|TABLE OF CONTENTS||PAGE|
|PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS:|
|Transport. & Pub. Wks.: Canaan Road (Yarmouth) - Pave, Mr. R. Hubbard||1419|
|STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS:|
|Lbr.: Minimum Wage Rules - Changes, Hon. G. Brown||1420|
|INTRODUCTION OF BILLS:|
|No. 22, Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities Act, Hon. S. Jolly||1423|
|NOTICES OF MOTION:|
|Res. 466, ERA - Tourism: Marketing - Americans Target,|
|Mr. D. McInnes||1423|
|Vote - Affirmative||1423|
|Res. 467, Health - Nursing Week: Nurses Role - Acknowledge,|
|Mr. R. Chisholm||1423|
|Res. 468, Educ. - School Construction: Public-Private -|
|Costs Viability, Mr. J. Holm||1424|
|Res. 469, DFO - Individual Transferable Quotas: Fish. (Min.-N.S.) -|
|Contact, Mr. J. Leefe||1424|
|Vote - Affirmative||1425|
|Res. 470, Fin. - Taxation: People (N.S.) Ordinary -|
|Attack Vicious Admit, Mr. J. Holm||1425|
|ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS:|
|No. 224, Health - C.B.: Care Delivery - Confidence, Dr. J. Hamm||1426|
|No. 225, ERA - Dynatek: Employees - Number, Mr. R. Chisholm||1427|
|No. 226, Environ. - Stellarton: Strip Mine - Compensation,|
|Dr. J. Hamm||1428|
|No. 227, Health - AIDS: Drug Combinations - Funding, Mr. G. Moody||1430|
|No. 228, Fin. - PST & GST Harmonization: Consultation -|
|Commencement, Mr. R. Russell||1431|
|No. 229, Fish. - Quota Plan: Mins. (N.S.-Can.) - Discuss,|
|Mr. J. Leefe||1432|
|No. 230, ERA - Dynatek: Jobs - Commitment Fulfilment,|
|Mr. R. Chisholm||1434|
|No. 231, Justice - Legal Aid: Review - Implementation,|
|Mr. T. Donahoe||1436|
|No. 232, ERA - Tourism: Olympics (Atlanta-1996) - Marketing,|
|Mr. D. McInnes||1438|
|No. 233, Agric. - Hog Disease: Farmers - Assistance,|
|Mr. G. Archibald||1439|
|No. 234, Fish.: School (N.S.-Pictou) - Modus Operandi,|
|Mr. D. McInnes||1440|
|No. 235, Educ.: Horton School - Plans, Mr. G. Archibald||1441|
|HOUSE RESOLVED INTO CWH ON SUPPLY AT 1:26 P.M.||1442|
|HOUSE RECONVENED AT 5:25 P.M.||1442|
|PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:|
|No. 18, Financial Measures (1996) Act||1442|
|Mr. J. Holm||1443|
|Dr. J. Hamm||1446|
|Mr. J. Leefe||1448|
|MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5):|
|Health - Mental: Reform - Commitment Demonstrate:|
|Mr. R. Chisholm||1450|
|Hon. R. Stewart||1452|
|Mr. G. Moody||1454|
|PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:|
|No. 18, Financial Measures (1996) Act||1456|
|Amendment [debate resumed]||1456|
|Mr. J. Leefe||1456|
|Mr. R. Russell||1456|
|Mr. T. Donahoe||1458|
|Mr. R. Chisholm||1460|
|Vote - Negative||1464|
|Mr. G. Moody||1464|
|Hon. B. Boudreau||1466|
|Vote - Affirmative||1469|
|No. 12, Adoption Information Act||1470|
|Mr. T. Donahoe||1470|
|ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Wed., May 8th at 1:00 p.m.||1474|
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I will call the House to order at this time and commence the daily routine. Are there any introductions of guests before we begin? If not, the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Yarmouth.
MR. RICHARD HUBBARD: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table a petition that has been signed by approximately 700 persons from the Kempt-Pubnico-Carleton area. It reads, "We, the undersigned, hereby petition to have the Canaan Road (throughway from Carleton to Tusket, Rte. 401) progressed to the 20th Century with asphalt paving.". I have affixed my signature.
MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Labour.
HON. GUY BROWN: Mr. Speaker and members of the House of Assembly, it gives me a great deal of pleasure today to rise in this House with what I believe is a very positive announcement for Nova Scotia. Today this government is announcing changes to our minimum wage rules in this province. Today the government is continuing its commitment to help and protect Nova Scotians who are working in the low income group and we have an obligation to work with those people.
Effective October 1st of this year, the minimum wage will increase by 20 cents, from $5.15 to $5.35, then on February 1, 1997, the wage will again increase 15 cents, to reach $5.50. The reason, in two stages, is because the business community that have all their information, their motel rates and everything, published for this year must be given time to adjust.
Why are we increasing the minimum wage? Well, number one, to help Nova Scotians. The wage has not been increased, Mr. Speaker, in this province since January 1, 1993, which was announced in 1992, more than three years ago and a lot has changed since that time.
As well, we are moving to keep pace with other provinces across the country, especially those in Atlantic Canada. For example, New Brunswick will be moving to $5.50 this July, and P.E.I. just announced that they will be moving to $5.40 in just over one year. Again, we need the time. Some people will say, why do you not increase it now to $5.50? Well, we have to be fair to the business community and to people who have already made their hiring plans and already have their brochures printed.
The decision to change the minimum wage rules was not something that we took lightly in this government or in the department. Last summer, the department started the most comprehensive review in recent memory. Letters were sent to employer and employee groups all across this province, such as the Nova Scotia Restaurant and Food Services Association, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and the Nova Scotia Chamber of Commerce. Then I spoke at many of their meetings and discussed it in detail.
We asked them questions about the wage, and we carefully considered their concerns and their ideas. One of the key concerns was to give business enough time to adjust and that is what we have done. This is why we are increasing the wage in two steps, and that is why the first increase will happen in October. Businesses, especially those in the tourism industry, have already set their prices, Mr. Speaker, and have estimated their costs for this year.
This announcement is about more than just dollars and cents. We also looked at a number of other issues. For example, today's changes now offer the protection of minimum wage to domestic workers employed in private homes in this province for the first time. I believe that is important, especially for women. The majority of Canadian provinces already do this. Nova Scotia is one of the few that did not adopt those changes. Well, we have now. We have made the announcement today.
Another change gives the protection of minimum wage is to professionals and students training for careers in dentistry, and there is a whole list of them, law, surveying, engineering and other professions. This move will now help students. Mr. Speaker, I have personally corresponded with the Dalhousie Law School and other groups, and we have their comments with regard to these changes.
During the review, some employers proposed a separate, lower minimum wage for employees who supplement their wages with tips. On this issue, it is important to have more discussion with employees and employers in the industry before any final decisions are made by this province.
Overall, today's changes are beneficial, progressive and updating our rules. We are keeping pace with other provinces. We are helping Nova Scotians keep pace with the cost of living. We are considering the timing and the concerns of the business community.
Above all, we are protecting Nova Scotians who need our protection and who need that increase. That is something all Nova Scotians, Mr. Speaker, should be very proud of today. Thank you. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, in rising to respond to the minister's statement with regard to the minimum wage, I am pleased to state that yes, indeed, we in this caucus believe it is a move in the right direction and one that is probably, to a certain extent, overdue in that it was three years ago since the last raise in the minimum wage. I think as the minister has pointed out - I didn't catch all of his remarks - that we have had an inflationary curve of about 4.5 per cent over those three years. So, indeed, a raise is probably due for those on the minimum wage.
There is never a right time, as I am sure the minister would agree, that you could come forward and say, we are doing this and we have hit the right time to do it because there are always those who are going to say, well, he should have waited until such and such a period. But the minister has obviated that to a certain extent by phasing the increase in two stages. I think it is 20 cents this fall at the end of the tourist season and then another 15 cents, I believe it is, at the beginning of the next tourist season. Most of these people, Mr. Speaker, I would suggest, are employed in those kinds of situations that are connected with the tourism industry.
However, Mr. Speaker, whenever there is an increase in minimum wage, there is another effect which occurs and that is, the differential that occurs between the minimum wage and the lowest classification above that. When you bump up the bottom, then all the other classifications along the way have to be bumped up as well to maintain a differential. So this raise in the minimum wage, unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you look at it, does, indeed, trigger other increases in industry and particularly in service industries. So, it does indeed have an effect.
I note also that the minister has extended the minimum wage to those in the domestic service, which I think is a step in the right direction. He has also done something else that I think is quite different and I would like to get more details on exactly how it is going to occur but resident physicians, for instance, in hospitals will now be covered under the minimum wage. Those who are articling in the legal profession will also be covered under the minimum wage, as will a number of others in the various professions. I don't know exactly how that can be achieved because as I understand it, these people sign contracts.
Anyway, Mr. Speaker, generally speaking, I think the minister is to be congratulated on a move to increase the minimum wage and we look forward to more details later on when this change takes place to see what the effect is on industry and on the rate of inflation in this province. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: Before we hear from the New Democratic Party, the honourable Minister of Human Resources wishes to make a brief introduction.
The honourable Minister of Human Resources.
HON. JAY ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to introduce in the east gallery, I believe, 26 students from Grade 5 at St. Catherines School led by three women by the names of Diane Losier, their teacher; Jane Roberts and Mrs. Arlene Hughs. Maybe students if you would rise, we will give you a good round of applause. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, let me say at the outset that I fully support the increase in the minimum wage as proposed by the Minister of Labour today. I think it must be noted, though, that we continue to fall well below the national average of minimum wages across the country. But nonetheless if we are continuing to move forward, then that is the proper direction in which to move.
Mr. Speaker, the whole principle of minimum wage has been fought tooth and nail by many in our society. But I think that sufficient study has now been done on the effects of minimum wage to prove that, in fact, it does not have a dampening effect on employment, and that while it may to some degree increase the costs for employers, it also - and perhaps more importantly - increases workers' incomes which will in turn be spent, if not in those businesses, then in other businesses in the community. So, in other words, increasing the minimum wage has an important effect on aggregate demand.
The evidence is fairly clear that the lower the wages the higher the turnover in businesses in our communities, and that that, inevitably and clearly, is an increased cost for employers. The other thing, of course, is that as we continue to increase the minimum wage -we would like it to be closer to one-half of the average industrial wage, but that having been said, the more we can increase that threshold - the more we can ward off any efforts to exploit low income workers, low wage workers in our economy.
I understand that there will be many in the tourism sector, in the service sector who employ seasonal workers at minimum wages, who may be somewhat resistant to these increases. I know that is why the minister has introduced these changes in the gradual manner that he has. I just want to say to those individuals and to those employers to consider the positive impact that this increase in the minimum wage will have on the community, on the purchasing power of individuals, and the long-term, positive impact that that will have on all small and medium-sized businesses in this province where you tend to find the majority of low income earners.
So, Mr. Speaker, again, I say, salute and congratulations to the Minister of Labour for this announcement. I guess now all speculation about an election is off. Clearly when the minimum wage is increased, that means it is a sure thing. The question now is whether it is going to be in the next six days, six weeks or six months. But regardless, I am quite happy, even on the hustings, to congratulate the Minister of Labour and to support this initiative to increase the minimum wage. Thank you.
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 22 - Entitled an Act to Amend Chapter 103 of the Acts of 1981. The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities Act. (Hon. Sandra Jolly as a private member.)
MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be read a second time on a future day.
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: 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 a Conference Board of Canada survey shows that more Canadians will take a summer vacation trip this year than have done so in recent years; and
Whereas tourism from the United States is expected to reach 4.2 million visitors this year; and
Whereas the tourism industry in Nova Scotia will need to have a banner year so that the thousands of summer employees will be able to help provide for their education and/or their families;
Therefore be it resolved that the Nova Scotia Marketing Agency target the American tourist trade to attract those vacation travellers who will take advantage of the low Canadian dollar and other benefits of a Canadian vacation to come to Nova Scotia.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.
MR. SPEAKER: Is that 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 Leader of the New Democratic Party.
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 week of May 6th to May 12th is recognized as Nursing Week, this year being marked with the theme, Ask A Nurse; and
Whereas nurses play a key role in keeping Canadians healthy and in providing quality health care; and
Whereas the Minister of Health has promised Nova Scotians that they too could benefit from asking a nurse, specifically through the implementation plan of the Report on Emergency Health Services Nova Scotia, which set an objective to implement, Ask A Nurse, during the period November 1994 to June 1995;
Therefore be it resolved that on the occasion of Nursing Week, this House calls on the Minister of Health to acknowledge the critical role of nurses in our health care system and urges him to fulfil his commitment to an Ask A Nurse program.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas in the old days before public-private partnering, when the public sector built schools, the Sydney Junior High School was estimated to cost $5.7 million; and
Whereas with the advent of public-private partnering, the estimated cost of Sydney Junior High has ballooned to $14.5 million; and
Whereas estimated costs for the Hebbville Junior High School, which is being built by the public sector alone, has remained constant at $9 million;
Therefore be it resolved that this government explain how an almost threefold cost increase under its public-private partnering approach is consistent with solid fiscal management.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas more than 300 inshore fisherman in southwest Nova Scotia made it clear yesterday that individual transferable quotas are unacceptable; and
Whereas in their frustration, these fishermen are prepared to go to sea and fish, irrespective of DFO imposed fishing plans; and
Whereas DFO has made it clear that Ottawa has made its decision respecting ITQs and that they are now a matter of fact, whether the fishermen like it or not;
Therefore be it resolved that the Nova Scotia Minister of Fisheries immediately contact the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and reinforce that diplomacy and negotiation, not unilateral decisions taken by DFO, must be exercised to resolve the current impasse.
Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it 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.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the government's fictitious low income tax reduction will bring no benefits whatsoever to the 208,000 Nova Scotians whose incomes are so low that they do not pay provincial income tax; and
Whereas the Minister of Finance says, not to worry, we have set aside $8 million for those Nova Scotians; and
Whereas that $8 million would amount to a princely 74 cents per week for each of those 208,000 low income Nova Scotians, hardly enough to pay the newly imposed thirst tax, let alone the BST;
Therefore be it resolved that this government cease and desist from masquerading as a friend of small workaday Nova Scotians and acknowledge the truth, that its budgetary and taxation policies represent a vicious attack on ordinary Nova Scotians.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
I wish to advise the House that the Clerk has conducted a draw for the Adjournment debate at 6:00 p.m. The winner this afternoon is the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid. He has submitted a resolution for debate:
Therefore be it resolved that in recognition of Mental Health Week, the Liberal Government demonstrate its commitment to real mental health reform and work out the community support model outlined in the Blueprint for Health Reform.
So we will hear discussion of those subjects at 6:00 p.m. this afternoon. That would appear to conclude the daily routine.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, on Thursday the honourable member for Queens during Question Period requested information for all members of the House on the attraction sign policy in the Province of Nova Scotia. I just wanted to respond to that and I had indicated to him I would get him information. However, a draft brochure has been completed. It is being finalized and probably within a couple of weeks it will be prepared. So I will wait until that time and at that point I will be circulating the brochure to all members of the House.
MR. SPEAKER: Very well. Now the Oral Question Period today will last for one hour, from 12:25 p.m. to 1:25 p.m.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health is the member who represents the people of Cape Breton. I have had an opportunity to travel to Cape Breton on several occasions recently and I can't help but be impressed by the general lack of confidence in medical care services that are available in Cape Breton. Of course, we are all, I think, dismayed at the level or the lack of confidence in mental care delivery in Cape Breton.
My question to the minister is, what steps is the minister taking to restore confidence in mental care delivery in Cape Breton? Perhaps he might want to comment, as well, on confidence in other aspects of medical care delivery in Cape Breton.
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, the honourable Leader of the Opposition asks a rather broad based question. He asks me to comment on the level of confidence. I can only say that our health care changes and reforms persist in Cape Breton and are, in fact, serving the people of that Island much better, particularly in respect to emergency health services and home care. The mental health system has been for some time undergoing change beginning in the late 1980's and early 1990's in respect to some of the new programs being offered particularly, I would cite, in terms of youth initiatives that are beginning now. I would trust that the honourable member opposite has been duly informed of that. I would seek to inform him more fully if he wishes to ask specific questions to me in that regard.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, to continue with the Minister of Health, the minister has suggested that things are much better. He used that term and he talked about new programs. Regardless of what the minister says, when you talk to the people in Cape Breton, particularly industrial Cape Breton, they are dismayed about their level of health care delivery, particularly the delivery of mental health services in their area.
Would the minister be prepared to table for the benefit of members of the House the documents, the studies that allow him to say that things are much better in the relationship of the delivery of health care in industrial Cape Breton and in Cape Breton Island in general?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I haven't made a generalization such as the honourable Leader of the Opposition suggests in terms of the delivery of health services in Cape Breton or in any part of the province, that things are just fine, thank you very much. In fact, I have said that the changes that in fact should have been brought about many years ago in terms of deinstitutionalization and community development are ongoing in Cape Breton. The studies and the reports that would argue in that favour have been presented in this place and publicly before. I refer specifically to the Royal Commission of 1989 and also to the Blueprint Report which we are in fact instituting.
I would further suggest that as we go forward with the changes, the delivery of health services - particularly in communities both in Cape Breton and elsewhere - are going to be appreciated by those who will receive those, particularly seniors in their homes and others in the communities that need those services.
DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, well, the minister backed away from much better. I think that was appropriate because things aren't much better. The minister made reference to a 1989 Royal Commission Report. He talked about the Blueprint Committee. I am talking about a study that tells us how things are today and I am sure the minister fully understands what I asked him for.
By way of final supplementary, there is a lack of confidence in the delivery of mental health care in Cape Breton. Is the minister prepared to support the recommendation of the Freedom of Information Officer, Mr. Darce Fardy, that in fact the internal report which was done at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital relative to three unfortunate cases which occurred in Cape Breton, that that report be made public?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I believe the honourable member, the Leader of the Opposition, refers to a report apparently released last evening. I have not yet received the report from the Freedom of Information Officer, but I did have part of the report shown to me by a reporter last evening around 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. We await that report and I am sure that the board of that facility will be acting appropriately on that report.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question through you to the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency. Back in 1992, the then Tory Government brought a company named Dynatek to the province with public monies of up to $15 million - over $11 million of that was provincial taxpayers' money - in exchange for commitments that that company would provide 100 jobs within the first year and 250 jobs by the spring of 1997.
I would like to ask the minister, could he confirm for us here today how many people are now employed by Dynatek at their Bedford facility?
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I don't have those exact numbers, but would be pleased to provide them for the honourable member.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, the minister indicates that he doesn't have those numbers, yet he recommended to the Governor in Council a few weeks ago - I guess perhaps it was in February - that Dynatek Automation Systems Inc. be not only given $4 million of taxpayers' money but, also, that a control that was in the original contact, which allowed the province to bring pressure upon that company if it did not meet its employment targets, was extended for five further years, to the year 2002.
I would like the minister to explain to members of this House why, in response to my question, he didn't know how many people were there, and yet he made a recommendation to the Governor in Council to give this company more money and to extend their commitments for a further five years?
MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I think the question was exactly the number employed at Dynatek as of this day; I undertook to provide that information. As to why the Government of Nova Scotia is supporting this company in a sector that we believe has a future in this province, the answer is because we believe in jobs for Nova Scotians and that this company has a track record and is supported by other lending institutions, such that we have confidence in this company to provide jobs for Nova Scotians in a key sector that secures the economic future of this province.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I think anybody who is watching and is aware of this situation will see that the practices that this government campaigned against, in other words, giving handouts to corporations in the tens of millions of dollars is continuing under this administration. We have this government that is continuing to hand out millions of dollars to a company without any strings attached. I think that is a concern, certainly for me and I think for many Nova Scotians.
My final supplementary, Mr. Speaker, in a question to this minister, is whether or not this company is going to be able to continue to operate in their Bedford facility for a further six years, with a skeleton workforce, or, is there a timetable or any other kind of framework to provide a commitment for them to meet job creation targets over that period of time, or has this minister just continued to hand out money without exacting any kind of commitments by this company?
MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully in debates yesterday. The plan that the member opposite offers as the voice from the left is that we hire public employees, borrow money and in fact put people on public expenditure to create employment. He indicates that there are no strings attached to the lending of Nova Scotia taxpayers' dollars for job creation and, in this case, return on investment.
I can assure the member opposite that this government does lend money to companies that are prepared to create jobs for Nova Scotians. We expect a return on investment, we get a return on investment. That is good for Nova Scotia and it is good for those people employed in that plant.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, a question to the Premier. The Premier met a week and one-half ago with the residents of Stellarton who are severely impacted by the Stellarton strip mine. The Premier made a commitment that he would get back with an answer to their
concerns. The facts of the case, and the Premier knows this well, are that the operation of that strip mine will result, under the current agreement, in tens of millions of dollars of profit to the operator over the next 13 years but the people who are paying the price of that prosperity for the operator of the mine are the people who live in the immediate vicinity. Their homes are devalued. Their environment is destroyed. They have noise 16 hours a day and on dry, windy days, they have dust. Will the Premier tell us what it is he plans to do to rectify this wrong that has been perpetrated on the people in the neighbourhood of the Stellarton strip mine?
HON. JOHN SAVAGE (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, I will attempt to answer that very loaded question with the answer that I have given already. I met with the group of people, some five or six people, who expressed their concerns to me and I wrote them down. They have since been conveyed to the Department of the Environment. I told them, in no uncertain terms, that I was prepared to listen to them. I also said that I would pass on their concerns to the Minister of the Environment.
DR. HAMM: To continue with the Premier, already the neighbourhood has been subjected to extreme noise from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily on weekdays, and from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays. This is heavy equipment that will be working in this neighbourhood for the next 13 years. The visual pollution is obvious. The ground shakes under the homes, perhaps due to the fact that the area is honeycombed with old workings but the homes literally shake when this heavy equipment works.
I again say to the Premier, is he prepared to follow the suggestion of the Town of Stellarton which will allow them to do the monitoring of the dust and the noise rather than to allow the company to do the monitoring?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, once again the questions are loaded with innuendo as opposed to facts. What I have done consistently with ministers is that I will not undercut ministers or departments. What I will do is listen to the people who wish to talk to me and pass those on to the minister and the department concerned. I will continue to operate in the same way.
DR. HAMM: To continue with the Premier, the Premier is fully aware that Mr. Charles made a recommendation that the operator of the strip mine pay to the Town of Stellarton $2.00 per ton in recognition of the fact that there will be a total devaluation of the tax base in Stellarton. A recommendation by the Environmental Assessment Board would result in payment over 13 years of over $5 million to the Town of Stellarton. Is the Premier prepared to recommend to his Minister of the Environment that this recommendation of the assessment board be followed and that the operator of the strip mine make an offer to the Town of Stellarton based on the recommendation of Mr. Charles, the Chairman of the Environmental Assessment Board?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, once again we have loaded questions. What I have said and what I will stick to is that I passed on the concerns of these people to the Department of the Environment. Let me say, there are a good number of people in Pictou who are very glad of the opportunity of employment, some 50 to 55 people are working there and these are people who would not be employed otherwise.
AN HON. MEMBER: There are 34 working.
THE PREMIER: That is better than the 11 that the mayor told me. The issue that is quite clear is that the people that I listened to have concerns. The process of government is that my job is to pass it on to the minister, the minister will presumably bring back a report to me and then the department will continue to do what it has done best. I think it is only fair to tell the House that this is the way that government will continue.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is for the Minister of Health. I am sure the Minister of Health is aware that there are now 229 people registered with the clinic at the Victoria General Hospital that have full-blown AIDS. The minister is also aware that the budget for the drugs for those people, I think, is $270,000 with an additional $150,000 expected to fund double combinations. I am sure the minister understands that if people took the double combination of 3TC and AZT, only 61 people of the 229 could go for a full year and be funded for those drugs. If it was to pay for AZT/3TC and Saquinivir, which is new on the market, for that triple combination, 33 people would be covered for a full year. Saquinivir is the new drug, which is very expensive, as the minister knows.
What I am asking the minister, knowing that that budget for those drugs will be gone by, say, September of this year, is the minister prepared to put in any more funding to make sure these people continue taking these drugs which have been proven to be helpful to those afflicted with AIDS?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, the honourable member for Kings West raises an issue which was canvassed briefly during the estimates as well, when I dealt with the increasing challenge in terms of coverage of life-prolonging medications, if not life-saving medications, across the population of Nova Scotia. We in our department are working very hard to both address the problem, not only address it but look at it from other perspectives, particularly in terms of other drugs for other diseases that are necessary to the health and well-being of those who suffer.
The list of medications that the honourable member has given are but a few of what may be required. So we are very sensitive to this issue as well as we are to the issue of providing medications in our province, for example, for the working poor.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge that there are other drugs involved. My problem is that these people, to have any chance at all, have to and, obviously, it has been proven that these drugs are beneficial to people with AIDS. I understand that the Province of New Brunswick, and I think it is AZT that they are using the generic, which is about one-half of the price. I am wondering if there is any consideration given to the VGH using the generic for AZT, which is about one-half the price?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I might say that the infectious disease clinic has an ongoing program of re-evaluation of all medications, both in terms of cost and also in terms of what might be used. The recent arrival of the proteinase inhibitors which are, I think, very promising and the honourable member opposite mentions one of them, but those medications are currently very costly, as he suggests. So we will be looking at all ways of reducing the costs of the medications. With respect to AZT, this is one of the issues that has been raised recently.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the minister in indicating and I know he senses how important these drugs are and how important it is that we in some way help many of these people. I am a little concerned, because some of them have drug plans but they don't seem to kick in, it is the government that obviously seems to kick in. I guess what I am saying, many of these 229 have no coverage, some of them are on family benefits, some of them are on municipal assistance, obviously, are unable to work. I would ask the minister if he would make a commitment that he would see that this budget, that is inadequate as he agrees, will in some way be added to to ensure that if in September the money runs out that there will be some additional funding in some way to make sure these people get the much needed drugs that they have to have? I think the minister would agree that there has been studies done to show that there has been positive effects on many of these people taking some of these new drugs.
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I don't want to in any way challenge the honourable member in terms of which drugs are beneficial, which may be life prolonging, which may be life enhancing. I am sure the clinicians can sort that out. We are very fortunate, as the honourable member opposite I am sure knows, in having some of the world experts in terms of infectious disease working there. The question is where is the funding going to come from for an expansion of drug programs in general but particularly, relative to this? At the moment, we are looking very closely at where other sources of funding may be, we have partnerships which we may develop and which we may foster in both the research area and also, in terms of the private sector. We will continue to do that so that we can reach what I am sure the honourable member would agree would be the provision of life enhancing and life-saving medications, particularly for this disease but also across the spectrum.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance. Prior to the minister reaching an agreement with the federal government with regard to the blending of the GST and the PST, the minister stated in response to questions from the Opposition as to whether or not he was willing to have a select committee of the House gather public opinion on the blending of the sales tax, that he would be having a consultation process after he had reached some kind of framework agreement with the federal government. Well, the minister has now reached the stage when we do have a Memorandum of Understanding with the federal government. I would like to ask the minister when he intends to put his caravan on the road and go out and solicit opinion from the people of Nova Scotia, to determine whether or not they agree with what he was wrought?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for the question. In fact, that discussion, that consultation has already begun with groups that have contacted us indicating that they have concerns or information to give. We have met with individuals and groups and we will continue to do so over the next six months to a year. We will be able to do that more intensely, of course, after this House finishes its work this current session.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, if the consultation process that the minister is speaking about is directed to the chamber of commerce and to the other sectors in business, will he not be receiving or conducting solicitations from the ordinary person in the street, the person who
is actually the consumer, the person who will be paying the tax, to determine from those kinds of people exactly what their opinions are of various aspects of this new tax on their purchases and perhaps to provide him with some advice as to how the present agreement can be modified to take care of some of those concerns that they have?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, the consultation has not been only with boards of trade or chambers of commerce, not that there is anything wrong with consulting those groups. I am sure that the honourable member didn't mean to suggest that. In fact, it has been with a wide group of opinion and divergent backgrounds of individuals, groups and organizations, who have indicated an interest to do that. In point of fact, we have already begun, just as an example, a dialogue process, both myself and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, with municipalities who, as the honourable member knows, have some interest in doing this.
We have set up a 1-800 line which has received some considerable attention. A great number of calls have come in and been responded to by people in the department and others, giving information, answering questions, receiving concerns. All of that is going on and will continue to go on.
Naturally, while we are in the House here, it is rather difficult to speed up that process but we will certainly undertake it in far greater intensity, as soon as we finish our business here in the House.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I would hope that the minister will be prepared to table the lists of organizations and individual groups he has met with. I would also like to inform him that I have also phoned his 1-800 number and I would tell him that there is also a recording on the end of that 1-800 number that just simply asks you to leave your name and telephone number and the nature of your concern and you will be called back at some later date.
Anyway, my question to the minister is, is the minister prepared to travel around this province and have town hall meetings, to meet people who have individual questions that they want to put to the minister and have answered?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, we will undertake in the weeks and months ahead to find the most effective way to dialogue with those people who wish to come forward with their views and opinions. I think that at the end of this process perhaps even the honourable member will be satisfied that we have canvassed those opinions.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Fisheries. Yesterday there was a meeting of fishermen and DFO personnel in southwestern Nova Scotia with respect to fishing plans and the distribution of quotas. One fishing captain, Bernie Doucette of Cape St. Marys, said, "`We're going fishing one way or another,'". At another stage of the meeting Mr. Doucette said that, "DFO wants transferable quotas `shoved down our throats like manure.'". Finally, ". . . when DFO officials were pressed on whether the government would accept a majority view . . .", with respect to fishing plans and ITQs, the DFO representative, Mr. Hansen, said no, DFO would not accept the majority view.
Last evening the minister and I had the opportunity to talk to one of the persons who was central to the fisheries protest that we had through the winter. My question to the minister is, consequent to that discussion and further information that he may have had made available to him today, has he contacted the federal minister, the Honourable Fred Mifflin, to discuss the current and growing crisis?
HON. JAMES BARKHOUSE: Mr. Speaker, early in the afternoon the member opposite had asked for a resolution to get unanimous support in which our Party supported the initiative taken by the member in the Opposition, that is for myself to contact the minister. Before I contact the minister I would like to have facts about the matter that is taking place in southwestern Nova Scotia. We were in the Legislature yesterday and did not have anybody present at the meeting that I am aware of. My senior staff is in that area today. We have been contacting our fisheries representative, which the member opposite knows are very close to the fishermen in the region. We will have our senior staff in that region discussing the issue with the people today. When I have information that I can work on, rather than just information from the newspaper, I will be working with the federal minister to find resolution to this very serious problem.
MR. LEEFE: I thank the minister for the information and I will look forward, as will all members, to a briefing from him once that field information is gathered together, so we can all have a better or clearer understanding of what is transpiring there.
Certainly much of the controversy swirls around the question of individual transferable quotas. I know, I believe that this minister has taken a position with respect to ITQs on behalf of the industry in Nova Scotia and has expressed that view to Mr. Mifflin.
I wonder if, for the record, the minister would be kind enough today to advise the people involved in the fishery in Nova Scotia what this provincial government's view is respecting the imposition of individual transferable quotas?
MR. BARKHOUSE: Mr. Speaker, this is an issue that has transpired for many years and is an area in which there is constant bickering among various sectors as to whether there should or should not be ITQs. This individual transferable quota system is one that has taken place in many parts of the world to the concern of those countries such as New Zealand where there are only a few large individual operators, and in Iceland and Norway. Different methods have been implemented.
In Nova Scotia, we do have some sectors where individual transferable quotas have been used as such in the mobile fleet and it has worked to the betterment of the industry in the mobile fleet. In the inshore competitive fishery, I put my position forth earlier this year that only if there was a majority view of the fishermen within the province who would give their blessings to such a process, such as individual transferable quotas, would we give support to such a vision. Presently, with the system that has worked in this province, where competitive fisheries have been the way in which the inshore fleet has worked, we have been supporting that concept and only until there is a majority view expressed by the fishermen, by their organized representatives, will we ever give blessing to such a fishery.
That is only within the groundfish sector we speak of today, because if there are other sectors where ITQs have been implemented, are being discussed - and those are issues which the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, their management sector and the fishing groups for very specific fisheries, and there are ongoing discussions within the crab fishery -in Area 12 for instance, in the crab fishery off eastern Cape Breton and in the scallop fishery,
in each area you have to define, and it is a very difficult question to answer unless you define exactly which fishery you are speaking of.
MR. LEEFE: I thank the minister, Mr. Speaker. So that I understand very clearly, as I understand the minister, is he saying that with respect to the under 65 foot groundfish fleet, he would only support the implementation of ITQs if a majority of the participants in that under 65 foot groundfish fleet were to be in favour of ITQs, is that correct?
MR. BARKHOUSE: Yes.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to return to the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency. It has been reported in the publication called Computing Canada, with respect to Dynatek Automation Systems Inc. - and I will table this when I am through my question - that currently there are 61 people employed at the Bedford plant, in contrast to the 100 that were promised a year after the 1992 agreement and the eventual 250 that were supposed to be in place by the end of March 1997. Compare that with the now nearly $20 million of public money that has been handed over to Dynatek - and that works out to about $300,000 a job - I would like to ask the minister, does he feel that Nova Scotian taxpayers are getting a fair bang for their buck with respect to the commitments made to Dynatek and the jobs returned?
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I think the issue here for this government was whether or not jobs were important in this sector to Nova Scotians and whether or not this company was important to Nova Scotia. We entered into an arrangement recently with not only this company, but with two private sector lending institutions of some significance in this country and to this nation, and the investment was based on the belief that not only are those jobs important, but that this company is important; not only to Nova Scotia but to Canada. We believe in this company. We have obviously put taxpayers' dollars in terms of a return on investment and a position where we can leverage that money to create jobs for Nova Scotians and it is a sector that we believe in. So, is this an important sector to Nova Scotia? Yes. Is this an important company to Nova Scotia? Yes.
MR. CHISHOLM: I appreciate the answer to those two questions, but that wasn't the question I asked, which was whether $300,000 a job was good value to Nova Scotian taxpayers, Mr. Speaker, but we will give them a chance to ask the minister that question. It is interesting, he talks about working with private sector lending institutions, and certainly we all know how much support those institutions need.
Let me get into my first supplementary. In entering an agreement with Newbridge where the government gave out $10 million for 50 jobs basically to a company owned by a billionaire, I would like to ask the minister whether that deal is any different from the Dynatek deal? In other words, has the government placed any requirements on Newbridge to ensure that even that lofty target of 50 jobs, in exchange for $10 million, is going to be met some time in the future, or is that also an open-ended deal?
MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I keep repeating myself and he keeps repeating himself, and we end up with the same discrepancy in terms of what the truth is. The fact is that in both situations there is a requirement for the company to live up to obligations; one of those obligations is to create employment in this province. Both sectors happen to be in the information technology sector and the responsibility that this government has taken is to the employees of Dynatek. We recently put that confidence in a position with private sector lenders to ensure that those jobs were preserved for this province.
The question about Newbridge, with no strings attached, the gentleman opposite obviously needs information. It can come from the press release; it can come from a variety of places. (Interruption) But the return on investment that Newbridge will bring to this province, not only by its presence here in terms of partnering with the universities and the companies in this province, by creating a research and development laboratory - only two others exist in the nation - this is a world-class company doing international business.
A commitment in the press release - and I would be glad to provide the documentation for the member opposite - is that there is a repayment plan; a repayment not only in terms of the dollars invested, but in terms of the jobs created both directly and indirectly by the presence of this company in Nova Scotia. I would think that the voice from the left and the Leader of the left would be proud of the fact that a company like Newbridge would be attracted to this place and will serve as a spin-off for many jobs in the IT sector in this province.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I think any company would be proud to come to Nova Scotia if they were given $500,000 a job; not a bad deal. It is clear that all companies have to do is whisper high-tech into this minister's ear and he gets all woolly-headed. He goes right into a spin and he talks about the need to protect high-tech jobs. But I would like to ask this minister, where was he when IMP on the Northside was going down the toilet; where was this minister in terms of rolling up his sleeves and working with that worker venture company that was trying to salvage those high-tech jobs in a badly needed area, an area of high unemployment? Where was this minister . . .
MR. SPEAKER: All right. We have heard the question, thank you.
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . with all of his millions of dollars that he is so quick to throw away to companies from away? Where was he to help these workers . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you. We have heard the question three times now.
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . with money that they badly needed?
MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I intend to answer not with style, in terms of raising the volume, but with substance. Let me begin, first of all, by reminding the member opposite that Stora has invested, shown a confidence in this province second to none; a $650 million investment in resource-based technology upgrade that will preserve jobs for Nova Scotians (Interruptions) Let him also be reminded that Minas Basin has invested $30 million with the help of the provincial government in terms of a repayable loan to create jobs in the resource sector. Let me remind him opposite that where have we been with IMP, with the workers since day one.
MR. CHISHOLM: Oh, that's a lie.
MR. SPEAKER: Wait a minute. I heard unparliamentary words down there and I call on the honourable member to withdraw them or to leave the Chamber!
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I have been in contact with those workers on a daily basis and that, in fact, is not the case.
MR. SPEAKER: The words I heard . . .
MR. CHISHOLM: Now that, Mr. Speaker, is the information that I wanted to relay to this minister . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Be seated. The words I heard were, "That's a lie.". I call on the honourable member to withdraw those unparliamentary words.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, what I indicated was that that is the message I meant to convey. If I offended the Rules of this House by saying that, then I would withdraw those remarks and phrase it another way next time.
MR. SPEAKER: Very well.
MR. HARRISON: I appreciate the member opposite withdrawing the remarks because, in fact, the remarks are erroneous. The remarks are made without an understanding that, in fact, since day one, Mr. Speaker, our staff has been in touch with the IMP workers, both in the first phase with them when they applied for an extension of time and with them, literally, every day, including those members of ECBC to try to find an international partner with whom they could present an offer to their company, to try and find them the business consultation and support that they needed in order to make an offer.
It is a fact that those efforts, apparently, to this date at least have been unsuccessful. The reality is that we have been there with them in support of those efforts, as have their MLAs, from day one.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Justice. Yesterday the Legal Aid Review Team reported and made some 30 recommendations, most of which are directed to the minister and the provincial government generally. Nineteen of the recommendations made in that report do not require change in legislation or even the adoption of legislative initiatives. Since Cabinet has, as I understand it, already reviewed a draft of the report, I wonder if the minister will indicate to the House today which recommendations of this report is he prepared to come forward with and to, in fact, implement?
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, first of all, the honourable member for Halifax Citadel knows something that I don't know, that Cabinet has already reviewed a draft of the report. I attend Cabinet regularly so he knows something I don't. The fact of the matter is this report was principally done for the Legal Aid Commission and also for the Government of Nova Scotia. We were going to allow the commission and the people that work for the Legal Aid Commission to have input on this. With that, after due deliberation there will be implementation of certain recommendations.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable minister for that comment. I find it interesting that the document which I have received is a review of legal aid services in Nova Scotia and it is a report by the Legal Aid Review Team for the Nova Scotia Department of Justice. The report is for this minister and his department. It is therefore incumbent upon this minister to know what the report says and, in fairness to the thousands of Nova Scotians who need the services of the legal aid system, to indicate to the taxpayers to Nova Scotia what his and his government's intentions are in regard to the way in which he and the government will respond.
There appears in this document, as I read it, to be a little bit of a conflict in a couple of the recommendations and I would seek some advice and clarification from the Minister of Justice in this regard. On the one hand, there is a recommendation, Recommendation 6, I believe, that states that the funding levels for legal aid need attention, "the adequacy of funding for NSLA should be reviewed in light of the budgets of other components of the justice system . . . the budget allocation to NSLA be set at a stable level consistent with the four-year budget and business planning cycle of government.", and so on and so on. It ties it in to the Public Prosecution Service and the Department of Community Services.
Then later in the same document we find recommendations indicating that Nova Scotia Legal Aid should take immediate action to internalize conflict of interest referrals by setting up new offices and hiring additional staff.
Therefore, on the strength of those recommendations in this document, knowing from past experience and knowing from recent inquiries made of me how important the Nova Scotia Legal Aid system and the Dalhousie Legal Aid system actually are to so many thousands of Nova Scotians, since the document is as printed on the front for the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, I ask the Minister of Justice, will he tell this House when it is that he expects that he will be in a position to respond fully on behalf of the government as to which of the recommendations in this document he and the government will support and initiate and fund?
MR. GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, I am frankly surprised by the member for Halifax Citadel and his manner of reporting. Twice he referred to the document and for whom it was prepared and twice he neglected to read the fact that there are two lines. It is for the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, yes, that is for sure, but below it, in equal size print, it says, the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission. He neglected to inform members of the House that it was a joint report.
So, Mr. Speaker, the answer is that we will do a proper and adequate consultation with our partners before we move quickly into implementing this. We will move with due dispatch but we want to consult first and then make the proper decisions.
MR. DONAHOE: The document, Mr. Speaker, in Recommendation 5, I think, again a recommendation which does not require legislation, states, and I think I quote it accurately, that, "Government . . .", not the commission, ". . . should develop a more integrated approach to setting policy and priorities for matters affecting the administration of justice.".
In plain language, I say to the Minister of Justice through you, Mr. Speaker, that as far as I am concerned that means that the Minister of Justice must account for his department's resources when making policy decisions.
One of the fundamental elements of having an effective, properly administered and properly funded legal aid system is that we have got to get away, as I know the Minister of Justice knows, from the extremely difficult and debilitating system where hundreds and thousands of Nova Scotians are being told, I am sorry, the Nova Scotia Legal Aid system can't help you because we are now in conflict because your spouse is already in the system. We simply can't allow that to happen to the extent that it has in the past.
Therefore, I ask the Minister of Justice if he will, since the recommendation does mean that he and his department must account for resources when making policy decisions, will the minister commit to the common sense recommendation made in Recommendation 5, to the effect that he will give an undertaking to develop a more integrated approach to setting policy and priorities for matters affecting the administration of justice?
MR. GILLIS: There is no question that there must be an integration of planning and consultation with the various partners; with legal aid, the prosecution service, the judiciary, the Department of Justice and courts and registries and all the rest.
I want to assure all honourable members that I recognize that. I am not passing it off to the commission. We must look at the big picture. I want to tell that honourable member, through you, Mr. Speaker, that as recently as four or five days ago, last week at a meeting of the bench and Bar, with many of the partners represented, we did talk about this very matter. We are aware that we need to consult with each other because what is done in one sector of the justice area affects many others. I can tell the honourable member that we are certainly aware of that.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency. The minister is aware that the Olympic Games are talking place in Atlanta, Georgia, this summer. Those games give a tremendous boost to tourism. Globally, Atlanta is not far from Nova Scotia and a number of Nova Scotians are competing in those games.
I wonder if the minister would tell us, the members of the Legislature, what steps our Nova Scotia Marketing Agency is taking to get some advantage from this huge potential tourist market?
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, there is no question that Nova Scotia has to be opportunistic and seize every possible opportunity to put its good name forward in front of a variety of audiences. If there are opportunities in Atlanta, as a result of the competitors who are based here in Nova Scotia, I will take under advisement the good advice from my colleague and begin discussions with my department about what possibilities.
If he has information on who those athletes are or might be, I would be delighted to receive that information.
MR. MCINNES: A recent study by the Conference Board of Canada shows an increase in Canadians who are planning to take summer vacations in Canada. Would the minister outline to the members of the House again the steps being taken to compete with the advertising, such as the New Brunswick department is promoting, so we can compete with that market and have those tourists come to Nova Scotia?
MR. HARRISON: I would be pleased to provide the member opposite with what is now a tourism document in the hands of most of the operators in the province and that is the strategic marketing plan for this province. It is well recognized in Atlantic Canada that the expertise in tourism is second to none in Nova Scotia. You will notice the advertisement calls that Atlantic Canada's premier guide or best guide or largest guide. On the inside you will see the work package next to it. The fact is that the Doers and Dreamers Guide [Page 1439]
which was out before Christmas is being well received by people throughout North America and literally throughout the world for that matter. I will be pleased to provide a detailed document which is the strategic plan for marketing in this province. It is based on industry input and I will be pleased to send it, in fact, to the entire caucus.
MR. MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for that information and we will look forward to having the detailed information as soon as possible. When he is doing that, could he also be specific about geographical areas around the world that the Nova Scotia Marketing Agency has targeted for this season, as well?
MR. HARRISON: Yes, Mr. Speaker, in fact, part of the strategic plan is to identify the geographic areas that are being targeted, the way in which it has been targeted, the funding and the partners for that funding.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister of Agriculture will know about the disease in hogs called haemophalus. This disease is very troubling to farmers because it necessitates the de-population of their hog farm. There is a farmer in the region that I represent at the present time and this has happened on his farm. He has to de-populate his entire sow herd. He has met with the Department of Agriculture and Marketing to try to find some assistance so he can get back in the hog business. Agriculture 2000, the vision program, does not assist this farmer. This disease is of no fault of this farmer. It was brought to his farm by a sow he purchased. I am wondering if the minister can indicate whether he has a program or whether he is going to develop a program to assist farmers such as the one I am speaking of, when they suffer a very serious disease problem?
HON. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honourable member for his question. Presently under our department we have a new program that we call Agri-focus 2000. It is a development program, not just for hog producers, but all farmers in Nova Scotia. They can apply depending on what the priorities on the farm are.
However, Mr. Speaker, I wish to point out to the member that last Monday, I believe, during our budget estimates, the member did raise the question. I certainly anticipate doing a follow-up at my department, especially to examine very closely this disease that is affecting a number of our hog producers in terms of whether the department can certainly recognize and provide some type of assistance. So I will make this commitment to the member, that we will have serious discussions in regard to this disease that unfortunately this hog producer in
the Valley is being affected with at the given time. I will certainly provide the honourable member with a further update on our discussions to follow.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I do trust the Minister of Agriculture and I take him at his word that he will endeavour to solve this problem because it seems a little unfair when you consider that the sow farmer, the finishing farmer who is growing the hogs, is eligible at the present time to no assistance. However, the hog farmer who grows the little pigs with the sows, he is eligible, so he has transmitted the difficulty on down the line to the next person who has no recourse from the Department of Agriculture.
So I am wondering if the minister can tell us how soon he will have a resolution to the problem and how soon the farmer that I am speaking of, will have a visit from the Department of Agriculture with a program that will assist him so he can maintain his hog farm?
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, I undertake to follow this very critical issue with department staff and will certainly provide the member with an update. I am in no position to guarantee that we are going to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the problem, but I certainly undertake to look very closely at the issue that the member raises today in the House.
MR. ARCHIBALD: To the Minister of Agriculture again. Look, the seriousness of this problem we sometimes don't realize. The farmer at home is living on pins and needles, waiting and waiting and wanting to know what his future is. I am wondering if the minister can put some kind of a time-frame and how soon. Now I realize that his department staff were there last week, meeting with the farmer, but I would like to know if anything has been done in the meantime or how soon the farmer can expect to hear from the government?
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, as I pointed out earlier, I certainly will undertake, as I promised the member. This is a very critical issue that is affecting this hog farmer. I will certainly undertake to look at this very closely with department staff. Hopefully, very soon, because I understand how urgent this matter is, and to certainly get back to the farmer and get back to the honourable member.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: My question is for the Minister of Fisheries. The Fisheries School in Pictou will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary as a school to help assist fishermen across this province. Yesterday, we discussed the matter in the Red Room when we were doing the minister's budget. I wonder, could the minister give me just a brief update on how that school is functioning this year?
HON. JAMES BARKHOUSE: Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the member opposite that the Fisheries School in Pictou, which has been there since 1946, is working at its best level ever. This past year, we had 972 course participants and we provided over 90 courses; over 20 communities in Nova Scotia received the Mobile Training Program. For instance, as I delivered a resolution yesterday, the crew of the Bluenose II is being trained in Lunenburg this week on safety and other courses.
This school has provided a very important service to the fishermen and to the communities of rural Nova Scotia through the last 50 years. Through legislation there has been a requirement to provide this facility. I can assure the member opposite that through the efforts of the staff at the school that we have had one of our best years ever. It has been done through a cost recovery basis, and almost half of the costs of operating the school have been earned through bidding on competitive contracts that have been issued by numerous agencies throughout the country.
MR. MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for that answer. We are certainly pleased that the school is doing well.
Does the minister or his department plan to have any celebrations in support of the 50th Anniversary?
MR. BARKHOUSE: Certainly the staff is now in a planning process to have the community involved very much in a 50th Anniversary celebration. I will certainly be inviting the member opposite to take part, because of the support he has given previously as a minister and as a representative from the region.
The school is endeavouring to make the community very much part of the 50th Anniversary, and fishermen, graduates and the people from the community will be participants in that process. We hope to have a major event this summer.
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable member for Kings North. There is only one minute remaining.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: That is not much time but I will hurry.
Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education. Horton School, as all members of the Legislature know, is of concern to many people, to me as well because constituents go to that school. I am wondering, could the minister indicate to us when the people in the Annapolis Valley will find out what the minister's plans are with regard to the new Horton School?
I know that the minister will say there is a community group and there is all this. The decision to build this school commenced with the minister working in his wood shop one evening. He announced the decision and it is up to the minister to tell us exactly what he is planning to do.
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: Mr. Speaker, they have called for proposals. We have shortlisted people who have bid on the project and that shortlist will be responding to us. In a very short time, we will have a consortium that will set about building it.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Government Motions.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I move that you do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House on Supply.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.
[1:26 p.m. The House resolved itself into a CWH on Supply with Deputy Speaker Mrs. Francene Cosman in the Chair.]
[5:25 p.m. CWH on Supply rose and the House reconvened. Mr. Speaker, Hon. Paul MacEwan, resumed the Chair.]
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The Chairman of the Committee of the Whole House on Supply reports:
THE CLERK: That the committee has met and made some progress and begs leave to sit again.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 18.
Bill No. 18 - Financial Measures (1996) Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The debate was adjourned by the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid, who had 22 minutes remaining to address the bill.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, time was flying by so quickly last night that I haven't got to a lot of the items yet. I will certainly not try to be trying upon the patience of members opposite. I understand that the member for Cape Breton South is chomping at the bit to get his opportunity to speak on this bill and, certainly, he will have his opportunity to rise when I have finished my remarks.
Mr. Speaker, there are a number of items in this bill, as I was saying last night, and I am not going to try to go over the clauses or the principles that were contained in the clauses last night, because there just isn't enough time to do that and there are a number of other items in the bill, important principles, that I think are important to touch upon. Certainly, there has been some discussion already about the fact that the government in their bold print, when they were announcing this bill that, supposedly, propane fuel taxes were going to be reduced in terms of the tax rate, left the impression - I am sure the Minister of Finance is not all that happy or his officials who would have had to field all the calls - that propane tax was going to be reduced overall because, certainly, what we find out is that in reality that is a very minuscule reduction and only applies to a very few vehicles and not to the broader bases it had been anticipated by the way in which it was announced.
Now, I do want to say, Mr. Speaker, there are, before I get into a few of the other items, a couple of things, for example, that I think are positive in the bill. The bill isn't 100 per cent bad; 90 per cent probably and certainly we need to have a lot more information and details on a number of items but it is not 100 per cent bad. For example, one of the things that I think is very positive and had this been done previously maybe we would not have had the fiasco with the Nova Scotia Power Corporation when it was, in fact, a public corporation and that is one of the requirements that would have Crown Corporations having to annually submit to the House of Assembly for approval its business plan and any proposed public financing. That would have to be tabled in the House along with the audited financial statements for the preceding year.
Had the Nova Scotia Power Corporation had to produce not only the audited financial statements but proper business plans that could have been scrutinized in this House, then maybe the politicizing of the power corporation that occurred would not have occurred during that period of time. Maybe then we would not have seen the kinds of abuse that occurred and, hopefully, it would have prevented the sale of that, which, of course, is costing Nova Scotians millions of dollars and we are not receiving any of those benefits but the profits are travelling out of the province, mainly to the shareholders in New York and elsewhere, Mr. Speaker.
I see that the Minister of Health is noticing what I am saying and I want the Minister of Health to know that even though it was done by the former government, this government promised that it was going to be bringing in regulations that were going to be more tightly monitoring and controlling it.
Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I think that it is a positive thing that, in fact, Crown Corporations should have to submit to their shareholders, and that is the people of the Province of Nova Scotia, with proper business plans and audited financial statements. That should be tabled in this House so, in fact, it can be done in a good accounting method.
I also think that it is fine that the minister should be submitting quarterly financial reports to the House of Assembly outlining what the conditions are in terms of the state of affairs for the Province of Nova Scotia, the financial matters. The minister could have gone a step further, however. What the minister also could have done, if he had wanted to help to enhance the confidence that people have in this government, would be to say that when the Auditor General has completed the report, that that report can be tabled immediately or within a matter of a few days of that report being provided to the government for a copy, instead of having to wait until well into the next year. The Auditor General's Reports are often completed four to five months and sometimes even more than that in advance of the date in which they are tabled in this House.
Another thing that would have been very positive would be for the government to say that the Auditor General and to encourage the Auditor General to do independent audits or specific audits on particular government departments and sections. Then, when those audits have been completed, as the federal government now is doing under the federal Auditor General, that those individual and line specific or department specific audits would be released as they are done. That would help to hold the government more accountable in a more timely fashion.
In the remarks and in the bill there is another provision which promises down the road, a year from now, that supposedly we are going to have the tax rate reduced from 159.5 per cent of the federal tax rate to 157.5 per cent of the federal tax rate. Why I put it in that way is that, of course, the Nova Scotia provincial tax portion is a percentage of the federal tax. Each and every one of us who has to pay taxes, you calculate out the federal tax owing or that we are supposed to pay and that is 100 per cent of the federal tax.
In the case of Nova Scotia, then we add on another 59.5 per cent of what we had to pay federally and that then becomes the provincial add-on income tax. That is going to be reduced from 59.5 per cent to 57.5 per cent and we are told that that is going to be saving countless dollars, generating massive economic activity, as there are going to be tons of new dollars in the pockets of Nova Scotians to be spending and investing in goods and services in the Province of Nova Scotia.
So I took my trusty calculator out to try to figure out - I do not have the high-tech machines that the Minister of Finance does to run projections, but I did not need it for this one - I just said, let us take a hypothetical situation that a person owed $5,000 in federal income tax. So I wanted to find out what would be the provincial tax then that would have to be paid on top of that. I took $5,000 and I multiplied it out by 59.5 per cent and I discovered that a person would have to pay $2,975 additional in provincial tax, bringing it up to $7,975. I then multiplied that $5,000 by 57.5 per cent and I came up with the savings to Nova Scotians of $100. In a year's time, as a result of this, somebody who was paying close to $8,000 in taxes last year may end up paying $100 less.
Then I thought about April Fool's Day and the BST that this minister is going to provide, courtesy of his handshake with the Honourable Paul Martin without talking to the people of this province. You know, Mr. Speaker, I figured out that a family, if you had two children and you only spend $50 per child per month on clothing, footwear, school supplies and all the other children supplies like that - let us just stick to clothing - you go and you check the catalogues and go around the stores and you try to find sneakers or slacks or blue jeans or a jacket under $50.
You figure out that at the same time that this minister is trying to sell us that we are going to have this and these families are going to be making this windfall $100 tax saving, the very same time that that is supposed to be kicking in, that family, if they spend $100 a month on their children's clothing on average - which is not an excessive amount of money by any
stretch of the imagination - are going to end up having to pay for that clothing alone, Mr. Speaker, an additional $180 per year.
If your income is less than that, if you are one of those low income families that this minister and this government says that they want to help, that amount of tax is not going to go down. If the amount of tax that you are supposed to be paying is actually less than the figure that I worked with a minute ago in terms of the rate of the federal and provincial tax, of course, the size of the refund that you may get from this tax benefit will shrink substantially but not the taxes that you are going to have to pay on your children's clothes.
Nor, Mr. Speaker, is it going to shrink the amount that you are going to have to pay to heat your house because of increased taxes. If a family now has to pay 8 per cent on their home heat fuel and if it costs them $1,800 per year - and most cost that, if they have a furnace and they are on budget plans, at least about $150 per month - that is going to take another $144 from that family.
A family that uses an automobile and has to fill up their gas tank once a week and it costs $30 to that, Mr. Speaker, that cost is going to dramatically increase the amount that they are going to have to pay for that because that is going to increase the cost by another $124 per year. That is not even taking into consideration the amount that gas has jacked up as a result of the greed of the oil companies who have cranked up their prices over the last number of days.
Mr. Speaker, there are tons of things that cause concern in this bill and the government is trying to sell this as a wonder solution for Nova Scotians. I would suggest we do not have the information, we do not have that available for us to make those kinds of reasonable decisions. I totally support the concept of bringing our debt home. I would like to see it not only getting down to 20 per cent but I would like to see it getting down to zero, our exposure to foreign currencies. Right now, even though that is the goal, I question whether it is appropriate to put that in legislation or that it should be the stated policy which the government is going to have to deal with because that can also place us at a disadvantage and we could end up in a short-term situation, or possibly in a long-term situation, being forced to lock into longer term, higher interest rates.
I am very aware of the stated objectives of the minister and I concur wholeheartedly. All we have to do is look at the bridges to see how this excessive foreign exposure drives up the costs, but I am not so certain, Mr. Speaker, that it should be in legislation and I think the minister, himself, would even acknowledge that there are possible concerns that it could, in a number of situations, result in higher costs, especially if the markets out there know that we can only be borrowing in Canadian funds. (Interruption) Well, that is not always the case, I would suggest.
Mr. Speaker, another concern that I have, and one of the bigger ones that I have, has to do with this whole idea of a balanced budget. I want to hit on a couple of items here when I am talking, a couple of problems that I see with the stated objective and what the government says has to be done. First of all, the government says that if there is a deficit, an expenditure that is higher than that projected, then that excess expenditure is going to have to be made up in two fiscal years. In bad economic times, the revenues of the province drop and that will mean a reduction in revenues. What this minister and this government is mandating is that in those difficult economic times they have to make those difficult economic times worse by cutting programs and services. So in future, if this passes, on any economic downturn there is going to be increased devastation to programs and services being offered to the people in this province. Then on the good times, the times when normally we would try to spend more to recover some of those programs and services that have been decimated during the hard times, we are not allowed to do that now because here, according to the minister's bill, the majority of any increased surpluses shall be used to pay down the public debt.
So when we see education, we see health care, we see community services, we see roads, we see central programs and services being slashed during difficult times, the minister and this government is reducing the ability to recover those education cuts and those programs during that period of time.
I think this is a matter that we need to take a look at. I think that we need more information on it, we need some more analysis. We need to be able to question the minister, we need to be provided with the documentation, the analysis, the assessment to show us how these so-called tax benefits are going to actually achieve what the minister says that they are or in fact, call the minister's bluff if they aren't. We need to have some information on what the ramifications are for education for the children in this province, for those who need medical services in this province, if every time there is a downturn in the economy and revenues drop, we have to go and cut those programs even further, creating even higher unemployment and even more difficulty.
I point out in this bill that there are a very few positives. But there are also many very legitimate concerns about the direction that the government is going. We certainly also do not have the information, the data, the evidence, to back up a lot of the government's claims and/or the rationale behind the legislation, so I think that we need to have some assessment. Therefore, I am going to move an amendment at second reading and what I am going to do, and I will ask that a copy of this amendment be provided to all members of the House, I am going to make the following amendment with the purpose in mind that this bill and its contents can be reviewed by the committee that has the responsibility to oversee financial matters in the province and to call even witnesses as need be before it and that is the Public Accounts Committee, the experts.
I would like to move, "That the words after `that' be deleted and the following be substituted, `the subject matter of Bill No. 18 be referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.'". I so move.
MR. SPEAKER: The Clerk advises me that the amendment is in order and it has been the usage and precedence here in the House that such amendments are also debatable, they are not debatable in some other Chambers but they have been here. There are, however, very strict limitations on the scope of debate on such an amendment. All comments must relate directly to this particular proposition, namely that the subject matter of Bill No. 18 be referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. There is very little room for latitude, and the Chair intends to do its best to try to strictly enforce appropriate guidelines for limitation of debate of this particular amendment or any other such amendment presented.
The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak to the amendment, specifically that this matter be referred to the Public Accounts Committee. The reason why
this is an appropriate amendment, and I think an amendment that is supportable, is that it broadens the base of examination to this particular piece of legislation.
There are matters dealt with in the omnibus bill that we have before us that can, in fact, be scrutinized individually, without necessarily entering into the debate as to whether or not the balanced budget that the Minister of Finance has brought forward is appropriate. Really, what this bill is all about and why it should receive some broad examination is, is this the kind of approach that will do what has to be done at this particular time?
I am left with a very strong belief that what we have before us is simply a direction that has been set for this province by the Minister of Finance, and the minister alone. I don't get a sense that the direction that this particular piece of legislation has is anything more than the direction in which the Minister of Finance would like to take us. I think this bill is merely an extension of the Budget Address that the minister provided for us not too long ago, which has some good aspects to it and it also has some weaknesses.
I think it is an attempt to address the weakness of the approach that makes the supporting of this amendment so attractive. For example, do we have before us anything more than the opinion of the Minister of Finance that would indicate that this is the appropriate time to put a new tax on agriculture in this province? I just wonder, for example, how much input the Minister of Agriculture had when the Minister of Finance decided he was going to tax farmland. Is this the time that we should be hampering small industry or small business in this province? What is a farmer, but a small, independent business person, and is this the time when, on one side of our mouth, we are saying well yes, we support small business and on the other side of our mouth, yes, and we are going to tax farmland at a new tax of $2.10? What message does that send out?
Well, I think that is the kind of thing that could be looked at in its broad perspective, whether or not this is an appropriate time to be doing this and whether or not the industry, in fact, would be able to support a tax that, I believe, it hasn't been forced to pay since perhaps, if memory serves me correct, 1978.
The other thing, too, is I think the Public Accounts Committee would have some interest in the economic stimulators within this particular budget. Goodness knows, Mr. Speaker, you come from an area that suffers from extremely high unemployment. I come from an area that suffers from unemployment higher than the provincial average and I am very concerned with each and every move that the government makes in terms of trying to improve employment statistics in my area. I know, Mr. Speaker, you are very concerned about what is happening to employment statistics in your area. I look at the government measures to stimulate the economy.
While I certainly support the clauses of the legislation that we have before us as being supportable, my question is whether or not there is enough there to support the economy that we have, bearing in mind that the Bank of Montreal doesn't think that we are in very good shape. They are predicting a growth rate in our provincial economy in this current fiscal year of only 1 per cent. I find it extremely distressing, when I look and see that that same Bank of Montreal are predicting a growth rate in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick as exactly double that. So I would hesitate to suggest that there is enough in this particular piece of legislation that does anything for the economy.
Now the Minister of Finance obviously has had his input into this particular piece of legislation. I would be very interested to know how much input other members on the government benches have had and how much input, for example, the members on the backbenches have had into this particular piece of legislation in terms of how they perceive the various clauses will generate employment and stimulate the economy in their area. These are the kinds of things that the Public Accounts Committee could determine by a broader examination of the bill.
So I think this is a suitable amendment. It in no way would suggest that each and every clause of this particular piece of legislation has to be altered. I would suggest, in fact, that the contrary is true, but they would be well able to make a determination if in fact enough is being done in this particular bill and examine it in the light of the reality of today. The reality of the day is that our economy is suffering; our employment rate is suffering; in fact, it is hard to think of a good news budget that does not address those kinds of problems that are within our province. It certainly would be of small satisfaction to somebody who is unemployed to think that someone would look at this budget as being a good news budget because some time some 12 months hence, we might be looking at the possibility of an income tax reduction in the province.
The other thing, too, that I think has to be looked at by the Public Accounts Committee is whether or not the real way to address the current problem we are in as a province is devoting surpluses to tax reduction at this time. I was very surprised when I returned to my community and was discussing the budget with people in my area and I was discussing the budget with a person whose income would make them a significant beneficiary to a lowering of our income tax rate in this province. Yet they said to me, well, I don't think it is appropriate at this point that we would be applying a surplus necessarily to lowering the income tax. Perhaps we should be looking at applying the surplus to our debt and reducing the debt and then waiting for the accumulated effect of debt reduction and then following up with what could be very significant reductions in provincial income tax.
There is a lot in here that I think would benefit from examination. So I will be voting in favour of the amendment and will be awaiting the comments of other speakers and perhaps even suggesting that it might be a time for members on the government benches to enter into the debate and to suggest whether or not they think that this particular measure, this particular piece of legislation, from the Minister of Finance is, in fact, truly addressing problems in their area. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I, too, am pleased to have the opportunity this afternoon to rise and speak to the amendment that is before the House. The measures that the minister proposes, particularly in the Expenditure Control Act section of the bill, are very far-reaching indeed. For, once enacted, they will have a definitive impact on much of the way in which we approach expenditure control for a very long period of time.
As the minister knows, and I have no doubt that this was very much in his mind when he worked at drafting this legislation, it is much more difficult for a government to come into the House and change an Act than for a government to have the opportunity to change the way in which it manages its affairs by way of regulation or simply by way of change of policy, even though both change of regulation and change of policy are part of the public process, but not nearly so confining a public process, as is the case with respect to legislation.
I think there are many Nova Scotians who will smile upon what it is the minister proposes here. I must say that I am not altogether poorly disposed towards what he has put forward. But I think that these provisions in this legislation are so fundamentally dramatic with respect to what they will accomplish once enacted, that we should take more time than is available to us in the House to thoroughly review what it is that is being promoted here and, additionally, that we should do so in a forum which is less partisan than this place is.
I think that the work that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts has done over the past three years gives testimony to the fact that that committee is quite competent and quite capable of dealing with detailed and, sometimes, partisan issues in a fair and even-handed and, if I may say, quite non-partisan way.
AN HON. MEMBER: Good chairman.
MR. LEEFE: Well, my friend is kind enough to say good chairman, but the chairman can only be as good as the committee members. Each and every committee member, irrespective of Party, has worked very hard at finding an even ground on which to stand with respect to reflecting on public measures that come before that committee.
I think that it is quite possible that the Public Accounts Committee, in dealing with this matter, could work closely with the minister in order to ensure that opportunities are provided to hear out persons who are experts in the fields which would be caught up in the measures put forward in the bill and to which I and others allude. Also, I think that it would provide an opportunity for the Public Accounts Committee, if it so directed me as Chairman, to invite the public to respond to these matters. I, for one, would very much like to have the opportunity to have experts in our community, knowledgeable persons in our community, respond to what is proposed here.
We have here in Nova Scotia, a number of persons who are experts in the field of taxation, tax law and tax policy, who I am confident have given long, hard and deep intelligent thought to these very kinds of measures.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We have reached the moment of interruption. The debate is adjourned until 6:30 p.m.
The draw was won by the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid, for whom the honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party is substituting.
[Therefore be it resolved that in recognition of Mental Health Week, the Liberal government demonstrate its commitment to real mental health reform and work towards the community support model outlined in the Blueprint for Health Reform.]
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I wanted to speak tonight about the whole issue of mental health services and the mental health policy in the Province of Nova Scotia.
There is, as you know, a process of health reform going on in the Province of Nova Scotia, and under that same reform is included reform for mental health. What we need, very clearly, is we need an overall provincial policy framework developed, established to guide that very reform. I am, again, somewhat concerned because of the fact that my colleague, the former Leader of the New Democratic Party, back in the spring of last year rose on this very subject to raise concerns and questions about the lack of action on mental health policy in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Madam Speaker, I think, clearly, the Department of Health must lay out what the mental health core program will be before it can take any action to deliver, or have delivered mental health services in the community, particularly at the community level. In order to do that there must be a planning process take place, as was recommended in the Blueprint Committee, as was recommended by the Liberal Health Policy way back in 1993. It looked like some advance was being made back in November 1995. Health officials and health consumer advocacy groups held a provincial workshop to discuss health issues, and out of this came a recommendation that an advisory committee on communication and consultation be formed, from non-governmental organizations, that would be an advisory body on health reform.
Terms of reference for this recommended advisory committee were developed, but the recommendation has, to date, not been acted upon. There continues to be a real vacuum in terms of the process moving forward, in terms of developing some kind of policy. We know that it was not officially released, but we got our hands on this supposedly core mental health policy last year. As we said then, and would say now again, it was completely inadequate because it missed entirely the principles of the community support model that was recommended by the Blueprint Committee.
Let me refer members back to the Blueprint Committee and read into the record a few things that were said about mental health reform. It says in the Blueprint Committee Report, on Page 32, "The Community Support Model builds on resources in the community and involves consumers, providers, families, friends and volunteers in planning and delivering services. It focuses more on people than on services, more on communities than on institutions, and more on the consequences of mental illness than on the diagnosis. It acknowledges that people with mental health problems need access to more than treatment services; they need access to housing, education, income and work. It must be understood that the stigma of mental illness very often prevents people from accessing needed services. Much more public education is needed to address this issue.".
I thought it was opportune to bring this issue before the Legislature this week. It is Mental Health Awareness Week and it has been designated Open Mind week by the Canadian Mental Association, an initiative primarily focused to remove that whole question of the stigma associated with mental illness. We clearly support that, and resolutions were passed in this House earlier this week supporting that initiative.
What we need to do in order to ensure that our mental health services are, in fact, provided at the community level is that we need to demand that the province help the community take the leadership by providing a clear core policy in the delivery of mental health services. That is where the blockage is at this present time; there is not any initiative happening at the present time as a result of the fact that the minister's department has failed to proceed. No one that I speak to, practitioners, representatives of consumers and others can understand exactly what it is that is holding up the minister and his department in carrying through with the need for that consultation. Madam Speaker, surely everybody recognizes the need increasingly, as we deinstitutionalize mental health clients, as we see them transferred from institutions into the community, into small options homes, into residential facilities, into other kinds of community-based facilities where there is a real dearth of standards, where there is a patchwork of practices and policies affecting these very institutions from one end of this province to the other.
We just had a release of a report from the Community Services Department on the whole question of community-based options, the need for standards, the need for increased assessments, the need for standards to be increased and for enforcement, Madam Speaker, but we continue to be without clear policy on how mental health services will be delivered in the community. It is an important component and something that we need to ensure is brought forward.
As we deal with issues like small options homes and some of the problems that have come up in the past weeks and months in some of those facilities, some of the issues, when we look at the concerns raised in Cape Breton over those three unfortunate suicides that were attached in some way with the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and its Mental Health Services Department, the clinic, Madam Speaker, I think we need to recognize the fact that there is a lack of clear and stated policy on how, in fact, those services should be delivered.
I am deeply troubled by the way the government has responded in a couple of instances. One is around the small options facilities, another is the Cape Breton Regional Hospital and how they have responded to the release or lack thereof of information around the suicides that took place there and, as well, the whole issue around the individual who is reported to have committed suicide subsequent to having come in contact with the Nova Scotia Hospital. The system has been extremely reluctant, if not completely evasive and obstructive, in terms of providing information to those families. As a result, I think that not only have the interests of those people been infringed upon but the interests of the community interested in public health issues have been severely affected.
You may recall that back in early December when I, for one, was calling for a public review into the events surrounding the suicides in Cape Breton, Madam Speaker, both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Justice said that there was a review being conducted. I would refer you back to a press release that said that that review will study and evaluate hospital policies and practices in an effort to identify any areas requiring improvement with reference to hospital practice and care received by the three patients who subsequently committed suicide.
Madam Speaker, the issue here clearly is that if we are going to deal responsibly with the issue of mental health and the delivery of mental health services in the Province of Nova Scotia, we need to bring the information out of the closet, we need to remove the veil of secrecy around this information, we need to deal with it in an up-front and frank manner and make sure that everybody receives that kind of information.
Finally, Madam Speaker, we need to continue to urge this minister and his department and his government to come forward with the policies that have been recommended and to complete the consultations with the community, with the advocacy groups, to ensure that the
regional health boards who are going to be delivering these services, in fact, have the guidelines of a clear core policy on mental health services for the Province of Nova Scotia?
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Health.
HON. RONALD STEWART: Madam Speaker, I want to in all sincerity thank the honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party for bringing forth this resolution at this time of the week. The resolution has gone through this House unanimously regarding this being a recognition of Mental Health Week and particularly with attention being given to removal of the stigma which quite often still, even today, exists in the minds of some with respect to mental illness. We need to constantly and consistently work toward the removal and the diminishing of such an untoward attitude as we may find in some instances. I want to pay tribute to that fact here this evening.
I also want to allude to the comments of the honourable member opposite who has just spoken regarding the issues that surround us very much focused on the Blueprint Report and on the need for community-based services and so on. Before I do that, in turn, I want to pay tribute to those who very frequently avail themselves of the mental health services in the province and in fact, also those who work within the system, who often are not recognized as much as they should be for the hard work they do under very trying circumstances at times. I would mention that without hesitation.
The issue of mental health services reform within the province must be done in the context of overall health services reform and as the honourable member opposite has alluded to already, it is done in the context of the Blueprint Report. The quotation in terms of the overall policy needed and the overall direction in which we must go, is articulated very clearly and well by this document and we are pledged to follow this. I would say to the honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party that this is not a question of disagreeing with a particular policy or principle but rather a question of time.
We are engaged in this province in bringing back mental health services to the community level. We know the dramatic changes that have occurred within our province in terms of mental health reflect what is going on in other jurisdictions; the deinstitutionalization which occurs, the attempt at every level, we hope, to reduce the stigma and the problems associated with some attitudes in our community regarding mental health. We recognize this and support it, of course, and will carry forward the blueprint's recommendation in terms of the reduction of the problems associated with attitudes.
The community-focused nature of mental health changes within our community is not, as has been suggested by some speakers, something to be done in the future but rather, it is the question of carrying out the policies that are articulated in the Blueprint Report but continuing to offer services at the same time and herein lies some of the difficulty we have faced. On the one hand, we must make changes in the structure of governance, such as regional health and community health boards and on the other hand, we must continue to provide service in the direction in which the blueprint wishes us to go, which is a community-focused, deinstitutionalized model which has been adopted and I am sure we will hear later from the honourable member who wishes to speak because it was during the previous administration that changes occurred in keeping with the changes of community-based systems, community-based programs and this is not something new that has suddenly arisen over the last year or two. This has been followed now for some years, it is a direction that consumers have consistently advocated and it has, in fact, been very much recognized.
We have seen in the last decade at least a tendency and a direction towards the involvement of consumers in the decision-making and in fact, in the conference referred to by the honourable Leader of the NDP. The pulling together proposal, as it was called in 1995, dealt with the integration of health services and advising and reiterating the advice given by the Blueprint Report, which was to establish advisor committees. I think that this was one of the issues that we must lay on the table this evening, and that is that we must be vigilant in the changes we make across the health system to ensure that mental health services do not take a back seat.
This has always been a fear. There are two fears often in changes that we see in developing health care systems, or in changing them, and that is there are two areas that often take a back seat to progressive change. One is mental health service, and the other is service to children. We have to be vigilant and we need to do so. That is why I welcome the resolution as brought forward by the honourable Leader of the NDP. So the consumer support and community centres initiated from grassroots communities are important in all of this.
There is one other effort that I think needs to be recognized, as it will be this week as we discuss some of the important foundation stones to mental health services, and that is the area of research. We cannot have proper services, proper change, proper governance, without an element which is woven through it, and that is the element of research, both in terms of basic research and also research into some of the changes that have been recommended. That is why this ministry has committed to the increase in research to the university sector. We have attracted one of the leading minds in mental health services, Dr. Stan Kutcher, who came just last July, and has pledged to improve mental health services, along with the consumer groups that have been with us in this community and a major effort towards research for funding, to the tune of $500,000 has been set aside to support some of the research into the very changes that we are discussing this evening.
I want to also say a word in terms of the reforms that we have undertaken, and that is the concentration of our efforts on that of child and adolescent services. Not only that, but we must recognize that prevention and detection programs within the school system and within the community itself, really form the basis of a proper system to which we are pledged. It is true that the importance of in-hospital management of particular problems is an important element of an overall system, but it is, I think, reasonable to say that the Blueprint Report took the very broad view that detection and preventive services existing in the community and focused sometimes at the school level, were important prerequisites for a proper system, indeed. We would pledge to that, the amalgamation of the efforts of four departments in the eastern region to look at the adolescent and child services. That is an important step forward and we would pay tribute to that.
Finally, the many programs that are now growing up within communities, the drop-in centres. The fact that 50 communities have satellite outreach programs. The collaborative programs with justice, particularly in the area of sex offender treatment, in areas of troubled youth and so on. These are all the kinds of programs that are represented in a reform system.
So I would add one final comment, Madam Speaker, to reiterate the mention that has been made by the honourable member opposite in the program and the very much valued program by the Canadian Mental Health Association and its friends and that is to reduce the stigma and reduce the sometimes difficult attitude that some of our community members have towards mental illness and towards its management. I would, again, thank the honourable member opposite for bringing this to our attention as we go forward with the changes and pledge ourselves anew to the construction through the Blueprint Report. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and take part in this debate. I think it is very fitting that the Leader of the NDP brought to us for late debate during Mental Health Week a very important topic. The minister concluded his remarks talking about stigma associated with mental health. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
There are a lot of people who still don't feel, as I feel, that mental illness is no different than any other illness. That was always my feeling about making mental health units available in the regional hospitals because if we really expected people to look upon mental illness like any other illness, then obviously they should be going to the same kind of institution to be treated as anyone else who went for any other kind of ailment. I think there is no question, there are still people in our communities and still family members who don't want to talk about mental illness like they talk about cancer or any other disease.
I want to get into some aspects of what the government, I feel, and I know others in mental health feel that there is a lack of direction with regard to policy. I know that the Royal Commission on Health Care recommended a working committee on mental health which was established and did report, but it doesn't seem like it has gone any further. I think people in mental health, who are in some way working through either the Canadian Mental Health Association or others, are trying to get an idea of what the policy is. Is the policy going to apply across the province, from all of these four regional boards? Are we going to be able to cross the boundary lines if there is a problem? Who has access to what facility?
It goes deeper than that with regard to policy and community-based programs. I was taken aback because of the incidents in Cape Breton with regard to suicides and, I guess, some comment I made to the news media and I had an individual call me. A young lady asked if she could come and relate her experience with the system within the last year in this province, actually in metro, her experience at the Abbie J. Lane Hospital. So I arranged for this individual to come and meet with me. She related her experience of being taken to the Abbie Lane by six uniformed policemen. She related her experience of spending a short time there and being released. I won't get into the details, Madam Speaker, but I think to illustrate my point, it wasn't long after when she attempted suicide. Fortunately, somebody found her and fortunately got her to the hospital in time.
Her point to me, and I think the points that are being made, is that I do believe we are understaffed. I do believe, as one person told me today, that psychiatrists are seeing 30 people in one day because there is just not enough of them to go around, with the problems that they are facing. This person, a health professional says to me, George, we can't do our job. We are going to have the kind of incidents that happened unless we have enough resources to deal with them.
We have also cut out many of the in-patient beds. I don't have any difficulty with dealing with people on an outpatient basis. It is like everything else; if we need an in-patient bed, we have to have one available. If we don't have one available, we can have people like this young lady who falls through the cracks. Every life is important, as we know. Our system is lacking in resources. These psychiatrists - and the individual relayed this to me - couldn't spend much time with her because of so many people demanding that one person's time. So
many of these psychiatrists are having to use medication, maybe because they don't have the time. I think we have to understand that these illnesses are no different than any other and we have to make sure the resources are there.
The minister talked about, moving out into the community didn't start with this government. I acknowledge that. I believe that we do have to move many of these people out into the community. But, Madam Speaker, we have to have the support; the support has to be there for those people. If the support is not there, please don't put them out into the community because it won't work. That is where we have gotten into some difficulties. I have known people who have been out in the community and had to go back into an institutional setting, not because it wouldn't work in the community but because the support wasn't there. So if we are going to move in that direction, we have to make sure we put the resources to make it work or, all of a sudden, some day somebody is going to say that we tried moving these people out into the community and it didn't work. But it will work with many of these people if the support is there.
I have to say, Madam Speaker, that there is so much. I don't know but in 10 minutes it is very difficult to cover all the topics that one wants to cover with regard to mental health. I think that every one of us at some time or other can understand the importance of having a policy and having programs available and having the professional people available so that people who are ill can obviously receive the appropriate treatment, no matter what end of the province they are in and where they are.
I know in speaking with the chair of the western regional board of a situation where it took days to get somebody from the South Shore into an institution in the Valley. That can't continue to happen if somebody obviously is assessed and needs some institutional care; there has to be a mechanism in place that it doesn't take days for that to happen.
I know, Madam Speaker, that one of the areas that needs to be upgraded is the forensic unit at the Nova Scotia Hospital. The forensic unit is crowded, it is outdated. I know that anyone who has gone there to visit would not argue the fact that in this province we need and we are going to always have a forensic unit. We acknowledge that, we acknowledge that one is needed, but we don't need one that is as ancient as the one that is there and one that is crowded and not providing the best possible area of treatment that should be available to those people who are held in that forensic unit.
Madam Speaker, I just want to reiterate that we have come a long way with the stigma in mental health. We have a long way to go. There are many things that have to be done with regard to this government and the department showing some leadership in policy and getting back to community-based programs across this province, where people will be able to get the kind of help they need and the opportunity will be there from one end of the province to the other.
So again, Madam Speaker, it is a very important issue and one that I am sure we will debate on another day.
MADAM SPEAKER: The time for the Adjournment debate has expired and we will now bring ourselves back to the order paper and the adjourned debate on the amendment to the bill.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
Bill No. 18 - Financial Measures (1996) Act. [Debate resumed.]
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Madam Speaker, when we adjourned, I was supporting the amendment before the House which would, if passed, result in certain measures in the Financial Measures Act going to the Public Accounts Committee. I spoke on behalf of the committee and I feel confident in doing so, that as a bipartisan body we would be able to deal with the charge extended to us by the House in an effective and objective manner.
I think it is important that we not look upon the Public Accounts Committee as a roadblock to good legislation but, rather, as a further means of ensuring good legislation. As a consequence, again I can say with confidence that the committee, once charged with that responsibility, would also be prepared to fulfil those responsibilities within a reasonable time-frame, I would say a minimum of three weeks, a maximum of four weeks.
I realize that the House will not be sitting for another three weeks to four weeks, however, I believe that an agreement could well be reached by all Parties whereby if the government was prepared to allow the Public Accounts Committee to review the bill in the manner in which I have suggested, we could come to unanimous agreement on finding a way whereby we could expeditiously move the bill, it having gone through Public Accounts Committee and the Law Amendments Committee scrutiny, move it expeditiously to the point of where it could come forward for a vote in third reading. In fact, I might be so bold as to suggest that we could well find all-Party agreement to do that in one sitting day. As we know, we can mend, amend and bend the rules as we see fit by unanimous consent.
While I have not discussed this with my own caucus, or with the members of the New Democratic Party caucus, I do believe that we would be prepared to make that accommodation to the government. That said, I would hope that the minister will give consideration to this amendment and that government members will give consideration to it and that it will carry. That done, I give my absolute pledge that the Public Accounts Committee will deal with it expeditiously, fairly and in as non-partisan a fashion as we possibly can and give a full and complete report back to the House, so that the House then can move towards a conclusion on that matter as expeditiously as possible. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Madam Speaker, I shall like to start off my remarks by saying that I will be supporting the amendment that is presently on the floor. The reason that I will support this amendment is because it is doing something we have been encouraging the minister to do from the time that he first came into this House, about three weeks ago, and suggested that there were talks under way with the federal government with regard to blending the health services tax and the goods and services tax, the federal tax.
We said to the minister, for gosh sakes, hold off, do not sign anything, just stop and go out and speak to the people of Nova Scotia, the consumers and the taxpayers of this province, have public forums and listen to what they have to say before you sign any agreement. The minister said, no, all that we are going to do at the present time is reach agreement on a framework for bringing these two taxes together. So, he has done that. In Question Period today, I asked him the same question, when is this consultation, this discussion with the people of Nova Scotia going to take place, so that the people of Nova Scotia have an opportunity to let the Minister of Finance know exactly what it is that is going to best suit the people of this province.
It is no use for the minister to get up and say, well, it is going to this and that and the other thing, unless he has a piece of paper that he can take before the people and say, this is the effect of what I am agreeing to with the federal government. We do know what the effect is insofar as our pocketbooks are concerned but we have nothing from the minister as to these great gains that are supposedly going to fly from the amalgamation of these two taxes. We are going to create 3,000 jobs, he says. But then he adds, under his breath, well, of course, they are going to create 10,000 jobs in New Brunswick, so maybe it is somewhere in between. How do we know? Maybe it is 3,000 less jobs because of the amalgamation. He tells us it is going to be the greatest renaissance of business in this province that has ever taken place. How do we know that? We don't know that except from the fact that the Minister of Finance has risen in his place and told us all about it.
Madam Speaker, there are some things in this bill that we have before us that perhaps are good. In fact, there may be two or three things in this bill that are good without any further inspection. But there are things in this bill that should be looked at carefully. They should have an opportunity to call witnesses, other than the Minister of Finance, before the Public Accounts Committee to ask their opinions. We could get people from the Department of Finance who, supposedly, have carried out modelling studies. We would like to see the modelling studies.
Madam Speaker, this bill applies strictly to tax measures. The Minister of Finance, I am sure that if he is going to have any remarks on this particular amendment, is going to say, but we have to do it because we have the budget before the House at the present time and we are almost halfway through the debate now on estimates and I have to have this legislation. We are not suggesting a six months' hoist. What we are suggesting is that this bill go to a committee, as my colleague, the member for Queens just said, go to the Public Accounts Committee. The Public Accounts Committee can meet at any time. It does not necessarily have to meet on Wednesday. It could meet any day. It could be called into session in very short order and come up with a list of witnesses, call them in, get the information that is required from not only the experts but, also, as I say, from the average person on the street, the poor beleaguered taxpayers of Nova Scotia, find out what they want and then the Public Accounts Committee issue a report and the report goes to the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Finance either makes amendments or just says, no, I am not going to accept the views of those outside this Legislature and the bill stands. But the bill is back in the House.
Now, the House may have risen by that date. That is quite true. But, Madam Speaker, as you are well aware, the Speaker, at any time, can call the House back because when we adjourn, we adjourn at the call of the Speaker. So as soon as that report has been vetted by the Minister of Finance, the Speaker simply sends out a summons to the members to come into session on a certain day and the bill comes back into the House for its final phases through the House. It is not difficult. It is not complicated. It is very easy. The House could probably sit for a day or two days and put it through the remainder of second reading observations,
through the Law Amendments Committee, through Committee of the Whole House and then third reading. It could all be done, probably, in one day. But I think that the people of Nova Scotia deserve to know what kind of facts the Minister of Finance has to justify some of the propositions in this bill.
Madam Speaker, I will be voting in favour of this amendment and I ask all members to give serious consideration to doing a favour for their thousands of constituents across this province. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, my remarks will be brief. Much of what I want to say has already been said and said very forcefully by my colleagues, the member for Hants West and the member for Queens and by others. The result of the passage of this amendment as has already been indicated, is to have the taxpayers of Nova Scotia have the opportunity which those of us on the Opposition benches have sought from the moment that this particular piece of legislation was introduced. Indeed even prior to the introduction of the legislation you know, Madam Speaker, that the Minister of Finance was waxing eloquent about the wonders of the BST, the blended sales tax. Every time the Minister of Finance speaks about that he talks about the modelling which has been done and we have seen none of the modelling.
There have been references to the fact, or better said, I would assume that the Economic Renewal Agency, with all its capacity to do econometric modelling and so on, would have been and has been an integral player with the Minister of Finance and the officials in the Ministry of Finance to do those econometric models, to lend credence to the suggestions made to us and to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia by the Minister of Finance that there will indeed be great relief to many taxpayers, there will be, as indicated by the Minister of Finance, great new economic activity generated by this bill and indeed by the blended tax.
I guess one of the reasons I find myself pretty much convinced that I should be supporting this particular amendment is because it would afford me, and others who are like-minded, an opportunity to address an issue which I alluded to the other day and that is this whole issue of additional appropriations being made by way of passage of a resolution here in the House of Assembly, authorizing the expenditure. So as not to incur your wrath as I did yesterday, I am not going to get into a discussion about the propriety or lack of same, in my opinion, of procedures undertaken on an earlier day by the Minister of Finance and, more to the point, by the Executive Council in passing an Order in Council which, I am of a view, offends against the terms and provisions of the Provincial Finance Act. But I happen to be of that view and I happen to have others who support that view as well.
I think it is important that if we were able to have this bill referred to the Committee on Public Accounts, we could in very short order, as has rightly been said, this is not a hoist, the Committee on Public Accounts could be convened, today is Tuesday, we could have the committee functioning probably by the end of the day tomorrow, if not that, Thursday. It would take a matter of, some of my colleagues have suggested one day, I am not so sure that I would subscribe to the one day theory, but I don't believe that there would be a necessity for more than a two or three day set of hearings conducted by the Public Accounts Committee.
There is no real reason why those hearings and those who would come to offer opinion relative to the pros and cons of the impact and the result of Bill No. 18 couldn't be heard in a timeframe which would jibe entirely with the kind of schedule which appears to be unfolding, relative to the date upon which this session of the Legislature will likely conclude.
I think there are many questions which are left unanswered and I don't mean to be unkind to the Minister of Finance but, quite frankly, on the basis of so many things which have happened over this session and earlier sessions, some of us, as the saying goes, are from Missouri. The fact that the Minister of Finance stands up and says, trust me - it is going to result in the reduction of taxes for all kinds of people, it is going to result in all kinds of expendable income for thousands of Nova Scotians, it is going to result in the creation of, his number was 3,000 jobs - and then as my colleague, the member for Hants West just pointed out, he makes this oblique allusion or reference to the fact that there are suggestions that the blending of the taxes in New Brunswick might result in the creation of 10,000 jobs and our Minister of Finance says, ours might even be somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000.
With respect, Mr. Speaker, for a Minister of Finance who is introducing a piece of legislation which imposes a tax obligation on some, provides acknowledged tax relief to some others, those are pretty questionable comments or observations and there is certainly no evidence at all, not a single scrap of paper has been tabled in this place, which puts flesh on the bones of anything which has been said to us here and through us to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia by the Minister of Finance.
I repeat, I believe that the matters addressed and set out and the principles enunciated in Bill No. 18 which we debate here today, could in very short order be addressed by appropriate hearings of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. It need not interfere, particularly when one notices that many of the tax measures which are described in Bill No. 18 have a start date, which is some considerable time into the future, it is not as if, by having a reference to the Public Accounts Committee that we would be delaying or compromising the Minister of Finance and his and the government's wish to have these provisions in place to the point where we would not be compromising them in terms of time to the point where there would be unreasonable or unacceptable financial or fiscal difficulty for the government.
So on the strength of this being the one chance - and that is what, I think, we are all supposed to be here for - we are supposed to be here to review the public affairs of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia in a way which makes it possible where our rules allow for the taxpayers who will be affected by what we do here in appropriate cases, to have an opportunity to have their say. What better place, what better time, what better piece of legislation, than to invite into the Committee on Public Accounts those who will be so directly affected than this one.
If we have any chance to offer that opportunity to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia who frankly, as I know you know, Mr. Speaker, are pretty cynical sometimes about what all of us as a collectivity do, regardless of which side of the mace we happen to sit, regardless of that reality, I think a referral to the Public Accounts Committee would be a demonstration for the first time in a very long time that this particular Parliament, indeed may I say, I would expect it would redound to the credit of this particular Liberal Government if there were support for this resolution because it would be a clear statement by this government that it is prepared to subject its legislation, particularly its tax legislation to the scrutiny of so many who will be so directly affected by it.
It will give the opportunity for the very amiable and able Minister of Finance to offer some credible evidence which, with respect, he has yet to offer here or table here in this place, to give evidence and credence to the predictions which he has made and that the predictions could in the context of review in the Public Accounts Committee be translated into reliable assessments and reliable studies and reliable modelling and reliable econometric modelling undoubtedly done by the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency.
So for those reasons, Mr. Speaker, I believe that the amendment has considerable merit and I would invite all members to consider it seriously and sympathetically. For those reasons, I will support the amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I, too, want to rise and speak in favour of the amendment introduced by my colleague, the member for Sackville-Cobequid, that amendment being to refer the subject matter of this bill to the Public Accounts Committee.
I say that as a former member of that fair committee over the past two years, I believe, having had the opportunity to work very closely with the Auditor General and the staff of the Auditor General's Office, I know first-hand that there is some considerable expertise in matters of finance, in matters of public administration that would be very helpful for us in our proceedings. I think that the suggestions that have been made by previous speakers that the work of the Public Accounts Committee could be carried out fairly quickly is a valid point that has been made but I think it is clear that the matters being dealt with in this legislation are of such considerable consequence that it is important that a standing committee of this House be assigned some responsibility for explaining some of the potential impacts that are clearly outlined in this bill.
I know, for example, Mr. Speaker, not to get into any particular clauses of the bill but there are a couple of things in here relative to the Minister of Finance submitting quarterly financial reports to the House and the requirements of a Crown Corporation submitting to the House for approval its business plan and any proposed public financing. Those are a couple of recommendations that have come directly from the Public Accounts Committee. So I think you can see that the Public Accounts Committee has already played some role in the changes that are prescribed in this Bill No. 18. I think we would all be well served by further attention.
Mr. Speaker, I also want to put the recommendation in some context, that is that when the minister was introducing the bill for second reading, he talked about how this is probably, I believe his words were, not to mis-speak him, he said that this was probably the most important bill he has introduced in his political career. I happen to accept and agree that this piece of legislation has some very significant consequences.
Let's remember, that having been said, this minister has brought in some fairly significant budgets and budget documents over his three years, Mr. Speaker, that have had some considerable impact on the delivery of public services in the Province of Nova Scotia, on public servants, certainly on the level of taxes that have been paid by Nova Scotians and, of course, the wages earned by public servants.
The clause, for example, Clause 12 of the bill sets up steps that must be taken in the event that spending exceeds revenues, namely that the resulting deficit must be recovered within two years. I think we need to focus some attention on what, in fact, that means. That is why the Public Accounts Committee, I think, in hearing from witnesses can provide us with some help in that.
Some would suggest, for example, that if the economic pendulum were to swing back, hopefully let's say that it does, surplus funds will go into reducing the deficit rather than restoring public services. Under this particular bill, Mr. Speaker, public services will be slowly destroyed if the economy is reasonably good but it will be quickly destroyed if it is not.
One wonders that at this point the quick destruction looks, perhaps, more likely, because I refer you to the comments of the Minister of Finance in his Budget Address, where he was very bullish about the prospects for good growth in provincial revenues in 1996-97.
We know that the provincial Auditor General has passed judgment on this judgment, that the estimates are reasonable and we certainly have considerable faith in the provincial Auditor General. But even he does not claim infallibility. If we look at what has happened with provincial revenue estimates in the past, then I think there is reason to question the minister's bullishness. That is where we get to the role, I think, of the Public Accounts Committee.
Because if we look at actual revenue from corporate and personal income tax, it has fallen short of estimates for the past two years. For example, in 1993-94, it was no better than right on the estimates. But it has been four years since income tax revenues in this province have exceeded estimates, Mr. Speaker. Despite this less than inspiring track record, the government is projecting, for this year, an increase of 2.4 per cent in personal income tax and a 7.1 per cent increase in corporate income tax. The total projected increase in both categories is $27 million.
Now, it is important that we remember that last year, the government projected an $11 million increase in income tax and fell short of that by $29 million. This happened, Mr. Speaker, despite an annual growth rate for 1995 of 1.6 per cent. Now, let's think for a second about the fact that in 1996, the annual growth rate is expected to be 1.3 per cent. So the question that has to be asked is how realistic is it to expect a $27 million increase in income tax revenue in 1996-97, when the economic growth rate is projected to be 20 per cent below that of last year. I think that would be an important and valuable question to be considered by the Public Accounts Committee.
Assuming the government's other optimistic revenue estimates, the unfortunate, I guess you would say, perhaps somewhat depressing, 22 per cent projected increase in tobacco tax revenue and the somewhat discouraging 7.9 per cent increase in Gaming Corporation profits, if they are not accurate, a rerun of the bad performance on income tax will leave the people of Nova Scotia behind the eight ball, practically from the beginning as we get into the implications of this particular bill, Mr. Speaker. In other words, and this is what the Public Accounts Committee can review and can consider, is the fact that the government's modest projected surplus will, in fact, then turn into a deficit. Under this bill, the government will then be forced, because of provisions of this bill, to start slashing services or raising taxes.
The question has to be asked, why, Mr. Speaker. Because a sluggish growth rate meant the government could not meet its income tax revenue targets. What will be the effect of raising taxes or slashing services during a period of slow growth? Slower growth, more money taken out of the economy of Nova Scotia, more jobs lost, more economic insecurity. That is what we are looking at, clearly a rerun of the 1930's, and, of course, more human misery. This bill is concerned only with the bottom line and I think it is incumbent upon us in this House
and in the Public Accounts Committee to take a look at the implications of what is being considered here.
Clearly, slow growth triggers spending cutbacks. Cutbacks slow the economy even further. Revenue slows some more; still we have do not have a balanced budget and more cutbacks will become necessary. Do you see what I am saying, Mr. Speaker? If we are locking ourselves in here to this concept of a balanced budget, without being able to focus on the need to contribute to an increase in economic growth, that what we are going to do is we are going to see the very slow, if not quick deterioration of health care, of education, of our ability to deal with services to the most vulnerable and that it is a constant and continual downward spiral and it will not bode well for the Province of Nova Scotia.
I believe, as others have said so well, that we need to examine those important questions of context and of effect. We also need to examine the underpinnings of the minister's projections with respect to his income tax reductions, his corporate tax changes, to see how they combine with what we know is going to be taking place down the road and that is the whole question of the blended sales tax. Some of these changes, as they were introduced by the minister, proposed in this bill, have been done so in direct response to something that is going to be coming up and that is a change in the kind of taxes that people are going to be paying on a daily basis on household essentials.
I think it is difficult for us to understand the relationship between those two tax factors, those two tax measures, without knowing what the details are, for example, of the blended sales tax provisions. How are we going to know how the income tax changes, the corporate tax changes mesh with that to give us, supposedly, or to meet, supposedly, the optimistic projections of the Minister of Finance as he suggests that this budget will lead us on to a rosy future?
I think that there are some important questions here and I would encourage all members to give some very serious consideration to the fact that we have very few answers to many of these important questions. (Interruption) The Law Amendments Committee doesn't have the capacity. The member for Sackville-Beaverbank said, well, it is going to the Law Amendments Committee. But I think you will agree that the Law Amendments Committee does not have the capacity to deal with those questions, to call witnesses and so on, to deal with those questions in conjunction with the Auditor General, to deal with those financial equations, to analyze, for example, the economic models that the Minister of Finance and his department supposedly have created that have led to some of these provisions. The Law Amendments Committee just simply does not have the capacity to do that.
That is not meant to denigrate in any way the important role that committee plays in its review of legislation. Mr. Speaker, I think you certainly understand, as do other members, I am sure, why it is so important that committee responsible for the question of public administration of provincial finances be given the task of examining the details of this measure.
I agree with the minister, as I have said earlier, that this is an extremely important piece of legislation. That is why I am on my feet at this present time and that is why I will be supporting passage of this amendment and will be encouraging all members to ensure, in fact, that it goes forward to the Public Accounts Committee; that we deal with it quickly but we deal with it thoroughly in order that we will be able to come back here, deal with the legislation with our eyes open, with all information so that all members, in Opposition as well as in the government benches, can go back to their constituents and say that we have examined the implications of a two point reduction in provincial income tax and this is what the impact will be; that we have considered the combination of the blended sales tax with many of these changes and we believe that the pronouncements by the Minister of Finance are, in fact, accurate or close enough for us to have given our approval to this bill going through.
We can also indicate to them with some level of confidence, although I have my doubts because I have reviewed a fair bit of the literature on the whole issue of balanced budgets, and I am extremely [Page 1463]
concerned that balanced budgets and the principle of balanced budgets are wrong-headed. It does not matter who introduces them, they are wrong-headed, they tie the hands of government to be able to do what, I think, government needs to do.
Not to go out and spend willy-nilly and throw money at problems and all the rest of that, all we are talking about is, and all I am talking about is the fact that the significant debt we have in this province, a debt which is a serious concern to all of us, was not developed overnight. It was a result of 25 years of this government's - and former governments' - mismanagement of the public administration that lead to that situation. Why would we then expect that we are going to wrest control of that debt within a period of two years, three years or four years? That is not to say - and I think the minister will agree - that this is what the international financial analysts are looking for, a clear plan with goals upon which the government is proceeding to deal in a responsible way with their debt, a debt management policy that makes sense, that is achievable.
What is happening right now with things like balanced budget and this fixation on reducing the deficit at the expense of public services, at the expense of employment, at the expense of many of our communities, the effect has been, the economists are beginning, there is beginning to be some considerable consensus on this whole issue that the governments, because of the way they have been trying to address debts with the continual cutting and slashing of public services, with the lack of investment in capital infrastructure and capital expenditures in health and education, with the lack of investment, combined with the cutting and slashing of public expenditures, that public administrations have been contributing considerably to the economic sluggishness that exists in this economy. Economists say that this is, in fact, reducing the capacity - these measures that are focused primarily on the deficit -reducing government's capacity to deal with the long-term debt problem.
People are recognizing more and more that if we do not have people working, if we continue to have 20 per cent, 25 per cent, 30 per cent and 35 per cent unemployment in many of our communities, if we continue to have an unemployment rate as it now exists in this province and across the country, and if we continue to have the level of economic stagnation and the low level of growth in this province and in other provinces, that the government will not be bringing in sufficient revenue to be able to deal with the debt over the long term. In other words, we are losing our capacity as governments to meet our obligations over the long run.
So, this fixation, in its entirety, on reducing the debt and the deficit at the expense of the economy, at the expense of public services, is reducing our ability to do what this government and many governments like it says it is intending to do in the first place, and that is to deal with the fact that the future of our children is being mortgaged. The problem again - and I have said this before - is that what I think our future generations are more concerned about is whether or not they are going to have a job, whether or not they are going to have
access to education, whether or not they and their families are going to be able to afford good quality, universally accessible health care in the Province of Nova Scotia and in this country, whether our roads are going to be fit to drive on, whether or not you are going to have to be well-heeled in order to even drive on our roads because the only good roads will be the roads that are tolled, the roads that you have to pay a user fee on (Interruption) or in Richmond County, the member for Cape Breton West says, Mr. Speaker.
That is the issue here, Mr. Speaker. What are we doing, through this piece of legislation, with our capacity to deal with our debt over the long term, what are we doing about our capacity to deal with those problems of poverty, unemployment, health and education, dealing with those most vulnerable, dealing with our seniors and so on and so forth?
I think this legislation is wrong-headed in trying to deal with those problems in the manner that it is. I think if we referred it to the Public Accounts Committee, we would have an opportunity, with the help of expert advice, to make recommendations that would, I think, weigh heavily on the minister. It would have some considerable influence on the minister because I know he has considerable respect not only for the Public Accounts Committee but also for the Auditor General and the Auditor General's staff. He would certainly look with some interest on any recommendations that came from that committee.
So I again say, Mr. Speaker, that we are dealing with extremely important matters relative to the future of this province. I think it is incumbent upon us to take some time here - not a lot of time but some time - to review such important matters to the Legislature Committee on Public Accounts and to get at these issues and bring the information back before the House of Assembly so that all Nova Scotians and, in particular, members of this Legislature, will have information on which to make decisions about the passage of this bill. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: If there are no further speakers to the amendment, the question will now be called.
Would all those in favour of the amendment please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The amendment is carried in the negative.
The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I did want to make just a few comments. I won't delay the minister for a long period of time so he can still get ready, if he so desires, to talk tonight.
There are a couple of areas that I do have concerns about. One is obviously the issue dealing with the farmland. On April 1, 1996, the municipalities are now going to either levy the farmers or, in Kings County, it means 1.5 cents on the tax rate for everybody in the county. The County of Kings has now been downloaded by the province onto the County of Kings. What this does is the provincial government talks in one area of the bill about tax breaks but then the taxpayers are having to shell out of this pocket, gets a little lighter, and in this pocket you have to shell out a little more. So the taxpayers that I have been talking to in Kings County are wondering just what it is that this government is doing.
I know that in my area agriculture is very prominent. There is a lot of agricultural land in Kings County. In Kings County, probably the farmers or the residents, whatever decision that the council makes, are going to be hit the hardest to replace this grant that the province is no longer issuing to the municipalities.
The other area, the machinery and equipment, the time-frame is being escalated. Again I would say that the municipalities, were they consulted, were they given some lead time in this particular issue? My difficulty with this bill, it has some parts that I support and it has some parts that I oppose. I doubt very much if the minister is going to take out the parts that I oppose and leave all the ones in that I support.
I hope that this government has learned one thing, if nothing else, in their tenure in government, that people are tired of all of a sudden - the municipalities and taxpayers - things are being downloaded and when this government says it is going to be easier on taxpayers, in actual fact, the bottom line for Kings County residents is that that is not the case. So, here we have a bill that clearly is going to have an effect on the people that I represent and not all as positive as the minister would lead us to believe.
The minister obviously wanted to make sure in this legislation that he talks about the requirement for borrowing and that this be put in legislation under expenditure control. I guess it is like all other pieces of legislation; this government has done it and I guess all governments have; it is easy to amend legislation. So it doesn't really mean a whole lot. There are no penalties in cases where we said clearly this government did not have the authority to spend last year's money and save it for this year's money and do accounting juggling. Then again, who is going to go to the courts and challenge the government? That becomes a very difficult task for the taxpayer.
I believe that there are a couple of areas - there is no question - in this bill that I do support, that do make sense. I don't know the equity tax credit part of it. I am having a little trouble finding out. I know I had talked to some individuals who under the old legislation qualified for some tax credit. My question is, how many people would be eligible for this tax credit? In the past, the legislation we have had in place, how many people have actually been eligible? My understanding is, that not a lot of people have been able to take advantage in the past of the equity tax credit system of any kind that we have had in the last year or two. Is this going to meet with any more success than we have had in the past? I don't know. I guess we will have to wait and see.
The part that people do like is the income tax reduction, if it happens. This legislation says it will happen in 1997. We, I assume, will have another budget between now and July 1, 1997. That is for sure. Maybe even two budgets. The numbers have to be good. Obviously with the restrictions that are on us, we have to make sure that this tax credit actually happens. It is like we don't know what is going to happen to interest rates. We hope we know what is going to happen to interest rates, but I guess if any one of us knew for sure, we would be pretty wise investors and we probably would be pretty wealthy. We listen to economists and we listen to what people have to say and we project, but given the fact that there are some things that are well beyond the control here in the province that can happen to the economic condition of this country which has a bearing on what happens in other countries, we are not sure.
I guess the day that happens, if we get the tax credit, some people will benefit. I don't believe - the way the minister described it - there are going to be as many people benefitting as we would anticipate. I think there are a lot of people in this province who make under $25,000; under $20,000; and it is a struggle to live day to day and week to week and buy the necessities of life. The problem that they are having and the calls that I am getting is that they see their electricity going up. They talk about a thirst tax on things that they purchase at the grocery store. They talk about gasoline going up and they just don't know where it is all going to end.
We all know that salaries are not going up. Salaries have not gone up in the last number of years. I am wondering how this minister, because we are soon going to be in negotiations with a number of unions after this year, as I understand it, and what kind of increases are many of those unions going to want, and what will that do to our budget? The biggest part of our budget, actual costs, are people that we hire, obviously. So any increases people would get, and I don't know in the kind of projections that the minister has made for the next three years, what kind of an increase he has allowed in that projection for government employees. Their contracts are going to come due and this freeze will eventually be lifted. It cannot stay forever.
As a matter of fact, salaries were taken back from people. Now, is that going to be given back to them and then are we going to have increases after that? How much is that going to cost? Are we going to be able to do that and still give the tax break that we are talking about? I think there are a lot of unanswered questions in this piece of legislation, a lot of questions that we will not know, probably, until after an election, of what really is in the minds of this government. This legislation does look to me like the last piece of legislation this minister will bring in before the next election and the next legislation that comes in, obviously, could be quite different.
So, Mr. Speaker, I will not be supporting the bill because of the sections that penalize the people that I represent. The bill is not totally fair in the way that it deals with the people in Kings County and the farmers in Kings County and, therefore, I will have to vote against this legislation.
MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the minister it will be to close the debate.
The honourable Minister of Finance.
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, first of all, may I thank all of the members opposite who intervened in this debate and gave us the benefit of their wisdom and their comment. I had a rather lengthy discourse to make this evening, but everyone is in such a fine mood, I think I will cut it down dramatically.
Mr. Speaker, the second reading of a bill is designed to debate the principles of the bill. I raised that point when I opened debate and I must say there were a number of members opposite who took me up on that and indicated, well, I may want to debate the principles, but there were some real details there that they wanted to talk about and they, perhaps, were less inclined to debate principle.
The wisdom of the British parliamentary system is that we have a stage in the debate where we address the principles. There are other stages in the debate, as you will well know, Mr. Speaker, where we examine bills in great detail: we take them apart clause by clause, we go over them and we make changes and recommendations, we debate words, we debate meanings. But there is a stage at second reading where we debate principles. The reason for that, I think, in the British parliamentary system, is the belief that people have the right to know where Parties stand on fundamental principles which are brought before the House. That is not to say that they agree with every clause, that is not to say they agree with every provision, but on matters of fundamental principle, where do individual Parties stand?
Now, there are basically three individual principles, I think, that take centre stage in this bill. One of them is the principle of the balanced budget. Are you in favour of the principle of balanced budgets and, [Page 1467]
indeed, putting legislation in place to require balanced budgets? Well, on this principle, Mr. Speaker, I think the Official Opposition had a little bit of fun with us. They suggested, for example, in terms of our history of balanced budgets, that, on the one hand, the government was lucky in reaching the balanced budget - and I understand that comment - in fact, that the provincial government in reaching this historic milestone is just the beneficiary of out and out good luck. Of course, the other side of that proposition is, and this is what gets more interesting, that the Opposition, of course, was the terrible victims of 15 years of bad luck. So they had a little bit of fun with us but there is a back side to that argument that the Opposition maintains that for 15 years they had terribly back luck. Well, that may be the case.
There is a second argument, of course, with respect to the balanced budget that the Official Opposition has made and that is that the balanced budget really wasn't the responsibility of the actions of a government here in Nova Scotia, it was the result of transfer payment increases which came down from Ottawa and really balanced the budget for us, there was really nothing to do. You see that argument ignores the fact, for example, that in this budget year, the one where we have balanced the budget, that although there will be increases in equalization of about $20 million, when you take everything into account in the transfer payments from Ottawa to Nova Scotia, there is a net loss of $132 million altogether; the largest single loss is $104 million in the CHST. Taking all of the transfers into account, it is a $132 million loss. In spite of that loss, in the face of that loss, we have succeeded in balancing the budget.
If you say that balancing the budget is either, (a) good luck or, (b) because of the transfers from another level of government, you don't have to take responsibility for balancing or you don't have to accept responsibility for 15 years of not balancing. I might point out though, in the 15 years of not balancing, in the area of equalization alone, in that one single category, the former government received unplanned, unscheduled, unbudgeted, increases in equalization in nine years in the 1980's, in nine years totalling something around $180 million. With that windfall of equalization, does anybody remember a balanced budget in the 1980's? I don't recall it. I couldn't be really clear as to what the position of the Official Opposition was with respect to balanced budgets.
Let me say this, if anyone is as confused as I am about the Official Opposition's position on balanced budgets, don't be distressed. If you don't understand what they said, simply reflect on what they did. In 15 years they did not balance a budget once. On the principle of balanced budgets they have indicated they are voting no on this principle. They are going on record as voting no, they are against the principle of balanced budgets.
The New Democratic Party on the other hand, contrary to their normal practice, was very clear on what their position was. The Leader in debate came right out and said, we are against balanced budgets. His colleague in that caucus, as a matter of fact, I was kind of interested tonight, he said, you know why we are against balanced budgets? Because in bad times, we need to spend more money and in good times we have all of this extra money to
spend which we couldn't if we were restricted by this legislation. They want to spend more money in bad times and more money in good times. It is kind of hard to do that in this legislation. They subscribe to the economic theory that we can borrow and spend our way to prosperity, that is the NDP's theory. I respect the Leader of the NDP for getting up and making that clear right here in the House of Assembly, I respect that. I disagree with him strongly but I respect him making that clear to us.
I might say though we also have an example of that philosophy, borrow and spend your way to prosperity, we have an example of that. As a matter of fact, relatively close in the Province of Ontario when Premier Bob Rae held exactly the same theory and took exactly that same course. At the end of it the economy of the Province of Ontario was in such bad shape that the organized labour movement in droves voted against him to put him out of office. That is the theory and that is clearly, in principle, they have announced that they are voting against balanced budgets. Okay, we accept that.
Let us go on to the next principle. The next principle is taxes, tax reductions. There again, it was interesting to reflect on the approach of the Official Opposition. The approach of the Official Opposition, through their Finance Critic, said we are voting against tax reductions. Why? Because we do not believe you are going to do it. (Laughter) We believe there is going to an election in between and then you are going to come back and change the law. Well, there is a couple of interesting assumptions involved in that argument. One of them is that we are going to win the election, of course, and be here in a position to change the law. (Applause) I was kind of interested in that prediction, Mr. Speaker.
The other thing, the premise that you oppose something on the grounds that the government may come back at some later date and change it, so you are going to oppose it now. You are going to be against it right from the start, so that they will not get a chance to change it in the future. Well, they are against it anyway. Tax reductions, they are opposed to them. I might say again, the New Democratic Party have clearly outlined their position. As a matter of fact, the Leader said, I believe, I made a note of it, he said, people do not mind taxes, in his speech. Of course, the question is, how much taxes don't they mind?
When you spend more and more, you collect more and more, that is the way it works. As a matter of fact, anybody who has looked at the history of Nova Scotia in the last 16 years, you will prove that little premise in spades. You see, I disagree. I think the people of Nova Scotia feel they have been taxed enough. I do not think they are prepared to pay more and more to deal with an approach that simply says, we will throw money at a problem. I do not think they believe that and, certainly, we do not as a government. That is why we support the principle of tax reduction. We support it not only because it is fair, but because it stimulates the economy.
Finally, the third principle. Oh, before I leave the tax reduction thing, there is one other comment because the Leader of the NDP, when we were in estimates the other day, asked me to do something. He gave me an example of a single mother with two children making $26,000 a year and he said, tell me what the tax program is going to do for that person. I said, well look, I cannot tell you right offhand, but I will get the department to run the scenario and when I have it, I will share it with you. Instead of just sharing it with the honourable member, let me share it with everyone.
For that individual, a single mother, $26,000 income, two children. That is the precise example that I was requested to do by the honourable Leader of the NDP. Her estimated Nova Scotia tax payable would be $1,238. That is what that individual would have to pay, Nova Scotia income tax payable. The low income tax credit program would return to her $215. The tax reduction of 3.4 per cent would return to her something in the neighbourhood of $46. In total, her benefit - that single mother, two children - under this program would reduce her tax $261 a year. That is the example, that is the result. (Applause)
In principle, how can anyone be against that in principle? How can anyone and we will have the vote on this in a moment and we will see who votes for it and we will see who votes against it, but how can anyone vote against this type of a program? I suspect they will based on the comments that they have made earlier in debate.
Finally, the principle of investment and attracting investment. The last speaker for the Official Opposition indicated that this might be something they would be prepared to support, not sure exactly to what extent it would work, to what benefit it would be. Well, you know, that is something we are going to have to work on, we are going to have to develop some experience on, because I think we have developed here in Nova Scotia - and I have said this before - an investment vehicle that is the most attractive in the country. It is not a vehicle designed for a $10 million investment coming in. No, that is not what the design is for. The design is for the ordinary Nova Scotian or someone from outside, but with a reasonable income, looking to invest some money to take advantage of this. This is the type of vehicle that will allow investment decisions to be made in communities, to be monitored and policed in communities and to put money to work here in Nova Scotia.
One of the problems with the labour sponsored Venture Capital Fund which is somewhat similar to this investment program in this bill, one of the problems with it was they came into Nova Scotia, they raised $18 million, they took $18 million out of Nova Scotia and do you know how much they invested back, Mr. Speaker? Not one cent. We have little enough money in this province to invest without having a program which takes $18 million out of our economy. So that is what is attractive about this investment feature.
I would like to sincerely recommend to all honourable members of this House to join with us in this vote and indicate that in principle they support balanced budgets; they support tax reform and tax reduction; and they support investment incentives. When we talk about creating jobs, we have to talk real alternative programs for creating jobs. It is not enough just to get up and spout the words; you have to indicate how you intend to do it. The way this proposes to do it: one, it will stimulate consumer spending; two, it will encourage investment. When people put money to work in Nova Scotia, our people go to work. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and with that, I move second reading. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 18.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 12.
Bill No. 12 - Adoption Information Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The debate was adjourned by the honourable member for Halifax Citadel. I believe he has one hour.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I did have an opportunity to make some fairly extensive remarks on an earlier day so my comments this evening will be brief. There are a couple of principles in the adoption bill which I didn't have an opportunity to address on the earlier occasion and would perhaps like to do so now.
There is a principle enshrined in this legislation, Mr. Speaker, as I know you are aware, that suggests or establishes that subject to the regulations, the director who is an officer, an official, a functionary, appointed under this legislation, shall enter into what is called in the legislation, the Passive Adoption Register. That - if I can just find it here - Passive Adoption Register is a defined term and without going into all of the detail, the particulars of how that register is to be established and the fact that there should be a director charged with the responsibility of maintaining that register is set out in the legislation.
There is a public policy principle which is found relative to what the director may or may not do, or shall or shall not enter into the Passive Adoption Register and one of them that causes me a little bit of concern and at which I would appreciate the minister having a look if he will, as he closes debate or perhaps as we move on to the Law Amendments Committee, because the bill provides, Mr. Speaker, that subject to the regulations - and of course we don't see any regulations at this point, we don't know what the regulations are or will be - the director is empowered, indeed mandated, directed, because the word is shall enter into this Passive Adoption Register the name of, Clause 10(1)(e), "a birth sibling, with the written consent of a birth parent;".
I have had some contact, Mr. Speaker, with people who raised the concern with me as to whether or not a birth sibling, who has reached the age of majority, should require or not the consent of a birth parent. I understand the intent here, I guess, but I am not really satisfied that I concur. We are talking here, at least I am making reference to a situation where we have a birth sibling who, himself or herself, has attained the age of majority and we have an obligation on the part of that birth sibling, having attained the age of majority, to have to obtain the written consent of a birth parent before that birth sibling's name can be entered into the Passive Adoption Register.
So, having attained the age of majority seems to me, Mr. Speaker, at least worthy of perhaps another look by the Minister of Community Services as a review of this legislation unfolds. It seems to me that the person having attained the age of majority should not have to have the written consent of the birth parent in order to have his or her name entered in the passive adoption register.
Further, there is another element of the same sort of thing that I would like to raise with the minister and, as a matter of policy, ask whether he might, before closing second reading, have a look at it or, failing that, on the way through to the other stages, because, again, relative to this Passive Adoption Register, Mr. Speaker, the director shall - not may, but shall, so the obligation is imposed upon the director of this register - enter the name of,
Clause 10(1)(g), "a relative of a birth parent, with the written consent of the birth parent, who applies to be so registered.".
Well, there might be an aunt or an uncle who has a special relationship or seeks that relationship with the adoptee and would be able to provide the adoptee, in the ideal situation, with support, with, indeed, emotional support, financial support, any number of positive influences could be brought to the adoptee by the relative of the birth parent. I simply raise the question as a matter of policy whether or not the fact that that relative of the birth parent requiring the written consent of the birth parent would prove, in too many cases, to be either a deterrent and, in some cases perhaps, even a bar to that relative being able to provide some assistance to the adoptee.
There is again, and it has to do with another concern which has to do, Mr. Speaker, with the question of whether or not the consent of the birth parent is required. I want to stay with the principle, but to get to the principle, with your indulgence, if I could read a couple of words of the bill itself. It is simply this, Clause 15(1), "A birth sibling, with the written consent of a birth parent, may apply to the Director for disclosure of the adoptive name of an adopted person of whom the birth sibling is a birth sibling.".
The concern I raise there, again, is the same one that I mentioned just a moment ago in the other circumstance. I would simply ask the minister whether or not we really feel that it is necessary that the consent of the birth parent should be obligatory in the event that the sibling who is seeking his or her sibling is, in fact, a person of the age of majority. I readily understand the rightful concerns of having children of a very young age seeking information and there are all kinds of concerns that occur to me and I am sure have occurred to the minister and his officials, about the potential difficulties which might arise in that event. But in those cases where we are dealing with men and women who are persons of the age of majority, I really do wonder and ask the minister to consider whether we are not imposing an unreasonable obligation upon those persons who have attained their majority by continuing to require, as the bill does, that those persons would be obligated to secure the written consent of the parent.
I had occasion to speak with one of the officials in the minister's department who deals, and has dealt for many years, in adoptions. My call was prompted, as a matter of fact, by reason of the fact that one of my colleagues had received a call when that constituent became aware of the fact that this bill was going to be debated and that very question was raised. Well, how old does somebody have to be to be able to go to the appropriate official in the Department of Community Services to seek and secure information? The answer, generally, that I got back was, well, if it was a person, for lack of a better term, of tender years or under the age of majority, we, said the official in the department, would undoubtedly, in those circumstances, suggest to that young person, that person not yet of the age of majority, that, well, you had better secure the evidence of or written consent of the parent and then we can deal with your request. But that same official who has had, as I say, very extensive experience over the years with the adoption laws of the province, indicated to me, however, said he to me, Terry, if the person seeking the information was a person of the age of majority, we, frankly, would generally take the attitude that if we felt that they were presented as a serious and responsible person, we would undoubtedly attempt to assist them.
So I guess what I am really asking the minister to do is to take a look at those provisions which do appear in the bill and which impose an obligation for a person to secure the consent of parents and so on, whether or not that really should or need apply to those who have, in fact, attained the age of majority. There are a number of circumstances in which that is the case.
There were just one or two other very brief remarks that I thought I might like to make, Mr. Speaker, if you will indulge me one second. In the bill as well - and for the purposes of the minister's notes and, hopefully, further consideration of the observation I will make, I am referencing Clause 12 of the bill - without going into a word for word reading, it essentially establishes the principle that the director, who is a functionary defined and whose appointment process is outlined in the legislation, if that director receives an application by a person whose name is in the Passive Adoption Register, that director shall, ". . . facilitate a reunion between that person and others of the family whose names are registered . . .", but there is an interesting phrase, ". . . except where, in the opinion of the Director, such a reunion poses a risk to the health, safety or well-being of any person to whom the reunion relates.".
I guess there are a couple of questions. One is what is really intended by facilitate? I don't want to get into a word for word, I want to stay as much as I can on the principle but the concern has been raised with me that just the use of the word facilitate by itself with the caveat at the end of the clause, except where that director thinks that it might pose a risk to health, safety or well-being and so on, that the word facilitate might not be the best word. How much control, for instance, would the department or indeed in the language of the legislation or the bill, would the director have?
I have had people make contact with me who indicate to me that they are aware of circumstances where a reunion, as contemplated by this particular element of the legislation, was directed. I repeat this only because it was reported to me, I was not present so I cannot attest to the voracity of the statement but the statement was made to me that the reunion, in the instance brought to my attention, was directed, made available but was controlled, allegedly, by social workers to the detriment of the adoptees and the birth parents. In other words, what I was being told is that the nature of the physical contact and the face to face encounter and the `reunion' of the persons involved was conducted in such a way as to have something rather less than a positive effect on those, the adoptee and the birth parents.
I guess the way I would like to leave that particular issue and the sense I would like to leave with the minister, to ask if he might be kind enough to have a look at it is, when we have language that says, ". . . the Director shall . . . facilitate a reunion . . .", that is obligatory, it is mandatory, it says that, ". . . the Director shall . . .". The caveat is, ". . . except where, in the opinion of the Director, such a reunion poses a risk to the health, safety or well-being of any person to whom the reunion relates.". I guess the exercise of that discretion is, on the basis of this language at least, completely unfettered. There seem to be no parameters or limits to the discretion which is able to be exercised by that director. I simply repeat or report to the minister that contact has been made with me relative to that particular element of the legislation by those who have some experience with reunions of the kind addressed by the legislation having been conducted and the approach taken by social workers and others was, in the opinion of those who contacted me, not to put it offensively, but very much less than helpful and less than a positive experience for those involved.
I think, Mr. Speaker, while there are two or three other matters of principle which perhaps could appropriately be addressed, I have had an opportunity to make mention of what I think are perhaps the most significant of the issues which have either occurred to me or been raised with me in the course of my examination or analysis of the legislation. So I will not go further with it at this point, perhaps with one last exception; if you take a quick look near the end of the legislation you will find - the suggestion has been made to me, and I will just simply refer the minister, Mr. Speaker, through you, to Clause 32. That is a clause which enables the director to require fees or charges in amounts set out in the regulations with respect to applications and entering names in the adoption register and the supply of documents and so on and so on.
The suggestion has been made, and I simply want it on the record here, that if the amount of money required of a person to file an application or enter names is anything more than a very nominal sum, it may well prove to be a serious disadvantage. For some $50 is an awful lot of money; for some $50 is able to be handled. For some, not that I am suggesting it would get into that range, but if it were in the few hundred dollar range then, of course, and I recognize that there are administrative procedures and paper work and so on and in this stage of cost recovery we could find ourselves dealing with a sizeable amount of money. So I simply raise that, as requested by others to do so, to ask the minister to make note of that and, in consultation with his colleagues in the department, perhaps give consideration to the development of a schedule of fees which would be, in light of the nature of the business we are about here in Bill No. 12, be as nominal as is possible.
So in light of the hour, Mr. Speaker, and in light of the fact, as I have said, I think those are the principal considerations which I wanted to raise with the minister. I will conclude my remarks at that point. I think there is much to support in this legislation. There are some administrative and procedural matters which I think need some refinement and improvement but, hopefully, with some good will from the minister which I am sure is there and . . .
MR. SPEAKER: The time is running out very quickly.
MR. DONAHOE: . . . through the Law Amendments Committee, we can make some changes. I don't know that it is necessary - well, I can adjourn the debate.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, you could just take your seat and the debate is considered to be adjourned.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, I don't know if others want to speak. I have concluded my remarks, I will adjourn the debate to keep it alive when we meet again.
MR. SPEAKER: Does anyone else wish to speak to the bill?
MR. DONAHOE: I adjourned the debate.
MR. SPEAKER: I didn't declare the motion carried.
The honourable Acting Opposition House Leader.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, tomorrow's business . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Well, in view of the procedure, I will declare the debate on Bill No. 12 adjourned and left open for any other speaker who wishes to speak to the bill when it is resumed.
MR. DONAHOE: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Acting Opposition House Leader.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, tomorrow's business, after Question Period, we will be debating Resolution No. 49 and Resolution No. 177. We will spend some time on House Orders and we will, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., with the agreement of the Government House Leader, be going into Supply for the last hour of the day.
The hours will be from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I thank the members opposite for providing the extra hour tomorrow for Government Business. I move that we adjourn until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the House do now rise, to meet again tomorrow afternoon at the hour of 1:00 p.m.
The motion is carried.
[The House rose at 8:01 p.m.]