MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I will call the House to order at this time for the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: 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 reducing harness racing at the Truro Raceway will have a negative impact on the local economy; and
Whereas live wagering has declined 34 per cent since the opening of the casino in Halifax; and
Whereas during the late debate on Tuesday evening, the members for Colchester North and Cape Breton South requested to know the number of employees who work at the Truro Raceway;
Therefore be it resolved that the members for Colchester North, Cape Breton South and all members of the House be informed that 106 full-time and part-time employees work at the Truro Raceway and the industry pumps $12.5 million into the Colchester County economy.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
MR. EDWARD LORRAINE: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. As a point of information for the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, I knew but you didn't know and that was the reason that we asked the question if you knew and you didn't know. I knew how many employees, and there are a lot more than that if you take the total spinoff.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, we seem to be getting into a dispute here between members but I will allow a brief response.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, just a brief response. When the member for Colchester North and the member for Cape Breton . . .
MR. SPEAKER: You are asking a question here. Give your own side of the story and let's . . .
MR. TAYLOR: No, I am just pointing out, when they asked the question, Mr. Speaker, they didn't preface it by telling me they knew the answer. They asked me what the answer was and I have provided it today.
MR. SPEAKER: I rule that there is no point of order.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas since 1988, the governments have proclaimed a policy of no tolerance for spousal assault, directing arrest and prosecution in all cases, announcing support services, prevention, public education and conducting many studies; and
Whereas this government, elected with a promise of a new, tougher, zero-tolerance policy, has held three major news conferences, but has not even kept up to its own leisurely schedule; and
Whereas meanwhile, the government has refused to act on the Ghiz Report findings of heavy work loads, coupled with difficult working conditions, and lack of staff, together with low salaries in the prosecution service;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges that action to address violence against women, including spousal assaults, be given urgent government attention and action at all times, not just after another Nova Scotia woman has been killed by a man with whom she has had a close relationship.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Liberal Government promised to the people of Nova Scotia, in its election platform of 1993, that they would uphold a policy of zero-tolerance of violence against women; and
Whereas on the eve of the 6th Anniversary of the massacre of 14 Montreal women at L'École Polytechnique, a Sydney man was charged with the first-degree murder of a former girlfriend, a teacher simply returning home for lunch, gunned down in her driveway; and
Whereas the accused, in this brutal and despicable tragedy, was charged with uttering death threats against his ex-wife, but had the charge dismissed and was on a four week waiting list for counselling when the crime was committed;
Therefore be it resolved that in light of this incident, the Savage Government start enforcing its election policy of zero-tolerance on violence toward women, its promises made on September 19th of this year that, ". . . courts will be asked to give priority to family violence cases, and to move them swiftly through the system.", and that, "A pro-arrest, pro-prosecution policy . . .", be implemented.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Premier of this province was telling tall toll tales during his visit to Washington yesterday; and
Whereas the Premier of this province should evaluate his toll figures before spreading stories about value to Nova Scotians; and
Whereas it is a fact that tolls as high as $12 are charged in the United States, but the Premier should be fair with Nova Scotians and explain, those tolls encompass hundreds of kilometres of highway, while comparing the price and rate of government taxation on gasoline purchased in the United States to that in Nova Scotia;
Therefore be it resolved that the Premier of this province stop spreading tall toll tales and present the true facts before attempting to sell Nova Scotians on what remains a very ill-conceived method of taxation.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Donald and David Sobey have been honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pictou County Chamber of Commerce; and
Whereas the chamber has noted, that in an era of continued fiscal restraint, it is perhaps more important than ever to honour those who have made great strides in business; and
Whereas Sobeys Incorporated and the Empire Company employs thousands of Nova Scotians;
Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize the enormous contribution that Donald and David Sobey have made to the economy of Nova Scotia.
Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreeable to the House that notice be waived?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
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 a strike date has been set by employees of the Victoria General Hospital; and
Whereas the Minister of Human Resources has declared that it is a terrible precedent for the government to talk to Nova Scotians who feel they have no recourse but a strike against dictatorial government actions; and
Whereas no minister of this government has explained why they would push loyal, dedicated workers towards a strike;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the government to adopt the policy that collective agreements shall not be rewritten outside the bargaining framework and that all the usual terms and conditions and agreements relating to employment shall survive government-ordered amalgamations and mergers.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas in one week's time the people of Pictou will lose their provincial court service in the wake of the government's court reform; and
Whereas the Pictou County Warden is predicting a cost in the tens of thousands of dollars for the extra travel costs that will come as a result of the closure of the court building; and
Whereas the building itself is also a loss as the property now belongs to the province, but will not house the services currently provided to Pictonians, leaving the province to instead build a new multimillion dollar facility in a neighbouring town;
Therefore be it resolved that in light of the loss in services; the cost of a new facility; the extra cost in travel for RCMP, witnesses and the accused; and extra policing costs to the town; the Justice Minister and this government be condemned for their decision, under the guise of reform, and explain how this will benefit the people of Pictou County and the bottom line of the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Minister of Agriculture.
HON. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture at their 100th Anniversary banquet on December 1, 1995, acknowledged that the century of leadership and strength in their organization was attributed to the work of the federation members at the county level; and
Whereas 13 farm families from across the province were presented with awards to celebrate the contribution that farm families make to rural communities, the federation and to the overall industry; and
Whereas the family farms in Nova Scotia are an important aspect of the agricultural industry in this province;
Therefore be it resolved that this House express congratulations to the 13 farm families presented with awards at the federation's banquet, and to all farm families for their important contribution to the agricultural industry of this province.
Mr. Speaker, I would request waiver of notice and, if you would indulge me, I would also beg leave to table, for the information of members, a listing of the 1995 award winners.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreeable that notice be waived?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
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 an international study of adult literacy, which includes Canada, has been undertaken to better understand the importance of literacy as an integral component of cultivating the economic and social well-being of our society; and
Whereas literacy skills are a key component of economic development in this province as we move towards a global market place; and
Whereas the acquisition, maintenance and enhancement of literacy skills require a combined effort on the part of individuals, institutions and society to support a learning culture in this province;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this Assembly support the efforts of the International Adult Literacy Survey released in Ottawa, Paris and Washington, which will help make us aware of the importance of literacy in our society.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreeable that notice be waived?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
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 management of the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre confirmed yesterday that they do not yet have a firm forecast of the costs of renovating the newly constructed Infirmary building to meet this government's directives; and
Whereas the QE II has not prepared a business plan for its operations, despite the Health Minister's promise that such a plan would be completed months ago; and
Whereas Nova Scotians who depend upon tertiary hospital care are understandably worried that mismanagement will put their health care at risk;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the Health Minister to slow down his QE II merger schedule to ensure that poor management, confusion and deteriorating working conditions at these vital hospitals do not further undermine the health care system.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
Are there further notices of motion? If not, I wish to advise the House that the Clerk has conducted a draw for the Adjournment debate at 6:00 o'clock this afternoon and the winner today is the honourable member for Hants West. He has submitted a motion reading:
Therefore be it resolved that this Liberal Government be condemned for arrogantly dismissing legitimate labour concerns and for threatening the availability of health care services by forcing Nova Scotia health care workers into a strike situation.
So we will hear discussion of that matter at 6:00 o'clock this afternoon.
If there are no further items to come up under the daily routine, we will now advance to Orders of the Day. The Oral Question Period today lasts for one hour; the time now being 12:16 p.m., the Oral Question Period will run until 1:16 p.m.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. Yesterday in the House, the minister, in responding to a question from a member concerning an impending strike at the Victoria General Hospital, was replying as to whether or not he had any responsibility for a contingency plan, ". . . I would suggest that the answer to this . . . lies with the clinicians and those who are part of the administration of the facilities concerned.". My question is simply this, does the minister not agree that the buck stops with the minister and that he is ultimately responsible for the provision of all hospital services to the people of Nova Scotia?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, the honourable gentleman opposite, the Leader of the Opposition, knows the buck does indeed stop here in terms of the formation of policy and the assurance that health services are on a standard which is acceptable and, in fact, which are being reformed in this province. The actual delivery of services and the provision of clinical care is, of course, a function of the facilities.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, if I could reply to the minister, he said very clearly that the provision of health care is the responsibility of the facilities. Now I am prepared to table a document. It is the first page of the Health estimates which were tabled in the spring. In the upper left hand corner of the first page is the name of the Health Minister, the Honourable Ronald D. Stewart, Minister. The first line of the estimates is, "The Department is responsible for the provision of hospital, medical, community based health and drug dependency programs to the residents of Nova Scotia.". What could be clearer than that, the provision?
My question to the minister by way of first supplementary is, has the minister seen fit to discuss with representatives from the Victoria General Hospital a contingency plan which would be put in place if the nurses and other workers in that institution go on strike? Have those talks taken place?
DR. STEWART: Again, Mr. Speaker, my department is in contact with facilities on a daily basis in respect to particular urgent situations that may arise, and that has been followed in this instance. We are following the development of clinical care in all aspects in terms of both policy revision, policy development, but as I remind the honourable gentleman opposite, we are not responsible for the delivery. We do not deliver the care. The actual service is not delivered by the Department of Health except in the instance of public health and drug dependency. There is a difference with the delivery of service versus the development of policy and the provision in some cases of the actual clinical care.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I don't have to remind the minister how important the tertiary care that is delivered at the Victoria General Hospital is to all Nova Scotians. It is service that is not available anywhere else in the province and, in many cases, not available anywhere else in Atlantic Canada and the minister is fully aware of this.
My question by way of final supplementary to the minister is, has the minister personally - he made reference to his officials - but has he been personally in touch with the board of the Victoria General Hospital and has he reviewed the contingency plan that will ensure the minister and satisfy the minister that the care and contingency plan that will be in place if a strike occurs is satisfactory to the minister and will provide emergency services to Nova Scotians?
DR. STEWART: Certainly I would want to give comfort to the honourable gentleman opposite and of course certainly to the people of Nova Scotia that this department, this ministry, this government, will see health services delivered in every respect, in every way, in cooperation with our partners in facilities or in clinics or whatever it may be. We will not see health services in this province in any way be diminished or in any way be jeopardized.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question through you, sir, to the Minister of Justice. The minister will know that almost eight months ago, or in fact eight months ago, the minister said that Nova Scotia is failing victims of family violence. He promised a detailed framework of action against family violence. It was supposed to be provided in May, it finally appeared in September. He also promised there would be training programs which will be provided to all justice workers, to ensure compliance with this new policy.
Well, Mr. Speaker, this government was elected on the basis and the commitment to accept zero tolerance towards violence against women and their families, yet we still have a system, unfortunately, where abusers and potential abusers can slip through the cracks.
My specific question to the minister is this, why is it that eight months after the minister made that very specific commitment, there has been absolutely no action taken on that to date?
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: The honourable member suggests there is no action. There has been a great deal of action, Mr. Speaker. There have been regular meetings with the Family Violence Action Committee, a wide-ranging committee involving transition houses, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the judiciary, the police, many groups. We are moving forward.
The government, under pressure from the Premier and support by my Cabinet colleagues, have provided additional money in a time of restraint, so we can take some action on domestic violence, in terms of training and support services for victims. The reason there has not been any great comment on it is that we have been consulting. There have been consultations across the province to see how best to develop the victims' services. A new coordinator is in the process of being selected and will be in place the second day of January, for an 18 month timeframe, to jump-start this process, in terms of the training for the police and the courts and to help arrange to work with the community organizations and the department for victims' services.
There is a great deal of action. It has been worked on constantly, right through since it was commented on in this House in the spring.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, the minister says there has been a great deal of action. Back in September the minister said, today we are moving forward with new policies and training and with the money and staff resources, in order to make it happen. One of the very specific things that he promised was that there was to be the training program and coordinator hired to make sure there are training programs in place, to ensure that all justice workers do receive that kind of training. In fact the very next day the ad appeared in the government circulations, advertising the position. That position closed on October 5th.
Mr. Speaker, as of today we were told by the Civil Service Commission that they have not even yet started to screen the applications for this position, a position that was supposed to have kicked in last fall and for that training that was supposed to have begun this fall.
My question to the minister is, why, if this is a priority of government, is that coordinator not already in place?
MR. GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, there might be some miscommunication about the coordinator. It is passing strange that the position that was advertised has not been screened because the interviews have been held and today I am having discussions on finalizing an offer to the person. I understand the person is accepting the offer and I already told the member, and I am sure he is hearing this quite good, that the person will be in place on January 2nd. So if the process wasn't screened, it would be pretty strange that the person would be in place in a couple of weeks.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, in fact I hope the minister's information is correct and that the information we were given is wrong because that was the information that we received as of today. Yes indeed, the minister says the buck stops there. In fact that is properly where it should stop. I will have that information rechecked and, if it is wrong, then the minister already has my apology in advance because my information was that it has not yet been filled.
Mr. Speaker, it doesn't resolve the major issue yet. We have, in this province, unfortunately a situation where we still do have not only some abusers but also some potential abusers who are slipping through the cracks. This was to be a top priority of this government . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Please, a final supplementary question should be very brief.
MR. HOLM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My final question then is to the Minister of Community Services because as part of the process there was to be hired a training and development officer for the Family Victims Prevention initiative. That position closed on September 28th, it was to be a casual position and that position was only going to run until March. My question to the Minister of Community Services. Could he advise this House if that position has yet been filled and, if not, why not?
HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, as the member has mentioned, the process has gone forward. As to the status of that particular position, as we speak, I am not sure. I will get the information and inform the House.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, a question for the Minister of Education. The Minister of Education will recall that just over a week ago he was faced with the prospect of a province-wide teacher's strike. Faced with that, would the minister confirm that he arranged for officials from his department to meet with representative of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union to take steps that would avoid a province-wide teacher's strike?
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, that is not true. In fact, previous even to the call for a strike vote, I had a much-publicized meeting with the executive of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and we agreed on many items at that time. Nothing was added to that after the strike vote was called and the strike vote had no push in terms of what we were trying to do; in fact, we satisfied the agreement of that Thursday and that is all we have done and the discussions involved only that one agreement.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my recollection of the events is that there had been a series of amendments made to the Education Act as a result of that, certainly, many of which came forward after the threat of strike action from the Teachers Union.
My supplementary question is to the Minister of Health. There is a definite parallel to the situation that faced the Minister of Education in terms of the confrontation with the teachers union. Now the Minister of Health is facing a confrontation with health care workers. In a press conference today, under the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union news release label, it states, "On December 4th, I", being Mr. David Peters, "wrote to Mr. Abbass and Dr. Stewart to request a meeting with them.". Obviously, this has to do with the events leading up to the strike vote.
To this point, the minister has not seen fit to sit down and discuss with health care workers their particular problems and the events that are leading up to their dissatisfaction with the actions of the minister. Would the minister indicate to the House if he feels that the difficulties that are resulting in a threatened strike in health care are somehow less important than the difficulties leading up to the threat of a teacher's strike in this province? Is a threat of a strike of the tertiary care workers of the Victoria General Hospital somehow less important than the threat of a strike by the Nova Scotia Teachers Union?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the concern expressed by the honourable Leader of the Opposition. It is suffice to say that all workers, all concerns of health care workers and other people in our province are always of concern and will, of course, receive proper attention and attention which we have, in fact, given to these issues which arise.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, by way of final supplementary, I thank the minister for expressing his concern but is the minister prepared to commit here, today, that he will respond in a fashion similar to that of the Minister of Education and sit down and meet with union representatives and try to avoid a strike at the Victoria General Hospital which will cut off tertiary care services to the people of Nova Scotia, services that are not available in the other regional hospitals? Will he sit down and discuss in the same fashion as did the Minister of Education?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I would just remind the honourable gentleman opposite and the House that there are processes in place that the honourable Minister of Education has followed and that we, in fact, in the government and on the Treasury benches will follow as well.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: My question is as well for the Minister of Health. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, as will the minister that yesterday in an exchange here with me in this place, we talked about the minister's recent trip of November 30th to December 4th. The minister indicated to the House that that was not government business and would not be at the taxpayers' expense. That prompted me to do a little bit of a review of the Health Minister's travel and particularly to address the issue of the minister's absences from the province. I have discovered, to my amazement that this minister has been out of the province 78 days in this calendar year. That 78 days comprised something like 18 trips this calendar year, 1995, out of the province. My analysis shows further that the minister has claimed expenses, claims back against the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, for only two of those trips. I would, therefore, like to ask this minister if he will verify that all of the other trips were either paid for personally, by this minister, or by some other institution, organization or individual?
MR. SPEAKER: Now I want to make this observation. The question is in order and it will be answered by the minister. The minister is answerable only for those matters that come within the administrative competence of the government. In other words, a private trip is not something the minister needs to answer to the House for.
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I certainly would confirm that, as is the practice, I would submit expenses for only those which were pure government business. Now there certainly are those trips which I would take which might be personal trips that I would combine so that I might visit various places to look into health care issues but they certainly would not be charged against the government coffers.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, yesterday during our exchange, the minister as reported in Hansard at Page 3997, indicated, among other things, that, "I have some expertise that I could gather and, in addition, from the work of the committee garner experience to be used in this particular jurisdiction.", meaning Nova Scotia. "I have certainly availed myself of that, I think to the benefit of the province.". He went on later to say, "In fact, I was very pleased to have participated in this particular effort.", the trip that we were talking about, the most recent trip. "Certainly, wherever I travel, and it is very unusual that I would not feel that my position within the government would be in some way affiliated to whatever I attend, I have always felt that whenever, in fact, I would travel it would be, as much as possible, at the saving of the taxpayer. I have tried in this case to do the same thing.".
Will the minister confirm, then, that subject to the little caveat that he just added in his principal answer, that these trips, these 18 trips in his 78 days out of the province for which he makes no claim, had nothing to do with his ministerial responsibility as Minister of Health and therefore were, in fact, either holiday or personal business matters?
MR. SPEAKER: Well, the honourable minister is not required to answer to the House for holidays or personal business matters, surely.
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I would assure the honourable member opposite, they were not holidays, as far as I can remember them. I try to combine any kind of speaking engagement that I would accept with any other kinds of advantages that I may accrue to my ministry and to the various aspects of health care. I would be happy to examine what the honourable gentleman opposite is quoting - and I would appreciate him tabling it -in respect to accounting for all of those trips, and as detailed as he might wish me to be.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, that is a very generous offer from the minister and I, frankly, propose to take him up on it. I will table, now, a document which describes the 78 days of out-of-province travel by the Minister of Health in calendar 1995, and the document indicates all of the Order in Council numbers which were passed indicating that some other colleague would be enshrined as the acting minister during those periods of time. You will note when I table this - and I will give a copy, of course, to the minister, and he can provide the analysis which he has just now committed - that only in relation to two of those trips do we see expenses claimed back against the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.
I guess what I am really trying to determine from the minister is, if the minister is not travelling - I will say it differently - if the minister is travelling on government business, then the natural course of events is that he would charge the trip to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia -completely legitimate - if it is some other kind of travel, it is either personal travel or it is some other business . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Well, if it is personal or some other business, it is not a legitimate topic for a question here in the House. (Interruptions)
MR. DONAHOE: Well, the question really then is - as I table these and send a copy across to the Minister of Health - if the Minister of Health can explain why it is that it required 78 days of out-of-province travel for him to handle his affairs as Minister of Health, or if only a couple of days of that - if I may, Mr. Speaker - travel was on ministerial business, I then would appreciate him making inquiry of the Deputy Premier or the Premier to explain in his response to me what the holiday or non-governmental, non-ministerial travel allowances are for . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Ministers are not answerable in the House for their holidays. I cannot accept that question; it is out of order. I will recognize a new question, but I cannot accept that question. It is out of order.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, as promised, I will table the document with the Clerk.
MR. SPEAKER: Yes, table the document. The document is tabled. Do you want to try another question?
MR. DONAHOE: No.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question, through you, is for the Minister of Health. I understand - and I will ask the minister to confirm this - that the provincial taxpayers recently picked up the costs of a number of ambulance operators who travelled, I think, to Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. Could the minister indicate the purpose of the trip?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I would certainly have to consult with my staff regarding specifics. I would suspect that they were part of a delegation to look at specifics of ambulance services, but I do not know the specific ambulance operator or operators. I would certainly seek that information.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that the minister doesn't know why a large group of operators, at government expense, are travelling to do what he indicated they may be doing; I am surprised he doesn't know about it. Who approves out-of-province travel?
I would ask the minister if he would find out, get the cost of the trip; I would like to know who travelled and who determined which operators would go on this particular trip?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to find that information and relay it to the honourable gentleman opposite as soon as we can.
MR. MOODY: I hope this time I will get the information. I haven't gotten anything else I have been promised, but let's hope I do.
Could the minister then, in my last supplementary through you, Mr. Speaker, confirm reports that the Director of Emergency Health Services for the province has resigned in frustration over the way in which the government is handling the delivery of emergency health services? Would he confirm that Diane Golden has resigned her position, is that true?
DR. STEWART: No, Mr. Speaker, Ms. Golden was seconded into a position to do a specific job, which was to design the system and so on. She is going to be doing other work in her secondment. This is a natural progression of her work.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question through you to the Minister of Justice in his capacity as Deputy Premier. The Deputy Premier, I am sure, is well aware of the current dispute ongoing between employees at the Victoria General Hospital represented by the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union and his government, in particular the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources.
Mr. Speaker, it was announced today that the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union has formally served strike notice and the earliest at which they are in a position to withdraw their services is this Sunday. Given the fact that we are talking here about the largest health care facility in the Province of Nova Scotia; given the fact that we are talking about health care that could affect many thousands of Nova Scotians; given the fact that we are talking about concerns by upwards of 3,000 health care workers, would the minister indicate whether in fact his government has given any indication to the Ministers of Health and Human Resources to try to resolve this dispute before it gets out of hand?
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: In terms of directions to the ministers, I know that the Ministers of Human Resources and Health are very cooperative and have worked on this and have done their very best to try to see that there is not a disruption of services at the Victoria General and I am sure they will continue to do that. I don't think there is more I can say at this time. I know that the Premier had spent time on the matter, discussed the matter with the ministers before he left. He will be back, as I understand it, in the province tomorrow and I am sure he will be available to them at any time.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, again, to the Deputy Premier. We have had a number of issues that have received some considerable attention and have caused some confrontation in this province over the past few weeks and months, one being a matter that involved the Teachers Union. In that particular case, there was also a strike threatened and the Minister of Education and his officials continued to deal with the union and other groups in order to seek a resolution of this matter. In this particular issue, the Minister of Human Resources in particular has taken the position in writing and in person that he will not negotiate on behalf of the government when there is an illegal strike at hand.
I would like to ask the Deputy Premier, Mr. Speaker, if he would, in fact, agree today that this matter is of such seriousness that it needs to be resolved and that he, in fact, will give direction to the Minister of Human Resources to initiate negotiations now and not allow this dispute to continue to blow out of hand simply because somebody is trying to save face?
MR. GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, I don't think it is appropriate for me to give directions to the Minister of Human Resources. In fact, it might be worthwhile if I refer the question to the Minister of Human Resources and he can explain in short compass the efforts that have been made to see that things continue.
HON. JAY ABBASS: The member opposite is claiming that something has to be done before this is out of hand; this is out of hand already. The member opposite knows that. The threat of an illegal strike in its own right was an indication that that was the case from a very early point, well before the government even had a chance to sit down with the NSGEU and have the meetings which the government offered to have with the NSGEU. This dispute is obviously well, now, beyond any meaningful discussion over the true detail of this matter. It is not about pensions, it is not about LTD because those have been covered off. Point after point after point after point, item after item have been covered off either by the government through the Act or by the employer at the QE II through the various memoranda which have been signed by the three parties by the names of Kevin MacNamara, Dave Peters and I believe, Lorraine Singler actually signed some of these memoranda.
For the sake of making sure that people understand exactly how effective the government and the employer, in this case, have been in dealing with each of those points that have been raised as being of concern to the various members of the NSGEU, whose jobs are at stake to a certain extent and certainly, whose nights are at stake. They must be going through some terrible sleepless nights at this point.
We have everything in this memoranda from voluntary recognition of the NSGEU, if that was ever a legal or legitimate concern, bargaining unit maintenance, continuity of employment, rights and obligations of the various parties, the employer agrees to acknowledge and pursue existing grievances outstanding, LTD and UIC supplementary plans, various additional terms, work schedules, recognition of service, approval of memoranda, we have same sex partner benefits being extended, holidays being dealt with, special leave, military leave, something truly worth striking over, I presume, training, probationary, temporary and term employees. Term employees are dealt with in several places in the agreement. Severance allowances, dismissal, notice of layoff, leave of absence for political office which had been raised by the NSGEU, casual employees, how they are treated, Early Retirement Incentive Plan, it is extended to the employees, policies and procedures dealing with various concerns of the employees.
MR. SPEAKER: Honourable minister, would you table the document?
MR. ABBASS: All of which have been very categorically dealt with, signed off not just by the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre management, but by Dave Peters, President of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. (Applause)
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I remind you that I am going back to the Deputy Premier. The Nova Scotia Government Employees Union wrote to the Ministers of Health and Human Resources on December 4th, they got a response on December 6th, which basically said that the government will not meet to discuss this matter. It is the position of the Minister of Human Resources and the Minister of Health to continually ignore the validity of the concerns of 3,000 . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Now this isn't a question, this is an assertive . . .
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . health care workers in the Province of Nova Scotia . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Now come on, let's have a question.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, this is leading to this question. I want to again ask the Deputy Premier, in light of the fact that we have a serious problem in place right now that is being inflamed by the minister who just got up and with a contemptible attitude . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Those remarks are out of order.
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . dismiss the concerns of the hospital workers . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Please be seated. Be seated.
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . at the Victoria General. I want to ask the . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Be seated!
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . the Deputy Premier if he . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Sergeant-at-Arms seat the honourable member. Yield to the Chair sir, be seated.
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . will intervene to deal with this matter because it is of such a serious nature? I didn't hear you, sorry.
MR. SPEAKER: If the honourable member didn't hear me he should go to see an audiologist. When I stand up you sit down. The question has been put and we will now hear the answer. I rule the remarks about the minister having inflamed and so forth being out or order.
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, I think it is clear that the Minister of Human Resources who has spent a lot of time on this matter and is very concerned about it, did provide a great deal of information on this and told the House what has actually happened. I want to refer the question to him again, maybe he will further elaborate on the steps that have been taken to try to get this thing settled.
HON. JAY ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Deputy Premier for referring the question. I think for the record it is important to know exactly what the response to Dave Peters request for a meeting for discussion has been. This is a letter that is signed by myself and by the Honourable Ronald Stewart, the Minister of Health. "Dear Mr. Peters, . . ." this is dated December 6th, " . . . We acknowledge receipt of your letter of December 4, 1995 with respect to Bill 47. While we would prefer to continue our established process of meetings with you to discuss overall labour relations issues, . . .", which would, of course, include the QE II question, ". . . your Union's recent decision to encourage and support illegal strike activity precludes such discussions at this time. Bill No. 47 addresses those concerns which you advanced on behalf of your membership during discussions with the Minister of Human Resources and his officials, prior to the Bill's tabling.". (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic will be silent.
MR. ABBASS: I think I will repeat that paragraph, just for the sake of being heard.
"Bill 47 addresses those concerns which you advanced on behalf of your membership during discussions with the Minister of Human Resources and his officials, prior to the Bill's tabling.". There were several discussions with myself, starting with March 1995.
"The Bill respects the labour relations process which has been by employers and employees in this province for decades. Working within that process, we understand that you have successfully concluded talks with the employer, . . .", the QE II in this case, ". . . which have resulted in signed memoranda of agreement dealing with the concerns of your member employees. We also understand that these memoranda will, by agreement between the NSGEU and the employer, be annexed to existing collective agreements. As the `QE II Bill' is clear in recognizing collective agreements, this should afford further reassurance that employee concerns have been satisfied.".
MR. SPEAKER: That document will have to be tabled now.
MR. ABBASS: It shall be, with pleasure, Mr. Speaker.
"You will recall that, as early as Friday, November 24th, the employer clearly stated in a memo to VG staff that the Legislation required management to honour collective agreements, and consequently has reaffirmed its commitment via these memoranda.
Again, in keeping with normal legislative process, any further input with respect to amendments to the Bill should be directed to the Law Amendments Committee, which we understand is now considering this bill.".
Nothing has changed about the intent or the resolve of the ministers who have signed that letter. I shall now table it. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Justice. In the election platform for the 1993 election, the Liberal Party had some very interesting things to say, that I am sure you will recall, Mr. Speaker, in the chapter on women's policy and particularly regarding violence against women. I would like, with your indulgence, to be permitted to make a very short quotation. On a page entitled Liberal Women's Policy, the words in the Liberal Party policy document read as follows: "Our commitment to zero-tolerance of violence against women will lead to increased province-wide public education programs showing violence against women to be socially unacceptable. We will make long-term funding available to transition homes, and to treatment and protection programs for women and children in danger and those who have survived abuse.".
In September 1995 this same minister and the Premier issued a press release, patted themselves on the back about the establishment of what they described as a strategy to prevent family violence. I will not read from that but it is a document which was well circulated at the time.
My question relates to the tragic events recently in Sydney, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure you will be aware of those. A man charged with uttering death threats to his ex-wife pleaded guilty to forcible entry charges and he was released. He was released on the basis that he was ordered to seek counselling. For four weeks he wandered the streets of the industrial Cape Breton area and was unable to get himself into a counselling situation. Following that four week period of time, unfortunately, he was found later standing over a schoolteacher who had been shot to death and he himself had been shot.
I ask this minister if he can please explain how and why it is that the zero tolerance program which was so much touted was not in play and, more important, how is it possible that a man, having been charged with uttering death threats, having pleaded guilty to forcible entry, could be allowed to walk the streets of Sydney and be allowed to go four weeks without having a counselling session arranged? How does that abysmal situation fit with the minister's zero tolerance policy?
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, it is very regrettable that another woman has died violently. This matter is before the courts. I believe somebody has been charged. I am not going to comment on what may or may not have transpired in the proceedings. I have no details on whether counselling was ordered and who failed to provide that counselling, but I would be glad in that regard to check if the Department of Justice had some particular responsibility to do something and didn't do it in terms of some counselling. I would certainly be glad to know about that. We have been working very hard, as I said earlier, and I repeat, the coordinator on domestic violence will be in place on January 2, 1996. We will have a full-fledged program of training for court workers and that will be underway for the prosecution service, for police and it will be jump-started by that person and we hope that we will do better, but in a human world, unfortunately, these tragedies occur.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I realize that criminal charges are pending and there are certain constraints as a consequence. But within the context and the parameters of that reality I ask this minister if he will tell this House what specific steps will he take immediately to ensure that an inquiry is undertaken to assess how it is possible that this particular individual in the control of the court, the judicial and prosecutorial system of the Province of Nova Scotia, could be allowed to be at large for four weeks, having been at large on the condition that a counselling session be made available and that four weeks could pass before a counselling session was arranged? Indeed, I am not so sure, now in light of intervening events, that the counselling session ever did get arranged. When will the minister undertake that inquiry? Will he do that immediately?
MR. GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, we can overplay this inquiry business. Every time you turn around, you are going to have a major inquiry. There are criminal charges pending on this matter. The matter will probably be going to court for all I know, and I am not going to comment on that - whether charges - I don't even know if they have actually been laid. But, in any event, this whole process will be followed. I have already made the undertaking to the honourable member to do some checking with my officials to see if there was some failure on the Department of Justice in terms of counselling, but in terms of an inquiry, no, we are not getting into an inquiry now. There is a court process, a judicial process, and that will be followed.
MR. DONAHOE: Some number of months ago, by way of final supplementary, Mr. Speaker, this minister, arm and arm with the Premier, talked about a strategy to prevent family violence and it is clear, unfortunately by the week if not by the day, that family violence is coming to be a greater and greater scourge in our community province-wide. In that September press release, this minister and the Premier indicated and I quote, "Police forces will be directed . . . ", not asked or cajoled or requested or told it would be nice, but ". . . will be directed to establish family crime units.". My question in the context of what has preceded here in the main and supplementary question to the Minister of Justice is, whether or not he will tell this House today whether the police force in Sydney was, in fact, directed to establish a family crime unit as described in the Premier's and the minister's strategy to prevent family violence document promulgated some number of months ago.
MR. GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if that particular family crime unit has been established but I know that the new regional Cape Breton police force is taking the whole matter seriously. I know they have some people who are dedicated to this particular matter. But one of the responsibilities of the coordinator who is starting in two or three weeks time, January 2nd, is to provide training for the police in this regard and other court workers. In fact, 2,000 workers are to be trained and we have put our money where our mouth is, unlike the past, and there is almost $800,000 provided for this and we are going to get on with the job.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the honourable Minister of Education. The minister will know that parents in East Hants are very upset and quite flustered with the lack of progress and movement towards the construction of a new middle school for their area. The parents and, of course, the students were promised a new school and they are so concerned that they have formed an education task force to organize their protests about the inaction of the government on an issue which is affecting the children and their community. I wonder if the minister can clarify for the many concerned about the future of the construction of the middle school for the East Hants area?
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for the question. First of all, at the invitation of the parents, I visited both the schools in East Hants that are up for replacement. I personally visited them and I spoke to the principals and I spoke to the school board member for that area and some of the parents who were at the meeting. The process of building schools, when we came into office there were $60 million in schools promised by the previous government and no money. We have worked, Mr. Speaker, very aggressively to get those schools built. The two schools that he has described and there are two schools, one a middle school and one an elementary school, are in process. There is communication between my department and the school board as late as yesterday afternoon in terms of the process.
What is involved, Mr. Speaker, in the discussions between the board and the Department of Education staff, is to find out what program is needed for that school and when there is an agreement, then we call for tenders for an architect. We are in the process of doing that. As I said, the discussions were occurring as late as yesterday afternoon.
MR. TAYLOR: I thank the Minister of Education for that response. The Minister of Education will know that the Superintendent for Colchester-East Hants, Mr. Whelan, has stated that he was promised by the Education Department that by mid-November the department would have passed on to Mr. Whelan the site that would be selected and would name the architects. This has not been done and here we are getting along in the month of December. I know the minister has promised to meet with the Colchester-East Hants District School Board on December 14th. Will the minister also meet with the concerned parents who have threatened to pull their children out of the overcrowded school that they are presently in? Will the minister meet with the parents to allay their very serious concerns and answer their questions so that the parents will not have to resort to pulling the more than 1,000 students from their classes?
MR. MACEACHERN: If I might, the threat that they might remove them, I think that that is a threat that they have claimed. I acknowledge that that is the case. But I don't think, as we are standing here, that threats from people to jump queues, for example, that there are other people waiting who have needs, they are all there. There is an MLA for the area and that is Mr. Bob Carruthers who has been keeping track of this process continually since we have been elected. I want to suggest through you, Mr. Speaker, to all members of the House, including the member who asked the question, that there is not a week that goes by that the honourable member for Hants East brings it to my attention and communicates back to these people.
Now, he mentions, Mr. Speaker, and I am going to say, by mid-November this was promised. The schools that are in that area that should have been replaced, should have been replaced 10 years ago. Because they are overcrowded and dilapidated. I tell you that and I have visited them. But that group had been ignored for 15 years by the Party that this member sits with. So he should talk to those people not about a two week delay or a three week delay, because it is in process but a 15 year delay that has frustrated the people because here is what they are to think, they are starting to think that this government might be exactly like the previous government. We are going to demonstrate that is not so. When the bulldozer is in the ground, building the school, I am going to invite the honourable member to be there to see it, because they have waited 15 years with those guys over there and we are, in fact, going to do it and it will be done very, very quickly and he is invited to the sod-turning.
MR. TAYLOR: I thank the Minister of Education for the intended invitation. I hope that I am around to take him up on it. I am sure the parents that are very concerned out in that area do too.
Mr. Speaker, by way of final supplementary. Another much needed middle school has been promised by this government, the Savage Government, for the Truro-Salmon River area. In a May 26, 1993, edition of the Weekly Press, and I can table that article from the Weekly Press, seeing as how the Minister of Education was talking about the MLA for Hants East, in the May 26, 1993 edition of the Weekly Press, the MLA for the area promised that support for both the Lantz and middle schools will definitely proceed, not under the previous government but under the Savage Government. Will the minister confirm that that promise will be kept and the promise to build a middle school in Truro-Bible Hill will also be met and kept?
MR. MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, if the honourable member is bellowing up here about something that we did, we inherited $60 million of promises of the previous government and no money; not a dollar. But because the committee that did this, the Capital Construction Committee, is deemed by the boards across the province to be fair, we accepted, exactly as given, without changing the queue and the order of priority, because they were based on need.
Mr. Speaker, we are doing that at a time when we don't have much money, but we are doing it. All of the commitments that that crowd made, we are stuck with, and are living up to and we will continue to do it. As he is speaking, we are saying, yes, we have inherited that as well as the debt - which we are paying as well - we inherited both of those things. We will pay our bills; we will build the schools we are committed to. They will be done in the order that that crowd promised them, but they didn't have a dollar to build one of them.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question, through you, is for the Minister of Human Resources. The minister in this House has said on a number of occasions that the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union were not as concerned about the merger and the legislation as the NSGEU. Is the minister aware that the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union has a number of concerns regarding their employment after the merger of the QE II?
HON. JAY ABBASS: Actually, I would not presume to speak on behalf of the NSNU. Their President, Jean Candy, is more than capable of speaking on behalf of that union and has done so many times in the past. I expect that she will do so, as well, at the Law Amendments Committee.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union is here today in support of the NSGEU workers and many of the issues that face them that the minister has refused to change. I would ask the minister, is he prepared to make changes to the bill . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Now, that can't be asked in the House.
MR. MOODY: I am sorry, yes, that is true. I recognize that, Mr. Speaker, and I will take that back.
MR. SPEAKER: Good member.
MR. MOODY: Through you, Mr. Speaker, I would ask the minister if he will meet with the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union and assure us that he will address the changes that are asked for in the bill, that affect them after the merger?
MR. ABBASS: It has been my pleasure to meet with Jean Candy in the past and I look forward to meeting with her again. Their is no threat of illegal strike outstanding, issuing at least from the NSNU or its member employees. I will always have my phone at the ready and always have my door open to Jean if she wishes to meet.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that he is willing to meet. I guess my final supplementary, is he willing to address the issues with regard to the Labour Relations Board and the pay equity issues when he meets? Is he ready to address those issues and make those changes?
MR. ABBASS: Well, I guess this is a matter that is really part of the debate over the bill and certainly something that will make its way to the Law Amendments Committee. I would look forward to either being present myself or having someone from my department there to listen to the concerns of the NSNU as regards pay equity or any other matter.
MR. SPEAKER: A new question, the honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: A question, again, for the Minister of Human Resources. The minister does have legal training and I don't, so my question really to the minister is, would the minister, in terms of the document that he tabled earlier, a document that he read, I understand, in its entirety into the record, an entire letter dated December 6th . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Now there was extensive reading, but I don't know if it was in entirety or not.
DR. HAMM: Well, it looks like it was all of it. A letter which was signed by both this minister and the Minister of Health that indicates the entire defence in terms of the position of the government in regard to the impending strike by health care workers in this city, is based, and I will read one paragraph from the letter rather than the whole letter, "You will recall that, as early as Friday, November 24th, the employer clearly stated in a memo to VG staff, that the Legislation required management to honour collective agreements, and consequently has reaffirmed its commitment via these memoranda.".
My question to the minister, does the minister feel that this paragraph has more legal weight than the legislation that was put before the House, which was clearly in contradiction to what this paragraph states?
HON. JAY ABBASS: I have to first understand exactly what the difficulty of the member opposite is with this paragraph. What it clearly says is that the employer, QE II, recognized that the QE II bill was clear in requiring that the QE II honour collective agreements. It is straightforward. Through that memo of November 24th, and I should say more recently, as of today, December 7th, through the QE II metro merger memorandum, the QE II management is clearly saying that it will honour the collective agreements.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, to continue with the minister, our caucus has received legal opinions, from a Dalhousie law professor, from a very prominent labour arbitrator, which absolutely contradicts what the minister is saying. It says that, in fact, what these memoranda seem to indicate will not happen when, in fact, the legal process which has resulted in the threat of a hospital strike at the VG Hospital and in this city.
So my question to the minister is quite simply this, is he prepared to follow up his memorandum and the idea which he has introduced now by this letter, is he prepared to follow up with changes that will result in what this memorandum seems to indicate will happen, that will actually happen, in terms of legislation?
MR. SPEAKER: Well it comes perilously close to the brink, that question, in terms of being out of order. But, nonetheless, I will let the minister take a stab at it.
MR. ABBASS: Again, it is unclear what the member's difficulty is with either the memorandum or the paragraph which says that the QE II management will honour collective agreements and, I am sure, will honour the memorandum which it has signed, through the agency of Kevin MacNamara.
I am not sure what the difficulty with any member of this House might be with Page 5, for instance, of the HSN, that is the nurses' Memorandum of Agreement, one of eight signed by the QE II and by the NSGEU leadership. I am not sure what the difficulty would be with Page 5, Clause 9, entitled Pay Equity, Subclause (b) "The Employer and the Union agree that no application, other than a joint application, will be made by the Employer or the Union to the Labour Relations Board to alter or adjust the pay rates for any of the employees in the Bargaining Unit as contained in the Collective Agreement or in the Pay Equity Agreement.".
I, too, have consulted with long-standing members of the labour relations fraternity, or sorority, in this city. They understand Section 31 of the Trade Union Act. They assure me that it would be only through the most tenuous of interpretations of that section and of the past behaviour of the Labour Relations Board that anyone would lose any sleep over any of what the member is raising as a so-called concern. (Applause)
DR. HAMM: The minister has indicated that he is absolutely convinced there is no problem with management honouring collective agreements. Is the minister prepared to introduce legislation that will absolutely guarantee collective bargaining rights and agreement rights of hospital care workers in this city, that guarantee it by legislation, not by memorandum delivered by hospital management - legislation guaranteeing rights?
MR. ABBASS: I will try to address as best I can the member's concerns. All I can say is that the concern he might be alluding to relates to Section 31 of the Trade Union Act, a section that has been in the Trade Union Act for at least 23 years. I think the member sitting next to the Leader of the Opposition would confirm that, in fact would confirm that the Trade Union Act has been around for 60 years. He would also confirm that the Labour Relations Board is a joint union-management committee, I believe, with a neutral chairman. It has a long history of having dealt with Section 31 on mergers and amalgamation situations. It is not an arbitrary, maniacal, Labour Relations Board. In fact, Lorraine Singler, one of the chief negotiators, if not the chief negotiator with the NSGEU, sits on the Labour Relations Board.
If the difficulty here is that anyone in this House wishes to re-debate a Trade Union Act that was originally passed 60 years ago, then perhaps we should talk about the Trade Union Act. But Section 31 is clear in its intent and it is clear in enabling, yes, the board to do certain things to facilitate a merger and an amalgamation. But, again, the fear balloons that are floating over this Chamber and sprinkling over the VG Hospital lately are unreasonable and unnecessarily alarming to the members of both the NSGEU and the employees at the VG Hospital. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.
The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I made a commitment to the House that I would bring information following a question by the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid earlier today in Question Period. It was dealing with the training officer for family violence within the Department of Community Services. The member was correct, that the initial advertisement for that position closed in September of 1995. However, the applicants were not deemed to be adequate for that position and it was re-advertised and the process has been followed. So now the competition has ended, and in the process of announcing the successful candidate within the next few days. The honourable member also mentioned the term of work. There has been some time lost on that and it will be added to the end of the term of employment of that person. I am happy to make that announcement to the House.
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, the honourable Leader of the Official Opposition referred to a legal memorandum his Party had received and used that to base his question to the honourable minister. I wonder, in that case, if the honourable Leader of the Official Opposition would table a copy of that legal memorandum? (Interruption) No, he referred to a legal memorandum that his Party had obtained and used that as a basis to ask a question to the honourable minister. I am asking if the honourable Leader of the Opposition will table that legal memorandum that he referred to.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel. (Interruptions)
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel is on his feet. (Interruptions)
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: How quickly I forget. (Laughter) The Leader wants to make remarks. I rose, I guess, a little bit more quickly than he. May I simply say, before deferring to him, that there is a long-standing rule that the Speaker is well aware of in this House, that the rule relative to tabling documents is predicated . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Let's hear it now, is predicated . . .
MR. DONAHOE: . . . on the fact that a member has, in fact, read from . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Read from. Yes, that is correct.
MR. DONAHOE: . . . from the document. That is my understanding.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, in replying to the point of order raised by the Minister of Finance, I clearly read from a document that was earlier in Question Period tabled by the Minister of Human Resources which makes clear reference to a memoranda requiring management to . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: If you have a legal opinion, why don't you produce it?
DR. HAMM: I made clear reference to a memoranda requiring management to honour collective agreements. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: All right. Order.
DR. HAMM: That document has already been tabled.
HON. JAY ABBASS: Regardless of what the Rules of Procedure or House usage say about this, with a view to getting at the truth about this question, given that the member did refer to a legal memorandum of some sort during his comments, would he out of courtesy to myself, at least, and to this House, please produce it.
MR. SPEAKER: I said I would make a ruling. I can't see the House delayed on this matter. The honourable member for Halifax Citadel and then that will be it.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, that is a most interesting observation made by the Minister of Human Resources. Perhaps we might suggest to the Minister of Human Resources that this caucus would consider that proposition as soon as he tables the legal memorandum upon which he and his government members drafted the bill which he presented here.
MR. SPEAKER: All right. I thank you. Now I am prepared to rule on this matter at this time. (Interruptions) I don't want any further interventions or submissions. If an honourable member quotes from a document, reads from it in part or in whole, the precedents and Rules of the House are that the document may then on request of another honourable member be tabled, so that it may be made available for general inspection. If a matter is simply referred to in the sense that I have in my back pocket a legal opinion but I am not reading from it here, word for word, it is not required to be tabled. It may, however, be tabled gratuitously as a matter of courtesy if honourable members so request and if the member who has it wishes to do so. Those certainly are the rules that we operate by here, as I understand them.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, would you please revert to the order of business, Government Notices of Motion.
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Housing and Consumer Affairs.
HON. ELEANOR NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas December 7, 1995, marks the 25th Anniversary of the release of the Report on Canada's Royal Commission on the Status of Women; and
Whereas the Royal Commission and its report were important landmarks in the history of Canadian women; and
Whereas the Royal Commission on the Status of Women raised important issues for which we as a society are still seeking solutions in many cases; and
Whereas while we recognize that much progress had been made in the 25 years since the Royal Commission, we must also recognize that full equality for women in our society remains a goal yet to be achieved;
Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize the 25th Anniversary of the landmark Report of Canada's Royal Commission on the Status of Women and that we commit ourselves anew to the goal of true full equality for women in Nova Scotia and in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is that agreeable to the House?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 55.
Bill No. 55 - Community Colleges Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to begin second reading of an Act Respecting Collège de l'Acadie and the Nova Scotia Community College.
Let me begin by stating the mandate, so all members of the House have a clear sense of what this bill supports. As a post-secondary institution, the mandate of the Nova Scotia Community College is, "to enhance the province's economic and social well-being by meeting the occupational training requirements of the population and the labour market.". Collège de l'Acadie shares this mandate, but with a focus on the training needs of the Acadians and francophones of Nova Scotia.
Members of this House know, the labour market needs in the new economy are very different than even 10 years ago and they continue to change rapidly. The colleges must meet the training needs for jobs that exist today and will exist years down the road.
Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to highlight the remarkable progress of our colleges. New core programs have been introduced in economic growth areas, such as computer networking, small business management, hospitality services and entrepreneurship. Revenues from the sale of customized training are climbing.
Business and industry leaders, people like Peter O'Brien of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, for example, have said publicly, the colleges must do more. They have gone as far as to say they cannot do it within the government bureaucracy.
Self-governance for the colleges is the logical next step. The recent federal decision to eliminate $8.6 million from the college budget makes the need even more pressing. The colleges simply must become more efficient and more competitive in securing customized training contracts. As well, training must be directly linked to Nova Scotia's economic needs and opportunities. In simple terms, Nova Scotians want training that leads to jobs. Employers want highly skilled workers. This legislation means more of both, Mr. Speaker.
Let me explain by speaking to the principles of the bill. We are opening the doors of our colleges to our training partners. Like universities, the Nova Scotia Community Colleges and Collège de l'Acadie will have their own boards of governors. Through guaranteed seats on the board, students, teachers and staff will have, for the first time, a direct say in the future of training at the college. Business, industry and communities will also have their say. This links our expert college teachers and staff with the experience and needs of the people they serve, students, employers and communities. This means better training for jobs that now exist, and will exist, in Nova Scotia.
In fact, Mr. Speaker, boards of governors are long overdue. The February 1994 Auditor General's Report says, "We believe that a Board is critical to the formation of a strong liaison with industry, strategic planning, program evaluation of management performance, and fund-raising.". Board-governed colleges came to Canada in the late 1960's and the early 1970's. Once Nova Scotia moves to a self-governed college, New Brunswick will be the only remaining province or territory without a board-governed college system.
Let us make it clear, Mr. Speaker, self-governance is not privatization. Our universities have boards of governors and they are certainly not privatized; with our colleges, government remains accountable for accessible, affordable, high quality training. The best way to explain is to consider what the colleges do. The colleges offer about 150 core programs to about 7,000 full-time students province-wide. Core programs range from training to become an office administrative assistant, to an electronics engineering technician, to a home health provider.
The boards of governors will have the experience and expertise to build quality within these programs and to recommend new programs to meet changing labour market needs. But taxpayers continue to fund these core programs. As well, as minister, I am ultimately accountable to the students and will continue to approve decisions and funding for core programs.
The minister must also approve the admissions policy to assure training needs of black and Mi'Kmaq learners, now under-represented in the college, are effectively met. The colleges must also continue to offer academic upgrading to ensure all students can meet the academic requirements demanded by today's work force and, of course, government will be accountable to ensure core programs remain affordable; therefore, tuition changes would be impossible without Cabinet approval.
Along with core programs, the colleges are doing a growing business in customized training. Customized training is specifically tailored to clients' needs, at a profit. This means every dollar made above costs can be reinvested in core programs, in technology, in staff professional development or other ways to strengthen the college. At no cost to the taxpayer, Mr. Speaker, will this be done.
In 1988-89, customized training was worth less than $1 million to the Nova Scotia Community College. This year it is forecast for $9 million, but the ability to grow much beyond this is limited unless we give the colleges the freedom they need to compete for and win customized training contracts.
This legislation enables the colleges to run their affairs like a business, outside of government, competitively and efficiently, putting the needs of the students and employers first. Government processes work well for certain purposes, but not in the direct delivery of education. We don't run our public schools; we don't run our universities, Mr. Speaker, from within government because it would not make any sense.
It is even more important for our colleges. If the colleges' hands are tied with red tape, business opportunities will slip through their fingertips. The hiring process, for example, involves three government departments with competing clients and priorities. This takes weeks, when the colleges need turn-around time that is days, sometimes hours. The boards will still be responsible for a fair hiring policy, but one that is streamlined and realistic to their needs.
To repeat, Mr. Speaker, the colleges must manage their own affairs, dictated by the needs of students and employers, not the bureaucratic process or, for that matter, politicians present or future, and if the colleges can make more money to reinvest in the colleges, this means a brighter future for their students and employees of Nova Scotia. In fact, the credit for the colleges' progress over the past few years is largely due to our faculty and staff at campuses from Yarmouth to Sydney. That is why we have worked to ensure that our employees are treated fairly.
As I said at the bill briefing earlier this week, government has developed a consistent, reasoned approach to labour relations. We believe this approach treats employees fairly by protecting collective agreements, by protecting salaries, by protecting benefits and other important employee rights.
Provisions in the bill allow for a smooth transition for employees to their new employer, the colleges. But let me state again, Mr. Speaker, because this is very important, that all collective agreements, all salaries and benefits, all successor rights, all seniority, all pension plans are fully protected. For those members of the House who don't take my word for it, I would suggest they read the legislation, because it is imbedded there in plain language, and clearly, for people to read.
The other night, I met with some community college staff on another issue that was of great concern to them. The community college staff were talking about their particular program, so I asked them about the legislation. I asked them if they had read it and they told me yes; in fact, they were briefed yesterday morning about it. It was last evening that I met with them. They told me that it was clear to them that these protections were in place; they saw that. So, Mr. [Acting Deputy] Speaker, it is not for you and me - I know you are a lawyer and have a view different than we lay people about what an Act says - but it was clear to those people who had read this yesterday that, in fact, they are protected. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, and through you to all members of the House, that great care has been taken that those protections are there.
As the colleges are post-secondary institutions, college faculty and staff will now be covered by the Trade Union Act, like faculty and staff of universities, Mr. Speaker, no different.
Mr. Speaker, I want to speak to what our community college is becoming. It is not becoming a junior college or an inferior training institution. It is an institution that is different than universities because it has different purposes. But the status of our community college has to be equivalent to our universities, and our staff and students of our community colleges have to grow to recognize that the education they receive in their community college is different than that of a university, but not less. That has to become clear to all Nova Scotians.
The Trade Union Act recognizes the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union and it recognizes the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, and the other unions, as the employees' official bargaining agents, Mr. Speaker. But those unions may have to, down the road, compete for membership, because that is there. Ultimately, it is a matter of employee choice and we are relying on traditional labour relations practices to allow employees to make that choice. This balances the right of the employees with the right of the unions to put forward their platform to argue their strengths and their achievements.
Mr. Speaker, it is a very important thing that we understand that the employees of the Nova Scotia Community College are, in fact, protected and they are given a protection even stronger than they had before, because now they have the right of choice. Each of the unions that represent the faculty of the community college and the staff of the community college have to present their platform and defend that to the employees.
Coming from Glace Bay, as I do, where we lived in a union background, sometimes when I hear some members of the House talk of us disregarding that, I want to tell you that it is very much part of the culture of Glace Bay. We grew up with it in my house, my neighbours, our community. That is what it is about, the respect. The disregard that some members make of how we see this, and I can remember the stories about 1909 when we had the strike, in 1925 when we had a strike, we know what the union movement has done. The respect in industrial Cape Breton for the union movement is absolute, we respect that. That is why in this bill, as we look through it, that respect it given.
I mention, Mr. Speaker, our community college is first and foremost for the students. That is why it is there. In fact in previous days oftentimes that was forgotten and, in fact, the students' concerns were left. In Cape Breton, and I have said this often but it is worth repeating here, there was often a time in which our community college trained people course after course, so that they could be unemployed not in one thing but unemployed in three things. It wasn't directed towards work for these people but towards keeping the programs going.
That can't be allowed any more, Mr. Speaker, because the students of our community colleges must be first. But, as we do that, each and every one of our staff must be treated fairly. As a result, the bill itself speaks to that, to protect the rights of each of the employees of the community college, so as they become employees directly of the community college, and, by the way, as professionals then, more able to explore the kinds of things they know should be done, because of the trade and the experience they have, rather than coming back each time, to get approval from the Minister of Education of what to do, for example, with a medical technician's course.
What they are going to be able to do is explore that as professionals and, as a result, expand their program as that business grows, as that trade grows, Mr. Speaker, and we are going to see more of that. The professions that are out there will be able to be addressed by the professionals in the community college without constantly coming back and getting approval from the Minister of Education, and that is very important.
Again, Mr. Speaker, it is important to underscore the employees' choice, the recognition of the employees of the community college and the professional nature of their job is what this is about, and it is a professional job.
College administrators have been meeting with faculty and staff at all our campuses. It started yesterday at noon time and I think the last college was visited this morning, somewhere around 12 o'clock. The actual copy of the bill was provided to all staff and briefing notes. We encourage, through our community college staff, that if there are any questions, to bring them either to the staff or to independent people for consideration and then come back and talk to the CEOs of the staff, Mr. Speaker, of the community college.
College administrators are available to meet with the union executives, to answer questions and address their concerns. That is a given and that was expressed at all our campuses, as they travelled the province. We, in the Department of Education, have particular pride, we take particular pride in the community colleges and, in particular, the growth over the last two and a half years. The growth has been significant, both in terms of quantity and quality, and even despite the fact that we have lost 20 per cent of our income with this now, we will, within two years, not only be back where we are now but we will be further along. We will have more students, we will have more programs and, Mr. Speaker, if you will excuse the bad English, I think it is precise, we will have more better programs. We will have more staff that will be using our facilities much better. This will help very much because we will be able to respond to students' needs throughout the Province of Nova Scotia.
The bottom line, Mr. Speaker, is that this legislation means better training for the people of Nova Scotia. Better training means employers find the workers they need, students will find jobs. Even this year, and I have said this in the House and I will repeat it, 70 per cent of our graduates from last year were able to find work, 70 per cent of them. But we have to do better than that, and we will. Better training supports economic opportunities and growth in Nova Scotia. That is good news for all Nova Scotians.
Now, Mr. Speaker, it is very important to recognize and the debate in my mind, Mr. Speaker, must first and foremost focus on the students, both who are present in the campuses now and will be there in the future because without this, and I am going to compare it with the universities, the universities in Nova Scotia are essential to the future of Nova Scotia, absolutely essential. They have to grow, they have to prosper and they have to become problem-solving institutions.
The community colleges are no less important, Mr. Speaker, and they must be seen as parallel, in which students can go from the community colleges to university and - which is happening more and more - from universities to community colleges. One is not less than the other one, the only difference is that it is a different type of training. One is an occupational type of training and the other one has to do with more research-based training in terms of a wider education based on research and that is very important.
The last thing I would like to mention to all members of the House is that the changes that are occurring in the relationship between the federal government's Human Resources Department and the Department of Education of the Government of Nova Scotia is going to change the way training is delivered in Nova Scotia. Our community colleges must become responsive and they must become stronger, Mr. Speaker, because without that, we are going to lose the opportunities provided by these changes that have been provided in training. If we do it, no longer will we blame the federal government for messing up because it is in our hands. It is in the hands of the Government of Nova Scotia and the hands of the staff, for example, of the community college which is going to play an ever increasing role.
But it means that if there is a need, for example, in Hants, Canso, Yarmouth or up in Neils Harbour, we are going to have to be able to respond to that either within the community college building itself or by programs at a distance. That is going to require that we learn to customize training better and learn how to do outreach better. As we all know, for example, and the member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury knows, the people of Canso who worked all of their lives, don't necessarily want to travel to Port Hawkesbury to take training. We have to find better ways of delivering it there. We must allow our community colleges to grow independently, campus by campus, under the umbrella of our community college. This bill allows it, Mr. Speaker, and we can never, ever lose sight of the fact that the students of the community college come first, absolutely.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I move second reading of this bill. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to offer a few remarks in response to the remarks made just now by the minister as he moves second reading of Bill No. 55, An Act Respecting Collège de l'Acadie and the Nova Scotia Community College.
I would be an awful lot more excited and enthusiastic, Mr. Speaker, if I were able to stand before you and say to you and to all members that I believed half of what the minister has just now said to this House because, quite frankly, much of what he said just simply does not hold water as far as either the principles which he espouses and as important in relation to the labour law mess which he has created here in this bill which is becoming the hallmark of all of the ministers who have introduced significant legislation bearing on the rights and privileges of those who enjoy benefits and responsibilities under existing collective agreements.
The Minister of Education in his opening remarks, Mr. Speaker, started I think by saying that he wanted us all to understand the principle or the mandate of the new post-secondary education system which would be created by this bill. That is set out in the bill and it is set out in a section which, interestingly enough, and I will come back to this, refers to the college to be established under this legislation as a post-secondary education institution. He says in a hand-out which was part of his PR bumph that he issued relative to this bill the other day that, "As a post-secondary", education, "institution, the mandate of the Nova Scotia Community College is: `to enhance the province's economic and social well-being by meeting the occupational training requirements of the population and the labour market.' Collège de l'Acadie shares this mandate, but with a focus on the training needs of Acadians and Francophones.".
Well, the first place that I would like to start is essentially here. We are now in a further stage of evolution of the function, role, authority, mandate, power of one of the significant elements of the education system in our province and, of course, I refer to the community colleges. What in the past the province has known as a community college system up to this point in recent years, is, as the minister and you know, Mr. Speaker, a successor system to a regional vocational school system and that community college system, which we have referred to in the last number of years, is now to be transformed by this legislation into what the Minister of Education is describing as a post-secondary system of institutions.
In his introductory remarks when briefing on this bill, the minister indicated, as I said a moment ago, that the mandate is to enhance the province's economic and social well-being by meeting the occupational training requirements of the population of the labour market. One of the early questions that started to occur to me as I read the legislation and read the words post-secondary education, was to ask myself what consultation this minister has had, if any, with the existing post-secondary education institutions in this province.
This province, depending on your vantage point, is blessed by reason of their number and their size and their complexity, or the cynic might say plagued by the fact that our small province has so many post-secondary education institutions, and I refer to those which are not contemplated by this legislation. I refer to Dalhousie and St. Mary's and Acadia and St. F.X. and UCCB and so on, with apologies to any I didn't name in that list.
The question that occurred to me was, what consultation did this Minister of Education have, knowing he was coming to the Legislature to propose legislation which would create another system of "post-secondary education institutions", what consultation did he have with the presidents and the others, the other leaders of the province's existing post-secondary education system? So I took the time and the trouble to make contact with a number of presidents of the existing post-secondary education system, and in a moment I will explain why I felt such a contact was relevant. Because this is a fundamental principle, as this minister has already said in his opening remarks, of this legislation, I thought it appropriate for me to call those presidents to ask them a very simple question. What consultation have you, as presidents of existing Nova Scotia post-secondary education institutions, which have already been told by this same minister that they, those existing institutions, will have less money to work with, what consultation has taken place between you and this minister to work out the relationship between your institution, Dal, St. Mary, St. F.X., Acadia and so on, with this new provincial system of what potentially might well be, could be, a competing post-secondary education system?
It came, unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, as no surprise to me that of the three university presidents with whom I was able to make contact, all three confirmed that they have not had consultation with the minister or his officials about a wide range of issues which, if this legislation passes, immediately become fundamentally important to them as they attempt to run their post-secondary education institutions. In other words, I guess what I am really saying, or, I guess, what I am really asking is, by way of elevating the community college system to a so-called post-secondary education system, are we moving to the point where we will have a system which is in competition with the existing post-secondary education system?
My expectation is that the minister's offhand response would be that, no, no, we are not going to do that because the role of the community college, now to be a post-secondary education institution, is to, among other things, meet the occupational training requirements of the population and the labour market as distinct from the role, function and the mandate of existing post-secondary education institutions, which are more academic - and he made an allusion to that in his opening remarks here today - and research related and oriented than are and will be the new post-secondary education institutions to be created and established under Bill No. 55.
Notwithstanding, I really believe that it is important for us as a principle here to have the minister before this debate closes, either here, in committee or in the Law Amendments Committee or at any stage of future debate of this bill, to outline and articulate clearly the substance of the discussions which I believe, and I say to him without any hesitation through you, Mr. Speaker, are absolutely and fundamentally necessary for him to have immediately with the presidents of the existing post-secondary education institutions. Because if we are going to have boards, as this bill contemplates, if we are going to have "independent boards" running this new system of post-secondary education institutions - we already have boards of governors and senates running a Nova Scotia system of post-secondary education institutions - I say to you that we darn well better find out, and more to the point, those institutions on both sides of the equation, better find out pretty clearly and pretty quickly and pretty precisely, exactly where they fit one to the other. There is a whole range of issues that have bearing here.
What happens to the existing and the conventional or the traditional post-secondary education system in the Province of Nova Scotia which, as you know, Mr. Speaker, and as the presidents to whom I have spoken and others certainly well know, what happens to them and their financial integrity if, in fact, these independent boards running competing post-secondary education institutions generate a range of programming and tuition fee structures which redound to the disadvantage of the existing post-secondary education system? That can happen. It is completely possible that that would happen.
The legislation, Mr. Speaker, says, and I know that I am not supposed to get into clause by clause and I don't intend to do that but there are a number of principles established in this legislation and among those principles are that these new boards will have an authority to establish an admissions policy for their post-secondary education college. That, by the way, subject to the approval of the minister and that they will, interestingly enough, subject to the approval of, not of the minister but of the Governor in Council, they will be establishing tuition policy and a schedule of tuition fees.
I say to you, and I say sincerely, because I think it is a significant and vitally important issue, it is absolutely incumbent upon this minister to engage now in discussions with the presidents of the existing post-secondary education institutions to ensure that the establishment of admissions policies for these new post-secondary education institutions and the establishment of tuition policies and schedule of tuition fees . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I wonder if the members would keep it down to a dull roar at least so I can hear the member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. DONAHOE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So, I think it is incumbent that there be immediate discussions. As I have said, my inquiry in the last few hours to attempt to determine from university presidents as to whether or not any such discussion has taken place has brought me to the answer that I, frankly, fully expected. No, this minister has not had any such consultations.
What does this do to the Agricultural College? I don't know what it does to the Agricultural College but it has the very real potential to establish or to result in a post-secondary education institution being established in this province which is a direct competitor with the Agricultural College. It has the very real potential to establish a system of post-secondary education institutions which are in direct competition with the existing post-secondary education institutions which exist in all parts of the province.
The minister in his opening remarks talked about, and it is typical that he would make this remark and he made it a number of times, the minister attempted to suggest, indeed, more to the point, the minister suggested that this legislation must focus and does focus on the current and future students and it parallels, he tells us, with the existing post-secondary education system. Well, I can tell this minister through you, Mr. Speaker, that I think there are some university presidents around, running significant and world-class post-secondary education systems who are very anxious in knowing from this minister what he is talking about when he starts using phrases like this new system of his post-secondary education institutions will parallel existing post-secondary education systems. There are fundamental questions to be asked.
But let's go back to the minister's comment about the fact that this new system of post-secondary education institutions must focus on the current and the future students. I will make a prediction right now, Mr. Speaker, and we are seeing much of this happening now and once this bill passes, if it passes in its present form, I will make you this prediction and this guarantee. The effect of the passage of this bill, the establishment of these institutions as post-secondary education institutions, the establishment of their governance by so-called independent boards of governors is going to have this result, it is going to have the results that thousands more young Nova Scotians are going to fall between the cracks in terms of having access to a range of programming which is beneficial to them and which is consistent with their experiential and their academic capacity to pursue.
What do I mean? We have a system that this minister is going to call a post-secondary education system. Are we in that system, and I don't see any clear evidence that there is a commitment to this in this legislation, but right now, Mr. Speaker, and you are probably aware of it and if you are like me, you have probably received calls from constituents who have expressed concern. The current community college system in this province is now, and has over the last couple of years, become so selective that in many cases it is admitting students who have some experience in the existing post-secondary education institutions, UCCB, St. Francis Xavier, Acadia and so on. It is admitting those students.
It is admitting a whole range of students in its programming who already have degrees or diplomas from those institutions. It is admitting, in very large number, young men and women who are the prize winners at the high school graduations of our high school system across this province and the net result and the net effect is that there have been hundreds and hundreds of young people who don't have that background, who don't have that academic or experiential background available to them, who are being declined and refused the opportunity to participate in the programs which are being offered now in what we call our community college system.
So we up it a notch and we call them post-secondary education institutions and we are going to have an independent board of governors. I will make a prediction and I will make a guarantee here today in this debate that the level of admission standards at this post-secondary education system of institutions will inevitably and inexorably rise in a whole range of areas to the point where hundreds and hundreds of young Nova Scotians, who would be anxious to pursue further study and further occupational and technical and trade training will not have access to that kind of training. I believe that principle has to somehow be enshrined in this legislation, and I don't see it there at all.
The minister made reference, in his introductory remarks here today, to how proud he was that over the last couple of years something like 700 new places have been established in the community college system. Well, I almost ate the side of my desk when I heard him say it, because I couldn't help recalling that just a few weeks ago I went downstairs to a press conference where the minister told the people of Nova Scotia, and told all of us, that he was closing down a number of the institutions in this system. The net result was, if memory serves me correctly, that maybe as many as 150 of the teaching staff would be sacked and some 500 or more training places would be extinguished. It is fine that we have seen something like 700 more places, but the minister a couple of weeks ago was downstairs saying, thank you very much, I am going about my business in a way which will result in the extinguishment of 150 professorates and 500 places, and nowhere do we see the minister make any reference to any of that in anything that he had to say to us here today.
The boards which are to be established by this bill are interesting. The minister addressed a principle and the minister suggested that the principle as reflected in the legislation is that these community colleges, as now positioned, will in fact have the legal trappings necessary to become self-governed colleges. He offers in justification, Mr. Speaker, for that public policy shift, the argument that the colleges must become more efficient and more competitive in securing private sector dollars for customized training contracts to ensure continued strength and growth. That is a principle with which I find no difficulty and which I support.
He points out further that the boards will ensure training decisions are directly linked to economic opportunities and the needs of the people that the colleges serve, and that is another principle which I have no trouble supporting.
However, all of that having been said by the minister, it is very interesting and I think, for our purposes here today, very important to note and to point out that further on in his description of what he is attempting to do with these community colleges, soon to be called post-secondary education institutions, is that the minister says further that self-governance is not privatization.
The minister's own document says that the colleges will continue to be accountable to the minister and government in areas of public interest. Clearly, already we are now at a stage where on the one hand we have the minister talking about the community colleges, soon to be post-secondary education institutions, being governed by "self-governing boards" on the one hand, and then a little later in the document and in the legislation, in the minister's own language, we find that the minister says that these colleges will have to continue to be accountable to him and to the government in areas of public interest.
I think we are walking ourselves down that very difficult line again, which we see so often with this government, and it relates to other legislation that this minister and others have introduced, that we are asking people to be subject to the control and the direction and the authority and, dare I say, the whim of two masters, one of whom is the minister on the one hand and the other is the government on the other hand.
I think that immediately we have a very serious and fundamental public policy conundrum here, Mr. Speaker. Will the boards which are described and established in this legislation run these community colleges, or will they simply be doing the things which meet the whim of the minister and the government of the day, as they are, as I have said, going to be required under this legislation to be accountable to the minister and the government in areas of public interest. It is noteworthy, I suggest, that the term public interest is not a defined term in this legislation and that gives the minister and his Cabinet colleagues and the Premier, absolute, total, 100 per cent, unfettered control as to how this minister and the government may well, if they wish, direct the doings and the activities of these institutions.
It occurs to me as well, that it is very important for us to query the minister and query him as vigorously as we can on the question of just what is his and the government's definition of public interest. If that clause is there, if the minister and the Governor in Council have the right to tell these boards, which on the one hand the minister says are independent boards and those independent boards are going to run these colleges, these now post-secondary education institutions. Then you read down . . .
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. In 1989, when the community college was created originally, it was defined as a post-secondary institution. This bill does not create a post-secondary institution, it just extends from the previous definition of their government. I don't know if it was precisely at that time that this member was the Minister of Advanced Education but he certainly was sitting on the Cabinet benches and it was their bill that did create this as a post-secondary institution. We didn't do that and so I think the honourable member, in his comments, should address that. Likewise, and the bill provides for this very clearly, the relationship between the Minister of Education and the board is well defined. His extension to unfettered refers to how he and his government dealt with the universities because they felt they could walk staff members in, they could walk students in, without any process at all. This bill protects exactly from that kind of interference by government.
MR. SPEAKER: While it is an interesting point, I do not find it to be a point of order.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I expected that astute finding on your part. I repeat and only because I was making the point at the time when I was interrupted by the minister's remarks, I repeat and I believe it to be absolutely important that each and every one of us who has an interest in what goes on in the community college system, soon to be this post-secondary education system, that we find out from this minister and from the Governor in Council just what the minister's definition of public interest is.
I would suggest here, although we will come to clause by clause at another stage, if I may be so bold, I would offer the opinion to the Minister of Education that he might usefully spend some time between now and the time the matter goes to the Law Amendments Committee, having to look at the phrase, public interest, because it would improve, dramatically, in my opinion, this particular piece of legislation if, in fact, there were to be a definition of the phrase, public interest, imported into this bill.
One of the reasons which I said earlier that it is important for us to understand whether or not there has been dialogue and consultation with the existing post-secondary education system, is because one of the fundamental issues that has to be understood here is that if we are elevating the role, function and authority of this new post-secondary education system, we are going to get into - and this system and the existing post-secondary education system, is going to have to get into - some very difficult and important questions between and among themselves. By way of example of a couple matters of transferability of credits again both ways from the existing post-secondary education system into this new system and vice-versa.
I would be prepared to bet - and I made allusion to this earlier - that there have not been substantive and significant discussions with the existing post-secondary education system in that regard, and it is however, in my view, a fundamental element of the debate. As I said a little while ago, my calls to presidents of the universities, at least three with whom I was able to make contact in a limited timeframe, all three have said that such substantive discussions have not taken place and they are fundamental first elements of how this new system is to relate and function vis-a-vis the existing post-secondary education system.
I believe that this minister would not have introduced this legislation if he and his government colleagues did not believe that, by doing so, they were in some way improving and probably, if I may use the word "elevating" the importance of the community colleges as we now call them. If we are elevating this system, I think it is important for all Nova Scotians to understand the spectre of thousands and thousands of Nova Scotians who will not meet the educational, or more precisely, the occupational experiential background required to gain admission to this new post-secondary education system, and thousands and thousands of young Nova Scotians who will reside in all of our constituencies around the province will no longer have what has been available in the past, a vocational or community college system available to them. They may well find, as I say, that they perhaps will not have access to this system.
Clause 54 is interesting, and I am not going to get into clause by clause, but just simply by way of identification of the location of the principle in the bill to which I want to make reference, Mr. Speaker, that section points out that the board established under this legislation, ". . . shall establish programs of study for the College consistent with the mandate of the College; and establish guidelines for the establishment, expansion, suspension or transfer of any program of study, service or facility of the College to ensure the orderly growth and development of the College.". I think it should be noted with considerable interest that that principle, as set out in that particular section of the legislation, says that that program of study is to be approved by the minister.
I just simply want to raise this spectre. The minister has said here today and I have heard him say in many other places and on many other occasions that one of the difficulties in the existing community college system is their lack of adaptability and flexibility in a timely fashion to respond to the needs of business, industry and commerce to provide programming which is relevant to business, industry and commerce. He therefore said, and purports to suggest when describing what this legislation will do, that the creation of the new boards and the new configuration is going to allow these institutions to be able to make those adaptations and be more flexible and so on.
Well, with the greatest respect, I think he takes a great deal of that capacity away by injecting a principle in this bill that much of those decisions which, on the one hand or out of the one side of his mouth, he would have you believe will be the role and the function of the board are, in fact, going to have to be undertaken as he deems appropriate and they are going to require his approval. He is either going to make the approval just off the top of his head on the basis of what he thinks is right or (Interruption) He is making some kind of smart remark back to me; I presume the smart remark is to the effect that . . .
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, for the Leader of the Opposition, relative to the principles of the bill . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: The former Leader.
MR. MACEACHERN: The former Leader - that is exactly the kind of thing that should be underscored - if I might, there is core programming that looks after adults who might not be, for example, qualified otherwise, that we are paying for as the public sector, to make sure they have the programming they need. So in other words, if it is in the public interest and we are paying for it, we will approve it. If, in fact, they are expanding into sale of training, customized training, they can adapt very quickly and do it exactly. There are two types of programming in the community colleges. He should go and visit them to see the quality - two different things; the public interest kinds of things that we pay for, therefore, approved by government, and then paid for and accountable to the payment. The private sector side of it, or, sale, for example, to non-profit organizations or to the federal government. That is customized for the needs of particular sets of students. We do that now. This just allows them to do it better on the customized training side but we will protect the interests of adult upgrading, of literacy programming and all of the other things, plus the core programming in the system.
MR. SPEAKER: While that may well be informative, I would not find it to be a point of order.
MR. DONAHOE: Well those are interesting words, Mr. Speaker, but I am not so sure that they help all that greatly and I am not sure that they address the concern which I am attempting to raise. I simply do not believe that the legislation, as I read it, Bill No. 55, says to me, and I don't believe it will say to thousands of Nova Scotians, that you can be assured that if you happen not to have very high academic credentials and performance, very extensive experiential background, if you don't happen to be one of those who has walked across your high school graduation stage and picked up a couple of prizes, that we are going to have a range of programming in this post-secondary education institution which is suited to your academic and occupational and experiential background. The minister can say that, I just don't see it in the legislation.
The legislation further, Mr. Speaker, or, better said, the minister has used lines and phrases that suggest that the reality or public policy principle enunciated in this legislation is set out here in such a way that the program of study and guidelines is going to be approved by the minister. That again I say in contradistinction to the earlier statement in the legislation that there is going to be an independent board of governors, and I will come to the board of governors - and how independent that will be in a moment - the reality of that public policy principle enunciated in the legislation, Mr. Speaker, seems to run somewhat counter to those statements by this minister in one of his hand-outs when he did a briefing on this bill, and I quote the minister out of the hand-out. On that occasion he said; "Obviously a board of governors puts the colleges in a much better position to link training to economic needs and opportunities. But the needs of business and industry can change rapidly. If we expect the colleges to serve those changing training needs more effectively, we must allow the colleges to operate more like a business.".
Well, let the colleges operate more like a business, just as long as they do it with approval by the minister. That is essentially what we are going to be in here. Government is too large and too cumbersome, as far as I am concerned, Mr. Speaker - and indeed these are the words of this very minister - to try to deliver flexible and relevant training.
This minister has said, "We don't run our public schools or our universities from within government, because it wouldn't make sense.". Well, when I look at the bill that this minister introduced relative to the public schools, and I won't get off on that tangent, I have to begin to wonder who it is who wrote the line for him that we don't run our public schools from within government because the bill relative to public schools was just absolutely dripping with provisions, sections and proposals whereby the minister was calling all of the shots.
My reading of the bill, Mr. Speaker, has - and I presume it is on the basis of a conscious intent on the part of this government, in regard to the way in which they are calling the business to come forward - because of the way in which the business of the House has been called, my reading of the bill - as is the case with, I am sure, every other member who has read every line of this bill, as I have - has unfortunately been required to be a hasty reading and I am sure all members of the Liberal caucus would agree with me that it has been hasty and they have had little time, as has been the case for me, to read this bill.
Some of my remarks may, in fairness, be a little bit off the mark by reason of the fact that I have had as little time as I had to read the legislation, only having seen it a couple of days ago and being required to speak to it here today; therefore I may be missing a reference to what I consider to be one of the most fundamental policy issues that we should address when debating this legislation, and that issue is the question of admission standards required to be met for entrants into the programs offered by this new post-secondary education system.
As I said a little while ago, Mr. Speaker, it would only be the recent visitor from Mars who would not know that in the Province of Nova Scotia, annually, there are thousands of young men and women who are at an age where they are legally entitled to leave school, but who are not possessed of a set of marketable skills. A very high percentage of that group of Nova Scotians has, unfortunately, not attained a transcript of academic performance which would enable them to gain access to the existing post-secondary education system.
I suggest to you that it is fundamental for us to be asking the question - as we debate this particular piece of legislation - whether or not those thousands of young Nova Scotians will now be cut off again from admission to this new system of post-secondary education for the same reason, that their academic transcript and their performance generally is not of a sufficiently superior level as to justify or enable admission to the program offerings at the new community college system.
I haven't, and again I repeat, heard anything close to a satisfactory assurance or reassurance from this minister, or anybody else on the government benches, that there will not be those hundreds and thousands of young Nova Scotians who will be disenfranchised in the fashion which I describe.
Everybody around our caucus office, already over the last number of years, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure it is the case around your caucus table as well, can recount stories and references to situations where those hundreds of young people haven't been able to gain access to the community college system, as it has been run to this point, and particularly as it has been run in the last couple of years, because a very high percentage of our enrolment in the community college system, as it runs today, is already young men and women who have some years of post-secondary education experience at our existing post-secondary education system.
Many who already have undergraduate and, in some cases, graduate degrees, are students now at our community colleges. Many of those students are young men and women who were the prize winners at the high school graduations across this province and many are older, mature students, returning to continue their studies after a year or two, or more, away from formal academic training. I repeat, we run the risk here, without appropriate protections being built in, to disenfranchise thousands of young people who otherwise would have an opportunity to avail themselves of this new system.
This legislation, Mr. Speaker, addresses the question of tuition fees and the establishment of tuition fee policies. When debating this bill, and certainly in the course of additional review of this legislation, I believe that we should make it incumbent upon this minister to answer the questions of how Nova Scotians can be guaranteed that admissions and tuition policies will be designed in such a way as to enable those who simply will never make it to the other post-secondary education system, if I may say so, or indeed, opt not to pursue that other post-secondary education system opportunity, will not be disenfranchised or disentitled from access to this new community college post-secondary education system that is described and established here in Bill No. 55.
Not for the purposes of being provocative but for the purposes of simply expressing my difference of opinion with the Minister of Education, I think the Minister of Education is wrong, wrong, dead wrong, when he suggests that Bill No. 55 has built into it anything close to the kinds of protections on the labour front that he took so much time here today to talk about. I noticed the minister took a good deal of time playing like a Dalhousie lawyer here today in his presentation talking about (Interruption) Well, you want to take shots at me and suggest that what I am now going to say is me being the Dalhousie lawyer. The Minister of Education, when he got up to talk about the value of his Bill No. 55, spent as much time talking about labour law as he did about educating kids in Nova Scotia.
In the course of all of that diatribe from the minister, he attempted to have people who would hear him here and through the media and elsewhere believe that this bill has built into it all the labour law protections that God could ever have created or imagined and that nobody, but nobody, has to worry about nothing because he has got it all covered. Well, he is wrong, he is dead wrong, and there are hundreds and hundreds of men and women in the existing community college system whose careers are at jeopardy if this bill passes in its present form. This minister can pass himself off as a labour law expert and talk about labour law just like the Minister of Human Resources and just like anybody else over there, but in this case, he is absolutely and totally wrong.
One of the reasons it is so clear he is wrong is because in this bill there is a principle, can you believe it, there is a principle which says that the provisions of the Labour Standards Code don't apply to people who have already been working in this system. Do you know what that means at law? I have every reason now to believe that the Minister of Education does not understand what it means at law. It means that when all of these units come together, men and women who have worked in our existing community college system, in some cases for as much as 10, 20 or more years, can be summarily dismissed by the Labour Relations Board. This bill allows that to happen and it is offensive in the extreme for this Minister of Education to stand up and play labour lawyer and try to suggest (Interruption)
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The former Leader of the Opposition has kind of lost a bit of composure here. I might remind him and all members of the House that at the present time, in the community colleges, some people have been terminated after 15 and 20 years because their program no longer applies. Now that member knows that and he is getting up here and suggesting that this is adding something new. That presently exists in our community colleges that he left and the rules were left by his crowd. He is suggesting that somehow something new has been added and it hasn't been added at all. It is just that that particular section somehow contravenes what he left when he was Minister of Advanced Education and Job Training, and his crowd left in 1992.
MR. SPEAKER: While that may well be a point, it is not a point of order.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, the minister says he is trying to be helpful; well, he is sure trying to be helpful. I ask him, if he wants to be helpful, and I want him, if he wants to be helpful, to speak with every man and women who teaches in the community college system and explain to them how the addition of a clause in this bill, which says that the Labour Standards Code, Section 71, does not apply, is not a direct threat to their employment, to their paycheque, to their job, to their family, to their future, to their hope and aspirations. That is what I want him to explain to the men and women who work in this system. (Interruption) He will? Oh, he is a wonderful communicator; he is agreeing to do that. Perhaps the minister (Interruption) (Laughter) It has already been done? Oh, my goodness.
I saw a little item in the newspaper today which I thought was a the funniest thing I would experience today. The headline says that a person sued Mickey Mouse. I thought that was the funniest thing I would hear today; it has now been outdone by the outlandish remark by the Minister of Education here today. Oh, my.
This legislation - despite the protestations of this minister, not unlike the protestations from the Minister of Human Resources - has principles in it which allow the Labour Relations Board to exercise all of its powers under the Trade Union Act. The Labour Relations Board, Mr. Speaker, as you will know, has tremendous powers under the Labour Relations Act. Among the powers which that Labour Relations Board has under the Trade Union Act - and they are contained, if my memory serves me correctly, in Section 35 of the Trade Union Act - and I would, with respect, ask this minister to go back and read, if he has as yet not read it, Section 35.
If he hasn't, go find some competent legal advice to help him with the reading of Section 35, because the Labour Relations Board, when they addressed the Cape Breton Municipal merger matter, when they addressed these issues, you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that the powers available to the Labour Relations Board - and the evidence is here and the decision is made in the Cape Breton situation - the power is there whereby that Labour Relations Board can, in effect, redesign, rewrite, change salary levels, change job classifications, change benefits packages and provisions, address issues that relate to pension rights and entitlement . . .
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. Would the honourable member, for the elucidation of all members of the House, tell the House, through you, Mr. Speaker, who sits on this labour relations all-powerful body that he is describing; would he tell the House that? From practising law, he should know that and I think all members of the House should be aware of who sits on this thing.
MR. SPEAKER: I take it that it is more of a question than it is a point of order. The honourable member for Halifax Citadel may decide to answer the question, or he may not.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, what a wonderful question. This minister stands up and asks me, who sits on it? Well, the problem is that this piece of drivel that this minister has introduced as Bill No. 55 has a provision in it which makes it impossible for me or any person working in the community college system to be able to answer. Do you know why, Mr. Speaker? Because there is another principle, offensive as all get-out, relative to labour law, there is another principle in this bill produced by this minister. I will not read it all but the principle is that his buddy, the Minister of Labour, if he figures there have to be more people appointed to the Labour Relations Board, if the Minister of Labour thinks there have to be more people appointed to the Labour Relations Board, the Minister of Labour can appoint them. Sure. (Interruption)
No, management and workers, it doesn't say that. The principle of the power of the Minister of Labour to appoint new members is a carte blanche for this minister or the Minister of Labour to appoint any Liberal hack they want to, whether that person has any labour law background or knowledge or experience. (Interruption) Well, certainly it does, and if the ministers want to get up and explain that that is wrong, then please get up and show me, in this legislation, how and why it is wrong because it isn't wrong, it is in this minister's bill.
Let me ask you this question, Mr. Speaker, if this Minister of Education had any reason to believe that all of the labour law issues and the collective bargaining agreement problems and so on were all handled, there just isn't a question that the men and women working in the community college system have nothing to worry about, why would it be deemed necessary by this Minister of Education that there be a clause that his buddy, the Minister of Labour, would have authority if the work load requires additional members, that the Minister of Labour would have authority to appoint new members?
Do you know why? Because the truth of the matter is that the government knows and the minister knows that the collective bargaining agreement issues, the labour relations issues here are so badly bastardized and so badly convoluted and set into very serious question that it probably will be that there will be so many applications and representations and presentations and - leave it at that, applications and representations and presentations to the Labour Relations Board, that yes, the men and women who are members today of the Labour Relations Board wouldn't have the physical and time capacity to handle it all.
So this minister establishes a principle that the Minister of Labour can appoint new people. Well who? It doesn't say, by the way, Mr. Speaker, that principle - I'd be a little bit happier if that principle at least was cloaked and clothed with this caveat, if the legislation established that the new appointment principle said that if the Minister of Labour thinks because of the work load of the Labour Relations Board that it requires additional members as a consequence of, if we found language that said things like, as a consequence of applications, representations and presentations required to be made to the Labour Relations Board as a result of issues arising out of and from this legislation, then I might have said, well, all right, maybe that makes some sense to what these additional members to the Labour Relations Board is all about. But that is not there.
There is another principle in this bill, Mr. Speaker, which on the . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Nobody is deaf in here.
MR. DONAHOE: Oh, I don't care if anybody is deaf in here or not. There is another principle in this bill, Mr. Speaker, which is just absolutely astounding, that is the principle, probably attempted for the first time in any common law jurisdiction in the Commonwealth whereby in a bill which purports to respect and - well, we will just call it the Community Colleges Act - in the bill called the Community Colleges Act, we are going to have a brand new legal precedent established and that is that in that Act we are going to amend the Trade Union Act.
These guys are so good, Mr. Speaker, they are going to purport to amend the Trade Union Act of the Province of Nova Scotia without even mentioning the words Trade Union Act, because there is what purports to be a principle here that all of these Liberal hack appointments that the Minister of Labour will have the capacity to make to the Labour Relations Board, when those are made, those appointments pursuant to that section do not increase the quorum with the Labour Relations Board. Well, this minister obviously misunderstands that the Trade Union Act of the Province of Nova Scotia establishes what the quorum of the Trade Union Act is and not this particular piece of legislation, and it is so poorly drafted.
Mr. Speaker, I was getting - I almost said I was getting the finger from your predecessor and I was, actually - but it was . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Your time is just about up.
MR. DONAHOE: . . . a finger to indicate that my time had expired, so I will read the display of finger in that way. I realize my time, at this stage in debate on this bill, is up. There are so many other things that I might have addressed and wanted to address, but we will have other opportunities at other stages in debate. The bill, Mr. Speaker, is badly flawed in so many ways, and requires so much attention and so many amendments. I don't know whether the minister will . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member's time has expired.
MR. DONAHOE: My time has expired and, as it expires, I will simply close by saying, I don't know whether this minister will come forward with 170 amendments or 200 amendments to this bill, as he did with the Education Bill, but if he doesn't come forward with some very sizeable number, we are in serious difficulty and, more to the point, the young men and women who need the service of this community college system will be in some difficulty. I thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have the opportunity - well, I don't know if I am or not, to be quite frank about it, to have the opportunity - this afternoon to speak to Bill No. 55, An Act Respecting Collège de l'Acadie and the Nova Scotia Community College. The bill was introduced Tuesday afternoon, and here it is Thursday afternoon and I am, quite frankly, disappointed that the House Leader saw fit to call this bill today; it didn't give us much time to go through the bill. I did have the opportunity to try to get through it as best I can. I want to spend a few moments today on some of my concerns in regard to this bill.
The community college, of course, has been a very important part of our communities throughout the province and I think they certainly serve their purpose well. Perhaps the intent of this bill is correct; I don't dispute that. But I think there are some things in it that are very badly flawed. As the minister had done the Education Act and then came back with, first, 170 amendments and at the Law Amendments Committee the other night, I believe we had another 30 amendments, more or less. So, whether that will be the result of this bill or not, that is to be seen.
The minister has stated, in essence, that the principle of the bill is essentially as follows: what the province has known as a community college system, up to this point, which system was a successor system to our regional vocational school system is now to be transformed by this legislation into what the Minister of Education is describing as a post-secondary system of institutions.
In his opening remarks, too, when briefing on this bill, the minister indicated that the mandate of the community colleges, of post-secondary education, is, "to enhance the province's economic and social well-being by meeting the occupational training requirements of the population and the labour market.". It occurred to us, I think, that one of the first questions we should be raising is, just what dialogue and consultation has the minister had with the universities and colleges across the province? It is my understanding that the former Leader of our Party had contacted several universities and was told that there was no consultation, absolutely none. The minister may be able to clarify that later on and I would be pleased to respond to that if, in fact, that is so.
I think it is important that we raise the spectrum of potential confusion and competition between the two systems.
AN HON. MEMBER: Ask for a quorum count.
MR. MCINNES: Would the Speaker call for a quorum count, please?
MR. SPEAKER: A quorum count is being called. There were 15 at the time I started counting. (Interruption) Order, please. At the time the quorum count was called, I started counting. I counted two members as they were going out. They were still in the House when I started counting and I find there is a quorum. (Interruptions)
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. One of the things that members opposite ran for in the last election was to form a government. I think that part of the responsibility of that election was that when you form a government, you have an opportunity and an obligation to see that this House is properly manned with government members. When the quorum falls below a number, it is up to the Government Whip to keep the House open. It is not the responsibility of the members of the Opposition to keep the numbers in the House. If the members of the government are not interested enough to be in here, then maybe they better call an election because the people are demanding one.
MR. SPEAKER: I do not hear a point of order. The honourable member for Pictou West has the floor.
MR. MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, I hope all this time that is being used up will be added to my time. Before that interruption, I was talking to you in regard to the consultation that had taken place with regard to this bill. I raised the question whether, in fact, the universities and the colleges across the province were consulted. I believe I stated that the member for Halifax Citadel had made some contacts and was told that no, they had no consultation whatsoever.
There is a major change in the governance. The second principle which the minister suggests is reflected in the legislation is that the community colleges are now positioned and will, in fact, have the legal trappings necessary to become self-governed colleges. He offers in justification for that public policy shift, the argument that the colleges must become more efficient and competitive in securing private sector dollars for customized training contracts to ensure continued strength and growth. He points out further that the boards will ensure training decisions are directly linked to economic opportunities and the needs of the people the colleges serve. I have no problem with that. I think that if Michelin or Trenton Works, for example, have special needs to train people, that is very good.
In fact, I give the minister credit for the fact that after Greenbrier took over Trenton Works, they started to expand and hire more people and couldn't get welders and this minister, with the help of my colleagues, the member for Pictou East and the member for Pictou Centre, did in fact get courses put on. Some of them were held in the Pictou Shipyards which is, by the way, not being utilized. But I think that is important and that is an important piece of the legislation and I say it is not all bad. There are certainly some good things in it. But I think that when the minister can do that and there will be other cases, I am sure, as times change and requirements are needed, that hopefully the colleges can offer courses that will be helpful to the public.
I know I am not supposed to go clause by clause and I am not going to do that, Mr. Speaker, but just to refer to Clause 8, it says that, "(1) There shall be a Board of Governors of the Collège . . .". I think it suggests that there shall be two students from the college, an academic staff member, one non-academic staff member, a person appointed by the minister from P.E.I. if, in fact, they are considered, and "(e) not fewer than five and not more than seven persons nominated by the Minister; . . .". Now the point I want to make is, who is making the appointments? The appointments will be made downstairs in the room, which is called the Cabinet Room, so the minister . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Down in the bunker.
MR. MCINNES: Down in the bunker. So the minister will actually be appointing five and maybe seven people to this board. Do you know what the board itself is going to appoint? Did everybody read that? The board, itself, is going to appoint five more. Now there was a bill here the other day that does the same thing. It was the QE II Board. The board appoints people to the board. I never heard the like of that before.
AN HON. MEMBER: . . . universities often do that.
MR. MCINNES: Well, I think the board should be appointed by the government, maybe the Governor in Council, that's fine, but when you see the board doing it themselves, I am very concerned. Who is going to be in charge? The minister will still be having the authority to deal with the boards and to tell them what to do. That is one of my concerns.
The minister on a point of order, which, I guess, wasn't a point of order but a point of information, did raise the question regarding adult education courses that might be still carried on and suggested that in fact that would be done. Again, I say, I think that is very good. I think those classes are important; we all know of a lot of people who use the facilities of community colleges to upgrade or whatever, to better their education, to take computer courses or whatever. Maybe I can quote the minister again, "A board of governors puts the colleges in a much better position to link training to economic needs and opportunities.". Well, I did talk about that and I agree with him on that, that it will give the college an opportunity to have businesses come in. Things change, so it is expected that training needs will change and by coming through the boards, perhaps that can be reasonable.
I said, Mr. Speaker, I was a little disappointed with the minister in that he introduced this bill on Tuesday afternoon. Here it is Thursday afternoon and we are just now having the opportunity to discuss it. It would have been hoped that we would have had the weekend at least to go through the bill and to give us an opportunity perhaps to talk to our people at home in regard to this bill.
My colleague from Halifax Citadel did talk, and I am not a lawyer, but on Page 17 of the bill, in regard to the Labour Relations Board, and I am not an authority and don't pretend to be an authority on it, but it is my understanding that the QE II bill, the Education bill and this bill all have basically the same clauses in them in regard to how the workers' rights and benefits are going to be handled after this comes into effect.
AN HON. MEMBER: . . . stripped.
MR. MCINNES: My colleague from Sackville is saying that they are going to be stripped; their benefits are going to be stripped. I don't pretend to be a legal authority, but the way I read this and the way it is explained to me, and after sitting in Law Amendments Committee on the QE II bill especially, which was yesterday and some of my colleagues are sitting there for me today, that those workers at the QE II - and it is referring to the same type of legislation - that they are extremely concerned about their jobs and what effect this bill and that QE II bill will have on their work, on their rights.
It was unbelievable in there yesterday, and I think you should talk to your caucus members who are sitting on that committee. I mean, somebody said to me they are acting. I said, come on, you don't get up at a committee meeting and break down and cry and have somebody come up to look after you when you are presenting your case to a committee; that is not acting. I tell you, those people are very concerned about their jobs and the health care that . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member should direct his comments to the bill that we are now debating . . .
MR. MCINNES: I am, Mr. Speaker, because these same clauses are, I'm supposed to be on clauses, but the same general principle is the fact that this will do what that other bill will do. I am sure that when this bill passes - and I know it will, it will get through second reading and it will go to Law Amendments Committee - that you are going to again see a lot of the people from the community college coming in and being very concerned about their jobs.
On Page 17 of the bill, and again I refer to Clause 41(6), "Where, in the opinion of the Minister of Labour, the workload of the Labour Relations Board requires additional members, the Governor in Council may, in addition to the Vice-chair appointed pursuant to subsection 16(4) of the Trade Union Act, appoint additional members and vice-chairs to the Labour Relations Board for such period of time as is set out in the appointment.".
So they can appoint more members to the board. And do you know what the next clause says? Clause 41(7) "An appointment pursuant to subsection (6) does not increase the quorum of the Labour Relations Board." Wow! So, Mr. Speaker, I am very concerned about this bill. I think it was brought in in haste, I think it was introduced in haste. For that reason and the fact that we are going to have a lot of people come to the Law Amendments Committee and express concerns, and they are very serious concerns in regard to this bill, I am going to move that the words after "That" be deleted and the following substituted - and I have copies. I will hand them out before I read it, and as I say, Mr. Speaker, while you are reading it, I really feel that this amendment is very important, it will give everyone an opportunity to review the bill and as I have said before in this House on many occasions, the Minister of Labour when he was Minister Housing and Consumer Affairs took in a bill . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. If I can perhaps first just rule on the amendment.
MR. MCINNES: Well, I didn't read it yet, can I read it?
MR. SPEAKER: Okay, please read it, I have it before me.
MR. MCINNES: I am moving that the words after "That" be deleted and the following substituted:
Bill No. 55, An Act Respecting Collège de l'Acadie and the Nova Scotia Community College, be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence. I so move.
MR. SPEAKER: Do all members have a copy of the amendment? I find the amendment to be in order. I recognize the honourable member for Kings North on the amendment.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, this amendment is an amendment that is both useful and it is one that is necessary. Community colleges in Nova Scotia have been undergoing a change for some time now. The Minister of Education recently has decided that the community colleges are really going to undergo some changes and to do so, to make his privatization of community colleges work, he has brought in this bill. Is this privatization that the minister has embarked upon, is that in the best interest of students in Nova Scotia and is it in the best interests of Nova Scotians? We don't know.
A couple of months ago the minister announced the closure of several community colleges within Nova Scotia. Was this done in the Town of Windsor in Hants County with any cost-benefit analysis, any study, or was it simply on a whim? Was it politically motivated? The closure of the school at Port Hawkesbury, is that in the best interest of that area and the region? In Truro, we have the location of a super community college with leading edge technology, world class. We also have the community college that the minister announced he is closing. This has all been done without any input from the general public. In Dartmouth, there is another closure announced.
When you work in haste and in the dark, it is sometimes very difficult to come to a successful conclusion. We want to give the minister six months so he can meet with and plan and come up with some community college ideas that will be both beneficial and advantageous to Nova Scotia and to Nova Scotians of future generations.
Our community colleges have had a long history. The one in Kentville has been there for 30 years. For 30 years our community college has operated as first a vocational school and then as a community college. The new role for the community college in Kings County, Kingstec, has not been defined publicly, privately or any other way that I can understand. The staff at the community college are dedicated. Recently they held an open house that was attended by thousands of interested people. One of the problems that became so evident was the lack of facilities for vocational students.
The minister has abandoned, completely and totally, vocational training, vocational education or whatever other phrase that minister wishes to call it. Those students have been abandoned by this government, this minister, and the Department of Education. We have a real serious problem and I think this minister needs some time so he can become aware of the situation as it exists in the school system of today.
We have a community college in Kings County. Years ago, all of the general courses, all of the vocational classes were taught, as well as community-college type courses. As we have progressed in the last couple of years, the vocational students have been removed, the general students have been removed, and they have been sent back to the regular high schools within the community. There are students who have a real difficulty maintaining their academic standing in the regular classroom setting. Those students grew and they blossomed, they graduated and they became successful and they made a contribution to our society under the old vocational school system.
The minister, in his haste for privatization, has excluded those students from ever opening the doors to a community college because now, under the minister's legislation, there will be an independent board of governors, totally divorced from the Department of Education, and there will be no input from the local school boards or the regional school boards.
Without any liaison between the school board, who are actually involved in teaching youngsters, and the community college, that creates a void that this minister is making further apart. I see no solution for our vocational school problem in this legislation and that is very serious. This legislation must be corrected so that we make room in Nova Scotia to help and teach vocational students.
I would like the Minister of Education to tell me where the non-academic students fit?
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would ask the member to please relate his arguments as to why this bill should not be read at this time but should be read six months hence.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, I thought it was perfectly clear. This bill needs to be rewritten. The minister has to get out and meet with the people who are involved in education and the parents who have students who need vocational training and to find out, really, what is happening in the real world. The minister, obviously, has neglected the real world. What is happening in the classrooms of today? What is happening? Why can't these youngsters get into a vocational school or a community college anymore? Where are they going to go? That makes this argument I am putting forward very relevant because I have a concern for the young people in this province and I know you do too, Mr. Speaker. Where do they fit?
There used to be a place for students at community colleges but now they are a post-secondary education facility. There are students attending Kingstec now that have graduated from university, unable to find employment so they said, well, heck, I will go back and I will take a course offered at Kingstec. We have some of the finest teachers, some of the finest facilities anywhere in North America but we have to have it coordinated so that there is not this break between education and community colleges.
At the present time, in this bill - and if we want to go clause by clause we can but I don't think on a hoist you can do that - you can point out areas that must be examined more carefully. One of the areas that must be examined is the role of community colleges and the social responsibility, I feel, that the Department of Education has to make sure that we equip our young people for future employment.
If I could tell you about the first graduate of Kingstec, when it became a community college, you would see why the minister absolutely must review this bill. The first graduate and the valedictorian when Kingstec became a community college was a general student who entered the school in Grade 9. She had great difficulty in the academic school, she went to the community college and she eventually graduated with a general Grade 12. She got into another course at Kingstec and, do you know, she led her class. Her parents told me afterwards that without the care and interest and concern shown by the staff and the faculty at Kingstec, she never would have finished high school. Where in this day and age, and in this Bill No. 55, would that youngster fit today? The Minister of Education is obligated, I feel, to bring in a bill that solves the problem, not make the problem even greater than it is today. There is no room in Bill No. 55 for students who do not have their senior matriculation.
The courses that have to be taught at community colleges, are we at the present time offering the correct courses? One of the interesting things this morning in the paper, was Gary Foran, President of the brewery union, and Peter O'Brien. Peter O'Brien indicated that there were 30,000 jobs in Atlantic Canada going unfilled because the training wasn't right. Gary Foran, with the union, is operating a computer training facility in Strawberry Hill for union and non-union members. He said, where are the jobs and what training do you want, Mr. O'Brien? Well, Mr. O'Brien said, look, I don't have a list of the jobs; the survey wasn't accurate enough to tell exactly what training was needed or where these jobs were. That should really make the Minister of Education sit up and take notice and say, what's happening here?
The Executive Director of the Federation of Independent Business says it is 30,000 jobs. We had better find out what courses ought to be taught and fill them. It is going to take six months for the minister to do that, and the minister should do that because what else is education of our young people for if it isn't to train them so that they can go out and get a job with some useful marketable skills? Is there anything wrong with that, Mr. Speaker?
Kingstec for a long time has been a leader in education in Atlantic Canada. The right courses have to be available so that young people can become employed. At Kingstec they decided there should be a course for funeral directors. Nowhere else in Atlantic Canada, nowhere east of Montreal, nowhere east of Toronto for many students. Kingstec started that course, the first one, innovation, an opportunity for young people from across Atlantic Canada to be trained for a job.
We know as politicians how important media is. Kingstec started the first course in media. They have radio and television broadcasting courses there. We used to have a course in food processing. The minister, without any consultation, cancelled the course, laid off a teacher with 20 years' experience.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The motion before the House is that this bill be read at a time six months hence. I would ask the honourable member to please develop that argument, as it is the matter before the House at this time. History is fine, but I would like arguments as to why this bill should be read six months hence.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, you are being very helpful. The point is, the minister has brought in a bill and many people are saying that the minister wants to privatize our community college system, sort of courses for profit. If you want to become a profitable business, start operating courses in the community colleges. I am not sure that the minister has indicated whether yes, that is what he is doing or no, it is not but, given six months of public consultation and public dialogue, I believe the minister could make his course.
Collège de l'Acadie is of vital importance to Nova Scotians. We have to look at the increasing role of Collège de l'Acadie because at the present time - and actually Collège de l'Acadie as you well know, Mr. Speaker, but perhaps a few people here don't realize - Collège de l'Acadie is leading technology in the world. There have been delegations of people from pretty near every continent and every country in the world coming to look at the technology that is involved in Collège de l'Acadie, where you have five or six classrooms, all connected together, through video, audio and the electronic highway of computers. So the teacher is in one room, the students are in the other, and they are communicating back and forth. That is the type of development that is both marketable and innovative and it shows how important Nova Scotians really view education.
But, in the minister's haste to bring in this bill, are we forgetting the importance of Collège de l'Acadie? Collège de l'Acadie would not have ever developed if we were operating under Bill No. 55. Bill No. 55 would absolutely, totally prevent the innovation that took place because it was huge volumes of government money that did it. It was a chance; it was experimental. It wasn't something, where you could go to the store and take it off the shelf and bring here. You couldn't go to Ontario and bring it home; you couldn't go to the U.S. and bring it home; you couldn't go to Taiwan and bring it here. It wasn't there. In fact, people from Taiwan have been here looking at it, admiring it, and saying that's what distance education can really do.
So we need the minister to take the time that is required, so he brings in a bill that does not say we aren't going to do that any more, this is the last innovation that we are going to do as a government for education in Atlantic Canada. That is not progress. Where would we be if everybody had the attitude that this bill shows? The minister absolutely must take the time to further his education and Nova Scotians' education on the benefits of government involvement for the betterment of Nova Scotia's students.
What happens to the students that want to go into the community colleges? What administrative standards are going to be required? The minister says he wants to set up an independent board of directors for each college. Of course, he is going to appoint them, then they are going to hire the president. Well, is this really the best way to go, Mr. Speaker? Has the minister thought of any other method? He needs six months so that he can consult with Nova Scotians and find out exactly what Nova Scotians are thinking, so I don't think having a little hoist in this bill would hurt that adventure in the least.
The minister appointing the board, there is something that is very distressing about ministerial appointments ever since the last two and one-half years when the Minister of Health and the Premier said, look we have to appoint Liberals only; they will be the only people that really know how to carry out the government agenda. Well, are they the only people that are going to be able to help educate our young people? There are other methods of choosing a good board of governors for the colleges throughout the province.
The minister met a couple of weeks ago with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. The minister furnished a long list of every meeting and every cup of coffee and every phone call and every letter he has ever had with them. He keeps a great diary and that was important. But, you know, the minister has to have another meeting. The minister has to meet with the employees of the community colleges because we have a serious problem. I met with representatives of community college employees a couple of weeks ago, they are very concerned.
They have good reason to be concerned and we have to get some clarification because one of the things they have is kind of a collective agreement. But under this legislation the collective agreement is out the window, according to the Trade Union Act. That is what people are telling me. When I read it, that seems to me to be what it is saying. So if I think that, the community college teachers think that but the minister says that is not true, we need a little time to iron this out.
We are hearing discussions now of an imminent strike between other employees in Nova Scotia. Are we going to have to have a strike among all the educators in the province as well, to get the attention? It is almost like a juggler, you get so many balls in the air and then you put your hands behind your back and don't pay attention and everything will fall down. If this government doesn't pay attention to the groups being affected by this legislation, something is going to fall.
It is not the government I am concerned about, it is the young people in Nova Scotia who are going to the community colleges. They are the people who will suffer. The people who are thinking of going to community colleges in the future are the ones who are going to suffer because this minister and their government brought in a bill without the proper foresight that it requires, without any regard for the future generations of Nova Scotians who need vocational training.
Where are they going to go? Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the minister, if the minister can't tell me or you where vocational training is going to take place, then I think he had better take this bill out and fix it so that we all know. There are hundreds and hundreds of people and students in this province who would like to take advantage of vocational training.
It is very clear that the collective agreements are no longer valid after this bill comes into place. This bill must be changed. Now I hear the minister and shake his head, that is not right, he says. (Interruptions) Yes, it was rattling. But under the Trade Union Act, and I have some relevant chapters right here, and, Mr. Speaker, knows exactly what the Trade Union Act can do. Now if the minister says that is not right, then the minister needs to bring in a piece of legislation that makes it perfectly clear that all the rights and privileges that the faculty at the community colleges and the workers, all of the benefits they have gained over the years, if he says we are not taking them away, then he should change his legislation to make it perfectly clear.
If the idea and the goal of the government is to remove the rights from employees, well, let's be up-front and honest, let's not stand around and say that is not what we are doing, we are not doing that, that is not what we are doing. Well, then why don't we make it perfectly clear?
But if, in fact, the government says look, it is time that we had a free and easy type of employment situation and your jobs are all under contract and you have no benefits and if you want a pension, then save your money; if you have a disability, they go buy insurance, and this sort of thing, if that is what we want then let's put that in the legislation. Let's not put in words that people are finding great difficulty with.
The minister has an obligation and, Mr. Speaker, we, as legislators, have an obligation to give the minister the six months to settle this so that the employees are not coming into the Law Amendments Committee in tears when they read the sections in the legislation because this is not the first time we have seen the same clause. So if the government's goal is as the Minister of Human Resources said, the purpose of the QE II, he said it at the press conference, was to move people from the Civil Service rolls of the province and that was the purpose of the bill. Well let us be up-front and say that is what we are doing because that is what the effect of this bill is. It is not right and it is not fair to the people.
The Labour Relations Board is going to have more power than anybody else. Well, I hope that the Minister of Labour will stand up and tell us exactly his position because we have met with both union and lawyers so that we could get an understanding of the legislation. They read it to us, but you know the scariest part meeting with specialists in the labour field they cannot give a definitive answer on exactly which way the Labour Relations Board will rule. They said this is new stuff. They are not certain. You know, these are people who make their living dealing and working every day, 7 days a week, with labour relations.
MR. SPEAKER: I would ask the honourable member to relate this to the amendment that is before the floor as to why this is an argument that this bill should be read six months hence.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, I guess I have to tell you the reason we need six months is so that the minister can sort this out among the ministers and the government because one minister in government has indicated the goal of this clause is to get employees off the Civil Service list. Another minister has indicated, (Interruption) Hey he said it at the press conference. I wrote down the day, the hour and the minute.
MR. SPEAKER: Order please.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Another minister said that is not true. Look, if I am confused, and I am here more than most employees, how do you think the people feel. Why do you think the people were crying at the Law Amendments Committee?
The Minister of Health, perhaps it was a joke somebody told him. He is grinning. This is serious stuff, people's livelihood. We hopped into politics without job security or anything else with our eyes open, but employees of the government, civil servants, after a few years feel, well I am going to be working until I have a pension and that is fair ball.
We want to know, Mr. Speaker, and the employees want to know, why is the Minister of Education putting all the power with the Labour Relations Board to decide contracts, modify, rescind, amend, revoke, modify, restrict, determine whether employees affected constitute. If more than one collective agreement is to continue in force designate which employees are to be covered by each agreement? This is pretty serious stuff. Interpret any provision of any collective agreement.
If you do not think that this has pretty adverse effects on employees, and it is worth giggling about and grinning about, well that is fine, but get in the real world or bring in a bill that says what you mean. If what I am saying is wrong than why don't you, as a minister, bring in the proper legislation so that there is no confusion because I am telling all members of the House people are feeling and believing that the goal is to change and attack collective agreements. If that is what the government wants to do, be up-front, earn the respect of Nova Scotians, but take the six months to tell us exactly what your goals are. Is the goal of this bill to make things better in Nova Scotia? I say not, but let's give the minister the six month benefit so that he can go out and convince us that we are better to have privatized community colleges, putting on courses for hire because government cannot move fast enough to bring in new courses. If this minister allows community colleges to function the way they want to function they can.
The Kingstec Community College, you want to talk about speed, 10 years ago when they were talking about offshore gas, the community college in Kentville sent a teacher out to Calgary to learn how to high pressure weld gas pipelines. That did not materialize but that school was ready to teach the course.
The people have more understanding than this government and this minister give them credit for. The university presidents in Nova Scotia are wondering, too, what is their role in regard to community colleges? The minister is just the old juggler again, he has got everything on the go, and the universities in metro and around Nova Scotia are not sure exactly what is going to happen. There have been some courses cut back and some courses cut and then put back in. The Teachers College was closed. Everybody is kind of confused.
You know, I am a little confused about the role of a university and a community college. They both are going to require senior matriculation to get in. Are they going to be teaching the same courses? What about the relationship between a college and a university? Can I go to Kingstec for a couple of years and then come in and transfer to St. Mary's University or Dalhousie University or go to the minister's alma mater at St. Francis Xavier? Can I take my courses up there and go with it? What is happening? People want to know. Why doesn't the minister tell us? Given six months, the minister might be able to communicate that to Nova Scotians so they would understand what he is trying to do with the community colleges bill.
It is just not fair. Are we creating a new university in Nova Scotia? We didn't have enough before? The minister is going to create some more of them? Is there a plan? Is there a goal? If we gave the minister six months, perhaps he could tell us where we are headed. The only thing the bill tells us for sure is that any negotiated agreement between labour and employer is out the window. They have no more effect once he is through with them. (Interruption) Well, the minister says, that is not true, George. Then the minister had better stand up and tell me why it isn't true and bring in some legislation that says what I am saying isn't true, because there are union members, there are union leaders and there are professionals who earn their living practising the profession of labour negotiations that will tell me exactly what I am telling you, that collective bargaining is out the window under this bill.
Now, if that is what these backbenchers wanted, then fine, but did the minister tell you that collective bargaining was gone now, according to this bill? He didn't tell me that. In fact, he is denying it. You see, Mr. Speaker, we have a problem. We have people in the field telling us the direct effect of this bill and the minister says, that is not right. Well, look, thank you very much, but I have a little more faith in others than I do in this government at the present time and I think a lot of the backbenchers and a lot of the colleagues on this side should have the same attitude. You know, you have to build trust and faith. When the minister says that that is not right, should I believe that completely? This is the same guy who said, no new taxes. This is the same guy who said, we are going to honour collective agreements. This is the fellow who voted against wage restraint three years ago and said that it was dictatorial to do it and now he has rolled it back. This government and this minister have not built up the faith. So for him to say that I am not right when I say collective agreements are out the window, I have more faith in the other people than I do in this government when they are telling me that.
We have an opportunity in Nova Scotia, Mr. Speaker. I have seen what a community college can really be and what a community college can really do by visiting the students and visiting the staff and visiting Kingstec. You cannot find a finer institution in this province and it developed its courses without the benefit of this minister and some of his ideas that are less than revolutionary and more close to being reactionary.
Now the minister has to go out and spend some time working with and finding out what really is happening in the community college field, because this legislation does not reflect the real world as it exists today. Peter O'Brien says there are 30,000 jobs out there waiting; we need the people trained to pick them up. Well, he had better go find out from Peter O'Brien what training those 30,000 people need. One step closer to privatization.
This government, I can't figure it out, Mr. Speaker. The other day the government purchased $500,000 worth of backhoes. That is putting the . . .
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I am just hanging on every word that the honourable member is talking about there, but I think that there a long bow being drawn here regarding what he is talking about and the issue before us, which is an amendment on the six months' hoist. I have been listening and he is nowhere near talking about what is in the amendment. I would humbly ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ask him to stick to the issue at hand here, which is the amendment, and never mind what Peter O'Brien thinks about anything.
MR. SPEAKER: When the honourable member started to talk about backhoes, I was going to ask him to please get back to the amendment, which is that this bill should be read six months hence.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, this bill needs a good dose of reality and a good dose of trust. What it needs is an opportunity for the minister to explain himself and earn the trust, because the government is not really, people can't, you know, after the Minister of Municipal Affairs tried to hire somebody without a contract a year ago, after she amalgamated . . .
MR. SPEAKER: We are now . . .
MR. ARCHIBALD: . . . and the Minister of Municipal of Affairs is sitting over there heckling and telling me . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would ask the member to please get back to the question before the House, and it has nothing to do with the honourable Minister of Municipal Affairs.
MR. ARCHIBALD: I want to but, you know, sometimes people on the opposite side of the House they say things and they heckle and, really and truly, it is hard to ignore the Minister of Municipal Affairs after she ignored the wishes of all the people in Halifax. I mean, all the people . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would ask the member, again, to please get back to the matter that is before the House.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Okay. This government is the government that doesn't have enough money to open hospital rooms. They are closing them all over the province, but yet they had $500,000 to buy backhoes. Now, it is the same thing. They say they don't have money to run a school, but they have got $500,000 to buy backhoes. Do you see what my point is on the backhoes? You have no money for health care, but you have it for backhoes. You have no money for nurses, but you can hire an executive assistant for $107,000 a year. You see, it is the inconsistencies and the lack of trust that people have that make it hard for this bill to fly in here. If the minister would take it out on the road and maybe convince some people, and take this six months to do it, perhaps then we would have a bill that didn't require the Trade Union Act to walk all over it and trample on the rights of every person who is an employee of a community college, just as the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources are doing at the QE II.
I mean there is a pattern here. It is anti-people, it is anti-employees. I can't, for the life of me, figure out if it is the goal of the government to be against employees or is it just a few of the managers that are in the background? This is what we want to know. The Minister of Education the other day didn't realize, he said at his press conference, the Trade Union Act, that hasn't got anything to do with this bill. Well, it certainly does. He didn't know; the people that drew up the bill didn't tell him what all of the ramifications were, so he didn't realize and at his press conference he wasn't aware of the implications of the Trade Union Act, what they were going to do to the employees, and they used by example what happened in the amalgamation of Cape Breton. I don't think that has got anything to do with this. He said, you had better ask the Minister of Human Resources, he is more up-to-date on that than I am. Well, this is why that minister needs six months to go out and find out what in the name of time, is in this bill that he has presented. I think if he had six months of hard study and some visitations with some learned people, it just might be what he needs.
So, Mr. Speaker, we have a problem with this bill. We have a real problem with the minister. He thinks the bill is perfect. Well, that is what he said the last time after he put in 300 amendments . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: It was 202.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Oh, 202, was it? I am sorry. Look, it was only 202. I am sorry; I didn't mean to exaggerate. (Interruption)
MR. SPEAKER: Order. Order, please.
MR. ARCHIBALD: I don't think there has ever been a minister who had to do that.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would ask that the honourable member please again relate to the question as to why this bill should be read six months hence.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, I think its a good idea, Mr. Speaker, and I know that you do too. Perhaps he could even speak to the Minister of Supply and Services. He used to be principal of a vocational school and then it was a community college. Perhaps he could give him some insight because there they used to teach skills in housebuilding. I mean, the minister has first-hand knowledge of the building of houses. So I think that we have a lot of valuable information that this minister could glean from, not just his colleagues, but I know that he could get some of the help from going out and meeting with the people and understanding the conditions that people are living under, and the fear that they are living under, as a result of the legislation that this gentleman has presented.
I think Bill No. 55 is not worthy of support. I think we have a community college system. I think we have some people in Nova Scotia, Nova Scotians who are leaders in education across Canada. We need to have faith in the Nova Scotians to develop courses, develop community colleges, that are going to fill the bill today and in the future. This bill, certainly does not assist community colleges. It doesn't help young people. But if all he is interested in is privatization and doing away with labour contracts and having no regard for the future generations of education, then I think this bill may just about do it.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I urge this minister and I urge the colleagues of his who are on his side of the government, to read this stuff. Don't just support it, because he is in the same Party you are in. Read it and understand it and then make an intelligent discussion about it, not simply to follow because that minister tabled it and we have to support it, for goodness gracious, please bring this bill to the minister's attention. If you don't listen to me, meet with the people who are in the vocational and community colleges throughout your regions. Meet with those teachers and meet with the faculties and then after you have met with them, have a discussion because they can't be telling you anything different than they are telling me. The message that they are asking me to deliver to the minister is to make some changes and bring in a bill that will help Nova Scotia, not wreck the community college system. Thank you.
AN HON. MEMBER: Question.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, as I stood up, somebody said "question". I am wondering if somebody had a question that they wanted to ask, either the former speaker or myself. Before I begin I would be happy to resume my seat for a second if somebody has a question.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member has the floor.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I assume from that, that whoever had a question has now decided not to ask a question. I really am very much of mixed feelings as I stand to speak this afternoon because I say I am of mixed feelings because, quite honestly, I would like to be able to be standing in my place and saying that I am opposing the amendment that is before us. I would love to be able to say that I believe that the bill that is before us is, in fact, largely a bill that is supportable, a bill that should be able to move forward, a bill that is, in fact, treating the community college system, the students, staff of that system in a fair and respectful manner, a bill that was, in fact, going to be meeting the needs.
Mr. Speaker, I can't say that. Therefore I find myself in the uncomfortable position to have to stand in support of the amendment that is before us because I believe that this bill is so seriously flawed that it is not worthy of being supported at this point in time.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: I'll bet you never even read it.
MR. HOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, we have the member for Cape Breton South suggesting that he bets I haven't even read the bill. Well, I hope he doesn't go to the horse track too often with that kind of odds because . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would ask the member to please get back to the question before the House, which is why this bill should not be read now but be read six months hence.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to tell that member and all members that I have read this bill from cover to cover on several occasions. I have read it a couple of times because I couldn't believe, in my first reading through, that the bill was doing some of the things that it is and that it is not providing for some of the important areas that have been left out.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I very strongly believe that we need to have and that Nova Scotians deserve to have a very strong and vibrant community college system in the Province of Nova Scotia. I believe that our citizens want that, not only our young people but those who are attending community colleges will know that the age of many of the students attending community colleges have increased considerably from the ages of students who used to attend the old vocational college system when that was in place.
That is a recognition among the population or a recognition that many within our population have acknowledged that there is a need to receive an education and a training level beyond the high school level. In fact many of those enrolled in community college systems have not only completed high school but many have also completed courses at university.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Agriculture on an introduction.
HON. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honourable member for allowing me to introduce to all members of the House, through you, sir, members of the Pork Nova Scotia executive who are here this afternoon. We had a meeting a few minutes earlier so, on behalf of all the members, I want to certainly salute them and congratulate them and I would ask all members to salute them. (Applause)
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I think it is about time that there were a few members on the government benches who should either get up and take part in the debate or maybe they may wish to go and find somebody else outside, to come in and replace them, to maintain the quorum number because they don't seem to be taking the issue of this bill very seriously.
Now, Mr. Speaker, if we take a look at the amendment before us, and if we do our time line and we count through, the bill is calling for a hoist for six months. What that really means, in effect, as you know as well as I do, it really kills the bill. But I think that the importance of the six months' timeframe is also important because there is nothing that would prevent or prohibit this minister or his replacement, after the Cabinet shuffle, there is nothing to prevent this minister or another from introducing a new bill to change the community college system that would be positive. Of course in six months this House will be in session. We will be in our spring session and we will have to be in a spring session because the Province of Nova Scotia will need to bring forward a budget and that budget will have to be passed, in order for the monies to be provided. So obviously in six months, by my calculations, that would bring us approximately to the first part of May. The first part of May might be a suitable period of time to give this government the opportunity to take a look at what needs to be done.
When I look at this bill and I listen to what the minister said, you know, everything was rosy according to the minister, that when one takes a look at this, it is going to bring the community college system into the latter part of the 20th Century and bring us forward into the 21st Century, making it accessible, making sure that it is going to meet the needs of students into the future. When one looks at that, the actual commitments and statements that the minister makes, they need to be examined.
First of all, let's look at one major area where there is a need that was identified by the Select Committee on Education, of which the minister was a member, of which I was a member as well as some other members of this House. (Interruption) The minister, I think, has a question that he wants to ask me and I would be happy to answer it if he stands on his feet.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member has the floor; no one else has risen. Please proceed.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, one of the key areas in that was an acknowledgement that there are a large group of students who are falling through the cracks. There are many, many young people in the education system today who, for one reason or any other, are unable to complete high school. It could be because they have a learning disability and that the resources have not been made available in the public school system to help them to overcome that learning disability. It could be as a result of a social difficulty or social situation they find themselves in. Whatever the reason may happen to be, there are a large number of students who, once upon a time, used to be able to have their educational and training needs met in the vocational school system, but that has disappeared, by and large.
Under the community college system, the way it has been set up - and yes, indeed, we should be changing and upgrading our programs constantly to make sure that they meet the economic realities and the job opportunities that exist out there now - the community college system has got to have built into it as well the avenues to provide the education and the training, the skill development, for those who are unable to be successful in the public school system.
Over a period of six months, there will be an opportunity for this government to sit down with partners in several fields and try to develop links. What we are doing here, we are talking, for example, in another field - and I am not going to get sidetracked in going on to discuss it - about reforms in the post-secondary system in terms of universities. We are talking about reforms in the public school system, and maybe I should say change and not reform, because reform implies something positive and change is something different; it may not always be positive. We are talking about a change of the community college system.
What we are doing is setting up little boxes or big boxes. We are setting up the box of the community college system, we are setting up the post-secondary system and we have our public school system. Separate boxes; where are the linkages between them? Where are the tie-ins? Where in this legislation, for example, are the connections, the direct links with the public school system to ensure that the community college system and the public school system can work and cooperate together, so that those young people who had been in the public school system and had dropped out, or are in the situation where they may be forced to drop out, can actually be tied in with the community college system?
The public school system does not have the money to go out and buy all kinds of equipment and resources to put on in those systems . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order. Could the honourable member relate this to the amendment that is before the House.
MR. HOLM: Yes indeed, Mr. Speaker, I can.
MR. SPEAKER: Please do so then.
MR. HOLM: I am talking about linkages and why we need to have linkages. I am talking about what can be developed and worked on during a period of six months and I am not suggesting during that six months that all the wrinkles can be ironed out. Surely, in a period of six months, if I may continue with my analysis, we can set up in place, we can have discussions, meaningful dialogue between the different partners, different players in the education system to put in place a structure, a format for the building upon the links that they establish. If I can continue in my analysis, Mr. Speaker, where I have tried to show you the rationale for the linkage. Just very briefly, as I do not plan to go into it to a great extent.
Within the public system, resources are tight. There is not the financial ability, unfortunately, to put on in all the different high schools and all the schools across the provinces, the kinds of basic occupational training courses and programs in those schools that will provide the kind of skill training and so on that is needed for employment for those young people who are not going to be successful and be able to make their way through. If links are developed, there may be the opportunity for some parts of those programs to be delivered in high schools or even junior high schools and for some of the actual hands-on skill development working with equipment and machinery or computers, or whatever the case may be, that can be done at a community college.
By the same token, I believe that there needs to be stronger links between the community college system and other post-secondary institutions, like universities. We cannot keep looking at things as separate, they tie in. We are talking about an education system, a training system which goes, for many people now, from their first days in school right through to the end and, in fact, past even their working lives as their education is constantly ongoing. We need to have those links.
There are no links built into this bill and, obviously, according to the discussion that has gone on here earlier today, there have not even been the concrete discussions with the university field, with the presidents or the boards of the universities to try to find a way to link them together. For example, why should somebody after they have completed a university degree and is going back to a community college to take some kind of a training program, somebody who may have completed several courses in advanced English, for example, why should they be required to take the elementary English program in a community college course that may be, in terms of the content of what is being done, not as advanced as is in some of the courses that they are in. So there needs to be those links. Whether it is that or in other course matter, subject matter to be covered there has to be some kind of formalized links. For example, some of the community college courses could make use of some of the programs or some of the facilities at a university and vice versa.
Mr. Speaker, if I might continue on on some other areas as well. One of the things that the minister says is that by going this route that the new boards will be able to seize customized training opportunities that make money. Is that the purpose of this bill? Is that what the government is trying to do?
You know, Mr. Speaker, if you were to take a look at what is going on right now, in fact one of the community colleges that is being shut down, the Dartmouth Adult Vocational and Training Centre, an excellent facility, the students are very satisfied, at least the large number with which I met, are very pleased with the programs offered, mature students. That school has been selling courses to the private sector and it is receiving very large contracts for delivering very specialized, very specific training programs that are already making hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits, to go back into the community college system.
So why do you have to go this route when community colleges are already able to meet those kinds of needs? The reality is, and according to the minister's own papers that he puts out, talks about how the community college system is being so successful and that enrolment, for example, this year has increased by more than 700 students province-wide. Yet what is happening is that they have already announced they are eliminating 800 training seats, 800 gone, five campuses closed.
I think what we have here before us is a bill that is, in large part, a knee-jerk reaction. What the government is trying to do is move into and pretend to be in both worlds; first of all, they are trying to pretend, according to this bill, that the community colleges are pretty well totally independent of the government for those things that the government will want them to be independent for. Secondly, they want to have control.
The truth of it is, and when you look at the bill the real control rests with the government, quite honestly, and as it should. Government should have control over the community college system. It has to be run effectively, efficiently, they have to be run in a business-like fashion but that doesn't mean they have to make money. And yes, constitutionally, education, they do have to be, unless it is to be totally sold off and privatized. But even then the province has a responsibility to monitor and to oversee. Yes, indeed, I know that. I think for the private trade schools in the Province of Nova Scotia they have one and one-half persons in that department to be monitoring all the private trade schools in the Province of Nova Scotia. That means to be licensing them, to be looking at the qualifications of the instructors, it also means to look at the course content; in other words, to be doing it in total.
Now, Mr. Speaker, when I said that this is in part a knee-jerk reaction, I think that what the government is really trying to do here, in part, is respond to the cuts that are coming down in federal transfer payments under the CHST, where the feds are going to be cutting back on the amount of money they are going to be providing to the province, in terms of post-secondary education. From the community college system, the community college budget, they, the province, is saying $8.6 million is being eliminated. That is why the province has cut $10 million out of the community college budget, so that they have a $1.4 million surplus here, I guess.
But, Mr. Speaker, there is another element to that. One of the things I would suggest that the province is trying to do here is save money for the province by providing, and doing it in a very shell-like way, providing that the costs for programs and training will actually increase.
I am reminded when I look at this bill of an Order in Council that was passed.
MR. SPEAKER: My, the Order in Council surely doesn't deal with the amendment.
MR. HOLM: No, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: From the bill to an Order in Council, when we are dealing with this little amendment here.
MR. HOLM: Yes, we are, Mr. Speaker. I will try and see if I can't be creative and tie the two together.
In a period of six months, it would give this government the opportunity to take a look at some of their past actions and then to examine those in relationship to the bill, to see if, in fact, this bill is not following some of the kinds of practices that they have done in other areas, like Pharmacare, where they passed an Order in Council.
MR. SPEAKER: This is not about Pharmacare. That is irrelevant and it is out of order.
MR. HOLM: Well it may be out of order in your view, Mr. Speaker, but what it has to do with is the province setting up a system where they will be transferring an increased portion of the costs to those who are using the system. In here, it is very clear in the way that tuition fees are going to be set up, supposedly by the board themselves but after they receive the approval of the minister. It is very clear from the way this is set up that the minister and the government can say that the tuition fees will have to be sufficient to be paying x portion of the cost of running that facility and be able to increase those amounts ever increasingly.
I think we need some time to look at what the purpose of community college systems is. Who are we trying to serve? Do we have a social responsibility with those community colleges as well as a fiscal responsibility? Do we have a responsibility to try to ensure that those who have been unable to be successful in the public school system or that those who are over the age of 21 and who now cannot go back to high school because they are faced with a tuition fee of $1,000 a term or $250 a course because of directions from this government, that the community college system will help to meet their needs so that those people will be able to become productive in the work force and be able to meet their own basic needs, as well as those of their family members? I think that needs to be looked at in relationship to this bill. I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, we want to take a look at that.
If we are talking about independence, if this board is truly to be independent, over a period of six months we could take a look at a number of things. For example, what kind of core programs will those community colleges offer? In this bill and in the minister's own statement it says that the government may - not will, may - provide monies for these programs that are defined as core programs. I, Mr. Speaker, know from reading this bill absolutely nothing about what the core program is. Even more important and more startling is that at the time that the minister announced the closure of five schools and the elimination of 800 training seats, saying that there were going to be 100 to 150 staff laid off, he also said that there will be an examination of the programs that are to be offered in the community college systems and that will be done in February.
Well, surely to Heavens, Mr. Speaker, if we are passing a piece of legislation that is saying that the minister may provide funding for core programs, we have a responsibility to know what kind of programs we are talking about being provided here. I have no difficulty with, I support totally and I would encourage businesses to use the community college system. I think that the community college system with all of its warts, with all of its difficulties, has, in fact, been over the years a not too bad system after all. It has met a lot of needs. Anything in the educational field - I don't care what it is - constantly needs to be revisited, revised and updated. We can't be stagnant. But surely to Heavens we should have a responsibility and a right to know what kind of funding, what kind of core programs are going to be followed.
What is the administration policy to be? The government says, according to legislation, that the administration policy will be decided by the board. Yet, it also goes on to say, but we have to approve. The community colleges decide the core but the minister approves. Six months will give us a chance to develop those core programs. Six months would give us time to develop an admission policy that would be followed and would be designed to be fair and equitable for all of the community colleges.
Another area that is very important is the whole issue of worker rights.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, there is no doubt that the issue of worker rights is very important and I am sure I could make just as good a speech as you can on that subject if I had a chance. The fact is that the amendment that is before us states that, Bill No. 55 be not now read a second time, but that it be read a second time this day six months hence. Now that is a procedural motion, it doesn't deal with the content of the bill at all. It simply says we don't read it now, we read it six months hence.
Only arguments supportive to that proposition are in order on this particular item of business. Workers' rights, laudable a topic as it is, has nothing whatever to do with this amendment. You are out of order. Now I ask you to speak to that amendment or else conclude your remarks, please.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I know and I appreciate your comments about the importance of workers' rights and I know that nobody better than you, sir, would recognize the importance of that. If this bill isn't read for six months, that will provide an opportunity and time - first of all, it would mean that workers' rights would be in existence for six months. Secondly, (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I was just hoping that the Minister of the Environment who started his little rendition there will actually get up and sing maybe for the rest of us, Rambling Rose, that he started to and he has a great voice. I am sure we would all enjoy a rendition of that from the Minister of the Environment but that would be out of order, so I won't do that but if he volunteers, by unanimous consent, we can let him.
I am suggesting and you were quite correct when you were talking about the point that first of all, there are a number of things that need to be done with the bill. When we are talking about a six months' hoist, that is a procedural item that does have an effect of killing the bill. The Speaker will also know or maybe not, that when I began my remarks I was saying that I would not like to see changes to the community college system killed totally. Quite frankly, I think the community college system has to undergo some kinds of changes to help to make it more responsive to needs.
During a period of time and I started off by saying, six months from now would be in May. May, I think, would be a good time to look at this. During that period of time that would mean that we would have had an opportunity for the workers who are being represented by the various groups and the various unions employed at the community colleges, to actually have sat down with government to negotiate and there are more than one. We have members of the NSTU, NSGEU and we even have members of a couple of other unions as well in terms of providing some of the other support services in some community colleges, according to the minister, when he was doing his press conference, introducing the bill.
Under this legislation, there is a provision that matters can be referred to the Labour Relations Board. The contracts can be rewritten, clauses changed, contracts over-ridden and surely to Heavens, if the government is truly committed to protecting and preserving the rights of those who have served this province well, given many, many years of their life instructing students, young and old, upgrading their own skills so that they can be current in the training that they are providing to the students who are before them and those who have maintained the buildings, surely to Heavens, they deserve to be treated in an even-handed and in a respectful way. This legislation that is before us - and when we get onto it later on into another section - is having the effect of destroying or potentially destroying some of those. I think before we go too far, we should provide whether that can be done in two months or four months or if it takes a full six months, I think that those who are the representatives of the workers should be entitled to sit down and negotiate, not have legislated but negotiate an agreement that protects their rights and benefits, Mr. Speaker, all of them, not just some but all, because this bill does not.
We have situations right now where some of those workers have been told their jobs are going to be gone but they haven't been given lay off notices. One might have to ask themselves, why? All you need to do is to look at this bill and you know why, because they are members of the Civil Service and if you give them their lay off notices now then they have the recall rights under the legislation.
MR. SPEAKER: Now, I want to interrupt again, the member makes it very clear that he is speaking to the bill. Because he holds the bill up in his hand and not this little amendment. He holds the bill up. Now, that type of discussion would be appropriate for second reading of the bill, but we are not on second reading right now, we are on this amendment.
Now, I have interrupted this member many times. He is well aware of Sir Erskine May's and Beauchesne's observation on this matter, that a member after having the Speaker interrupt him and remind to speak to the question repeatedly, the Speaker is empowered to direct him to discontinue his speech.
I will allow the member one further chance otherwise I will direct him to discontinue his speech.
MR. HOLM: Oh, thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your generosity.
MR. SPEAKER: Perhaps it might be a good time to wind up.
MR. HOLM: Well, it might be, it will be before too long, Mr. Speaker. I have a few more things that I want to try to elaborate on with regard to the piece of paper. Of course, the piece of paper - I won't pick it up off my desk - but the piece of paper is referring to that thing that I am not allowed to pick up. Right, Mr. Speaker. Because, although I can't pick it up, the amendment that is before us, refers even to the title of that many pages, An Act Respecting Collège de l'Acadie and the Nova Scotia Community College.
One of the things, Mr. Speaker, interestingly, as I read the title, that in six months time would enable the government to do, it would be able to get the bill translated into French. As part of that legislation, and it starts off talking about the Collège de l'Acadie and the principal language of the board and the activities in the Collège de l'Acadie is to be French. But there are not, to the best of my knowledge, any translations of this bill in French. Just the same way as there was no translation of the Education Act in French.
Now, Mr. Speaker, . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I don't find this relevant and I rule that the member has had sufficient to make his point.
I direct him to take his seat.
MR. HOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, I think that it is extremely relevant.
MR. SPEAKER: Please be seated.
MR. HOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, could you tell me . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Please be seated.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley has the floor.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon and speak on the hoist. The hoist was introduced by my colleague the member for Pictou West. The member for Pictou West gave the amendment and the hoisting of this bill very careful consideration. We have had an opportunity, although not as long as we would have preferred to discuss Bill No. 55. We are in complete agreement, as a caucus, that we should come forward with the amendment or at least the motion that is before us now and that is, I am moving that the words after, that, be deleted and the following substituted. Mr. Speaker, not too long ago, you read what the substituted words are so I certainly will not read the amendment at this time.
Mr. Speaker, I find the hoist worth supporting, it is very worthwhile. I find that it is an important amendment because the bill is so intimidating to the employees of the campuses. We feel that by supporting this amendment all members of this House will be supporting an amendment that will give this government an opportunity to meet with the employees who feel so intimidated.
The bill is somewhat alarming in that the minister, and with all due respect, talked about time and time again in the bill, that he is going to establish a board, and we feel that there has not been enough study done. In fact, there has not been any study done, to my knowledge, relative to determining just why the gap is between the training institutions and what those training institutions in this province offer. What is the gap between what the training institutions offer and the skills that the business community need? If this government and the Minister of Education were to take the six months and go to the business community, the minister should know what the training institutions offer, but if the minister would go to the business community and identify the needs of the business community then we could perhaps understand the rationale for coming forward with this piece of legislation. So I would like to see the Minister of Education and this government conduct a study to clearly determine the needs of the business community.
Not too long ago, we saw representatives from Pratt & Whitney up by the airport complain that the training institutions in this province are not providing the necessary skills that Pratt & Whitney needs. Pratt & Whitney has some difficulty in that they have to go to the province. They want to employ Nova Scotians, but they cannot find Nova Scotians with the necessary training to work at their facility. If this government will only support this hoist, they could go up and talk to the business manager at Pratt & Whitney and talk to people in the know about the concerns that they have. We could go in a lot of communities across this province and find similar businesses with concerns that are much the same as Pratt & Whitney has.
Again, the hoist is worth supporting because the bill is somewhat dismaying to a number of employees. The member from the Third Party who was up making his contribution to this amendment said that, I believe, there are four different unions that represent the employees. Now has there been any meaningful discussion and consultation with the employees?
The Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, I believe, represents 303 employees, 303 Nova Scotians. Those Nova Scotians, those employees, would like to have an opportunity to consult, discuss and hold meaningful conversation with representatives from the Department of Education. Now, it wouldn't have to be the Minister of Education, I realize and recognize that the Minister of Education is a very busy man and he is involved in a lot of . . .
HON. GERALD O'MALLEY: A question, Mr. Speaker. I wonder if the honourable member is aware that 90 per cent of the employees of the community college system are statutory appointments and, therefore, under the House of Assembly Act, are not allowed to belong or participate in union movements?
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, that question that the honourable Minister of Supply and Services just put is very well-placed. It is a question that certainly takes a fair amount of evaluation and studying to determine if, in fact, that is correct. Now, I can only take the Minister of Supply and Services, in answering yes or no, I can only take the honourable minister at face value. I certainly agree with him, yes.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure that the very learned Minister of Supply and Services will know that the Nova Scotia Teachers Union represents 450 employees at the community college and the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union represents 303 employees, so we are talking about 753 employees who are represented by those two unions.
The point, I guess, Mr. Speaker, that I am making in support of the hoist and always in support of the amendment before us is that the Minister of Education and his department and, again, I point out how busy the Minister of Education is, I know he is a terribly busy man and from time he is even called from the House, but it would enable the Minister of Education and, if not the minister, it would enable his staff to sit down with these employees because the employees have very serious concerns. So why won't the government support the amendment? I, personally, am supporting the amendment because while we are forming an independent school, we also just may be trampling on the rights of some more Nova Scotian employees.
Now let's take the six months' hoist and let's make the bill better. Who would have any objections? Is there any hurry to pass this legislation? Is there any earth-shattering reason?
AN HON. MEMBER: Tomorrow would arrive just the same . . .
MR. TAYLOR: Tomorrow would arrive, is quite correct. But the bill is alarming and the amendment will help us address some of those alarming concerns. The bill is dismaying and the amendment will allow us to address some of those concerns that are so dismaying. The bill is dreadful but . . .
MR. SPEAKER: But the amendment is what is being discussed.
MR. TAYLOR: Oh yes, and the amendment, and I am pointing out that the amendment will enable us to address some of those dreadful concerns.
Now we could say again that the reason this amendment is before us is because the bill is fearful and if we were to support the amendment, Mr. Speaker, it would enable us to address some of those fearful concerns that employees have.
We could also say that the amendment will enable us to address some concerns that are very hair-raising to the employees, and there are some concerns that are very hair-raising. (Interruptions) Well, it is intimidating, the amendment is before us because, I mean the amendment didn't just happen because there is no legislation before us, the amendment is before us because the legislation is spooky to the employees. It is very, very spooky and, in fact, some of the employees may feel traumatized by this legislation, absolutely. (Interruptions) Well, they very well could.
Mr. Speaker, I had an employee of the community college system come into the constituency office this morning. The terminology he used was that the legislation, and he supports the amendment, by the way, but he feels that an amendment should come forward to hoist the bill because the legislation is spine-chilling.
What he is suggesting is, and here is something that the Minister of Education and his staff could address, the Nova Scotian that came in to convey his concerns to me said look, I have worked for the community college system for 17 years, I work at the Hants College and my concern is simply this, I have 17 years, I teach in the Adult Upgrading Program. Next year, the Adult Upgrading Program may be taught, there is nothing known until sometime in January we are told, but the Adult Upgrading Program may be taught at the Community Centre of Excellence, up in the lovely Town of Truro but then again it may not. What he was suggesting is if this government would support a six months' hoist, it would enable employees such as me - who find this legislation so appalling - to find out whether or not I can go to the Community Centre of Excellence. The Minister of Education will know that the Community Centre of Excellence is non-union and the Minister of Supply and Services will know that. So, by supporting the hoist, this will allow individuals such as that person, to make some determination as to just what their future is. Now who could speak and who could vote against trying to help a Nova Scotian determine what their future is going to be?
There probably are some individuals who would say, government members support this amendment because this legislation is blood curdling. That is a very harsh term but you know, that terminology has been used and this government should sit up and take notice. Nova Scotians, and it doesn't matter what their political persuasion is, if you support the six months' hoist, I will tell you exactly what you will be doing, you will be supporting the enhancement of the province's economic and social well-being by meeting the occupational training requirements of the population and the labour market. Those words were provided to me by the Minister of Education. That is what the minister wants to do.
What I am saying, is here is an amendment before you that will enable you, Mr. Minister and will enable your caucus colleagues to support the enhancement of the province's economic and social well-being. How they can achieve that goal and objective is by going out to the stakeholders, the partners involved in the community college system. Now does that seem asinine to go out and talk to the stakeholders? You have the teaching fraternity, you have the students, now I am not suggesting that you go out when the six months is on, I am not suggesting that any honourable member, for example, the member for Shelburne, I am not suggesting that he goes into all of the kitchens and the living rooms of all his constituents and sits down and says look, we have a six months' hoist before us. I don't know whether I should vote for it or vote against it. But I will tell you this, the member for Pictou West is very well renowned and this is the second amendment that he has introduced that certainly is worthwhile supporting.
The minister is talking about forming self-governed colleges. I think it is important that the government members listen to these next few statements. If you don't listen to anything else, it is important that you realize that by the minister's own admission, what he is doing is elevating the community college system to a so-called, and the operative word is so-called, post-secondary education system. So we are moving to the point where we will have a system which is in competition with the existing post-secondary education system.
My expectation is that if we brought this to the minister - and the minister is a very busy man - if we did have an opportunity to talk to him about the hoist, the minister would also tell us that this is not what we are doing; we are not setting up another post-secondary college system. The fact of the matter is that he is. That is what the minister is doing and we are concerned that this new system will be in direct competition with existing post-secondary education systems in this province, Mr. Speaker.
What we are doing when we support this amendment is we are trying to eliminate some of the, I was going to call it potential confusion. If we support the amendment, we have an opportunity to eliminate the confusion and we also have an opportunity to clarify whether or not there really will be competition between the two systems. Obviously, you cannot have it both ways. Some have suggested that this is a move towards privatization and user fees and things of that nature. The fact of the matter is that we are going to set up a board of governors relative to the legislation. I only mention legislation in my bridge to the amendment, Mr. Speaker, but it is very important that we realize that the board of governors is going to be set up and established after the legislation is passed.
I feel that the minister and his staff support, and the Minister of Supply and Services, I believe, agrees with this, that the board of governors is going to be set up once the legislation is passed. What we are saying is the six months' hoist will enable the Minister of Education to go back and revisit this provision in the bill, because if we set up the board of governors, then the employees can go and talk to the board of governors, the same as is happening relative to the QE II Health Science Centre Act. The employees there have an opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to go talk to their new employer and they are doing that. The employees of the community college system do not have that opportunity. That is where the six months' hoist comes in. It is important that the employees have that opportunity.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North wishes to make an introduction.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce to you and to everybody in the Legislature the very distinguished Nova Scotian, Guy LeBlanc, former member of this Legislature. He is visiting with us today and what a great treat. I wish all members would give him a warm welcome. (Applause)
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I too, very briefly, would like to acknowledge and welcome Mr. Guy LeBlanc, former Minister of Education, to the House. From what I understand, he performed very well in that ministerial capacity.
Mr. Speaker, the minister suggests that the legislation that is before us will give the community colleges an opportunity to be self-governed colleges. We are trying to find out how, in fact, the colleges will be self-governed if we are not going to appoint the board of directors. That is why I want this hoist to pass; we feel the board of directors should be appointed with very broad based consultation before those appointments are made. So we have to support the hoist in the name of determining how the college will be self-governed.
The minister offers in his justification for that public policy shift that the argument he puts forward is that the colleges must become more efficient. Now, I do not think anybody would argue with more efficiency.
AN HON. MEMBER: Ask him to speak about the amendment, Mr. Speaker.
MR. TAYLOR: Well I am speaking to the amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: You must speak to the amendment, that principle was established with the previous speaker who sat down after persistently wandering from the question. So I would invite the honourable member to please try to stay on track, if you can. Thank you.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I always appreciate and respect your rulings. They are most refreshing and they are particularly refreshing because they have the support of the honourable member for Cumberland North.
Now the minister's own document, and the reason we came forward with this amendment was because the minister's own document says the colleges will continue to be accountable to the minister. And they are going to be accountable to the minister in areas of public interest. So I think . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I think this has very little to do with the amendment. In fact, I think it has nothing to do with the amendment.
MR. TAYLOR: I am explaining, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Don't be distracted by rabbit tracks now, stay on the main question, please.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, we have before us a conundrum and I think all members realize we have a conundrum here before us. We came forward (Interruptions) we do have a problem, we came forward with a very worthwhile amendment and the amendment will enable the minister to go out to the community colleges, look at the courses that are offered. Let's look at the courses that are offered.
MR. SPEAKER: This is not a curriculum now, this amendment doesn't amount to a catalogue listing all the courses. It is simply that the bill be read six months hence.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, in wrapping up my contribution. (Interruptions) Well, Mr. Speaker, I want to tell you that we should talk about the business information technology course that is provided by the community college up in Truro but I know that I would be ruled off topic and irrelevant and all those kinds of nice words. But the fact of the matter is that if we support the six months' hoist, the courses can be given examination, the courses that are being provided at the present time, (Interruption) and it has everything to do with the amendment.
I know there are other members, perhaps there are government members who are anxiously waiting to get up and speak in favour of this amendment and I wouldn't want to take any of their valuable time because I know what they will have to say will be very interesting, so I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, it is really a pleasure to rise to speak on the amendment to Bill No. 55 because I have an axe to grind with regard to community colleges and with the Minister of Education. As you are probably aware, this present amendment is to hoist the bill to provide time. You might say, well, why do you want the extra time. One of the reasons I would like to have some extra time, and actually a lot of community colleges would like to have extra time, is simply that instead of the minister sending around his hired help to tell the people that all is well, why doesn't the minister have the courage to go down and face the people, the students and the teachers in the community colleges around this province, and tell them exactly what he is up to? He is not doing that. So if we have a hoist, it will give him some time to do that.
When he comes down to Windsor, Mr. Speaker, and he goes out to the Hants Community College, he will learn a lot about the community college business in the Province of Nova Scotia, he will learn a lot about that particular community college, which I know he doesn't know anything about and, lastly, he could possibly be convinced to retain that community college, at least as a satellite of some other community college, the same as he did for the member for Shelburne. Now, the minister the other day in the House, in response to a question, said that the prime reason he was closing the Hants Community College was because the cost of the upkeep of the building was more than the cost of providing the instruction. Well, I checked Hansard to make sure that he said that and that is exactly what he said.
So the next time I was down at the Hants Community College, they had an open house there about two months ago, I guess, or probably a month ago, I went to an open house there and I spoke to the principal, who I know very well, in fact, the first female principal in the community college system was at the Hants Community College. A very talented lady. So I went in to see her and I said, can you tell me, Janet, do you have the budget for this particular institution. She said, yes, I do. I got a copy of the budget. I went through line by line by line and the cost of the upkeep at the Hants Community College is actually lower than any other community college, pound for pound, across this province.
So why are we closing the Hants Community College? Well, maybe the reason we are closing that is because we are also hammering the heck out of the hospital there. We are also threatening to close three elementary schools. This minister and a bunch of the other people over there, Mr. Speaker, are determined that they are going to tear the guts out of small town Nova Scotia.
When the small towns start losing their community college, when they start losing their hospital, when they start losing their justice system, their courts, et cetera, when you start closing down elementary schools, you are taking away from that community what makes a community a community. If you haven't got those things, people don't live there any more. It is like out West when they took the rail lines away, the only thing that was left was the old grain elevators and the towns just disappeared. The same thing is going to happen in Nova Scotia if this bunch over here keeps on with their amalgamation.
MR. SPEAKER: No doubt that . . .
MR. RUSSELL: I know and I am coming right back, Mr. Speaker, I know.
MR. SPEAKER: . . . and I am not going to say no doubt that may be true, but I doubt very much that that is not in order. I doubt very much that that is in order on the amendment.
MR. RUSSELL: I was fairly close. Well, I am on the amendment about getting the hoist for this bill. Mr. Speaker, the hoist, actually, as you know, and I think most people here know, is not really to postpone the bill, you don't come back six months from today and say, I am going to have second reading of Bill No. 55 today. As you know, and as I say most everybody knows, what you do when you give a bill six months' hoist, you destroy the bill. The bill never comes back. It is gone, goodbye, it is gone off to bill Heaven somewhere, it doesn't come back. The only way that that bill can come back is by the minister writing a new bill and coming forward with a new piece of legislation.
So what I am suggesting, why you should vote for Bill No. 55, is because you get rid of this bill. This is a bad piece of legislation. Bad, bad, bad. Do you know why it is bad? Because it is bad for students. It is bad for the teachers. It is bad for the small communities and worst of all, Mr. Speaker, it is not doing a darned thing to improve the community college system in this province.
Mr. Speaker, if we had some time, and I just wish we had six months with this bill, but if we had time to take that minister around and let him see what is going on within these community colleges, I am sure that he would change his mind. Now, we have across the way, as you well know, I think it was a vocational school originally but, however, it turned into a community college. So that member, now the present Minister of Supply and Services, is well aware of what vocational schools and community colleges are all about.
What they were meant to do was to take those students who didn't have the will or the desire to progress through a university course, perhaps didn't even want to take a matriculation. What they wanted to do was to get some training so that they could go out and do a job. Many years ago, not that many I guess, about 20 years ago, that was fine, you could go out and you could learn to be an auto mechanic and you could probably get a job or you could learn to repair small engines or you could do all kinds of things.
Now the minister will tell us that is passe. That is gone. We do not do that any more. Everybody has to be high-tech today and you are going to have a university entrance pretty soon to get into a community college. Where are these people going to go, Mr. Speaker, these people that have not got the will to go through university? They would not want the course even if it was presented to them on a silver plate. They want a job and they want trade training. One of the things we forget in this province and, in fact, this country, is that trades training is really an European invention. It really, I think, originally came from Germany when they started the apprentice system, where they train people for specific trades.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, it may perhaps be based on the medieval guild, but that has nothing to do with this amendment. Nothing, sir.
MR. RUSSELL: Oh yes it does, Mr. Speaker, because I am suggesting to you that this is going to provide time for the minister to educate himself as to what this is all about. I don't think the minister knows what this bill is about. I don't think he knows what community college is about, because the bases of the community college was to replace and upgrade the vocational system that we had, the reason being that jobs are getting more complex, and people are going to require a longer time in school, perhaps a little more education, to get in there for those more complicated trades.
It was a great concept, fantastic. Even today, those schools that are still training more or less along the vocational line, Mr. Speaker, people are getting training to get jobs. Now, I heard the minister standing up there and he was telling us about 80 per cent, I believe he said, of the graduating (Interruption) If the honourable ex-minister would go back to his back bench, I might listen to him. Where I am? You made me lose my place. I was back to the 80 per cent that the minister says gets jobs, and that is wonderful. I can take him out to a course at the Hants Community College in Windsor where there is 110 per cent jobs available for 100 per cent of the class. In other words, the people go in and recruit them from that class and they all get hired.
What is the class? This is just one class and I'll talk about some more in a moment. I am very proud of this because I sat down and I spoke to the principal and the minister at that time - he was just up here a moment ago - about starting a new course in the Hants Community College, the course was going to be protective services, training people for instance to be guards in correctional facilities and training people to be guards with Brinks and Pinkertons and those kinds of agencies; that is their job. That course is a tremendous success. The problem is that they can only take 20-odd students a year because they do not have the space.
So what they are going to do now is close the Hants Community College, take the students from Windsor and move them all over the place. Some of them will go down to Kingstec in the Valley, where they do not have any extra spaces; some into the city here, where they do not have extra spaces. The minister does not realize - and what he would realize if he would just slow down and stop this bill for a while - is that what he is doing is he is shrinking the system. That means that even now when we have more people wanting to get in the system than the system can accommodate, it is going to be even worse when he does this because we are losing, I believe, 500 seats across the system and with the present number of seats that we have in the system, we do not have enough.
How, in Heaven's name, can you take people from the educational system and put them out without getting that kind of training, unless they are going to go on the university or something? These people are completely lost at the present time. I know every member in this House has had calls from people saying, can you do anything to get my daughter into a CNA's course or to get my son into something? Every parent, whether it is us or anybody across this province, realizes you are going to have to educate the kids and you have to educate the ones that you can't educate very far. There are a lot of people who are just not capable of going to universities; there are a lot of people who are just not capable of high-tech stuff. They want a job, though, and they deserve a job, just the same as everybody else. They could have a job.
I think that the vocational community training system we have is a splendid system but why, in Lord's name, do we have to tear it apart? We have torn the hospital system apart in this province and wrecked it and now we are going to do the same thing with the community college system. Why? What benefit does this bill give anybody, if it passes? What does it achieve?
I will tell you what it achieves, it gets a bunch of people in a board, yes, great stuff; it amalgamates some unions, yes, great stuff; it closes a number of community colleges, great stuff. I mean what are we doing? Are we nuts? Why would you possibly consider that you are going to make an improvement in the education system when you close the system down? It just doesn't work.
Well, I had better get back to the amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: Back to the amendment.
MR. RUSSELL: As I say, it is a good amendment but the problem is that we know that amendment is not going to pass. The government is going to say, or the Minister of Education is going to say, well the bill is perfect, it is wonderful and you are all going to vote for it and the amendment won't pass and this bill will get through. I tell you, it is a lousy piece of goods.
Mr. Speaker, there must be some way that you can appeal to people to get them to exercise their common sense and to at least read the bill. I would love for somebody to show me - I read this bill and I don't know how many other people have read it, item by item, and I can't find one thing in this bill that does one iota or provides one iota of benefit for a student. I can't and I read it line by line, all the way through.
So why on earth are we bothering to do it? We are wasting our time here putting this thing through and, in the meantime, we are destroying a system. Now the minister will say well, we have to streamline, we have to reorganize, downsize, we have to save money. Well you know I agree with what the Minister of Finance tells us about balancing the budget, that is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But I don't think you can balance the budget at the expense of destroying the education system because you will have no taxpayers in a year or two.
How much is this going to save? Well, I don't know. I have heard everything from about $1 million to $10 million. We will take the upper limit, $10 million; $10 million on a $4 billion budget now, I guess, that is about 0.1 per cent of the budget and you can throw this away and you would still have a system with lots of seats. Sure, change some of the courses, some of them have to be changed because we are doing certain things today. But even so, Mr. Speaker, you know it is really surprising, we say that we have moved into this high-tech business, et cetera, and I was talking to a chap just the other day, as a matter of fact, in fact I think he is coming to the ERA to try and get a loan, he took the horseshoeing course, the farrier's course. Now in Falmouth, East Hants, West Hants, that area around there, there are lots of horses and nobody is shoeing horses. If the farrier comes around in the truck (Interruption) Pardon? Yes, absolutely. The farrier comes around in a truck and he does his what's his name and he takes off again, but there isn't a resident farrier in that area. And this guy is going to go into business.
Do you know something, this guy is smart enough to have drawn up a business plan.
AN HON. MEMBER: Those horseshoe guys are getting farrier and farrier away.
MR. RUSSELL: Well no, I am right on the amendment, I am talking about what we should be doing, instead of doing this bill.
AN HON. MEMBER: Certainly not a six months' hoist for the farrier.
MR. RUSSELL: No, absolutely not. That young man will have a going business. Within about six months, he will be into profitability. That is even after paying for all his equipment.
So you know, Mr. Speaker, who would have thought 30 years ago when the automobile was all the rage that somebody would be out learning how to shoe horses. It just does not make sense, does it? But here we are today. It is a good business because now horses are all the thing, among the horsey crowd. Everybody is coming down to live in Hants County because we are going to get the highway twinned all the way down there. It will be a great short hop into the city. You can live down there and you can have a horse in the backyard and dogs and cats and what have you and pretend you are a country squire.
AN HON. MEMBER: Just think of the mess, though, that the horses will make of that new highway. (Laughter)
MR. RUSSELL: Well, maybe there is another business. If it was just me, Mr. Speaker, saying this about this bill it would be fine. You would just say that is the ranting and the raving of a guy who is upset because he is losing a community college and you do not lose a community college every day. But, anyway, there are a lot of people, a lot of letters and a lot of petitions, I am going to put some of these in tomorrow, from people. They are all saying the same thing I am saying. It just does not make sense, no sense whatsoever. It certainly does not make sense insofar as the people are concerned who are going to the community colleges.
I know, Mr. Speaker, as I was saying a moment ago, that this amendment is not going to pass. It is a failure, but nevertheless, I just wish people would read that bill, I do. I mean, as I said, you cannot find a darned thing in it that does anything except talk about getting a board and amalgamating some unions. Now, how that improves education is completely beyond me.
Well, Mr. Speaker, I don't know if I can say much more. I will certainly be glad when we get on the bill itself because . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: That is easy.
MR. RUSSELL: Well, I know that is easy and you might well think it is easy, but it is not easy, because I feel that if I could get this Legislature to say, okay, look, I will tell you what we will do. We will take that bill and we will put it into the Law Amendments Committee and we will leave it there until the House come back. I would say fine, let's go. Then, I would like to get a solemn promise from the Minister of Education that he will, indeed, go around and look at the system, talk to the teachers, talk to the students, talk to the parents, talk to the people who want to employ people.
My colleague for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley made a remark a little while ago. He was talking about Pratt & Whitney. You know, what they are looking for is called CADCAM machinists. They train them in Germany and they train them in Ontario and we train a few here. Of course, every one of those machinists that come out with a computer- assisted design on machining course gets a job. These are not just ordinary jobs. A CADCAM person, a good machinist today can make $100,000 a year and that is not bad. Now, I am not saying that everybody will get a job at $100,000, but nevertheless, the pay is good and it is a very high skilled job.
Up in the member for Cumberland North's area, the other IMP place up there, I forget the name of it now, it used to be called something heating and enamel in Amherst. Amherst Aerospace, I guess. They use them up there. They want to get rid of training carpenters and plumbers in Windsor? Okay. Take out the carpentry shop and the plumbing shop and put in some milling machines, et cetera, and let's train a few machinists. Mould makers, people that make the moulds out of wood . . .
No, I said mould makers, different trade, mould makers. We do not train mould makers anymore. If we want a mould maker where do we get them from? We get them from Germany. There are so many trades that we can train people for that pay, good jobs that are out there waiting, and we are not doing that. If this bill did that, I would say, let's go for it, but it does not.
Mr. Speaker, as I say, I give up. But I will not give up, I guess. I will stay and next time around when we get re-elected, we will make it a real vocational/community college system. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to be able to get up and speak on Bill No. 55 and to speak on the six months' hoist that we are talking about here today. I think it is important that we realize what this is all about. It is a very fundamental issue that we are dealing with here.
We all realize that the work place is changing and jobs are changing and the time of people getting a job and staying at work in the same position for 20 and 30 years has long gone by. The community colleges, Mr. Speaker, have provided an opportunity for people to get retraining over the years, many different times. What we need to do is make sure that the stakeholders, the people who need the retraining have an ability to look at this bill and make sure that this bill suits the needs of the people it serves. More importantly, we have to make sure that this bill suits the small business community out there. Those are the people who are going out and about and hiring the people who are trained in our community colleges. It is important that we give those people the opportunity to take some time to look at this bill.
It is important that we make sure that what we are doing is going to improve the education system. We have seen an Education Bill come through this House, Mr. Speaker, not very long ago, with 202 amendments put forward by the Minister of Education. Is that going to happen with this bill? We hope not. With a six months' hoist amendment, with time to wait, time to check and look at what is being done with this bill, we will make sure that the education process is positive and has a good effect on the economy of Nova Scotia.
You know, Mr. Speaker, it is very important that we give opportunities to people in Nova Scotia to learn, to try to advance themselves. This community college business is what was intended from that bill. That is why community colleges were put forward, so the people could advance themselves. They could make a better living for themselves and therefore make a bigger and better contribution to the economy of the Province of Nova Scotia. We want to be sure, we have to be absolutely positive that we are giving them the best tools, the best opportunities and a chance to move forward so that they are providing themselves with the ability to provide their families with a better state of life and a better time here in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Speaker, it is important that we look at all the aspects here. Things are changing. Industries are dying in this province. In Cape Breton, the fishing industry has deteriorated to a state second to none in the province. Six months will allow us to have people look at what kind of retraining opportunities they want, because they know they are not going back into the fishing industry. They know that there are problems there. They know that there is an opportunity to change their direction in life, but we have to be sure that they are able to go to a school that can provide them with the type of quality education and the retraining that is required by industry in Nova Scotia.
There are many new jobs, supposedly, out there. There is an article today that says that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says that there are 30,000 jobs out there for people with the right skills. But has anybody gone out and found what the right skills are? If we take the time to do that, we will be able to train those people. We will be able to get those people into the right positions.
Mr. Speaker, by allowing the six months' hoist, we will allow those people in small business to identify the jobs that are required, the type of workers that they need, the skilled individuals that we know our colleges are capable of producing. Mr. Speaker, it is important that the stakeholders and the people who are involved in the system have a chance to look at that.
Governments have to realize that the work place is changing and that is our job here, to realize that work places are changing. The quality of education and retraining is also changing and the minister is addressing that but we want to be sure that we are addressing it properly. We want to be sure that we are providing the many opportunities that we know Nova Scotians need and want.
Mr. Speaker, a six months' hoist will allow us the extra time that is needed. It will give us the opportunity to move forward in a positive direction and I am sure that is what the Minister of Education wants to do. He wants to move forward positively. We do not need another fiasco like the Education Bill with 202 amendments. What we need is some solid leadership and I am not sure that this bill will provide that leadership. But what our amendment will do, is allow us to check, allow us to see if there is indeed an opportunity to make some improvements so that people will be able to get the retraining that is required.
Mr. Speaker, there are many segments of the population changing and we have people changing their jobs on a more frequent basis than ever before. There are people out there who are looking to get retrained, who are looking for opportunities but there is something wrong with our system. When you go to an unemployment office these days, or whatever they call them, manpower or whatever it is, you go in and if you are not receiving welfare or if you are not already on benefits, they can't help you, they have nothing for you. The only opportunity out there is retraining so we want to be sure the retraining opportunities are very good, that they are quality opportunities. (Interruption) I am trying to. We will get to the Health Bill and what is happening there because people are losing their jobs in health care, it is being pointed out. (Interruption) When people are losing their jobs they need to be retrained, and when people need to be retrained, they have to have a good community college to go to, and that is what this is all about. It is making sure that the quality is there.
There are lots of people out there who are losing their jobs and if we can't give them the security in their job, we have to make sure that we are at least giving them some kind of a retraining opportunity. This amendment allows us to look at this bill. This amendment makes sure that people can get retrained with input, which is something that is uncommon in this government because there hasn't been much input in any of the bills that have been put forward.
Every time you look around, people are getting downtrodden. People are being put out of work. Now we have an opportunity with this bill to make sure, with this amendment, that people are turned around and given the opportunity to identify the different types of training that they need in the province. Mr. Speaker, it is important - and I can't stress this enough -that we allow many people to have the opportunities that they need. College is not there for everybody. We have to give them other opportunities and part of those opportunities are through the programs that the community colleges offer.
This bill, if it is allowed to go forward, and if it proves to be as faulty as the Education Bill, with 202 amendments, then it would not be serving the people of the Province of Nova Scotia. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you and I both are here, and all our members are here, to make sure that we do something that is good for the people in Nova Scotia. Allowing this six months' hoist will give us the opportunity to make sure that this type of education system is the best one that can be offered to the people, the very best, because Nova Scotians deserve nothing but the very best. They deserve the top quality that I know that this system can deliver if you give it the opportunity.
With what has been going on in education and how things have changed, we have to be sure that we are going forward in a positive motion. I am sure that the Minister of Education wants to be sure that this legislation does the right thing. We have to be sure that we take the time to move forward quickly with this amendment, to make sure that we vote for it, that all the members in this House go home and talk to the people that they represent and they will find out that education and retraining is a priority with the people of this province, they want to be retrained, they want to work. The policies of this government do not allow people to work, they put people out of work. This government's policies never allow people to go to work, it just takes jobs away.
This amendment will allow us the time to look at this and bring it back on track so that we don't have 200 other amendments delivered in the Law Amendments Committee as we have seen with the Education Act earlier. It is important, as I have said many times today, that we do the right thing. It gives me great pleasure to tell you that I will be voting in favour of this amendment. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I wanted to say a few words on this amendment. Education being so important to all of us, I believe and to our young people, that this bill is a very important bill. The difficulty of quickly passing this bill, I have some concerns, whereby if we hoisted the bill for six months, I would hope that some of my concerns could be addressed.
I know that over the past time and anybody in education would know or had children that went to vocational schools, as we used to know them before they were community colleges and even after they were community colleges, before some standards have changed, that many young people got into those schools to get trained to actually find a job in our society out there in the community. What I am concerned about is in this legislation - and we need some time to look at it - there is going to be, I think, a group of students who are going to be in a vacuum. They are not going to reach Grade 12 as we know it in our high schools, they are not going to be able to go to university, they are not going to be able to go to community colleges as we know it and they are not now, as I understand it, the requirement is (Interruption) The requirement is going to be less than Grade 12? (Interruption) Yes, that is what I said, Grade 12, I am talking about that. That is right. Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I will try to address it to you and the Minister of Education is right, it was changed prior to him being minister and I acknowledge that and they changed it back.
My concern is not back and forth, my concern is the young students. My concern is and I have had this concern, I was never Minister of Education but I have had this concern as an educator, a parent and as a friend of many young people, who find themselves in more difficulty today in getting out of Grade 12 because they don't have the resources, the resource teachers, and the money for support has been taken out of the education system. Those students who have a learning disability don't have the opportunity now, like they did before to get some resource help, to get individual help because I am told in Kings County, because of such limited resources in the past two years, they don't even bother now testing the people with learning disabilities because they know there is no help. There are absolutely no resources to help those people.
I don't have to tell you or anyone else about learning disabilities. It is at varying degrees and a lot of our young students have it. If it is identified, it can be overcome. Now the problem is, as we move and don't have an analysis of our community college system, that we are eliminating, I believe, a lot of students who won't have the opportunity to get trained. Unless you have a good education so that you can compete for a job and unless you have some formal training, to specialize in a particular area, your chances of making a living for your family are pretty low. Those days are gone when people didn't have to worry about either a training or a level of education to maintain a reasonable living in our communities. I think if we took six months to look at where we are trying to go, when we talk about academic standards we should actually, I don't think the minister has spoken about academic standards, about where are they versus universities, what standards, he sort of told me that you don't have to have a Grade 12, but I am sure there are standards that you have to achieve to get into one of these community colleges.
I know there was a great deal of flexibility at one time, Mr. Speaker. I know some young people who probably achieved no more than Grade 9 or Grade 10 of formal education in our public school system as we know it, who went on to take a trade. You know I know those young people in the communities in which I live and nearby are actually very productive and have a family, earn a living, are paying taxes and contributing.
You know, Mr. Speaker, I think young people have a lot more stress, a lot more things to challenge them than even I did or you did when we were growing up. It is not easy, as a young individual. I talked with a parent just recently who said, you know my child is not getting along well in school - and that student went to Landmark East for a year, but now they are worried about the funding there - but if that student was given some help, that student could achieve enough academic education in our public system with the right support. Without support, that child won't achieve, so that that person could get into our community colleges to actually pick up a trade.
I am going to move off this, Mr. Speaker, but I can't over-emphasize the importance of our young people having an opportunity. I am convinced that if we took time to study this bill, to make sure, in actual fact, in talking to parents and educators across the province - and many of these parents who are struggling because I talked to one today, as a matter of fact, up on the Eastern Shore whose 18 year old is home because he never got enough formal education to get into the community colleges or to get a training job or be employed, now the parent, who is on a disability pension, Canada Pension, is being cut when the person reaches 18, but yet there is nothing there to help them financially.
So I think if we are going to say to people that we need to make sure that our people are well trained, and I think the minister would agree that we have had some very excellent schools in our community college system, if we took this on the road for six months or hoisted it for six months and allowed many of the community college educators to come forward and talk about over the years the kind of students they get, the kind of programs we should have to provide, then we could probably enhance this legislation to include many of the people who will end up being a burden on government, by way of welfare, because we never met their educational needs.
So I am hoping that that can be done. If we had six months, to also to do a cost-analysis benefit of this whole package. We have to look at the educational side, it is very important. Are we doing the right thing for our young people? If we had six months, we obviously could look at a cost analysis. Are we, in actual fact, going to get more for the dollars we are going to spend?
How do you measure the quality of education? We all talk about the quality of education and we all talk about what we want out the other end. But it is very difficult to measure, Mr. Speaker, exactly the kind of quality education we are getting. Are we measuring it by the number of jobs that people get when they finish courses? Kingstec, the community college in Kings County, had a very high percentage, 90-some per cent of the people got jobs, 90 per cent or very close to that. I doubt if 90 per cent of the people leaving university are getting jobs. You cannot measure the quality of education at Acadia University versus the quality of education at Kingstec because of employment opportunities. Employment opportunity, getting a job is really what education is all about in the end, because without it, we cannot provide a living for ourselves and a family.
So if we have the time to measure and do a proper cost analysis and try to look at, what are we trying to achieve? What is it actually we are trying to achieve? Are we trying to save money by doing this? What are we trying to achieve? Is it money that is driving this? Is it improvement in the opportunity for young people? What is it we are trying to achieve? Once we established that, Mr. Speaker, and took six months, I think we could find the answers to how to get to what we are trying to achieve.
I honestly believe that if we took the time in this House, that collectively, as an all-Party group, we could come to a consensus on what we are trying to achieve for our young people. No matter what side of the House you sit on, your whole objective is to try to provide an opportunity for our young people so that they will have the kind of opportunities we had.
I know the world is changing, technology is changing and obviously the kind of training that people have to have today is quite different from the kind of training that they had to have even 5, 10 or 15 years ago. I would be the first to recognize that. I would be the first to recognize that we want a first-class system. If we are going to achieve all of that, what to me says to the government that if we could do something in six months that could actually try to reach those goals that we collectively would set out, wouldn't that be kind of nice, Mr. Speaker, that the public would know that we, as MLAs who came to this House, many of us with great expectations, some with maybe not so great, could actually contribute to seeing that our system out there in our community colleges actually was fulfilling the needs that we all hoped it would.
I cannot say, Mr. Speaker, whether it would cost more or less. I don't know the answer to that. I obviously know that the government is restricted on funding. But I would at least know in the six months interim whether it was strictly funding that was driving this, or whether, in actual fact, there was some analysis to show me on the other end that it would be a better system.
We know that some schools are being closed, Mr. Speaker. I guess, if you are close to the people in Hants County they say can go to Kings County or they can go to Dartmouth. I guess Dartmouth is closing, so it will be Halifax. The question remains, are there going to be enough places available for all of our young people? I would hope that people are not turned down, an opportunity that they may feel that they have the ability in a particular area that they could actually find an opportunity to enrol in a course without being told that the course is filled.
We know, Mr. Speaker, that many people have different talents. Some people have choices in life that they think they would be good at a particular job. Some people are mechanically inclined. Some people find computers easy and some people find them very difficult. Some people are not mechanically inclined. What I would like to see is for us to make sure that people do have the opportunity to make sure that they can go and get in the job. My problem is, is the Unemployment Insurance Commission going to take up a number of seats? I think they are. There are a number of people that UIC would buy, I think, and take up a number of seats.
If we had some time to know, would this interfere, in any way, with some young person being given an opportunity to get in a particular course. I don't want to take from those who need retraining. I acknowledge that it is very important and that has to be done. The problem is, Mr. Speaker, we are in an age now where most of us, if we are away from our job, would have to be retrained. I know if you stayed away from law for a while, you would have to take refresher courses and I think I understand that.
Whereas 20 years ago you would not have thought about, the person would not have thought about it, they would probably have gone back in their profession and things would have gone on. But because we are in a timeframe where knowledge is exploding at a vast rate, things are changing at a vast rate, then we have to recognize the fact that there is a large number of people who are going to be retrained during their lifetime.
I would not have thought that when I was growing up because I chose the profession and I thought that was it forever and a day. I would have never thought, and I looked at my father and I looked at my uncles and they did not have to get retrained. They got in a profession, they started there and they retired there basically, doing the same thing; not the case any more. So we have to make sure, if we are going to set up the system of community college, that the opportunity is there, not only for those in retraining but those coming out of the public school system, that there is an opportunity for them as well.
I understand that in this legislation, and I know when we merge everything we are going to get into the same argument because we have some people represented by the NSTU, some people represented by the NSGEU with two collective agreements, Mr. Speaker. In six months time, I am sure we could hammer out the problem of referring this, again to the Labour Relations Board, to find a clause so that we could understand that all of these people's rights and benefits would be recognized and then dealt with through collective bargaining.
In six months, I am sure, we have great minds and we have great people of legal mind in this city that could sit down, where not only the government could agree, but the unions could agree that in actual fact that language does allow that to happen without the possibility of the Labour Relations Board changing that, until such time as they chose their bargaining unit, and through collective bargaining changed whatever had to be changed in their agreements.
I think that is so important because that is a very fundamental issue that is happening. It is not anyone's fault that this is happening. Time changes a lot of things. The minister in his wisdom has felt that this has to be done. We may find some upsides to it. I think if we had six months, we could correct the problems with the bill and then, obviously, we could move on with the bill that, I think, all members could support because that aspect on collective agreements would be overcome.
I have a concern, Mr. Speaker, that in the short time we are going to try to pass this legislation, we will not understand or get to know the relationships of community colleges and universities in this province. I think most of us understand the roles of universities. We have understood that for years. Even they are changing, even the courses they offer are changing and somebody might say, they are beginning to offer courses in computer, computer science and areas that our community colleges are into, but on different levels. I would like to know, if we had some time to bring the universities together with the community colleges so we are not, in actual fact, doing duplication.
I do not know, maybe somebody would prefer to have a degree and others would not, and I understand that. There has to be some sort of relationship so that there is a way that these two groups do not get either in working sort of against one another in the sense they are trying to fight for turf, because it seems like nowadays the way to make your university more successful or even your community college, the more people you have the more money that is driven into the system. So what we have got to find, I guess the word I was looking for was compete, Mr. Speaker, and I was searching. So they don't compete, that there is a relationship so they each have a role to play in our post-secondary education. Post-secondary education, being so important, then I hope that in the six months we could address that issue.
I hope that we could also address the issue of how the boards of governors are set up. We know that the boards of governors of universities, there is only one government appointee, but I think, in this case, we are talking about the minister appointing the board of governors. I think that if we recognize that universities, post-secondary institutions, don't need government appointments, then let's have a look in the six months interim as to how we could rationalize and how we could have those appointments put together so that, in actual fact, it would not be seen as political appointments but would be seen as people, as we have at the universities, who have a keen interest in that institution and are willing to serve.
I would hope that members would give this amendment some consideration to the fact that I haven't really heard what it is that would happen if this had to wait six months. If we did this legislation in the spring, would the community colleges shut down? I don't think so. I think you know this, Mr. Speaker, the school year runs from September until the end of June basically, and I think we all recognize that. So what changes are going to happen to our system between now and the startup in September? I basically think none that I could think of because we all know that the courses being offered are already there. We all know that everything is in place, is functioning, and if we have this legislation in the spring, there would be still time to pass the legislation and obviously be effective when school started in September.
Somebody might say, Mr. Speaker, or use the argument, that six months, they need some lead time on courses and that sort of thing, and I recognize that, but we usually sit some time in February, March, April. We are well out of here, well past legislation, by June. Last year, I think we ended at the end of May, we were gone from here. That still gives enough time. Students obviously leaving school at the end of June, but I don't think that you would find automatically, other than certain colleges closing, that courses would suddenly overnight change. I don't think you would find that at all. I think you would find that even with this legislation, many of the courses that are important today are going to be important tomorrow and will be important next September.
So we would have an opportunity as a group to know. We would have the NSTU to talk to, the NSGEU to talk to, the parents and teachers to talk to. I think in six months, Mr. Speaker, with some very open public meetings, that this legislation could be looked at by all of those people because I think one of the groups we are always making decisions for, we are sort of making decisions for parents and students, as legislators. Too often, parents and students find out later that legislation has changed that affects them and they really weren't aware that it was happening and really weren't aware how it was going to affect them. Whereas here is an opportunity where we could say that at least they were given the opportunity as parents and students, as well with the other groups that I talked about, to look at the bill and say, how can we improve upon it.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I think I have covered most of the points that I hoped we could cover by hoisting this bill for six months. I am sure there are points that I didn't make, but I hope that I made enough points so that people would understand that there are advantages to hoisting this bill and allowing us the opportunity, in actual fact, to make this bill better. I know the minister might say, well, we can do amendments and I know we did 200-some amendments to a bill, but I hope that the only process isn't by making large number of amendments, although amendments do improve the bill.
I remember the bill that we made an amendment to, the regional municipality one in Cape Breton where because we were here and trying to get away at the last minute, I am not sure the amendment on the collective agreements with the Labour Relations Board was such a good amendment. We had time to reflect and many times when we have time to reflect and time to talk to people, we end up making better changes than by quickly saying, we will slide this in, we will make an amendment and we hope that will correct it.
Time, Mr. Speaker, allows us a thought process, allows us consultation and allows us, sometimes, I believe, to really make better legislation than we end up with by the process we have. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of the amendment on second reading of Bill No. 55, the amendment which would provide a six month period for consideration of the principle of the bill, the details of the bill, the impacts of the bill and so on.
As other colleagues have said in this House, the role of the community college system in Nova Scotia has undergone some considerable transformation over the past 15 years or so and this is part of that. There have been some changes which have been less than positive but there have been others that have seen us bring our system into the modern day, into the modern world. What we are faced with at this particular time is trying to develop a college system that meets the educational needs of a group of people, a group of Nova Scotians who are interested in occupational opportunities or other skills training that are not provided either at the secondary school level or at the university level. Also, there has been the reality of the fact that the academic requirements for many of the programs at the community college systems are not as extensive as those required for university.
In our drive to, I think, make what used to be the vocational school system and now the community college system, more responsive to not only the needs of industry, of the economy of Nova Scotia, there have been some concerns raised that we have made it difficult for a certain group of students, a certain group of young people in this province, made it difficult for them to gain access and to gain skill development because of the change, the increased educational requirements and also the increased tuition fees. It has made the system more restrictive.
I think it is important that we not forget that there is certainly some group of students, and unfortunately the percentage is sometimes larger than we would like.
AN HON. MEMBER: That has nothing to do with the amendment, Mr. Speaker.
ANOTHER HON. MEMBER: What is your problem?
MR. CHISHOLM: No, I don't have a problem. I just wanted to stop and listen to the helpful hints from the member for Colchester North, is it? Colchester North and Cape Breton South.
AN HON. MEMBER: Cumberland.
MR. CHISHOLM: Cumberland, is it? Cumberland South.
HON. GUY BROWN: That is me.
MR. CHISHOLM: Cumberland North.
AN HON. MEMBER: Send them all to me.
MR. CHISHOLM: I am sorry, I get confused because the toll gate keeps getting moved as to where it is.
AN HON. MEMBER: That has nothing to do with the amendment.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I often want to stop when the member for Cumberland North makes an intervention, because it is so seldom that we hear from him these days and it is always interesting to hear what he has to say.
My point, hopefully, is not missed by you, Mr. Speaker, and other members of this committee who are interested in the community college system, that as we make changes in the system there are some negative effects that we should consider before we make those changes. What I am suggesting is that this amendment will provide us with that opportunity to consider the impact not only on the students but also on other people who will be affected by it, which I will turn to in a moment.
The idea, again, that there is a group of young people in our society, Mr. Speaker, who, unfortunately, get distracted because of life's circumstances and don't get through high school as they should and put themselves in a position where they can take advantage of the opportunities that are out there, so they need to have some type of bridging, in terms of educational opportunities, so when they do find themselves motivated to try to attain greater education, to attain some skills that require certain levels of education that they have not yet reached, that they have an opportunity to go back and to access that kind of bridging education.
The problem I am seeing happening within the community college system is that not only is it more difficult to access the community college, because of educational requirements, for a certain segment of people, but has begun to get more difficult, Mr. Speaker, financially for some people to access the community college system and I think that is a problem.
From what I understand of the minister's plans, through the establishment of the self-governing colleges, Mr. Speaker, is that they will become much more self-sufficient financially, which will mean that they will be charging much greater tuition fees and that will have an impact on accessibility. This is at a time when our universities are becoming extremely prohibitive at a number of different levels, financially in particular, for students in this province. It is becoming almost unbearable for people to not only pay the tuitions and meet the room and board costs and the book costs, but it is also a reality that many students today are not able to get the jobs that they were able to access one day that would allow them to raise enough money to pay their tuition and to support them as they were going through university.
So what is happening is that students are taking out loans, whether it be through private means or through the student loan program. If they can manage, they come out the other end with a huge financial burden. Unfortunately, it is a more regular occurrence now that people are buckling under the financial pressure halfway through. (Interruptions) No, no. I know that it is difficult for the members opposite sometimes to stay with a thought for more than 20 or 30 seconds, Mr. Speaker, but surely we don't have to add a period and refer back to the amendment after every single sentence.
What I am raising here are concerns that changes to the community college system will make it less accessible to people, prohibitive cost-wise. Indications are that in the plans the minister has in his statement, that that may happen. It may not happen but I would suggest to you, and I will go through and cite some examples where I think that is going to happen, as it has with universities, that access to the community college system is going to become prohibitive, from a cost point of view.
MR. SPEAKER: I think the member's points would be better made on the debate at second reading, so I would ask the member (Interruption) Yes, possibly.
MR. CHISHOLM: But certainly you would have to agree that those concerns can perhaps be best researched if we had a period of six months with which to consider what has been laid on the table here because nobody knew what the minister was going to come down the pipe with. In fact, if people raised concerns before he did drop this legislation on the table, we wouldn't even be able to raise questions because it would be considered hypothetical. Therefore, only until we actually see the goods, see the plans in writing, through legislation are we able to deal with the real impacts, the real concerns. That is why I think this whole question of a six months' hoist would be a good idea.
The recent changes - the minister mentioned it in his statement and this is a matter that has to be considered, the impact of this $8.6 million that is being cut out of the college budget by the federal government - is extremely significant. It does have a lot to do with the hoist because I wasn't aware of that direct implication in terms of dollars to that college system. This is the first time that I received it directly from the minister, what the effects were going to be of the changes and the considerable reduction by the federal minister through UI training funds, how that would actually impact our college system.
It is right in the minister's own statement here. He is referring to the need to take the next logical step, which is to become self-governed colleges. He says that recent circumstances make the need to move forward even more pressing. For example, the federal government is eliminating $8.6 million from the college budget. Therefore the colleges must become more efficient and more competitive - and this is my next point - in securing private sector dollars for customized training contracts, to ensure continued strength and growth.
I would like to see evidence from the minister, and this can be done over that six month period, as to how changing the administration of these colleges is going to make them more efficient and more competitive and able to secure private sector dollars for customized training contracts. I think that it would be helpful for all of us to see how it is that the minister can reach this conclusion.
Whether it is in the health care sector, in other parts of education or the municipal sector, it is like this faith that the ministers have, that by merging institutions together, by combining administrations into one or two or three, by making these kinds of shifts, it will either save money and/or it will increase the delivery of the service that that particular institution delivers. Yet, we have not been able to access any evidence to support that contention that these ministers make. In fact, what we are seeing in contrast to that is evidence of just the opposite.
We are seeing evidence that these kinds of amalgamations and mergers and changing in administration, this whole process of privatization, ends up in the long run costing the taxpayers not only big dollars but also quality of service because of the fact there is less money in the system, because there are less people to deliver the service, because there is less accountability on behalf of the government and so on down the line. The result is that it is the taxpayers that lose both ends. They lose in terms of the effectiveness of their tax dollar, they lose because it doesn't end up costing less, as was part of the principle that they were sold and, most importantly, it ends up that the service is not at the same level that it was previously and that is a concern.
I don't think it is unreasonable for a member of this Legislature who is being asked to vote, to make a decision on such an important change, to ask for some of that information, to ask for some of the evidence that leads a minister to suggest that by these colleges becoming self-governing they will become efficient and more competitive, Mr. Speaker, because in the vacuum of evidence that ministers tend to bring forward, we are actually seeing an alternative situation.
The other thing is, here the minister, in his introduction, talking about this year that enrolments have increased by more than 700 students province-wide. But what the minister did not talk about is the fact that five community colleges were shut down, the locks put on the door, Mr. Speaker, and 800 spaces available for students have been just completely cut out of the system.
Let's talk about accessibility here to training programs. That is not in the minister's statement and I think that that is something that we should not miss, Mr. Speaker. On the one hand, there is this significant slashing away of access to the community colleges and then, on the other hand, the minister is turning over responsibility for the system to supposedly, or at least what he says would be some arm's length group. But as we will see later as we talk more specifically about the legislation, it is, in fact, that the self-governing boards are greatly influenced by that minister and by decisions of that minister through appointment, through review of policy and so on and so forth.
The whole question, Mr. Speaker, to linking training to economic needs and opportunities, there is no question that our training needs are changing very quickly. But what difference does it make to make this a self-governing body? What difference does it make in terms of a community college being able to respond to those kinds of changes? My understanding in reviewing how the community colleges have been reworking their responsibilities and their services over the past couple of years, is that they have gone a considerable distance at actually trying to do that, trying to respond to the changes in the economy, trying to respond to the needs of the community out there.
Whether they are able to meet the changing winds that are blowing through our province and through our country, I think, is somewhat of a moot point, but we should be able to sit down and examine exactly what it is that is being done. If the system has not been working, let's sit down and talk about why it isn't. Let's see the evidence of where it is not and how, by changing it in this fashion, there will be a considerable improvement because I don't see the link.
Now, that having been said, Mr. Speaker, I think that there is potentially some merit in this. There is merit, I think, in trying to have the community colleges operate in response to the community that they are in, the community which they draw from, respond to the whole province for that matter in terms of meeting training needs. I would suggest that they, to some extent, do that now, but any way that we can improve that would be a benefit to all of us; it would be a good thing. The question, though, remains and that is something that I think would be quite constructive, quite productive, if we were to sit down and examine and have the . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We have now reached the moment of interruption. I would ask that the honourable member to please adjourn.
MR. CHISHOLM: I will so adjourn.
MR. SPEAKER: We have a motion now before us for the late debate and it reads as follows:
"Therefore be it resolved that this Liberal Government be condemned for arrogantly dismissing legitimate labour concerns and for threatening the availability of health care services by forcing Nova Scotia health care workers into a strike situation.".
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this particular resolution. You have just read it, Mr. Speaker, and it does call for us to condemn the government for arrogantly dismissing what are legitimate labour concerns and for threatening the availability of health care services by forcing Nova Scotia health care workers into a strike situation.
It occurs to me, and it occurs to thousands and increasing thousands of Nova Scotians by the day, that this government, as hard as it is to believe, is becoming more arrogant by the day. That is something that, at one point, some time ago even I thought was impossible. This government is prepared to risk a strike by health care workers at Nova Scotia's only tertiary care hospital, a facility that, you know, and we all know serves, not only the entire Province of Nova Scotia, but virtually all of Atlantic Canada, and I really frankly cannot figure out why.
The Minister of Human Resources, as you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, has said, time and again, that the government is indeed giving the union everything it has asked for. What they have now, they will have tomorrow. That is essentially what the Minister of Human Resources has been saying. The Minister of Human Resources has been saying even more than that. He has been saying that in recent days, perhaps even recent hours, memoranda of agreement, signed by the QE II Corporation and the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, further guarantees the benefits enjoyed by health care workers at the Victoria General Hospital today and that those benefits will be there for them tomorrow.
Those are nice words and that is a wonderful sentiment, but if there is anything other than rhetoric as the foundation for those words, I would say, in this few minutes I have available to me tonight, Mr. Speaker, why is it then that the minister, to this point at least, has failed and refused to put that guarantee and that language into the bill that is and has caused such tremendous controversy, consternation, fear and trembling for thousands of men and women who work in health care in the Province of Nova Scotia and particularly in those institutions which, if merged, will become the QE II Health Sciences Centre? That is all it would take. No need to unnecessarily distress health care workers and the Minister of Health's reforms are, one might say, taking care of that nicely enough and the Minister of Human Resources could go a long way to (a) restore some credibility; and to (b) allay the fears of thousands of health care workers.
There would be no need, Mr. Speaker, as I know you know, to force, what I am told, is perhaps as many as 200-some or perhaps even closer to 300 presentations to the Law Amendments Committee to address the QE II legislation and to take their time and the time of the committee and the time of all of the members of the Legislature. All of that is unnecessary if the minister were to, in fact, make good on his word by addressing those issues in the legislation. No need to create even more anxiety among Nova Scotians who are worried sick about the state of our health care system. I refer here, not only to the thousands of men and women who work in the institutions effected, but I refer here, as well, of course, to thousands of men and women some very elderly and very sick who are terribly concerned about what happens to them at all, let alone what happens to them, God forbid, if there is a strike.
The Minister of Human Resources has, as I have said, said that he is very pleased that there has in fact been a memo of understanding reached between the NSGEU - which by the way, it should be noted represents only a portion of the workers effected - with the new QE II employer. But if you stop there, then one might say fine, things are handled. But it doesn't stop there and, more to the point, the NSGEU, which represents those workers, doesn't stop there either. As you will know, Mr. Speaker, and as I know the Minister of Labour well knows, the President of the NSGEU said, we have clarified with the new employer what protections we want for our union's bargaining rights and for the many rights and benefits that our VG members had, being part of the Civil Service.
But then, and this is fundamental to the debate, Mr. Peters, President of the NSGEU says, at the same time we believe very strongly that this will mean very little if the government does not agree to the 20 amendments we have proposed to the legislation. So it is clear, Mr. Speaker, that while on the one hand the Minister of Human Resources or the Minister of Health or the Premier or any minister who wants to offer comment, can stand up and make positive comment about the memorandum. It is clear that that is but part of the formula.
The government would have us believe that they have really resolved all of the union's concerns, that what we are seeing now is just an over-reaction to what the Minister of Education on an earlier day loved to refer to as horrible hypotheticals, a wonderful phrase, horrible hypotheticals. Well, we heard that Minister of Education make that claim. He made the claim, Mr. Speaker, that there was nothing at all wrong with his Education Bill that a few simple changes wouldn't fix, and a few simple words turned into over 200 amendments to his legislation, more amendments than there were clauses in the bill, to fix what the Minister of Education was rather mockingly referring to as a few horrible hypotheticals.
I raise the Education Act, Mr. Speaker, because there are some definite similarities between the situation the government faced when it introduced its Education Act and the situation it faces now, relative to the chaos that has been created and the fear and the terror that has been created in relation to health care and health care delivery and the workers in the health care delivery system. In both cases this government has introduced legislation that had very serious and far-reaching consequences for labour. In both cases this government responded by saying that the concerns expressed by labour and by the Opposition were unfounded.
There is one major difference, I suggest, Mr. Speaker. When it came to dealing with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, the Minister of Education, rightly or wrongly, at least was prepared to meet and in vigorous and serious and determined sessions with the NSTU, to try to avert strike action. He sat down with the union and he discussed their differences and a resolution of many of the issues outstanding, as between the education community and the minister, were overcome. He met with the union and his officials met with the union and even before Law Amendments Committee heard from one single solitary intervenor, the Minister of Education resolved virtually each and every of the NSTU's concerns.
But here in health care, not so with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources. The Minister of Human Resources went so far as to refer to the Minister of Education's dealings with the NSTU and say so and publicly reported as an unfortunate precedent, he called it, an unfortunate precedent, indeed. I believe, frankly, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Human Resources and the Minister of Health are about to create one of this province's most unfortunate precedents ever by refusing to even sit down with the union and work out wording that will satisfy the union's concerns that I say, and I say not as a union member and I say not on behalf of the union but I say because I believe it from my reading and my study of the legislation, I say concerns that are well founded.
The Minister of Human Resources, again, like the Minister of Education, acknowledges, we hear him say it is all a matter of interpretation. Well, if that is all it is, then I suggest there is a relatively easy solution, that is to sit down with the union and make the wording crystal clear, word the bill so that there is absolutely no room for misinterpretation.
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources would have us believe that the threat of an impending strike by members of the NSGEU is perhaps just posturing on the part of the NSGEU. Mr. Speaker, we are talking about the withdrawal of employment services at Nova Scotia's largest hospital. It is the tertiary care hospital serving this province. It is the tertiary care hospital creating . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member's time is expiring.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, my time has expired, I guess. I just simply will close, Mr. Speaker, by saying that I simply plead on behalf of all Nova Scotians, never mind the NSGEU, the NSNU or never mind any unions or anybody but the men and women, the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, I plead with these two ministers who are in the House tonight, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Resources . . .
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member's time has expired.
MR. DONAHOE: . . . that they meet with the leaders of the workers of the health care institutions involved and they come to an accommodation on language which will make it crystal clear that . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member's time has expired.
MR. DONAHOE: . . . what they say and mean is what they have in the legislation.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Human Resources.
HON. JAY ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, in the current debate on the QE II legislation with so many details out there and with issues not related to the bill being drawn into the mix, I believe it is important to outline where the legislation stands and what steps have been taken to address employee concerns. I believe it is important that all MLAs know this, as all of you are dealing with questions from your constituents, and will want to have the facts in order to reply to those questions responsibly.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to circulate via the Pages, copies of this particular address to each and every MLA in the House. Today, the NSGEU has notified the government that their members at QE II could go out on an illegal strike this weekend, any time, I believe, after 7:00 a.m. on Sunday. It has done this despite the fact that it has reached an agreement with the QE II management which reaffirmed protection of collective agreements provided in the bill. The agreements reached will become part of the NSGEU collective agreements and, accordingly, are protected and made binding upon the QE II by the bill. In addition, the QE II has agreed to recognize other employee benefits the NSGEU members currently receive as members of the Civil Service.
Briefly, among the issues covered in these agreements are:
Bargaining Unit Status and Maintenance. The QE II will voluntarily recognize the NSGEU as a bargaining agent, although the status of the NSGEU as a bargaining agent under the bill was never in doubt. I would refer members to Clause 20(1)(a) of the bill.
Employment Rights and Obligations are treated. Although the legislation will bind the QE II to all existing collective agreements, the QE II agrees to assume all obligations under collective agreements. Further, the QE II has recognized accrued rights such as sick leave, Public Service Awards, deferred salary and leaves of absence.
Under the category of LTD and Supplementary Benefits, the Nova Scotia Public Service Long-Term Disability Plan will apply unless the employees and the employer agree otherwise. The QE II will provide supplementary maternity, parental and pregnancy leave benefits identical to those which NSGEU employees are now receiving. This is all consistent with the statutory guarantee of long-term disability benefits found in the QE II Bill.
In the area of Pay Equity, pay equity pay levels are incorporated into collective agreements; by protecting collective agreements, the bill protects pay equity. To provide additional comfort, however, the QE II has agreed to be bound by pay equity agreements and not to go to the Labour Relations Board on its own to ask for any change in pay rates. I would refer members to Clause 9(b) of the various memoranda of which there are eight.
The QE II legislation protects the salaries and benefits spelled out in the collective agreements including pay equity gains and LTD coverage. The memoranda of agreement with the employer repeat these assurances. Under the memoranda of agreement, the QE II has agreed to adopt Civil Service type policies in areas such as same-sex benefits, military leave, training programs, severance allowances, notice of layoff, leave of absence to run for political office, educational leave, mileage and moving expenses.
The QE II and the NSGEU were able to reach these memoranda of agreement through sitting down and talking, the kind of employee-employer consultations and negotiations which are part of the labour relations tradition in this province. The QE II legislation recognizes those traditions and the labour relations principles which have been in effect in this province for more than 60 years under the Trade Union Act. It recognizes that the best way to resolve labour relations issues is through discussions between employee and employer.
There are two other issues which the NSGEU executive has raised as issues of concern. First, pensions, the QE II bill states specifically that NSGEU members remain in the Public Service Superannuation Plan unless they opt out, in writing, to join a new QE II pension plan after their current collective agreements expire. Simply put, they are in unless they say they are out; the choice is entirely theirs. The NSGEU, for whatever reason, is critical of its members even having this choice. As regards the Labour Relations Board, there has been a great deal of concern and comment lately about the power of the Labour Relations Board. However, the QE II bill does not give the board any new powers; it simply allows for the board to exercise its natural jurisdiction in the case of mergers and amalgamations under the Trade Union Act, and that would be Section 31.
The Labour Relations Board plays an important role in labour relations in this province. Its powers in the area of mergers and amalgamations have been around for 20-plus years. The board has an objective, impartial third party that can, as a means of last resort, help resolve issues that the employee and the employer have not been able to resolve on their own. Both management and labour unions are represented on the board in equal numbers. I should point out that all union representatives traditionally have been Federation of Labour nominees; in fact, the NSGEU currently has its chief negotiator on the board. The Labour Relations Board cannot step in on its own; either the employer or the employee, through its union, must ask the board to intervene. It is bound by the rules of natural justice and can only decide after hearing from all parties.
The QE II and the NSGEU, through their agreements announced earlier this week - and that was on Monday - have shown that employees and employers can sit down and talk to resolve issues without the participation of the board. They should be applauded for reaching those agreements.
Regarding the threatened illegal strike, the government is willing to meet with the NSGEU, but not while the threat of an illegal strike looms so large. Further discussions regarding changes in the bill could take place at the Law Amendments Committee. Many members of the hospital staff have appeared before the committee to voice their concerns and the committee is listening to them; this is the process to hear legitimate concerns about the QE II legislation. The process which the NSGEU is trying is an illegal strike. Despite the union's attempt to cloak their actions in legitimacy, to legitimize an illegal strike, the strike threat, whether the government receives notice of it or not, is illegal. The government is committed to providing necessary health care and will ensure that Nova Scotians do not suffer because of illegal strike action.
Mr. Speaker, I wonder how many minutes I have left?
MR. SPEAKER: You have one minute.
MR. ABBASS: Finally then, I would just reiterate what I have been saying in the House for several days now, that the bill is clear. I would not go so far, perhaps, to say that it is eloquently written, but it is certainly a shorter bill than many that come through this House. It is all of 10 pages and, I believe, about 30 sections. It is clear in extending to employees of not just the NSGEU - that is members of NSGEU - but members of all unions involved, their collective bargaining rights.
By way of further reassurance that NSGEU members specifically would not have certain rights, which they have become accustomed to over the years, affected in a detrimental sort of way, the NSGEU, through its leadership, did meet with the employer, the QE II management. The result of those talks are the eight signed memoranda of agreement. I have in my hand the one that applies to nurses; it is called the HSN version. It is signed by Dave Peters, . . .
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member's time has now expired.
MR. ABBASS: Kevin McNamara, for the QE II board and the chief negotiator, Lorraine Singler for the NSGEU. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am now convinced and I have been hesitant to say this now for a week but I am now convinced that this minister is on a crusade to crush the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. He has done everything in his power to condemn them, to antagonize them, to continually trivialize their concerns and I would suggest, he is now driving them to the point where their members feel they have no option but to take this drastic action of proceeding to withdraw their labour.
This minister is just waiting for that to happen. He is not doing anything within his power to try to avert this strike, he is waiting for it to happen and I suggest, at that point, we will then see this minister pounce on that union and all of those health care workers who are so dedicated to this system and are so concerned about what this minister and his colleague, the Minister of Health are doing to their system that they are prepared to withdraw their labour.
The minister stands up here in this House and talks with great glee about these memoranda of agreement and about how the concerns should be over, what is the problem here. It was last week that this minister told the world that there are no concerns, these employees have no concerns, the legislation is as clear as it can be. What is at issue here are the unions are jockeying for position, the unions scaremongering, the unions doing all kinds of despicable things.
Now, in a responsible show of leadership, this union representing the 2,700 unionized people in their membership at the Victoria General Hospital on their initiative sat down with their future employer, the QE II Corporation and worked out to the greatest degree that they possibly could within their power, memoranda of agreement which showed that the employer, not this minister, not his government, but the employer to which this legislation applies, agreed with the employees and understood why their concerns were legitimate and tried as best they could to deal with some of those things. Now the minister stands up here and says, well, there it is, on the one hand there are no concerns, on the other hand the employer acknowledges there are concerns so now the minister says, there, it has been dealt with.
It hasn't been dealt with and I will tell you why it hasn't been dealt with. It hasn't been dealt with because it is not incorporated in the legislation. That is the same problem that existed with the 1992 Transition Agreement between the Victoria General Hospital and the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, until and only when it was incorporated into legislation, would it have any power and effect in law. Legislation overrides collective agreements. We have seen that happen in this House. Any agreements that are affixed thereto will be overridden by legislation, by written law of this Chamber.
In this very bill, through powers given to the Governor in Council, through powers given to the board of the corporation and finally and most importantly, through powers given to the Labour Relations Board, those collective agreements and any agreement affixed thereto can be simply dismissed. Why do you think that the employees at the Victoria General Hospital and the Nurses' Union, the people at the Camp Hill Hospital, at the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre, at the cancer treatment centre, are sceptical and hesitant to trust this minister. All we have seen throughout this process is this minister trying to mislead people, trying to distort the truth and trying to, in fact, blame the union and anybody else involved in this process and their motives. Those people recognize this and they realize, in fact, that they need to take measures to protect their rights because they cannot trust this minister or his government in order to do that.
The stress that these people are under, the pressure that these health care workers are under, Mr. Speaker, under normal circumstances in our health care system, and the bill comes in this Legislature to totally throw into chaos the working conditions of these people. Nonetheless, they are committed because they are concerned, dedicated and committed health care workers. They are committed even if they do not agree, many of them do though, to moving forward and participating in this merger to try to improve their ability to deliver health care in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Mr. Speaker, they are having their hands tied behind their back by this legislation because this government is throwing their rights and their benefits and any protection they might have right out the window. They are on the one hand being asked to move from the Victoria General Hospital to the new QE II Health Sciences Centre to be merged with four or five different bargaining units without any protection, without the protection of their collective agreements, without the hard fought rights and benefits that they have accumulated over so many years. They are asked to have faith and to show commitment.
I ask this minister and this government, where is his faith, where is his commitment to these employees, to the health care of this province, to the health care institutions, to the furthering of the health care reform that has gone so badly off the rails, Mr. Speaker? I think it is time we heard from the Minister of Health on this because the actions of the Minister of Human Resources and the silence of the Minister of Health in all of this is jeopardizing, as we speak, the very merger that is supposedly put in place by this legislation and that needs to stop.
It is as clear as it could be that the advice that the minister has been given with respect to the Labour Relations Board and with respect to other measures, how he is handling this matter, is wrong. It is wrong, Mr. Speaker. His advisors know darn well what the Labour Relations Board is empowered to do as a result of this legislation. They know it. They know, in fact, that the Labour Relations Board now, as a result of this legislation, has the power to modify collective agreements. It is clear. It is in the briefing notes. This minister knows it and he tries to tell those people, he tries to tell Nova Scotians that their rights are protected and that the Labour Relations Board will not do that. His advisors know and he knows that, in fact, they have the power. They were given it through legislation just as they were given it through legislation in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, just as the Minister of Education is giving it to the Labour Relations Board with respect to the transferring of administration under the community college system.
We are faced in this province right now with the disruption in health services at the largest health care institution in the Province of Nova Scotia. What are we hearing here? We are hearing the Minister of Human Resources standing here in the House and blaming everybody else but not taking any responsibility himself. We do not hear a thing from the Minister of Health, Mr. Speaker. We do not hear a thing from the Premier because he is not here. What is this government going to do? What does this government have in place to deal with this serious situation here? Let's not step back here and get ourselves all caught up in ego: I said this, I am right; therefore, everybody else is wrong and you guys go on strike and we will bring the hammer down on you. That is what is happening.
I think it is time this government showed a bit of leadership, stepped forward here, dealt with the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, as they have indicated they would deal with the nurses who have got the same concerns. Let's work, Mr. Speaker, all of us, at averting what may be one of the worst labour withdrawals in the Province of Nova Scotia in our history. It is our obligation, it is our responsibility. I call on the Minister of Health, I call on all government ministers to stand up and do something about this crisis. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The moment of interruption has come to a close.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
Bill No. 55 - Community Colleges Act. [Debate Resumed]
MR. SPEAKER: At the time we adjourned, the honourable member for Halifax Atlantic had the floor. He was speaking to the amendment, which is that we read this bill six months hence.
The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, perhaps at that point I will move on to a similar concern I have with provisions in this bill that affect the rights of the employees, of the workers, because of provisions within this bill, that will allow the Labour Relations Board to basically go in and distribute their benefits and their rights, as they see fit. It is a strategy that was first employed with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. It is clear to everybody who is prepared to listen, who is prepared to read, that the Labour Relations Board did an unprecedented action. It moved in a way that was completely contrary to jurisprudence in the country and in the province. It did that based on the language in the Act under which it was operating, Mr. Speaker, for the purposes of the amalgamation of the regional municipality.
That is exactly the same language that is here. It appears to me, to be kind, that maybe all members of this House don't understand the implications and that what we require here is an opportunity to stand back for six months and take a look at what those implications are.
Mr. Speaker, I don't think members get it, but industrial relations in this province - which, over the past number of years, have not been particularly smooth, especially under this government, as they prepared to walk in and break collective agreements left, right and centre - are reaching a point now where we are asking for trouble. This government is simply asking for trouble. They are either trying to disrupt things sufficiently to cause enough chaos that they can go in and save money or lay people off or get rid of the union, I don't know what it is, but they are creating problems. When you have instability in labour relations, you have an increase in costs, you have lower productivity. That is what is happening. That is, in all likelihood, what will happen here if we pass this bill with this language. What it provides for, Mr. Speaker, and we would be able to examine this more closely, is that upon application by the employer, the Labour Relations Board will go in and take all the collective agreements and pick and choose and come up with a common agreement, a common set of rights and benefits which is completely contrary to the way things have happened over the past number of decades.
The Labour Relations Board's role, with respect to mergers and amalgamations, has been to find an orderly process to establish the bargaining units, to define the jurisdiction and define who it is that is going to make up or what classification is going to make up the bargaining units. But it is the parties, Mr. Speaker, that are left with resolving the differences between the collective agreements that may be there.
I think we need to take some time, provided for in this hoist, in order to consider what that means, in order to deal with those implications, Mr. Speaker. I refer to the statement here by the minister with respect to treating employees fairly. He says, "Consistent with other government legislation, . . ." - and of course there we know he is referring to the Amalgamation Bill for the Regional Municipality of Cape Breton; he is referring to the QE II bill and this bill - ". . . this Bill protects: salaries and benefits for all employees, collective agreements, seniority and service, successive rights, and pensions and other benefits. Changes are limited as follows:", and then it goes down through it, Mr. Speaker.
As we realize, as we begin to explore a bit more, exactly what is happening here, we see that there is a whole lot more at stake for these employees that are being affected. There is a whole lot more at stake, that either this government isn't aware of, or they don't care, and are prepared to see them do away with them. So I think it is important that we consider those questions.
For example, this kind of throwaway line. "It simply doesn't make sense for employees who do the same job to operate under two different collective bargaining processes and two different pieces of legislation. This results in two contracts with different terms of conditions for faculty performing the same work.". Mr. Speaker, that is true but that is something for the parties to work out. That is something for the parties to negotiate. Part of the problem, let's not forget, goes right back to legislation that this government brought in last year, which froze collective bargaining. We talk a lot about the implications of that decision. But we are seeing it right now, aren't we. One wonders, whether or not, if we hadn't taken six months, we would have been able to determine that effect then.
But it is extremely significant. In other words, we need to take that kind of time to review this legislation, legislation that makes such significant changes, Mr. Speaker. It also says in here, college administration will immediately meet with unions and with employees at every campus, to discuss the legislation and address any reasonable concerns. Is that going to be done after the legislation goes through? Is it going to be dealt with while the legislation is going through? Is there going to be any opportunity for employees to bring their concerns or for employees and the college administration to bring their concerns about employee rights that are affected by this bill? Is there going to be any opportunity? This is an announcement of December 1995. It is attached with this bill. People won't have the opportunity, I would suggest, to deal with that and I think it is incumbent upon us to give them the opportunity, as suggested by the minister, to discuss the legislation and address any reasonable concerns.
That could be done if we all voted in support of this six months' hoist, Mr. Speaker, and I think it is incumbent upon us to do that. The minister, himself, has suggested that this will be done. How else, as the minister says in his note here, are reasonable concerns going to be addressed? What if the administration and the union, the employees, agree that it is unreasonable for the Labour Relations Board to make those kinds of changes upon the application of the employer? That would already have gone through so what would we do? We wouldn't be able to deal with it at all. I think it is incumbent upon us to recognize that there are legitimate concerns and there will be legitimate concerns. If we are going to engage in a process to identify what those concerns are, then I think we must, at the same time, be responsible enough to provide people an opportunity to have those reasonable concerns addressed.
There are other questions with this bill, Mr. Speaker, where I think we could require some time. The comment that the minister makes here with respect to, government will be held accountable for, and it is in italics, affordable college training. What does that mean? Although the boards will develop a tuition policy, any tuition changes will require Governor in Council approval. What does that mean, affordable college training? Affordable for whom? I mean because it is in italics, one would suggest that the minister has the definition of what is affordable is in the context of college training. I mean, for the minister affordable could be $10,000 to take the course. He has got deep pockets. He has invested well. We know that. But for someone like me who is tied up to here in terms of paying bills and so on, Mr. Speaker, $500 would be too much.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would ask the member to please talk to the amendment, which is why this bill should be read six months' hence.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, my point is, though, and it relates back to, I think, a point that I was trying to make early on in my intervention, that the changes that are being proposed here, I think, will have a dramatic impact on questions of not only accessibility, but also affordability of training for Nova Scotians through the community college system. It is incumbent upon us to deal with that. In fact, it is the minister's very own references here that talks about defining accountability for affordable, accessible, high-quality training.
While we are defining accountability, let's also define affordability and accessibility, Mr. Speaker. In my mind accessibility means anyone, regardless of economic means, should be able to have an opportunity to increase their opportunities, to increase their abilities to take advantage of opportunities that may be out there in order that they can make a contribution to their community, either economically, socially or otherwise.
I am concerned, and that is why I support this amendment, that the question of these new independent boards, Mr. Speaker, being able to respond quickly to business and industry and seize customized training opportunities that make money and reduce reliance on public tax dollars is not necessarily the answer. It sounds very much to me like the minister is trying to set up a privatized college system. How long will it be before either the system is farmed out to the private sector, or the private sector screams that they should be providing training through their own auspices and that the government is unfairly competing with them? That is the problem here. We are starting to get pretty close to the line in terms of the difference between private and public education through the community colleges. I think it is a question that we should all consider.
There is a whole host of things in here, Mr. Speaker, with respect to the issues I have just raised and, to summarize before I close, questions of affordability, about accessibility, the question of whether or not this is going to be accountable to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia or accountable to industry and business in this province, accountable to parents, accountable to students that is an important question. Are people going to be able to have access to it, if they need it? Are we going to be able to ensure that the system is sufficiently flexible and accessible so that people who need a hand to try to pull themselves out of a situation through education and through skill development, will this new system be able to do that? I think is a question that we have to deal with.
The final thing is the whole way that the minister, as his colleagues, have decided to address the employees that are under the current system. It is almost like the years of dedication, the vast experience, the extremely high level of skill that these people have brought to the system for so long and will continue to bring to the system, is not being given any consideration because their rights, in many cases, are being tossed up for the Labour Relations Board to determine how, in fact, it will all shake down. I think that is unfair, it is a break in precedent, it is something that we should not embark on, it is an unfair way to treat employees who have been prepared to bargain collectively, have been prepared to follow the rules with respect to the Labour Relations Board, the Trade Union Act, the Civil Service Collective Bargaining Act and so on. There are ways that we can transfer these rights and responsibilities without it being so detrimental and potentially dangerous for the employees affected.
I think if we took the opportunity over the next six months, as is provided for in this amendment, to do that and to examine this. Maybe even by then, we would have done that with the QE II Bill, we would have actually resolved that mess and gotten things straightened out and taken the high road and starting to get the problem solved. I want to indicate to you, Mr. Speaker and to all members of this House that I will be voting in the affirmative for this amendment and I look forward to additional opportunities to rise and speak on this bill. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak briefly to the amendment which is before your House, that Bill No. 55 not be read at this time but be read six months hence. The reason for me supporting the amendment is that I say as a general statement at the outset that I think the bill is just simply so fundamentally flawed that there are so many issues which, were the bill to be the subject of hoist, could, as I believe they should be, subjected to careful scrutiny and analysis, so that some very vitally important questions are answered prior to us being asked to vote on a piece of legislation which would establish a post-secondary education system in this province.
I would start, Mr. Speaker, in support of the contention that we could usefully use and should take advantage of additional time before passage of Bill No. 55. I would start with the issue that bears on the question of whether or not the extent to which or the nature of any consultation or discussion between this Minister of Education and any of his officials with the presidents and vice-presidents and deans and appropriate senior administrators at the existing traditional post-secondary education system in this province.
I said earlier and I say again, Mr. Speaker, that with very little time to make inquiry, the bill - I don't know whether it is a ploy on the part of the government to force the Opposition members to be called upon, in our small numbers, to respond to very important and complex legislation with little or no research time, but we are dealing with a piece of legislation which, if I understand correctly, was tabled in this place on Tuesday and 48 hours later we are asked to debate it. So you will know that we have had little time, along with the education legislation and the QE II legislation and the Expropriation Act and commitments at Law Amendments Committee and elsewhere, to perhaps do justice to the analysis.
I am going to say, Mr. Speaker, that as I read this bill I don't believe that this Minister of Education and the government has done justice either to its research before introducing this particular piece of legislation.
Within that short, limited and constrained period of time, I mentioned earlier and I will repeat again, I had the opportunity to make contact with presidents of three post-secondary education institutions, three of the universities in this province. I thought it important that I speak with them because I wanted to find out from them - because this particular piece of legislation, Bill No. 55, establishes a post-secondary education system with a new approach to governance, a new approach to program offering, a new approach in many ways, and I will speak to a few of those - I wanted to attempt to find out from those university presidents as to whether or not there had been consultation between them and this minister about whether or not, if this bill were to pass in its present form, there might be impact pro or con on their institutions, or might there be situations which might be helpful to one - may I refer to it as the traditional post-secondary education system - and hurtful to the other, or vice versa. I do not know whether that is an important question or if anybody else here in this place thinks those were worthwhile phone calls. They certainly occurred to me as being worthwhile phone calls and I made them and I had those conversations.
All three of those university presidents told me that this Minister of Education has not had those discussions with them, nor have his officials. There are very significant questions. I hear the back benches, the rabbit tracks in the back saying, what does this got to do with the amendment? Well it has got to do with the amendment, if the honourable member would care to listen, what it has to do with the amendment is exactly what the point of the amendment is. If this bill were to be set aside at this point, it would afford this Minister of Education to do what he should have done before he introduced the bill and to do, I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, what must be done before we debate a bill which establishes a new post-secondary education system in this province. That is that there is deep, definitive, precise, detailed discussions involving this Minister of Education, his officials from the department, representatives of those institutions which will be the new post-secondary education system, and the presidents and their representatives in the traditional post-secondary education system, the universities and the colleges of our province.
Mr. Speaker, I will try a couple of examples for you as to why we need the time and why - if the honourable member for Cumberland County is interested in knowing - I think that has something to do with the bill, I will tell him, if he is interested in listening, because I think that it is important that such issues, and I use only a couple of examples, as, will there be commonality of admission standards as between this new post-secondary education system and the current university system in the province? Should there be commonality of admission standards between those two systems? If there should, what should they be? If there should not be commonality, what should those differences be?
Those, I think are vitally important questions and questions which are able to be addressed in an environment where we are not, and those who know much more about those issues and the importance of those issues than I could address them as opposed to being forced and constrained in the context and parameters of the Law Amendments Committee and other processes to be able to address them.
Mr. Speaker, this bill, if it were to pass in its present form, would set up another post-secondary education system in this province and there is a system of universities and colleges in this province, a post-secondary education system. What do we know, at this moment - and may I say, what does the Minister of Education know at this moment - about the details necessary to resolve or address the question and questions of the recognition, if any there should be, of programming and performance as between the program and performance of students at this new system that the bill addresses and the program, performance, standards, qualifications and the admission requirements of the existing university and college system?
I just told you, and it is true, three of the university presidents, the only three I was able to make contact with, tell me there was no discussion with this minister, and that, I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, is a fundamentally important question that can and should be resolved and could, if this bill were given the hoist at this point, be addressed by this minister and by the university system.
What about transfer of credits? That is, I submit to you, an exceedingly important question that has to be worked out. I want to tell you and some may say, well, he was no good when he did it at the best of times and if that is the attitude, fine, I could care less but I spent some time as Minister of Education and during that period of time one of the issues which was both a provincial and a national issue and when I was involved with the Council of Ministers of Education and I had the honour to be the Chair of that Council and I think our current minister has had that same honour, I am not sure but I think he has, the question of the transfer of credits and the recognition of credits, post-secondary education institution to post-secondary education institution was of vital interest and concern.
We have talked here in this Legislature this very session about a piece of legislation introduced by the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency that has as its intent, the breaking down of trade barriers between provinces and territories and the Government of Canada. (Interruption) What has it got to do with this amendment? What is has got to do with this amendment is exactly this, the amendment allows us time to assure that by the establishment of this new port-secondary education system here, we are not setting up barriers, they are not trade barriers, but they are academic qualification and transfer-right barriers, potentially, for the students who will study on the one hand in this new system and those who study in the university system.
This minister has talked about one of the benefits and values, as he tells all of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, of having this new system, is going to be that there will be this transferability of credit and there will be this mobility of student population back and forth, in and out of the conventional post-secondary education system and this new post-secondary education system and vice-versa. This minister hasn't taken the time, the trouble or had the courtesy to raise these issues with the presidents of the existing post-secondary education institutions of the Province of Nova Scotia. We spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars on that system and indeed, $100 million on this present system. That is a fundamental question which can and should be addressed as between this new post-secondary education system and the existing current, traditional university system in this province, before we pass this legislation or any piece of legislation which establishes a new post-secondary education system, one which could, in fact, if not done properly and if all of the arrangements are not made with the existing university system, one which could be competitive with the current Nova Scotia post-secondary education system.
What about tuition policies? One of the fundamental problems and the minister has spoken about it many times and with great fervour and with very real concern many times and so have I and so have many in this province, most important, so have thousands and thousands of families in this province, talked about tuition policy. One of the issues that I suggest that could be addressed and I submit should be addressed and I have no question could be addressed, if this bill were to be given the hoist and if this motion were to pass, one of the issues that would be front and centre in discussion during that period of calm, hopefully, and an opportunity for some deep and thoughtful reflection on just what the implications are of the passage of a bill such as Bill No. 55, would be this very question of tuition policy.
Are we going to have a tuition policy, I repeat, which if this bill were to pass would be helpful to one system and hurtful to the other? I don't know and this minister doesn't know. This minister, upon my inquiry of three presidents of the universities, hasn't made any contact with them to discuss the issue with them, nor have his officials. That is a very important issue and one which, if this motion were to pass, would afford men and women, the Student Unions of Nova Scotia, the representatives of the student population of the Province of Nova Scotia, and families in the Province of Nova Scotia - many of whom have to scratch and scrape to make it possible for the young people to pursue any educational opportunity which has a tuition price tag attached to it - to participate in that discussion and debate. I say to you that that issue would and should be very high on the agenda during any period of time that we might have, and I suggest should have, to reflect on this particular piece of legislation.
There are elements of the bill before us that address the issue of governance of this new post-secondary education system which is proposed and contemplated by Bill No. 55. You will be aware that the minister's own documents say that these colleges will continue to be accountable to the minister and the government in areas of public interest. Well, I want to make two points. I want to ask you to turn your mind, Mr. Speaker, and colleagues to do likewise, to the suggestion that these colleges would continue to be accountable to the minister and the government, on the one hand, and then later, the minister's own documents talk about the colleges which would be established by this legislation, would be self-governed.
Mr. Speaker, the phrase public interest is not a defined term in the legislation. I truly do believe that it is exceedingly important for us and would be possible for us, if this amendment were to pass, in the coming months, and most importantly, possible for the minister to explain and outline to the people of Nova Scotia, the people who are paying the bills for this new system and are paying the bills for the existing post-secondary education system, to come to some understanding by way of having definitions and descriptions provided by this minister and by the government of just what this term public interest really does mean.
The importance, Mr. Speaker, of that discussion and that debate again in an environment where we are not constrained and under the gun in terms of the constraints of the Law Amendments Committee and time limits on committee debate, and so on, the importance of that is that I think there are thousands of Nova Scotians who want to know the extent to which these post-secondary education institutions, as contemplated by Bill No. 55, will, in fact, be self-governed institutions or will on the other hand, be accountable to the minister and government in areas of public interest. What are those areas of public interest? Once those areas of public interest are defined, what does this bill then say. The minister shall or the government will do in relation to those matters of public interest.
I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that some study is needed to resolve what I consider on those points to be a very real conflict. The delay available to us, through the successful passage of this motion, and the time more important for the study and analysis of those issues, is absolutely important.
I believe on the strength of conversations I have had with other people, I believe on the strength of my own reading of this legislation, I believe on what I consider is a reasonably well informed - certainly not perfectly informed but reasonably well informed - reality of the province's existing post-secondary education institutions, that a six months' hoist makes it possible and it should be possible. The opportunity must be taken for all of us, the minister included, to undertake a review of the programming and the admission standards at these institutions, vis-a-vis those at the existing or conventional post-secondary education institutions.
This is very important business, Mr. Speaker, as I know you know. This province is absolutely blessed by having as many post-secondary education institutions, and in that context I refer to universities, as we do. Some of us who have had the honour and the privilege to be Ministers of Education on occasion consider that number of post-secondary education institutions, that number of universities, when it comes time to try and work out funding decisions, to be the bane of our existence. Our difficulty is, as you know, that we have in this province, and the minister could perhaps bring me up to more current speed but I will not be far off the mark, I don't think. One of the conundrums which Ministers of Education in this province for lo, these many years have had to deal with is that we have such a small provincial population and because as against that small provincial population we have so many post-secondary education institutions, by comparison to the funding made available to universities across all the rest of the country over the last many years, we have traditionally been in this situation, that as a province we fund our universities on the basis of one of the lowest amounts of money per student in the system but, by comparison, and on the other end of the equation, we are if not the highest then the second highest, I think we may still be the highest, we are the highest when it comes to funding our universities on a per capita basis.
Hence, I say that we are blessed and dammed at the same time. When it comes to the funding questions and concerns, the fact that we have so many universities, as against our total provincial population it sometimes is the bane of the existence of whoever happens to have the honour to be the Minister of Education of the day.
Because that is the case and because the Government of Canada, as the minister has already told us, as the Minister of Finance has already told us, as the federal Minister of Finance has told us, as the Premier has told us, because we know that there is less money coming from Ottawa to help us fund our education enterprise here in the Province of Nova Scotia, there is going to be even greater and greater pressure upon the education system, as it is configured at present in this province.
Here we have a piece of legislation which, if it passes, is designed to result in even further growth of the post-secondary education enterprise in the Province of Nova Scotia. I may be wrong but I sincerely believe that the potential is there that if that happens in the next couple of years, and I expect that it might, then the financial constraints which will be experienced by whoever occupies the office of the Minister of Education will be that much more difficult.
I have this fear, and I don't want it said that I was told this by any of the three university presidents to whom I spoke today because I was not, but I have had enough discussions with them over a long enough period of time to know that this is a concern. I think it is a concern that if this motion were to pass, Mr. Speaker, it would be possible for us to address carefully and cogently and we could use, and I suggest to you that we need, the help of the Minister of Finance and his experts in the Department of Finance who know more than anybody else in the Public Service in the Province of Nova Scotia, particularly know more than those in the Department of Education about the federal transfer arrangements. We need the time to determine what effect, if we pass this kind of legislation which elevates, and I suggest to you, with respect, results in an increase in expenditure on a post-secondary education system which will run parallel with an existing university and college post-secondary education system, what happens, Mr. Speaker, to the programming, the admissions standards, but most important what happens to the funding decisions.
I really believe that if we pass this motion, it is possible for the Minister of Education and he, in concert, with the Minister of Finance - I do not know when the Minister of Finance will come forward with his next budget, but I would guess we are probably looking at a budget in the spring, which, for the sake of this discussion, is April or May, let's call it April/May, so it gives us, as we address this issue in December and I will have to go back to my old school days, January, February, a long way back to my school days, it gives us the balance of December and January, February, March, April and maybe into May. It gives us five maybe even something very close to six months - to perhaps more readily and more precisely understand the budgetary implications as a consequence of those decisions being taken at the federal level.
I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that we are really walking ourselves potentially into a real mess if we pass a piece of legislation here which has the effect of establishing a parallel post-secondary education system to that which already exists in this province and of which we are all so proud and which, might I say, is so expensive and from which this government has already said it is going to extract many millions of dollars if we then move via this bill into the establishment of the parallel system.
I think it is incumbent upon us to ensure the integrity to the extent that it is possible of the existing post-secondary education system. I think it is fundamental for us to have those few months which successful passage of this amendment would allow us to do with the help of the Minister of Finance and his experts, who know the federal transfer system so well, to do the financial analysis to ensure that the passage of this bill and the change at this time does not do unreasonable harm and jeopardy to the existing post-secondary education system and its funding and does not put us behind the eight ball, or the Minister of Education behind the eight ball, in having any realistic chance of doing what he suggests and the language of this bill suggests that he wishes to do by passing Bill No. 55.
Mr. Speaker, there is another matter which, I believe, is important and sufficiently important to raise in the context of my suggestion that this motion deserves support by all members of this place and that is another issue addressed in this legislation and that is the issue of the composition of the boards. I believe that this minister, if you read this legislation, has the power to appoint about 35 per cent of the membership of the boards of these colleges, these new post-secondary education institutions. I wonder, first off, how that jibes with self-governance, but I believe that is very important and I believe it is an issue which should be addressed and can be addressed and would be addressed if we had the time that would be made available to us if this motion were to pass.
Mr. Speaker, I believe that there are a number of questions that relate to the labour relations issues that are at play in this legislation and that are affected by this legislation which I think need attention. I think they need dramatic rewrite and I think they need considerable time for this minister and, presumably, this minister, accompanied by expert labour law opinion, to sit with the work forces in those institutions which, if this bill were to pass, would become this new system of post-secondary education institutions, so that we don't see labour difficulty and chaos and, may I say, unfairness result if, in fact, this bill were to pass without those issues having been addressed over a period of time where careful and thoughtful discussion and negotiation could take place.
Mr. Speaker, there is a section in this legislation, and I am not by any means going to get into clause by clause and that is not the stage we are at, but there is a provision . . .
MR. SPEAKER: We are on the amendment.
MR. DONAHOE: We are on the amendment which says that we should not have second reading of this bill now, but we should have that six months hence. There is an issue that is raised by the language of this legislation that I believe can and should be reviewed during such hiatus, such six month period, and can and should be reviewed because it represents, Mr. Speaker - and I know of your background and I know of your understanding of the labour laws and I know of your deep and abiding and visceral concern about the rights of the working person in Nova Scotia, I don't use those words, and I mean it, to humour you, I have been in this House with you as a colleague and I have listened to you speak many times - there is a principle established in this legislation which, if this bill passes in its present form, would make it possible, I am not saying that well, would, could result in the rights and the privileges and the status, the employment, the paycheque and the lives of the families of any number of workers simply being ripped up and thrown apart, because there is language in this legislation which makes it possible to do away with protections for workers in this system already, this very system which this minister wants to merge and bring together as a post-secondary education system. There is language here which makes it possible to do away with protections already in law, available to many of those workers through the labour standards legislation of this province.
I believe, with the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, that that issue and those issues can and should be addressed not again, I repeat, in the heat and the, somewhat inappropriate in this context, inappropriate or - I don't mean inappropriate - less productive or somewhat unproductive sometimes, environment of the Law Amendments Committee process, and could and should be worked out by clear, mature, adult, thoughtful discussion and negotiation between this minister and representatives of those workers.
I really do not understand, Mr. Speaker, where this government in the last six months has decided to turn to secure its advice relative to the labour laws of the Province of Nova Scotia. I repeat, and I have said on other occasions here in this House, I am not a labour law expert but I have tried very hard, with the help of those who are, to understand something about the impact of some of the language which we have seen in some of this legislation. Some of the language that we see here in this Bill No. 55 and have seen in the QE II stuff, and see in the Education Bill, is an absolute assault on the legal rights of thousands of workers in the Province of Nova Scotia.
I am not sure if you were in the Chamber, Mr. Speaker, during the late show, and if you were, you would have had the benefit of hearing our colleague, the Minister of Human Resources, respond to my resolution on the late show. He talked about the labour laws of the Province of Nova Scotia and he talked about the fact - and believe me I can relate it to the amendment - that in the context of the concern about the QE II legislation that a memorandum of agreement had been signed by the NSGEU and interestingly enough, not by the Government of Nova Scotia with the NSGEU but by the new proposed employer, the QE II board.
The Minister of Human Resources suggested to us that that memorandum of agreement cured the concerns on the labour front which, you will recall as I do with considerable interest, Mr. Speaker, a few days previous, the Minister of Human Resources was suggesting didn't even exist. So the point I want to make in support of the amendment which we now address is, that I believe if we were to support the amendment now before us, it would afford the Minister of Education the opportunity to work through, with competent labour law advice, those issues which absolutely guarantee, because I am convinced this bill has the opposite effect, we could work through during that period of delay those issues relative to the labour law concepts contained in this legislation a protection and a proper protection for the men and women who work and will work in these community colleges.
Mr. Speaker, again on the labour law front, and again in support of the value of the amendment which is before your House tonight, I ask you to turn your attention and ask all members, who are interested in listening, to turn their attention to what we would do if we passed this bill, and what we could avoid, if we had a few months, to have some discussion and address in the quiet of discussion and not in the heat of the give and take of this place and the Law Amendments Committee and so on.
I am referring, Mr. Speaker, in this context to principles enshrined in this legislation which are, I think, on the basis of everything that I have been able to learn from those whose judgment in the labour law field I respect, are absolutely foreign to the current labour law concepts in this province and I am told could, in the longer term, do very considerable harm to the delicate - and you know how delicate sometimes it can be - labour-management, labour law-collective agreement law reality in this province.
I refer in this context, Mr. Speaker, to the language which we see in this legislation, which is really quite astounding. It is an issue which, if we pass this amendment, can and should be discussed in another forum and in another way. This bill, as unbelievable as it is to comprehend, this bill if it passed in its present form, would purport to amend the Trade Union Act without even using the words Trade Union Act in the section or subsection which would have that effect. The Trade Union Act is one of the most important and significant pieces of legislation in this province and you know that and you have made speeches about that and many of us here have made speeches about the Trade Union Act.
I really wonder, Mr. Speaker, do we think it is right or fair, reasonable, sensible or safe to pass legislation which purports to establish a community college system, a post-secondary education system here in this province and have in that legislation language which, as I say, I repeat, without even using the words the Trade Union Act purports to amend the Trade Union Act. This legislation does exactly that. That, I suggest, is not only very bad form in terms of public policy development but, with respect, it is a very dangerous legal precedent.
There are other principles that would be established if this bill passes which, I believe, are issues which should be the subject of analysis and review involving, perhaps as one of the chief participants, our Minister of Finance. Those elements and principles to which I now refer are those enshrined in Bill No. 55, which if we were to pass it in its present form would have the colleges which would be established by this legislation given authority to start raising money on the credit of the colleges. I don't know whether that means with or without guarantees from the Minister of Finance, I wonder if the Minister of Finance. with respect, has had the opportunity to review that issue with the Minister of Education. Do we want to and is it good public policy and is that the direction in which this province proposes to move? Is this the Americanization of the way in which we will fund education in the Province of Nova Scotia in the future?
This legislation has principles in it which say that it will be possible, if it passes in its present form, that the colleges established by this legislation can raise money on the credit of the college, the individual college campus, by way of issuing bonds and debentures. I can just see it now. You travel on occasion to the United States and you go through Maine, Massachusetts or wherever. You see the ballot, come state or federal election time in the United States and there is bond issue No. 4 to raise $300,000 for such and such a school and bond issue number so and so to raise $2 million and so on.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member has strayed from the amendment considerably. You are discussing now the system of government found in another country and that is not what the amendment is about.
MR. DONAHOE: No, I agree, Mr. Speaker. The amendment is about the benefit and the possibility that if we were to delay the reading of this bill, we would have the opportunity to address and assess the question of whether or not we want to, as Nova Scotians, embark upon a system of governance and school financing and post-secondary education financing, by way of having these colleges raise money by the issuance of bonds and debentures.
My understanding is, I may stand corrected, that the existing universities of the Province of Nova Scotia do not have the right to raise money by issuing bonds and debentures. I wonder whether or not we want to move in the realm of public policy development by having these community colleges, post-secondary education institutions, raising money - operating money, who knows, or capital money only - by bonds and debentures. That is a fundamental public policy issue which I believe is exceedingly important to every taxpayer in the Province of Nova Scotia.
We are now seeing the spectre, as you well know, of amalgamations of municipal units and we are seeing unbelievable amounts of deficit having to be faced by the men and women who are the newly elected members of those municipal units and they face big deficits. Well, I wonder if the potential, at least, is not here that we might, through inadvertence, walk ourselves into that kind of situation if this bill were to pass in its present form.
I make those remarks with the view to saying further to you that if we were to pass this amendment, it would make it possible for us to address, to open up to public debate, to have the Minister of Education, the Minister of Finance and to have all of us participate in a discussion and a debate as to whether or not we believe it is right for us to move, as a province with a fragile economy, into the realm of funding post-secondary education institutions by way of those institutions on the credit of the institution themselves raising money by issuing bonds and debentures.
I think that is an extremely important departure from everything we have known about education financing in this province. It is an issue, I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, which would be a perfectly legitimate and sensible and vitally important issue which could and should be addressed and would be addressed were this particular amendment to be successful and to pass. It would give us the opportunity and the minister the opportunity to address it if the amendment were to pass.
Mr. Speaker, I have imposed upon the good graces of yourself and members of the House for some time in raising some issues. I do have one or two closing comments, but my colleague has asked if he might be permitted to be recognized for the purpose of an introduction. I would be pleased to allow that.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic with an introduction.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce a group of people in your gallery, from the Truro area. The executive and members of the Truro and District Labour Council, President, Danny Cavanaugh, Vice-President, Tony Dickie, Secretary, Todd Mullen, members, Dave Ling and Ralph Gosby. These people are here to talk to their local members and to pay attention to the debate that is going on here tonight. I would like to ask all members to join me, as they rise, in welcoming these people to the Legislature this evening. (Applause)
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, so those reasons may not be considered by my colleagues to be persuasive. I would hope that they would, but perhaps they will not. I offer those observations in support of the motion which is before us. I say, again, that there are so many issues and particularly the financial issues relative to the future of this new post-secondary education system which is contemplated by Bill No. 55, that can and should be addressed and probably the strongest argument I would offer in support of the amendment which would give us the six months to look at the issues, is that in light of the fact that this government has already said it is going to reduce the amount of funding to the existing post-secondary education system, the universities of the province, in light of the fact that the Minister of Finance and the federal Minister of Finance have said, there will be less money in his upcoming budget for education purposes or certainly less money by way of transfers from the federal government for education purposes, I wonder if it is not better public policy and a more cautious and prudent approach, Mr. Speaker, for us to review, with the help of the Minister of Finance, the financial implications to this system of post-secondary education contemplated by Bill No. 55 and to the provincial Treasury as a whole, if we were to delay.
I honestly do not believe that the Minister of Education is able, if this bill were to be delayed, to make a terribly strong case that there is any significant number of persons who would be adversely affected or hurt by such a modest postponement or delay. So I think, Mr. Speaker, that I have said about everything that I wish to say in support of the motion. I will vote for the amendment. I do believe that it would be in the best interests of us coming up with a post-secondary education system, the transformation of the existing community college system into this new, post-secondary education system. The chances of us doing it better are guaranteed; the likelihood of us doing it perfectly are slim; but the reality of us doing it the way Bill No. 55 suggests we do it are, in my opinion, the next best thing to disastrous for thousands of people.
I very much support the amendment and urge all members to do likewise.
MR. SPEAKER: Are there any further speakers to the amendment?
The question is called.
A recorded vote is requested, by, I believe, two honourable members.
Now in view of the time, 7:36 p.m., I want to seek the opinion of the political Parties represented here in the House as to how we should now proceed. The rule states that when a roll call vote is demanded by at least two members, which has been done, Mr. Speaker or the Chairman shall order the bells to be rung, which will be done shortly, and shall then direct the Clerk to call the roll when he, the Speaker, is satisfied that all members wishing to vote are in their seats, providing that the bells shall be rung for a reasonable length of time and, in no event, for longer than one hour.
Now it is my view that the vote must be concluded before the House can adjourn this evening. It is further my view that, in view of the time, it would not be reasonable for the bells to ring for one hour, that is until 8:37 p.m. There would have to be a motion to adjourn the House after that before the House could legally adjourn and this would involve the House sitting longer than the appointed period of time for the day.
I would like to seek the opinion of the three Parties in the House on this matter as to how we ought to proceed in terms of the length of time for the ringing of bells.
The honourable member for Cape Breton South.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Our Party can proceed right now.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: We are not quite ready, Mr. Speaker, but we certainly won't be any longer than 15 or 20 minutes, I wouldn't imagine; 15 minutes maybe, something like that. We have some members down in the caucus office.
MR. SPEAKER: All right, given those commitments, let the bells be rung and call in the members.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MR. SPEAKER: Are the Whips satisfied?
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Donahoe Mr. Barkhouse
Mr. Russell Mr. Downe
Mr. Moody Dr. Smith
Mr. Holm Mr. Boudreau
Mr. Chisholm Mr. Gillis
Mr. McInnes Dr. Stewart
Mr. Taylor Ms. Jolly
Mr. MacLeod Mr. MacEachern
Mr. M. MacDonald
Mr. W. MacDonald
THE CLERK: For, 8. Against, 24.
MR. SPEAKER: I declare the amendment carried in the negative.
Now, the debate on second reading will resume on the next sitting day. In view of the hour, I am going to call on the honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, would you please revert to the order of business, Notices of Motion.
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Shelburne.
MR. CLIFFORD HUSKILSON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Department of National Defence Housing at the Roseway Park and on Commission Street could assist Shelburne County families in need of affordable housing; and
Whereas the surrounding communities and the province's Department of Housing and Consumer Affairs support the use of the property for low income housing opportunities; and
Whereas these DND properties were sold through tender to private developers, subject to the approval of the federal Cabinet;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House of Assembly support appeals to the federal Cabinet to reconsider this sale and encourage the federal Cabinet to negotiate with the Department of Housing and Consumer Affairs and the Shelburne Regional Housing Authority Tenants Association for acquisition of the DND properties located in Roseway Park and on Commission Street.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreeable to the House that notice be waived?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: The hours of the House tomorrow will be from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and following daily routine we will continue with Bill No. 55 for second reading. I move that we adjourn until 8:00 a.m. tomorrow.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the House do now rise to meet again tomorrow morning at the hour of 8:00 a.m.
The motion is carried.
[The House rose at 7:56 p.m.]