Published by Order of the Legislature by Hansard Reporting Services and printed by the Queen's Printer.
Available on INTERNET at http://nslegislature.ca/index.php/proceedings/hansard/
|TABLE OF CONTENTS||PAGE|
|Res. 1, Estimates - CWH on Supply,|
|Hon. G. Steele||381|
|Hon. G. Steele||382|
|Mr. L. Glavine||395|
|PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS:|
|Justice - Correctional Ctr. (Cumb. Co.), Hon. M. Scott||397|
|TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS:|
|Elections N.S.: 38th Prov. Gen. Election (Fin. Info) - Addendum,|
|NOTICES OF MOTION:|
|Res. 167, Cooley, Pam/Zimmer, Peter/CarShareHfx: Bus. Success -|
|Congrats., Mr. L. Preyra||399|
|Vote - Affirmative||399|
|Res. 168, W. Virginia: Coal Mine Explosion - Sympathy Extend,|
|Mr. A. MacLeod||400|
|Vote - Affirmative||400|
|Res. 169, MacDonald, Carmen: Hockey Medal - Congrats.,|
|The Speaker (by Hon. R. Landry)||401|
|Vote - Affirmative||401|
|Res. 170, North Sydney Ministerial Assoc.: "Journey of the Cross" -|
|Congrats., Hon. C. Clarke||401|
|Vote - Affirmative||402|
|Res. 171, Cross-Border Shopping (N.S./N.B.): Study Comm. - Convene,|
|Hon. M. Scott||402|
|ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS:|
|No. 48, Prem.: Cross-Border Shopping (N.S./N.B.) - Solve,|
|Hon. S. McNeil||403|
|No. 49, Prem. - Budget Material: Dissemination (04/05/06) - Details,|
|Hon. K. Casey||404|
|No. 50, Prem. - Civil Serv. Reduction: Non-Unionized Employees -|
|Effects, Mr. L. Glavine||405|
|No. 51, Gov't. (NDP): Convention Centre - Stance,|
|Mr. A. Younger||406|
|No. 52, ERD: High-Speed Internet - Time Frame,|
|Mr. C. Porter||407|
|No. 53, Prem.: Barristers' Soc. Fees - Details,|
|Hon. S. McNeil||408|
|No. 54, Prem.: Sydney Hbr. Dredging/C.B. & Central N.S. Railway -|
|Invest, Mr. A. MacLeod||409|
|No. 55, SNSMR - Gas Pricing: URB Rept. - Recommendations,|
|Mr. A. Younger||410|
|No. 56, TIR: Rail Serv./Sydney Hbr. Dredging - Support,|
|Mr. K. Bain||411|
|No. 57, Com. Serv.: Hfx. Assoc. For Commun. Living - Meet,|
|Hon. Manning MacDonald||413|
|No. 58: HPP: H1N1 Immunization - Percentage,|
|Ms. D. Whalen||414|
|No. 59, Prem. - Budget Material: Dissemination (04/05/06) - Details,|
|Hon. K. Casey||416|
|No. 60, Energy: Wheeler Rept. - Recommendations,|
|Mr. A. Younger||417|
|No. 70, Prem. - Yarmouth Mayor/Councillor: Meeting - Details,|
|Hon. C. d'Entremont||418|
|No. 71, Justice: Correctional Facility - Site Selection,|
|Hon. M. Samson||420|
|No. 72, TIR - Cobequid Pass: Accident (04/05/06) - Rerouting,|
|Hon. M. Scott||421|
|ADDRESS IN REPLY:|
|Hon. Maureen MacDonald||423|
|ADJOURNMENT MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5):|
|Fin.: Tax Raises - NDP Deficit:|
|Mr. A. MacMaster||432|
|Hon. M. Scott||434|
|Mr. M. Whynott||435|
|Ms. D. Whalen||438|
|Mr. L. Glavine||440|
|ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Wed., Apr. 7th at 2:00 p.m.||441|
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We're about to begin today's business. I hope everybody had a good Easter holiday.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
[Res. No. 1, Estimates - Comm. of Whole House on Supply - notice given March 26, 2010 - (Hon. G. Steele)]
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Finance.
HON. GRAHAM STEELE: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to notice of motion given by me on April 6, 2010, and the Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly, I have the honour, by command, to present a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Nova Scotia, relating to the Estimates of Sums required for the service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011, which is:
"I hereby transmit Estimates of Sums required for the Public Service of the Province for the year ending March 31, 2011, and in accordance with the Constitution Act, 1867, recommend them, together with the budget address of my Minister of Finance and any resolutions or bills necessary or advisable to approve the Estimates and implement the budget measures, to the House of Assembly.
April 6, 2010"
Mr. Speaker, at this time I wish to (1) table the message from Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor transmitting the Estimates for the consideration of this House; (2) table the Estimates Books; (3) table the Government Business Plan; (4) table the Crown Corporation Business Plans; (5) table the Estimate and Crown Corporation Business Plans Resolutions; (6) deliver my Budget Speech; and (7) move that the Estimates of Sums required for the service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011, being Supply, to be granted to Her Majesty and the Crown Corporation Business Plans be referred to the Committee of the Whole House on Supply.
[MR. SPEAKER: The documents are tabled.]
MR. STEELE: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to start by thanking the large number of people who have put so much work, up to and including the last long weekend, to help put this budget together. I think one has to be the Minister of Finance to realize just how much work and effort that goes into that. I'd like to thank, in particular, the staff of the Department of Finance, Communications Nova Scotia, the Treasury Board, and the Premier's Office for all of the work that they've done to enable me to stand in my place today.
Back to Balance
The Four-Year Plan
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to present to this House, and to Nova Scotians, the budget for 2010-11. This budget represents many firsts. It is this government's first real budget, because last year's budget was essentially the previous government's, and was introduced and passed halfway through the fiscal year to ensure continuity and stability. This
budget also marks the first steps on the road back to balance. It represents a new course for Nova Scotia. (Applause)
Over the past two months, our government has engaged in the most extensive financial consultations in the province's history. Nineteen public meetings were held throughout the province. About 1,500 Nova Scotians participated in person, and another 1,000 Nova Scotians, individuals and organizations, shared their values and priorities through written submissions. I also held another dozen Back to Balance sessions with economists, chambers of commerce, union leaders, NovaKnowledge, and a wide variety of other organizations.
Au cours des derniers mois, j'ai consulte des milliers de Néo-Écossais sur le retablissesment de l'equilibre budgetaire. Durant cette consultation historique, j'ai eu l'occasion de mieux comprendre les priorites des communautes acadiennes et francophones de notre province.
While there wasn't always a consensus, there was one common thread from the Royal Canadian Legion in Whitney Pier to the Nova Scotia Community College campus in Yarmouth to the elementary school gym in Sheet Harbour to the Lions Club in Amherst, and everywhere in between. Nova Scotians care deeply about their province and their future. You might say, Mr. Speaker, because of the impressive participation in the Back to Balance process, that this is the first budget built on the collective wisdom of Nova Scotians from one end of the province to the other.
The commitment and passion participants brought to the sessions were impressive. To all those who participated, either personally or in writing, I want to take this opportunity to say, simply, thank you. This budget reflects many of your values and your priorities. And so will the fiscal plan this government will implement in the months and years ahead.
Our plan stretches well beyond this budget. Our approach will be smart, strategic and steady. As promised, it will ensure that government lives within its means and focuses on the programs and services important to Nova Scotians.
Our plan has four key components. First, our government will bring better health care to you and your family. Second, we will create secure jobs and grow the economy. Third, we will make life more affordable. Fourth, we will get Nova Scotia back to balance and ensure that government lives within its means.
Acting wisely and making the right decisions now will lay the foundation for lasting prosperity. (Applause) That is because, Mr. Speaker, like all recessions, this one will come to an end. Our plan will help ensure that, when the recession ends, Nova Scotia will be better positioned than ever to take on the world. The decisions made will be rooted in common sense. While some decisions will be tough, they will always be fair.
We wish things were different. We wish the legacy of unsustainable spending we have inherited didn't exist. But it does. It is our responsibility to deal with it - to clean up the mess - so that Nova Scotia's future is not compromised.
Doing nothing is not an option. That was made clear by the experts on the Economic Advisory Panel who told us that if nothing is done to address the structural deficit, our province will be facing a deficit of $1.4 billion within three years. The reason is quite simple. Expenses were rising faster than revenue. The gap between how much we spend and how much we take in was growing bigger, and would have continued to grow even when the recession ends.
This structural deficit left by the previous government means that debt and interest payments are rising. An indebted government cannot deliver critical programs and services in health and education. A government can control its destiny only if it controls its balance sheet. And, Mr. Speaker, we will control our destiny. (Applause)
As the expert panel pointed out, in order to address the province's financial challenges, government has three strategies to work with: spending must be controlled, revenues must be increased, and the economy must grow. The Expert Advisory Panel said that, because of the size of the challenge, we must do all three.
Mr. Speaker, we have listened, and we agree. Today we are taking necessary and decisive action. (Applause) In this budget, and in our four-year plan, we have found the right balance in using the strategies we have available to us.
Debt and Deficit - Getting Back to Balance
Despite steep revenue growth from our offshore industry when the economy was booming, lack of fiscal discipline and poor policy choices over the past decade have driven our debt upward. It now stands at the second highest per capita, among the provinces. This province's debt is too high. The interest on that debt will soon return to $1 billion per year. Nova Scotians are paying dearly for the mistakes of the past. We will not repeat them. The financial path chosen by the previous government was unsustainable. We choose a different path. (Applause)
During the Back to Balance sessions, it became clear that there was a broad consensus that the right time frame for getting back to balance was three to five years. We
have listened, and we agree. As a result of the measures taken in this budget, and measures still to be taken as part of the four-year plan, we believe it is reasonable and achievable to forecast a return to balance in the budget for 2013-14. If results are better than expected, then balance one year earlier is possible. If the economy takes longer than expected to recover, or if other events intervene, then an additional year may be required. This responsible, measured approach will ensure we respect the wishes of Nova Scotians and the needs of the economy, while continuing to deliver the programs and services that Nova Scotians need. (Applause)
In last Fall's budget, the deficit for the fiscal year 2009-10 was forecast to be $592 million. We now forecast that deficit to be $488 million. Although that's still a very significant number, it's $104 million better than we forecast on the last Budget Day, and $37 million better than we forecast even in December.
In this budget, the deficit we forecast for 2010-11 is $222 million. That is an improvement over last year, and is one of the lowest deficit-to-GDP ratios in the country. Following the next budget year, the debt-to-GDP ratio - which is an important measure of our ability to repay the money we owe - is forecast to decline, and our commitment is to ensure that it continues to decline, year after year, thereafter. (Applause)
In the Back to Balance sessions, we were told, very plainly and consistently, that we cannot turn to Nova Scotians for more revenue unless we commit to using every single existing revenue dollar as wisely and efficiently as possible. We have listened, and we agree. Of the $1.4 billion fiscal gap identified by the Expert Advisory Panel, we will eliminate $1.1 billion through expenditure management and restraint.
Of that $1.1 billion, about $250 million will come from ongoing wage restraint in the public sector, and between $150 million and $200 million will come from changes to the public service pension plan which I will discuss later in this speech. The rest will come from spending restraint - better using the dollars we already have.
In this budget, we have brought spending growth down, as many Nova Scotians asked us to do in the Back to Balance sessions. There is, in fact, a decrease in total departmental expenses. (Applause) This contrasts with spending growth averaging 5 per cent per year over the past 10 years of the previous government. Over the rest of the four-year planning period, expenditure will be tightly managed. We have set tough but manageable savings targets, adding up to $772 million by 2013. Mr. Speaker, this ambitious plan will take hard work, discipline and determination.
We will move forward carefully, looking at how we can improve or transform service delivery, rather than how we can cut or suspend it. (Applause) Every program and every
service will be examined for relevance, effectiveness and affordability. We will find strategic alignments and insist that accountability be a mainstay between government and our third-party agencies.
The fact is about 60 per cent of government's expenditures are payments to third parties like universities, school boards, district health authorities and municipalities. It's time to review our current structure to ensure the best possible value for the taxpayer's dollar. (Applause) This effort will be led through our Expenditure Management Initiative which was established very early in this government's mandate.
Year one savings from the Expenditure Management Initiative will be $54 million; year two will see savings of $252 million; year three will see savings just under $500 million; and year four, the balance year, will see cumulative savings of $772 million.
We are already seeing some positive results. In this budget, we have achieved our targets for year one. We have achieved this through wage restraint, a one per cent reduction in discretionary spending for departments, and reduced reliance on external consulting services. In addition, a directive was sent in early March to all units of government ordering an end to the so-called "March Madness" - that's the practice of spending all unspent funds in the last few weeks of the fiscal year. Nova Scotians don't want to see their money used this way. They want it to stop. (Applause)
Let's be clear. When talking about expenditure restraint, we're not talking about impacting patient care or student outcomes. We are talking about centralizing services, sharing administrative costs and using technology to not only improve service, but our bottom line as well. (Applause)
Our government will work co-operatively with our third-party funding partners to ensure our plan is measured and sustainable. With more efficient service delivery, comes the need for smaller government. We will reduce the civil service by 10 per cent by 2013, relying on attrition through retirements and voluntary departures. We do not expect this will require layoffs. Change won't happen overnight. It will not be forced, but it will happen.
Another message was stated clearly during the Back to Balance sessions, that Nova Scotians expect their elected representatives in this House to spend every dollar wisely, especially when it comes to their own expenses. We have listened, and we agree. That is why this House has taken decisive steps to rein in excessive MLA expenses. MLAs must still be able to serve their constituents, but they must do so within the same bounds of restraint that we expect to apply across government. This government has already introduced legislation
that will make the system of MLA expenses among the most accountable and transparent in the country. (Applause)
As a result of changes already approved by the Internal Economy Board, in this budget the Legislative Expenses budget line has been reduced by $1.3 million to reflect the new level of more accountable MLA expenses.
Public Service Pension Plan
Our government recognizes the value of the men and women who provide the services and programs Nova Scotians rely on every day from their government. But the Public Service Superannuation Plan is seriously underfunded. It's another example of where change is needed - change that looks at the long term. The pension plan, on which tens of thousands of Nova Scotia families rely or will rely for their retirement income, currently is about 69 per cent funded. Expressed differently, the shortfall is about $1.5 billion and growing.
An unfunded pension liability means that promises have been made that cannot be kept. This is a source of considerable anxiety to pensioners, and to civil servants who will one day be pensioners. At the same time, the plan and its unfunded liability have been a millstone around the province's balance sheet. This situation cannot continue. We must deal with the problem now, because the plan's health is deteriorating, and delay only makes a solution more expensive and difficult.
Today, I am pleased to say that we will make Public Service pensions more secure, while saving the public purse between $150 and $200 million per year, every year, in pension-related expenses. We will do so by guaranteeing annual pension increases of 1.25 per cent each year for the next five years.
Starting in 2016, the amount of the annual increase will be based on the health of the plan. We will also take advantage of historically low interest rates to refinance a portion of the unfunded liability, at considerable savings to taxpayers. Two other changes will apply only to civil servants hired on or after today's date. These reforms, all taken together, are expected to return the Public Service plan to 100 per cent funding by the end of this year. We are fixing the plan in a way that is scrupulously fair to all past and current members.
I want to emphasize that all benefits currently being paid and that have already accrued are safe. With the plan funded at 100 per cent, they are in fact more secure than ever. (Applause)
Mr. Speaker, we are fixing the plan in a way that is fair to taxpayers as well. We will also position the plan for a transfer to joint trusteeship. The changes being made today to the Public Service pension plan will also apply to the pension plan for Members of the Legislative Assembly.
Better Health Care for You and Your Family
Mr. Speaker, turning now to health care. As promised, our government is taking on the hard work to get our finances back to balance because our ability to deliver critical programs and services depends on it.
Let's talk about what our plan and this budget mean for health care, which is consistently identified by Nova Scotians as the most important service offered by their provincial government.
Des investissements stratégiques immédiats permettront d'alléger le fardeau sur le système de soins de santé et nous mettra sur une voie plus durable. Notre plan assurera des meilleurs soins de santé pour les Néo-Écossais et leurs familles. En concentrant notre énergie sur la prestation de services de première ligne et de soins de qualité, nous aborderons les problèmes systémiques tels que les fermetures de salles d'urgence, les listes d'attente et la pénurie de médecins.
Strategic investments now will take our health care system off the critical list, and put us on a more sustainable path. To Nova Scotians, I say that our plan will ensure that you and your family receive better health care. By refocusing our energies on front-line delivery and quality care, we will tackle systemic issues such as emergency room closures, wait lists and physician shortages. Using health care professionals to their full potential is one example.
Recently, legislation was introduced to expand the scope of practice for pharmacists.
Making more collaborative health care teams available will reduce unnecessary emergency room visits, and will help Nova Scotians manage their own health needs, as does the HealthLink-811, where advice from a registered nurse is just a phone call away.
As promised, our government will invest $1.3 million to set up pre-hab teams to reduce wait times for surgery. In working with patients prior to surgery, the stress on the system and the patient is lessened.
Plans must be made today to accommodate our growing population of seniors. Nurse practitioners will be placed in nursing homes to improve care, save money and relieve pressure in other areas of the system. For seniors at home, our government will fulfill its promise and implement self-managed care allowances and personal alert assistance programs. (Applause)
Overcrowded emergency rooms hurt the patient and the taxpayers' pocketbook. That's why our government will establish a Rapid Assessment Unit at a cost of $4.8 million to help patients move faster through the ER to admission, and open hospital beds needed to admit patients stuck in overcrowded emergency rooms. A $3 million ER protection fund will be set aside to implement initiatives identified by the province's Emergency Care Advisor to improve service and access.
Mr. Speaker, our government knows that when people are faced with a crisis, transition houses can be a lifeline to safety. That's why I am pleased to announce that we are fulfilling our commitment to provide transition houses and women's centres an additional
$500,000 this year. We are providing the first funding increase that transition houses and women's centres have received in a decade.
Young people need positive role models, and alternatives to risky behaviour. We are continuing with our commitment and will invest $240,000 annually in after-school Lighthouse programs to provide recreational, cultural and life-skills programming for youth.
Growing the Economy
Turning now, Mr. Speaker, to jobs and the economy. In the midst of what was perhaps the toughest recession since the Second World War, a consensus emerged across Canada that governments had a significant role to play in providing stimulus spending to maintain and create jobs. Something that has perhaps gotten lost in some of the recent discussion around the province's financial challenge is the fact that the previous fiscal year contained the largest capital expenditure program in the province's history. The federal government offered very significant dollars during a two-year window.
We made a commitment to create thousands of jobs by taking advantage of every single federal dollar that was available. We kept that promise. We kept people working. We kept business working. We have and will be building infrastructure that would not have been possible without this stimulus spending, which was always intended as a two-year commitment. And the coming fiscal year is year two. The worst of the recession appears to be behind us, but we're not out of the woods yet.
Our forecast for real GDP growth in the calendar year 2010 is 1.9 per cent. That is better than our recent experience, but it is still modest. That growth forecast would be quite a bit lower were it not for the effect of stimulus spending. Last year, our government invested $724 million in capital funding in roads, schools, hospitals and housing. Many of these investments brought additional funding from the federal and municipal governments. This year, the capital investment will be less, but only by a little.
The total capital investment in this budget is forecast to be $710 million. We know this investment is having a positive impact on the economy. In fact, stimulus investments alone are expected to create 7,000 person-years of employment, generating about $300 million in income. And we won't stop there.
Building on last year's investments, the province will contribute $33 million to support infrastructure projects at our universities and the world-class Nova Scotia Community College. This provincial funding is leveraging $56 million from the federal government and $41million from other sources under the federal Knowledge Infrastructure Program, for a total investment of $130 million. (Applause)
Our government is also keeping its commitment and adding $400,000 annually to enhance bridge and truck inspections to improve road safety. Our government's five-year plan to pave provincial roads will keep people working and keep communities connected. These are all great examples of smart investments.
So is the new Manufacturing and Processing Investment Credit, which will put $25 million back into business by boosting innovation and productivity in the province's manufacturing and processing sectors, particularly in rural Nova Scotia. This government knows as well that small business plays a big role in growing our economy. That's why our government is pleased to announce a cut in the small business tax rate. Effective January 1, 2011, the rate will be reduced by 0.5 per cent, which will return about $6 million to small business next year. We are the first government since 1992 to cut the small business tax rate Previous governments had the opportunity to do it and did not.
Our government is also taking steps to make it easier for entrepreneurs to raise capital for new ventures. The Equity Tax Credit is expected to provide $1.1 million in new incentives to support Nova Scotia enterprises.
We will also invest heavily in our people. Because prosperity requires increased productivity, our government will focus on skills development. Through a combination of more than $5 million in funding from the Labour Market Agreement and the Strategic Training and Transition Fund, we will increase and focus investments in several areas. Our government will invest in training for the jobs Nova Scotians need.
We will assist small business in addressing human resources issues. We will invest in a system that recognizes prior learning. We will help Nova Scotians improve their literacy and essential skills. And we will encourage disadvantaged citizens to participate in the labour market. Nova Scotia is indeed Canada's learning province.
As I've heard time and again during the Back to Balance sessions, education is a priority for Nova Scotians. It is also a priority for our government. To further underscore that fact, we will create 250 new seats at the Nova Scotia Community College targeted to high demand trades and professions, so that Nova Scotians will be ready for tomorrow's jobs.
We will provide a tax rebate of up to $15,000 over six years for university graduates and up to $7,500 for college graduates. This rebate is being provided for those who stay and work here at home, returning about $17 million into the hands of Nova Scotia's best and brightest in this fiscal year. Our government knows that schools are often the heart of any community. That's why we will invest $2 million to help support and invest in community schools - keeping another important commitment.
Along with stimulus dollars, our government will partner with the private sector to attract the investment that will ensure prosperity is shared from Cape Breton to Yarmouth. Our government will focus on increasing productivity, innovation and competitiveness. To ensure Nova Scotia remains one of the most connected jurisdictions in North America, an additional $4.4 million will be spent completing the broadband project, providing high-speed access to all areas of the province.
Enhanced efforts on market intelligence and sector development will ensure we strengthen traditional trade links with the United States, and seize emerging opportunities in the Caribbean, the European Union, Vietnam and India, among others. Our government will pursue every opportunity to become a strategic gateway to North America, showcasing our critical links to the global transportation system.
Notre gouvernement misera sur son travail avec les communautés, les entreprises et les particuliers pour promouvoir le tourisme et les expériences de voyage destinées à un créneau spécifique du marché. Nous appuierons la préparation de la soumission visant à faire inscrire Grand-Pré à la liste des sites du patrimoine mondial de l'UNESCO, qui inclut déjà le Vieux Lunenburg et les falaises fossilifères de Joggins. Notre industrie culturelle continue de faire rayonner notre province à l'échelle nationale et internationale.
Our government will build on its work with communities, business and individuals to promote tourism and niche travel experiences. We will support the preparation of an application to have Grand Pre named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, joining the Old Town of Lunenburg and the fossil cliffs at Joggins. Our cultural industry will continue to shine a spotlight on this province nationally and internationally.
Our government is committed to ensuring Nova Scotia's traditional industries remain strong and competitive. Later this year, our government will release a ten year strategy designed to help Nova Scotia's farmers develop new opportunities, manage risk and become more environmentally sustainable. A new aquaculture strategy will also be released, and by the end of this year, a new approach for managing our forests, minerals and parklands will be in place.
In the months ahead, Communications Nova Scotia will take on the role of marketing and promoting Nova Scotia's primary industries in a coordinated, innovative and cost-effective manner. Marketing the province as the place to live, work and raise a family will also be a key piece of the Communications Nova Scotia mandate.
To ensure government's efforts are properly targeted, responsive and rooted in reality, our government has established a Premier's Council on the Economy. The council is made up of prominent members of business, labour and the voluntary sectors. This council will provide advice on strategies and actions to grow the economy and will act as a sounding board on government initiatives for labour force development and fiscal management.
Mr. Speaker, with this budget, Nova Scotia will take its rightful place as a leader in the renewable energy sector. Last summer, we announced a target of 25 per cent renewable energy by 2015 - the most aggressive standard of any government in North America. This government knows that going green will grow the economy, and will invest $24 million in energy conservation and programs for energy efficiency.
Protecting Programs and Services
As the Economic Advisory Panel pointed out, the size of the fiscal challenge means that new revenue options have to be considered. As I mentioned previously, of the $1.4 billion gap identified by the Expert Advisory Panel, $1.1 billion will be found through
expenditure restraint. About $300 million will be gained through increased revenue. In other words, for every new dollar of revenue, our commitment is to find over three dollars through fiscal discipline.
Effective July 1st, the Harmonized Sales Tax will be restored to 15 percent, returning the HST to the level it was at for nine of the past thirteen years. This measure will provide an additional $215 million in revenue this year. Mr. Speaker, during the Back to Balance process, a majority of participants said that they could accept an HST increase only if those with low and modest incomes were protected. We have listened, and we agree.
Making Life Affordable
To fulfill our commitment to make life more affordable, our government will introduce a new Affordable Living Tax Credit.
Ce crédit que nous mettons en place est d'une valeur de 70 millions de dollars et il remettra de l'argent dans les poches des Néo-Écossais à revenu faible ou modeste. Cette importante mesure signifie que les foyers dont le revenu est inférieur à 30 000 $ recevront des paiements semestriels, semblables au crédit pour la TPS. Le remboursement correspond
à environ 240 $ par foyer et 57 $ par enfant à charge chaque année. Les personnes qui gagnent jusqu'à 34 800 $ recevront également une portion du crédit.
The credit we are implementing is valued at $70 million and will put that money back into the hands of Nova Scotians living on low or modest incomes. This important measure means that households earning less than $30,000 will receive quarterly payments, similar to the existing GST credit. It will return about $240 per household and $57 per dependent child every year. Those earning up to $34,800 will also receive a portion of the credit. This is the right decision for Nova Scotia families.
Mr. Speaker, we will also make a number of vital household items more affordable. By means of a point-of-sale rebate, our government will remove the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax on children's clothing and footwear. To be clear, the new point-of-sale
rebate means a rebate of all of the provincial tax. We will also remove the provincial portion of the HST on feminine hygiene products and on diapers. These new measures will come into effect July 1, 2010, and will return approximately $11 million to families in every region of the province.
Mr. Speaker, this government is also making life more affordable for senior citizens. From the time of my first election campaign in 2001, I have been deeply influenced by the number of seniors who would say to me, simply, "remember the seniors." That's why I was so proud to be part of a caucus, led by the now-Premier, that successfully fought to end the injustice of having seniors in long-term care facilities pay for their own health care.
With this budget, we will ensure that any senior who receives the Guaranteed Income Supplement will no longer have to pay any provincial income tax. This means about $12.5 million will be returned to about 18,000 senior citizens across the province. Today, with this new measure, we once again "remember the seniors." And Mr. Speaker, if you will permit me to say, this measure - like the long term care campaign - came from the Premier.
Mr. Speaker, in addition to this new measure which puts $12.5 million back into the hands of 18,000 seniors, any senior with a low or modest income will also be eligible for the Affordable Living Tax Credit.
We are taking additional steps to make life more affordable for families in every region of the province. I am pleased today to announce a new Poverty Reduction Credit. This credit will return about $3 million annually to about 15,000 individuals living in poverty, many of whom are disabled. This credit will amount to $200 annually. Our government is providing assistance to those who must travel outside of the province for medical treatment. Patients who need treatment not available here at home may be eligible to receive up to $1,000 for round-trip travel costs and $1,500 for accommodations for up to 12 medical visits a year.
I am also pleased to announce today that our government will invest $2.5 million to help low-income homeowners improve the energy efficiency of their homes and reduce their energy bills over the long term.
Mr. Speaker, let us not forget that, in addition to all of these other measures I've just spoken about, the provincial government will return almost $84 million to Nova Scotians with the removal of the provincial portion of the HST on basic home energy. That was one of our key commitments when in Opposition. In last Fall's budget, we completed that commitment, so that all Nova Scotians now see their savings on every electricity bill.
We recognize that access to safe and affordable housing is a necessity for Nova Scotians but remains out of reach for some. That's why we will invest $128 million on building affordable housing units and upgrading existing ones across the province.
This government is well aware of the cross-border shopping issue in Cumberland County, the only one of our counties sharing a land border with another province. This point was driven home to me during the Back to Balance session in Amherst. As we were reminded last week in the Utility and Review Board decision on gasoline prices, cross-border shopping is connected to factors such as the proximity of Moncton, different criteria for setting retail milk prices, differences in the rate of motive fuel tax, and large differences in the rate of tobacco tax linked to New Brunswick's attempts to lessen smuggling across its border with Quebec. All of these issues are complex, and existed long before this government came into office.
We recognize, however, that the measures announced in this budget may pose an additional challenge for retailers in Cumberland County. I will shortly be travelling to Cumberland County to meet with local municipal and business leaders to discuss how, together, we can address this issue.
Other Revenue Measures
When seeking new revenue, we believe that it is better to focus our revenue efforts on a consumption tax like the HST, with appropriate credits and rebates, rather than on personal or corporate income tax. This was, once again, a message received from the Back to Balance process. We have listened, and we agree. I am therefore pleased to say that there will be no general increase in personal income tax, nor will there be any increase in corporate income tax.
Indeed, the basic personal deduction will increase as scheduled. The province is increasing the basic personal amount exempted from income taxes by $250 per year over a four year period. This represents an increase of $1,000 - almost 14 per cent - bringing the basic personal amount to $8,231 in January 2010, representing a small tax saving for all Nova Scotians. The large corporations capital tax will also decrease as scheduled.
Only one other measure will be taken on the income tax side. We accept the principle that from those who earn the most, more can reasonably be expected. We will suspend the current surtax and substitute a fifth tax bracket at the rate of 21 per cent. This bracket will only apply to those with taxable income over $150,000. This new bracket will raise a net amount of $31.4 million. The substitution of a new bracket for the surtax is intended solely to assist in the return to balance. When balance is reached, this measure will expire.
During the Back to Balance sessions, I also heard strongly and consistently that the government should not turn to the motive fuel tax, also known as the gasoline tax, for more revenue. We have listened, and we agree. There will be no increase in the motive fuel tax. (Applause)
Getting back to balance is going to take some time and a lot of hard work. We're ready. Today, we begin that process - we begin the road back to balance. I wish to conclude by once again thanking the many Nova Scotians who participated in our Back to Balance sessions either in person or in writing. Your values and priorities are central to the measures contained in this budget and in the approach we will take in the months and years ahead to make life better for you and your family.
With this plan and this budget, we will bring better health care to you and your family. We will create secure jobs and grow the economy. We will make life more affordable. We will get Nova Scotia back to balance and ensure that government lives within its means. In the decisions we have made, and those still to come, we will be reasonable and responsible. We will be tough when we have to be. We will be compassionate and we will always be fair. (Prolonged Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you. The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise today on behalf of the Liberal caucus and in many ways also for Nova Scotians. I think it's important to note at the very beginning the minister talks about a return to balance as if the books of the province were out of balance for a decade or two. I don't mind giving kudos to the Progressive Conservative Party because while a member of this House we did have seven balanced budgets.
The Minister of Finance talks about 1,500 Nova Scotians who came out to Back to Balance sessions, the additional sessions he had and the submissions expecting to have their voices heard. But what they walked into was a highly controlled and well-messaged environment that was specifically designed to get them used to the idea of tax hikes. That is the central message of today's budget.
The NDP have taken the easy road. The easy road. To raise taxes is an easy decision for government to do. We know that has been the traditional way of getting revenue in the coffers of a province, of a jurisdiction - much more difficult to grow the economy.
Also, the highly managed public relations exercise was not reflective of what Nova Scotians expected of their government. Even the summary report stated on Page 21 that these
sessions could not be taken as representative of the population of the province. I'm sure, as I look across and see the member for Kings South, the session in Wolfville was nothing short of an NDP love-in. Many of the sessions had 70 to 75 per cent NDP members. It was not that representative. The CRA poll, in fact, was much more representative.
What Nova Scotians expected of their government was that they would take a leadership role, make the tough decisions that the Progressive Conservatives were not willing to make and that this NDP Government has made abundantly clear and that they are not willing to make either.
Health spending continues to rise over 6 per cent in this budget. Some department's budgets will grow as high as 40 per cent. Education, where most governments start to turn an economy around, to invest in the future, that wanted at least 3.6 per cent to maintain present programs, present operations of schools, get about 2 per cent in this year's budget. That is not the place to start to rebuild the economy.
When you factor out the accounting shell game this government tried to pull on Nova Scotians, spending growth in the forecast for 2009-10 to the estimates for 2010-11 is 4.8 per cent. Historically department spending has grown by 6 per cent and today we see it grow by 5 per cent. This is directly out of Rodney MacDonald's Progressive Conservative playbook. Make no mistake, if it were not for the accounting shell game the Finance Minister would today move a $563 million deficit - $341 million of the early payment to universities.
The NDP Government has presented a plan, but let's be clear, the plan is to continually go into debt. Take a look in the Estimates Book Page 1.11, as we move from $13.5 billion to $14.9 billion in three years' time. That's the plan. Just as they said they wouldn't do, they will add $1.4 billion.
This was a great weekend for most of us. We had time to be home, time to be with grandchildren, but today this is a cruel message for our grandchildren - pick up another $1.4 billion as this government continues to spend, spend.
This government has told Nova Scotians that life will be more expensive. But for the NDP Government they have chosen the easy way for themselves - add a tax. Tax increases are the easy way for this NDP Government to avoid coming to terms with governing, but this is the choice this government has taken - higher taxes for everyone. But on anything of substance, the NDP has remained silent. Nova Scotians expected real change after the last election and are now sorely disappointed. Under the NDP Government, life is more expensive for Nova Scotia families. This budget is not a better deal for the middle class of Nova Scotia.
By now we are all well aware that increasing the consumption tax will have a negative effect on businesses across the province. During the election campaign, the NDP
acknowledged that Nova Scotians were driving across the border and into New Brunswick to escape our costly tax system. They promised to reverse this trend; however, today, the NDP has just sent countless more Nova Scotians into New Brunswick to do their shopping. Just as the NDP broke the promises they made to Nova Scotians when they said they could balance the budget - remember that, just about a year ago? - without increasing taxes or cutting spending, the NDP has now turned their back on Cumberland County.
The NDP should consider changing the line on our licence plates to Canada's Tax Playground. Our province already has difficulty attracting and retaining skilled health and mental health professionals, yet this NDP Government is now increasing their tax burden. Seniors and low-income Nova Scotians now see more measures of protection, which is a good thing from the HST hike - it could, in fact, be cost-neutral for them, but they will have to wait for their rebates while their bills are due today. Small business is going to get a small break in this budget and we applaud the government, to a certain degree, for accepting our position to lower the small business tax rates. But it is precisely these entrepreneurs who are going to be hit by the consumption tax hike.
Today, the NDP Government has made our great province where we live, work, and play a more expensive place; in fact a unique tax zone in Canada - 15 per cent GST. The HST combined tax - 15 per cent. This is unique, and they announce it as if restoring the HST to 15 per cent is a good thing. Well, this government will certainly find out and we look forward to speaking as we analyze the budget in the coming days.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I will adjourn debate.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a motion to adjourn debate on the Budget Address.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
We are now going to return to the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cumberland South.
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, here we are on day six and, as the House would know, as a result of the headline that says, "Dexter says he'd keep Tory promises" -
of course they've been broken for the last 10 months - a petition is circulating in Cumberland County that says:
"We, the residents of Cumberland County implore that Premier Darrell Dexter keep his word and build a correctional facility in Cumberland County!"
Mr. Speaker, there are 125 names signed to this, bringing it to a total of 347, and I have affixed my signature.
MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.
I should mention that I forgot at the very start, under Rule 5(5), the late debate topic, the resolution reads:
Therefore be it resolved that the taxes of Nova Scotians should not be raised to pay for the deficit the NDP created in their first year in government.
It was submitted by the honourable member for Cumberland South and that will be debated at the moment of interruption at 6:00 p.m. or whichever comes sooner.
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
MR. SPEAKER: I do want to table this small document - it's an addendum to the Financial Information & Statistics, Volume II, Elections Nova Scotia that had been tabled here earlier and there's a small erratum on the back. I think most members now have it. So I will table that.
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Mr. Speaker, if I may be permitted an introduction before I read this motion.
MR. SPEAKER: Certainly.
MR. PREYRA: In the gallery opposite today is Pam Cooley, one of the founders of CarShareHFX. Pam has the dubious distinction of having won at auction a day with me. Pam is no stranger to this House; she was a Page in this Legislature 25 years ago. She also happens to be the great-great-granddaughter of Sir William Annand, who was Premier of Nova Scotia when we joined Confederation. I'd like to have her rise and receive the warm applause of this House. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island.
RESOLUTION NO. 167
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas in 2008 Pam Cooley and Peter Zimmer brought car sharing to Atlantic Canada with the launch of CarShareHFX, to provide affordable and flexible transportation options to the people of Halifax; and
Whereas car sharing is crucial to the long-term health of our urban communities and economy, and CarShareHFX is giving businesses and residents of Halifax the option of 24/7 access to vehicle mobility without the cost of ownership; and
Whereas CarShareHFX was honoured by a Gold Award for New Business of the Year by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce at their 10th Annual Business Awards on January 28, 2010;
Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly congratulate Pam Cooley, Peter Zimmer, and CarShareHFX on their business success and for providing ecologically friendly, affordable, and flexible transportation options to the people of Halifax.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for Dartmouth East on an introduction.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Mr. Speaker, I'd like to draw everybody's attention - I guess that's still part of your gallery up there - to the Speaker's Gallery. Councillor Darren Fisher, from my old seat, East Dartmouth-The Lakes, and there were a number of other councillors here earlier, but he's still here and enjoying the proceedings.
MR. SPEAKER: We welcome the councillor to the session here today and hope he enjoys the proceedings.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
RESOLUTION NO. 168
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas coal mining disasters chronicle Nova Scotia's history, dating back many years; and
Whereas Nova Scotians today can share the grief and anguish being suffered by families in Montcoal, West Virginia, where the death in a coal mine explosion has claimed 25 lives, with four other miners still missing; and
Whereas the West Virginia explosion looks as if it will become the deadliest in the United States since one in Hyden, Kentucky, 40 years ago in 1970;
Therefore be it resolved that all members in this House of Assembly recognize the anxiety and sorrow being felt by family members and all residents of West Virginia today as the result of yesterday's mine explosion, and through this resolution extend our deepest sympathies to the State of West Virginia through the office of Governor Joe Manchin.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice, and I would also ask for a moment of silence for these miners and all miners who have lost their lives in the very dangerous coal mining.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
[A moment of silence was observed.]
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you.
The honourable Minister of Justice.
RESOLUTION NO. 169
HON. ROSS LANDRY: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the member for Pictou West, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas women's hockey is one of the fastest growing sports in Canada today; and
Whereas Carmen MacDonald, 17-year-old daughter of Alan and Kelly MacDonald of Bayview, Pictou County, was chosen as one of two goalies for the Canadian Women's Under-18 Hockey team; and
Whereas Carmen started in nets on April 2nd and April 3rd in Chicago as Canada won the gold medal in the World Women's Under-18 Hockey Championship, with a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory win over the U.S.A.;
Therefore be it resolved that Nova Scotia's Legislative Assembly congratulate Carmen MacDonald of Pictou County on her starring role in nets for Canada, helping to win the gold medal in the World Women's Under-18 Hockey Championship and setting a great example for all young women now playing hockey in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
RESOLUTION NO. 170
HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the North Sydney Ministerial Association presented the Journey of the Cross, a re-enactment of the journey Christians believe Jesus made on Good Friday; and
Whereas this presentation is an important part of Easter celebrations in the community, in fact, attracting spectators from across Cape Breton; and
Whereas this event promoted ecumenical friendship and fellowship on a day of remembrance and reflection for Christians across Nova Scotia;
Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate the North Sydney Ministerial Association for their continued efforts in organizing such a meaningful event, and thank members and adherents of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Presbyterian, and Seventh Day Adventist Churches for their ecumenical unity to share the Easter message.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for Cumberland South.
RESOLUTION NO. 171
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas on Wednesday the Premier made an offer to me to work together to address issues of concern in Cumberland County; and
Whereas the issue of cross-border shopping with New Brunswick is detrimental to the businesses of Cumberland County and the government has made overtures to remedy the situation; and
Whereas people from Cumberland County continue to purchase gas, milk, tobacco, and many other goods and items in New Brunswick because of price inequities between Cumberland County and New Brunswick;
Therefore be it resolved that the House of Assembly request the Premier to convene a committee of local engaged citizens, development agencies, businesses, chambers of commerce, boards of trade, and the Department of Economic and Rural Development to propose solutions to address the plight of cross-border shopping and the effect it is having on Cumberland County businesses and the loss of revenue to Nova Scotia that the Premier could use to resolve issues within Nova Scotia or with the Council of Atlantic Premiers on a regional basis, by working together with our Atlantic partners on mutual issues.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.
Is it agreed?
I hear several Noes.
The notice is tabled.
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS
MR. SPEAKER: The time now is 3:24 p.m. and Question Period will go until 4:24 p.m.
The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
HON. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. Last week the URB soundly dismissed the government's misguided plan to create a special zone at the border to accommodate high gas prices. Come July 1st, this government will have made the problem even worse. So my question to the Premier is, what are you going to do to solve the cross-border shopping issue which you have just made worse?
HON. DARRELL DEXTER (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, I know that the honourable Leader of the Official Opposition would have heard the Minister of Finance address this question very specifically in his Budget Speech.
He, in fact, will be travelling, I believe next week, to Cumberland County to meet with business leaders, council members there, to talk about that specific issue. We, of course, recognize that this is a challenge for the Amherst area, for that part of Cumberland County, and indeed what we were attempting to do, or trying to do of course, was to find a way in order to try to help address that. Unfortunately, the URB decision was not all that we would have liked it to have been, but we're considering the ramifications of that as well.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, what started out in June as a problem in Cumberland County will now spread across our province - we have become even less competitive with our closest neighbour.
My question to the Premier is, you say that you will travel to Cumberland County to talk to those unhappy Nova Scotians, what will you say to the retailers across this province who will now lose customers to New Brunswick because of your tax and grab today?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the results of the budget today is good news for Nova Scotians - it strengthens us as a province and it means that we are taking a realistic approach to what is a structural budget deficit that would have hit $1.4 billion had we not taken the measures that we have taken. Ultimately, being able to deal with the finances of the province in a responsible way will strengthen our economy. That is the plan for this government, to strengthen the economy, to strengthen the province - that will lead to a more competitive province.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, we are an uncompetitive province - you cancelled the comprehensive tax review, and you have just made this province unattractive to professionals. We already have a problem attracting doctors and other specialists. We have the second highest tuition, second highest student debt and, for all of that, this government just created the highest tax burden on those professionals in this province. So my question to the Premier is, what is your plan to keep those well-educated professionals, who we already have difficulty keeping in this province now?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, this budget does not do that; in fact, it does the opposite. It, in fact, does away with the surtax on the very professionals that he is talking about. What it also does is it reconfirms our commitment to the graduate tax credit to ensure that there is incentive for young people to stay here in the province, put down roots and live here.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. Yesterday, April 5, 2010, at 8:42 p.m., Nova Scotia New Democratic Party President Peggy Mahon sent an e-mail to NDP supporters, and I will table a copy of that e-mail. The e-mail discussed what can only be deemed as specific budget information and gave details of how such would be implemented. My question to the Premier is, how did this individual come into possession of sensitive budget material a day before the budget was released?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, well, I'm going to get a chance to have a look at that e-mail and I would be happy to respond to the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party's question.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, I believe the member should have a copy of that, it did go to all members.
The fact is and it remains that Mrs. Mahon is not a member of Cabinet, she is not an elected government official, yet she had information contained in the budget well before the budget's release and she shared that information with supporters of the NDP. My question to the Premier is, how was this individual able to share confidential information with the privileged few 17 hours before the Minister of Finance made that information known to Nova Scotians and to members of this House?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I will repeat, I am unaware of the e-mail with respect to what the Interim Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party speaks. I'll be happy to review the correspondence and reply to the honourable member.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, this is another example of how this government is acting in its own interest rather than that of Nova Scotians. Although the NDP claims to represent the interests of the average Nova Scotian, they have apparently shared confidential information with only a few parties select. My final question to the Premier is, why does this government see certain members of the public more deserving of that information than others?
THE PREMIER: Again, Mr. Speaker, I am unaware of the e-mail that the honourable member refers to. I'm happy to review it and to respond to her questions.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
PREM. - CIVIL SERV. REDUCTION: NON-UNIONIZED EMPLOYEES
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, today a well-designed leak has made non-union employees very uneasy. This government says it will eliminate 1,000 jobs over four years. Non-unionized civil servants have not been treated fairly so far by this NDP Government. Their wage increases were rolled back while their unionized counterparts got increases, close to 10 per cent in some cases. My question for the Premier is, will non-unionized workers bear the burden of the reduction in the civil service?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, as we have set out and as the Finance Minister set out in his Budget Speech, the reductions will take place as a result of attrition in the workforce. They will be done in a way that makes sense. As he also pointed out, he did not expect there would be any lay-offs.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, so far this government has been generous with unionized workers and just the opposite with non-unionized employees. My question for the Premier is, what criteria will be used to determine which vacant position will be deemed redundant?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I would hope it would be the criteria that the member opposite would agree with. It will be matters of efficiency, matters of good management. The idea will be to use the money that we have more efficiently. Where we are able to eliminate positions through attrition, then we're going to take that opportunity in order to act responsibly with the money the people of Nova Scotia give to the government.
MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, an expenditure management team will be sent out into departments to make cuts - you could call it a hit squad. My question to the Premier is, in the spirit of openness and transparency and fairness, will you release the names of those people on the cutting crew?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, an expenditure management initiative is designed to, over four years, achieve the kinds of savings in government that the people of Nova Scotia would expect a responsible government to take. They will not be done in a callous or unfair way. We will look at where we can achieve efficiencies, where we can better provide service to the people of Nova Scotia and reduce those positions as they come available through attrition. I would think that is what the members opposite would want us to do.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
GOV'T. (NDP): CONVENTION CENTRE - STANCE
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. From day one, the NDP Government has refused to state whether it supports in principle the Halifax
convention centre project. It seems the Premier would rather leave this important downtown development in limbo, instead turning to platitudes about conceptual drawings and such. My question for the Premier is, by ignoring the convention centre in this year's Budget Speech, is your government sending a clear signal to the municipality that it does not support the project?
THE PREMIER: No, Mr. Speaker, we're not.
MR. YOUNGER: Well thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island and the member for Halifax Chebucto are NDP backbenchers who seem to be leading the anti-development movement to stop this new project, so my question to the Premier is, do those two members speak for the NDP caucus on this matter?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, decisions that are made by our caucus are made by our full caucus. The decisions that are made by the Executive Council are, of course, made by the Executive Council. When we have a project to consider, we'll consider it.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Speaker, that doesn't seem like much of a way to answer when their two backbench MLAs are speaking out of turn, or speaking for government. In any case, it seems that the NDP caucus and the Cabinet are looking for any way to get around making a decision on what appears to be a troubling issue for this Cabinet.
Now the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has said on a couple of occasions that Cabinet will meet and make a decision on April 19th. My question for the Premier is, will the Premier and his government commit to making a public decision on April 19th, as has been reported in both The Metro and The Halifax ChronicleHerald?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, in fact there is a deadline for the proponent to deal with the RFP. Of course once we receive the results of the RFP, we'll need an opportunity to actually review it, to actually look at whether or not there is a project there that can be supported by the provincial government, to find out, for example, what the contribution of the municipality would be, what the contribution of the federal government would be. None of those things has been determined so this government will take, as always, a reasonable and a responsible approach to all of these issues, including the convention centre.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
ERD: HIGH-SPEED INTERNET - TIME FRAME
MR. CHUCK PORTER: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is for the Minister of Economic and Rural Development. Will the minister explain to the thousands of Nova Scotians promised high-speed Internet by December 31, 2009, when they can expect it?
HON. PERCY PARIS: Mr. Speaker, broadband is on track, to be completed by some time around the end of June.
MR. PORTER: Mr. Speaker, through you, again, to the Minister of Economic and Rural Development. The former government had a signed agreement with companies that were going to provide high-speed Internet by December 31, 2009. The agreement stipulated that any delay in that service would mean the companies would be forced to pay heavy fines. Will the minister inform Nova Scotians whether these companies have been forced to live up to their end of the agreement and pay the fines?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce to the House that as of this date, we have not enforced the fines. However, that should not be misinterpreted that the fines could still be in effect.
MR. PORTER: Mr. Speaker, I asked the question today on behalf of many Nova Scotians. I have received numerous letters - I'll table one of those today as well - of people waiting for this. There was a commitment made, fines were supposed to be paid, and I ask the question because to date that information has not been made public, despite requests through Public Accounts and Freedom of Information. He said no fines were paid, thank you very much for that answer. Again I'll ask, do we have some kind of guarantee that you are saying by the end of June, minister - through you, Mr. Speaker, to the minister - by the end of June. Is that a confirmed date now, with the new agreement in place?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Speaker, with respect to broadband, it was very difficult for us to live to fulfill a promise that was made by another government. We attempted to do so and unfortunately - because this is the first time that Internet connection has ever happened in North America, in the world, to this extent, and right now we have become the model for the world. As a matter of fact, even as we speak, with 95 per cent to 96 per cent of the people connected, we are receiving requests at Economic and Rural Development for broadband, for us to be guest speakers all around the world. As far as the fines are concerned, I reiterate that we haven't enacted the fines, however, this can still hold their feet to the fire. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
PREM: BARRISTERS' SOC. FEES - DETAILS
HON. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. Last week, after three days of being asked the question, the Premier finally seemed to suggest that taxpayers have been paying his Barristers' Society fees since 2006. In the interest of clarity so all Nova Scotians can understand, my question to the Premier is, what year did Nova Scotia taxpayers start paying your Barristers' Society fees?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I believe the previous government took on that allowance in 2006, you're quite correct.
MR. MCNEIL: You see, Mr. Speaker, that wasn't so hard. I bet he even feels a bit liberated by that. My next question to the Premier is, what is the total amount that taxpayers have laid out to pay your Barristers' Society fees?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I don't have that exact figure but I'm happy to get it to the member.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, I will table the press clipping that was about the Premier's Barristers' Society fees. It suggests that taxpayers shelled out more than $10,000 for the Premier's fees. So my question to the Premier is, will you reimburse the taxpayers of Nova Scotia that $10,000?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, that allowance, like many allowances that were put in place by the previous government, were reviewed when we came in. We terminated that as we did, for example, the $1,050 non-receiptable allowance, and this was an allowance which of course was one that was of great benefit to the people in my constituency.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
PREM.: SYDNEY HBR. DREDGING/C.B. & CENTRAL N.S. RAILWAY
MR. ALFIE MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is for the Premier. The commercialization of the Sydney Harbour as part of the Atlantic Gateway includes the dredge of the harbour as well as continued support for the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railroad. Dredging is estimated at approximately $35 million to $40 million with a provincial contribution of 40 per cent, or $15 million. Meanwhile, the last railroad agreement provided up to $10 million over a five-year period for the railway. In total, this represents a $25 million investment needed from the province.
My question to the Premier is this, are you prepared to invest the $25 million, assuming all due diligence is met surrounding the business case for both Cape Breton priorities - yes or no?
THE PREMIER: Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm not going to give a yes or no answer to a question that is, as he points out, a complex one. We want to see what the business case is, we want to see what the contributions are of the various potential proponents. When we see what those are, we'll have a look at it.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, during the election the Premier made promises and committed to support the railroad and the dredge of the harbour. Now both seem to be in
question and the community is looking for genuine leadership to address these two top regional priorities. My question to the Premier is, what happened between the campaign trail and the Cabinet Room or is this another Darrell in Wonderland excuse?
MR. SPEAKER: I would ask the honourable member to retract personal or Christian names. We can use, as I said the other day, the last name of governments like the MacDonald Government, the Dexter Government, but first names are not acceptable.
MR. MACLEOD: My apologies, Mr. Speaker, and my question is, or is this another Premier in Wonderland moment?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, in fact, instead of doing what the previous government did - which was to simply make commitments without knowing what they were going to cost or even understanding their ramifications - we are actually undertaking appropriate negotiations. We are waiting until we see projects in their entirety and we are doing the analysis based on the ability of the province to actually pay for the commitments that are made. That is what we will continue to do.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, that sounded like a definite maybe, but during the campaign it was yes, whatever you want, yes, we'll do it. The Premier once spoke with conviction about these issues; now it's caution from him and careless musings from his Minister of Economic and Rural Development. The community has done its part and it is expecting this government, the Dexter NDP Government, to do their part. Will the Premier stop playing politics and demonstrate leadership to and for the people of Cape Breton? He either is or isn't in favour of these initiatives. What is it, Mr. Premier, stimulus or stone-walling?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, that question actually represents all that was wrong with the previous government. (Applause) The reality is that we intend (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, order, please. The honourable Premier has the floor.
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, that also is what represents the members opposite - the way that they respond to these matters. Rather than actually looking at something from the perspective of good financial management, they would instead expect that they will make commitments without even knowing what the ramifications are. Well, Mr. Speaker, that is not what we're going to do.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. I trust the minister had a good long weekend and soaked up some of the sun, perhaps in an Adirondack chair in Kings South while reading the Utility and Review Board ruling on gas pricing in Cumberland. Would the minister now tell the House what she has concluded after reading the ruling and what she intends to recommend to Cabinet on the matter?
HON. RAMONA JENNEX: Mr. Speaker, I will be discussing this with colleagues, and I was not soaking up the sun in Kings South - I had an enjoyable trip to Toronto to visit friends. I have read the report and will be passing my recommendations on with my colleagues and will be able to bring that forward when we make a decision. Thank you.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Speaker, as the minister will know from reviewing that report, the board cited Nova Scotia's higher taxes across all consumable goods as being the biggest challenge businesses face. Nova Scotians pay among the highest taxes in Canada on all manner of items - now even higher, thanks to the Minister of Finance.
Today this government has broken its promise to Nova Scotians, a promise that said it would not raise taxes. The member for Cumberland North, backed by the Premier, promised the NDP would address higher prices in the Amherst area, and it seems the way they're going to address that is to have the Minister of Finance pay them a visit.
Mr. Speaker, does the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations agree with the decision by the Minister of Finance to raise the HST today, and does she agree that it will actually further increase the spread of gasoline prices between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Speaker, I support our Minister of Finance 100 per cent.
MR. YOUNGER: Well Mr. Speaker, it appears the Dexter bus has claimed another victim - the member for Cumberland North. Sorry, good luck to him in explaining how his government's solution to higher gas prices is to raise the tax on everything else as well, so everything is more expensive.
The Leader of the Official Opposition told the NDP during the election that the gas promise was bad policy and would just move the border, pitting community against community, and the NDP didn't listen. The Utility and Review Board has now said that the gas promise was bad policy. My question to the minister is, will the government listen to the common-sense solution of the board and respect the decision of the Utility and Review Board on the border gas pricing?
MS. JENNEX: Mr. Speaker, as I said, we will be discussing this, and as soon as I have made a decision, we will bring that forward.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
TIR: RAIL SERV./SYDNEY HBR. DREDGING - SUPPORT
MR. KEITH BAIN: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is for the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. It is evident that the Dexter NDP has not acted during this recessionary period to secure and develop key regional infrastructure, such as the railway in Cape Breton and the dredging of Sydney Harbour. The minister is aware that the Railway Act has regulatory authority, which the province can exercise if needed. Since the Premier and the Minister of Economic and Rural Development have not acted appropriately, can the minister inform this House what steps or measures he has taken to support the continuation of rail service and the dredging of Sydney Harbour?
HON. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for this question on the topic of infrastructure renewal. I want you to know that the Cabinet in which I serve looks at the matter seriously. We look at the issues, we make the decisions, and again, this is an important decision when infrastructure renewal - particularly when it comes to the railway, that is an important part of infrastructure.
Let me assure you, when the information is properly collected we will make the decision that will be best for Cape Bretoners. I want you to know that I have had the opportunity, either through a teleconference recently and other obvious opportunities with the member for Cape Breton Centre, when he sat with me and we listened to the presentation of Cape Bretoners as they very clearly made their views known. That is the sort of information that we need as a Cabinet, and that is the sort of information that will eventually be used so we can make the correct decisions on that important piece of infrastructure.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Speaker, support for rail operations and maintenance must also be balanced with fairness for landowners and users along the rail line. Leases, fees, and service charges have been a concern to residents, and some adjustments were made to leases and crossing fees to bring charges in line with those of CN throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. One further concern is the cost of having utilities cross over or under the rail line. My question to the minister is, has he taken any action to review these concerns with the railway and if not, will he?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, again, thank you to the member opposite. You know, in the various duties that you have in this particular Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal responsibilities, one of the more interesting meetings that I had during my initial time is collecting information on important issues such as this with Ken Jardine and the group from Cape Breton as they looked at these important issues.
Mr. Jardine very thoroughly represented the cause and made sure that the options were made available to the department. Because of some of those pieces of advice, it was decided that the Utility and Review Board would be an appropriate place when we looked at the matter of fees, and I want the member opposite to know that Mr. Jardine completely supports the fact that that's where it should be. That's the very group, that's the very body that should be making that decision. Mr. Jardine and the group that are supporting these crossing fees are looking at fair crossing fees. I want you to know that they have been extremely professional, they've been extremely patient, and I look forward to continuing to work with them.
MR. BAIN: Mr. Speaker, a balanced approach is being sought to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of rail service in conjunction with the commercialization of Sydney Harbour as an Atlantic Gateway Initiative. There is concern that the Dexter NDP are focused on the Port of Halifax as their single priority. Can the minister inform this House that this is not the case and confirm that Cape Breton will not be inflicted with the same treatment as Yarmouth has received.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to the member opposite. I don't think it's appropriate to use the comparison with the Yarmouth situation, it's been with some tough decisions made. Those decisions were based on information that appeared in front of the Cabinet.
I want that member opposite to know, and I want members on that side of the House to know, that Cape Breton and its priority issues will not be forgotten on this side of the House, because of Cape Breton Nova, because of the member for Cape Breton Centre. Those members speak up regularly, speak up conscientiously and speak up with passion about their island and how important it is. We will not forget Cape Breton, I want you to know. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member for Cape Breton South.
COM. SERV.: HFX. ASSOC. FOR COMMUN. LIVING
HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Community Services. In an answer to a question put forward by the honourable member for Richmond last Thursday, the Minister of Community Services stated, and I quote, "Mr. Speaker, I'm always available to meet with anybody in this province who has a concern to be addressed, certainly."
Well, Mr. Speaker, I have a letter, which I will table, to the Minister of Community Services, responding to requests from the Halifax Association for Community Living from
the minister to the group. It says: Unfortunately I will be unable to meet with you in the near future. She suggests her staff will be available to meet instead.
My question to the minister is, if the minister says she'll meet with anybody in the province with a concern, why won't she meet with this important organization?
HON. DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Speaker, I did not say in that letter that I would not meet with them, I said that because of my schedule, presently I wasn't able to meet with them but to expediate the situation - most people are interested in getting in to speak with somebody in Community Services - I offered them an alternative to take and discuss their issue with the staff, which they will fully brief me on. Thank you.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: What she said, Mr. Speaker, was she would send the staff instead, if they wanted to meet with the staff. They didn't write to the staff, they wrote to the minister and I would expect that the minister should honour that.
By the way, for the minister's edification, the word is expedite.
Mr. Speaker, I have an e-mail, and I'll table that as well, from Wendell Fraser, a foster parent in New Waterford, concerning a letter he sent to the Minister of Community Services. He sent the letter to the minister on September 10th. As of February 28th, Mr. Wendell Fraser had not received a response, despite a second follow-up letter almost six months since the first letter.
My question to the minister is, why won't the minister respond to letters her office receives in a reasonable amount of time? Six months is not reasonable.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Speaker, of course we get hundreds of letters and hundreds of e-mails. I would like to ask for that letter to be tabled because it is very important to me, as the minister, to have the answers and the responses in a quick manner. We do have a system in place and that one might have fallen through the cracks, I don't know until I go back to staff and ask them about that. Thank you.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Well, no matter how many letters fall through the cracks, Mr. Speaker, six months waiting for an answer is not reasonable. I'm sure that is little comfort to Wendell Fraser, a foster parent from New Waterford, who is still waiting for his answer.
Mr. Speaker, it is unacceptable for the Minister of Community Services to ignore these community advocates. They do important work in our community and they deserve to have respect and access to government ministers, including this particular Minister of Community Services. My final supplementary to the minister is, will the minister make a
concerted effort to respond to letters and make good on her word to meet with Nova Scotians with concerns about Community Services issues?
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to make it very clear that I read every e-mail that I receive, I see every letter. There's a system in place to reply to them and often I actually reply to them, so I have been probably one of the most accessible ministers that this province has seen in a long time. I have met with an enormous amount of groups and they've been very happy about that. We have hundreds and hundreds of people who would like to meet with me and I'm doing everything in my power during the time in order to make that available to those people.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.
HPP: H1N1 IMMUNIZATION - PERCENTAGE
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health Promotion and Protection and it is about the H1N1 inoculation program that we had in place last Fall. In a year-end story in The ChronicleHerald, Dr. Strang indicated that just over 50 per cent of the population of Nova Scotia had been immunized and that immunization would continue in the new year. We know that it has been reported in New Brunswick that 60 per cent of its population has been inoculated and it has been suggested that it's one of the highest jurisdictions in the world. Given that the dust has now settled on the H1N1 inoculations, I wonder if the minister could indicate what percentage of Nova Scotia's population has been immunized now for H1N1?
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for the question. We're still getting paperwork in from around the province with respect to the vaccination program. What I can tell the honourable member is that we have distributed enough vaccine to immunize 65 per cent of the population of Nova Scotia.
MS. WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, as the minister is aware, there was some criticism raised at the time of the inoculation and immunization clinics that we weren't immunizing in our schools like our neighbours in New Brunswick were doing. Some districts utilized physicians while others were late in establishing that network. Although many people worked very hard and we acknowledge that, I think it's important that we do ask whether or not we could have done better in the wake of this.
Another issue which we're interested in exploring today is the cost of those H1N1 mass vaccination clinics. So could the minister please indicate today the total cost to government and that would be to the Department of Health in particular, excluding the district health authorities, for the mass H1N1 vaccination program?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I'm probably more aware than many people of the issues that arose around the immunization program, including some of the, I would say somewhat over-exuberant claims that were made in this House about the weaknesses in a program that actually went very well, given that it was the largest immunization ever undertaken in the history of the province.
Mr. Speaker, we don't have a final cost for the program but our estimate at the moment is that approximately $23 million was spent for all of the vaccines, the ventilators and the health human resources that were affiliated with the H1N1 program.
MS. WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, what I was looking for was the cost for the Department of Health so that we could then look at the cost individually for the district health authorities. So I'm not too sure if the minister's comment means the $23 million is the global cost, as far as you know, and if you could just clarify that because my question would have been to ask you now what is it for the district health authorities and also could you confirm whether or not the districts have been reimbursed for any of their costs at this time?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, what sometimes is not well understood is that there were two departments involved in H1N1. The Department of Health managed essentially our health care system - the clinics that were occurring like the assessment clinics, to divert people from the emergency rooms and really the intensive care units and what have you. Public Health is where the vaccination program occurred and Public Health is not in the Department of Health but it's in the Department of Health Promotion and Protection. So it's very complex looking at the finances across the two departments and we are still sorting through the information with respect to some of the specific costs in the DHAs.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. You have now been provided with a copy of the e-mail referenced in my earlier question and tabled in this House. You have now had time to read that. My question - and I will repeat - to the Premier is, how did this individual have access to confidential and embargoed information and who gave her permission to distribute?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I think it's probably because she read the Canadian Press story that was already on-line.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, knowing the information was confidential at the time it was distributed, what explanation do you have for a serious breach of protocol?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, it was hardly confidential, it had been filed by the Canadian Press, had been reported on by the CBC. I'm not sure why she thinks it is confidential. It wasn't confidential, it was information that was in the public domain. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, order please. The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has the floor.
MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, I would ask that the Premier read it himself because I think there is reference to wanting the Party members to have the information prior to. My question is, is this another example of this government trying to cover up, do damage control, for what they knew would be a very unpopular budget?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I don't know if she read the e-mail she sent over to me. It begins by saying, "You may have already heard on the news . . ." I'm not sure how much more clear that could be.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
MR. ANDREW YOUNGER: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Energy. The Wheeler report was released last winter. Many renewable energy suppliers are waiting to see how the minister will respond to this report, yet we have heard very little from the minister and his department in terms of an official response and a plan. My question for the minister is, when will you be issuing your recommendations in response to the Wheeler report?
HON. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for this question. There is no doubt that Dr. David Wheeler did an absolutely fantastic job, particularly when it comes to collecting information, making sure that his report was thorough and had the detailed advice that as a minister - and I know as the critic for the Official Opposition, who with some probable delight when we looked at these recommendations - because he very clearly laid out some good alternatives for us to have a very good look at. That's where we are at this stage as we review this with the staff.
We continue to look at where we're going to go, particularly with some other more specific recommendations when it comes to such things as Efficiency Nova Scotia Corporation and various other recommendations. These are things that will be in the fullness
of time, I assure you. There will be a response from the department but at this stage, we're still looking at one recommendation after another.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Speaker, I'm glad to hear there will be a response at some point in the future, but with each passing day opportunities in the renewable energy sector in Nova Scotia are lost. At a recent Resources Committee meeting Minas Basin Pulp and Paper Co. Ltd. said they need feed-in tariffs as recommended by Wheeler and the ability to sell directly to retail is recommended repeatedly by independent studies in the minister's own department. Wheeler's report suggests 15 per cent of renewable energy should come from biomass yet offers no justification for this number and no analysis on what a sustainable level of biomass harvest would be in Nova Scotia.
Yesterday Nova Scotia Power Inc. announced plans that it's going to move ahead with further biomass projects after reaching an agreement with NewPage for a project in Port Hawkesbury and while the NewPage project may be sustainable by itself, it is unclear how many projects our province can sustain. Mr. Speaker, can the minister tell me why he's allowing Nova Scotia Power to plan additional biomass projects when your government has yet to provide any data or analysis that establishes exactly how much biomass can be sustainably harvested in this province?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite, of course, has the situation where there are many complex things involved in this particular file. When you sit in Opposition, having been there on occasion, we sat in Opposition, we had all the answers. We had all the answers. But let me tell you, this is a complicated file, whether it's biomass or feed-in tariffs.
Feed-in tariffs alone, if we want to look very clearly at it - and I have a new executive assistant and let me tell you when it comes to Cheryl Ratchford and the advice that she gives me on feed-in tariffs - we look at communities involved, we look at businesses involved, we look at First Nations involved. Those are some complex issues. They have to be done in a timely fashion and a fashion that's well organized and the rush of going about with all the answers to all the questions immediately, is not part of the responsibility of this particular minister, let me assure you.
MR. YOUNGER: Mr. Speaker, I would agree with the Minister of Energy that some of these issues are complex. But you look at renewable to retail, which has been recommended by the minister's own department for years, and yet they haven't moved on it. Isn't it interesting how in Opposition the NDP were very concerned about these issues and they needed to be dealt with immediately, yet now they're in government there's no need for immediate answers to anything.
Biomass is already part of Nova Scotia's energy future, but it must be done right. Biomass is only a green energy source under the right conditions. It appears though that by
the time the government makes a decision, industry will have already made the decisions on how much biomass this province will be moving ahead with. Mr. Speaker, why are Nova Scotians, and in particular woodland owners, still waiting for this government to determine and announce an annual sustainable biomass harvest?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member again for the question. I will agree with him on this point, it's a steep learning curve and you've done a good job since you've been here. It must be done right. That will not be a point of dispute. But when you do something correctly, you do it in a timely fashion, you do it in a fashion with the proper pace, the proper information and when the decision is made, it's the correct decision.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Argyle.
PREM. - YARMOUTH MAYOR/COUNCILLOR: MEETING
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, my question today is to the Premier. The Premier indicated during Question Period last Thursday that he'll be travelling to Yarmouth to meet with town council. The decision to kill The Cat ferry was made in mid-December, this is the first time he's gone to Yarmouth to discuss economic development and the ferry situation with the municipalities. My question to the Premier is, who proposed the meeting with Mayor Mooney and the Yarmouth councillors, and why are you just meeting with municipal government?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, we have had ongoing discussions with many different organizations, many different people in Yarmouth. We have been talking to them about the plan forward and the fact that it is now time for the community and for southwest Nova Scotia to invest in a strategy that's going to strengthen the economy there.
As to who specifically proposed the meeting, I can't tell the member that. We've had so many discussions, and have been in those discussions for so long, it would be difficult to say who proposed it and when. Certainly, it was always part of the program. They've been to see me, as the member opposite knows, because he was at one of those meetings, that I've had plenty of correspondence and opportunity to discuss this situation with community leaders in Yarmouth.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, the communities affected have presented solutions to remedy this problem, but all of the offers have been shot down by this NDP Government. I'm glad to see your Economic and Rural Development Minister has finally woken up long enough that he should support MP Greg Kerr's initiative on Team Southwest; as a matter of fact, he was getting that wrong. He keeps calling it Team West, it's actually Team Southwest.
To the Premier, what are you, as Premier, planning to offer the communities of southwest Nova Scotia that have been severely impacted by the disastrous decision of you and your NDP Government?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the member actually refers to a different group, which is Team Southwest. Team West is actually an initiative of this government and I guess he obviously didn't know that.
Mr. Speaker, the reality is we are dedicated to the proposition that you need to strengthen the economy of southwest Nova Scotia, the initiatives that we will undertake. I've certainly made it clear to Minister Ashfield and to others that we're certainly prepared to work with them but we are going to move forward on initiatives that will actually strengthen southwest Nova Scotia, not ones that will simply put money into unsustainable operations.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, it also underlines a problem here, that we've got two initiatives going on now and we should have one concerted effort towards helping southwest Nova Scotia. ACOA, the federal government, set up Team Southwest, one that should have the full concentration by this government, as well as the federal government, to help the people of southwest Nova Scotia, to help the people of Yarmouth.
Mr. Speaker, my question to the Premier is, since you said no to every initiative that has come forward from the community, what commitments are you prepared to make to the communities of southwest Nova Scotia?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, obviously what we're prepared to do is to be committed to working with those communities, to working with that region to strengthen the economy but the only suggestion that comes forward from the member is that we keep putting money into a service which was declining, which had little or no benefit to the people of southwest Nova Scotia and which was essentially a waste of our money at a rate of something more than $400 for every person who got off the ferry in Yarmouth. We don't intend to continue to do that.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Richmond.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, there appears to be some level of confusion as to the site selection process that is being used by this government to build a new correctional facility somewhere in eastern Nova Scotia.
Mr. Speaker, late last month the Minister of Justice indicated that a site selection decision for a new correctional facility would be made in April. In fact, I believe he also
confirmed that they are now down to two sites in determining where the new facility will be built. Interestingly, today in the Truro Daily News the member for Truro-Bible Hill states that a site selection decision for a new correctional facility will actually be made in June. On top of that, she has indicated that they have now added a new site in Truro to the list of the site selection process for this new correctional facility.
My question to the Minister of Justice is, would he please indicate to us whether he has actually changed the date for a decision on the site for a new correctional facility and whether, in fact, the member for Truro-Bible Hill is correct in stating that a new site in Truro has been added to that list?
HON. ROSS LANDRY: Mr. Speaker, thank you to the member for the question. I wish to make some clarity to the issue before this House. There were seven sites and there are still seven sites on the list. They've narrowed it down to three where they're focusing on doing some testing. Due to the climatic conditions of our province, there were some delays in the process earlier. I mean if we had had this weather that we have had in the last week or so, we would probably have had it done but, unfortunately, January, February and a good part of March did not allow those that need to do the work to get the work done.
I did state, if you check the record, that it may get delayed and I had stated in this House on several occasions that the weather conditions and other types of barriers may delay the process. That is where we're at right now.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, it's one thing for the minister to say it will be made in April, but it may be delayed, and then to have his colleague, the member for Truro-Bible Hill say it will be made in June. It would appear that the member for Truro-Bible Hill certainly has much more certainty as to when the decision will be made than the actual minister.
Mr. Speaker, one of the issues here, as well, has been the silence of the member for Antigonish because Antigonish is one of the communities that stands to lose their existing correctional facility. I have a letter that was sent to the member for Antigonish from Warden Herb DeLorey of the County of Antigonish, calling on him to show leadership and to speak up for those people because of the lost tax revenue and tax base that would be available to them if the new facility were to be built in Antigonish, but as far as I can see, I have yet to hear the member for Antigonish raise that issue here in this House. So allow me, on behalf of the member for Antigonish and on behalf of the residents of the Strait area, will the minister confirm or deny whether Antigonish is one of the three sites still under consideration for the new correctional facility?
MR. LANDRY: It is my understanding that Antigonish was included as one of the seven. I have not sat down with the group that's doing the analysis to ask them which of the three sites - I will wait in anticipation for them to put the names forward for me, to have
further discussion and clarity on that issue, but I understand Antigonish was on it before and it's still there.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, there certainly seems to be much more confusion that exists in the Cabinet than there is in the backbench. We had the Premier earlier today telling us he had no idea of an e-mail sent yesterday from the president of the NDP, and he would have us believe that. We have the Minister of Justice telling us, I don't know which three sites have been finalized - but the member for Truro-Bible Hill says Truro is one of them. He doesn't know when a decision will be made on the site. The member for Truro-Bible Hill tells us it will be made in June. So my question again, who is going to make the decision on where the site for the new correctional facility will be - the Minister of Justice or the member for Truro-Bible Hill?
MR. LANDRY: To put clarity in that, there's a process in place and I'm allowing the process to work through and I'm not interfering in the process. When the sites are narrowed down and all the detail analysis has been completed, at that time recommendations will be moved forward and a decision will be made.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cumberland South.
TIR - COBEQUID PASS: ACCIDENT (04/05/06)
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, through you my question will be for the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. Yesterday on the Cobequid Pass, there was a motor vehicle accident which required the westbound lane to be shut down. Traffic was rerouted at Exit 8 after the tolls. So traffic would have traveled the highway and paid their toll, and then they were rerouted at Exit 8 through the Wentworth/Collingwood Road, which is a road that's closed for weight restrictions, and then on through to Wentworth. Can the minister explain why this road was used yesterday?
HON. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Cumberland South for the question. I know it's an issue of concern to him when it comes to the Cobequid Pass. I've been made aware of the response and the quick response by the police and the various other medical authorities that were there, and particularly I draw attention to Life Flight and how quickly it worked.
That decision was made by the RCMP on site. That decision, of course, has resulted in - from my being made aware of this, I know the member for Cumberland South probably is aware of it too, that there have been some concerns about the selection because of the damage to that particular route. Let me assure the member opposite that because of the decision that has been made - because of that decision or how it was made - that will be reviewed as one decision, but they are the experts on the scene, they are the experts there at
the accident, and any particular damage that's caused to that road will be looked at by the department.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, actually the minister did answer my last question. I was going to ask if they would take a look at that damage and have a review done. The residents would like to see the damage repaired. My question would be, is it going to be the taxpayers who pay that or will it be the bond holders of the Cobequid Pass who will actually pay for that damage that was caused by that unusual traffic for the area?
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time for Oral Question Period has expired.
The honourable member for Cumberland South.
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order that was actually raised last week by the Minister of Finance on Thursday. The Minister of Finance, as you will recall, rose and said that I had made some very disparaging remarks, unparliamentary remarks directed personally toward to him, he felt.
Mr. Speaker, although you haven't ruled on that yet and I understand you were not prepared to today, I did want to rise in my place and say, first of all, that the honourable member was right in one regard that I did make some unparliamentary remarks in the House and I apologize to the House for, but I want to say that they were not directed personally to the Minister of Finance.
I directed those comments, Mr. Speaker, to the government and what I do not apologize for is the decision of this government and the impact that it is having on Cumberland County and the people of this province. Raising taxes, broken promises, it goes on and on and on and for that, Mr.Speaker, I do not apologize and I will never apologize for those things. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Okay, thank you honourable member. You're right, I have not made a ruling yet on the points of orders that were raised last Thursday. I will on a future day, but I will take into consideration your remarks here this afternoon.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Government Motions.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, I move that the adjourned debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne be now resumed.
The honourable Minister of Health.
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to have an opportunity to rise in my place for a few moments in reply to the Speech from the Throne. First of all, I would like to congratulate and thank Her Honour for the dignified manner in which she carries out the considerable demands on her office. I, like many other people, often watch the small account in the Chronicle Herald of how she travels around the province and meets with many groups and I'm sure brings them a great deal of dignity and decorum to many of the events that she attends on behalf of her office.
Mr. Speaker, I also want to take an opportunity, before I speak to some of the issues that are important to me as a member representing Halifax Needham, to thank members of my constituency association executive for their support over the years. There are a number of us here in this Legislature who first arrived in this place in 1998, on March 24th, so it has been 12 years that I have had the privilege of being in this Legislature along with a number of other members, and when I reflect on that time, I'm always very mindful that I did not get here on my own.
I got here with the support of a small group of committed people, very dedicated to seeing that the North End of Halifax would be represented, here on the floor of this Assembly, with a member from the New Democratic Party, and I want to acknowledge their hard work, their dedication, their support, their friendship throughout a considerable period of time. I remind you, although I'm sure, Mr. Speaker, that you need no reminding, that during that period of time I think we experienced probably five elections: the 1998 election, the 1999 election, 2003, 2006 and then 2009. So really, quite a few general elections in a very short period of time, and these folks are the people who make it possible for us to come to this Assembly and do our work on behalf of our constituents in our community. So, additionally, Mr. Speaker, I do want to take an opportunity to thank the constituents of Halifax Needham.
As most members of this Chamber will know, Halifax Needham covers the geographic area of the North End of Halifax and a certain portion of central Halifax and I've always taken some delight in being able to stand in this Chamber and say that we make ships and beer in my constituency, because we have that kind of mixed - residential, industrial, commercial, manufacturing - one of the few places where we still see manufacturing in the province and in Halifax, in fact, right in the heart of north end Halifax. I like to say we also have the Navy, so that makes us a formidable force in this Assembly.
The constituency of Halifax Needham additionally has an amazing history. It's the part of Halifax that was devastated, for example, with the explosion in the Narrows, now commonly known as the Halifax Explosion. It's a situation, a tragedy that is remembered every December 6th in my community. I think the resilience of people in the north end of Halifax, following the explosion, is very much a tradition; that people who are descendants of families who lived in the north end of Halifax, and who saw the reconstruction of the north end of Halifax, are very mindful of a very resilient community, a very hardworking community, a very caring community, and very much a community of communities.
During African Heritage Month, I had the privilege of being at the community YMCA in my constituency the day that Mayor Peter Kelly assembled with the descendants of Africville and members of the Africville Geneology Society, along with my colleague, the Minister responsible for African Nova Scotian Affairs, and the Premier, and many other officials, to hear the official apology which was given to the former residents and descendants of Africville, along with the announcement to reconstruct a replica of Seaview United Baptist Church.
To be the member of the Legislature for that area on that particular date was truly a moving experience for me, something that I know people have worked very hard to see: a resolution to the kind of hurt and the kind of unresolved feelings and circumstances that people have felt with respect to the loss of their community. When I reflect back over the 12 years that I have had the privilege of representing Halifax Needham, I think about all of the incredible people I've met, the things I've learned about my community, and the opportunities and the occasions I've had to participate in those very kinds of seminal moments - really, Mr. Speaker, when you just feel so privileged to even be in the room with people who have such good motivation and who have worked so hard to realize their aspirations, whatever they may be. I think that's what makes the work that we do so wonderful in many respects.
We get into this place and sometimes the cut and thrust of Question Period and various debates, where things maybe don't go so well and people leave feeling a little bruised - it's back in our constituencies where we really do the work and really get to experience the very profoundly positive side of being a local, elected representative and making a contribution toward the work of people in our constituency.
Mr. Speaker, that brings me to the Speech from the Throne and some of the initiatives that are contained in the Speech from the Throne which I think will make a significant difference in the quality of life for many of the people in my constituency. I am very privileged to have in my constituency a large number of seniors, and when the honourable Finance Minister was speaking earlier he talked about seniors and the impact seniors in his
riding have had on him - and seniors in my constituency have had a considerable impact on me.
I know that the concerns that seniors have are the cost of living, the cost of electricity, for example. I know that they have benefited greatly from the removal of the provincial portion of the HST on their electricity, and I know that health care is probably one of their greatest concerns.
Many people are profoundly grateful that a lot of work had been done to make it possible for seniors to go into a long-term care facility and no longer have to pay the health care portion of their costs, but there are still many, many issues that seniors confront with respect to the health care system, including being able to have quick access to medical care. They are confronted sometimes by very long wait times and wait lists for procedures such as orthopaedic surgeries. I certainly hear this a lot, Mr. Speaker, and I am very pleased that I am in a position now where I can actually work on these problems with the district health authorities to improve wait times. This is certainly a commitment that our government made in the 2009 election and it is something that we are working very hard on. We believe it's not a problem that will be transformed overnight, but through good management and good practices and good planning we will see some significant changes in this area.
Mr. Speaker, as Minister of Health, I meet with a lot of different groups and organizations and I have a chance to talk to them about what my priorities are. I tell them that I essentially have five priorities - five things I would like to do. One of the things that certainly has to be done is we have to get our financial house in order in the Department of Health. When I say that I'm not talking about cutting programs and just ravishing the health care system with kind of a slash-and-burn approach. That is not acceptable to me or to members of this government; however we think that there are many sensible things that can be done to improve the financial planning and management of our health care system.
I, as Minister of Health, am not very satisfied with some of the things that I have found in the Department of Health. The overrun of the Colchester hospital is, I think, one of the perhaps most serious examples, but nevertheless it is a significant example of financial planning or a lack of management, something that has gone dreadfully wrong when a hospital has essentially doubled in cost from what it was originally planned for, so we have been spending far beyond our means and we can't sustain that kind of spending. The needs of people in our province are too great, particularly with respect to our health care system, to continue on like this. It's awfully tough to have to say no to very legitimate requests for support when you know that money has not been properly managed or planned in the past. It would be wonderful to have had those resources to put into areas where there are very legitimate concerns, but the reality is that some bad decisions were made and now there is a lack of finances to deal with that. Getting our own financial house in order in the Department of Health is a very important element of being able to provide good health care and we are working on this diligently.
The second thing that I tell people is a priority for me is keeping the campaign promises we made to the people of Nova Scotia in the 2009 election. I'm very pleased to say that in the first year we had made four commitments.
We committed to hire an emergency room adviser, which we did - we hired Dr. John Ross and he will be reporting shortly with an interim report with respect to emergency room care around the province.
We also made a commitment that we would eliminate security deposits in long-term care and this was done - a number of months ago, we announced that we were eliminating security deposits. This was very favorably received, particularly by the public. I had calls from individuals all around the province who had family members in long-term care facilities who had paid a significant amount of money in order to get a family member into a long-term care facility. Mr. Speaker, not having money to put a security deposit down to get access to health care should never have been a barrier. Why any government would ever have allowed that practice is beyond me, but it was allowed and it is no longer allowed - we have eliminated that, as we promised to do.
We also introduced an Emergency Department Accountability Act with respect to emergency room care and that legislation was tabled here in the Fall. As a result of that legislation there have been some public meetings around the province with DHAs and communities, looking at how better primary health care, as well as emergency health care, may be provided to people. I will be tabling a report coming out of some of those community meetings before this session ends.
The last commitment that we made for last year with respect to the health care system was to introduce a travel and accommodation allowance for people who require health care that's not available in Nova Scotia and they have to leave the province. I'm pleased to say that that commitment has been kept as well.
In this Speech from the Throne we made a number of new commitments that will see an improvement in the health care system. A rapid response unit will be set up to assist in the flow of people moving through the emergency room here in the Capital District Health Authority. They're already using such a model in Cape Breton. I had the opportunity with the deputy Premier to tour the Cape Breton Regional Hospital. We met with physicians, a head nurse and other personnel in the emergency room there and they've been using this system for awhile and it works very well. The problems they had with people backing up in the emergency department has significantly improved to the point where they really no longer have a problem. This rapid assessment unit will be established here in the capital region to reduce wait times.
Another thing that was in the Speech from the Throne, and will make a great difference, is an Emergency Department Protection Fund. This was something that we made a commitment to during the provincial election. This will allow some short-term and particular initiatives to occur in various places around the province where they need, not a system response, but something that's more tailored to the situation that a local community might find with respect to their emergency room. We think this will make a significant difference.
We also have made a commitment to have more nurse practitioners in the long-term care sector. Northwood Incorporated is a very large non-profit, long-term care, continuing-care organization, which is located in my constituency kind of, although they're going to be opening a new facility fairly soon in Hammonds Plains. They have piloted a nurse practitioner at Northwood and it's been a very successful pilot. This is a model that needs to be expanded and used throughout the province. We made a commitment to this and we will be moving forward with that.
I also tell people that mental health is on my priority list. It's on my priority list and this government's priority list. It's been a personal interest of mine for many years, largely because I worked in the mental health field for a time after I first graduated from social work and I tell people I was the adolescent social worker at the Nova Scotia Hospital. I almost was, I wasn't that old at the time.
I worked with adolescents and their families and I know how difficult it is for families, if they have children, if they have adolescents - for that matter, if they have a family member who's an adult - who is experiencing a mental illness, who needs treatment, who's having difficulty getting access to the mental health system. People fall through the cracks very often in mental health. Mental health has been an area of marginalization within our heath care system. There's a very interesting history that's been written fairly recently of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the mental health movement in Nova Scotia by Dr. Judith Fingard, she has a co-author.
It's a very interesting account of the mental health movement here in Nova Scotia. I've just been reading this and I'm struck, as I read this account, by a number of things. We've made great progress, I believe. We've come a long way from segregating and isolating people with mental illnesses in one facility away from other people with other illnesses, so all across the province now, in all of our district health authorities, we have mental health units, we have mental health beds, with one exception, essentially. In Cumberland County we have no acute care beds, but all across the province we have specialized services, both in-hospital and on an outpatient basis, to treat people with mental health disorders.
Yet, Mr. Speaker, the wait lists are very long and there are unmet services for very specialized needs. I think, for example, of people with eating disorders. It is a very
specialized area of mental health; it really needs to have some focus and some attention. We know how difficult it is for young people who have eating disorders, and we've seen situations where people have had to look to go out of province to get treatment.
Mr. Speaker, I'm hoping that in the time I have available as Minister of Health, however long that will be - the longevity of Health Ministers, not only in this province but everywhere, doesn't always turn out to be that long - but I am hoping that this is an issue that we'll be able to make some progress on, for example.
There are many things that we can do in the field of mental health, and I look forward to an opportunity, certainly when we get into estimates, to talk about some of the things that I'm hoping we'll be able to do in the department. So I put that on the list as one of the priorities that I have. It is getting our financial house in order, it is keeping our campaign commitments, it is mental health, but I am also very interested in seeing an expanded role for primary health care in our province, building teams of health care providers, making better use of the scope of practice, the training, the knowledge, the expertise of all members of the health care team.
Our acute care model is so focused on nurses and doctors, and they are, without a doubt, very valuable members of providing health care. But there are so many other professional groups that have so much to offer - particularly in terms of prevention and rehabilitation - like occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists. It has been my pleasure to be Minister of Health at a time when we are working with the Pharmacy Association and pharmacy groups to really look at expanding their role in the health care system, particularly at a time when drug therapy is a growing part of our health care system. So many chronic illnesses are controlled and treated with drugs that the pharmacist is and should be an integral part of the health care team.
I think in the not-too-distant future we're going to see some significant change in the delivery of health care, a move toward more primary care, more community-based team provision of health care, and away from people going to acute care facilities for those kinds of services, where acute care will become what it is truly meant to be: a place where people with serious illnesses and in need of highly specialized services will go, while the more community-based primary care will be provided in clinic-like settings.
I would be remiss if I didn't make mention of the North End Community Health Centre in my constituency. It is the oldest community health clinic in the province, it is the first community health clinic where doctors, nurses, social workers, and today many other healthcare providers - a nutritionist and many psychiatric nursing staff and personnel, addictions counsellors, for example - all provide services at the North End Clinic. It's truly not only a pioneer, but quite a significant model for how services can be provided. Because of the services they provide, many people in that community are able to stay out of the emergency departments and not have to show up in the emergency room for their health care.
The last thing that was mentioned in the Speech from the Throne with respect to health and the health care system that I'd like to make note of is the whole question of quality. We need to be very mindful of the measures that we need to take to ensure quality in our health care system and high standards for patient safety. It's a very fast-paced world now in our acute care facilities and it's a world that is very much dominated and shaped by diagnostic technology, the need to ensure that we have the controls in place to have diagnostic services, and other services of the highest standard, so that nothing gets missed.
I, as Minister of Health, watch other provinces that have had the problems around diagnostic outcomes and communication of test results to patients, for example, it is a Minister of Health's worst nightmare. Certainly we are embarking on an initiative in the Department of Health to ensure that we have in place the controls to be able to provide high quality services at very high standards for patient safety so we can prevent the kinds of situations that we have seen elsewhere around test results and the kind of strife that people feel when they find out maybe months later that they were given an improper diagnosis and the controls weren't in place to ensure that these things didn't occur.
It's bad enough to not be well and to be seeking treatment and an accurate diagnosis, but to learn, I think, that the system failed, this is when people really feel a system failure. We're very committed to ensuring that we provide good quality health care and patient safety is at the top of our list.
We sometimes focus a lot on the problems that need to be addressed in the health care system. I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to talk about how fortunate we are in this country to have the remarkable health care system we have. With all of its warts and the difficulties, it is an amazing health care system and I was really reminded of that a couple of weeks ago when a working group of African-Nova Scotian health care providers brought in two gentlemen from the south side of Chicago who work in a health clinic that is attempting to get Black men in that city to take greater care of themselves in terms of many of the illnesses and diseases that men in that particular community suffer from - HIV/AIDS, prostate cancer, hypertension, heart disease, and what have you.
Of course, in this part of the United States there isn't the kind of universal access to health care that we have here in this country and so the challenges that these health care workers face are even greater challenges than we have here in getting men to take better care of themselves. There's a lot of research that shows that men do not take as good care of their health. They - if it's the machismo, or whatever it is about men - they just don't do the annual checkups and all of those things that have to happen, but imagine if you combine that with a system where you have to have health insurance in order to get access to medical care and most of that health insurance is work-based?
If you're in a segment of the population where there are high rates of unemployment, you can pretty well kiss your access to health care goodbye and it's unbelievable in the U.S., in this part of Chicago, they told - these two gentlemen, they were just fabulous - they told us that on the first nice day this Spring when the weather got good, there were 16 murders in their part of the city. Last year there were 120-some children with gunshot wounds in the school system and the whole time they were talking I was thinking what must it be like if you're living here and you have no health care, no hospital insurance, no access to a doctor?
It's really truly pretty bad and this particular clinic that they've set up is very interesting and they also had gone to barber shops. They said, well, where do men go? Men go to barber shops. So they trained the barbers, they trained a number of barbers to talk to men as they were doing their hair, talked to them about the need to do prostate cancer and they would have the doctors come to the barber shops and do clinics. So it's a good example, I think, of American innovation. The Americans are very innovative people when they're in circumstances where they have to problem solve and figure out and the problem that they're trying to solve is a lack of access to universal health care.
I sat through this presentation very inspired by their resolve and their resilience but at the same time thinking how fortunate we are here in this country that we don't have those same barriers. We may have barriers, we have far from a perfect system and we do have barriers and we need to do more around men's health and we need to do more around the health of men in diverse communities without any question, but at least access in terms of coverage isn't an issue. For that I think we need to be both grateful and very vigilant, because we can't take this wonderful health care system we have for granted.
It is a system that's very expensive. We need to use our resources in a very thoughtful way, a well-planned way, a well-managed way, and I think that we have to be mindful of that at all times.
There are many excellent initiatives going on. Many of them were outlined in the Speech from the Throne, and I will be delighted to see these initiatives come to fruition over the next year or so, Mr. Speaker.
I also want to take an opportunity to thank the staff I work with in the Department of Health who essentially take the ideas that have been presented to them by this government and do the detailed planning for how they will be implemented. They are a very capable, talented, dedicated group of individuals and they don't get nearly enough recognition for how difficult it is to take an idea and make it a reality. They do a fine job and it's been a pleasure working with them thus far. With that, Mr. Speaker, I'll take my place. I request that we adjourn debate.
MR. SPEAKER: Thank you. The motion before the House is to adjourn debate on the Speech from the Throne.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Speaker, that adjourns the government's business for today. Tomorrow being Opposition Day, I wish you to recognize the honourable House Leader for the Progressive Conservative Party to update us on the hours and the business.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable House Leader for the Progressive Conservative Party.
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, of course the hours for tomorrow will be 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and the order of business, Opposition Members' Business, will be Bill No. 14 and Resolution No. 100 for debate. With that, I move that the House adjourn for this evening.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion before the House is for the House to rise and meet again tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The House stands adjourned until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow.
We have arrived at the moment of interruption. Tonight's late debate has been moved by the honourable member for Cumberland South:
"Therefore be it resolved that the taxes of Nova Scotians should not be raised to pay for the deficit the NDP created in their first year in government."
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Inverness.
FIN.: TAX RAISES - NDP DEFICIT
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Mr. Speaker, I am here standing before you today based on this resolution that the taxes of Nova Scotians should not be raised to pay for the deficit the NDP created in their first year of government.
Raising taxes will not help our economy. How can we improve our economy? By focusing on things that we can control. A Progressive Conservative Government would first look to balance the budget.
Why is a balanced budget so important? Well, the 2009-10 budget that the NDP brought into this House resulted in a debt we know now of about $490 million. Now this deficit not only hurts us today, it does something else - it cripples our future, our future potential. This decision means that you and I will pay somewhere in the vicinity of $20 million each year, every year, until this deficit is retired.
In December I listened to Premier Dexter speak at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He praised Nova Scotia for having a strong economy relative to other provinces in this country throughout the economic downturn. While we should be proud of the stability of our economy, we must be careful to remember that our economy is defensive by nature in Nova Scotia - we have not faced the cyclical challenges that Ontario has faced with its auto-sector industry or that Alberta has faced with its oil and gas industry or that Saskatchewan has faced with its potash industry.
Many would say that here in Nova Scotia there are communities that are in recession at all times. I believe government can best help these communities by providing a healthy and competitive economic environment. In my mind, that does not include higher taxes.
We pay some of the highest taxes in the country here in Nova Scotia. It is more important than ever to balance our budget because today we have somewhere in the vicinity of $12.5 billion in debt. Looking at the figures presented today in the budget, those figures are going to grow a lot more significantly than they were going to grow when the Progressive Conservatives had tabled a budget in the Spring of 2009.
AN HON. MEMBER: And that was a balanced budget too.
MR. MACMASTER: That was a balanced budget. What should government be focused on? Government should be focused on the things that we can control. We can't
control interest rates. Right now about $1 out of every $11 Nova Scotians pay in taxes is thrown away in interest payments. In fact, I think that's closer to $1 in every $8.50.
We are fortunate that interest rates are at historic lows, but what happens when interest rates rise? When deficits are run, like are being run this year and the coming four years, if interest rates rise, that means that any new debts that are financed by Nova Scotians, they're going to be financed at a higher rate of interest.
Some of the members of this House may remember back to the early 1980s when a mortgage was 18 per cent rate of interest. We don't want to see those days return, but it is a possibility. One thing we can control is how much debt we have.
We cannot control the strength of our Canadian dollar. Our dollar depends largely upon commodity prices. The first indicator I would look at is the price of oil and as the price of oil reaches $100 a barrel, we're looking at our currency to reach par value with the U.S. dollar. We can't control that. In some cases, it's a good thing. As oil royalties rise, it drives up the tax base for the federal government and it's good for our transfers from the federal government.
We can control how much government spends and this is where we should be focused. I believe the people in Nova Scotia are taxed enough. The average Nova Scotian family works from January right through to June 11th every year, until June 11th to pay the taxes to keep this province running. That's over half the year.
While the federal government is lowering taxes for Nova Scotians, the provincial government is looking at raising taxes. While the rest of Canada becomes more competitive, Nova Scotia, under the decisions of this NDP Government, will become less competitive. If we agree that we pay enough taxes, the area the government should be focusing on is expenditure constraint. As I mentioned earlier, this Progressive Conservative Party, if in government, would balance the budget.
I do want to share some of my remarks today with the member for Cumberland South. I just want to mention a couple of other things that I see for the future of this province. I don't see taxes being increased as a good thing for our future. I do see the value of having government services stabilized through good fiscal management by government. I see a smaller government. A smaller government means less pressure on the taxpayer. It gives us power to decrease our debt and it gives us the ability to create a more competitive business environment because it is the small business owners of this province who will bring this province to a better, more profitable future. With that, Mr. Speaker, I would like to conclude my remarks. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cumberland South. You have approximately four minutes left.
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Thank you and I want to thank my colleague, the honourable member for Inverness, for taking great part in this debate. I'm sure we're going to hear lots more from this young man in the coming years.
Mr. Speaker, I know I only have a few moments, I do want to say this budget we have heard here today is a bad news budget for Cumberland County. I'm looking forward to other members in this House standing up on behalf of the residents of Cumberland County and tell the government that when people - we've had people over the last while continue to tell us, business people for example, convenience store owners who have told us they are going to be put out of business as a result of increased taxes. Gas retailers have told us the same thing.
There was a story in the local paper over the last week. One guy basically has said, I'm giving up, I can't stand this anymore. This is the straw that will break the camel's back - cannot continue to fight with New Brunswick companies on an even, competitive basis.
Cross-border shopping is the issue for Cumberland County right now, and how does this government respond to the issue for Cumberland County? By breaking promises. Just 10 months ago, what did they promise during the election?
AN HON. MEMBER: No taxes.
MR. SCOTT: No taxes, no tax increases in this province when we become the government. What's the first thing they do? Increase taxes. What's the other thing they do? They promised a balanced budget. Gone. They promised - and I'm going to table this, maybe no one has seen this anymore. This headline in a local paper says, "Dexter says he'd keep Tory promises." Have you ever heard tell of that before? We've heard it every day, and every day they continue to break their promises they made 10 months ago. I can tell you, the people in Cumberland County aren't forgetting, and I know the honourable member for Cumberland North has travelled a lot throughout the constituency and I know he's got to be hearing on a regular basis from businesspeople and from residents that they cannot stand this any longer.
What I was really disappointed with - last Wednesday in this House, in response to a question I asked, the Premier, to his credit, said to me, why don't you work with us and try to find some answers? That's a good suggestion, and I appreciate that from the Premier. So today in response to that, I introduced a resolution in the House that basically called upon the Premier to convene a committee of Chambers of Commerce, businesspeople, citizens of Cumberland County, to meet with them and work with them to use that information they could gather in regard to the loss of taxes for the province and the loss of business revenue for Cumberland County. He could use that to help businesses in Cumberland County and help the government maybe decide a path to follow with the help of those businesses in
Cumberland County, and he could use it with his Atlantic colleagues and Atlantic Premiers to find a way to address some of these issues that are affecting Cumberland County in particular in this part of the province. What did the government do? The government denied that resolution. That really speaks to the seriousness of this issue that they see. That speaks to their seriousness and sincerity to work with our people in Cumberland County to finally resolve this very serious negative impact on Cumberland County of cross-border shopping.
The answer to the issue is not to increase taxes. The issue of higher taxes and cross-border shopping is for government to work with local business communities, work with citizens, work with the elected officials, work with the municipalities, work with the towns to find a resolve. I'm calling upon the government of the province and the Premier to please help us in Cumberland County - not by increasing taxes, not by taking away commitments that were made by the previous government, but to truly come together in the spirit of fairness and help Cumberland County on this very serious issue.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville.
MR. MAT WHYNOTT: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise today to speak to the House on this resolution. As I believe all members of the House, we take our jobs very seriously, and constituents are calling us on a regular basis, telling us their concerns. The other thing that I always tell the people of Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville is that as their MLA I do take my job seriously, and so does this government.
I want to begin by clarifying one thing: that the current fiscal situation faced by all Nova Scotians today is one that this government inherited, not one that we created. This was created by a legacy of unsustainable spending - a legacy that it is up to this government to change.
Over the past two months, this side of the House, this government, engaged in the most extensive financial consultations in the province's memory. About 1,500 Nova Scotians participated in this historical process and shared their values and priorities through a combination of attending Back to Balance sessions that were held from one end of this province to the other. There were also written submissions and, Mr. Speaker, I was proud to be able to attend two of them, the one in Sackville and the one in St. Margaret's Bay. I was surprised that of all people who were there, and while there wasn't always the consensus, there was one common thread that ran from one end of this province to the other, right from Cape Breton to Yarmouth, that Nova Scotians care deeply about their province and about its future, a future that this government is making and that we are making the right decisions to protect.
In the Back to Balance sessions that the Minister of Finance held right across Nova Scotia, we were told, very plainly and consistently, that we cannot turn to Nova Scotians for
more revenue unless we are committed to use every single existing revenue dollar as wisely and as efficiently as possible. We listened and we agree. (Applause)
Now, Mr. Speaker, the experts on the Economic Advisory Panel made it clear that if nothing is done to address the structural deficit that we inherited from the previous government, our province will be facing a deficit of $1.4 billion within three years. That's unacceptable. This is essentially because the gap between how much we spend and how much we take in has been growing bigger and bigger and would have continued to grow even when the recession ends. Additionally, the structural deficit left by the previous government means that our debt servicing costs just keep rising.
Mr. Speaker, our indebted government cannot deliver critical programs and services in health care and education, high quality services that Nova Scotians both expect and deserve, and that is what I've heard at the Back to Balance sessions that I attended.
As the expert panel pointed out, in order to address the province's financial challenges, government has three strategies to work with. Spending must be controlled. Spending has to be controlled, unlike the previous government; revenues must be increased; and the economy must grow. Now, Mr. Speaker, the Economic Advisory Panel said that because of the size of this challenge - and that is what Nova Scotians understand - that we cannot focus on just one element, but rather we must work with all three. We agree and today we're taking the necessary and decisive action.
In this budget, in our four-year plan, we have found the right balance in using the strategies we have available to us. Despite steep revenue growth from our offshore industry when the economy was booming, lack of fiscal discipline and poor policy choices over the past decade have driven the debt upwards and upwards. It now stands as the second highest per capita among the provinces. Now, Mr. Speaker, high debt is not an area where we want to be leaders. The interest on that debt will soon return to $1 billion per year. Nova Scotians are paying dearly for the mistakes of the past and Nova Scotians can be sure that this government will not repeat them. (Applause)
As a result of these measures taken in this budget and measures still to be taken, we believe that it is reasonable and achievable to forecast a return to balance in Budget 2013-14. This responsible, measured approach will ensure that we respect the wishes of Nova Scotians and the needs of the economy while continuing to deliver the programs and services that Nova Scotians need and deserve.
Of the $1.4 billion fiscal gap identified by the expert panel, we will eliminate $1.1 billion through expenditure management and restraint. The rest will come from spending restraints, better using the dollars that we already have. This ambitious plan will take hard work, discipline and determination. We will move forward and that is what Nova Scotians want. We will move forward carefully, looking at how we can improve or transform service delivery rather than how we can cut and suspend it.
Mr. Speaker, as the Economic Advisory Panel pointed out, the size of the financial challenge means that new revenue options have to be considered. As mentioned previously, of the $1.4 billion gap identified by the expert panel, $1.1 billion will be found through expenditure restraint. Again, about $300 million will be gained through increased revenue. Again, for every dollar of revenue, our commitment is to find over $3 through fiscal discipline.(Applause)
During the Back to Balance process a majority of participants said that they could accept an HST increase only if those with low and modest incomes were protected. To fulfill our commitment to make life more affordable, our government, this government, will introduce a new Affordable Living Tax Credit. The credit that we are implementing is valued at $70 million and will put the money back into the hands of Nova Scotians living on low or modest incomes. This important message, Mr. Speaker, means that households earning less than $30,000 will receive quarterly payments similar to the existing GST credit. It will return about $240 per household and $47 per dependent child every year. Those earning $34,800 will also receive a portion of the credit. This is the right decision for Nova Scotia families. We will also make a number of vital household items more affordable.
Mr. Speaker, we listened to Nova Scotians. Our government will remove the provincial portion of the HST on children's clothing and footwear. We will also remove the provincial portion of the HST on feminine hygiene products and on diapers. This government is also making life affordable for seniors, senior citizens in every part of this province. We will ensure that any senior who receives the GIS, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, will no longer have to pay any of the provincial income tax. (Applause) This means that $12.5 million will return to about 18,000 senior citizens right across this province and, of course, seniors with low and modest incomes will also be eligible for the Affordable Living Tax Credit.
Now, Mr. Speaker, getting back to balance is going to take some time and a lot of hard work and it's something that this government is committed to do and has already begun. In the decisions we have made and those still to come, we will be responsible, we will be tough when we have to be, we'll be compassionate, we will always be fair, and we will not force Nova Scotians to pay for our mistakes.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, it's my pleasure to rise this evening to say a few words in the late debate that we're having about taxes in this province and today is, as you know, a historic day. We've seen a budget introduced today in the province. The motion from the Progressive Conservative caucus is that there should be no new taxes. To read it:
"Therefore be it resolved that the taxes of Nova Scotians should not be raised to pay for the deficit the NDP has created in their first year in government."
I think that is an important point, Mr. Speaker, because the Finance Minister's speech today, when he gave his Budget Speech, led people to believe that not only is the sky falling and we're on the precipice of something dreadful, but also that this has been going on for some time, that our economic decline has been really difficult, and he's blaming it on the former government. I think it is important that our Finance Critic today said that there were seven years of balanced budgets. I was the Finance Critic for quite a number of those years, sitting here as the Liberal Finance Critic, and I had to recognize that they had taken measures to balance the budget every year.
It was a time of increased spending, however, and I agree that our spending had reached a point where we couldn't keep up when the revenue from our royalties fell. That's the biggest loss that we had last year. The economy here has been fairly stable but the international economy led to a great decline in the royalties we would get and the cost of the gas that we are getting from Sable and our offshore resources.
So that does hurt the province, and there had to be some change to adjust to that, but the NDP is being opportunistic in trying to suggest that was long-standing and that this is something that they're rescuing us from. One hastens to use the words "holier than thou", because that came through loud and clear today that they are going to rescue us in such a way.
Mr. Speaker, our tax brackets are among the highest in the country and we've added to that today. We've replaced a surcharge with another high tax bracket for our highest income earners. That's not competitive. We are, by far, the worst tax jurisdiction in the country. I actually had a quote here from the CFIB, if I can find it, but I'll just tell you, the CFIB have been visiting us regularly for a number of years - they are great lobbyists - and they have shown us that we have the highest tax brackets and the lowest deductions. Our deduction for your personal deduction - and a lot of us are doing our income taxes now - is one of the lowest in the country. Today there is a baby step to increase it by $250. It is about $8,400, something like that, and if you lived in Alberta it is over $14,000 that you get tax-free, right off the top.
We are so far behind other provinces - and not only out West, we're behind our neighbours right here in this part of the country, we're behind New Brunswick. We de-indexed our rates - that was something that we can thank the former Hamm Government for. De-indexing meant that we don't keep pace with the federal government when they increase brackets and give people a little more room, so we've actually squeezed our middle class already to a tremendous degree.
Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of things in this budget that are not good and I want to say them before I turn my time over - the members of the House know that I could easily spend 10 minutes on this, but I want to hurry up so that our Finance Critic can also speak.
The graduate tax credit, it will amount to about $2,500 actually in the pocket of our young graduates, over a six-year period, if they choose to stay here in Nova Scotia. We actually campaigned on that several years ago, Mr. [Deputy] Speaker - you might remember that, it was an idea that we thought had merit. You know what? It has been tried in other jurisdictions in the meantime and it has not worked. It is not helping to retain young people in those jurisdictions. It is not enough money to keep people in a province where they don't have a job that they think is their best opportunity. Young people will go where the opportunity is greatest and this is not going to keep them here in jobs that are less than they are trained for.
We have to look at the evidence. I've heard ministers on that side of the House saying we're going to do evidence-based policy. This is not evidence based and it's not even welcomed by the students. Students want upfront help while they are paying the highest tuitions in the country; they want help so that they can study here in Nova Scotia. I know over 1,000 of them have left our province to study in Newfoundland and Labrador, where they have the lowest tuition. So what we need to do is help our students through tuition and upfront costs. That's just a misguided policy with no evidence whatsoever, but they are kind of wedded to it, it sounds good, it is getting votes, so let's do it - but you've got to put your thinking caps on, that is just not going to work.
I can't sit down without mentioning taking the HST, the provincial portion of the HST off of home heating, off electricity. That, again, is a very misguided policy. If you want to help the people who need it the most, then you keep the heat program, you up that amount, you help people who can't keep oil in their homes, can't keep the heat on. Those are the people who need it. In the meantime, you've given all the people, everywhere, whether they're high income or not, the same benefit.
Any number of your members on the NDP side of the government will tell you it's bad policy for the environment. If, indeed, you're serious about using a green lens when you introduce policy, which we heard an awful lot about when the NDP were in Opposition and which I, myself, think is the way government policy should be developed - if you're going to look at it in terms of its impact on the environment, it is encouraging people to keep the heat on and heat their entire homes with electricity far beyond what they need because now they're getting a break.
I would point out, Mr. Speaker, that our biggest cause of greenhouse gases is heating our homes, especially here in Nova Scotia where we have old homes that aren't properly insulated, not built to the highest codes. We should have put the help and taken that money
and put it where it was needed most, to help people insulate their homes, upgrade their homes, and for the people who really need the help to keep warm to actually get a subsidy or an assistance.
So with that, Mr. Speaker, I'd like to give the floor over to the member for Kings West.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West. You have approximately three and a half minutes.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It is tough to get wound up in three and a half minutes, but I know that over the next number of days we'll have lots of time to debate and to analyze and to take a look at this year's budget. Of course today's motion for late debate put forth does tell us about the reality that has been foisted upon the province.
Almost 12 months ago now, Nova Scotians were told that there would be no tax increase, that we could balance the budget without a tax increase. Now just in my seven years in office and hitting about 6,000 doors in the last campaign, guess what? The average Nova Scotian will remember that loud and clear, that will ring really big. The member for Kings North is nodding his head. Well, in about a year's time, the member for Cape Breton South will do his mid-term report and when he did it the last time he picked off 10 members that would not be returning to the Chamber and 10 of those members are no longer with us. This will ring very huge because it comes as a result of the excessive spending in just 10 or 11 short months.
You know when Deloitte were here with their auditors they made it very clear to Public Accounts that when they passed over their first draft in August they said, at the very outside high end there would be a $100 million deficit attributed to the previous government. So now we're over $700 million in just 11 months of an NDP Government. They have added huge to the deficit and as I said today, that will be the legacy, a tax increase that a minimum of 75 per cent of Nova Scotians do not want to see and it's going to have huge business implications.
We'll hear from Valerie Payne and the Chamber of Commerce, we'll hear from CFIB, we'll hear from small business. In Nova Scotia, 95 per cent of people are employed in businesses with 50 and under. Now, these are the kinds of taxes that impact them immensely, it prevents them from buying that new piece of equipment, from hiring a summer student, from hiring another part-time employee. They reinvest in their businesses and as of today every meal in a restaurant, many of the consumables outside of food all increase. The cost of living goes up in Nova Scotia, we are in a tax zone all alone, 15 per cent HST and that's going to ring big. Remember with a tax-on-tax, we now will have about an 8 cent difference in the border towns on gas alone and it's not just gas, the trickle is now moving
into a torrent. They're going for TVs, they're going for many other appliances across the border because they're much more competitive in New Brunswick and that's what we're going to see happen on a big scale. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The time allocated for late debate tonight has expired. I would like to thank all the honourable members for having taken part in tonight's late debate, you did a very good job.
The motion for adjournment was made earlier so the House stands adjourned until 2:00 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.
[The House rose at 5:38 p.m.]