MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I will call the House to order at this time and we will commence the daily business. Are there any introductions of guests before we begin? If not we will commence the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I have a series of petitions here from workers at the Victoria General Hospital. They urge the government to make amendments to a piece of legislation, Bill No. 47, to include the Victoria General Hospital Transition Agreement of May 1992 into this bill in order to preserve all the rights and benefits of the future employees of the QE II corporation.
Mr. Speaker, these were received from different departments within and I was requested to indicate that we received 14 from 8A Victoria; 11 from 9 Victoria; 10 from 5B Urology; 8 from Medical Day Unit; 26 from Cardiac Investigation Recovery Unit; 38 from Lab Reporting; 7 from Social Work; 8 from 5 Victoria; 14 from various other units at the Victoria General Hospital; 7 from Transplant Clinic; 30 from VG Emergency Department; 10 from Occupational Therapy; 11 from 8 North; 11 from 8B; and 13 from 7A Orthopaedics.
Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the rules of this House, I have affixed my name to each one in the categories of the departments in which I received them and I would so table.
MR. SPEAKER: The petitions are tabled.
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Supply and Services.
HON. GERALD O'MALLEY: Mr. Speaker, some seven months ago, I released a White Paper on Government Procurement in this House and invited public comment and response. Our purpose at that time was to create a policy that would ensure taxpayers receive the best value in efficiency and quality for their tax dollars.
Secondly, to create a fair, open and transparent procurement system with clear and unequivocal guidelines and thirdly, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that every business has an equal opportunity to do business with government and publicly funded institutions.
I believe that the policy that is now being distributed to all members achieves these objectives.
Mr. Speaker, we have benefitted from dozens of written responses to the White Paper from private individuals, government employees, corporations, municipal government leaders, industry associations and from representations of the public at large. Together with the revised Atlantic Procurement Agreement, which is also being distributed, these records shall be the definitive documents for public sector procurement in Nova Scotia.
Our new policy and the revised Atlantic Procurement Agreement are effective for all government departments, agencies, boards and commissions on January 1, 1996, but I might point our, Mr. Speaker, not for municipal units. Our new policy has many features to assist procurement personnel in their jobs of obtaining value for taxpayers within an open and fair procurement system.
Some of the highlights are:
The lowest tender will be accepted. If for any reason, staff feel the award should not go to the lowest tender, approval must be obtained by the Priorities and Planning Committee of Cabinet. Accountability is crucial to the integrity of that process. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, a written rationale for awarding to the non-lowest tender will be available for public review.
The thresholds and process for acquiring goods, services, construction, office space and specialized professional services are clearly outlined.
The process for advertising for requirements over $1,000 are also clearly outlined.
The only acceptable exceptions to the policy are also outlined. Those exceptions include provisions for emergency situations, instances of only one supplier, and opportunities to help develop minority owned businesses and sheltered workshops, and businesses of that special type.
Mr. Speaker, for the first time, the Nova Scotia Government has a policy on unsolicited proposals.
As mentioned a few moments ago, the Atlantic Procurement Agreement has also been improved. In concert with our Atlantic partners, this new agreement is expanding its coverage to include all publicly funded universities, school boards and hospitals in the Atlantic Provinces. In Nova Scotia, these sectors will be covered by the new Nova Scotia Procurement Policy on June 1st, after extensive cross-provincial consultation through meetings. These reforms which will be implementable for all departments, agencies, commissions of government, will be effective on January 1, 1996. They will ensure that public institutions, which will be included on June 1st, will be receiving the best possible value and that competition for their business is as open as possible.
I might say that discussion regarding municipalities will be an ongoing matter but is not, as I have said, included in this agreement. The agreement allows each province to foster new enterprises in their respective jurisdictions by exempting, for three years, new manufacturers or service providers from the rules of the procurement agreement. Also, there is a dispute resolution mechanism that enables proponents and suppliers to appeal decisions from any province. In Nova Scotia, the contact will be through the office of the Ministry of Supply and Services.
Staff from my department, like their colleagues in other provinces, will soon embark upon information sessions with procurement officials in all universities, school boards and hospitals across the province. These procurement reforms are an excellent example of what Nova Scotia can accomplish when working with other provinces and also when there is commitment to effective, leading-edge reforms of our own practices.
In closing, I wish to thank the many people who responded to our call for submissions to help create this policy. I wish to single out for special appreciation, the staff of my department for their many hours of writing and research and for their excellent advice. Thanks to them and the many others who contributed to this process, Nova Scotia has, for the first time in its history, a comprehensive, fair and open government procurement policy.
This policy removes the opportunity for political interference which has for so long marred government procurement and hurt our province's reputation as a progressive and competitive place in which to do business. I wish to table this document today and this government is determined that the old days will never return for procurement. Thank you. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a comment on the announcement of the government procurement policy just announced by the honourable Minister for Supply and Services.
Earlier today the minister held a press conference, which I attended, and he answered many of the questions that the media were asking. When we elected our new Leader a little while ago, one of the first things he said was when the government does something that we agree with, we are going to support it.
This Opposition caucus fully supports the free and open tendering service that is applicable to all people working in our province. This government continues with the policies that were started before by previous governments and is perhaps building on them to make it a more free, open and transparent tendering policy.
One of the difficulties with the announcement today is that the minister indicated it didn't apply to municipalities. That is unfortunate, when you consider that the largest municipal unit in Atlantic Canada, in Eastern Canada, is in metro Halifax, it would be a good idea when you have a municipal unit with other 300,000 people living in it that they should be included in any tendering policy that is free and open.
We have all heard lately the request for openness with regard to the political contributions and this is the same sort of thing, people today want openness and they want transparency.
One of the things the minister indicated was the request for proposals. That still is something that has to be watched very carefully and very closely, because when you do call for proposals and you put 2, 3 or 4 people, it is always subject to suspicion as to why those people were selected to make the bid in the first place.
Unsolicited proposals, the minister indicated that for the first time the government has some kind of a policy that will help them make selections on unsolicited proposals. I think it would be beneficial and helpful if we in the Opposition and certainly all Nova Scotians knew what the policy is for unsolicited proposals. I didn't notice it in the brochure that he has had prepared nor did he mention it earlier today.
It is interesting, too, the architectural engineering and surveying services. They have been meeting with government, they have been meeting with members of his staff for quite a long time trying to work out a system where it treats all architects, engineers and surveying services in a fair and equitable manner. I hope that this policy is in keeping with the agreement that they made with the minister's staff over the last couple of years in their discussions.
All in all, Mr. Speaker, this is a good policy. The details all aren't here. As the details unfold and as months go on, but I think all Nova Scotians will have to agree that an open and transparent tendering process is much better for all Nova Scotians because the difficulty we have is when favouritism takes place. I am sure that Nova Scotians agree that government want to get the best value for their taxpayers' dollar.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to say a few words in response to the minister's statement and tabling of the policy. Certainly, our caucus has been pushing for a very long time, as the minister knows, for a full and open and proper purchasing policy in the Province of Nova Scotia. From a first glance and first review of the policies as it was tabled, I note that there are quite a number of significant changes from the original draft proposal that the minister had tabled in this House close to a year ago. So, quite honestly, I want to reserve judgment in terms of how fully I will endorse this until I have had an opportunity to do more greater review.
I have a couple of concerns just from the brief looking at it. Of course, one of the things that the government is touting as a tremendous opportunity is the Agreement on Internal Trade and the Atlantic Procurement Agreement. Certainly, one of the things, of course, that the government has to be concerned about, and the government has to be accountable for its purchasing policies, but what kind of impact that may have on the ability to support some local small businesses that are trying to struggle and get by and, Mr. Speaker, the lowest price is often basically what is to be used. There is nothing in here then that would appear to give the government the authority to give preference to Nova Scotia businesses that will employ Nova Scotians and recycle their monies back within the economy rather than having that go through an Ontario brokerage or company, maybe, and then contracted out to the United States.
I have some questions about the unsolicited proposals, because here it says, "Where an unsolicited proposal is received the government may consider a range of options, including a pilot project, partnership or other arrangements, that will be undertaken to assess the merit of the proposal.". Well, it would strike me that it could very easily be used as a way to get around a tendering type of proposal.
Also under environmental considerations, "Where appropriate, the integration of environmental considerations into government procurement is encouraged.". I have no idea what that means, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to think that environmental considerations are taken into consideration when the government is making any kinds of major decisions. Certainly the government should not be trying to forgo environmental concerns and health and safety types of concerns that Nova Scotians pay for, for a long period of time, in return for saving a dollar or two. So I thank the minister very much for bringing this forward.
The general thrust of what the government is trying to talk about doing is to ensure Nova Scotian businesses supposedly have opportunities to bid on a wider range of businesses and to ensure that there isn't political interference. We have been calling for an end to political interference and closed shops for a very long time. I note that this does not extend to municipal units. It is going to extend to some other groups and, as I said at the beginning, I want to have an opportunity to do a more detailed analysis of the procurement policy as tabled and hopefully will be in a better position to give a more reasoned response once I have had the chance to compare this document to the other one. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: Before I ask for any further ministerial announcements, the honourable member for Victoria would like to make an introduction.
MR. KENNETH MACASKILL: Mr. Speaker, seated in your gallery today is a group of people representing the Federation of Scottish Clans in Nova Scotia and the Gaelic Council in Nova Scotia. Their leaders today are Dal MacIntyre, President of the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia, Jean Watson, President of the Federation of Scottish Clans and other Gaelic supporters including Sandy MacLean, fhailte aig an taigh an duigh. I would ask the House to give these folks a warm welcome. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, through you and to all members of the House, I would like to introduce a guest we have in the west gallery. He is the former Member of Parliament for Cumberland-Colchester and now the Leader of the Coalition for Fairness, Mr. Bill Casey. I would ask the House to give Bill a warm welcome. (Applause)
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, back on the 28th, you will recall that I participated in a debate here with respect to IMP and what was happening with the facility there. During the course of my remarks, I referred to the CHER radio broadcasting situation where BCA Holdings intervened at hearings with the CRTC in response to an application by - I said Maritime Broadcasting - and I should have said Fundy Broadcasting, which is a company out of New Brunswick.
I wanted to clarify that point because it is well-known that BCA Holdings has come together with Maritime Broadcasting, has invited them in to the situation at CHER to help them in resolving the problems there and that partnership has worked extremely well to date and undoubtedly will in the future. I wanted to correct the record. I certainly did inadvertently misspeak myself and I wanted to correct that record.
MR. SPEAKER: All right. The record is corrected.
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
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 Atlantic Provinces Truckers' Association, the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the Nova Scotia Chamber of Commerce, the Atlantic Provinces Ready-Mixed Concrete Association and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business do not support the tolling of Highway No. 104; and
Whereas the Premier has ignored this very important economic issue facing not only the residents of Cumberland and Colchester Counties, but all of Nova Scotia; and
Whereas the Minister of Transportation is refusing to admit that money does exist to complete Highway No. 104 without the necessity of tolling;
Therefore be it resolved that the Premier and Minister of Transportation make a definitive statement today as to why they have turned such a blind eye to such a very important economic issue and are continuing to steamroll ahead with plans to toll Highway No. 104.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the government and their multimillion dollar consultants have agreed that trucks must be required to use the toll section of Highway No. 104 because there is no other way to fulfil Liberal revenue requirements; and
Whereas the Liberals and their expensive consultants have also agreed that on the toll routes, they will drop the rules ensuring work for local truckers on highway construction, despite campaign promises; and
Whereas local truckers are told that contracts for them, ". . . add expense without commensurate value . . .", but their tolls are so valuable as to be mandatory;
Therefore be it resolved that this House regrets the arrogant, greedy, one-sided approach that this government has taken by requiring truckers to pay for much of the new Highway No. 104 route, yet excluding them from their normal participation in the construction work.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Watson family of Halls Harbour, Kings County, are providing this year's Christmas tree to the residents of Boston; and
Whereas this is a very special event to Nova Scotians as it is an annual gesture of thanks to the people of Boston for their immediate and invaluable assistance following the devastation of the Halifax Explosion; and
Whereas Dave, Sharon, Sarah, Jeena and Christopher Watson, through the generosity of Prudential Realty Group, will be the first supplier of a Christmas tree to fly to Boston for the lighting ceremony;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate the Watson family for the honour of having the finest Christmas tree in Nova Scotia, and wish them well as they participate in this Saturday's ceremony to thank the people of Boston.
Mr. Speaker, I would request waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreeable to the House that notice be waived on that motion?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
MRS. LILA O'CONNOR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas yesterday, at TUNS, a highly successful strategic planning meeting for Atlantic Canada boat builders sponsored by the Centre for Marine Vessel Design and Research took place; and
Whereas many boat builders from Lunenburg County attended this session; and
Whereas Lunenburg boat builders are known throughout the world as the builders of our famous schooner, the Bluenose;
Therefore be it resolved that this House commend the boat builders of Lunenburg for their foresight and entrepreneurship by becoming involved in a planning process that will see them progress and meet the demand for their skills well into the 21st Century.
Mr. Speaker, I would request waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed that notice be waived?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the notion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas for 16 consecutive years, Nova Scotia had a lower unemployment rate than New Brunswick; and
Whereas, coincidence or not, this all changed in 1992-93 with the election of a Liberal Government in Nova Scotia; and
Whereas since 1992-93, New Brunswick's unemployment rate has been lower than Nova Scotia's;
Therefore be it resolved that the Premier and his government make an attempt to understand the devastating consequences a toll road will have on Nova Scotia's economy.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
HON. GUY BROWN: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley gets up and talks about the unemployment rate in 1992-93. That's the fiscal year that this government wasn't even elected. Will you please get your facts together. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, order. I don't find a point of order. (Interruption) There is no point of order.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley on a new resolution.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Perhaps this one will appeal to the member for Cumberland South a little better than the last one.
Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Mayor of Amherst has once again pleaded with the Premier to make an attempt to understand the frustration being experienced in Cumberland County with plans by the province to construct a toll highway; and
Whereas the Mayor of Amherst said, "A tolled highway will create a great hardship in this area, not only for trucking firms but also for the consumers of goods being transported on that highway"; and
Whereas the Mayor of Amherst has said that if prices go much higher, Cumberland County residents will not be able to cope regardless of their will to survive;
Therefore be it resolved that the Premier and Minister of Transportation reassess their decision to toll Highway No. 104 before it becomes too late.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Human Resources Minister is giving speeches outside this Chamber, taking out expensive newspaper ads and otherwise successfully angering and alienating hospital workers, whose terms and conditions of employment are under Liberal attack; and
Whereas, unlike some of his colleagues, this minister refuses to sit down and seriously negotiate the legitimate concerns of thousands of workers; and
Whereas the minister's bland indifference to others' potential loss of jobs has destroyed any remaining trust that workers may have had in him;
Therefore be it resolved that the Premier should appoint a competent Human Resources Minister who understands the dedication and concerns of public sector workers enough to establish a good-faith relationship with them.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury.
MR. RAYMOND WHITE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas recently, Mr. and Mrs. James Kelly of San Francisco, California, visitors to the Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury area, faced a grave medical crisis which required emergency health care; and
Whereas in a recent letter, Mrs. Kelly writes that although they were strangers, Mr. Kelly received excellent health care, while she received emotional and psychological support that kept her from undue anxiety and worry; and
Whereas the Kellys say the kindness and support they received from Lorraine Colvin at the Seawind Landing Inn, from Doctors Foley and Ross in Guysborough, the staff of the Guysborough Memorial Hospital, Doctors Miles and Rappard and staff of St. Martha's Hospital in Antigonish, Morgan's Bed & Breakfast, Haverstock Ambulance Service, the Guysborough Library, V & S Store and, in general, the people of Guysborough, was incredibly beautiful and supportive and she writes, ". . . it restored my jaded opinion of human nature . . .";
Therefore be it resolved that the Government of Nova Scotia congratulate the goodwill ambassadors from Guysborough and the attending medical staff who constantly provide first-class medical care to the residents of Nova Scotia, as well as those visiting our province.
Mr. Speaker, I have attached to this resolution their letter because I think it is a compliment to all Nova Scotians.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice without debate.
MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable?
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 when Statistics Canada studied the actual operation of unemployment insurance, it concluded that the behaviour of companies, not workers, was the most significant factor in use; and
Whereas Statistics Canada did not find that regional or individual factors were more significant than the decision of some firms in every industry and province to frequently lay people off; and
Whereas a jobs strategy encouraging companies to provide secure, year-round employment would go much further toward resolving UI dependency than more harsh, across-the-board benefit cuts;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urge the federal government to cancel its plans to cut unemployment insurance yet again by attacking the unemployed workers rather than the causes of unemployment.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice and passage without debate.
MR. SPEAKER: I hear a No.
The notice is tabled.
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 almost 170,000 Nova Scotians rely on credit unions for their banking needs; and
Whereas the Nova Scotia credit union system is a $1 billion business growing by nearly $140 million since 1993; and
Whereas Nova Scotia credit unions invest over $11 million in annual payroll, employing 650 people;
Therefore be it resolved that all members of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly congratulate the Nova Scotia credit union movement and its member organizations for their outstanding achievements throughout the past year and wish them every success as they continue to serve the financial needs of Nova Scotians.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable?
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 one of the most dangerous and destructive trends of the last 30 years is a permanent underclass in the United States, people with little or no attachment to work or community; and
Whereas here in Canada, where such a trend has not taken hold, the federal government has quickly excluded most unemployed Canadians from unemployment insurance, job training and other services to maintain and improve their work prospects; and
Whereas youth, who are most at risk of falling into a lifetime without steady work or personal responsibility, are among those most likely to be cut further adrift by new UI cuts;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the federal government to create links to training and secure employment, rather than permanently excluding hundreds of thousands of Canadians who, through no fault of their own, cannot find work.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed that notice be waived.
I hear several Noes.
The notice is tabled.
Are there any further notices of motion? If there are none, that would appear to conclude the (Interruptions) Order, please. That would appear to conclude the daily routine.
I wish to advise the House that the Clerk has conducted a draw for the Adjournment motion. The draw this afternoon was won by our good friend the honourable member for Halifax Citadel. He has submitted a motion reading as follows:
Therefore be it resolved that the Health Minister explain to the people of Nova Scotia how the loss of a minimum of 2,500 health care workers from across the province will not affect our health system.
So we will hear discussion of that matter at six o'clock this afternoon.
That concludes the daily routine. We will now advance to the Orders of the Day. The time now being 12:38 p.m., the Oral Question Period will run for one hour, that is until 1:38 p.m.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition to begin.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. Now yesterday the Premier had the opportunity to go to Ottawa and be briefed by the Prime Minister and the federal Minister of Human Resources about the proposed federal changes in the Unemployment Insurance Program in the country. It is my understanding that the details of that program will be announced federally tomorrow.
My question for the Premier, will the Premier indicate, as a result of that briefing, does he agree with the proposed changes and can he reassure Nova Scotians that they have nothing to fear from federal changes in the Unemployment Insurance Program that will be announced tomorrow?
HON. JOHN SAVAGE (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk on this very important issue to Nova Scotians. I think we should put the meeting in perspective; yesterday's meeting was but the culmination of some 15 or 20 meetings, telephone calls that we have had in the last three months.
The Minister of Education who has led the task force from the side of human resources, the Minister of Community Services who has met, and the Minister of Health, have all liaised with their federal colleagues over the last months and we, too, have liaised with those members of the House and also those ministers.
The issue that is being raised is whether or not Nova Scotians will be impacted by the UI changes. I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, in all seriousness, that yes, there will be impacts on the Nova Scotian economy as a result of these. I do not like them but I also appreciate the dilemma that the federal government is in. I can assure you that other than commenting on the information, which the Leader does not expect me to do, we will have to wait until tomorrow when we see the full impact of what exactly will happen.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, to continue with the Premier. Earlier today I heard on the electronic media, the Premier of New Brunswick making a comment that there will be a negative impact of $200 million on what he described as the fragile New Brunswick economy, as a result of these changes. Would the Premier comment specifically as to how much of a financial impact the proposed changes will have on what is an equally fragile Nova Scotian economy?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I can only repeat what I said yesterday in Ottawa, I think it is not the right time to comment on the amounts because we don't know the exact impact and we didn't know until last night, those of us who were privileged to have it. We don't have the exact information and I would suggest to you, without any disrespect to any other Premier, that until we know the exact details of what the changes are, we are not in a position to wave numbers around. We will wave numbers around, we will be talking about numbers, when we have the direct information from Ottawa which I understand will be about 12:00 noon tomorrow.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, to continue with the Premier. The Premier had made reference to a number of meetings and a participation in this process with the federal government. Will the Premier indicate the position that the Nova Scotia Government took during those meetings with the federal officials on behalf of protecting seasonal workers as it relates to proposed changes in the UI Program that will be announced tomorrow?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I think the Leader of the Opposition knows full well what I have said but I think it bears repeating. I have repeatedly stated, as far back as a year ago, when the first UI cuts occurred, that our concern was for seasonal workers who do not just stop going into the office on December 1st or December 20th, there just isn't work. If you haven't got fish in a plant then there is no point going to work. If there is wood that cannot be cut because of conditions then it is perfectly obvious that you have to stop work.
I think it is fair to say, without giving anything away, that we have succeeded in persuading people in Ottawa that the plight of people, particularly in rural and coastal communities, is at last being recognized and I think that is important.(Applause) I have used the phrase, not go into the office for these people on at least five occasions in the past few months. I have said the same to the Prime Minister, I have said the same to Mr. Axworthy. I know that the Minister of Education in his role as leader on the human services team has stated exactly the same. Further than that, at this point it is not appropriate for me to comment on the changes that will be there tomorrow but I guess we will all have to wait.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question through you to the Premier. We already know of changes that the federal government is making in terms of the transfer of monies for health, social services and education to this province which will mean a reduction of $320-odd million to this province over the next three years. We now understand also that through these UI changes that are about to be presented, changes by the way that the minister responsible, the Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, has said that the bill is already written and it won't go through any changes.
It was reported today after that meeting last night that Premier McKenna responded to the Prime Minister by suggesting that these cuts would be devastating to the people of his province and that he was going to fight, along with people in his province, to prevent these kinds of cuts. I would like to ask the Premier if he would indicate to this House and to all Nova Scotians what he and his government are planning to do to respond to the reported devastating cuts that these UI changes will mean to Nova Scotians?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, this particular subject is not one that there should be light comment on and I don't propose to do that. I do suggest that the member opposite listen to what I said before. What I said before was that the meeting yesterday was the culmination of many months. We did not go there expecting to redraft a bill that would be there two days before, just give it some thought, would you. It is perfectly obvious that no one is going to change a bill because we went. We went for an information session, we went because we were concerned but we also went as the culmination of a series of meetings that I have already outlined. You don't go to Ottawa two days before and expect a bill to be changed. You do your work in the preceding three months and it may be that that will be shown tomorrow.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, in fact I did listen to what the Premier had to say. What I heard the Premier say is that he and his government officials, his Cabinet colleagues, have been active participants in the dismantling of another national program that is going to have a devastating impact on Nova Scotians. That is what I heard.
I would like to ask the Premier, Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday, before a Coalition for Support of Canada's Social Safety Net meeting, the Deputy Minister of Community Services advised those coalition members that the cuts to UI, which she has seen the implications of, would mean an increase of social assistance in Nova Scotia of 25 per cent. I would like to ask the Premier if he could explain to people in this House why it is that a deputy minister seems to understand what the implications of these cuts are going to be and he doesn't?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct him once again, he is becoming a little repetitive. I did not say that we were dismantling a system, I said that the federal government is reorganizing a system of UI that many people across Canada feel needs the kinds of changes that are very important in 1995.
I also pointed out to him that what we have fought for, and whether he chooses to ignore it or not is up to him, is the plight of the seasonal worker. The plight of the seasonal worker is very important to us, particularly those who have ridings outside of Halifax. (Applause) My caucus has repeatedly addressed to me the issues of the seasonal worker, whether they are from Guysborough or Shelburne or Cape Breton County, this has been the major issue that this Premier has followed and the ministers who have spoken on this. So let's not get into argy-bargy in an attempt to score points. This is a very serious issue. It will hit Nova Scotians, as it will hit all Canadians.
I suggest that rather than indulging in the kinds of flights of fancy that characterize much of his utterances, let's just wait 24 hours and see.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that Nova Scotians have been waiting for two and one-half years to see something positive out of this government.
My final supplementary to the Premier is, Nova Scotians are reeling as a result of the economic conditions in this province, as a result of decisions being made by the federal government. The changes to UI is simply one other. I would like to ask the Premier if he would table in this House, today or at the earliest opportunity, all evidence of his efforts and his government's efforts to act on behalf of the Nova Scotians who are going to be devastated as a result of these changes? I would like to see that evidence, as all Nova Scotians would, because by listening to the Premier, all we hear is, whatever you want to do, federal government, we are in agreement.
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, once again one has to correct him. I am sorry for being repetitive. It has to be repeated. What we are talking about is a province that is reeling? We are talking about a province that has 17,000 more jobs than it did in 1993, a province that when we took over in the summer of 1993 had an unemployment rate of 15.1 per cent and that now has an unemployment rate of 11.7 per cent. Now that is not reeling. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Order. We are losing valuable time in Question Period because of the lack of order.
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, what I am saying is that the hyperbole and the kind of nonsense that floats across depicting the plight of Nova Scotians is just ridiculous. Of course there are problems. There has been a severe recession, there has been the dealing with the massive debt that was left by the members opposite and they have not been easy times. But let him argue with the fact that there are 17,000 more people working, that there are 4,000 more people working in Cape Breton. Let him argue with those facts. But for the sake of truth and veracity, I don't think he must get away with the kind of innuendo and insinuation that characterizes much of what he prattles on about.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, to continue with the Premier. There has been a lot of discussion about the effects on the economy of the establishment of toll roads on Highway No. 104. Particularly that discussion has been most heated in Cumberland and Colchester Counties, the areas that will be most affected but, in fact, there will be an effect for all Nova Scotians.
My specific question to the Premier is, has the Premier any economic analysis to table which will give us information on the economic impact of the establishment of toll roads here in Nova Scotia?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I speak quite forcibly at times on issues that are relevant to me and in which I believe leadership is required. The question of transportation, we have a very competent minister and I am going to ask the Minister of Transportation to deal with that.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, for many years in this province we have heard from people in the northern part of Nova Scotia, from people all across Nova Scotia about the need, for economic development reasons, to construct a better artery into the Province of Nova Scotia. They have argued, the members opposite have argued when they were in government, about the need to do that. They signed federal-provincial agreements to see that happen. We are continuing with that. We will continue to press, we will push for further agreements and we will continue to develop better and bigger highways coming into this province and throughout this province that will assist in moving goods and people to markets and give us an edge in competing. We will continue to do that.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, since the Premier has handed off to the Minister of Transportation and Communications, my supplementary question will go to that minister. Now, the Koehler Window Manufacturing Plant in the Debert Industrial Park has done an economic analysis of the effect that the toll highway will have on their business. The tolling on the highway will mean an additional $10,000 in annual costs for shipping for this very successful Nova Scotia company. This is directly due to the introduction of toll booths on Highway No. 104.
My question, since the Kohler Window Manufacturing Plant felt that they should do an economic analysis, can the minister explain why there was no economic analysis done to evaluate the very negative effects of toll booths on the Nova Scotia economy, and in particular on the economy of Cumberland and Colchester Counties?
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, there have been reports and studies tossed around. We engaged the services of Arthur Andersen, looking at the aspects of this. We had Steer Davies, we had McCormick Rankin, we had companies involved looking at the costs to individual truckers on this. The Atlantic Provinces Truckers Association engaged the services of Doane Raymond to look at the impacts of costs. I have access to both of those reports.
AN HON. MEMBER: Table them.
MR. MANN: I certainly can do that, I will probably have an opportunity to quote from those before I do that. There is some dispute over those. There is some dispute in the numbers we get from the truckers themselves from time to time. The cost to truckers, for example, if they are giving you their cost per kilometre when they want to negotiate such things as rate increases are higher than the costs per kilometre they give us when they are talking about the potential savings because of a shorter route with higher speeds for example.
So there have been many studies tossed about here, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure there will be many other studies tossed about. I think it has been accepted a long time ago when the previous administration made a decision to twin the highway coming into Nova Scotia and to see the twinning (Interruption) Well, I guess you left out a 45 kilometre stretch of it when you negotiated the contract, the SHIP agreement, but when you decided to twin highways, you accepted that there were economic benefits to the Province of Nova Scotia or surely you would not have made that decision.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, the minister has made reference that there are some studies available, they are in dispute. I would certainly hope that now that the minister has made reference to those that he is prepared to table them.
By way of final supplementary, is the minister willing to commit that until there is a proper analysis of the information that is available, to which the minister made reference, that he will stop plans for the toll highway until a full economic analysis has been undertaken to make absolutely sure that there will not be a severe economic impact as a result of putting the toll highway on Highway No. 104? Will the minister make that commitment?
MR. MANN: I am not sure, Mr. Speaker, if that member opposite wants us to stop this project or not? Well, we are not going to stop this project. We have made a decision to move forward and we will move forward.
Arthur Andersen, consultant - and I will table this - it is a document that looks at the cost to the trucking industry and I want to read briefly from it. It talks about the study, "On balance, use of the new Alignment will result in measurable net savings for all classes of trucks except the 6-axle units which achieve a `break-even' result after consideration of operating, labor, and depreciation cost savings and the toll tariffs. Supporting schedules detail the cost savings calculations. This has been a collective effort by the Department, Steer Davies, McCormick Rankin, and ourselves. We have incorporated the best information available on trucking operations in Nova Scotia and have benchmarked the Provincial experience with World Bank, North American, and UK operating cost data and models. When there were divergencies, we used Nova Scotia information.".
Now the Doane Raymond report, commissioned by the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, has come up with different figures, but let me read a paragraph from this, the concluding paragraph, I believe. "In accordance with the terms of our engagement we have not audited, reviewed, or otherwise attempted to verify the accuracy or completeness of information obtained from certain of your members. We have not conducted any further analysis (e.g., nature of load carried, slope of the road, environmental factors, etc.) which might impact on the costs to operate on this specific highway. We have not performed an analysis on the individual components of the variable costs reported to determine whether they include costs of a fixed nature. Readers are cautioned that these calculations may not be appropriate for their purpose.".
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh-h-h.
MR. MANN: I will table both those documents and I guess people will have to decide. We have taken the Doane Raymond figures that have been provided to us and we have passed those on again and asked for those to be incorporated further into these figures, so that we will do exactly what the member is asking; we are looking further into this to ascertain exactly what the accurate numbers are.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the honourable Minister of Transportation and Communications. Since this Savage Government has come to power, it has kicked and spat on the trucking industry. The sales tax has . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Those words must be taken back. They are unparliamentary.
MR. TAYLOR: Okay, I will retract, Mr. Speaker. This government has treated the trucking industry very unfairly. The sales tax has increased, the salt haulage rate has decreased and the fuel tax has been raised. Can the Minister of Transportation tell this House, and the trucking industry of Nova Scotia, if the decision to implement tolls on the Highway No. 104 western alignment is irreversible?
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I didn't hear any reference when he was up to the elimination of certain fees at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
AN HON. MEMBER: No, never heard that.
MR. MANN: I didn't hear any reference to the new policy established by this minister to open up B-train routes across the province . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Never heard that.
MR. MANN: . . . in a quick way, to benefit the trucking industry. This government is not against the trucking industry. We are trying to maintain and build roads in Nova Scotia. If that member can stand up and tell me that spending $100-some million in an area of this province utilizing the trucking industry is bad for the trucking industry then do so.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the time to tell the minister how this is going to adversely affect the trucking industry. The Minister of Transportation will know that the previous government secured an agreement between the Nova Scotia Truckers' Association and the Department of Transportation, whereby the 20/80 rule applies and it applies to all government highway projects. Essentially what that means is that on all government projects requiring trucks, 80 per cent shall come from the private sector, or the independent owner/operator.
Can the minister tell Nova Scotia truckers in this Assembly, if the 20/80 rule will be adhered to relative to the construction of the Highway No. 104 western alignment?
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, in 1978, 13 cents of every $1.00 in this province was spent on roads; 5, 6 or 7 cents was spent on servicing our debt. When that crew opposite left in 1993, a little over 5 cents of every $1.00 was spent on roads, down from 13 cents. That is why we are here having this discussion today. If the people opposite had not put us so far in the hole and forced us to spent $1 billion a year on interest - nothing but interest with no return -we would have money to do all of these projects. (Interruptions) They took such good care of the books. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: I have to ask the whole House for order and to point out that if gross disorder breaks out, the Speaker has the right, without motion, to temporarily recess the House.
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, if any member of this House thinks I am going to stand up and talk about the problem and why we have the problem, they are mistaken. We have 5 cents of every $1.00 to spend on roads, when in 1978 we had 13 cents. It was mismanagement of funds; that is the reason we are having this debate today. The member opposite (Interruptions) We can talk about where a lot of money was spent in this province, if you would like to. We can talk about lease agreements that were signed, maybe that would be a good place to start, or untendered contracts. Maybe we should talk about the road to nowhere; that was a popular one, wasn't it.
You want to talk about it? Maybe we should talk about, on April 1, 1993, when the Government of Nova Scotia - Donald W. Cameron; George Archibald; Elmer MacKay, on behalf of Brian Mulroney or somebody - when they signed the SHIP agreement (Interruptions) Maybe we should ask the former MP for Cumberland-Colchester why the western alignment was not included in that agreement? Why wasn't it included. Those are some of the questions we should be asking. (Applause)
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I merely asked the Minister of Transportation and Communications if the 20/80 rule applied, and of course he tap-danced or line-danced around that question.
Mr. Speaker, the minister will know that also on highway projects funded by the taxpayers of this province, on provincial highway projects, also the provincial haulage rate applies. Can the minister advise the House if the provincial hauling rate will be paid to truckers who are fortunate or lucky enough to get a job on the Highway No. 104 western alignment?
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, well, we are talking, I guess, mostly about dump trucks here that are used in highway construction. I was interested today when I saw them circling the Legislature, going by, protesting tolls, because I have been asking this question since last spring, what will a dump truck be doing on the western alignment paying a toll? These are in the local county trucking associations and they work within their counties. So, there really is not a reason for them to be out travelling between counties and all local services, all deliveries, which I assume they will be doing (Interruption)
MR. SPEAKER: Order! Order!
MR. MANN: They can use the existing highway. So, no one has still told me what a dump truck will be doing on the western alignment. I think the majority of trucks today, I am told, between 30 and 40 were out there, the majority of them were dump trucks of Casey Concrete or some trucks like that. But, Mr. Speaker, we have embarked on a public/private partnership. Negotiations are underway and I would assume included in those negotiations, I would think the Truckers' Association of Nova Scotia, who are very capably represented by an executive body, would be making representations to the consortium who will build this road to negotiate such things as rates and usage of trucks. Let tell you, I would suggest you cannot spend this kind of money on a project like we are talking about here which would probably be well in excess of $100 million and not have a tremendous amount of benefit to a local area. A 20 month construction period to spend that kind of money. Do you realize how many jobs will be created? How much trucking will be necessary? I would suggest that during the course of this construction that a lot of the truckers that you are speaking of, if they want to come and protest this, they are going to take a day off work to do so.
MR. SPEAKER: A new question, the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I believe it is the final supplementary but it can be a new question.
MR. SPEAKER: No, it is a new question and you have been recognized, so you are on.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Transportation gave very clear evidence that he really doesn't understand the trucking industry because the dump truckers, many of them, may have occasion to travel down to Folly Lake Aggregates and perhaps pick up product. If you live in Amherst and you are a commercial vehicle, it is mandatory that you will have to travel the toll highway, the minister knows that. A commercial vehicle must travel the toll highway. There is no question about that and the minister knows that and the tolls will have a devastating effect on the Nova Scotian economy but specifically, they will have a devastating effect on the trucking industry. The 20/80 rule is not going to apply, the minister told us that. The minister also told us that the truck hauling rate is not going to apply.
My question to the Minister of Transportation and Communications is simply this, after Question Period will the minister meet with the committee that has been formed and will the minister also ask the Premier to meet with the group that has come down to the capital city today and conducted a very peaceful protest? I believe the Minister of Transportation has indicated that he will meet with the truckers but will the Premier also meet with them?
MR. SPEAKER: The question was addressed to the Minister of Transportation and I will now recognize him to answer it. The honourable Minister of Transportation.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, it is not possible to underestimate him, it is not possible. Let me say categorically the member is wrong. Dump trucks can travel on the existing road, local pick up and delivery on the existing road, no toll. You heard it here, he can read my lips if he wants, no toll for local deliveries by the commercial truckers. There, that is settled. I did not say the 20/80 rule wouldn't apply, I didn't say the haulage rates wouldn't apply, I said I assumed that the Truckers' Association of Nova Scotia would be out talking to the people that were going build, finance and do this job, that is what I said, very clearly.
I had a very good meeting earlier today with Bill Casey, the Leader of the Coalition for Fairness. I agreed to provide Mr. Casey with whatever information I could that can be made public and has been made public. I have responded to his request, if he has a good idea will I listen to it, of course, I will. I even went further and said, I will not meddle in the negotiation process that is going on but if he has a good idea, I will give it to the people who are negotiating. I agreed to do that, why wouldn't I?
One final correction, I believe the 20/80 rule and those things are negotiated with the Nova Scotia Roadbuilders Association not the Nova Scotia Truckers' Association.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Transportation would have us believe that the Nova Scotia truckers from Cumberland County and Colchester County will be able to go to work on this project. I will ask the minister this question, is there anything that prohibits the successful consortium, say in this case if it does end up being Tidewater and Nova Construction, Mr. Chisholm's organization, is there anything in the public-private partnership that prohibits Mr. Chisholm and Tidewater from going out and purchasing more equipment, they have a lot of road building equipment now, is there anything in the terms of that partnership that prohibits them from bringing in their equipment and doing all the work and leaving the trucks in Colchester and Cumberland Counties sitting home?
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, unless something is terribly wrong, the cost would prohibit that, to go out and invest in an entire fleet for a 20 month project. The member opposite was a trucker. Surely to God the cost to the Nova Scotia truckers, the fees that they would charge are not so high that it would be to someone's best interest to go out and buy a fleet to do one project.
MR. TAYLOR: Obviously the Minister of Transportation does not understand the trucking industry and he does not understand the construction industry either.
Mr. Speaker, my final supplementary, through you, of course, will go to the Premier. When the Premier and this government (Interruption) You know, it is really reprehensible that they will laugh about a serious situation.
AN HON. MEMBER: We're laughing at you.
MR. SPEAKER: Please put your question.
MR. TAYLOR: When the Premier and this government were campaigning to get elected back in 1993, the Premier said that there would be no new taxes. Does the Premier not consider a toll on Highway No. 104 western alignment a toll tax?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, no doubt this answer will produce the flow of invective that previous answers have. It would be our intention as a government, wise and prepared to do the best for people, to provide all the services that we possibly can.
MR. TAYLOR: Then answer the question.
THE PREMIER: The tragedy is, Mr. Speaker, that we were hampered by an $8 billion to $9 billion debt and a deficit of $0.5 billion in the year we took over. The difficulty is that we cannot do all things for all people. This government is realizing that and it may well be . . .
MR. TAYLOR: Don't answer the question.
THE PREMIER: . . . the efforts that we are making in the last two and one-half years should be put in the perspective of what is happening to the Tory Government in Ontario.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I don't know if we are going to get a talk from the Premier on Ontario politics or not. A day in Ottawa and now . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: At least he is doing what he said he was going to do in the election campaign.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, my question, through you, would be to the Minister of Transportation. The Minister of Transportation has indicated several times, both in this Chamber and in public through the media, that there was not enough money to complete the Highway No. 104 project from Thomson Station to Masstown. If the minister was so concerned, could he indicate then why, when the Canada-Nova Scotia Atlantic Freight Transition Program came into place, he chose not to allocate any of the $161 million to that project?
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity yesterday to explain this to his Leader. I hoped he would have shared it with him. I had an opportunity earlier today to explain it again to a former MP, Bill Casey, and I believe he understands it. The $161 million program he refers to was $85 million made available by the end of the Freight Rate Assistance Programs. There was another $85 million that had to be found by the Province of Nova Scotia to match that, making a total of $170 million. Remove $9 million of that for the Shipper Assistance Program, which will be administered by the honourable Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency, and you come to $161 million.
So, what we have over a five and one-half year period, approximately, covering six fiscal years, we have available to us $85 million, less the $9 million for shipper assistance, $76 million over a five and one-half year period, six fiscal years. In order to access the $76 million for roads in Nova Scotia from the federal government, we have to match it. Now, where do I find in my budget, which is limited by the provisions of the Expenditure Control Plan, where do I find $76 million? I find the $76 million in existing programs. I have explained that in the House. You have a copy of the agreement. You have a copy of the roads that were done.
So, we match that with existing programs. If we do not do that and we try to put it on a project such as the SHIP agreement, for example, or access it for twinned roads, then where do I find the $76 million? Then I have to take that $76 million out of the programs that see repaving done on 100-Series Highways, the repaving that is done on our trunk and arterial roads, paving and repaving that is done on our county roads, our cost-shared programs with towns, municipalities and cities. I have to take $76 million away from there and match it with the federal government money.
Now if everyone in this House will agree that they don't want any more secondary road work done, any more repaving on our 100-Series Highways, then maybe this won't be a problem. But I will tell you, I, for one, recognize the need to spend that money on our secondary road system in this province. If we don't match it, we lose it.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Even with the explanation that the minister gave in a calm and deliberate fashion, there is still a federal-provincial agreement with $161 million in it. The minister has chosen other areas in the province, other areas of importance, but he neglected Highway No. 104.
This government should have a priority for producing infrastructure so that businesses can grow and expand in the regions. Could the minister explain specifically why Highway No. 104, from Thomson Station to Masstown was omitted?
He will indicate there was enough money funded from the previous SHIP agreement. It was his department, after he became minister, that chose the areas of the province in which the SHIP agreement would apply. The SHIP agreement is on my desk, signed October 1993. So again, could the minister explain to the people of Nova Scotia why, on two occasions - the first was with the SHIP agreement in October 1993; the second occasion was when the federal-provincial agreement from the Nova Scotia Freight Transition Program - the minister had an opportunity and, on two occasions, he did not fulfil, could the minister tell us why he did not use the money either time for the Thomson Station to Masstown?
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, there is a very weak attempt being made opposite to suggest that I chose these projects; I didn't choose these projects. This agreement was signed, the member opposite, his name is on it, on April 1, 1993. You will recall that when I became Minister of Transportation and Communications, I immediately had to stop 22 projects that the money was not there for. I didn't get to call any projects that year. They promised them in election year and didn't have the money to do them.
Mr. Speaker, Highway 104 Update lists the projects. The headline: The people's choice, Public played major role in selecting Western Alignment. There is a big blank here and a dotted line that shows where there is no funding from Thomson Station to Masstown. One little clip, Mr. Speaker, I am not going to quote from this extensively, "Highway 104 Update is produced and distributed by the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Communications, Hon. George Archibald, Minister." (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North, is there a final supplementary?
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party with a new question, if there is no final supplementary. You are on.
MR. JOHN HOLM: I know I am, Mr. Speaker, I would just like to think that the Minister of Transportation and Communications will be able to hear me when I ask a question.
Now, according to my understanding, the Province of Nova Scotia is going to be one of the partners in this process. The minister has made certain statements this afternoon with regard to a number of items, but what is very clear is that the province is adding insult to injury by saying that not only will truckers have to pay the toll but he is not prepared to provide the assurance that truckers will actually get any work.
In the Arthur Andersen report under Construction it says it should not be subject to the traditional Nova Scotia Department of Transportation procurement regulation, such as the 80/20 trucking rule, and it also says that in addition to that other labour rates would not be in effect.
My question to the minister is quite simply this, will you guarantee, as one of the principal partners, that, in fact, the Nova Scotia procurement policies will, in fact, his department, the 80/20 rule will be in place so that at least those truckers who are going to be forced to pay the toll can at least benefit by making some money by being involved in the construction of that Highway No. 104?
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, there was a request for proposals that went out, there were terms and conditions set out in that request for proposals. The honourable member just read a recommendation from Arthur Andersen. There is a negotiating team at work representing the Department of Transportation and Communications, who will negotiate a contract - I certainly hope they will negotiate a contract - with the consortium that has been selected by a selection committee to deal with. What terms and conditions will apply in that contract will be those negotiated by those two groups. I am not meddling in the negotiation process. So, no, I will give no such assurance as to what will or will not be contained in that agreement. What I will do, which I have said here on many occasions, I will sign a contract that will be in the best interests of the people of Nova Scotia.
MR. HOLM: Then it will be in the best interests of Nova Scotians as determined by the Minister of Transportation.
Mr. Speaker, my first supplementary I would like to direct to the Premier. Of course, the Premier will be very familiar with his Fairness in Government, Liberal policy, which he ran on as his colleagues did during the last election. It promised that, under the, "Department of Transportation Trucking and Equipment Services: Truckers' Associations, with open membership, will be formed - if not already in place - in every county of the province. Government work will be assigned on a rotational basis by the Association.". Now, we are hearing the minister not even being willing to guarantee . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I need a question here, please. A question.
MR. HOLM: . . . that in fact those procurement policies will be followed. My question to the Premier is quite simply, why is his government breaking the commitments that it had made which enabled it to form the majority government that it has today?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, once again this is an issue that is better addressed by that very excellent minister, the Minister of Transportation. (Interruption)
MR. MANN: Thank you very much. The member for Queens is offering to be helpful again. We can't be discussing municipal affairs can we. (Laughter)
Mr. Speaker, I believe there is a Truckers' Association in every county of Nova Scotia now. There are a couple that don't have a lot of members, there are some difficulties that we are trying to address. I guess when any association is working with government or talking to government there are things at the end of the day that there will not be agreement on and there will always be problems which exist. The rotational system is a good one and there are people, truckers in this province, that don't like this because for 15 years they had free reign on all, just about (Interruptions)
AN HON. MEMBER: That's not right.
MR. MANN: Pick up the Supplement to the Public Accounts, don't take my word for it. It has never been hidden. There were favoured people who were given all the work.
AN HON. MEMBER: Is Brooke in there?
MR. MANN: And we can table it. We have the information. (Interruptions)
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: That's not right. I worked in the trucking industry and . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Please be quiet.
AN HON. MEMBER: We know that. We found your name. (Laughter) (Interruptions)
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, we still have the provision with the Nova Scotia Roadbuilders Association that if we call a tender for highway work, the 20/80 rule is in effect. We honour that, the Nova Scotia Roadbuilders honour that. This has not been a call for tenders to build a road. We went out and sought a partner here. We went out through a request for proposal process, expressions of interest and attempting to negotiate a contract. This is not your conventional tender.
We are seeking, Mr. Speaker, and have sought in this case and it looks like we are going to be successful, have found a new way to do things. Now, I know that is frightening to some people. But we will continue on this process. We have not dishonoured the provisions of the 20/80 rule with the Nova Scotia Roadbuilders. This is a consortium of companies, with the lead company is an Ontario-based company, Canadian Highways International Corporation. Now, that is not the Nova Scotia Roadbuilders, the member opposite knows that. He can make his political attacks if he will on one or two members who belong to the consortium but that doesn't change the fact that the lead group here is the Canadian Highways International Corporation.
AN HON. MEMBER: Are you talking to me or to him?
MR. MANN: I am talking to everybody. (Laughter) I am just trying to be helpful. So let's not confuse this consortium of 9 or 10 companies with the Nova Scotia Roadbuilders.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, the minister, again, is very adept at playing a shell game. He certainly is not prepared to ensure that the consortium follow the rules that are in place in Nova Scotia. Cut it however you will, it is taxpayers' dollars that are going in to build this road and the truckers and others in this province aren't being given the fair and equal treatment that they deserve.
I would like to go back to the Premier, who may deflect and play a shell game and pass it off to the Minister of Transportation again, but of course the Premier is the Premier, number one minister. So I want to ask the Premier how he can possibly rationalize breaking his commitment that he had made during the last election and allowing for double-standards, in other words, allowing that this job, Highway No. 104, which is going to involve huge sums of public monies, not to have to follow those procurement policies, the 80/20 rules and the other things, as are being suggested by his Minister of Transportation, will be negotiated away?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I think the last answer that was given was quite adequate. This is an example of private/public partnership, the minister has answered it well, and I will not be drawn into this by the innuendo of the member opposite. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
On a new question, the honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question, through you, is to the Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. Recently, the minister distributed the eligibility criteria for the rules for groups applying for funding from the Sydney Casino; that was distributed. The document has raised a number of questions out there on how certain things are going to work.
I wonder if the minister could clarify, if the casino happens to make money - and I guess at this point, we don't know, but if it does - will the first $100,000 go to the native community or to the non-profit? Or if $10,000 is raised, is it $5,000 and $5,000? How are the revenues split up between native community and the non-profit groups?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, it is 50/50 from dollar one.
MR. MOODY: So, if it makes $1.00, it is 50 cents each? Okay.
The rules state that the non-profit organizations have to submit a financial statement, current year operating budget, I believe, in order to qualify. There are organizations who, because of lack of funding, had to fold, or there are new organizations starting up. My question to the minister, how long does an organization have to be up and running before they would be considered for such funding, since they wouldn't be able to put forth a financial statement, say, on last year's operations?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, first of all, for the benefit of the honourable member, and I think he knows this, what we have released is a draft of a policy which was put forward by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. That draft has been circulated around the province; it is now in all of the regional libraries. There will be a period of consultation and we will be receiving, in fact, have received already quite a number of responses drawing our attention to a number of the points. This may be one of the points, for example, that the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation may wish to consider. I think it is a reasonably good point and I will certainly pass it along to them to make sure they are aware of it.
MR. MOODY: I thank the minister. I did realize it was a draft, but I did have some questions.
My last supplementary. As I understand, the draft will be reviewed by the chairman of the board, who I think makes the salary of a judge, which is in excess of $100,000, plus benefits, and by the other board members who make $250 per day. I would ask the minister the types of decisions that these people have to make. The same thing with the Liquor License Board now, where these people make $250 per day to review simple applications for lottery licenses and so forth. If the people meet the criteria laid out in the final draft, will the minister assure us that it will not have to go before people making $100,000, and $250 per day, to make the simple decision whether these people qualify or not? In other words, if they qualify according to the rules drafted, would the staff at the corporation be then able to make the decision, or not, whether these people would qualify?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, these individuals serving on the Board of the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, of course, have a very onerous responsibility. They are handling huge amounts of public money, absolutely very large amounts, so we want the very best people we can and we believe we have them.
With respect to the particular selection, there will be a selection. I don't doubt for a moment that there will be far more organizations qualify under the criteria, whatever criteria we might write, than we have money to distribute. So there will have to be a selection process. Some organizations that qualify under all of the criteria will not get funding. That is the reality of it. The process will be that a recommendation will come from the board to government and the decision will be made by government.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is for the Minister of the Environment. In the work-up to the decision to create a 10 cent deposit, 5 cent return system for beverage containers in Nova Scotia, the minister, I would assume, must have undertaken a cost-benefits analysis. Would the minister table that study before the close of the House tomorrow afternoon?
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I will determine whether or not that is complete. I know there are some pieces being put together as a result of the 30 day roll-out after we made the announcement, but, if it is available, we will table it.
MR. LEEFE: I wonder if the minister could explain to the House why he would make the announcement that such a system was going to be put in place in advance of the cost-benefits analysis being completed?
MR. ADAMS: We refer to the cost analysis as being completed if it is complete in the framework so that we could make the announcement. But we have given a 30 day period whereby people who receive the regulations can respond with anything they want to amend. That does not mean that we will amend them. But there may be some significant change that we can bring about in the entire package. That is not a guarantee they will be brought about, Mr. Speaker, but we are open for the maximum amount of consultation across this province with this kind of a program.
MR. LEEFE: I wonder if the minister could advise the House if the cost-benefits analysis, to which he and I are referring, was completed within the department, that is by departmental staff or by an external consultant, and, if by an external consultant, if he would share the name of that consultant with us?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I understand the question is that I would supply the House or table in the House those findings within the department at this point in time. My answer is yes.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens, on a new question. This is a new question but if you don't want to take all the supplementaries you don't have to.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, my question to the minister is, will he table any study which he used in order to determine this policy position with respect to deposit return, whether that study was done internally by the department or externally by a consulting firm? In either case, will he provide what was done, whether it was internal or external?
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: The answer to the question would be to table those studies that are relevant to bring us to the conclusion we have come to, the answer is yes.
MR. LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, the minister has released his municipal solid waste strategy that we now know includes a deposit-return system on beverage containers excepting those containing dairy products. Beverage containers, as I understand it, account for 2 per cent by weight of the waste stream. I wondered why the minister singled out beverage containers? Could he advise the House why that decision was taken?
MR. ADAMS: I don't want to ask him to repeat the question, Mr. Speaker, but it was a little noisy.
MR. SPEAKER: It is a little difficult to hear, could you repeat it a little louder.
MR. LEEFE: That is a switch, to be invited to speak more loudly in this place, Mr. Speaker. Again, the municipal solid waste strategy has been released by the minister. It includes the deposit-return system which he and I have been discussing through you. It catches up only beverage containers, excluding those that contain dairy products. Beverage containers account for only 2 per cent of the waste stream by weight. I wonder if the minister could advise the House why beverage containers were singled out?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, I think that in terms of the question he asked me earlier to supply him with the results of the studies that we did internally and/or externally, we can bring that same summary of questions to the House and table them. They will all be delineated in that report, sir.
MR. LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, if the purpose of implementing a deposit-return system is to raise revenues, to drive forward the Municipal Solid Waste Strategy and to assist municipalities in putting in place the infrastructure to drive it forward, and I ask the minister to respond to this question, I wonder why the revenues thus raised are being put into general revenues, in the Minister of Finance's pocket, rather than being established as a dedicated fund which could, by example perhaps, as is being done in Manitoba, be administered by an arm's length commission with an annual report to the public so the public knows how those dollars are being expended?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, the monies generated through the deposit system certainly are not going into government coffers. Those monies are being managed, if you will, by the Resource Recovery Fund Board which is now being put in place in the revamped posture to administer recycling and diversion activities across the province and to assist municipalities in their various programs, that will see a reduction of 50 per cent of our waste in the next five years.
The money is not government money, it is going to be used by the Resource Recovery Fund which is comprised of people in the industry who are related to our environment. I think it goes a long way toward saving the taxpayer of Nova Scotia the burden of paying for directly the removal of our waste stream or reducing our waste stream. It goes a long way toward cleaning up Nova Scotia environmentally and at the same time providing some jobs. It is sustainable development that we are all looking for, we promised it as a new government and we are delivering that. We are proud to do that without breaking the backs of our taxpayers.
MR. SPEAKER: We have one minute left. The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, a real fast question to the Minister of the Environment on solid waste resource management. The 10 cents on the beverage containers, will the minister advise the House if that money is going to be levied at the retail level or at the distributor level or at the manufacturer level?
HON. WAYNE ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding at the present time it will be at the wholesale level, not the retail level.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, the can of beverage arrives at the retailers and it goes through the cash register. Will GST and PST be paid at the retail level on the 10 cents per container?
MR. ADAMS: Mr. Speaker, not to my understanding and I will clarify that as soon as I can for the member.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period is 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. 47.
Bill No. 47 - Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre Act.
MR. SPEAKER: Now we were dealing with an amendment that the contents of the bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources. The honourable member for Kings West adjourned the debate and is now on his feet to resume. You have approximately 50 minutes left.
The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I probably won't be 50 minutes but I will be a few minutes to finish up some comments on sending this bill to committee.
I think the events of the past two days since I spoke on Tuesday evening is even more reason to send this bill to a committee to further clarify the effects that this legislation will have on the workers at the Victoria General Hospital. Members of the VG Hospital, the health care workers, have been sending me faxes like they have been sending the Minister of Human Resources faxes about their concerns about amendments to Bill No. 47.
The problem is this minister has not in any way indicated to these hundreds of hospital workers that he cares enough to meet with them to resolve the issues. I am really upset that the Minister of Health is not in the House today. The Minister of Health has shown no leadership, thus far, in the debate of Bill No. 47. I have a member who would like to make an introduction, Mr. Speaker, would that be possible?
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce to you and through you to the House, Mr. Fred Fox and Mr. Graham Murphy from the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department. Fred Fox is the Chief of that department and I would ask the House to give them a round of applause. (Applause)
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, it is always nice to see volunteer firefighters coming to visit because they do such a great job in our communities. Welcome to the House today.
I wish the Minister of Health would take some responsibility, if he really cares about the health care workers, for Bill No. 47. The Minister of Health has not spoken once on behalf of the health care workers. Not once has the Minister of Health taken the time to even get up in the House and, in any way, indicate how the health care workers at the VG Hospital are protected in this bill.
If this bill was referred, maybe the Minister of Health would care enough about the workers and about the patients to stand up and say, I am going to fight to make sure we have good quality health care, I am going to stand up and fight for the workers to see that they are treated fairly when this legislation comes out the other end. The Minister of Health has not said that. He has not said a word about the workers, he hasn't even said anything about patient care. He does acknowledge that after this bill, 800 to 1,000 people are going to lose their jobs. He does acknowledge that but he doesn't acknowledge how this is going to be done in a fair manner, after this bill goes through the House and after all this takes place.
The government says people don't understand what is in the legislation. Why would all of these individual people, and many of the pages I have have more than one signature, bother to take the time to fax me and to fax the minister about their concerns? If 1,000 people show up at Law Amendments Committee - the Minister of Human Resources said the way to go at this is through the Law Amendments Committee and not through another committee. If it is through Law Amendments Committee, if we have 1,000 people, are all those people going to be given a right to come before Law Amendments Committee and make their presentation on what they see wrong with this bill that has to be amended? We could be sitting in Law Amendments Committee for weeks, just to hear from the hospital workers about the concerns they have about a piece of legislation that if it was referred to the other committee, then we wouldn't have that because the issues could be dealt with at the other committee.
If there is a language problem, surely we can work together. Surely these people don't have to threaten to strike for this government to sit down with them. If the government sincerely means what they say, look, we want to make sure that after this legislation they have all the rights and privileges they had before the legislation, if that is what the government truly means as being honest, then what they will do is sit down with the union and put in clauses that both of them agree covers that. In other words, before the legislation and day one after the legislation, those people will have all their rights and privileges and they can't be taken away by the Labour Relations Board without the bargaining process taking place. That is all the workers are asking for.
You have to understand that right now hospital workers are stressed out, hospital workers are dealing with crisis situations, emergency situations daily and they are dealing with them on less resources. The government can argue that yes, they have less resources, I think hospital workers understand that. But wouldn't it be nice if we could go before the committee and hear from the hospital workers about how they think this legislation will affect them, how they think it will affect patient care?
You know, over a year ago the Minister of Health said that he was going to give us information on the cost and estimates, what this whole merger was going to cost, how we were going to save money and everything. We are still waiting, over a year later, on a commitment that was in Hansard on Wednesday, November 30, 1994, just a year later. He was going to do that. He hasn't done it for us, he hasn't done it for the workers, he hasn't done it for anybody. Now we have a Minister of Health who won't even stand up and, in any way, take the position to make sure that the health care workers are protected. He hasn't spoken, he hasn't met with them and he hasn't even done anything to make sure that those workers are protected.
Madam Speaker, if we went to committee, there are many members in here who would like to know the answers to the questions that are being raised. Who is right? Is it the Minister of Human Resources, is it the NSGEU? Who is right? Wouldn't it be nice to have a look and come to an agreement and bring back a bill that all of us want to bring back to this House, a bill where the merger could take place in an orderly fashion without anybody being hurt, without any of the workers having to sacrifice any more than they have already sacrificed, without patient care being jeopardized by the whole issue.
If we continue on down this road, without going to committee and resolving some of these issues, the morale of staff is going to have an effect on the level of patient care; it has to. Morale has an effect on everybody we work with. Wouldn't it be nice for them to know that the Minister of Health cared enough to allow them an opportunity to have some say in the kind of amendments that could be made to this piece of legislation so that they could feel comfortable, their families could feel secure?
I had a nurse call me this week who said, doesn't the government and the Minister of Health know that I have two children aged two and five and the decision this government is making not only affects me, it affects my children. Can I bring my children down with me to the Law Amendments Committee? I said, yes, always welcome. She wants this government to know, in actual fact, how this bill is going to affect her and her family, because it goes well beyond just the individual worker, well beyond that. They want the government to know it is going to affect patient care when this is all done.
Madam Speaker, the best way to resolve an issue is consultation, is to work together to find a resolve to an issue. The government found a resolve to the issue in education, with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, because we are going to have a crisis. The minister found a resolve. It wasn't through a committee, but he did meet with them and made changes, 190 changes. This government is not willing to meet and make one change, not one change that the union has asked for. I am saying, health care is every bit as important as education; they are both important, but you can't put one down and bring the other one up. Both of them have to be addressed.
We have to know, too, what the labour costs are in this merger. We don't know, when this is all done, what the labour costs are going to be to get a reduction, obviously, in this. If we had the committee, we could bring in the kind of people to produce the studies that have shown that this merger will actually save dollars. We know there is no duplication of services regarding the Nova Scotia Rehab Centre or the Nova Scotia Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation. We know that the work those two institutions are doing are not being done by the Infirmary, they are not being done by the VG, so there is no duplication.
If the minister says we need this merger bill strictly for duplication, let's find out where it is. The committee could study that; the committee could get the information. We do know one thing, that there is duplication, there are two out-patients. So, we do know that is one area that will change. But what else? The committee would obviously have some time to look at that.
We don't know how this is going to affect laundry workers, how it is going to affect the cleaners, the food service handlers, the technicians, the nurses. How is this merger going to affect them all? Will we see for some of the workers, be it laundry, food handling, will we see some of this out for tender to the private sector? What is going to happen? Government hasn't come clean when we talk about these very issues.
I have a real concern about this legislation. I hope that other members do because there is going to be, unfortunately, that the NSGEU has to hold a strike vote, asked for by the members, not asked for by the union. Why? I hope that this can be resolved peacefully because nobody wins in that kind of situation. Nobody wins. The kind of ways that people can win, both government and workers, is by sitting down together and coming to a mutual agreement on the issues that now have not been agreed upon. If that could be done, Madam Speaker, then everybody is a winner. The hospital workers are winners, the government is a winner and the patients are winners, so nobody loses.
So I plead with the government to sit down with the NSGEU. If there are just wording changes that have to be change, I can't for the life of me understand why the very simple change to make sure predecessor rights are given to the civil servants, that the government wouldn't agree that the board of commission doesn't employ these people, Her Majesty, the government employs these people. If we could change that in the definition of predecessor institutions where it lists them all. I can't for the life of me understand why the government couldn't make a very simple change like that that doesn't change the intent of the bill, doesn't change anything the government is trying to do, but it sure as heck gives the workers the kind of protection that they have been asking for.
So I am hoping, Madam Speaker, if we support this motion to go to committee, that members will seriously think about the ramifications of not sending it there and that they will very clearly think about the hospital workers who have been so dedicated in this province to helping those in need and many times in a crisis situation, who work very long hours, who are committed to health care, who want to see quality health care in this province, if that is the case, then I know that members of this government will support this motion to send it to committee so that everybody will have an opportunity to make this legislation the kind of legislation that we all can vote for, we all can support and we all come out winners.
I am hoping, that that can be done and that as we get into the bill clause by clause, because as the Minister of Human Resources says, we can resolve this in the Law Amendments Committee. But, Madam Speaker, the only amendments we get in Law Amendments are those pre-approved by the minister. In this case, I assume it is the Minister of Health, because he is the one who brought in the bill although I have not heard the Minister of Health speak on the bill, I assume it is the Minister of Health, in concert with the Minister of Human Resources, who will bring in amendments. If amendments are going to be brought in, then why put everybody through the agony that we are going through to try to resolve the issue? Why this has to go to committee and not the Law Amendments Committee is because the track record of this government in the Law Amendments Committee means that we don't get meaningful changes in the Law Amendments Committee unless the minister pre-agrees.
I hope that somehow we can change that process. I hope somehow these workers aren't singled out by this government. Workers have given a lot in the last number of years. They have had pay decreases, they have had frozen salaries, they have all kinds of things and they have all worked longer and harder because there are fewer of them. Surely to Heavens, this government has compassion, has feeling for those workers, will give them the time of day and not have a news conference for confrontation, but will meaningfully sit down with them and make the kind of changes that have to be made so that we end up with a bill that we all can vote for.
I have to tell you, Madam Speaker, initially I wanted to support this, I wanted to. If this bill is done right I can vote for it, but I cannot vote for it unless I am certain, absolutely certain beyond doubt, that all of those rights and privileges that those workers have, are not taken away by this government in any other way but through collective bargaining because nobody else is going to be. That is why this group is different than private corporations. That is why when we talk about successor rights given from the board of commissioners and not from Her Majesty, who are these people working for now? They are working for Her Majesty, the Province of Nova Scotia right now, not for the Board of Commissioners at the VG Hospital.
We have to make sure that this government lives up to its commitment on pay equity. That could be discussed at committee, the importance of pay equity, how pay equity is so important. But under this bill the government does not allow the new corporation, the QE II, to come under the Pay Equity Act. Why not? Yes, I admit, there is nothing that takes it away from those who have. But there is nothing there that allows the corporation to give people, working side by side, pay equity.
Now we have to understand that if the corporation comes under the Act, and I understand that under restraint legislation it couldn't be given for now and I understand that. But surely down the road we would have to say we could not allow a nurse working here, pay equity and a nurse working alongside the person without pay equity. I don't believe that would be right, down the road, when the restraint legislation came off.
We have to ensure that if this government is in favour of pay equity and make sure that in this legislation those people can look forward to pay equity at a time when the corporation can afford to pay it. That is what we are saying. But with the legislation there is not the commitment by this government. I doubt if there would be anybody on the government side who would stand up and speak against pay equity, and I appreciate that. But let's ensure that in this legislation that not only those who have it, but down the road those who do not, that the corporation will come under the pay equity legislation and that we will allow people working side by side, in whatever category it is, to be paid pay equity. I think that is very valuable.
It really doesn't change the bill. It doesn't change, I believe, what the government is trying to do. If the government was willing to make a few small changes, I believe you could get the NSGEU onside, I believe you could get us onside. Obviously, we would be singing praises and not be up here opposing the legislation.
I believe the Minister of Human Resources wants to do those things, I honestly believe he does. I think he now has to work with the Minister of Health to find a resolve. If he is going to do it in Law Amendments Committee, I would like to know that because I honestly believe there are clauses that I could argue that have some doubt in my mind that could be changed, not to change the meaning of the bill but to do what the minister says, and that is, that they are not going to be civil servants after this legislation, I understand that, but that they will be protected until such time and through bargaining, whatever happens, happens. That is what we have to make sure that their successor rights and in the definition of who is a predecessor and the board of the VG Hospital doesn't pay these people, Her Majesty does. If there is a problem with making sure that is covered, I would like to know why we couldn't make sure it was covered and that there is no argument.
If we had to put both of them in, so be it. But let's make sure because once we pass this bill, those people have no recourse at all because once the legislation becomes law, whether we made a mistake or not and, Madam Speaker, over the years legislation has not always been perfect. The intent may have been there but the legislation has not always come out perfectly. Here is an opportunity for us to try to make this legislation as perfect as we can, to do what we all say we wanted to do and, in the end, we would all end up supporting it.
I hope members will give this amendment consideration, Madam Speaker. I will be supporting it, I hope others will support it and that we can resolve, I think, an impasse that could have an effect on the quality of health care in the metro region. I think we have to make sure that doesn't happen. We have the power in this Legislature to make sure and the government has the means to make sure that that doesn't happen.
MADAM SPEAKER: I believe there are no further speakers on this amendment. Is the House ready for the question?
A recorded vote is requested by two members.
Ring the bells.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable members, I would like to recognize the Minister of Labour on an introduction.
HON. GUY BROWN: Madam Speaker, I would like to draw to your attention and through you to all members of the House, a former federal Cabinet Minister who served in the Trudeau Government as Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs at the same time I was minister in the provincial government in Nova Scotia in the 1970's. I would ask all of you to give the Honourable Francis Fox a warm welcome to the House in Nova Scotia. (Applause)
MADAM SPEAKER: Are the Whips satisfied?
Would the Clerk call the roll, but I will read the amendment prior to the calling of it. It is "that the words after `That' be deleted and the following substituted: the subject matter of Bill No. 47, An Act to Amalgamate the Victoria General Hospital at Halifax, the Camp Hill Medical Centre, the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre Corporation and the Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation of Nova Scotia to form the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre be referred to the Standing Committee on Community Services.". I would ask the Clerk to call the roll.
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Donahoe Mr. Barkhouse
Mr. Russell Mrs. Norrie
Mr. Moody Mr. Downe
Mr. Holm Dr. Smith
Mr. Chisholm Mr. Gillis
Mr. Archibald Ms. Jolly
Mr. Leefe Mr. Mann
Mr. McInnes Mr. Casey
Mr. Taylor Mr. Harrison
Mr. MacLeod Mr. Adams
Mr. M. MacDonald
Mr. B. MacDonald
THE CLERK: For, 10. Against, 29.
MADAM SPEAKER: The motion is carried in the negative.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise to speak to Bill No. 47, the motion that Bill No. 47 be now read a second time. There has been a great deal said thus far about Bill No. 47 by reason of the fact that, as you well know, we have had a couple of amendments proposed and debated at some considerable length. Unfortunately, the overwhelming government majority has, in its wisdom or lack of same, seen fit to override the smaller number of Opposition members and vote against those amendments. But that is their right and that is the process.
We are now back as you well know, and I am sure if I should happen to stray you will remind me, that we are to address the principle of Bill No. 47.
I would like to begin reference to what is alleged to be the principle of Bill No. 47 by starting with a reference to a statement made by the Minister of Health, the minister who sponsors this bill, in a statement which he made on November 23rd of this year. In that statement the Honourable Ronald Stewart, Minister of Health, said that this bill allows for the amalgamation of four excellent health care institutions into one outstanding health care facility. He offers that as one of a number of principles of this particular bill. My question right at the outset is, I don't believe the Minister of Health, from the moment he has been Minister of Health until the moment he introduced this piece of legislation, has offered one scintilla of evidence to indicate that that principle, which he suggests is a principle of Bill No. 47 is or can be met.
Why do I say that? I say that because despite repeated requests from myself in a previous incarnation when I was acting during an interim period as Leader of the Opposition, in response to questions and correspondence from my colleagues, who have repeatedly asked the Minister of Health to share with us, to table in this place, to publish in the newspaper, to drop on the floor outside of this Chamber so maybe one of us could pick it up by accident on the way home some night, to please give us and more to the point, please give the taxpayers of Nova Scotia some documentation, some study, some analysis, some review, some rational indication that analysis has been undertaken that would justify the statement which he suggests is the principle or one of them encapsulated in this legislation, that it will move these four institutions into one outstanding health care facility. How does he know that? How does he have the temerity to stand up and say that?
The Minister of Health hasn't produced a single piece of evidence to satisfy this place, the professional staff, the medical staff, the nursing staff, the taxpayers of Nova Scotia that indeed, any analysis has been done. I suggest to you that, with the greatest respect, the good Minister of Health is simply whistling by the graveyard when he offers this as one of the principles of this bill because he has no justification, no background, nothing upon which to base this very flowery statement that it is going to produce this outstanding health care facility.
I think that may be his hope, that may be one of his visions, that may be something that he would like to have happen. He is probably joined in that vision or hope by colleague members in the government. I haven't seen anybody else - let's move from the Minister of Health for the moment, the sponsoring minister - I haven't seen the Premier of Nova Scotia, the man who is ultimately responsible for the welfare of all Nova Scotians, certainly as it relates to government policy initiatives, I haven't seen him come within a mile of suggesting that this is the right thing to do and that he knows it because he has engaged in some study and analysis. I suggest, as respectfully as I can, that the Minister of Health has absolutely no right or justification or background to substantiate the statement that the principle, or one of them, in Bill No. 47 is that we are going to have as a result of this merger, to use his words, one outstanding health care facility.
It is so typical that the minister would make that kind of a statement, having no studies that justify it or provide any background for it. The hallmark of this Minister of Health ever since he has been Minister of Health, when anybody asks him any questions about difficulties in the delivery of the health care system in this province, his stock reply is, trust me.
I know that you have heard him say it many times in this place, Madam Speaker, and I know you have seen him reported in the provincial media many times. His line is, trust me. Well the truth of the matter is that as the sponsoring minister of this bill and the minister who comes forward to make the suggestions that he has, relative to what the principles of this bill, in his opinion, happen to be, he has, in my opinion and in the opinion of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, run out. The minister is on his feet for some reason.
HON. JAY ABBASS: I am not sure if the member opposite is entertaining questions or interventions, but if he is, I will intervene.
MADAM SPEAKER: Is the member willing to entertain a question?
MR. DONAHOE: I think, Madam Speaker, this minister had his press conference outside of this Chamber to tell the taxpayers what he thought.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I am simply asking, are you willing to entertain a question?
MR. DONAHOE: Not at this point, thank you very much. It is a kind opportunity but I will decline at this moment.
When this minister gets up, as I am sure he will, and debates the bill here in second reading, which is the place to do his business as minister, then maybe we will have an opportunity to hear from him and he can tell me and all members, and through this place all taxpayers of Nova Scotia, what he really thinks the principles of this bill are. We haven't yet heard any statement from this minister, who has very direct responsibility relative to this because he is the minister responsible for ripping apart the employment rights and circumstances of thousands of Nova Scotians who are going to be adversely affected by this bill, and that is another principle which I will address as we come along.
I say in all sincerity, having been in this place for almost 18 years, that . . .
HON. JAY ABBASS: On a point of privilege. The member opposite is ascribing to my comments or words that I simply did not utter. If he can show me a page on which it says that I said the words "please trust me" or "trust me" . . .
MR. DONAHOE: I didn't say you said them.
MR. ABBASS: I think you just did a few minutes ago. I would be prepared to address that comment if I have a chance.
MADAM SPEAKER: I would like to take this point of privilege under advisement and then we can check the Hansard record before I rule on it. I thank you for the point of privilege, honourable member.
MR. DONAHOE: Well I can save you the research time, Madam Speaker, because I will say right here and now that if I did, at any point in the last few moments, utter any words which indicated that I was conveying the message or leaving the impression that this minister, the Minister of Human Resources, has used the phrase "trust me" relative to anything having to do with this bill, if I did say those, I said them through inadvertence and I at no point intended that any such words be attributed to this minister because I have not heard him say that. So that may help you with the research that you might feel you want to do. My references to "trust me" were intended to be strictly and solely directed to the Minister of Health and not to this particular minister.
That having been said, I say that the employees of - well, let me start differently. As I read through the materials offered by the Minister of Health as to what he thinks another principle of this Bill No. 47 actually is, he used language, I believe, something like, simply put, employees of Camp Hill, the Cancer Treatment Facility, the Rehab Centre, the VG Hospital, will become employees of the QE II.
I guess I can't really take terribly seriously dispute with that principle. I guess what I really mean is I can't take dispute with the fact that that will, in fact, be the case, if, as and when Bill No. 47 passes. My difficulty, however, and there is a significant problem, is with that principle which the Minister of Health has described. The problem is, on what basis will the men and women who are the employees of those four institutions being merged or brought together by this bill if it should pass in its present form, on what basis will those employees become colleague employees in the employ of the new facility?
I suggest to you, again addressing the principle of the bill as I read this bill, I suggest to you that there is in the language of the bill principles enunciated which will alter, diminish, and in some cases destroy, the employment rights and circumstances of thousands of existing employees, among those who will be brought together in this bill. I know that I am constrained and I know it is a real constraint and I know the Minister of Human Resources who doesn't like to hear me say things like I just said because he, apparently, is of a different view, at least that was his opinion when he had his press conference outside this place recently to tell Nova Scotians what he thought this bill was all about. That is my reading of this bill.
When government members stand up and say that the principle of this bill is that the men and women who now work for the four organizations to be merged will become employees of the new QE II facility. If it is full stop there, then I say yes, that is one of the principles. The problem is however, that it can't be and shouldn't be full stop there because . . .
HON. JAY ABBASS: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. The member opposite will be giving viewers and members of the House the false impression that a press conference was held outside the precincts of this Assembly. That is simply not the case, it was not held outside the precincts of this Legislative Assembly. In fact, there were members of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition present, as were members of the New Democratic Party. I am not certain how they have in any way been handicapped.
MADAM SPEAKER: This is a point of clarification and it is not a point of order and I will rule that. I recognize the honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, I really believe, it might come as a surprise to you, that I am that close to being speechless.
MADAM SPEAKER: It would come as a surprise.
AN HON. MEMBER: And to all others in this Chamber.
MR. DONAHOE: I am sure it would and to my good friends to my right. I guess what I have just experienced for the first time in my 18 years of experience in this place is that a member has risen in his place to suggest that holding a press conference downstairs in the foyer is somehow participation in the debate of legislation which is done here on the floor of this Chamber. That is the impression that when he rises so that he is in front of the television cameras here this afternoon, he would like to have those who are viewing us believe that he somehow participated in the debate on this legislation here in the Chamber. Well, I will tell those who are viewing and through you . . .
HON. JAY ABBASS: A point of order, Madam Speaker. Again the member opposite is giving the false impression to members here and people in the gallery and viewers at home that press conferences in the House of Assembly do not happen in the foyer of the House of Assembly. They do, as common practice, happen there and that is exactly where the press conference happened. I am having a hard time understanding what the member's difficulty was with that, especially given that I purposely spoke to the Leader of the Opposition, informed him that I would be downstairs and would be absent momentarily from Question Period, as was the case with the Leader of the New Democratic Party. I am not certain where the problem is here.
MADAM SPEAKER: I would now like to rule again that this is not a point of order and I am not going to entertain any more debate on the question of where a press conference was delivered or wasn't delivered. We are speaking on second reading of the bill. The honourable member for Halifax Citadel is on the floor with his speech to the second reading. I would like him to continue with that and debate the principle of the bill.
MR. DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, subject to some interruptions from the Minister of Human Resources, I am attempting to address the principle of the bill. Suffice it to say as I leave that particular little exchange between the two of us that as this minister will have learned by now, being here a couple of years, and you well know as the first among equals here and as Speaker, Madam Speaker, there is an item on the daily routine that we follow here in this place. It is called Statements by Ministers. Statements by Ministers are made here in this place, on the floor of this Legislature. If this minister or any other minister wants to make a statement relative to these issues, he does it in one of two ways. He does it by way of making a statement when that order of business is called from the Chair or he or she stands up and engages in the debate on second reading in the Legislature. This minister knows . . .
HON. JAY ABBASS: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. Again, the statement was not to the members of this House. I had been up and down several times debating, just as I am here today, the day before the statement and I will continue debate in this House as I have offered many times to intervene. The truth is that this was a statement to the members of a particular union, especially, in the hope that a strike would be averted. That is exactly the backdrop against which we are having this very debate. A lot is at stake here. The future of those members is at stake and it was to them I was speaking.
MADAM SPEAKER: On the point of clarification, I think that in an attempt to be fair to the debate on the floor, I am going to start timing interventions because if I find we are using up a large portion of the clock on interventions, I would be required to add to the speaker's time. So from here on in, I will attempt to keep a fair eye on the clock on interventions.
MR. DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, if the Minister of Human Resources wants to continue to rise and engage in the discussion here in the fashion that he seems to want to do and dig the hole deeper, then that is fine by me.
This is the same minister, Madam Speaker, who has had some discussions and dealings, as I understand it, with certain representatives of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and who is in receipt of a communication from the President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. If I may be permitted a very brief reference and quotation, letter concludes with this paragraph. Rick Clarke, President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, addressed to the Minister of Human Resources, relative to the discussions about this legislation: "You once asked me during a meeting shortly after assuming your current Cabinet position how you can better labour relations between workers and their Unions and your Government.". Mr. Clarke writes, "I had made several suggestions including openness, fairness and honesty, none of which you seem to be following, so I will add one more suggestion--resign.".
That is the minister (Interruption) allow him to intervene on what basis?
HON. JAY ABBASS: I would like to intervene simply on a point of clarification, if the member allows.
MR. DONAHOE: There is no such thing as a point of clarification.
MR. ABBASS: Purely at your pleasure.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, you are being asked. Are you asking on a point of order or a question?
MR. ABBASS: A question.
MADAM SPEAKER: You are being asked if you would take a question.
MR. DONAHOE: I will take a question. I do not want to get into this question and answer stuff.
MR. ABBASS: Madam Speaker, on a question. With all good intentions, I will attempt to let the member opposite continue his remarks uninterrupted after this. Yes, I am in receipt of a letter from Rick Clarke, with whom I have met many times and who I have a high regard for, as I do for all members of the NSGEU and their leadership, especially Dave Peters, also with whom I have met several times.
We have had more meetings in a shorter period of time since this government got elected with members of organized labour than the previous government is able to claim in the entire 15 years that they were in office. That is the straightforward fact. As for any claim that this government is not open to communications, it is interesting to realize that the very day that the QE II bill was tabled for first reading, the Premier and myself met with Rick Clarke, Dave Peters and Larry Wark, and you will know that those are the leaders of the CAW, the Federation of Labour and the NSGEU; as well, the Labour Minister was there. This was just a normal coffee and chat. Just for the record, we have met and will continue to meet with organized labour in that fashion. (Interruption)
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable minister, is there a question in there for the member opposite?
I recognize the honourable member for Halifax Citadel. I would like to remind you that we are on debate on second reading and I don't see the relevance of reading that letter into the record and I would like you to keep to the debate on the principle of the bill.
MR. DONAHOE: Thank you, Madam Speaker, I am sure you would have the same difficulty finding the relevance of the remarks just made now by the Minister of Human Resources.
I would take issue with a contention he makes relative to who met more often with the representatives of labour, the previous government or this government. It occurs to me that one of the reasons that this government has found it essential, absolutely imperative, vital, crucial, to their very political survival to meet with representatives of organized labour, particularly when we see the Education Bill and now that we see this bill, is that they have botched them both so badly that they have got to have such discussions and consultations with the representatives of labour to try to clean up the messes that they perpetrate and which are represented by the legislation which is introduced here in this place, certainly as evidenced by both of the two bills to which I have made reference.
Back to the principle of this bill, as proffered or suggested by the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health, in putting this bill forward, suggested among, again, many other things, Madam Speaker, that one of the principles is that this Minister of Health said that valued expertise is now being consolidated to allow for even more effective, more targeted patient care. The outcome is better health care for Nova Scotians.
Well, my question to you, Madam Speaker, is how, in the name of all that is good and holy, does the Minister of Health have any justification, or way, or background, or credibility in suggesting that the outcome of the introduction and passage of Bill No. 47 is going to be better health care for Nova Scotians? How does he know that? Again, I come back to the point. This minister hasn't done any studies that will indicate that if we do effect this merger, we will have anything like better health care for Nova Scotians. I don't know what kind of health care for Nova Scotians we are going to have.
He makes no mention of the fact that these facilities are crucial to all of Atlantic Canada. There is no mention of the fact that all of the details are worked out, involving all of the medical staff, again I repeat, the medical staff, the nursing staff and the maintenance staff and administrative staff and all of the constituent elements and all of the stakeholders involved. I am absolutely convinced that the Minister of Health hasn't got the foggiest idea as to whether or not merging these institutions in the way Bill No. 47 would have them merged is going to come within a mile of resulting in better health care for Nova Scotians.
I suggest to you, Madam Speaker, that that is but again another of this Minister of Health's visions or hopes. There is no study and there is no detail presented here in this Legislature; there is no study, no detail presented by this Minister of Health anywhere. Note his words, and these are the words of the Minister of Health when he talks about what he believes one of the principles of this bill actually is. His words, the Minister of Health said, Thursday, November 23rd, he said after the reference to the fact that simply put, the employees of the four institutions involved will become employees of QE II, he then said this, and note, Madam Speaker, that he said it on November 23rd. Today is what? November 30th, so that is exactly a week ago. And when did he introduce this bill? He introduced the bill, the Friday before? We will find it, in any event.
In any event, the point I want to make I think I can make by indicating this, that on November 23rd of this year the Minister of Health, who has provided no background and no detail, says this on that late a date; this valued expertise is now being consolidated to allow for even more effective, more targeted patient care. The outcome is better health care for Nova Scotians. The valued expertise is now being consolidated. What does that mean? Does mean that this Minister of Health, who has been around telling everybody in Nova Scotia, and particularly the people in metro and particularly the thousands of men and women who work in these four institutions, that this is all going to result in better health care for Nova Scotian? He is telling them and me and all Nova Scotia taxpayers that he is now getting around to consolidating the valued expertise, to allow for an even more effective, more targeted patient care. He is now getting around to it. In other words, he is now, with us here trying to debate this legislation, getting around to the point where he is trying to figure out, gee, how is this all going to work? How are we all going to pull this all together? What are the relationships going to be, as between employees of one organization and the other?
This minister, without question, relative to the principle of this bill, has the cart before the horse and it is only now that we are hearing evidence or seeing evidence of the fact that he is attempting to consolidate all this expertise.
This minister has said that one of the principles enshrined in this legislation, Mr. Speaker, allows for the preservation of those elements of the hospital system which are operating well, while enhancing the components that must be improved.
I say to the Minister of Health, with the greatest respect, what is he talking about? How does he know, on the basis of anything that he has said to Nova Scotians, on the basis of, again, any studies or analyses, anything that he has been prepared to share with the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, with the men and women who work at the institutions, with those who administer the institutions, with those who are served by the institutions, the patient population of this province, how does this minister, Ronald Stewart, Minister of Health, have the foggiest idea or, more important, how do those of us who are supposed to vote on this bill have any reason to understand that one of the principles of this bill is that it is going to, in his words, preserve those elements of the hospital system which are operating well, while enhancing the components that must be improved? Which elements are operating well? Which elements require improvement?
This minister hasn't come within lightyears of telling anybody in this Legislature, or any of the staff or any of the administration which is which. That is pretty important, if that is what this minister says is one of the principles of this bill. I think it is more than pretty important, I think it is fundamental and vital and crucial.
We are being asked, as the men and women who have been sent to this place to make the laws of the Province of Nova Scotia, to vote on a piece of legislation which merges four of the most important health care delivery institutions in this entire province, indeed, in all of Atlantic Canada. We are being told that this is going to happen and should happen, through the aegis and within the parameters of what is set out in this particular bill. We are told by the Minister of Health, Mr. Speaker, that one of the principles and one of the reasons that this bill should be passed is, as I have just said is because it will preserve those elements of the hospital system which are operating well, while it will enhance the components that must be improved.
Has this minister explained to the nursing staff of the four institutions which elements -of the institution of the four in which they happen to work, which elements - of their institutions are working well and which elements are working poorly? Has he described that to the medical staff of any or all of the four institutions? Has he described that to the board members of any of the four institutions? Has he outlined that in any documentation which he has shared with the taxpayers of the Province of Nova Scotia?
The Minister of Human Resources has found it appropriate to take out advertisements in the newspapers, paid for by the taxpayers, to address certain elements of this legislation. Has the Minister of Health done likewise, has he taken out paid advertisements in the newspaper to explain to me, to you and all of our colleague taxpayers across this province, which of the elements in these four institutions are working well and those are going to be preserved, which of the health care delivery systems in any or all of the four are working poorly and will be enhanced by Bill No 47? Well you know as well as I do that he hasn't done that. He has been asked repeatedly to please tell us what in the name of Heaven this is all about? What is going to happen with health care? As important in recent days, what is going to happen to the rights, the responsibilities and the privileges of thousands of men and women who work in this institutions which are being merged?
I find it passing strange that in his description of the principles of the bill, the Minister of Health talks, in the way I just mentioned, about enhancing what isn't so good and preserving what is good. In that same statement he goes on to tell us about advances in home care. This bill isn't about home care, this bill is about the merger of four of Atlantic Canada's most important health care delivery institutions. Is the minister telling us that home care is one of the principles of this bill? Well, I read the bill and I don't believe it is.
The Minister of Human Resources has weighed into the debate and the discussion and he will have his chance, I am sure, to offer his views as we continue debate on the principle of the bill. As said, and I think I quote him accurately, "The QE II legislation allows for consultations and negotiations." Note those words, we are not talking about consultations and negotiations which have taken place in the past. We are talking about a statement from the Minister of Human Resources which says, "The QE II legislation allows for consultations and negotiations.". That is really what the plea which has been made to this minister and the Minister of Health and to the Premier is all about.
This bill needs, in order to be perfected, in order to ensure that we come as close as we possibly can to the principles which the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources say to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia are enshrined in this legislation. We need consultations and negotiations, we need some new language. The Minister of Human Resources offers the opinion that one of the principles of this bill is that it allows for consultations and negotiations.
I know from discussions with others that there have been requests made of ministers in this government asking that there be opportunities for consultation and negotiation to talk about some of the language in this bill because there are many out there and there are thousands represented by some of those out there, those individuals and those organizations out there who believe that without detailed and extensive and mutually supportive consultations and negotiations very serious harm will come to them individually, as it relates to their collective bargaining rights and their employment circumstances and their status and their seniority rights and their employment circumstances generally and, indeed, in regard to the amount of pay that some of them will enjoy in an amalgamated QE II.
There is a principle in this bill, Mr. Speaker, and I know you are aware of it, which without going into the language of the bill, which you would prefer that I not do, there is a principle in this bill which essentially says that many of the labour/management issues which have been raised and have been the subject of public commentary over the last many days, that many of those can be handled and will be resolved by the Labour Relations Board.
I simply want to say to you, Mr. Speaker, in an effort to indicate to you how potentially dangerous and unfair to thousands of employees that principle is, is to refer to the experience we have already seen in the Cape Breton situation. In the Cape Breton situation the Labour Relations Board was charged with the responsibility of addressing the very kinds of issues which are raised by this bill, that was the merging and the amalgamation and the melding of a number of collective agreements.
What happened in that case, Mr. Speaker, and you are well aware of it, is that the Labour Relations Board, right or wrong, I make no judgment about the extent to which the decisions taken could or should have been challenged or were, but the Labour Relations Board took unto itself the authority to, in effect, rewrite a whole number of provisions of a number of collective agreements, affecting seniority rights, affecting job classifications, affecting the work conditions of employees in the cases involved.
I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that without improvement, without new language, without clarification, without returning to some of the language which this government, through an earlier minister, Minister Norrie when she was Minister of Human Resources, had indicated would be available to the members affected by this legislation, which, interestingly enough, doesn't appear in the legislation which we now debate, then without some of that clarification the principle which the Minister of Health suggests and, indeed, I think is supported by the Minister of Human Resources, the principle, to use the words of the minister, they were words like "equity" and "fairness" used by the Minister of Health, well I believe fervently, Mr. Speaker, that without some fundamental change and without some additional language to this legislation, equity and fairness is not represented by this bill. That principle which this government says is enshrined in this bill simply is not there.
The difficulty and the turmoil and the heartache which befell many workers in Cape Breton, once the Labour Relations Board got through with the amalgamation and melding and merging of collective agreements there, we have the potential and, may I say the potential is now even greater, as you would understand as a practising and successful and learned barrister and solicitor, Mr. [Acting Deputy] Speaker, you would understand better than many others would, we now have not only the potential but we have the increased potential that what happened in Cape Breton might well happen because we now have the precedent of it already having happened. You know, as a barrister and solicitor, that precedent is very important and very persuasive.
I say to you, Mr. Speaker, without hesitation at all, that the principle which the Minister of Health says is enshrined in this legislation is not there. He says this bill brings fairness and equity. This bill brings chaos and turmoil, and it brings uncertainty to at least 2,500 men and women who work at one of the institutions which would be merged if this legislation passes in its present form.
I made mention, Mr. Speaker, a few moments ago, of the fact that a member of this government, still a member of the Treasury benches, the Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Gaming Control Commission, formerly Minister of Human Resources, that minister had extensive meetings with representatives of the employees of the Victoria General Hospital. You will recall that there was a proposed Transition Agreement in May 1992. That Transition Agreement - it is not very long, only four pages long - but it addressed many of the fundamental issues which are still of concern to the employees of the Victoria General Hospital.
The interesting thing about it is that Minister Norrie, in her capacity as Minister of Human Resources, gave clear indications to the representatives of the employees of the Victoria General Hospital, that she, at that time speaking for the government, indicated that when legislation came forward which would impact upon the employees of the Victoria General Hospital (Interruption) Well the Minister of Labour will have his chance later. If he says what I am saying is wrong, then he can get up and make a big intelligent speech and explain how I am wrong.
AN HON. MEMBER: Take out another ad . . .
MR. DONAHOE: Or he can have a press conference downstairs in the lobby and tell somebody that he has something to say about this bill. Or, he can use your taxpayers' dollars and mine and buy another ad in the newspaper, Mr. Speaker. (Interruptions) Oh - the Minister of Human Resources - I apologize.
MR. SPEAKER: The member doesn't need to correct himself in that regard. The member does need to get back to the bill.
MR. DONAHOE: Yes, indeed. Well the point I make, Mr. Speaker, is that a senior minister of this government gave an indication and an undertaking to representatives of the employees of the Victoria General Hospital that if legislation was to come forward, impacting upon the legal status of the employees of the Victoria General Hospital, that the substance and the language of a Transition Agreement worked out in May 1992 would be enshrined in the legislation which would come forward.
Many people, 2,500 men and women, who are employees of the Victoria General Hospital, their union leadership, and many others, have raised the question with me, is it accident or intentional that when we encounter and read Bill No. 47, as we do, that a number of fundamentally important provisions of the May 1992 Transition Agreement happen not be replicated in Bill No. 47 which we debate now? I am of the view, Mr. Speaker, that that is not accident at all. That is a conscious decision taken by these ministers, and by the men and women who assisted them in the drafting of this legislation, and it has been characterized by some as an all-out attempt to break the union which represents those 2,500 men and women.
I don't know if that is the government's motivation or not, but I can certainly tell any of those members of government who are interested in listening, that is the attitude on the street and that is the word that comes to me. If that is one of the principles of the bill, on that basis alone, every single one of the members of government who participated in the development of this legislation and its drafting should be ashamed of themselves. Secondly, not only should they be ashamed of themselves, they should be man and woman enough to stand up and acknowledge that a serious and egregious error has been made and language to correct it will be forthcoming.
The minister, Mr. Speaker, attempting to stay with the principle of the bill, offers the opinion that the bill preserves the rights of the workers. The government obviously knew because they got paper after paper issuing and they are having press conferences down in the lobby and they are buying ads in the newspaper. This government obviously knows that one of the fundamental problems with this bill is relative to the question of the rights of workers. Because if it was not a problem, why would they be having the press conferences and buying the newspaper ads and doing the various and sundry things they are doing? They know that they have a problem on their hands because they know that they have introduced a piece of legislation which, rather than, to quote the minister, preserves the rights of workers, it in fact, in very large measure and in a great number of ways, destroys the rights of workers in some of these institutions. That is the principle that would be enshrined in this bill, if we pass it in its present form.
The minister can stand and say all he wants that this bill preserves the rights of workers. I say it does not at all maintain the status quo of the employees rights. It does not at all maintain, for instance, the status quo and the rights of at least 2,500 men and women who work at the Victoria General Hospital.
This Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources and the Premier who loves to say as little as possible in this place and refer it to his string of ministers, always interestingly enough characterizing them as the most competent and most able minister of this, that or the other thing. I have not heard this Premier who is responsible for this government ultimately, I have not heard the Minister of Health or the Minister of Human Resources indicate to me, in any way, that satisfies me that they are accurate, that the language in this bill does what the Minister of Health said is one of the principles of the bill.
One of the things he said was that they will no longer be civil servants, referring to the men and women working at the Victoria General Hospital, but the collective agreements they currently have as civil servants will be respected. This bill does not say that. This bill does not do that and these ministers can stand up until they are blue in the face and continue to say that is what this bill does. I have not yet, because they do not want to seem to participate in the debate in the normal fashion of debate in this place. They want to have press conferences and buy newspaper ads. I want one of these ministers to stand up and walk this Legislature and walk those 2,500 men and women through an explanation as to how their rights of employment are preserved as one of the principles of this bill because it is not there. That principle which the government keeps talking about is not protected and not enshrined in this legislation.
One of the ministers said, Mr. Speaker, talking about the principle, that it maintains the status quo of employee rights and union rights and it simply does not do that. If one compares, and some comparison of this has been done, the working draft of earlier documents and the 1992 Transition Agreement and so on and then takes a look at those materials and compares them against the bill which we now have before us, without doubt, the fair and objective reader, Mr. Speaker, is led to the undeniable conclusion that the draftsmen intended to delete protection for the union bargaining rights and to delete the comprehensive protection for employee rights represented by that May 1992 agreement. It is clear.
These men and women who sit across, they are not the most brilliant people in the world, but they are not stupid and the men and women who they have advising them are the same. They are not the most brilliant people in the world, but they are not stupid. I think that those people opposite think that those of us who sit on the Opposition benches are good and stupid and I think this government thinks that the 2,500 men and women who work at the Victoria General Hospital are absolutely stupid, and that they would not understand and they would not be able to read Bill No. 47 and discover, as we have and as they have, and as many other people have, that their rights and their responsibilities under those collective agreements, their terms and conditions of employment that they enjoy today - some of which they do not like, in some cases, they would prefer to have better work conditions and better circumstances and better pay - their rights, their privileges and their present circumstances today are not seamlessly moved over to the QE II corporation, as the ministers opposite would have you believe and it is simply not the case that the status quo of those employees is protected and seamlessly moved to a new employer.
I wonder what additional time I might have, Mr. Speaker? That is 6 minutes.
I believe that this bill overrides existing collective rights relating to pensions, relating to public service, relating to Long-Term Disability Plan rights, relating to seniority, relating to rights to placement and recall, relating to individual contractual rights, relating to statutory rights that are enjoyed by the men and women who are employees of these four institutions. I just simply don't believe, having had an opportunity once the bill was introduced to subject it to some scrutiny and to take advice and counsel from some, whom I believe, know what they are talking about, I said the other day in debating one of the amendments to this bill, I do not profess to be a labour lawyer, I do not think the Minister of Human Resources advertises himself or holds himself out as an expert in labour law, so he is, just as I am, required by virtue of our lack of expertise in those fields to take advice and guidance from men and women who are expert in that field and we have done so. I know that the minister will tell us that he has done so and perhaps lawyers from the department of his colleague, the Minister of Labour have been seconded to participate in the discussion.
Be all of that that it may, the advice and the opinion which reaches me and the conclusion which I now have reached having had that advice and having done the reading of the legislation, as I have, is that it is a very unsatisfactory and flawed document. It does not enshrine the principles which the various ministers who have spoken about it, either here in this place or in press conferences or in newspaper ads, have suggested that it does.
I know I am not supposed that into clause by clause and I will not, but I think there is a pretty fundamental flaw and one of the fundamental flaws has to do even with the description of the employer of certain of the people who are affected here. The legislation talks about employees of the board of commissioners of one of the hospitals. In fact, in relation to the employees whom, I believe, are intended to be referenced by that provision, it is not the board of commissioners of the hospital which employs them at all. It is, in fact, the Province of Nova Scotia, the Government of Nova Scotia which employs those people. I think there is a fundamental flaw and that flaw has potentially drastic ramifications for the men and women who are in that category.
Mr. Speaker, there was a most interesting article which appeared in a publication entitled Health Management Forum in the summer of 1986, Volume 7, No. 2. It is an article, and I can copy it and certainly table the excerpts which I use. It is entitled, Creating Excellence Through Hospital Merger. There are a few lines that I think are relevant to the principle of this bill. The article is a critique of efforts in Victoria to effect the merger of the Gorge Road Hospital with the Greater Victoria Hospital Society. This was a critique on what happened. (Interruption) I have one minute? Well, if I have only one minute, I won't have an opportunity to read this full section so I will not embark on that.
Let me close, Mr. Speaker, by making a plea, and the plea is to any minister who has anything to do with this particular bill. When the words the QE II legislation allows for consultations and negotiations, that the minister or ministers who are charged with the responsibility of dealing with this bill will, in fact, act upon that statement, or what they suggest is a principle of the bill, and engage immediately in consultations and negotiations with those who believe - and the number is growing to be legion - that this bill is very seriously flawed, needs great repair and, if not repaired, will do very serious damage to some number, thousands, of men and women who work in the system.
My time is up. I make that plea and I sincerely hope that the ministers involved will stand back a bit, allow themselves to consider the propriety of the suggestion I make and engage in those consultations and negotiations. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Human Resources.
HON. JAY ABBASS: I rise to speak on the bill in second reading. I just want to clarify once again, for the help of any members of the House and for any members of the general public or members of any particular union who might be in the gallery, anyone who might be watching TV, what this is really all about.
Perhaps a chronology of events, the Transition Agreement, which is often referred to by members opposite, is a 1992 document which had to do with the anticipated privatization of one facility, the VG Hospital, a hospital in which, of course, NSGEU represents many employees there. The point that should be made is that the Transition Agreement of 1992, which the member of the Opposition - the former Leader of the Opposition and certainly a member of the government at that time, in 1992 - is so concerned should be enshrined in legislation, was never signed by any member of his government.
I have a copy here, which I would be happy to send over, but I am certain that the member has a copy himself. Signing for the VG Hospital, unfortunately I can't make out the name but I think it was a Mr. Bernie Badley, at the time VP of Resources. It is a little bit hard to make out the name but somebody certainly signed for the VG Hospital. Somebody definitely signed for the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, it was Greg Blanchard, who was President at the time. Under, Her Majesty The Queen in Right of the Province of Nova Scotia, i.e. the Conservative-led government of the day, there is absolutely no signature and never has been. Yes, if the former Minister of Human Resources were here, she could clarify exactly what conversations were had or not had. Certainly, conversations have been had surrounding the potential privatization of a single facility called the VGH. No, an agreement has never been reached. A tri-partite agreement has never been signed, not in 1992 nor anytime since. Yes, many of the concerns which were treated or drafted even back in 1992 and talked about since, are important to employees at the VGH and especially employees who are represented by the NSGEU.
It has been made very clear to me in my consultations and my negotiations even to a certain extent which have been held since I became minister, consultations which I have had with Dave Peters in person, Cathy Randall, Linda Percy, that there are some issues which are of ultimate importance to the employees. One would be pension, continued coverage under the Civil Service Superannuation Plan as it is known, continued LTD coverage, same or equivalent to what they now have, recognition of seniority, recognition of service, recognition of accumulated benefits and perhaps most importantly, the overall great concern was that successorship and recognition of collective agreements should be enshrined in a piece of legislation when it came forward.
The legislation has come forward and as in past versions of the debate on second reading, I will reiterate that every attempt has been made as a result of those consultations - I won't call them negotiations because that is not what they were - but consultations and discussions well in advance of the bill coming forward. Those items have been enshrined in this legislation, pension, LTD, seniority and service. I can repeat this time and again but apparently the Opposition members either are not listening or are wilfully closed-minded to this fact.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: On a question, Mr. Speaker, the minister indicates that representatives of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union made representations previous to this bill being tabled about their concerns with respect to a number of matters, pensions being one, long-term disability and other matters. He believes that those have been addressed. Would he not agree that those same people don't feel that they have been adequately addressed? Therefore, would he also not acknowledge that there, therefore, is a problem; that the matter has not been resolved? Because while he suggests that there have been negotiations or there have been discussions over these issues, obviously, the people on that side have not been convinced, in fact, that their concerns have been addressed.
MR. ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, I would acknowledge that there are questions and concerns but my biggest concern ever since this second reading started is that any of those concerns should be addressed in the public forum that this House holds so dear, called the Law Amendments Committee, a truly public, all-Party forum called the Law Amendments Committee, right down the hall in the Red Chamber.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: On a question, Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the minister would not acknowledge the fact that the concerns raised by the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union have, in fact, been dealt with in the public forum? In fact, those people and the employees that they represent take those concerns so seriously that they are now having a vote on whether or not to withdraw their services from employment. Doesn't that give any indication to this minister that these concerns are of a serious matter to those people?
MR. ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, again the member opposite is absolutely right, it causes me great concern that the concerns of the leadership and membership of the NSGEU are of such importance that they are now talking strike. As the member earlier and the member opposite, the former Leader of the Opposition, pointed out, the place in which to engage in debate is not in the media. It is not on the street. It is in this Chamber and that is what I have done and that is what I will continue to do.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. We are talking about the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union raising their concerns about a piece of legislation. They are not elected to this Chamber. They have no rights to come into this Chamber and debate this bill. Their only recourse is to debate it outside this House in public, try to get the message through to this minister and other members of this House and to suggest to anybody who may be listening that the proper place for the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union to be raising their concern is not in the public, but at the Law Amendments Committee, I would suggest is not only erroneous, but it is wrong.
MR. SPEAKER: Does the minister wish to address the point of order?
MR. ABBASS: No. I think in fairness the members opposite have often allowed me to intervene. I have no problem on a continuing basis with the member opposite rising.
MR. SPEAKER: I understand that there is no problem with the intervention, however, it has been raised as a point of order. I must find that it is a disagreement in facts. It is not a point of order.
MR. ABBASS: Of course, people who are concerned about discussions which take place within this Chamber, they discuss the questions in the work place, at nursing stations, in labs, in hallways at the hospital. I am sure they do, and they should, of course they should, but unfortunately or perhaps quite appropriately we have been elected to engage in our debate in this Chamber. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure we do not serve to further inflame the already inflamed passions amongst anyone who might be affected by this bill.
Again, a big part of what I have been saying in this Chamber and outside, either down in the foyer in a press conference aimed at clarifying this matter and in this Chamber, has been to say that there is, very definitely, a very logical process which involves first reading of a bill, and as members opposite perfectly well know, second reading, then passage of the bill presumably on second reading and then the moving of the bill to the very public forum, all-Party forum that is called Law Amendments Committee and that takes place right down the hall in the Red Chamber. It is a place in which amendments have been effected. I have worked on bills like the Workers' Compensation Act which did involve a fairly extensive law amendments process which did result in very meaningful changes right up until the last moment. Perhaps it was not pretty to watch, but it was certainly, in the end, an effective way in which to bring about real amendments, real substantial amendments to that bill (Interruptions) Workers' Compensation Act was the bill that I am talking about.
So if there is some concern that the law amendments process does not work, perhaps that is something that we should bring before this Chamber or this Assembly as a Committee of the Whole and discuss that problem. All members of this House know that this is an all-Party committee comprised of at least one NDP representative, I believe, and I believe at least two representatives of the Progressive Conservative Party. If there is some fear that the law amendments process does not work or cannot work in the case of any particular bill, then we should probably have that debate or that discussion here and as soon as possible. Otherwise, we should uphold and respect and promote the usage of a long-standing legal and democratic process for moving a bill from first reading through to third and then passage into law in this province.
The difficulty here is that the debate has taken place against the backdrop of a threatened illegal strike, I would emphasize that. All members of this House have a duty not to promote an illegal act, as does any lawyer in this province. Every lawyer who counsels an illegal act treads perilously close to a difficulty with his or her own professional self-governing body. We cannot engage in the same tenuous behaviour. We have to be protective of the institutions that we do have which do and have in the past moved a bill through a very logical progression from first reading to third.
I will go through again the various major concerns which were raised by the union side, the organized labour side and in particular the NSGEU side prior to this bill being introduced on Thursday last. Those were pension and the respect of rights to that pension. It is important to point out that, not only will an employee who was represented by the NSGEU have the right to that pension, but, in fact, the employee is in the plan and must be in the plan unless he or she consciously, and in writing, opts out. They are in the plan. They are not out of the plan; they are in the Civil Service Pension Plan, more legally known or formally known as the Civil Service Superannuation Plan or the Public Service Superannuation Plan.
The bill very clearly states that LTD benefits shall be equal or the same as the existing LTD plan that they have. Yes, there is going to be some debate over the wording of that subclause and, rightly, there should be and, rightly, any further amendment of that particular clause should take place down the hall. Let's talk down the hall in the Law Amendments Committee. The amendments, as the members opposite know, happen following the Law Amendments procedure. (Interruptions) Amendments do not come forward upon second reading.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: On a point of order, with the greatest respect, this minister knows that what he said is absolutely and 300 per cent inaccurate. We just had a recent example of it, compliments of the distinguished Minister of Education because, prior to the Law Amendments Committee convening its hearings, that distinguished white-haired Minister of Education came forward with something like 171 changes to his bill. So when this minister, Mr. Speaker, says that you know you have to have the Law Amendments Committee before the minister can come in and offer some amendments, that just simply isn't accurate.
MR. SPEAKER: The issue raised by the member is an interesting issue, but it is not a point of order.
MR. ABBASS: Again, from my standpoint, Mr. Speaker, I welcome any intervention, either on a point of order or otherwise. The member opposite, perhaps misconstrued my words. No, amendments do not have to come forward following Law Amendments. He knows that they can come forward at any time during the progression of a bill through this House. The unfortunate part of this is that an unfortunate precedent has been set here with regard to the Education Act in which case a strike was not only threatened but there was a vote taken upon it, an affirmative vote.
Now unless the members opposite and members of this House are suggesting that we should incorporate into our Rules and Forms of Procedure a threatened strike, then I think we should do everything we can to promote the continued usage of the avenues we have available to us: first reading, second reading, the Law Amendments Committee and third reading, clause by clause, eventual passage of the bill. I am not trying in any way to lecture more senior members of the House than I. There are at least four members opposite who know the House Rules better than I do, but I think that they would agree that the incorporation in our Rules and Forms of Procedure of a threatened illegal strike at every turn, and in the case of important bills before this House, is not a desirable thing.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the honourable minister would entertain a question? I wonder if the minister would perhaps give us some explanation as to how this moving on to the Law Amendments Committee will do anything to contribute to the strike vote that is now underway at the Victoria General Hospital that will be held today and tomorrow? What will that do? Perhaps, at the same time, the minister could indicate whether or not he has any intention to involve himself by perhaps recognizing the legitimacy of some of the concerns raised by the people that are having the vote, in order that his government takes some kind of positive and constructive action to prevent the potential of the disruption of health care service in this city?
MR. ABBASS: I would anticipate, almost bet, that there will be changes to this bill. I wholeheartedly encourage people to appear before the Law Amendments Committee, either individual members, for instance, of the NSGEU, members of the public, any person off the street who happens to be in the neighbourhood and realizes that the committee is in progress is welcome to intervene. I know that the Chair of the Law Amendments Committee has a totally open-door policy when it comes to that. So all employees represented by all unions are quite free to appear before that committee.
It might very well hold this House up for quite some time, but the truth is the incorporation of an illegal strike threat into the Rules and Forms of Procedure of this House is not a desirable thing. If we allow ourselves to get into the mode of . . .
MR. SPEAKER: If you want to intervene, the minister said he would allow an intervention.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: I am trying to follow the rules. I think it is a point of order because I think . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Well, then you raise a point of order.
MR. CHISHOLM: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, the minister just said, and it will appear on the record, that to enter a strike vote or a potential strike vote into the Rules and Forms of Procedure of this House is not appropriate. I would just like to clarify for the record that that is not being done. We are dealing with legislation that some of us have concerns about here in this House and we have made some suggestions to the minister of strategies, in terms of negotiations and so on, that he might want to entertain in order to deal with the question of a strike vote. But it is not the members of this House who are voting on whether or not to strike or who have had any role to play in that decision. I just wanted to correct the record with respect to what the minister had to say.
MR. SPEAKER: Just a moment before I entertain the member for Halifax Citadel. What has been raised is a point of order and I think the member realizes that it is an interesting intervention and it is a position he takes. Clearly it is not a point of order, and I would so rule it.
I realize that members traditionally have raised points through points of order but let's not use this point of order too much when one wants to intervene because the minister has said he will entertain any intervention.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: I am rising to ask the minister if he would entertain a a quick question? I would just be curious if the minister might indicate to us, Mr. Speaker, through you, having said as he did just a moment ago that - I forget his exact words - he is pretty certain he said, that there would probably be some changes made in this legislation. I think that is certainly the impression I get. Some language will change, he wasn't specific about which sections and so on, but some changes will be made.
He has also indicated that he is aware that there are concerns and those concerns are being articulated, in the main, by the union leadership, by NSGEU and other union leaderships.
I guess my question is, looking at what happened relative to the education legislation, and by that I mean realizing that - and I don't care about strike votes being on or off or positive or negative - the fact of the matter was that the Minister of Education, directly and with his officials, had extensive meetings after introducing his legislation, with representatives of the School Boards Association and the NSTU and home-schoolers, and he is there rhyming them off and he hasn't got enough fingers to count all the organizations.
My question with that, typically of me, too lengthy a preamble, is simply to ask the Minister of Human Resources this, does he, the minister, Mr. Speaker, through you, not believe that there would be merit in him, the minister, sitting down now in discussions with representatives of the NSGEU and other affected unions and their leadership, to address in the quiet of a room away from here, the issues that they raised, many of which have been raised here through Opposition members, to determine whether or not there are language changes which can be made, which would, if they were made, go a long way to allaying fears and concerns which are experienced by some thousands of workers, particularly at the VG Hospital? Would that process not be appropriate and productive at this point?
MR. ABBASS: Well, discussion is always appropriate and, as I said at my press conference yesterday - had they been there they would have known this - that my door is always open to Dave Peters, my phone is always at the ready. I hope Dave Peters knows that. I know that there are representatives of the NSGEU in the gallery so I know that they have passed that on. But that is not what is at issue. In fact we consulted right up until the tabling of this bill.
There have been meetings, unbeknownst to you, perhaps, ever since the bill was tabled, and quite appropriately so. Further consultation and discussions should take place in the Law Amendments Committee and that is entirely appropriate and in keeping with the tradition of this House.
If Dave Peters were to send in a green slip right now, I would be on the phone to Dave because he is - I think the member opposite has a question.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: A question, Mr. Speaker. I just wanted to ask the minister for some clarification. I think what he just had to say was somewhat relevant to some of the concerns that are being raised here. He indicated that there have been meetings and there are ongoing meetings and, I think, almost implied that there are continuing meetings. I know of, I am not suggesting that I know everything that is going on by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that I am aware (Interruption) I might think that, but many do not and I thank the member for Halifax Citadel for saying that.
I understand that there were meetings held on the day that the legislation was tabled, between the Department of Human Resources and other officials and the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, but I was not aware of further meetings being held. I would like to ask the minister if he could, perhaps confirm or in other ways, clarify that there had been meetings ongoing, in fact, perhaps there are meetings ongoing as we speak?
MR. ABBASS: I would actually have to telephone my own deputy minister to find that out. I suspect that some talks have happened today, but again, this is nothing new, this has been ongoing ever since I became Minister of Labour. I have met with Rick Clarke and met with many representatives of many unions during the worker's compensation process. I have met with Dave Peters and others within the NSGEU many times in the six months or seven months leading up to the tabling of this bill.
Those conversations, if and when they occur, should happen and, as I have said, further discussion should take place within the confines and in the context of the Law Amendments Committee, a public committee. (Interruption) Well, the Law Amendments Committee will sit eventually, presuming that this bill will pass through the House. To say that the precedent that had been set previously by the Education Act and the way in which the NSTU and the Minister of Education had to deal with that is a good one, I would venture to say otherwise and I think any right-minded member of this House will agree. I do not think and I am not saying that formally a strike threat would ever enter into our Rules of Procedure booklet, by any means, I am speaking as an analogy or metaphorically. No, we should not encourage a situation whereby any union affected by an Act, which might come forward in the future, should feel that it is entirely appropriate to threaten an illegal strike, just as a matter of course.
I would point out something very important here. The Minister of Health and I, announced the bringing forward of the QE II Act on the Thursday morning of the same Thursday on which Rick Clarke, President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, Larry Wark, Leader of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and Dave Peters, himself, the President of the NSGEU met in the Premier's office. The Premier was present, myself and the Minister of Labour was there - that is consultation as far as I know. No, we were not negotiating anything, in fact, we were having a coffee and a friendly chat about many issues. (Interruption) We did have previous discussions before that Thursday, many times. (Interruption)
The member opposite is intervening, but as he knows, the level of consultation and dialogue between myself and the unions has been entirely acceptable and, in fact, probably exceeds by way, any level of consultation which he may of had with union leadership in the past.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: I ask the minister if he would be prepared to entertain a question? The minister has indicated that as far as he is concerned, the level of consultation between himself and the leadership of unions in this province has been more than adequate, I guess, to paraphrase what he said. He refers to a coffee party that he and some of the leadership had with (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Please, let us not get into coffee now.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, the minister referred to it as a coffee party. The Minister of Labour can call it whatever he wants. I am on my feet and that is what I will refer to it as. It sounds like everything went well.
Would the minister, in fact, confirm that no more than two days ago the President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour sent a letter to him and his final recommendation was that the minister, because of the way he is handling this dispute, resign his position as Minister of Human Resources. Is it, in fact, not the case that that happened, regardless of how much everybody enjoyed the coffee and the chat?
MR. ABBASS: The member criticizes both the meeting which we had and . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I don't want to see the debate in the House trivialized. We are dealing with the principles of the bill and that is all. No extraneous matter is relevant at all, the principle of the bill.
MR. ABBASS: Any meeting which the Premier and the Minister of Labour, the Honourable Guy Brown, and myself have had with leaders of organized labour have been anything but just a coffee party. They have been meaningful discussions about serious issues. In fact, on my schedule of Thursday, November 23rd, it appears as from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., Rick Clarke, Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, Larry Wark, Dave Peters and then in parentheses, (Premier's Boardroom), Premier, Mr. Abbass, all issues meeting. That is exactly how it is framed. That morning, the QE II bill was tabled. The following morning was the start of strike talk and no opportunity whatsoever had been available to discuss, in a meaningful way, anything about this bill.
When I was up in Guysborough visiting the member's area, Ray White's area, for an AGM, I managed to drop by in New Glasgow, close to Dave Peters home and pick up personally a copy of a letter which was, I believe, drafted by a lawyer by the name of Ray Larkin, which the President of the NSGEU, Dave Peters, did sign off on. I personally took delivery and over the weekend had a chance only in a sketchy way to read it and make some initial judgments on it. Then on Monday, I awoke to the sound of the news announcing that a strike was being threatened and here, this would be a full five or six hours before we had an opportunity at 2:00 p.m. to meet for the very first time in a formal way, as invited by this government. I recall distinctly waking up to the very clear news piece, strike threatened, QE II bill.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the minister would entertain a question. I have been listening very carefully to what he was saying and I wonder if he would entertain a question.
Mr. Speaker, through you to the Minister of Human Resources, it is my understanding that Mr. Peters did have a meeting with officials prior to, obviously, the legislation going into place. There was some discussion, obviously, on the legislation. But it was my understanding that Mr. Peters was given assurance that what was in the interim agreement, that wording would be in the bill that came forth, Bill No. 47. Is the minister aware that Dave Peters was given that assurance on more than one occasion that that kind of wording would be in the bill when it came forward, was he aware of that?
MR. ABBASS: Mr. Peters would never have received that assurance from me, no. Unfortunately, the former Minister of Human Resources is not here but I believe that she would confirm that she never formally or in any way assured or gave some sort of agreement that appended to any piece of legislation which came before this House there would be a Transition Agreement, that is just simply not the case. Any Transition Agreement, either a 1992 version or any discussion surrounding a Transition Agreement centred around the privatization of one facility, the VG Hospital and the VG Hospital only, in which work, even currently, civil servants, many of whom are represented by the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union.
We are dealing here with a much different case, a case of four facilities employing many employees, not all of whom are represented by the NSGEU, many of whom are represented by the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union or perhaps CAW, CUPE, NUPGE is in there, a splinter group or I believe an ally, I suppose, of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. Any discussion around a promise to include in any bill that ever came forward before this House, the Transition Agreement of 1992 or otherwise, is simply not accurate.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, on the whole issue of the Transition Agreement, the minister, on a few occasions this afternoon and at other times, has said that the Transition Agreement related to a plan to simply privatize one institution. I wonder if the minister would not agree that at that point, the whole issue was transferring the rights, the benefits and the salaries, the provisions of not only the collective agreement but the Civil Service Act, Statutes, regulations and so on, the whole issue was the same. It was a question of transferring those rights, benefits and so on, from the VG Hospital to the private corporation, not unlike what is happening here. Yes, there are three other institutions involved, but we are talking about the employees at the Victoria General Hospital who are having their employment situation changed because they are being moved from the Civil Service Act, the Civil Service Collective Bargaining Act, the Statutes and regulations thereto, plus their collective agreements are supposedly now being taken over by their collective agreement, only, under the corporation.
Is it not, in fact, the case that it is the same process of transition that all of the employees - the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union as their representative - are asking for the same kinds of protections, so that at the beginning of the move they are in this position and at the end of the move, before they get to the Labour Relations Board, they are in that position exactly the same? That is all they are looking for. Is that not what the Transition Agreement provides for?
MR. ABBASS: The Transition Agreement did deal with the movement of civil servants into the private sector in one specific hospital, the VG Hospital. Yes, we are dealing with a different situation here, four facilities, but, more importantly, more unions involved. The Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, obviously, represents many employees, especially nurses - only nurses, I believe - at the Camp Hill Hospital. So, it isn't a simple matter of saying, well, we talked about a Transition Agreement before, why can't we talk about the same thing, exactly, right now? This has been a balancing act, before and since we tabled the bill; balancing the interests of all employees at all facilities among all unions. It is in the interest of the QE II, when it eventually gets up and running, and I would say to all members of this House that we ensure that nothing is done which would upset the balance which has been struck by this very clearly worded bill.
What is important, though, is to remember - and I think I will try to finish just this one line of thought and then I will (Interruption) Oh, sure.
MR. SPEAKER: On an introduction, the honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for allowing me to make an introduction of a group of people who are here, employees of the Victoria General Hospital who I think are enjoying - maybe that is stretching it a bit - but are interested in the debate with respect to their future as employees now of the Victoria General and, perhaps in the future, of the new corporation, the QE II.
I would like to introduce to members of the Legislature, and I hope I get these names right, Sharon MacDonald, Sharon Ernst; Dave Burgess, Radiology; Fay MacKay, Nursing; Diane Jamieson, Nursing; Joanne Hogan, Nursing; Debbie Fanning, Nursing; Donna Langille, Nursing; Tina Delaplate, Nursing; Alfred Carter, unwillingly unemployed; Suvella Kays, Food and Nutrition Services; Shelley Drummond, Food and Nutrition Services; Mary Carter, Food and Nutrition Services; David Supple, Stores; Cheryl Stewart, Nursing; and Cathy MacIntosh, Nursing.
I would like to ask, Mr. Speaker, if our guests would please rise, and I hope that all members would join with me in giving them a warm welcome. (Applause)
MR. ABBASS: I was going on to say that, very importantly, one of the most crucial aspects of the Transition Agreement, version 1992, but more importantly the attempt at one, I suppose, that was made since then, and since this government came to power, involved successorship and ensuring that collective agreements would be recognized and respected upon any particular merger or privatization.
As many times as I have tried to reassure both the members of this House and members of the union, it is possible that the message is not getting through. But it was made abundantly clear to me, in fact I was almost warned to make sure that we respected in this bill, continuance of pension, LTD, seniority, service and successorship, respect for collective agreements.
There is the collective agreement it is the most recent version and it simply reads, agreement between the Nova Scotia Government and the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. It includes items such as: rights and prohibitions, no lockouts or strikes, provisions of bulletin board space. I mean it covers every, check-offs, stewards, time off for union business, hours of work, overtime, standby and callback, vacations, holidays, special leave, transportation, safety and health, sick leave, employee performance review and employee files, discipline and discharge, notice of resignation.
There is the collective agreement and that is the collective agreement which is enshrined in the QE II bill. The wording is clear. Clause 20(1)(a) incorporates into the QE II and the way in which it will operate Section 31 of the Trade Union Act. An Act that is 60 years old, an Act which makes it very clear as to how successorship operates in this province.
Unions have fought over the years - I think perhaps if the member would allow, I think I will continue just for the next few minutes and then surrender the floor entirely - for the Trade Union Act. This is a long-standing Act which, in fact, if government were to lightly tread upon it or change it any way, both union and management would take a very vital interest in any attempt at such.
Section 31 has been around a long time. It makes it very clear that collective agreements can be and are guaranteed of being adopted by a successor employer. Clause 20(1)(a) can be no clearer than it is. To argue Clause 20(1)(a) of the QE II bill is unclear is to attempt to argue that Section 31 of a 60 year old Act called the Trade Union Act, which the union movement holds so dear, is inaccurate or unclear. It simply is not so. If organized labour representatives were on this floor, they would say the same, Section 31 is abundantly clear. There is no mistaken the intent of the thing.
Continuance of pension benefits and ensuring that accumulated benefits are vested in employees is very important and was very important and that occurs under this Act. Ensuring that LTD benefits are the same or equal are the same sort of benefit and are of equal value that is covered in this bill. Likewise, seniority, service, that is accumulated number of years of service, is very important. Most importantly, it is the successorship aspect and the respect and upholding of collective agreements which is the essence or at the root of the Transition Agreement. It is very firmly embedded and respected in this bill.
So as many times as it takes, I will continue to say that and hope that people are not too alarmed about fears that are being raised about a loss of rights or privileges under Statute or regulation. I have asked members opposite to please list those rights and benefits that are being lost, but to date, Mr. Speaker, they have not been able to raise those in any great detail. I will suggest to them a couple . . .
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The minister just said that he has tried to get details as to what the concerns were with respect to provisions, rights that are being taken away here, as a result of the removal of these employees under the Civil Service Act, the Civil Service Collective Bargaining Act and the regulations.
Mr. Speaker, that has been detailed here in this House time and time again. It was detailed in a 20 page letter that that minister was provided with on Saturday past and it has been gone over several times, the last being in a meeting held with his staff by members of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union back on Monday. For him to continue to trivialize the concerns of these workers is exactly why they are being forced into this kind of action.
MR. SPEAKER: Is this a point of order? It is not. This is not a point of order. Take your seat.
MR. ABBASS: In fact, I am not trying to trivialize, but lay to rest some of the fears that members of the NSGEU and perhaps other unions have. Frankly, I think it is mainly limited to members of the NSGEU. I will continue to repeat as often as it takes to reassure people the statutory rights that are floating around that no one seems to be able to put their finger on. I am asking this House whether members of this House feel that any of them are worthy of people going on strike at Christmas time. I have friends, relatives - my own mother is an RN who trained at the VG Hospital - a good one-half of the people who work at the VG Hospital are constituents of mine. I have absolutely no interest in antagonizing them. I have done my very best and will continue to do my very best to make sure that their rights are protected in this bill, and will continue to be if it makes it through second reading and then into Law Amendments Committee and finally through third reading. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, Bill No. 47 was introduced about four or five days ago by the Minister of Health.
AN HON. MEMBER: He is not here.
MR. RUSSELL: He is not here, I don't think the Minister of Health has been in this House during debate on this bill.
MRS. FRANCENE COSMAN: Point of order, Mr. Speaker. That is the second time today that an honourable member has called attention to the presence or absence of other members in the Chamber and that is totally unacceptable. There are often times when members are outside in committee, they are outside at meetings, they are outside doing some other activity related to their duties as a member of this House.
The honourable member who just called attention now was a Speaker of this House. He has vast experience; he knows the rules and he should abide by them.
MR. SPEAKER: I believe it is a long-standing convention that reference is not made in parliamentary Assemblies to the presence or absence of honourable members; it being presumed that all honourable members are free to come and go as they wish. In the British House there isn't even enough room for approximately half of the members to be accommodated. It is a convention and I agree with the honourable member. Carry on.
MR. RUSSELL: Well, Mr. Speaker, I will apologize to the House if I am in error. However, the point is that I would like the minister, in his opening remarks to this bill, to have spoken to this bill. But, in essence, what we got was a story about how great the health care system was in this province, how great this merger was going to be and how this merger of the four institutions was going to be one of the cornerstones of health care reform in this province.
Since that time, Mr. Speaker, we have heard at great length from the Minister of Human Resources. And why have we heard from the Minister of Human Resources and the Department of Human Resources? We have heard from him because, in effect, this is a labour bill; this is a bill that talks about melding people, bringing people from four institutions together under one umbrella. That is why we are so interested in what happens to those workers when this melding takes place.
We have been told along the way that there are going to be about 2,500 members from all different classifications within the hospital system in this city that will be out of work sometime in the future because of this amalgamation. Now, if you are going to do that, I would suggest that the people who are going to be involved in this melding should be entitled to have their say as to what this bill is all about. It can't take place after this bill has left this place and gone down the hall to the Law Amendments Committee because by then the bill is in an area where people can come forward and make representations, that is quite true but, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, as you well know, in that place the government certainly has the majority, the government has the will and they can put the bill through, bring it in here to Committee of the Whole House on Bills, where there are time constraints on the amount of debate that can occur on that bill of 20 hours, and then to third reading and it is out of here and it is law.
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Human Resources said during his remarks a few moments ago that he had met on an almost continuous basis with members of various unions in this province before drafting this bill. That is very similar to what we heard from the Minister of Education when he was in trouble with his bill in this place in second reading. Finally, we had the bill go into the Law Amendments Committee with 172 amendments that were made outside of this Chamber and made outside of that Chamber. They were done in the confines of his office or the Uniacke Room, downstairs.
The minister, surprisingly, today said that, yes, there were amendments that he had in mind. Now, of course, that contradicts what he was reported to have said at his press conference, that there were no amendments coming up to this House. He wasn't going to commit hari-kari like the Minister of Education and abdicate his bill to massive amendments.
What we have in this bill is an argument between lawyers. We have the Minister of Human Resources, a lawyer, stating that his interpretation of this bill and what ensues from this bill has a certain effect, and that effect is that nothing changes. The present status of those who are in the Victoria General Hospital, when they move across to the new institution, remains exactly the same. We are told equally emphatically by another lawyer that that is incorrect. It is like two members in the House, Mr. Speaker, having a difference of opinion about the same thing when there should not be that kind of difference.
So who are we in the Opposition to believe? Are we going to believe the minister or are we going to believe an outside lawyer? I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, the process should be that the Minister of Human Resources, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour should be prepared to sit down, not next week at the end of the Law Amendments period, but sit down tomorrow, tonight perhaps, and iron out exactly what the true interpretation is that is agreed to by them all on to the various clauses in this bill. Only then will we be able to say, okay we know what this piece of legislation means.
Mr. Speaker, one of the things, I think, that we have always prided ourselves upon in this province is having a first-class health care system. We have actually been number one in many respects. The Pharmacare Program, for instance, that we had in this province was one of the first in this country and was certainly one of the best until just very recently. We have also had more hospital beds in this province per capita than in any other province, although that is now rapidly being destroyed. We have always had more doctors per capita than in other provinces but that is rapidly changing. This bill, although it deals with matters relating to personnel, also relates to the kind of health care that we are going to get in this province. Part of that health care has always been that the people who have been employed in the health care field have always been first-class.
I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, when you start talking to people in that kind of care-giving service, and you say that your jobs are at stake, that your working conditions are at stake and that the benefits that you receive from your employment are at stake, well then you are going to suffer some degree of degradation of morale. I don't think that is good for the health care system.
Mr. Speaker, I wonder sometimes, whenever this government talks about reform and amalgamation, whether or not we are reforming and amalgamating just for the sake of doing something. Is bigger necessarily better? Is removing the control from the small locality and moving it away somewhere, is that better for managing facilities? I am not very sure in my own mind that it is. We see this happening in everything that the government is touching. We are getting into bigger and bigger clumps.
I am not sure, as I said, particularly in the health care system whether an enormous hospital is better than, for instance, a small hospital in my home town of Windsor. I don't know whether the service would be any better, if for instance, my home town hospital, Hants Community Hospital had 3,000 beds or 2,000 beds, I do not think it would be. Right now the people in the community know the nurses and they know the staff there and it is a very homey atmosphere for those people who go into that community hospital.
Now I recognize that we are talking about tertiary care hospitals in this bill. We are talking about hospitals that cater to the whole province and, in fact, to a certain extent cater to New Brunswick and cater to Prince Edward Island, a very important part of our health care system. I wonder why, for instance, when we open the Camp Hill Hospital and we bring the Infirmary over from where it is at the present time on Queen Street and put the facilities in that new hospital, why do we have to have an overall management that takes cares of four institutions - the Victoria General Hospital, the Camp Hill Complex and the new Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre - it is a great name for a hospital, and the Cancer Treatment and Research facility. I do not know what would be wrong, in truth, with still having those four hospitals with their own four boards operating independently. I do not really believe, as I said, that size makes for better.
Mr. Speaker, I do not want to stray from the principle of the bill, but the minister when he was on his feet was talking about the Workers' Compensation Act. I am not going to talk about the Workers' Compensation Act, but he was talking about the process that was engaged in by that minister when he was Minister of Labour. He said, how we worked it with the Workers's Compensation Act; he said, we debated in second reading in this Chamber and you people over there did not like it. We took it down to the Law Amendments Committee and it was amended. That is not exactly what happened, as you well know. The bill was not amended in the Law Amendments Committee, even though, there were hundreds of representations made to Law Amendments, there were no amendments made of any consequence in the Law Amendments Committee. The bill came back here into the Committee of the Whole House and that minister . . .
HON. JAY ABBASS: Would the member entertain a question? To be entirely in keeping with House order, I was outside the Chamber momentarily, but did the member just say that no amendments came back from the Law Amendments Committee in connection with the Workers' Compensation Act?
MR. RUSSELL: I say no amendments of any consequence came back. The actual amendments to the bill occurred when we were under duress in this Chamber, under time constraints and we managed to work a deal to get some of those amendments that we required. Certainly, they were not forthcoming from the minister and I would hope that that would not happen with this bill.
Mr. Speaker, the minister has mentioned strike on many occasions when he was on his feet over there. I can assure you, that the last thing that we would be doing in Opposition is recommending that people go out on strike. However, you have to recognize that these people are frustrated because what they are looking for is really so simple. They are asking for clarity of various wordings within this bill. They will take the language within this bill and with a simple amendment that would satisfy those people within the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. Not only that, the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union has provided for the minister the wording of those amendments.
Just to read into the record, the union has general concerns about Clause 17 of the bill which is the one that talks about the transfer of civil servants across into the Camp Hill Hospital complex. They talk about wording to further protect all employees' rights such as the pension, long-term disability, rights to seniority, a preference for jobs in the Civil Service, individual contractual rights, existing grievances and adjudications, potential further erosion of the collective agreement; the failure of the bill to maintain present statutory rights which means that the people at the present time who are employees of the Crown will no longer be employees of the Crown; with regard to the early retirement incentive plan, whether or not that is still going to be available under the new umbrella, and so on and so on. These things are all very important, they are all ones that I am sure could be resolved very simply between the minister and the unions that are involved.
When the Minister of Health says that everything is well and fine and dandy in the health care system and that this is one of the cornerstones of the reform of health care in the province, it is quite obvious that the minister has not been around the province to see what is going on in the smaller hospitals out in the rural areas. I went to a meeting about three weeks ago at the Hants Community Hospital. The CEO was there and he had about 100 people there, not all employees of the hospital, admittedly, but 100 people who had an interest in the hospital. He announced that $600,000 had been cut from the budget of the Hants Community Hospital. This wasn't cut over a year, this was cut from that day until March 31, 1996, approximately a six month period to catch up $600,000.
When you go into a small community and you start chopping up the hospital, when you tell people there is going to be a massive closure of beds, when you tell people that 25 to 30 positions are going to be lost, people, understandably, become upset. People begin to believe that indeed they are going to lose one of their most treasured rights as a Canadian and that is the right to first-class medical care. Hants Community Hospital is small potatoes compared to the tertiary hospitals in the City of Halifax. Nevertheless, that kind of treatment is being accorded community hospitals around Nova Scotia, to regional hospitals around Nova Scotia and now it is happening to our main hospital complex in the City of Halifax.
If this bill that the minister introduced was indeed the cornerstone of reform, if indeed it was it was, going to do something good because that is what I understand reform is all about, if it was going to do something good for health, I would cheerfully vote for this bill. In fact, if the minister stood up and said, I am prepared to make these kinds of amendments to the bill when it goes on to Law Amendments Committee, I might also support the bill. But failing those two caveats, Mr. Speaker, I will have to vote against this bill. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I wasn't anticipating his departure as quickly as it happened.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, your turn to be on.
MR. ARCHIBALD: So, Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to take part in this debate because I was kind of taken aback the other day when this debate started, for the simple reason that the Minister of Health commenced procedure on the debate and while he was speaking, I made a few hasty notes on what he was saying. He talked about amalgamation of four excellent hospitals and nobody is arguing about that, we all agree. He indicated that this amalgamation was many years in the making. That is true, there has been talk of amalgamation, in fact perhaps there were even some studies done that talked about amalgamation but never acted upon. There was never a study done that could prove conclusively that amalgamating the hospitals was going to serve a useful purpose, as far as health care for Nova Scotians was concerned.
Then the Minister of Health talked about this hospital being nationally and world known. That, too, is true, Mr. Speaker, nobody is going to argue with that. We have fine medical facilities here and we have a fine university that is teaching people how to become physicians and we have great places for people to learn how to become nurses and to research and so on, so I agreed with what the minister was saying.
The minister spoke on and talked about research. Research is really one great discovery on top of another. I thought that was good, too. We agree, we need research. Each of us in our own way contributes every year to research, to help find new ways, new cures, new methods of treatment. That is something we can't stop.
This, according to the minister, was another step towards a health care system that will be nationally acclaimed and locally used. Now what is wrong with that? Not a thing, we can agree that we want a health care system in Nova Scotia that is the envy of all. Health care, teaching, research, combined together in the central region in Nova Scotia, that is something, Mr. Speaker, that each and every one of us wants and we contribute one way or another. We want to be proud of the accomplishments and proud of the past accomplishments in the health care field. Health renewal, common sense, efficiency, effectively; this is the approach, an effective and efficient approach.
The Minister of Health then indicated that the QE II will serve the public and make things better. There are 35,000 people a year who depend on that facility. The QE II must be a teaching hospital or a teaching facility, but the teaching has to be balanced with health care that will make sure that Nova Scotians are treated when they need to be. It is the largest in Atlantic Canada and it is tied in with the academic world of Dalhousie University and other places of higher learning.
This is what the minister said to us at the introduction of this bill. So when he was speaking on the introduction of the bill I was rooting for him because this is what we want. This is what Nova Scotians have asked for. The merger of the four facilities will make everything more efficient.
Clinical programs will be grouped. There will be reductions in waiting lists for people who need treatment. Look, when the minister said that this bill will mean a reduction in the waiting periods for people to get in the hospital, my ears picked up and I felt good because it was just a few days ago, Mr. Speaker, when - you are going to find this hard to believe - I was talking to somebody and their brother-in-law was transferred to the hospital in Kentville. They had to rush him to Halifax. I think he had something wrong with his heart. We are not medical so it was his heart.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I know what an aneurysm is.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Okay, but I do not. So they brought him into Halifax and there was not a bed for him, so they did what they could and then back to Kentville. There was not a bed, so he stayed on the ambulance bed in the little waiting room until 11:00 a.m. the next morning.
So when I heard the Minister of Health say that the waiting periods were going to be reduced, I thought, by golly, this is what we need, so that they do not have to wait 5 or 6 hours on an ambulance gurney waiting to get their treatment.
The legislation enhances areas that are important: action on wards, community-based programs, home care, the home hospital. You see, this is what the Minister of Health talked to us about when he tabled the bill and he also indicated that we had an excellent board and even better workers within the hospital system. This is important, but you know, where in this bill does all this improvement in health care take place? The excellent board that he has appointed; the excellent workers working to improve health care; Human Resources and the Department of Health working together, a joint effort to get the QE II; employees are all equal and treated fairly; quality of patient management and technology; very confident in the bill and the progressive health care.
Well, Mr. Speaker, can you imagine, when I was reading the bill, I was trying to put together what the Minister of Health was saying to see if there was any relationship between his words and this bill actually. It became difficult.
Then, the other day, we had the press conference downstairs with the Minister of Human Resources. I was there at quarter to the hour to hear it, but then I came up to the House for prayers and such, and then I went back down. The Minister of Human Resources indicated that one of the purposes of the bill was to get the Victoria General Hospital workers off the Civil Service, at 2:31, November 28th at the press conference. You see, this is not what the Minister of Health was telling us the purpose of the bill was; the Minister of Health did not indicate there was any concern about who was or who was not a civil servant. He indicated his only primary concern was the well-being of the health of Nova Scotians, since this hospital is so major, and it is not just Nova Scotians, it is Atlantic Canadians who depend on it.
You can imagine the surprise that most of us had when we found that really that this was more of a bill involving labour than it was a bill involving health care for Nova Scotians. This is a bill that is destined and designed to try to save money. This is not a bill that the Minister of Health spoke of so eloquently in this House, and probably it was one of his best efforts on convincing us that this would help. I want to commend the Minister of Human Resources because he has been taking part in this debate and the Minister of Health hasn't. But it was the Minister of Health who made the introduction.
The Nova Scotia Government Employees Union have been talking with the Department of Human Resources, the Minister of Health, for quite a long time. They were surprised at the bill, too, and they were very worried about the bill. The union suggests the members may lose their pension benefits, pay equity, same-sex benefits if the bill isn't changed. I cannot believe that because it was just weeks ago that the Minister of Human Resources held a press conference to tell us how excited and pleased he was and how forward-thinking Nova Scotia was in that the Civil Service was going to be recognizing same-sex benefits for all. What a progressive step. But now the union says the people that are no longer going to be civil servants will not be able to keep that benefit.
They are also concerned about the right to run for public office. That may be gone, as well. The labour unions, involving the workers, and the government were talking and they seemed to be getting along well; certainly the union thought they were. Then all of a sudden they read the legislation. You have to read the legislation in the context of what is there. You can never read legislation in the context of what the minister introduced and said, nor can you read it in the context of what other members of government may say is there. All you can do is read the words and interpret them as best you can.
That is where the shoe starts to pinch. Because the union have read the bill. They understand the words the way they were written. As you progress along through the bill, there are benefits that aren't really in the collective agreements that civil servants have that other workers don't. So when the people leave the Civil Service at the Victoria General Hospital and become employees of the QE II, the benefits may disappear. They are concerned that they are going to disappear. The Minister of Human Resources indicated, no, no, these benefits won't be disappearing, they will keep all the benefits.
Well, if that is his intent, if that is the intent of this bill, let's write the bill to the satisfaction of all those concerned and then all of us will realize that the concern was for nothing because this bill was not going to strip civil servants of the benefits of employment. If that is what the minister has in mind, let's write it so we can all agree on the writing. There are 7,000 people working in health services at the QE II. That is a lot of employees and a lot of concerns. Some of the employees of the Camp Hill Medical Centre, the Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation, the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre and the Victoria General Hospital will become employees of the QE II. Some won't. Which ones are not going to become employed? You see, this is the problem.
There is a great feeling of unrest among health care workers in the province. Does the early retirement package that civil servants have apply to people who are close to collecting it but will become employees of the QE II prior to the date that they become effective? Who knows?
Who is looking out for patient care in this government? Certainly not the introducer of this bill. I want to know, how this bill will help the sick? Where is the care and concern for the sick in this province? There are 35,000 people a year who want to know, because they are the potential patients of this facility in Halifax.
Last year, the Minister of Health told us in this Chamber that we didn't need any legislation to hold amalgamation in Halifax with the four hospitals; we didn't need it, we could just do it. We would just say it is done and it is done and everything just rattles along like a train going down the tracks. But this year, he needs it. That is an example of what happens when the minister doesn't fully look into the situation before he speaks.
November 30, 1994, the minister was indicating that we were going to have amalgamation because we could save up to $50 million in the central region. He couldn't guarantee it to anybody, but he thought $50 million could be saved, and that is what he said last year about this amalgamation. But now, we don't find that the minister is saying it. We find he is saying that we need legislation, and perhaps he can save $15 million - one-third as much as he could save before - and we need legislation to do it.
Who is in charge? We have a bill that one year ago wasn't needed. We have reduced the amount of savings from $50 million to $15 million. Can the Minister of Health find one single piece of paper indicating any of these savings? You see, we can produce, by the truckload, studies that have been done in other centres that will tell you plainly and simply, an amalgamation of this sort is not going to save the kind of money that the Minister of Health is concerned about.
We have been seeing health care deteriorate rapidly for the last two and one-half years. In the region I live in, people feel it is in a crisis situation. We are asking the Minister of Health, from time to time in Question Period, what is going on and I am still not sure. The people I represent aren't sure. Somebody called a little while ago with a severe problem. I was able to make some calls through the departments and I got help, but is that the way the system works? Not at all. You should be able to go to the hospital and they will look after you. But now with the stress that employees are under, because there are fewer employees seeing more patients, less time to see them, and this is a crisis.
These new ambulances that the minister brought to us through legislation, a couple of years ago, are starting to be on the scene now and people are looking at them and saying, $8 million for these things? What are they doing besides transporting people?
Sometimes the minister acts and makes commitments and it is sort of like putting together the kids' toys at Christmas. You pick the toys up and put them together on the 25th and the directions arrive on the 28th, it makes it harder to put them together. That is the way health reform is taking place. We can see it in the Valley, we can see at the QE II. People are concerned, but is the government interested in health care or are they interested in laying off health care workers? That is the question that many people are wanting to know.
Some of the people that will be working shoulder to shoulder in the new facility, their wages are going to be different and they are going to be standing side by side doing the same job. Who is going to decide whether the wage is going to be $25,000 or is it $30,000 - they are doing the same thing - or is it $34,000 and $39,000? You see, the Minister of Health has not been able to tell us, he has probably not thought of it yet. There are statutory rights that civil servants have and QE II employees will not have them. Where does the Minister of Health stand? He is not in the Chamber taking part in the debate. The Minister of Human Resources is.
MR. SPEAKER: That is out of order. Do not get into that line.
MR. ARCHIBALD: I am sorry, I would not do that again. I would not want to be out of order.
The statutory rights, we have to get clarification. It is not fair, we are dealing with 7,000 employees who are concerned for the care of 35,000. Each and every one of us has a friend, a family member that will be going through the QE II facility. We want to make sure that it is going to be there and that the quality of care is as it should be.
Not long ago, our caucus met with some nurses who are working at the Victoria General Hospital. They were describing conditions to us that were very trying, to say the least. They are not able to provide the health care delivery to the patients that they feel they should because they have so many patients and so few employees. At this time, the Minister of Health is going to lay off 2,500 health care employees in Nova Scotia, because he told us that at the press conference that he held down the street at the hotel. Most ministers when the House is in session generally have their press conference right here, but that one was held down the road at a hotel. What purpose did that serve? To tell you and me that 2,500 people were not needed.
That is not what health care workers are telling me. They are telling me that there is a crisis and on top of that, we have the amalgamation and how many people's jobs are targeted. I know you can save some money through streamlining and stop the duplication and nobody will argue with that. How is this bill going to guarantee that health care service in central Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada will be enhanced through the action of this bill? It cannot be, it will not be.
I just picked this thing up. Health care is critical and one of the things that I have is a bingo card that is sponsored by the Nova Scotia Department of Health. I have raised this before in the Legislature. It is still going on, but what in the devil is the Department of Health doing sponsoring a bingo game - and it costs money to do that - when there are nurses being laid off, there are people that need hospital treatment and they are on waiting lists. How is the QE II . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I must caution the honourable member that I don't believe that that bingo game is included in this bill.
MR. ARCHIBALD: No, it certainly isn't.
MR. SPEAKER: All right then, we agree.
MR. ARCHIBALD: We agree and I don't think it should be included in the Department of Health's budget. That was the point.
MR. SPEAKER: All right, but we are not discussing the departmental estimates of the Department of Health, we are discussing this particular bill. It doesn't include the bingo.
MR. ARCHIBALD: No, it doesn't and it shouldn't. The QE II bill is what we are discussing. It is critical that amendments be made in the bill and the Minister of Human Resources has indicated that he is prepared to receive some amendments. I don't know which ones he is prepared to receive. In the media we saw that it was a tight piece of legislation and it was ready to roll the way it was, but today he is starting to realize that there are clauses and there are concerns being raised by Nova Scotians that have to be addressed. I hope that he will listen. There is the threat of a strike vote over this bill. That is pretty serious stuff.
A couple of weeks ago in this Legislature there was another bill that took 175 or something kind of amendments and that went through a press conference to get the amendments. How many amendments is this minister prepared to make to this bill and when are we really going to be talking about health care for Nova Scotians, rather than as the minister indicated, talking about the easiest way to remove civil servants at the VG Hospital from the Civil Service rolls of the province and get them into the QE II?
That is one of the purposes of the bill and that is going to happen. But what about all the benefits that we have seen for those people? They are Nova Scotians and they have rights. It is up to the people like us who are lawmakers to make sure that we don't trod on the people just because we can. We can pass laws in here, we can pass legislation and then the government can make regulations and the people outside have to abide by the decisions that are made in this room and around the Cabinet table.
I hope that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources and some of the Cabinet Ministers will take seriously the concerns that are raised by the union and the individuals who have written. Our Health Critic, Mr. George Moody, received a stack of letters, it is that high, every single one of them with regard to this bill. Have you ever seen such interest in a bill? I don't think so. These workers aren't crying wolf, they mean business and so they should. We have to make sure that they are treated as fairly as we would like to treat ourselves.
AN HON. MEMBER: Is that what you did when you brought the Michelin bill in?
MR. SPEAKER: That is irrelevant. Don't be distracted by rabbit tracks.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the calls of encouragement from other members and I am delighted that they agree with the stance I take on this bill. It is a stance of concern for the employees because I know firsthand the difficulties of employees because some constituents of mine were former employees of the Eastern Kings Hospital. Some of my constituents used to work at the hospital in Berwick and I know the difficulty health care workers have finding alternate employment. We have to have concern for those people, they are Nova Scotians. Just because we can doesn't mean we should be running roughshod over them in the name of health care reform.
I know that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources are interested in providing good health care for Nova Scotians. But you know, how is this bill going to do it? What is this bill going to do for the people in this province that will mean shorter waiting lists, more efficient health care, better diagnostic service? That is not what we are seeing in the bill. That is what the minister talked about when he introduced it and perhaps he thought well, heck, nobody will read it, it is kind of motherhood, we are making things better, nobody will notice.
But you know, it is a funny thing about legislation, people do read it, and then they hire others to read it so that they can read it with the same kind of intelligence and understanding that it requires to know exactly what the bill means because 9 out of 10 Nova Scotians can read the bill and they can say there is nothing wrong with that, it is straightforward. But then you have to realize that the regulations are to follow and then you have to realize that really the bill is not as simple as it would first appear to be. You have to realize that there are ramifications in this bill that go way beyond what the ordinary member of this House or the ordinary citizen in the street might read. You have to realize that provisions in this bill will override agreements, they will override the statutory rights that people have been going to work day after day at the Victoria General Hospital, suddenly they are going to be going back to work some morning and the rights are not there. The pension, the superannuation Act does not apply unless they request it to. The long-term disability doesn't apply.
Now at his press conference the other day the Minister of Human Resources said, it does so, those things that the union is saying are not right. Well look, I am not a labour lawyer . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Are you a lawyer?
MR. ARCHIBALD: No, I am not even a lawyer. Most people in this Legislature are not labour lawyers, most people in this Legislature are not lawyers. But when a labour lawyer starts alerting you and saying you should have a look at this and you should have a look at this, well why don't we, to make sure that we are not putting a hardship on Nova Scotians that they don't deserve.
We have to be more concerned about health care and Nova Scotians than this bill is. This bill amalgamating the hospitals came from nowhere. There is absolutely no study that the Minister of Health has on his desk or in his office that indicates this amalgamation will save five cents. There is not a stick of evidence that this will provide better health care for Nova Scotians, but we are going to have it. There is no point in fighting it, we are going to have it, so we might just as well make the best of it. So if we are going to have to make the best of this, why don't we make the best piece of legislation that we possibly can? Let's look at the suggestions from people, freely given to this government by labour lawyers, by the Opposition, by people who don't have an axe to grind, people who are not working at the hospital but someday may want to go there for treatment.
The stress that health care workers are working under at the present time is enormous. I visited the hospital the other day just to see what was going on. The staff is seeing more patients, the staff is overworked, and there are going to be further reduction in staff. I was talking to one of the people in the hospital and they said, well, burnout is one of the concerns we have, perhaps. You go down in the lab and the tests they are doing, and they have to do them right and they have to do them fast. There is no margin of error in the tests and they want the results as quickly as possible. So let's not compound the problem that workers are having in the health care field by bringing in a bill that takes away the protection that they have just enjoyed.
You know, I tell them you cannot run for office and have your job back. You can run for office, if you get elected good luck, if you do not, see you later. I know there is a lot of us, we run for office and if I get defeated next time, well that is something I will worry about at the time. I do not have anywhere to go. Most people do not enjoy that benefit, but the people who do enjoy it, of a job after trying to get into political office, educators have that enjoyment, civil servants do, but QE II employees will not. It is kind of a shame, but you know that was the least of the worries because most of them do not want to get into public life anyway, but if they did it was there. Sick leave, holidays, vacations, time off in lieu of overtime, job sharing arrangements, modified work week, you know, we are in a time when there are a lot of different hours that people want to work. People's work schedules are very peculiar.
Today when you have two people working in the same family, it is often advantageous to have different hours of work. Is the QE II going to allow that? Not according to this bill. In our office we have two secretaries that job share because we let them do it, but can they do that at the QE II? We are not sure. Leave of absence, maternity leave, parental leave, you know, there are all kinds of statutory rights that people have as civil servants, but these sort of disappear and that is not fair. They will be coming under the Trade Union Act and that is some protection, but it sure is not like being a civil servant.
There are a lot of people in the province that say, well good enough. Let them tough it out. Well, that is not fair. We are legislators. The people at the Victoria General Hospital have had those benefits and they should be carrying on with them. They deserve the same protection, they deserve the same answers and they deserve to be treated fairly. They need answers to their questions and this legislation asks more questions than it answers.
What about retraining? That is a simple enough wish because with all the lay-offs that are coming in health care, with 2,500 jobs out the window, the jobs that become available, employees may need retraining. What kind of benefit are they going to have if they are let go from the QE II, not the same as a civil servant. Long-term disability protection, is the QE II going to have the same as the Victoria General Hospital? I do not think so, but you know the people are going to work today at the Victoria General Hospital, when it becomes part of this QE II they will still be going to work in the same place. Their salary may be reduced, the benefits may disappear. Is this fair? I do not think so.
The Minister of Human Resources said this is just hokum. This is just a fight between three or four unions. One of them trying to jockey for position above the other. It is a turf war. My colleague says he would call it a turf war. Well, you know, let's not try, as a government, to pit one union and one segment of Nova Scotia against the other. It is not right. It is not fair and certainly it is counterproductive for this government and for that minister. What about the enhanced severance packages for these people who are civil servants when they are getting laid off? That will disappear under the QE II. What about mileage? That is a simple little thing, mileage. Some people in the health care field at the QE II are going to be getting mileage, but at what rate? Maybe to you and to me it doesn't make any difference, but by golly, if you are an employee, it makes a difference and you want to know these things. It is just not here in this bill.
What we need is a bill that indicates that this government and this province are dedicated to health care in a straight and orderly fashion. That is what we expected from the minister. That isn't what we received. The minister a few minutes ago was telling us that he has had many meetings with the union, more than anybody that sits in Opposition had. Well maybe he is meeting with them. Maybe he has more reason to meet with them than anybody in the Opposition ever had. Did he ever think of that? I met with the NSGEU representatives several times when I was with the Civil Service Commission. I didn't have any problem meeting with them. In fact, whenever they wanted to meet, all they had to do was pick up a phone and there we were, face to face. I never sat down and had coffee.
AN HON. MEMBER: They always said that about you, George, Brother George.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Brother George. I am sure that is right.
ANOTHER HON. MEMBER: The workers always called your name.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, that is an interesting point. I was part of a government that the NSGEU union leadership did absolutely everything they could to defeat. Maybe that is one of the reasons I am sitting over here. But I do not want a pound of flesh. I do not want to take revenge on the union members. The NSGEU represents people and when people don't get a fair shake and a fair deal, somebody better stand up for them and it had better be the people in this Legislature. I am willing to stand up for them because what is happening I don't think is right. I didn't think it was right, some of the things that the NSGEU were saying about the previous government during the election campaign. I still don't think it is right, and, Mr. Speaker, if you ask some of them today, they will tell you that they don't think it was right either. They sort of got worse than they thought they had.
Anyway, the NSGEU, the Federation of Labour, were writing a letter. They were having all these meetings discussing this Victoria General Hospital becoming independent of the Civil Service. This didn't just happen yesterday. This has been going on for quite some time. The union had been negotiating years ago when I was at management board. They were negotiating directly with the VG as though the VG was independent at the time, even though they weren't. There hadn't been anything to do it. This isn't new.
The Minister of Human Resources has been meeting with them and they are suggesting that a good thing for him to do would be to resign over this bill because they have lost faith in the minister and what he said he would do, compared to what he has actually done. One of the ironic things about this bill, and I can't help think how ironic it is, is because the Minister of Health introduced it but the Minister of Human Resources is defending it. He had a press conference I don't know when.
AN HON. MEMBER: I don't think the Minister of Health was much of a friend there.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, I don't know about friends, but with friends like that, gracious.
I don't recall, Mr. Speaker, maybe you do. Do you recall having a piece of legislation on the floor where a minister had a press conference to explain it? I can't remember that happening before. Sort of like the new math, I guess, this is the new legislation. I don't think it is an improvement on the situation. Probably rather than hold his press conference, I think what he should have done is said, I want to clarify a few things, and by unanimous consent from the floor of the House, we would have given him some time and he could have had his place in here. Then we could have had back and forth questions. That would have been my preference rather than having a press conference to defend it, but at least he held his press conference in this building. The Minister of Health's press conference was way down the highway and he did not tell anybody about it. There are more problems than meet the eye.
Consultations and negotiations in this legislation, but where? Both ministers indicated that we were going to have consultations and negotiations, but you see consultation and negotiation take place before the bill, not after. After this bill becomes law, it is too late, because then you have to wait for the next session of the Legislature, you have to open the Act and you have to put in an amendment and all of it is too much work and we won't do it. If we do it now, when it is going through here, you won't have to do a thing, but just do it, it won't take any longer.
Pay equity, that is one of the things that is interesting. I did not mention it before, I do not know how I kept forgetting to talk about pay equity. The VG employees enjoy pay equity, the QE II does not. They could have, it could have been included in this bill. The collective agreement, the ordinary person reads this, the collective agreements currently in the bill are going to stay the same, no problem. There is more to it than that. There is more to a collective agreement than meets the eye. There are all those other things that civil servants get that non-civil servants do not receive. Just reading it, you do not get the full meaning.
Pay equity at the VG took place. What happens with the QE II? There is something peculiar. The minister said he supports pay equity, believes in it, but yet he did not cover the QE II. Collective agreements will be respected, that is great, but there are parts of the collective agreement that are not going to be respected. It does not say that in the bill and the minister does not say that. There were a lot of meetings between the ministers and the employees and I am afraid most of those meetings were for naught, because what they agreed on or what the union representatives thought they were agreeing on, did not come to pass and that is not fun and it is not fair.
When the Minister of Health introduced the bill, his main thrust was patient care, but truly all the discussions at the press conference, all the discussions from the minister in here, it was not patient care, it has been on benefits, the number of people going to laid off and how we are going to save the money. There is no study that will indicate any savings. For a year and one-half people knew the QE II was coming, even though we thought it did need legislation and it did.
There is also these new regional boards throughout the province and one of the things that is of interest, will the QE II become part of the regional board. We are not sure. We are setting up the biggest hospital east of Montreal, probably and we do not know who is going to be in charge of running it - the central board appointed by the minister or the board of the hospital? You are not sure. Sometimes we hear it is going to under the central region and other times we hear it is going to be independent. It does make a difference and I am sure some day the minister will tell us, but so far, he has not.
How many people are going to suffer before health care becomes the concern of this government? So far, the biggest concern of this government seems to be cutbacks of staff who can provide health care. But, you see, austerity begins at home. In Question Period last week I looked up above and there were seven people who were media consultants of either the Premier or the Minister of Health; seven of them for the whole time that Question Period was on.
There has not been a day, Mr. Speaker, when there have been less than three people from the Premier's Office sitting in the gallery, trying to work the media and the press who are sitting in the gallery.
MR. SPEAKER: Now that is not relevant to the bill, please.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, one of the things that is of concern to me is that on the one hand this government and the minister says we have to save money. Well if one of the reasons that we are going to layoff 2,500 people, maybe 1,000 at the QE II, is to save money, then you have to be consistent. Don't keep hiring people to work as executive assistants, to work as media consultants, to work as special assistants . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Investing in golf courses.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Leave out the golf courses. We have so many people. There is a guy who is going out to hire doctors to come to Nova Scotia; there is a guy who is coming to look after the ambulances, there is another fellow who is a liaison between the minister and doctors. I mean I don't think if all these chairs were empty, the Minister of Health's staff, personal helpers, I don't think we have enough chairs here to fill them.
But the Minister of Health says finances and cutting waste is one of his concerns but yet I look in the gallery and I see behind the press gallery all these people who are working for him. Well if they are sitting there doing nothing, they are not working very hard. So we have to be consistent. Are we saving money in the right way? (Interruptions) Is health care . . .
MR. SPEAKER: We seem to be breaking into disorder. Order, order.
MR. ARCHIBALD: I am not, I am just going right down the middle of the road.
MR. SPEAKER: Please confine your remarks to the bill. The section in the gallery you are talking about is completely empty. Confine your remarks to the bill.
MR. ARCHIBALD: I know, they only fill it up during Question Period. (Interruptions) I'll give you the truth, Mr. Speaker, and I have been giving you the truth. You see when the minister tells us he has a concern for cutting costs, I think austerity should begin with the minister. Until it does, we have a very hollow sound to austerity when I look at the employees that that man has around him. How many people are going to suffer?
Mr. Speaker, last week I received a very concerning letter. It was a copy of a letter that went to the minister from a constituent of mine whose 19 year old daughter has to wait six weeks before she can commence cancer treatments. You know this is where we have to be concerned. Where in this bill, which clause is it that shows me and shows you and the rest of Nova Scotians that that waiting list is going to be shortened and that that person can get treatment sooner, or that anyone can be treated sooner?
This bill only addresses the problem that the Minister of Human Resources sees is divesting this province of civil servants. Now this is a very serious situation. You know you have to be concerned with health care. Why did the government bother to meet with the NSGEU? Why did they sit around the coffee table having a nice, friendly, agreeable chat and agreed on all these things? Then they bring in a piece of legislation that has no bearing on what they agreed to do in the first place.
MR. SPEAKER: All right, order now. The clock has struck six o'clock, so the debate is adjourned for half an hour, until 6:30 p.m.
During this adjournment period, I want to explain to our visitors in the gallery. The House will continue but without a quorum. No quorum is required so there may be only a handful of members here during this half hour supper adjournment. During the time of the adjournment, a member has been selected by the Clerk with a draw to speak and the winner today was the honourable member for Kings West who wishes to debate:
Therefore be it resolved that the Health Minister explain to the people of Nova Scotia how the loss of a minimum of 2,500 health care workers from across the province will not affect our health system.
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I am speaking about a topic that we may not have a quorum in or need a quorum and we do not as the Speaker has indicated. What I am going to talk about is the loss of 2,500 jobs, as the minister has indicated, to our health care system.
The minister, I think, on November 15th said that the loss of 2,500 health care jobs over the next two to three years was a reasonable estimate. The next day the Premier and many of the spin doctors were jumping all over the place singing a different tune. We should not be speculating, said the minister, on numbers even though the minister, himself, had given out the numbers on November 15th.
Mr. Speaker, 2,500 jobs to come out of our heath care system is going to have an effect on the quality of health care. You can talk to anybody from Yarmouth to Sydney to Amherst and the Valley, no matter where you go. You can talk to a friend, you can talk to a relative and they will tell you of some experience they have had with the system, with people being worked off their feet with the number of staff we have now and with the number of beds we have now.
This minister sees no difficulty in taking away 2,500 more jobs. The minister says that we will not, in any way, do anything to hurt the quality of health. He is saying, by taking away 2,500 jobs, we are going to improve that. Not to worry, we are going to have an improved system. You do not have to be much of a mathematician, Mr. Speaker, nice to see you in the Chair, to know that 2,500 jobs out of the system is going to have an effect on the delivery of health care; for the minister to say, week after week, not to worry, I have got the most wonderful home care program in the world, up and running.
Mr. Speaker, I know of an individual who took very ill last weekend. They did a scan in the Valley Regional Hospital, rushed the individual to Halifax where they did some further tests. The doctor spent hours trying to find a bed for that gentlemen in the Victoria General Hospital, without success I might say; not because the physician did not try, at 4:00 a.m. they put the man back in the ambulance and back to the Valley. Then the man has got to come back in again.
Mr. Speaker, let me say this. We can talk about what is important in life. We can talk about how we spend our money. I understand we have a limited amount of money. Everybody understands that. It is that way at home. It is that way all across this country. But there is nothing more precious than human life, there is nothing more precious than a health care system that will do a first-class quality job looking after those in need and none of us know when that is going to be.
I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, we have cut the system in this province. We have cut it to the point that health care workers are working extremely hard. There is not anyone that goes into hospital today that does not say how dedicated those workers are. But every one of those people that go in will tell you that we have a shortage of nurses, a shortage of workers. They will all tell you that. If we are going to take 2,500 more out of the system, and I asked the minister just recently, how many are we going to add to the home care system. He did not know. He does not know what it is going to cost and he does not know how many we are going to add to the system.
Mr. Speaker, he said, I have got proof that waiting lists are shorter. The Minister of Health said he had proof that the waiting lists in 1995 are shorter than they were in 1993 and 1994. He stood in this House on Tuesday, November 21st, and said, "In this province, in 1994, the waiting lists for major surgical procedures have remained the same or have decreased, the first time we have ever done that. That is true; we have the information now.".
We said to the minister, Mr. Minister, if you have that information would you please share it with us? He said, yes, yes. You know what? He has never shared it with us. That is very typical of the Minister of Health, he is always willing to share whatever information he says he has to back up some weird statements that he makes but we never get the piece of paper.
I am a pretty reasonable individual and I say to anyone that I will acknowledge that if I don't have the information, and if someone will bring that information to me I will acknowledge that maybe my information is not correct. To hear the Minister of Health say that he has proof that the waiting lists are shorter, yet the calls that I am getting are telling me they are longer and he won't produce the information, what am I to believe? So I am pleading with the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health says, trust me, but he also says, I will end up giving you this information, which we never ever get.
Less than a year ago, I met with a group of health care workers and there were mostly nurses at that particular meeting. They told me about a situation that I believe summarizes the problem with our Health Minister, the Honourable Ronald Stewart, the problem with his vision of health care. They said, at the same time in this particular hospital, there was a critical shortage of nurses to cover in the ICU. Do you know what the nurses were being asked to do? They were being deployed to conduct a workshop for seniors, so they could protect themselves from the sun. I acknowledge that that is important but, imagine, because the hospital administrators were being forced to put more emphasis on prevention, they were taking nurses out of the ICU, where there was a critical shortage, to instruct seniors on how to protect themselves from the sun.
I acknowledge that prevention is important but we are tearing the real guts out of our health care system. We can talk about prevention and we all know that healthy eating habits, healthy diets, exercise, there are a lot of things we can do, but we all don't do that do we? Some of us don't. You can't make people do things. You can educate them and we all know better, but there is going to be a time when people are going to need the system, unfortunately. If we are going to need the system, I want to be sure that the system is there for my family and friends, for your family and friends, that it is there to do what medical science can do to make sure there is no undue suffering and, in many cases, we actually cure people.
I am hearing about long waiting lists. I am hearing about people having difficulties getting in to see specialists because there are long waiting lists - I know my time is almost up, this is a topic I could speak on, I know, for much longer than 10 minutes - I can tell you that our system under this Minister of Health is in real crisis. At some point we are going to end up with people, as they demonstrated in Cape Breton telling this minister and this government, wait a minute, enough is enough. If you really put value on human life and not totally on the dollar - because we can all find ways where money is being spent - if you really put value of human life, health care will be a priority. I can't think of a better way for government to spend their money than in a compassionate way, to make sure that everyone in this province, from young children to seniors, have the opportunity to receive the best health care possible.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, thank you. It gives me pleasure to join in debate in the late show this evening on this resolution. The resolution does indicate, resolved "that the Health Minister . . .". Obviously the Health Minister isn't here this evening, so with the permission of the House, I will do a little pinch-hitting.
It does address the number of persons involved in health care, which I would like to point out to the House, Mr. Speaker, of course does not just include doctors and nurses, and I am sure the honourable member would agree. Then we speak in terms of the health care system. There are many determinants of good health. As Minister of Community Services, I am quite aware of the issues of poverty and all the other issues of community. It is far more than facilities and bricks and mortar.
What has been lacking, of course, Mr. Speaker, is any kind of an evaluated and a managed health care system. Two and a half years ago this government inherited an open-ended and institutional-based, non-evaluated health care system. I know that the honourable member who just spoke must be terribly frustrated, after the Royal Commission and all those other reports that were available to him and his government, and yet the inaction of the other government. We inherited a legacy of borrowing money to fund our programs, not only our social programs but our health care programs. We are no longer living in that kind of an era, either within our social programs or our health programs, so the system has to be looked at and evaluated.
The number of health care workers is still to be determined. I didn't want to address that number specifically tonight, in the absence of the Minister of Health, but certainly the numbers are speculative at this point. Also, health care workers, as I mentioned, Mr. Speaker, does not necessarily mean all employees affected will actually be health care providers as such; there are many other support services throughout the province.
Reducing staff will not jeopardize Nova Scotia's health care system. That is the commitment made by our Minister of Health and by this government and this government will not allow that to happen. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. Changes are necessary but they will be implemented in a gradual process and they will not happen all at once, Mr. Speaker. This will allow the time needed to establish programs, as they are phased in, programs that are all very much underway at this time.
I assure you that providing quality health care for Nova Scotians is a key objective of health care reform. We will ensure that our health care system is more efficient and cost-effective, in light of the reality of limited resources being available at this time to this government.
Health services are being enhanced and integrated to meet the needs of each community. Every province is going through health care renewal. Nova Scotia is not alone. We are aware of the major announcements in the Province of Ontario yesterday. We are using limited resources more effectively and we are managing this change carefully and wisely. We are involving key stakeholders during the decision-making process. This is essential if we are to continue to provide quality health care.
Providing quality health care is at the forefront of all decisions. We are receiving positive responses from patients. Again, how many times have you heard in the House the anecdotal negatives? I have practised medicine in this province for 30 years, Mr. Speaker, and I know of the waiting lists and the frustrations. We have to work with that and that is part of the system. There are many anecdotal stories and most of them that are brought to this House are negative, but there are many good stories and the media is actually covering some of them. It will continue; there are many good things happening in this province in health care, thanks to our staff and the dedicated workers and the doctors and nurses and all who support those services.
A local newspaper from Cape Breton did report recently a survey of patients at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney and without exception patients said they were highly satisfied with the care. The newspaper also reports that a patient satisfaction with care survey was conduced with 545 of the Victoria General Hospital patients and more than 90 per cent of the patients were either highly satisfied or very highly satisfied with care, with both nurses and physicians getting high ratings. Quality patient care is continuing in this province.
To accomplish our objective, we are involving the community more while, at the same time, enhancing community-based health care services. This is having a tremendous effect on the constant provision of quality health care.
Prior to the health reform, Mr. Speaker, hospitals were the primary source of delivering health care. This is not always appropriate and is not always the most cost-effective or certainly the best for the patient. There are other facilities and services available to benefit the patient, health reform gives us the opportunity to explore those alternatives.
Effective and efficient health care is about focusing on citizens and their needs. It is about enhancing community-based health care services and the true involvement of communities. The establishment of regional health boards, together with the community health boards, demonstrates this government's commitment to increasing the community's involvement in the provision of health care services.
Home Care Nova Scotia is another excellent example, a program that is now available across this province, a program that is filling a need and a demand. The latest admission statistics that I have available show that more than 11,000 clients are currently benefitting from this program. This demonstrates how positively the program is being received. In other words, Mr. Speaker, between June 1, 1995 to September 30, 1995, there was an increase of 4,000 patients admitted to that service, a 57 per cent increase in four months. Home care is growing and it is growing in every region.
More than 1,000 people are employed in Home Care Nova Scotia by the provincial government and through affiliated agencies. This number will grow as the caseload increases. Home care gives patients the opportunity to recuperate at home, for long or short-term periods. It allows for the more efficient use of hospital beds. A renewed health care system will use limited hospital beds more appropriately for acute care. It will demonstrate the benefits for realigning services to optimize quality patient care.
The Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre will exemplify how realigning services will improve the quality of patient care. Patients will spend less time in hospital and benefit from better services. This government's new approach to health care is now underway. It is an approach which emphasizes a gradual, sensible, shift to community-based programming and de-emphasizes an institutional focus. Health reform is the opportunity to access community-based programs, to allow for a more effective and more efficient use of hospital resources.
Health reform is demonstrating how good health does not equate to the number of hospital beds or the number of facilities. That has, for far too long been the determinate that we have inherited, Mr. Speaker, and that has to change. It is about services, about programs, to help people. It is not about bricks and mortar. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this debate today. Let me just say at the outset that the New Democratic Party Caucus has been in favour of and has been advocating for some considerable number of years now, the reform of the health care system, moving it from focused on acute care, from focused on institutions, to being more preventive, moving it into the community, responding very carefully and very sensitively to the needs of people in the community. It has been documented time and time again for some time now that that is the most effective and efficient manner of delivering health care in this province or anywhere else.
So let's put that on the record right off the bat. Now let's talk a little bit about what is happening here in Nova Scotia under the guise of health care reform, Mr. Speaker. For the Minister of Community Services, on behalf of the Minister of Health, to stand up here and say that health care will not be jeopardized or is not being jeopardized as 2,500 people have already been cut out of the system, and they are planning for another 2,500 more, we are talking about 25 per cent of beds since 1993; hospital beds have been cut out of the system.
Yes, we agree that hospital beds in themselves are not an indicator of health care. What it does represent, when you cut out nearly 5,000 health care workers, when you cut out 25 per cent of the hospital beds in this province, Mr. Speaker, what you are doing is you are reducing very seriously the capacity of the health care system to be able to meet the needs of the population. If you talk to people like Geraldine Parsons and her husband Stanley, when you talk to the gentleman that I spoke to a few minutes ago, from Herring Cove, who has had difficulty on a number of occasions recently getting his wife into the hospital for care. There is a whole host of examples of the problems that people are facing as a result of the reduction in capacity of our health care system.
Let us say also and make it very clear that the successes of our health care system are many. The successes are dependent on the people who are working in that system today. They are dependent on the hard work, the extra effort, the commitment that is made by health care practitioners all the way up the line. Those are the people that are making the health care system what it is today, even under the extreme stress and burden that it is being faced with. For this government to not acknowledge the fact that this system and the people operating within it are working under such extreme levels of stress, that in many cases, it is breaking down through no fault of those people that are providing health care.
One of the bench-marks that this government uses to show that it is moving in that direction of reforming the health care system is bed utilization. If people do not stay in hospital beds very long or the shorter the time, then that is a good sign. I have talked to a number of physicians, specialists included, in this province who have said to me, one of the biggest problems that we are facing in this province right now is the fact that people are not staying in the hospital long enough. They are being released to their homes, to their communities without the proper care being put into place and without having recuperated. The problem and the reality is that then when they get in that situation, it takes twice as long for them, in fact, to recuperate. That affects many people in terms of their ability to contribute to the economy, their ability to contribute to their household, their ability to be productive members of their family and of their community and that is something we have to consider.
The most serious failure of this government is that while it has been hacking and slashing at the health care system, while it has been sucking millions of dollars out of the health care system, while it has been reducing beds, while it has been reducing workers by the thousands, they have not put adequate care, adequate services in place in the community. Just a moment ago, as the Minister of Health is wont to do, as the Premier does on many occasions, to stand up and talk about what a wonderful home care system we have in our communities. They talk about the utilization rate of that home care system. Let me tell you, there are a lot of communities in this province, including Glace Bay, for example, where the physicians who are left, are saying that the home care system is simply not adequate. It is just absolutely not good enough to be able to shut down the capacity of the hospital to care for residents of the community and not put something in place in the community and then to say that we are reforming the health care system.
I think what you are finding is that more and more people, from one end of this province to the other, are beginning to realize that the only way this government is going to listen to the concerns that they have to the problems with something that is so critically important to our communities, not just because of the fact it is a matter of our own health and the health and well-being of our families, it also has to do with the kind of health care system that we have in Nova Scotia and in this country defines what we are as Canadians and as Nova Scotians. As a result of actions of this government, as a result of actions of the federal government and the cutting and slashing that is happening, that very system of health care, is in jeopardy. That is something that Nova Scotians are beginning to realize, that they are going to have to stand up and show this government in ways that they will not forget.
I attended, as I indicated earlier, a rally that was held in Sydney, Cape Breton, a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday. It was called with very few days notice, but over 3,000 people marched from the mall to the steelworkers hall and met together in that forum to raise their concerns and to pass their concerns on to this Legislature, Mr. Speaker, about what they believe was happening to their health care system and that was the destruction of the very health care system that we have become so proud of.
We need to deal with the realities that are facing our province and our country in terms of the large deficits, in terms of the priorities, in terms of how we are going to spend money. But I, as a Nova Scotian, many tens of thousands of Nova Scotians, and many hundreds of thousands of Canadians, believe that the priority has to be our health care system. We have to protect our health care system. We have to ensure that no more health care workers are cut out of this system.
We have to ensure that if we are going to move our system from being based on acute care, from being based on institutions that we move it into the communities in an orderly and in a responsible manner, that we take people who are now providing valuable experienced, skilful health care in our institutions, that we ensure that those people move into the community-based system so that their experience, skills, knowledge and dedication is not lost to all of us. Those tens of thousands of people in this province and across the country who have dedicated so much to the health care system in this country deserve nothing less.
They deserve the kind of protections that ensure that their commitment is not lost, that their dedication and their experience is not lost, Mr. Speaker, not like what is happening right now before us with the bill to merge the four tertiary care institutions into the QE II, Mr. Speaker. What is being done to the Victoria General Hospital employees, managers and union personnel alike, is completely unconscionable. If we are going to be a fair and humane society then we have to ensure that we treat everyone equally and what this government is doing is not treating the employees at the Victoria General Hospital fairly and that is going to have an impact on the delivery of health care in the Province of Nova Scotia. I, for one, am not going to let this government get away with it that easy. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. BRUCE HOLLAND: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter into this debate for a moment tonight. I know that the debate ranged much wider than what the resolution suggests, Mr. Speaker.
There seems to some of the Opposition, not all and I think that some members understand this, that the number of 2,500 and that is what the resolution says, that the minister explained how health care will not be affected by the reduction of 2,500 people out of the health care system. That is not exactly what is going to happen. We will not know how many people will take the early retirement package or some of the other plans or programs that have been developed under the agreement for health care workers in this program.
We are not exactly sure how many of those workers will end up in the Home Care Program that is being constantly developed. We have doubled the number of people in that program, who are, instead of in a hospital bed in a hospital, are at home convalescing and are receiving quality care from health care workers in this province, Mr. Speaker.
So I think it is a little bit presumptuous to just pick a number out of the air and say that the health care system will have that fewer workers in the system (Interruption) Well, I do not think that number came from him. Those were some numbers, Mr. Speaker, that came from members of the Opposition and now they attribute that to the minister because I think he went a long way to say that they were not. That was not the number and thank you, I appreciate the time that I have had. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Okay, we will call the House back to order.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
Bill No. 47 - Queen Elizabeth II Health Scinces Centre Act. [Debate Resumed]
MR. SPEAKER: When we adjourned, the honourable member for Kings North had the floor.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I just have a few minutes left. What is it, 10 or 15 minutes?
MR. SPEAKER: You have five minutes.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Time flies when you are in this place. Mr. Speaker, it is with great mixed feelings that I am going to speak on Bill No. 47 for five minutes because Bill No. 47 could have been a bill that Nova Scotians would be proud of. Had we received the bill that the Minister of Health spoke about when he introduced it, it would have been a bill that we would have supported. But somewhere between the flowery address and the words that the Minister of Health put together, we received something else. What we received was an attack on health care, an attack on the Civil Service, an attack on the employees of Nova Scotia. That is what we received.
The Minister of Human Resources had a press conference the other day. He said the purpose of this bill is to remove the civil servants who work at the Victoria General Hospital from the Civil Service rolls. That was the purpose of the bill. Well then why didn't he introduce it? You can chuckle over there but that is what he said and I couldn't believe my ears when he said it so I wrote down the quote and I wrote down the time, 2:31 p.m., November 28th. That is what he said at his press conference, to get the VG workers out of the Civil Service. Why, to save money? What other explanation could there be.
So this isn't a health bill. This isn't a bill that is going to help the sick and the injured. This is a bill that is going to help, supposedly, the Minister of Finance. There is no study anywhere in Nova Scotia that the Minister of Health can hold up and say, here, this is where we can save money and this is where we are going to get better health care, no study. The Minister of Health heard that there was a Royal Visit coming and he wanted a picture, a photo opportunity with the Queen and he said how can I do it, what can I do? It came to him like a bolt of lightening, I am going to amalgamate the hospitals, name it after the Queen and I am going to have my picture taken and hang it on my wall. That was the driving force for this bill. The driving force for this bill should have been, better health care for Nova Scotians.
The Minister of Health can't even provide anybody in this Chamber or anybody in Nova Scotia with a cost. We have heard estimates anywhere from $100 million to $500 million to haul them all together, moving equipment. When you start moving an MRI machine you just don't back up with a trailer and get a couple of fellows to heave it on the back and drive away. It is not like moving a refrigerator out of one house to another. We are not moving furniture, fellows, this is highly technical equipment. He said he had to save duplication. How much duplication is there at the Cancer Treatment Centre? I can tell you there is none because the people can't even get in to get treated once, let alone be treated twice.
The waiting list in this province is horrendous and it is growing daily. The Minister of Health admitted that in the House the other day and how will this bill solve this problem? It will not. The Minister of Human Resources was telling the truth when he said the purpose of this bill is to get the VG workers out of the Civil Service and as far as he was concerned, that was it. Where is the concern of this government for the people of the province?
What about the workers? Are they even being considered in this equation? The workers are being run roughshod by this bill, that minister and this government and each and every member of this Cabinet and their caucus should stand up and demand changes in this bill and the removal of the Minister of Health. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening and make my contribution to second reading of Bill No. 47. Bill No. 47 is essentially to form the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. Now when the Minister of Health gave his prelude to making the motion to move the bill for second reading, I listened very carefully to the comments he made and the minister talked in terms of generalities. He talked about his philosophy. The Minister of Health was not detailed and was not specific at all and he asked us and he asked Nova Scotians to have confidence in this piece of legislation.
Now after reading the bill, Mr. Speaker, and there are some 26 clauses in the bill, it is a very comprehensive document, it is extremely hard to have a lot of confidence in what the minister is asking us to have confidence in. Now the minister talked during his comments, in his forward to moving the bill to second reading, about a patient load of some 35,000 people on an annual basis. So with the public as patient, we are going to have thousands of people that are going to be dependent upon the new QE II Health Sciences Centre.
Now I think it is important that we all recognize for just a moment what we are talking about here. We are not talking about herding a bunch of cattle out of one barn into a new barn - out of an old barn into a new barn - we are talking about human beings. We are talking about their lives and we are talking about the health care that we are going to provide for those people. So it is very important that we do it right.
This is going to be - I would suggest by everybody's admission in this place - the biggest, the largest adult referral centre in the Maritimes, in eastern Canada perhaps, Mr. Speaker. We are going to provide care for people in need. When you are talking in terms of thousands of people, you are going to be providing care for a lot of people. There is no question about it. What is the sense in coming forward with legislation if we can't better serve the needs of our community. We have to enhance areas where improvement must be made.
Mr. Speaker, I know you recognize that there are a number of areas in the province where we must enhance health services and health care. I can think of areas in my own constituency that certainly reflect what the minister is talking about when he talks about enhancing health care. I did mention the other day I was extremely concerned and in this legislation there is nothing that represents this: there is an acute shortage of neurosurgeons.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I made it clear to the Minister of Health during an amendment that we had an amendment to go to Community Services, and I asked the minister how many neurosurgeons there were in the province. I believe at that time he indicated that there were six, perhaps seven. Maybe there are only two. We asked the Minister of Health if he would table a list of names of the neurosurgeons in this province, not to be confused with neurologists, but neurosurgeons. We believe that there are only two in this province right now and that is a travesty. There are people waiting, long line-ups and if we are going to come up with a system that supports what the Minister of Health is saying, and that is that this system is going to better serve the needs of a community, then this legislation darn well better reflect that.
Now, I want to commend the workers at the present four hospitals. They are very dedicated, committed individuals who work under very trying and sometimes stressful conditions. I really don't know about the hourly shifts, Mr. Speaker, but I would assume that a number of those individuals work in 12 hour shifts and when they get home to their partners they also have a lot of work to do. They have families to feed, they have certain financial commitments, the same as the rest of us. They woke up not too many mornings ago to find out that perhaps 2,500 of their colleagues were going to lose their jobs.
That is a sad commentary, Mr. Speaker. If you were a CNA or a PCW or an RN or support staff, clerical, administration, what have you, all the different people who provide health care in this province are in a very profound state of consternation. Nobody knows whose job is safe and whose job is not.The Minister of Health has never produced a document that is definitive, as it relates to the employment of the health care providers in this province.
Now it is important, and the minister has stated that it is important and we have emphasized time and time again how important it is that the employees of the facilities be given equal and fair treatment.
Now we did have an opportunity to tour the new facility, as a caucus. I want to tell you myself, I was extremely impressed with the new hospital and I think most of my colleagues would agree. But we can't merge and weld these four hospitals together without fully knowing the ramifications. How is the patient going to be impacted, Mr. Speaker? Nobody knows how the patient is going to be impacted. Nobody really knows how the employees are going to be impacted. So it is extremely difficult to adhere to the minister's statements when he asked us to have confidence in what he is doing.
The minister talked about savings of $15 million. Now $15 million, by anybody's imagination, is an extremely large amount of money. I think it is important that the minister produce a document where he can clearly identify where the savings are going to come from. Mr. Speaker, $15 million shouldn't be taken lightly. If the minister can produce a document, that adds a lot of credibility to the merger because no doubt, we will be cutting some duplication, that, perhaps that is worthwhile and perhaps needs to be supported. When the minister gets up and doesn't really address the legislation, then we have very real reason to be concerned.
Now there are 26 clauses in the bill and I could think that perhaps each clause has 26 problems and that makes for a lot of questions that need to be answered relative to this legislation. We don't know if the new Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre will come under the Central Regional Health Board; the employees don't know, the public doesn't know. It is extremely important that those people be told who is going to be responsible for the day-to-day operation of this facility. We are talking about a multimillion dollar facility and, as we are speaking, we don't know if it is going to have its own board or if it is going to come under the central board. Those things are fundamental.
Here we have a public policy that doesn't represent that at all. Madam Speaker, I say with all respect, that is absolutely disgraceful.
Now there has been a lot of talk about cost-cutting and reform and things of that nature. I honestly believe that the Minister of Health, in his own mind, believes that he is reforming the health system, because every time he cuts costs, he is reforming. But reform and cost-cutting are two different entities. When you are taking away somebody's benefits and perhaps long-term disability and things of that nature, is that the type of reform we want? Is that the type of reform we need in this province?
We have an incredible infrastructure in place here at the present time. We have four facilities that, I think, for the most part are functioning pretty well. We have human resources that are working extremely hard. Now we are going to merge the four different facilities into one unit and we are going to come up with the Queen Elizabeth II Health Science Centre. It is just not that simple. There are labour packages, details of packages like that, that have not been worked out at all. When you are talking multi-hospital arrangements, you are talking about changing the livelihood of a lot of health care providers. Now the minister has told us that anywhere from 800 to 1,000 could lose their job and the Minister of Human Resources has told us there is protection for those employees. I do not doubt that in the Minister of Human Resource's mind perhaps he feels there is protection provided.
When one examines the legislation - and, believe me, the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union are no fools. When they get a statement of good intentions from the Minister of Health or the Minister of Human Resources, that is all it is, a statement of good intentions and that is not sufficient at all. The Minister of Health, when he gave his prelude to moving on this bill for second reading, addressed the philosophy of the merger, but he did not give us very many details relative to the bill itself. He did not tell us how it would affect the worker and he did not tell us for sure how it would affect the patient and that is what we want to know. How is it going to better serve the patient? It is important that the impact of this legislation be clearly understood.
We all believe in being financially responsible. We believe that there are times, in fact, there are a good number of times, when austerity and self-discipline and restraint are needed. Those sorts of things start at home, there is no question they start at home. When you are developing public policy, it is important that the information is clearly understood. It is put forward so all Nova Scotians have a handle, if you will, on just what we are saying here.
I understand that the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union are prepared to strike over this piece of legislation. I know the government does not design it this way and it does not just happen to be something that they work towards, but it seems lately that every time there is a piece of legislation that comes into this House, there is somebody ready, willing and able to stand up for their rights. If that means going out on a walk-out or taking strike action, then by gosh, surely the government should look at what they are doing. You just cannot come in and change the lives of Nova Scotians overnight and expect not to hear any rumbling, so to speak.
The Nova Scotia Government Employees Union is calling on the government to make major amendments to this piece of legislation. The Minister of Human Resources and the Minister of Health have indicated that they really do not have any intention of making any substantive amendments to this legislation. I suggest that if they do not make necessary changes to this legislation, we are going to have an unwanted strike on our hands. It is that serious.
Government claims, and, in fact, they told us last week, that the legislation does respect existing collective agreements and labour relation principles but the employees are telling us that it doesn't respect existing collective bargaining rights and labour relation principles. Who are we to believe? The Minister of Health asked us to have confidence in him but he wouldn't give us any specifics.
When the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union is speaking, they point out the clauses, they tell you what the language means and they have labour lawyers who are very skilled and they tell us what the legislation means. I, for one, choose to believe what the NSGEU is saying at this time, they are very concerned. They are not doing this for their health, they are not doing this just to come over to the Legislature to talk about the weather, they are doing it because they are very concerned about their livelihood.
Most all of the employees, health care providers and there are different unions representing the health care workers but all of those unions and all of those employees are very concerned because most of them do have partners and dependents. I think I pointed out in speaking on an amendment that I supported that this bill go to the Community Services Committee that all of these employees have groceries to put on the table, they have financial commitments, they have their phone bill, the light bill, the odd Sears bill, gas bills, car payments, the same bills we have, mortgage and so on and so forth. So why wouldn't they be concerned? We are talking 800 to 1,000 jobs will be lost as a result of one piece of legislation that contains 26 clauses.
I have spoken with the Minister of Health informally and he has been very kind to provide information that he has but he owes it to the health care worker to provide them with additional information. They are saying that the principles of this legislation just aren't good enough, they just don't cut it with the health care provider in this province. When an employee is displaced or removed from their job it is certainly a shock to the system. You begin to wonder and many of the employees are beginning to wonder and have been wondering now for some time as to whether or not they will be the unlucky one to lose their job.
We have seen Nova Scotians in the public sector lose their jobs more often that we would like. I know the government, believe me, has to make some difficult decisions and difficult choices must be made. It is important when you make these decisions that you consult with the very people who are going to be affected by those decisions.
The Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre, I have had the opportunity to be in there two or three times, it is a fine facility. I understand the Rehab Centre will operate much the same as it presently does but there are people at the Rehab Centre who may be transferred to the new facility and they could be walking shoulder to shoulder with somebody who is performing the same task that they are doing but there will be different wages, there could be and there most likely will be. That is going to cause a certain amount of animosity among employees.
I know the Minister of Human Resources will tell us that that is not the case but the language in the bill tells us that will be the case. So we have got to be concerned, the Minister of Human Resources and that Cabinet should be concerned. Again, I would submit that the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union are no fools and their president is no fool. They will be prepared to strike if big changes aren't made to this legislation.
We also are terribly concerned about the health care that the patient is going to receive at the new facility. The minister, when he gave his comments before he moved the bill off to second reading, he talked in generalities and talked about better serving the needs of the community and things of that nature. He expressed his concern that the patient must receive top quality care. You know, the patients at this new hospital will come from different areas in the Maritimes. You could have patients from Prince Edward Island, patients from New Brunswick.
I would suggest that the Department of Health, perhaps, or whoever that board may be that looks after this new facility will receive some compensation from the other provinces. I guess more important than that, Madam Speaker, is what does this bill do for the patient care in this province? Where is the study that indicates that the patients will benefit from this merger? There has to be a study. There must be some study done. There was no cost benefit analysis done. We understand that because we asked for the cost benefit study to identify where the $50 million was saved. Where is the study that indicates that patients will benefit from this merger? Without a study how does anyone really know what will happen?
We have seen the results of poorly planned amalgamation in other areas, Madam Speaker, and staff at the facilities have been anxious because this has been looming over their head for a year and a half now. We do not know if the centre will come under the regional board and we do not know if it will not. These things are fundamental. We have been given, however, indications that it will come under the regional board, but on the other hand we have been given indications that it will not. How many people have to suffer before it finally hits home that the safety and the well-being of our people must be the number one concern?
I would like to talk a little bit about cancer waiting lists, Madam Speaker. The minister tells us . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I am not so certain that cancer waiting lists are really in the bill. I think you should direct your comments to the contents of the bill.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. As you well know, the bill here contemplates the merger of four institutions. One of the four institutions to be merged into the new QE II Health Sciences Centre is the Cancer Research and Treatment Centre. We are discussing the principle of the bill. The principle of the bill, along with the merger, as per the remarks made by the Minister of Health when he introduced the legislation, is the level, quality, kind and extent of service that would be provided to those needing the services of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. One of those services will be one of the fundamentally important services offered and delivered through the cancer research facility. I respectfully submit to you that it is vitally important for us to understand, as we debate this legislation, what the impact will be relative to the delivery of cancer treatment and research if this merger goes through.
We know the experience of the cancer research and treatment facility as it exists now. With the greatest respect, it is completely within the ambit of the principle of this bill to discuss the potential cancer delivery service in the event that this bill should pass. I would respectfully ask you to consider or reconsider the comment that you have just now made to come to the conclusion that some reasonable, if the member goes on at too great a length and maybe that is one thing, but clearly the way in which, the extent to which and the manner in which cancer treatment will be delivered may well be affected by the fact that that institution will be merged with the other three. I say to you with respect that it is completely on all fours with a discussion of the principle of this bill.
MADAM SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member for his point of order. I do not consider it to be a point of order. The member was preparing to speak on potential waiting lists. He was not speaking on the potential delivery of service and if the member wants to put his remarks in the framework of the delivery of service whether you discuss rheumatology, oncology, cancer, neurology that is fine, but you are going into a hypothetical future waiting list and that is what I am telling you is not acceptable to the discussion in second reading of the bill.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for that refreshing ruling.
There will be, of course, and at the present time there are waiting lists for cancer treatment. I don't think that is being hypothetical at all. There are also rehab waiting lists. I don't think it is too hard for one to go back in time, and we can think back when, in fact, the number of beds at the Rehab Centre was increased from 62 to 63 to treat a certain individual and then the number dropped back to 62. We don't know if that is going to be the case when the four facilities merge, but that is one possibility, maybe there will be some flexibility in the policy of the new Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.
But the labour package does not deal with many situations that are critical to a smooth transition. One of the principles in this bill is the transition; it has to be the transition when you are merging four facilities. So I honestly believe that the government may be, again with all respect, Madam Speaker, passing the buck to a non-elected board that will be forced to cut salaries, cut benefits, to live within their operating budget. The government will tell us it is up to the board; they cut the benefits, they cut the salary, and it will make the board look like the bad person. That is just not good enough.
Now as we understand it, all employees are to become employees of the corporation. Now if all employees are going to become employees of the corporation, what does that tell us about management? Does that include management? Who knows?
We talked a little bit about the NSGEU and the people who serve under the NSGEU. Has it ever been indicated to those employees as to what will happen to their Public Service awards? Have we ever talked about as to whether or not those employees quality for early retirement?
Now I don't know what the package contains, I will be very honest, Madam Speaker, but I would suppose if a certain number of years of employment and your age add up to a certain number, you will quality for early retirement. But has anybody been told? What happens to their Long-Term Disability Plan? As we understand it, once the collective bargaining agreement, once the time lapses and expires - and I don't want to fearmonger - but the Long-Term Disability Plan may be repealed, it may stop. Nothing in the legislation tells us otherwise.
The Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources have not told us otherwise, although the Minister of Human Resources has told us there will be employee protection in the legislation; again I suggest and submit that that is merely a statement of good intention and the language in the bill does not reflect that. Labour lawyers have indicated that the language in the bill does not represent that. So there are many areas to be concerned with respecting this piece of legislation.
I mentioned previously about workers working shoulder to shoulder with each other - and they will do a good job - they may work for a different wage but they will do a good job. But the fact of the matter is that there is a wage differential between the NSGEU employee and the Nurses' Union. I believe it is the NSGEU employee who makes a few dollars more than their counterparts at the Nurses' Union. Now will the Nurses' Union receive an increase to bring them up to the same pay scale as those who work for the NSGEU? The Nurses' Union is extremely concerned about that because we all believe in pay equity, or at least I hope everybody in this House believes in pay equity.
If you perform a task and another individual does that same task for pay, they both must make the same wage. The Nova Scotia Nurses' Union and the Camp Hill Nurses' Agreement has a no-layoff-due-to-amalgamation clause. Is that clause going to be respected? Maybe the Minister of Human Resources would want to respond to that, but I have no idea and the Nurses' Union have asked the question, will the no layoff clause be respected?
I have an idea and, again, I do not want a fearmonger, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Labour Relations Board may just simply dismiss that clause. That is not being far out, it is possible and the precedent has been set, because down at the Cape Breton Regional Municipality amalgamation, it connotes the same sort of meaning. We have seen where no layoff due to amalgamation was not respected and those clauses should be respected.
Another category of employees I did mention just briefly, was management employees or MCPs. What happens to the management employees? Management employees are quite concerned. They have, probably, good reason to be concerned. It was not too long ago that the Liberals, when they were in Opposition, were condemning the previous provincial administration for building the hospital and now they are taking great pleasure telling us what a great facility it is and it is a great facility. I will not argue with the Liberals on this one, because we had a tour and it is a beautiful facility.
There are many questions relative to this legislation and I did start to talk about the cancer waiting list and there is cancer treatment waiting lists now. What will the legislation do to shorten those lists, if anything? The minister has indicated that he believes it will, in fact, he was quite emphatic in stating that the waiting lists are getting shorter. We are hearing from some constituents that the waiting lists are getting longer. On the one hand we have the Minister of Health telling us that the lists are getting shorter and on the other hand we have the public, as patients, saying they are getting longer.
Not so long ago, we heard a case where a person was moved around from, I think, it was nine different rooms in two days. I know that does not happen every day or at least, I hope it does not happen. What will this legislation do to prevent a patient from being moved around 9 or 10 different times and 9 or 10 different rooms in two days. We are also concerned as to what the moving costs are going to be when the new facility is merged. We have heard a lot of figures floated around here and the moving costs will be quite substantial and we also understand that there are to be more renovations done to the new hospital. What are the capital costs for those renovations going to be? We have heard some figures mentioned here, but at this point, I guess it is anybody's guess. We do know that the costs will be millions and millions of dollars.
Because we do not know what board is going to be responsible for the QE II Sciences Centre, it is extremely hard for the employees at this time, to go and talk to their board and ask the questions that must be answered. There are just so many questions that must be asked.
When this government came to power there was a lot of talk about health reform. I have to tell you, the public opinion, I believe, I don't know how widespread and how rampant it runs but public opinion seems to indicate that health care has deteriorated, it has declined, it has regressed since this government came to power. We tried in Question Period to ask questions about waiting lists, about neurologists, about neurosurgeons and Question Period is rightly named because it certainly isn't answer period. We haven't receive the type of good quality answers that Nova Scotians are demanding.
In Opposition, we do have a job to examine legislation that is before us. We do have a job to monitor that legislation and give it careful scrutiny. That is what we have done, that is what the Nurses' Union has done and that is what the NSGEU has done and they are not happy with this legislation. I would like to be able to support this legislation because health care is so important in this province. I think there is a chance with some substantive amendments to make this legislation palatable, I think it can be saved. In its present form it is absolutely unacceptable and in some cases, it is absolutely unbelievable. Madam Speaker, with those comments, I will take my place and listen very attentively and I will be heedful of the next speaker. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: Before I recognize the next speaker I would like to comment on a point of privilege that was raised earlier this afternoon. I have had the opportunity to research the record and am able to rule that it was not an appropriate point of privilege. It was a dispute between two honourable members as to the facts at the time.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise and speak this evening on Bill No. 47. I can't say I welcome the opportunity because what I would have preferred would have been to see some common sense prevail and to see a lot of the issues that are before us and the problems with the bill having been through discussion processes and to know that those serious problems haven't been addressed, and as a result, we would be able to be supporting the bill quickly to move forward.
There are a number of items, a lot of things in this bill, principles and issues that I would like to touch on, some of which may have been touched on by others, some others not. First of all, one of the things that I want to talk about is supposedly the independence. We are hearing that the purpose of this bill as being stated, is to improve the quality of health care in Nova Scotia. Mark my words, the very important and valuable health care facilities that are being amalgamated and merged are important to all Nova Scotians, not just to the residents who live in the Halifax, Dartmouth and surrounding areas.
I know when I had the - I don't know if I should say privilege because when you need the services of a hospital it is not a privilege to have to go there - privilege of receiving the excellent care at the Victoria General Hospital a number of years ago, there were many who were on the same floor as I, in the Emergency Department and so on, from many areas around the province. So what is being done here in terms of the health care system isn't only relevant to the residents who live in the immediate area, it affects all Nova Scotians and the health care of all Nova Scotians.
They are suggesting that this is setting up an arm's length, like an independent, corporation run by a board separate from the government. Therefore, of course, since it is separate from the government, those who are working for this independent body, this independent corporation, would not be civil servants. The reality is that while they may say that it is not an agent - this corporation - of the government, the reality is, it is still through the board controlled by this government and successive governments and will be. So they do not have the total independence. Their policies and procedures, things that they are going to follow can still be dictated and controlled by the government.
Why do I say that? I say that because the bill says that the majority of the members of the board shall be appointed by the Governor in Council including, Madam Speaker, the chair of that board. So the government has control through the appointment of the chair and the majority of members on that board. Although it was a totally different matter, many years ago, we used to have appointed school boards and there were incidents where government appointed school board members were not doing the bidding that the government wanted. So the government fired those school board members to appoint new ones who would toe the line that they were being given by the government of the day.
Madam Speaker, this legislation provides the opportunity for the Governor in Council not only to appoint the majority of the board members and through that to have control, it also says that, Clause 6(7), ". . . the Governor in Council may remove, suspend, reinstate or replace . . . at any time.". So the control is there. That is an established fact in the legislation. (Interruption) I don't think I will need that for my remarks, certainly, at the moment.
The government says that this so-called merger of the Victoria General Hospital, the Camp Hill Medical Centre, the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre, the Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation to form this Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre - I think they are going to have larger plaques and so on. I can't imagine how that is going to be easily put on one sign. You are going to have to have a magnifying glass to read it, the name is so long. It is certainly going to take quite the stamps to put that label on all the items, as well. The name aside, it is supposedly to make it more efficient.
Madam Speaker, when you take a look at the bill, and I have read through it on numerous occasions. I have it underlined, I have it highlighted. Quite honestly, I see very little in this bill that has anything at all to do, or states that it does, with improving health care for the citizens of Nova Scotia. That probably explains why it is, quite honestly, that the agenda of this bill in terms of responses, in terms of press statements, et cetera, has been taken over by the Minister of Human Resources, rather than being done by the Minister of Health, who is the mover of this bill. This bill doesn't deal with and doesn't talk about health care. It talks about setting up boards, it talks about collective agreements, it talks about and points out how benefits are going to be removed but it certainly does not deal with the issue of health care.
Now it provides for the establishment of this one QE II Health Sciences Centre. It is already there, the plaques are up, the photos were taken, an interim board was appointed even though there was not the authority to appoint that board, a question that I raised at the Human Resources Committee when that board was being appointed. I asked, where is the authority to appoint this board; the minister said, we have the authority; I asked, based on what; the answer was, we don't know but the minister said we can do it. (Interruption)
If you check the records, Madam Speaker, and I am trying to be helpful to the minister who is asking that question if he wants to go back and check the minutes of that Human Resources Committee, I think I will either owe an apology or the matter won't be raised because the authority did not exist. But there was a decision to move ahead, whether you have the authority or you don't. They didn't even have a plan and they didn't even know that they didn't have the authority to appoint the board that they are appointing.
It starts off on rather shaky ground because you wonder, how much have they looked into things. How thoughtful has this process been to date? Madam Speaker, we are told - we haven't seen anything to back it up, just like the authority to appoint the board - but we are told that this is supposedly going to be saving all kinds of money, millions of dollars, just like the Cape Breton amalgamation was supposedly going to be saving millions of dollars. The taxpayer who is going to see major increases next year, really appreciate those savings.
We are told that this is going to save millions of dollars. Where? Let us see the plan, let's see the projection, let's see what it is based upon. Is it based simply upon closing down hospital beds? We have already seen across the Province of Nova Scotia hundreds of beds closed, hundreds in the metro area alone and more to come. And where are the replacement services? Where are those services that are supposedly taking the place of the services being shut down? Where is this in-home support?
If the health care system is not going to be going through more upheaval so that those who are in need of those services are going to be disadvantaged as a result of it, where is the detailed plan as to how this is going to be done? Number one, the greatest issue of most importance is the quality of health care that the people in this province receive. Madam Speaker, I have, for the love of me, no idea why this bill would fall under the Department of the Ministry of Health because it doesn't talk about it at all. It contains no plan, no outline, we have not seen anything at all that shows how health care is going to be reformed and improved.
Madam Speaker, we in our caucus very much support health care reform if health care reform is going to be done in an open, up-front, honest, fair way, which is going to be improving the quality of health care that citizens in this province receive and, tied in with that, of course, because if you are going to be having it done in a proper way, that is going to mean being respectful of those who are delivering that service. Instead, what we have seen is taxpayers' dollars wasted on advertisements that are less than fair, less than honest.
Madam Speaker, I know that I cannot say in this House that a member of this House is misrepresenting something deliberately or not. You know, I do not think that there is anything that prohibits me from saying that the Government of Nova Scotia, outside of this place, has done something which is a misrepresentation of the facts. Outside of this House the government has indeed done just that, indeed done that very thing, and spent taxpayers' dollars that could have been used in the health care system to propagate their propaganda and their untruths. (Interruption)
You know, when they start to howl, you have hit a nerve and, obviously, I have hit a bit of a nerve with some on the government benches. What we have seen is this government, instead of trying to sit down in an open, fair and honest manner, to try to sooth fears and concerns and to resolve disputes, this government has, quite honestly, involved itself in a provocative way, taken on a provocative strategy and trying to inflame the difficulties. That kind of behaviour, which I would tend to put into the category of being reprehensible, places a satisfactory and a successful merger in jeopardy.
Madam Speaker, throughout all of what we are talking about, we have to and we should be bearing in mind the quality of health care that will be provided. We have in the Province of Nova Scotia a very loyal dedicated staff working in our health care facilities, not only in those that are to be merged, but across the province. Dedicated, working under very adverse conditions often, struggling with long line-ups, with inadequate resources on many occasions, to ensure that those who are brought before them do in fact receive prompt attention and care. They are extremely frustrated when they see that they cannot provide the care and attention that those who are brought to them need, and provide it in a timely fashion.
Those who work in the health care system are not opposed to change. They are not saying that we have a system now, it is cast in stone and we will accept no changes. Quite to the contrary. They are dedicated professionals, health care workers. Whether they work as technicians, nurses, nursing assistants, cleaners or in the kitchens, whatever areas of the facilities, Madam Speaker, those from whom I have heard and with whom I have spoken and my caucus has spoken are indeed concerned about, number one, the quality of health care that can be provided.
You know, they also want to be respected. They want to be treated as fairly as possible and they want to be recognized as important partners in the health care system.
I don't know why this government would consider for a minute that that is too much to expect. Surely to Heavens those who have given 10, 15 or 20 years or 20 months of their life in the work world in service to the people of this province through the health care system deserve to be treated with respect and deserve to be listened to and have the honest facts placed on the table, not misrepresentations. They don't deserve to have members of the government dismiss their concerns and be provocative towards them.
Madam Speaker, the concerns of which we speak don't only affect unionized workers but they affect the management as well because many of those in the management positions, particularly those who are currently civil servants, also under this legislation stand to lose quite a bit, in terms of their rights and benefits.
There was an advertisement in the paper that says, know the facts; know the facts, Madam Speaker, about this bill, basically telling the government's side, or partial side of the story, trying to persuade, I guess, the general public that gosh, the Liberals are fair, we are doing everything to protect our workers and the workers' rights and to tell the workers that their understanding and their assessment of the bill that they have done themselves is wrong.
Well, Madam Speaker, I would suggest that the government has, in itself, done itself a tremendous disservice because when they say no to the fax and they see an advertisement, they know that they often have to question the validity of what is contained in that advertisement.
Madam Speaker, the government now basically in their ad does one thing. Certainly the government is giving up its claim, because they don't talk about it in the ad, they don't say any more that employees are going to lose some of their rights, although in this House there have been a number of debates and disputes regarding that, their ad doesn't say that. But you know, by some of the little bullets that they put out there, they imply it. But when you are supposed to know the facts, you should know all of the facts, not just selected, edited bits.
There was a suggestion the other day, yesterday, that the new budget that came down in Ontario that the Finance Minister was cutting with precision and he used a fine Skil saw. That, Madam Speaker, if you know what one of those saws are, as one of the commentators who was commenting upon their choice of instruments that they use to describe their cuts, is like using a chain saw. I would suggest that here in this ad about this bill and what it does, when the government is talking about knowing the facts, what they have done is they have used that chain saw, that Skil saw in a now very skillful way to hive off an awful lot of the facts that they are planning to tell people about.
They say that all employees' benefits and salaries under collective agreements will be honoured. It is good as far as it goes. What they don't tell you is that the bill goes to great lengths to ensure that it is pointed out that employees, for example, at the Victoria General Hospital are not considered, under the bill, to have been predecessor employees. They talk about rights and benefits going ahead but they make sure that they point out that an employee at a predecessor hospital does not include persons employed by that hospital.
Now what we are talking about is discrimination. A very important principle, Madam Speaker, because what the bill is saying and by saying that persons are not members of that Civil Service any more, what this government is doing is by that principle they are saying that we are taking certain members of the public sector who have depended upon the good faith of governments to have their rights to which they are entitled under statutory provisions and regulations. The government is saying we can hive those off and we don't have to protect them. That is what is being done.
The government doesn't talk about that in their advertisement. These are provisions that aren't negotiated in collective agreements. Why are you going to - and you can't override Statutes anyway, you can't override in a collective agreement the Civil Service Act - negotiate to put in your collective agreement those things that you are guaranteed under Statutes, statutory provisions, Madam Speaker?
The government says that long-term disability benefits are protected. It goes part-way in telling the complete facts. What they don't tell you is that under the current program, under the present long-term disability plan, there are 15,000 employees, a bigger pool to be sharing the liability amongst than 6,000. They also don't tell you that those who work in hospitals lifting patients, which is a very injurious field - and I believe, if I am not mistaken, Madam Speaker, you are a nurse by profession some time in the past and would have some understanding . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: You are not mistaken. I did train in the Saint John General Hospital and graduated a long time ago, in 1962. You are correct. (Applause)
MR. HOLM: Madam Speaker, for somebody with as much grey in my head as I have, that doesn't sound like so long ago right now, quite honestly, or it doesn't seem so long ago.
MADAM SPEAKER: I take it that when you are speaking of the grey in your head, you are referring to your hair.
MR. HOLM: Yes, I am, Madam Speaker. I can't pass it off very much as any other colour. It sort of gives my age away a little bit.
Working in hospital facilities in an area where there is often a great risk of injury because of the kind of work that is done, now what we are going to have are long-term disability plans where there is a smaller group over whom those liabilities will be shared and a group that will consist of a larger proportion of high risk employees, which can, without too much stretching of the imagination, lead one to believe - as I say without too much difficulty - the cost for those premiums will go up. Plus there is another very important change here. Under the current plan, representatives of the employees as well as the employers are involved in managing and making decisions with regard to that plan. That is very important, because employees depend very heavily on that; should they become injured in the work place, that is vitally important to them. Here the government is going to be ripping that away with this legislation.
Another area. Government says that pay equity is going to remain in effect. Partly true; it will, at least until collective agreements, and pay equity will remain in effect for those employees who happened to have benefited by being entitled to the pay equity in their former place of work. This bill does not bind this corporation, supposedly, I guess, because it is not an agent of the government, even though the government provides the money or most of it. Despite the fact that the government appoints a majority to the board, despite the fact that the government can change any board member that it wants at any time, despite the fact that the government appoints a chair, it is not an agent of the government and therefore, pay equity is not applied to this new corporation. Those who have it, those who receive those benefits or had received them in the past, those people will continue with the salary adjustments that were put in place to correct discrimination that they had endured in the past based on sex.
Those other workers working beside them, who came from another facility, another hospital, who did not have the benefit of having the sex discrimination against them rectified because the Pay Equity Act did not go far enough, they are prohibited, they are not covered, pay equity is not going to extend to them. We can have two people working side by side, the same sex, doing exactly the same job, having worked exactly the same length of time in a medical facility and having exactly the same qualifications and training and one can be making thousands of dollars more than the other because one was fortunate enough to have the discrimination rectified, the others, no.
Maybe the Labour Relations Board will solve that problem in part, because the Labour Relations Board is going to be given sweeping powers. The Labour Relations Board can go in and decide that they are going to change or alter whatever they want with the collective agreements so long as the total costs do not exceed what had been paid out before. They might go along and say this person had received some benefit from the pay equity portion, so we will take part of your wages and we will put some over here, so that everybody ends up being discriminated against to a degree. (Interruptions) I am hearing members of the Government benches ask me how I can say that.
AN HON. MEMBER: They have not read the bill, have they?
MR. HOLM: Well, they may not have read the bill, it may not have been caucused, I don't know, they may not understand it. I would suggest if the things that we are saying, the concerns I am raising are not, in fact, the case, then I would invite the government members to stand on their feet and say, we will honour the Transition Agreement that was signed in 1992, I would also invite them to stand and say that they will insert and demand that in addition, there be an amendment to the bill that says . . . (Interruptions)
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member has the floor.
MR. HOLM: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I appreciate finding out I have the floor. They can stand and they can say that they will be supporting an amendment to this bill, whether that is in Committee of the Whole House, in the Law Amendments Committee process and even better than doing it here, go and meet face to face with the representatives of the workers and make a firm commitment that they will put in writing a provision, an amendment to this bill that will guarantee that workers' rights will not in any way be diminished as a result of what they are doing.
That challenge has been issued before by myself and others. Instead we get, "Know the facts", the partial facts. I have no idea what these kinds of advertisements cost but I would think that in the health care system, those who are trying to provide the service to the best of their abilities in the facilities across the province, could make good use of the money that was spent on this, know the partial facts, stories.
Pay equity. Seniority will be recognized, yes. You can recognize it, you can say hello, you can do a lot of things. Not all of the seniority provisions and all of the provisions that are contained in statutory provisions are recognized. Employees cease to be civil servants. Cease to be civil servants? So, provisions that currently exist in terms of call backs if a person is laid off, or being able to move into a vacancy that exists elsewhere in the Civil Service, are gone. Those who work in the medical facilities aren't all or only nurses and doctors, they are very important to the health care system but so too are the thousands of others who serve us across the province in the health care institutions who are not the front-line, hands-on, dealing-with-the-patient, health care workers.
It doesn't matter what job you have in the facility, those jobs are vitally important to you. They are vitally important to you because they help to do a number of things like put food on the table for that worker, their partner, their children, their family. It helps to put a roof over their head and they also help to support the community generally. When they are working and spending their monies within the communities that means there is a circulation of those monies and that then benefits the entire community, Madam Speaker.
One of the provisions that this government announced with tremendous fanfare was an early retirement program. They were supposedly going to be trying to encourage, in a fair way, some employees to take early retirement. There was a program where the government was, in return for a long-serving public sector worker agreeing to retire early for several reasons, one it may make an opening that would not be filled so that there could be a savings of money or maybe the person who was at the top end of the wage scale might go out and that then would mean that somebody new or fresh, a younger person coming in would take that job or fill that position at a lower scale to save money for the government.
You know, we are told, according to the thousands of dollars worth of advertisement that has been done by this government, that the current employees are going to continue to qualify for the early retirement plan. I am not allowed to go through clause by clause . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: That is correct.
MR. HOLM: I will not. Thank you, Madam Speaker. I am right in one thing here. One other thing, but you know, I have gone through the bill clause by clause and so have others who are far more knowledgeable and skilful than I, in terms of examining legislation. I do not know where, in this legislation, it says that those employees, yes indeed up until this merger will take effect, up until this bill is proclaimed, when people are still members of the Civil Service, yes, the early retirement plan will still cover them. I do not know where in this Act it says, anywhere. That might be what some might consider false advertising.
I do not know if it would be appropriate to send the copy of the ad to the Minister of Housing and Consumer Affairs because I think the minister's department does have some responsibility under Consumer Affairs to look at advertisements and make sure there is truth in advertising. (Interruption) Maybe, but I somehow have my doubts that we would get an independent assessment from the Department of Consumer Affairs, whether the staff would like to provide it or not, of the advertisement run by the Government of Nova Scotia. What it does, of course, is fan the flames. It is provocative, this ad, when people know. Those whose lives are being maybe irreversibly affected by it know full well that what is happening here will affect their lives, quite possibly, for the foreseeable future, if not the rest of their lives.
Madam Speaker, employees at these facilities want to work hand in hand with their employer. They want to work hand in hand with the Government of Nova Scotia to improve the quality of health care. They have committed to doing that. Representatives of the workers were on the Blueprint Committee. They are trying, they want what all Nova Scotians and want that is the best quality health care that we can possibly afford for the citizens of our province. That is what they want. Why would this government insist, instead of being willing to sit down in an open, honest frank manner to resolve these issues? Why would they decide to take the kind of actions that they have that quite honestly if you step back and you look at it, you have to scratch your head and say, what are they trying to do? Are they trying to provoke a strike? Is that what they want to do? Why not sit down? We have had ministers stand in this House, the Minister of Human Resources stand up and tell me, for example, look anybody with a Grade 2 education can read this bill and see that anything you are saying is not true.
Madam Speaker, the concerns have been brought to us by people who understand very well what this legislation is doing, people who are skilled labour lawyers who have examined it, and people who just through their knowledge of collective agreements, knowledge of the Statutes, have examined it and know that what this government has been selling is in fact not the case. (Interruptions)
It says that employees will continue to be represented by the bargaining agents. (Interruption) Well, I am waiting, Madam Speaker. I am looking forward to tomorrow to the member for Cape Breton South taking to his feet to talk about the health care bill when he gets the chance. (Interruption)
MADAM SPEAKER: I think honourable member, you may be moving to adjourn the debate for the evening, but at any rate.
MR. HOLM: Well, Madam Speaker, I certainly would be willing to move to adjourn the debate so we could get a little bit of order, but I learned something a number of years ago and that is that I watched a member move an adjournment of a debate with a couple of minutes left to go, without having been asked to do so by the Speaker or the Government House Leader at the time and that motion to adjourn was put to a vote and all the government members voted that member down and so they lost their place and the right to speak again. So I remember that and even though we've only got one minute and 14 seconds or 4 seconds left, I am not about to move the motion for adjournment when I have more to say unless (Interruption) that is called cautious, unless I know that I have been asked to move the adjournment by either the Speaker or the Government House Leader. (Interruption)
MR. GERALD FOGARTY: Keep going.
MR. HOLM: Oh, it is no trouble to fill a minute and one-half, I assure the member for Halifax Bedford Basin. I am sure of that and I am sure, Madam Speaker that the members, individuals, persons who work at these health care centres, and who live and pay their taxes and send their children to school in Halifax Bedford Basin, I am sure that not only could they fill (Interruptions) up the remaining time but they could fill up hours talking about their concerns. What I just wish, . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Now, honourable member, I will ask you to move to adjourn the debate.
MR. HOLM: Thank you, Madam Speaker. With your request, I would move that we now adjourn the debate.
MADAM SPEAKER: Thank you.
The motion is carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Madam Speaker, would you please revert to the order of business, Presenting Reports of Committees.
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Committee on Law Amendments, I am directed to report that the Committee has met and considered the following bill:
Bill No. 44 - Motor Vehicle Act.
and the committee recommends this bill to the favourable consideration of the House, with certain amendments.
MADAM SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Madam Speaker, tomorrow we will sit from the hours of 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and the order of business will be Public Bills for Second Reading and on the remote possibility that Bill No. 47 passes, we will also move into the Committee of the Whole House on Bills and Public Bills for Third Reading, possibly.
I move we adjourn until 8:00 a.m.
MADAM SPEAKER: The motion is carried.
We stand adjourned.
[The House rose at 8:01 p.m.]