislation that we pump out of here is the best legislation that it possibly can be. Let's not forget that education is one of the corner stones to a healthy and prosperous economy, to a healthy and prosperous society. It is something that in our drive to reduce deficits, to reduce the size of government, that we don't cut off our nose to spite our face.
At the same time we are taking millions of dollars out of the system because that was the direction of the Minister of Finance, at the same time that we are cutting nearly 800 teachers out of the system, administrators and specialists who enable us to provide a comprehensive level of education. We may be meeting some of those financial objectives, fiscal objectives of the Minister of Finance and his colleagues on the Treasury benches, but what are we doing to the future of our province?
What are we doing to the future of our children? Interfering with their ability, jeopardizing their opportunities, their ability to compete not only here in this province for jobs but, as importantly and we are constantly reminded by many people about this, but to compete with people in the country and people internationally. We can't forget those things. In a piece of legislation that deals with the Education Act, I remember standing up here last year and talking about the Workers' Compensation Act and the impact it was going to have on the people that are directly affected by it and how important that is.
MR. SPEAKER: I appreciate the analogy you are making but I think that that is a little far from the subject matter of the amendment before the House. I know you are trying to draw an analogy but . . .
MR. CHISHOLM: I am trying to draw an analogy and I said at that point how important that was in that decisions we made in this House with respect to workers' compensation would be devastating to the people affected. I think that has been shown to be true. In terms of the Education Bill, some of the things that are being considered in here, I would suggest, are going to make the Workers' Compensation Act seem like a breath of fresh air.
There is some suggestion in here in terms of the role that the Minister of Education is giving himself and that the Executive Council, the power that they are acquiring through these changes, will make school boards in the Province of Nova Scotia effectively redundant. What does that mean for the ability of this province to maintain a healthy and a positive education system, to be able to meet the education needs of the children of this province? I think it is extremely significant.
On the one hand when we are talking about devolving responsibility and control to the communities, to the parents and to the stakeholders, there is this big sucking sound of power being drawn from those very people into the centre, into the minister's hands, into the hands of the Executive Council. I think that is a very serious problem. On the one hand, for example, we are establishing these school councils which some would suggest are going to usurp power from the school boards. At the same time we are doing this, we are setting up powers within the hands of the minister and the minister's office to negotiate all items to do with the work place, to do with remuneration, to do with managing the teaching profession in the Province of Nova Scotia, in the hands of the minister.
I am not an education specialist, Mr. Speaker. I am very concerned about this issue. I think I know a little bit about it, as someone who has spent some time in the education system in Nova Scotia. I would like to have the opportunity to hear from people who are experts because let me give you one example. We have already heard from a group, the Integration Action Group who are concerned about children who have special needs in the education system and the ability of the education system in the Province of Nova Scotia to meet those needs so that we will do what is set out in the mandate under education and that is provide everyone, every child in Nova Scotia with equal access to a quality education.
There is some suggestion in here, in this Act, and I would like to hear more about that, that changes to this Act are infringing on the ability of these people to receive that same level of education or a similar level of education that is being received or being delivered to other children in the Province of Nova Scotia. That is a matter that needs to be dealt with. Surely that is a matter that everybody agrees here that we should hear from specialists. We should hear from parents. We should hear from representatives of students with special needs who can tell us from personal experience and from academic experience just exactly what some of these changes that are being proposed mean.
I think that the opportunity to have this bill go before the Human Resources Committee is a proper opportunity for us to consider some of these implications. Mr. Speaker, the minister has said, at some length, that what he wants to do is realign the roles and responsibilities of the main actors in the education system. I think that anybody who has looked at this bill and understands what is being proposed will agree that that is being done. The concern is that there are some serious conflicts in the legislation in terms of who has what role and what responsibility and that will seriously jeopardize the actual delivery of this service in the classroom. Let us not forget again that it is the classroom that this minister talks about as being the primary focus for the education system.
I think that what I am hearing from people, who have participated in the process who are involved in the education system, is that the minister may have missed the beat in a few instances in terms of some of the changes that he is proposing in this bill.
We have waited 40 years. It is probably long overdue that we have an overhaul of the Education Act, of something that is so important to the Province of Nova Scotia, long overdue and the government is doing it. I say, good for them; good for the Minister of Education to take on that challenge because it is not an easy one, Mr. Speaker, and I think anyone who is involved, anyone who is interested will agree with that. Surely, that also means there is some responsibility expected of the minister and of his colleagues in government, they will ensure that that overhaul, those changes in the Education Act, changes which may exist for another 40 years, Mr. Speaker, who knows? The wheels of legislative change turn very slowly sometimes. I mean, if this government stays in as long as the last government did, it may become less inclined to change as well. But that having been said, if we are going to make change, let's make sure we do it right. That is what people are asking.
Whether it is the School Boards Association, Mr. Speaker, whether it is the Teachers Union, whether it is the home and school association, whether it is parents involved as individuals, whether it is students, whether it is legislators, we have all said we want to participate in this reform, in this overhaul of the education system, of the Education Act. But let's make sure that in our haste to do that that we don't do something we are going to regret. I think that is the concern many people have about the fact that this piece of legislation, a piece of legislation that nobody saw until it was introduced here, that there are some serious flaws to this legislation that need to be addressed and that people deserve the opportunity to consider those flaws, in order to try to make some changes.
I listen to the Minister of Education and I don't doubt his sincerity for one moment, I plead with that minister not to give in to some legislative agenda that might be based on things like vacations or a legislative timetable that has nothing to do with the actual issue at hand. Don't give in to the very natural, I would suggest, responses to this kind of process which at many times seems adversarial, that says if we bring in legislation here, we can't change it, we can't hold it up, we can't slow it down because that will be a sign of weakness.
I ask the minister, don't give in to those sentiments which we all agree are very human and are very common certainly in this House but, Mr. Speaker, are not appropriate when you are considering a matter that is of such significance to the people in Nova Scotia.
I ask the minister, as I asked the minister when we talked about the six months' hoist, to listen to that voice that told him that the Education Act had to be reformed, that same voice that has driven him over the past couple of years because I think we all agree that the minister has been driven towards this change, to listen to that and don't blow it this close to accomplishing something that hasn't happened in 40 years, by moving with haste through this process of having the legislation tabled. And what comes out the other end? You know as well as I do, Mr. Speaker, and anybody who has been in this House for any length of time recognizes that in the process of legislation moving through committees, moving through first, second and third stage, that sometimes, whether it is because of rules of debate or because of a lack of attention by Opposition members, by those people who are trying to make constructive changes as a result of time limitations, we miss something, we miss things that will end up having an effect on those very people that the Minister of Education claims to be here to support. Students, not only those who are there now but those who will still be going through the system over the next 40 years.
Mr. Speaker, the other concern, I think, that I have and I alluded to it early on when I said that I couldn't get over the level of emotion that already has built up over concerns with the Education Act, is that at a time when we are proposing this kind of significant change, you have all the major partners, School Boards Association, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, the home and school association, all the different locals, the other unions that are involved, the unions that represent bus drivers and maintenance people in the school boards and so on, clerical workers, people are upset. People are angry. We are already hearing - and it has been referred to earlier and I don't think I need to table it - from the largest NSTU local in this province, talking about withdrawing their services, going on strike. We are hearing from the Cape Breton local, the Northside-Victoria local, about how upset they are.
MR. SPEAKER: Does that local recommend the referral of the bill to the Standing Committee on Human Resources?
MR. CHISHOLM: Actually, Mr. Speaker, let me just see.
MR. SPEAKER: Because that is what we are discussing here.
MR. CHISHOLM: I think actually what it says here, and I can just read this to you, about 200 of the 400 members of the Northside-Victoria local of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union attended a meeting Tuesday to call on their provincial executive to force change to the bill or call a protest strike.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, that hardly sounds like a referral to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, to me.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, they want change and that is a positive place for change to happen.
AN HON. MEMBER: What about Law Amendments Committee?
MR. CHISHOLM: Law Amendments is a vehicle, Mr. Speaker, but the problem with the Law Amendments Committee is one that we have spoken about before. I have to say at the outset what a wonderful institution the Law Amendments Committee is and we are the only Legislature in this country that has it and it serves an important function. I have to say that before I say anything critical because Guy Brown will get up and tell me how lucky we are and he is absolutely right. The Minister of Labour is absolutely right that the Law Amendments Committee is extremely important.
MR. SPEAKER: I must interject here. The title to use here in the House is the honourable Minister of Labour.
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes, and I realized that as soon as it came out of my mouth, Mr. Speaker. I apologize for that. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: That is not germane to the amendment. Carry on.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, there are students, parents, teachers and elected school board officials and so on who feel that the member for Cape Breton South and his colleagues on the government side are treating them like bingo chips and just throwing them around. Let me say with respect to the Law Amendments Committee, that it serves an important function.
MR. SPEAKER: But this amendment is not about that important function. It is about the Human Resources Committee only.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, you raised the issue of whether or not those people calling for changes to the bill, forcing changes to the bill, or protest strikes or whatever, that that had nothing to do with reference to the Human Resources Committee.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I raised that to point out the irrelevance of the comments of the honourable member, that they were not germane to the amendment.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, I think that your comments, Mr. Speaker, were extremely relevant to that and I was trying to make that point, that that kind of call would best fit in the operations of that standing committee more than it would the Law Amendments Committee because of the very nature of those two committees and the way they both operate and they way they both function. Again, that had to do with the processes, the procedures and things other than the merits of a given issue, taking control, things like legislative agendas and other business and so on and that that is a problem in terms of referring something to the Law Amendments Committee.
Mr. Speaker, we don't want teachers to withdraw their labour, we don't want school board workers and others and parents to hit the streets, my Heavens.
I remember when this government was first elected. They talked about working in partnership, working together with the major stakeholders in the economy, with parents and with leaders of organizations. Walking shoulder to shoulder in order to deal with challenges that are facing us. This is not doing that. This is not walking shoulder to shoulder. This is far from that. I do not know whether the Minister of Education is way out ahead of the pack or whether he is way behind the pack, but we are not moving with any sense of synchronicity here. With something that is as important as education, surely it deserves a bit more coordination in terms of the changes that are being proposed.
It is not in the best interest of this province, let alone all the stakeholders in education. It is not in the best interest of this province to have that kind of confrontation. That is not appropriate at this time when we are still struggling in this province to come out of the recession. We are still struggling to try and create jobs and try to hang on to the type of communities that we have and the services that we have. Surely, that effort and those challenges will not be met by setting up further devisiveness and further confrontation and further conflict in our communities.
Maybe that is not here, but I am telling you, I am extremely concerned as an individual, as a member of this community, as a member of this Legislature with the level of emotion that seems to be out there on behalf of people that are participating in this issue. I really think that we need, at the very least, a cooling off period. We need an opportunity to discuss this and I talked about it before and I say it in a constructive manner that there may be some harsh words said. There may be some tempers that flare up from time to time, but if you cannot get passionate about education, if you cannot get passionate about the future of our children and the future of our province, what are we going to get passionate about? That is something that I think all members should reflect on. This is not a question of, this is our legislation and we have to get it through here and that we know what is best. Surely, this government has to get beyond that at some point.
I understand that the time is drawing near for the closing of the House tonight and I would, therefore, respectively suggest that we adjourn debate on this amendment and, hopefully, I will have the opportunity and as my grandmother-in-law says, if God spares me, I will be here in the morning in order to open debate once again on this amendment.
I would, therefore, move that we adjourn debate on this amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the debate be adjourned.
The motion is carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Tomorrow we will sit from the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and the order of business will be Public Bills for Second Reading commencing with Bill No. 39.
I move that we adjourn until 8:00 a.m. tomorrow.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the House do now rise to meet again tomorrow morning at the hour of 8:00 o'clock.
The motion is carried.
[The House rose at 7:59 p.m.]
By: Mr. Robert Chisholm (Halifax Atlantic)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas on July 19, 1995 the Future Inn, Dartmouth, was found guilty of unfair labour practices by the Labour Relations Board, ordered to reinstate five fired employees and repay their lost compensation; and
Whereas by October 16th, when none had been reinstated or compensated, the board reaffirmed its original order but the minister has sole power to authorize a prosecution for this breach; and
Whereas in a previous case, the board said of the Future Inn's owner that, "leaving aside threats and acts of violence, it is difficult to imagine a more complete course of illegal conduct,";
Therefore be it resolved that this House regrets the long period of non-compliance with the July 19th Labour Relations Board order directed to the Future Inn, Dartmouth, and urges the labour Minister to authorize prosecution without one day's additional delay.