The Nova Scotia Legislature

The House resumed on:
September 21, 2017.

HANSARD 08-20

DEBATES AND PROCEEDINGS

Speaker: Honourable Alfie MacLeod

Published by Order of the Legislature by Hansard Reporting Services and printed by the Queen's Printer.

Available on INTERNET at http://www.gov.n s.ca/legislature/HOUSE_BUSINESS/hansard.html


Second Session

TUESDAY, APRIL 29, 2008

TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE
GOVERNMENT MOTIONS:
Res. 1767, Estimates - Comm. of Whole House on Supply, Hon. M. Baker 2247
Hon. M. Baker 2247
Mr. G. Steele 2266
Adjourned debate 2269
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS:
TIR: Port Medway Rd. - Fix, Ms. V. Conrad 2269
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS:
N.S. FOIPOP Review Office, 2007 Annual Report,
Hon. C. Clarke 2270
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS:
No. 166, Prem.: Election Platform - Commitments, Mr. D. Dexter 2271
No. 167, Prem.: Gas Pricing - Address, Mr. S. McNeil 2272
No. 168, Prem. - HARP Progs.: Benefits - Details, Mr. D. Dexter 2273
No. 169, Budget (N.S. 2008-09): Security Breach - Explain,
Mr. D. Dexter 2275
No. 170, Health: Physician Shortages - Address, Mr. S. McNeil 2276
No. 171, Health - Lillian Fraser Mem. Hosp.: Renovations - Status,
Mr. D. Dexter 2277
No. 172, Health - Pictou Co.: Medical Treatment - Assure,
Mr. David Wilson (Sackville Cobequid) 2279
No. 173, Educ. - Sch. Priority List: Sch. Bds. - Requests Honour,
Mr. L. Glavine 2280
No. 174, TIR: Road Deterioration - Justification, Ms. M. Raymond 2282
No. 175, Educ. - Glace Bay Jr. HS: Priority List - Status,
Mr. David Wilson (Glace Bay) 2283
No. 176, Conserve N.S. - Greenhouse Gas Reduction Target: Revision -
Plans, Mr. H. Epstein 2285
No. 177, Serv. N.S. & Mun. Rel. - Pesticide Ban: Legislation -
Change, Mr. C. Parker 2286
No. 178, Health - 2008/2009 DHA Bus. Plans: Approval - Time Frame,
Mr. David Wilson (Glace Bay) 2288
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:
No. 125 - Public Service Act, Hon. M. Parent 2290
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 2294
Mr. L. Glavine 2296
Hon. M. Parent 2298
Vote - Affirmative 2299
No. 126 - Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act, Hon. M. Parent 2299
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 2301
Adjourned debate 2302
ADJOURNMENT MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5):
Gov't. (N.S.) - Disabled Individuals Day Prog. Associations:
Funding Freeze - Lift, Mr. G. Gosse 2303
Mr. Manning MacDonald 2306
Hon. J. Streatch 2308
ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Wed., Apr. 30th at 2:00 p.m. 2311
NOTICES OF MOTION UNDER RULE 32(3):
Res. 2163, Cameron, Clarence - Port Hood Vol. FD: Long-Serv.
Award (40 Yrs.) - Congrats., The Premier 2312
Res. 2164, MacDonald, Gerard - Port Hood Vol. FD: Long-Serv.
Award (40 Yrs.) - Congrats., The Premier 2312
Res. 2165, MacEachern, Malcolm - Port Hood Vol. FD: Long-Serv.
Award (40 Yrs.) - Congrats., The Premier 2313
Res. 2166, MacInnis, Sonny - Port Hood Vol. FD: Long-Serv.
Award (40 Yrs.) - Congrats., The Premier 2313
Res. 2167, MacDonald, Archie - Port Hood Vol. FD: Serv. (47 Yrs.) -
Congrats., The Premier 2314
Res. 2168, MacDonald, Cameron - Port Hood Vol. FD: Serv. (47 Yrs.) -
Congrats., The Premier 2314
Res. 2169, MacEachern, Donald A. - Port Hood Vol. FD: Serv. (47 Yrs.) -
Congrats., The Premier 2315
Res. 2170, Meisner, George - Port Hood Vol. FD: Long-Serv.
Award (40 Yrs.) - Congrats., The Premier 2315
Res. 2171, Beaton, Gerard - Port Hood Vol. FD: Serv. (47 Yrs.) -
Congrats., The Premier 2316
Res. 2172, MacDonald, Mr. Jackie - Port Hood Vol. FD: Long-Serv.
Award (40 Yrs.) - Congrats., The Premier 2316
Res. 2173, MacDonald, Johnny - Port Hood Vol. FD: Long-Serv.
Award (40 Yrs.) - Congrats., The Premier 2317
Res. 2174, Smith, Lewis - Port Hood Vol. FD: Long-Serv.
Award (40 Yrs.) - Congrats., 2317
Res. 2175, Cunningham, Chris: Cheer Expo Coach of Yr. - Congrats.,
The Premier 2318
Res. 2176, Cheer Extreme Fury/Cheer Extreme Rage - Jamfest Nat'l.
Championships, The Premier 2318

[Page 2247]

HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 29, 2008

Sixtieth General Assembly

Second Session

2:00 P.M.

SPEAKER

Hon. Alfie MacLeod

DEPUTY SPEAKER

Mr. Wayne Gaudet

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

ORDERS OF THE DAY

GOVERNMENT BUSINESS

GOVERNMENT MOTIONS

[Res. No. 1767, re Estimates - Comm. of Whole House on Supply - notice given Apr. 24/08 - (Hon. M. Baker)]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Finance.

HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, before I begin my Budget Address, I wish to take a few minutes to thank those who have been of so much assistance both personally and professionally over the past year. I can never hope to thank or to repay those who have provided so many acts of kindness and generosity. These people know who they are; I know I certainly do.

[Page 2248]

2247

However, I do want to single out some and provide my particular thanks. First and foremost I wish to thank my wife, Cindy, my sons Matthew and Daniel, who have supported me in every way possible. I also want to thank my mother and father, Gilbert and Barbara Baker; my brother, Peter, his wife Paula and their family; my sister, Valerie, her husband Paul and their family. I am very pleased that my wife, my sons, my mother and father, my brother and sister-in-law and my nephews - and niece, I don't want to forget Samantha - are here today. I would ask them to rise and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Standing Ovation)

Mr. Speaker, I have also been blessed with wonderful staff who have supported me in so many ways, including my executive assistants, Kim Langille and Jeff Garber, as well as my constituency assistant, Dale Keddy. I also wish to extend my gratitude to the staff of the Department of Finance, Treasury and Policy Board and Communications Nova Scotia, who have put so much effort into the preparation of this budget.

Along with my executive assistants and seated in the gallery are several staff members from those agencies. They include Vicki Harnish, Liz Cody, Frank Dunn, Bob Fowler, Diana Eisenhauer, Valerie Viva, Cathy Shaw, Melissa MacKinnon, Jacqueline Whiting, Michelle MacKinnon, Mike DeCoste, Brian Wile, Paul Davies and Thomas Storring. I would ask them to stand - all of them including my executive assistants - and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, the creation of a budget is not a job of one person nor indeed a job for the elected officials alone. It is a team effort and I have been blessed, and our government has been blessed, with a wonderful team.

I also would like to extend to my colleagues in Cabinet and government caucus my thanks and appreciation for their assistance, their patience, and their kindness over the last year. I most particularly want to thank the Premier for his unwavering support for me at every level during the past year. (Applause)

I also want to extend my thanks to my colleagues on the other side of the House for their acts of kindness, their acts of support, and their well wishes. Mr. Speaker, while at some level we have different opinions, on a personal level everyone has been everyone has been tremendous to me and I want to extend to all of them my personal thanks. (Applause)

Understanding, as I do, that that may not necessarily translate into unanimous support. (Laughter) However, it would be a very nice present.

Finally, I want to thank my friends and colleagues who are present in the House today and have come to hear the Budget Address. To be blessed with good friends is something that we all treasure.

[Page 2249]

Now, Mr. Speaker, I need to begin my formal remarks and with that, I would like to read a notice.

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to a notice of motion given by me on April 24, 2008, 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 Nova Scotia, relating to the Estimates of Sums required for the service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009 which is:

"I hereby transmit Estimates of Sums required for the Public Service of the province, for the year ending March 31, 2009, 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.

Signed,

Mayann E. Francis

Lieutenant Governor".

MR. SPEAKER: Please be seated.

The honourable Minister of Finance.

HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, at this time I wish to table the message from Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor transmitting the Estimates for the consideration of this House, table the Estimates Book, table the Crown Corporation Business Plans, table the Estimates and Crown Corporation Business Plans Resolutions, deliver my Budget Speech and move that the Estimates of Sums required for the service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009, 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.

The honourable Minister of Finance.

HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, I am proud to present my fourth budget as Minister of Finance and Nova Scotia's seventh consecutive balanced budget. (Applause)

This budget is focused firmly on the future. It is a budget that advances our progress towards a new Nova Scotia - and the path to 2020.

[Page 2250]

Our vision is clear and one that will ensure that Nova Scotia is the best place in which to live, invest, raise a family and do business. We will seize today's opportunities without compromising tomorrow. We will work together for a strong, competitive economy and a healthy environment, and we will foster vibrant, thriving communities.

This budget keeps the priorities of Nova Scotians in mind and our fiscal health in order. It is a budget that helps us to achieve our goals over the long term, and it is one that supports our five immediate priorities in the short term:

We will do so within our means. Our spending choices are strategic. They are prudent and they are good for Nova Scotians.

Mr. Speaker, this budget does not raise income or sales taxes. It protects the programs and services that are important to Nova Scotians and it includes spending choices that will secure our future and not compromise it.

This year we gave Nova Scotians the opportunity to give us their views on the budget. More than 1,200 Nova Scotians did so. Their input is very much appreciated. They told us they want investments in infrastructure, education, health care and the environment. They also told us they want a balanced budget and they want our debt reduced. We have listened. We're taking action.

We have enjoyed some positive economic results during the past year:

Along with a growing economy, our responsible fiscal management is creating opportunities for Nova Scotia.

In 2007-08 we are forecasting a surplus of $158.5 million, all of which will be put on the debt. Our net direct debt will decrease by $9.2 million. Since 1999, Nova Scotia's total revenues have grown by almost 55 per cent, from $5 billion to $8 billion or about 5 per cent

[Page 2251]

annually. Our budget was just under $8 billion last year, up about $500 million over the previous one. Of this money, about $7 billion was spent on programs and services for Nova Scotians, including just over $3 billion, or about 43 per cent of our budget, for health care, with $1.4 billion going to Education and $868 million to Community Services. Just over 11 per cent, or $930 million, went to service the debt.

Under the leadership of our Premier and the Prime Minister, we reached a successful conclusion to two outstanding issues with Ottawa. Our successful negotiations regarding the Atlantic Accord mean a more secure future for the province. It means that Nova Scotians will be the principal beneficiaries of our offshore resources. It means that Nova Scotia can reach its potential as a strong contributor to the Canadian economy. We also settled a long-standing dispute on the Crown share. A three-person panel is expected to rule on this issue shortly, resolving a dispute that has lasted more than 20 years.

We have already outlined where any funds attributed to the 2007-08 year, or before, will be invested. At least 70 per cent of that amount will go to reducing our debt. The remaining 30 per cent, to a maximum of $75 million, will be distributed to three important priorities. We have set up trusts to help us purchase protected lands, improve university infrastructure and provide grants to two offshore energy research associations to fund geoscience and marine research.

Today, we are announcing our plans for any funds attributed to the Crown share for the 2008-09 year and beyond. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to advise that every cent of these funds will be applied to our debt. (Applause)

We are making this commitment today for a secure tomorrow. While the economic strength of the past year will continue, so too will the challenges. The slowing U.S. and Canadian economies will naturally affect us here at home. Nova Scotia is forecast to experience real growth of 1.7 per cent in 2008. In Canada, real GDP growth is expected to slow to 1.9 per cent in 2008. Fortunately, offshore energy exploration from EnCana's Deep Panuke project will provide a major economic boost. Other major capital investments, such as the Gays River gold mine and technology upgrades by many of our global communication partners, are expected to result in an increase of 24 per cent in non-residential capital investment.

Nova Scotian exports will face challenges from the U.S. slowdown, exchange rates and pressures from rising energy and wage costs. Demographic trends show a decline in Nova Scotia's population levels. When coupled with the western draw, this poses a challenge for our available workforce.

Total revenues, including government business enterprises, are estimated to grow by 5.6 per cent over last year's estimate. The province's own-source revenues are rising - mostly as a result of income tax, HST revenues, and our offshore petroleum revenues. We expect

[Page 2252]

total expenses to increase by 4.95 per cent in the next fiscal year. In the face of these uncertain economic times, it is rewarding to see our fiscal plan working. Mr. Speaker, our debt-reduction plan is on target.

In 2000, we put in place a law that requires our budget to be balanced and we have now done so for seven years running. We have also been prudent in the financial choices we have made. Past surplus funds have gone to paying down the debt. Strategic investments have been made in growing the economy. The results are impressive.

This year, our forecasted surplus is $189.7 million. It will go to the debt. (Applause) This disciplined approach to debt management is producing results. Our debt-servicing costs have dropped significantly. In 1999, 18 cents out of every dollar went to servicing the debt. Today, it is 11.2 cents. This coming year it will be down to 10.7 cents. This means more funds for the programs and services Nova Scotians use every day.

There is still work to do, Mr. Speaker. Our debt load is still too high. We must be diligent in our debt management plan and can never lose sight of our long-term goal. We are making significant progress.

Since 1999, Nova Scotia's net direct debt as a percentage of our gross domestic product has declined from 48.7 per cent to 36.6 per cent, a 12-point drop and a major accomplishment, Mr. Speaker. Together, we have dramatically improved the amount of our debt relative to both our GDP and the proportion of our budget that services that debt. We can and will do more.

The debt management plan is vitally important to our future. The choices we are making today will have an impact on Nova Scotians for generations. That's why our path to 2020 has solid fiscal planning and sound financial management at its core.

Mr. Speaker, we know that a competitive tax system is vital to attracting investment. That is why we are continuing with a number of initiatives that will ease the tax burden faced by Nova Scotians, at a pace we can afford. These measures will help to make this province the best place in which to live, raise a family and do business.

[2:30 p.m.]

For the second consecutive year, the basic amount exempted from personal income tax will increase by $250 to a total of $7,731 for 2008. By 2010, the basic personal exemption will increase by $1,000 over 2006 amounts. Additional credits will also be increased in line with the basic personal exemption, including the spousal, dependent, pension, disability, and caregiver amounts. This will mean an additional $32.3 million in the hands of Nova Scotians in this coming taxation year.

[Page 2253]

We also want students to stay and work here in Nova Scotia after they graduate. In fact, we know about 70 per cent of our graduates do exactly that. It's part of what makes us such an attractive place to do business. That's why we doubled the graduate tax credit to $2,000, for a total of $14.3 million in tax relief this year for young Nova Scotians.

Mr. Speaker, we owe a debt of gratitude to the volunteer firefighters who serve our communities so selflessly every day. This year, the volunteer firefighters tax credit is being increased to $375 for 2008, up from $250 last year. We also recognize the contribution of ground search and rescue organizations. That is why I am pleased to extend this tax credit to members of ground search and rescue teams across Nova Scotia. They too will enjoy a $375 tax credit for this year, and a $500 tax credit for 2009. Mr. Speaker, the extension of this credit will provide about $600,000 in benefits this year, and will return a total of $3.9 million in taxes to these brave men and women in 2008.

Starting in 2009, we will introduce a transit tax credit. This credit will provide $1.5 million to encourage Nova Scotians to use our public transit services. To help seniors remain at home and independent, we intend to enhance the Seniors Property Tax Rebate Program. In the next fiscal year, we will double the cap from $400 to $800. We continue to reduce the large corporations capital tax, which will be completely eliminated by 2012.

We are also extending the gas tax rebate to include all vehicles used by volunteer fire departments. Mr. Speaker, previously this tax credit was extended only to pumper trucks. Effective immediately, the rebate will now apply to all volunteer fire vehicles, as well as water craft. We will also extend the gas tax rebate to the Community Transportation Assistance Program. This vital transportation link ensures that seniors, persons with disabilities, and low-income earners are able to enjoy their independence and stay connected with their communities.

Mr. Speaker, we will amend our Income Tax Act to extend medical tax credits to include expenditures for alternative medical practitioners like naturopaths, effective January 2008. To encourage Nova Scotians to be more physically active, the healthy living tax credit will be extended to all Nova Scotians in January 2009. This credit, currently for expenses for children enrolled in sports, returned about $3.3 million to taxpayers last year, and is expected to put $8.6 million back into the hands of Nova Scotians when fully implemented.

Nova Scotia is Canada's fourth-largest film producer. Our experienced crews, magnificent locations, and top-notch producers are major attractions for potential filmmakers. We also offer one of the most competitive tax credits in the country, a 50 per cent tax credit, plus a 10 per cent bonus for productions outside of the Halifax metro area. Last year, more than $14 million was returned to the industry.

We have also enhanced the digital media tax credit to help companies develop products like video games and Web sites. Beginning in 2008, a 50 per cent credit with a 10

[Page 2254]

per cent regional bonus on Nova Scotia expenditures is available. Much like the film tax credit, this initiative is designed to encourage producers to hire local workers. We also know that marketing our potential as a film location is critical to our success. That's why we are providing an additional $200,000 to Film Nova Scotia to market the province, its people, and our potential around the globe. Mr. Speaker, these measures will go a long way to easing the tax burden for Nova Scotians.

We also want to take a close look at the overall tax structure and its impact on Nova Scotians. To that end, I am announcing a review which will examine the total taxation picture. We will assess all provincial taxes and fees on business and individuals. We want to determine if the current structure is fair, if it encourages investment and productivity, and whether it's competitive. We want Nova Scotia to be the best place in Canada to do business. This isn't about increasing taxes, Mr. Speaker. It isn't about raising more money. It is about taking a comprehensive look at the tax system we have in place to ensure that it is fair, balanced, and can lead us to a prosperous and thriving economy. We will invest $500,000 to begin this review immediately.

Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotia is open for business. Our products, services, and expertise are in demand around the globe. Part of our story is our skilled and educated workforce. It's one of the deciding factors that brought companies like RIM and the Citco Group to our province. The climate we're creating for business tells the other side of the story. Our debt management, tax measures, and sound fiscal management are getting results. We're also improving our regulatory system.

Last year, the paperwork burden on business was cut by 2.5 per cent. The paperwork burden on business is down to 600,000 hours from the 615,000 baseline. We will meet the 50 per cent target set for 2008 and will move to have all licences and permits meet the 10-day standard by 2010.

We were also the first Atlantic Province to partner with the federal government on BizPal. This free, Web-based service guides business owners through the regulation process at all levels of government. This service is now available in Halifax and New Glasgow, with another 10 municipalities scheduled to come on-line by 2009.

We have also been very successful in helping business create jobs. Over the past six years, our Industrial Expansion Fund, administered through the Department of Economic Development, has created or maintained about 11,000 full-time jobs in Nova Scotia. That's a return of $1.89 for every dollar invested. This fund generated $7.2 billion in sales, including exports, $1.7 billion in household income, and $213 million in provincial tax revenues. The fund directly contributed $688 million to our gross domestic product, or about 2.4 per cent.

[Page 2255]

When combined with the efforts of Nova Scotia Business Inc., more than 22,700 jobs were created or maintained. That number rises to 39,300 when spinoff jobs are included. The trade team at NSBI has also arranged more than 2,000 meetings and helped more than 300 clients further penetrate export markets worldwide, resulting in more than $120 million in incremental export sales. It's an impressive record Mr. Speaker, and it's one we intend to build upon.

We are investing $1 million to stimulate research, development, and innovation within small and medium-sized business. We know that one size does not fit all, that each business has unique needs as they adapt to a changing and global marketplace. That's why our responsive tool kit is designed to recognize individual needs while helping to increase productivity through innovation.

We will invest $400,000 to continue to help small business grow and prosper. Our Business Development Program will offer help with everything from training to market research. We are also adding $1.5 million to the operating budget of NSBI:

We are also pleased to provide $250,000 for the Mi'kmaq Community Development Fund. This fund is a driver for new initiatives that will expand economic opportunities, support new partnerships, and build innovative capacity throughout the province.

We also know how important research is to a thriving economy, Mr. Speaker. That's why we established the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust. Last year, the province contributed $8.9 million to support research and innovation. To date, the NSRIT has provided $40 million to about 200 research projects worth approximately $150 million. More importantly, these funds are fostering a culture of excellence and are putting Nova Scotia on the leading edge through agencies like the Brain Repair Centre.

Mr. Speaker, we know that our province has been built on our traditional industries. Our path to 2020 recognizes the importance of these industries today and in the future. To assist industries and companies in transition, we will invest $34.9 million over three years from the new federal Community Development Trust Fund. From this, $750,000 will go to the Agriculture Industry Vitalization Strategy, with $250,000 slated for the beef industry. A $4.4 million investment will support the forestry transition program. We will also use this fund in concert with existing provincial investments to help communities in adjusting to major changes in the manufacturing sector.

[2:45 p.m.]

[Page 2256]

Over the next four years, the province will invest an additional $3 million in the agricultural sector. We know the importance of supporting our own people and communities, Mr. Speaker. We will invest $350,000 to our Select Nova Scotia campaign to promote the benefits of local products, and to increase opportunities for agriculture growth and development. Our original investment is getting results. Consumer awareness around local products is up, and more Nova Scotians regard locally produced products as much better than imports.

To that end, Nova Scotia's wine industry is growing, quite literally, Mr. Speaker. This industry has enjoyed a 300 per cent growth in production since 2000. We anticipate a doubling of farm and cottage wineries by 2010. Annual sales total $7.2 million with 277 acres in production. Along with the federal government, we will provide $3.8 million over the next four years to help fruit and grape industries grow and adapt to changing markets. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, access to capital is important for any business, and that's particularly true for the fishing industry. Unfortunately, a lack of access to capital is restricting succession in the industry. We want to change that. We will establish a direct-loan program that will help finance fishing licences for first-time entrants and new species for existing licence holders.

Nova Scotia has more than 46 trillion cubic feet of natural gas potential both on and offshore. We're streamlining regulations, and conducting valuable research that will help potential investors better understand our unique geography. To further market the tremendous potential of our petroleum resources, we will invest an additional $250,000.

A skilled and educated workforce is a magnet for business. That's why we're taking steps to make education more accessible. The Minister of Education - who is literally right behind me on this - recently outlined two major initiatives which will reduce the cost of obtaining a university education in Nova Scotia. We will invest $180 million to freeze tuition over the next three years. (Applause)

That's not enough, Mr. Speaker. In addition, a $66-million Nova Scotia University Student Bursary Trust has been established. The trust will provide a maximum per-student benefit of $761 next year, $1,022 in 2009-10, and $1,283 in 2010-11 for Nova Scotians. Out-of-province students will benefit from a $261 bursary in 2010-11 as well as the tuition freeze. These measures will bring the cost of education for Nova Scotians to the national average by 2010.

We are also providing debt relief to students, Mr. Speaker. Beginning August 1, students will have access to the second-lowest loan rate in the country, thanks to our direct-lend initiative. Students will save several hundred dollars over the life of their loans and will benefit from a 2 per cent cut in interest rates. We are also investing even more to make

[Page 2257]

education more accessible, Mr. Speaker. Through our consultations on the Nova Scotia Student Assistance Program, we heard that non-repayable grants are the most effective way to promote access. We listened. We're acting.

Beginning this September, the first 20 per cent of a Nova Scotia student loan will be a non-repayable grant. The grant will average about $775 annually, to a maximum of $1,560. Students will automatically qualify for this grant when they apply for a Nova Scotia student loan. Mr. Speaker, some of our students face challenges. Additionally, students with dependent children will be eligible to receive up to $1,040 more in non-repayable assistance. We expect about 800 students will benefit from this program.

As well, the costs for students studying medicine, dentistry and law exceed available student assistance. To address this, additional loans of up to $5,655, or $140 for each week of study, will now be available.

We will continue to expand the Nova Scotia Community College while keeping tuition at affordable levels. We will complete our five-year growth plan, adding an additional 470 seats to the college, bringing capacity to 10,400, and our total funding commitment for this year to $114 million.

We will also invest $250,000 in our Research and Development co-operative employment program through the Department of Economic Development. This program targets students with science, engineering, and business backgrounds and links them with employers to fit their skills and further their opportunities in research and development.

Mr. Speaker, the foundation our children receive in the early school years is vital to their healthy growth and development. Research tells us that early learning experiences improve outcomes later in life. To give more children the opportunity to benefit from an earlier start in school, we will invest $4.6 million to align the age of entry for Primary with the majority of Canadian jurisdictions.

In September 2008, children who will be five by December 31st will be eligible to enter Primary. In fulfilling this commitment, we are giving parents the option to choose what's best for their child. To promote healthy active lifestyles for students, we will invest $500,000 to make physical education a mandatory high school credit.

An additional $2.2 million will expand our highly successful Options and Opportunities Program. This program is building a strong and educated workforce by providing hands-on, meaningful experience to students with work-ready skills and a plan for the future. We are also pleased to expand our class size initiative to Grade 4. Beginning this September, class sizes will be capped at 28 students to ensure that students have more time to learn, and teachers more time to teach.

[Page 2258]

Mr. Speaker, since we first implemented Learning for Life: Brighter Futures Together in 2005, we have invested $49 million to support our students. This year, an additional $4.3 million will be invested to further the goals of this important initiative. In recognition of the valued and important contribution that public libraries make to lifelong learning, our annual grant to libraries will be increased by $500,000.

We will continue to raise the bar, Mr. Speaker. On our path to 2020, every student will have the opportunity to excel, to realize their full potential, and to succeed.

We are grateful for the work of Commissioner Merlin Nunn, and for his insightful recommendations on dealing with youth at risk. The potential these young people have to offer must not be lost. We must take steps now to intervene. To further implement the recommendations of the Nunn Report, an additional $830,000 will target high-risk youth, and will allow us to hire more youth court workers, expand our youth attendance centre, and fund a unique program that will help children under 12 who are at risk.

As well, we are investing an additional $1.2 million to expand projects targeted at prevention and intervention. Four regional specialists will work with the communities to determine best use of these dollars for the maximum benefit of young people.

Mr. Speaker, our crime prevention strategy is working. The 80 additional officers we put on the street last year disrupted 75 organized crime groups, laid more than 11,000 charges and made 159 arrests. They have seized and taken out of circulation drugs worth an estimated $7 million. More boots on the streets mean less crime in our communities. This year, we will add another 70 officers, at a cost of $8.2 million. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, to that end, I am proud to report that I am wearing a pair of new shoes that my father received as a police officer shortly before retirement, and he was not able to use, and I am wearing those shoes today. (Applause)

By 2010-11, we will have 250 additional new police officers in our communities, at a cost of $28 million. We will also add $1.2 million to improve enforcement, intervention and step up our crime prevention efforts. Our stepped-up enforcement efforts are leading to a growing inmate population, Mr. Speaker. To help deal with this increasing number of inmates, an additional $1 million will be provided to the correctional facility in Yarmouth, and $500,000 will go to Burnside.

[3:00 p.m.]

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is critical to an effective law-enforcement system. This year, we will be pleased to welcome a new deputy chief medical examiner. We are also investing $525,000 to begin the design of a new forensic science facility here in

[Page 2259]

Halifax. (Applause) This state-of-the-art teaching facility will enhance our ability to serve the legal community and will support and service an organ tissue bank.

Our path to 2020 gives every Nova Scotian an opportunity to live well and contribute in a meaningful way within a province that is caring, safe and creative. That's what social prosperity is all about. To help achieve this, we will continue to strengthen services for low-income Nova Scotians. Our economy continues to improve and that means government can provide support so more people can become self-reliant. We know there is still work to do. We look forward to the recommendations our Poverty Reduction Working Group will bring forward in June. We are also taking steps, now, to help those in need.

In each of the last four years, income assistance rates have been increased. This year, an additional $768,000 will be spent to increase rates effective October of this year. Also this year, we will spend $19 million to provide affordable, quality child care. Of this, $6 million will create 250 new spaces so parents can go to work with their minds at ease.

Our $31.7 million investment in Family Pharmacare will make prescription drugs affordable for as many as 180,000 Nova Scotians who have had no drug coverage in the past.

(Applause) This universal program, the first in the Maritimes, has many benefits, Mr. Speaker. It protects individuals and families from the high cost of drugs. It's also good for business. The program will help to keep Nova Scotians in the workforce and available to small-business operators who do not currently supply drug coverage for their employees.

This year, the $178 million Seniors' Pharmacare Program will protect more seniors against the rising cost of prescription drugs. Mr. Speaker, with an aging population, and the rising costs of drugs, we know these costs will rise. That's why we are committed to funding 75 per cent of drug costs for seniors, so they may stay healthy and better manage illness. (Applause)

We are also spending $21.6 million in providing affordable housing for Nova Scotians. Our Residential Energy Affordability Program will help retrofit another 200 homes at a cost of $1.6 million, while $2.7 million will be spent on our Provincial Home Emergency Repair Program. As well, we are providing $300,000 to community-based service agencies funded by the Department of Community Services. These additional funds will help these organizations provide services, maintain and enhance operations. (Applause)

In 2006, we introduced a program to help Nova Scotians with the rising cost of home heat. All Nova Scotians, regardless of income, receive an 8 per cent rebate on their total home energy costs. It is a good program, Mr. Speaker. It is also one that cost the taxpayers of Nova Scotia $75 million last year. Today, I am announcing changes to Your Energy Rebate to ensure this program continues to benefit all Nova Scotians at a level taxpayers can afford.

[Page 2260]

The 8 per cent rebate on home heating costs will continue. Rebates for home heating fuel sources will not change, and will be delivered in the same way for oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene, firewood, wood pellets and coal. We are fine-tuning the program to exclude non-heating electricity costs. The rebate for those heating with electricity will be applied on use over 27.4 daily kilowatt hours, the amount used in a typical Nova Scotian home for non-heating purposes. This change ensures that the rebate goes to provide relief on the electricity used to heat homes, which was the primary intent of the program.

In order to give utilities the time to adjust, and to ensure that there is minimal impact on those heating with electricity, we will temporarily suspend the program for electricity from May 15th to August 31st. We will still provide home heating relief for 300,000 Nova Scotian households, and will save taxpayers about $28 million annually. This change ensures that we are providing the benefits Nova Scotians need at a price they can afford. Even with this generous rebate, we know some Nova Scotians still struggle with the costs of home heat. That's why we're taking even more steps to help low-income Nova Scotians with the creation of the Heating Assistance Rebate Program. (Applause)

Single Nova Scotians earning $15,000 or less, and families with a combined income of $25,000 or less will receive an allowance of $200 if they are heating with oil, propane or natural gas. For those using electricity, wood, coal, or pellets, a rebate of $150 will be provided. Seniors receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement will automatically be eligible for this rebate. Those earning up to $2,000 more in each income category will still receive a rebate, which will be reduced by $25 for each additional $500 in income. This $10 million investment will help more than 50,000 households keep warm this winter. But we're not stopping there, Mr. Speaker. We intend to do more for those who need us most. (Applause)

Last year, we contributed $200,000 to the Salvation Army to help them provide home heating oil for those struggling with the rising cost of oil, which has spiked by 30 per cent in the past year. This donation led to an additional $115,000 and 35,000 litres of home heating oil from our private-sector partners, to whom we are most grateful. This year, we will double our contribution and will provide $400,000 to the Salvation Army. We encourage our private-sector partners to again contribute what they feel is appropriate. We are taking these steps, Mr. Speaker, because we will not allow anyone to be left behind. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, timely access to health care is critical. That's why we're addressing wait times on a number of fronts. We will invest $3.96 million in a selfcare/telecare service. Patients will talk to nurses who can provide needed information and direct them to the appropriate place for service. In so doing, emergency-room visits will be reduced. We are well on our way to our goal of a wait-time guarantee of eight weeks for patients needing radiation therapy, with the help of Health Canada's $33 million. Two pilot projects are underway to improve access to diagnostic imaging and orthopaedic services for patients.

[Page 2261]

Additionally, we will establish a clinic where orthopaedic patients can be assessed much faster and therefore receive faster treatment. A similar project in Alberta reduced wait times from months to just weeks. We're confident that Nova Scotians will see significantly shorter wait times as a result of this project as well. (Applause) By realigning $1 million in our current orthopaedic budget, 500 more patients will be treated through our demonstration project with Capital Health and Scotia Surgery. As well, Capital Health has just completed a one-day pilot project using operating room facilities at CFB Halifax Stadacona to perform minor surgical procedures. The pilot went very well and a longer term arrangement is being pursued.

Over the next two years, an additional $10 million will be invested in our Electronic Health Record System. This $28 million project will create an electronic health record for all Nova Scotians to support decision making and case management by health care professionals. To coordinate our many activities relating to wait times, we have hired a Chief Executive, Wait Time Improvements. This dedicated position will monitor progress and improve capacity, responsiveness, and efficiency.

Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotia's aging population presents challenges for our health care system that must be addressed. That's just what our Continuing Care Strategic Framework is designed to do. Over the next 10 years, we will invest over $262 million addressing the health needs of seniors. I am pleased to advise that construction has begun on 1,000 new long-term care beds in many places across Nova Scotia and that all of these beds will be open and serving families by 2010. (Applause)

We are also providing expanded service for those wishing to remain at home, with a total investment of $142 million for home care services. Of this money, $2.2 million will expand access to home care services, and $1.7 million will add 400 new adult day spaces across the province. With expanded capacity, we need additional staff.

This year, we will continue to offer financial incentives and enable education options for continuing care assistants at a cost of $4.7 million. Last year, more than 900 individuals were trained, with 1,000 expected to be trained this year. Of course, we are always mindful of our need to recruit and retain medical professionals. An additional $850,000 will expand nursing seats at St. F.X. and Cape Breton University, as well as practical nursing seats at the Nova Scotia Community College, bringing the total health budget for nursing seats to $8.1 million. We will also add nine new first-year residency positions at Dalhousie University with a $630,000 investment, bringing the total number of first-year residency positions to 110. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, several other investments are focused on prevention, and the expansion of services for patients. We will invest $2.7 million to implement a new colorectal cancer screening program with the help of Cancer Care Nova Scotia. (Applause) Nova Scotia has the second-highest rate of colorectal cancer in Canada, and prevention and early detection

[Page 2262]

are vital in managing this disease. I am also pleased to advise that we will now provide funding for patients needing the drug Avastin. (Applause) We wish to provide help to those Nova Scotians and their families struggling with colorectal cancer.

An additional $2.5 million will be invested in our integrated stroke strategy, which is focused on prevention, improved care and better quality of life for stroke survivors. Community-based health teams improve access to service, helping patients manage everything from chronic diseases to medications, and ensure access to other services and providers. To further improve primary health care, we're investing an additional $2 million, for a total of $16.4 million. (Applause)

We now have a palliative care coordinator in place. This individual will work with all aspects of the system, helping to ensure that families are supported with care and compassion. We are also committing $200,000 to establish the Midwifery Regulatory Council. The goal is to integrate regulated midwives as part of our interdisciplinary primary health care teams. We are also helping seniors to remain at home through a $1.8-million investment in an expansion of our Caregivers Support Pilot Program. (Applause)

We know that a healthy body includes a healthy mind. We will expand mental health and addictions services across the province with a $2.8 million investment, with particular focus on children and youth. (Applause) We are also adding $550,000 to allow the IWK and Capital Health to relocate mental health services to the community.

Mr. Speaker, we spent over $3 billion on health care last year or 43 per cent of our program spending. With the prospect of an aging population, we must take steps now to sustain the system that Nova Scotians will want and need in the future. That's why we are conducting an operational review. We will find ways to increase efficiencies, enhance our use of technologies, and learn from best practices so that we may more strategically use resources to maintain and improve the health of Nova Scotians. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, one of the best ways to cut health costs is to promote healthy, active living. That's why we were the first province in Canada to create a department dedicated to health promotion and protection. This year, the department's budget will increase by $7.8 million, helping us to fulfill our commitment to double the budget over four years. We are also providing a new investment of $2 million to revitalize rinks and arenas around the province. (Applause)

Last year, we announced our 10-year, $50 million commitment to finance the construction of significant sport and recreation facilities. Through our Building Facilities and Infrastructure Together, or B-FIT program, we are helping communities with projects like the rebuilding of the new recreational facility in Queens. This year, we will increase funding to the B-FIT program to $7 million annually, an additional $2 million investment. Mr.

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Speaker, we are now investing $68 million over 10 years to promote the health and wellness of Nova Scotians.

Halifax and Nova Scotia will be the proud host of the Canada Winter Games here in Halifax in 2011. We plan to invest $11.1 million to support the Games, providing a sport legacy for the province and our talented athletes.

The prevention of illness through our provincial vaccination program will receive a $2.1 million boost - pun intended, Mr. Speaker - to cover the rising costs of vaccines. With our federal partners, we are also allocating $2 million to continue our school-based immunization program providing the HPV vaccine to girls in Grade 7.

We are increasing services to the more than 5,000 Nova Scotians with disabilities. We will provide an additional $6 million to better meet the needs of persons with disabilities, fostering independence and increasing our capacity and infrastructure across the province.

We know that volunteers make great communities even better, Mr. Speaker. That's one of the reasons we're celebrating volunteers this week. It's also the reason we are going to make it easier to recruit and retain volunteers. This year, we will design and implement a volunteer insurance program. (Applause)

Our path to 2020 includes a strategic, focused and fiscally responsible plan to address our infrastructure deficit. We currently spend over $400 million annually on capital assets, but there remains a significant infrastructure deficit. That is why we are collaborating with Partnerships BC to evaluate 10 of our most critical projects. With Partnerships BC, we will find the best approach for moving forward, and the best value for taxpayers' dollars, Mr. Speaker.

Thanks to the federal Building Canada Plan, we can expect an injection of $411 million for infrastructure projects over the next seven years. (Applause) To help assess the projects to be cost shared with the federal government, we are developing a long-term strategic infrastructure plan. We are also increasing our infrastructure support to municipalities by $4.5 million over last year.

Beginning this year, increases in education contributions will be capped at $8 million, which will save municipalities across Nova Scotia about $8 million this year. Through the 2007 memorandum of understanding, savings to municipalities from 2014 onward will be about $32 million a year.

We intend to spend a total of $190 million on highway maintenance, while $145 million is earmarked for new construction. We also anticipate an investment of $35 million from the federal government. Our commitment to pave 2,000 kilometres of roads within four

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years is well underway, Mr. Speaker. We have already completed 1,075 kilometres and expect another 425 kilometres to be finished this year. (Applause)

We will continue to develop a new trunk mobile radio system. We're investing $1 million in our plan to ensure fire, police, and emergency health responders have a reliable and comprehensive communications system province-wide.

We are providing safe, healthy learning environments for students. Over the next eight years, we will invest $435 million to build and renovate schools. (Applause) Since 2000, we have delivered 21 new schools, valued at $251 million. We continue construction on 12 new schools and renovations to 30 more. We are investing $51.7 million in capital projects for health infrastructure in several communities around the province.

Mr. Speaker, we intend to give Nova Scotians the tools they need to succeed. We will invest $18.6 million to ensure that every corner of this province has access to high-speed Internet by the end of 2009. (Applause) This year, an additional $10.7 million will be invested, making us one of the most connected jurisdictions in North America, ahead of every Canadian province and, with the exception of one, every other U.S. state. As a result, we're bringing a world of opportunities to our doorstep.

Our broadband project is just one example of how we are creating the winning conditions we need to succeed. And we believe strongly in our ability to succeed as North America's Atlantic Gateway. (Applause) To further our objective as a strategic, integrated and globally competitive transportation link, we will invest $80,000 to create the Gateway Council. As well, $1 million will be spent to raise awareness around the advantages of the Atlantic Gateway and maintain our excellent North American connections.

Additionally, $50,000 will create an Atlantic Gateway Initiative at Dalhousie's Centre for International Trade and Transportation. This course will further our objective to create a Logistics Centre of Excellence focused on engaging the academic community as well as research and development.

A thriving cultural sector contributes to our economy in all regions of the province and is essential for healthy, vibrant communities. We're committed to doubling the $8.2 million budget for culture over the next three years. We will invest an additional $1.2 million this year, another $2.4 million next year and an additional $4.6 million in year three. (Applause)

Our immigration strategy is getting results, Mr. Speaker. Last year, we welcomed almost 2,600 new immigrants. Our retention rates are improving, rising from 37 per cent in 2001 to 64 per cent in 2006. We're increasing the funding for community-based settlement organizations by $500,000, and we're adding $110,000 to further market our province. (Applause)

[Page 2265]

We will have one of the cleanest, most sustainable environments by 2020. It's the law. In fact, we are one of only a few provinces that has set out our environmental and sustainability goals in law. We are already seeing results.

Funds from the $42.5 million Ecotrust fund have been provided to support tidal development, to help the Halifax Infirmary convert to natural gas, and for renewable energy projects like the Minas Basin Pulp and Power project. (Applause) We have negotiated a $5 million fund for carbon capture and storage with the Government of Canada. We are investing $450,000 in climate change. This will help us to meet our aggressive greenhouse-gas reduction target of 10 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. Our climate change action plan will be completed this year and will focus on using less energy and more renewables like wind and tidal power.

We have tremendous potential for tidal power in the Bay of Fundy. In fact, we have the best site for tidal power generation in North America. We have committed $5 million for a demonstration facility to evaluate tidal devices from around the world, which has led to an additional $3 million investment from EnCana. We're moving forward carefully, Mr. Speaker, because we know the world's largest tides are also one of our most precious resources.

Mr. Speaker, our Renewable Energy Standard will almost double the amount of green energy in Nova Scotia over the next five years. This will mean that 100,000 homes will be powered by green energy and 750,000 tons of greenhouse gases will be displaced from our air. Already, these standards are resulting in wind turbine construction of over $1 billion. Through our gas market development fund, we are investing $1 million to help Saint Mary's University convert to natural gas. Through Conserve Nova Scotia, we are spending $10.2 million on energy efficiency measures. To encourage greater use of public transit, we will be investing $3 million in an incentive program to help municipalities provide public transit in unserved and underserved rural areas. (Applause)

We will integrate environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. We're investing an additional $400,000 to further support the goals and targets outlined in our legislation. We will do this because we know that true prosperity is a combination of people, the economy, and the environment. All must prosper if we are to ensure the quality of life for future generations. That's also why we are developing a Coastal Management Framework and investing $200,000 for two coastal coordinators. Good coastal management will help provide economic growth while protecting our environment.

As our legislation requires, we are developing strategies for the sustainable management of our forests, minerals, provincial parks and water resources, as well as our ecosystems. We are also increasing the amount of land protected in Nova Scotia. Our goal is to protect 12 per cent of total land mass in the province by 2015. We are well on our way to meeting that goal, Mr. Speaker. (Applause)

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Our path to 2020 is rooted in the infinite potential of this province and our people.

Today, we are making choices that will help us realize that potential. Our budget is balanced.

We are lowering our debt. We are making prudent spending choices. We are laying a sound and solid fiscal plan for the future and for a new Nova Scotia. Thank you. (Prolonged Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Premier on an introduction.

HON. RODNEY MACDONALD (The Premier): Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and thank you to our Minister of Finance on the delivery of his speech. (Applause)

I have a couple of introductions, if I might beg the indulgence of the House. One is a guest in the east gallery, Diane van der Horden from the Salvation Army who has joined us here today. I would ask all members to welcome her and I'd ask her to rise and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, I also have a couple of family members here who made the long trip from my home community of Mabou, if I might take the time to introduce them as well.

AN HON. MEMBER: Did they take the bus?

THE PREMIER: No, they didn't take the bus, as the member is asking me. They would be waiting a long time in Mabou for that.

Mr. Speaker, I want to welcome my father, Alex Angus MacDonald; my mother, Elizabeth Ann; and my younger sister Charlene Gillis and her son, Kenny Gillis. I'd ask them to rise and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Finance on an introduction.

HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. While I don't wish to take anyone else's thunder, I'd like to make an introduction in the gallery as well. With us today is Mr. Derek Wells, President of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia, whom I know as the man who helped me start my legal career a long, long time ago. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.

MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am pleased to rise for the eighth time as the Opposition Finance Critic on the debate in reply to a budget. I have seen better budgets; I have seen worse budgets. But one thing that I think I can say on behalf of my colleagues without fear of contradiction is that we congratulate the Minister of Finance on the fact that he continues to meet his health challenges and for his delivery of another

[Page 2267]

budget in this House. (Applause) Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance is a credit to this House and to the province.

In my remarks that I will continue on Thursday, I will go into more of the detail around the budget, but in my remarks today I want to focus on the one thing in the budget that will impact virtually everybody in this province. So when the people of Nova Scotia say to themselves, what does this budget mean for me, the answer is, as a result of the decisions made by this Premier and this government, their electricity bill will go up by $100 per year. That is what the budget means for them. Every single household in Nova Scotia that receives an electricity bill will pay more as a result of this budget.

There are 378,000 households in Nova Scotia, and every single one of those households will pay more as a result of this budget. Whether it is a senior in Yarmouth or a farmer in Colchester County, or a working family in Whitney Pier or a volunteer firefighter in Pictou County, a fisherman and his family in Shelburne County, a health care worker in Inverness County, whether it's a film technician in Halifax - every single person in this province who pays an electricity bill is going to be paying more as a result of this budget.

The centrepiece of this budget is an 8 per cent, across-the-board tax increase on electricity bills, Mr. Speaker. We believe the people of Nova Scotia will be dismayed by that, and we are dismayed by that as well.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member for Halifax Fairview has the floor.

MR. STEELE: Not only is this the wrong direction for families who need help with their energy costs, Mr. Speaker, it is a direct repudiation of a promise made by the Premier in the last election. Mr. Speaker, in the last election the Premier had seven key priorities and one of those priorities was giving working families a break through lower taxes on household essentials like energy. Well, what happened in the time since that promise was made and today? Is it that working families don't need a break anymore? Is it that their energy costs are going down? It is a disservice to this government that they are stepping back again from one of their key election promises.

The purpose of this change in HST on electricity is to generate more revenue for the government. As a result of this change, the government will save $28 million. In exchange, the replacement for that is a program the government estimates will cost $10 million. They are taking away $28 million from the people of the province and giving back some $10 million, the rest is revenue to the government. Even the $10 million program we know won't work. How do we know it won't work? We know it won't work because it is in all substantive respects exactly like the old Keep the Heat program which did not work. The reason it didn't work was because it was an application-based program. In order to get the money, you had to submit an application with supporting paperwork. We know from

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experience that only a small percentage of the eligible families actually went through the process necessary in order to get the rebate.

The fairness of the HST rebate was that it was automatic; if you got an electricity bill, you got the rebate. The government has taken that away and is substituting a program that we know from previous experience will not be applied for by many seniors, by many lower income families. It may be because they are challenged by literacy; we know that paper-based application programs defeat many people who don't have the capacity to read, understand, fill out and send in any kind of basic paperwork. Those are precisely the people who again are going to be left out of the government program.

Mr. Speaker, in the Budget Highlights document this change, which is the most important part of the budget, is barely mentioned. No wonder, the government would like to draw attention to other features of the budget. If anybody asks me, or any of my colleagues, or anybody else in the House, what part of the budget is most likely to affect me and my family directly, this is the answer, your electricity bill is going to go up. That barely rakes a mention in the government's Budget Highlights project.

[3:45 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, the difficulty that we have with this Keep the Heat program doesn't lie with the purpose of the program. Despite the rhetoric of the Liberal Party, we never asked for or advocated or wanted the abolition of the program. In fact, ever since it has been abolished, we have said to the government it needs to come back because that was the piece of the puzzle that was missing. Instead, the government says it has got to be one or the other, you can't have both. There is no reason for that. There is no reason to set up lower income Nova Scotians in contrast to middle income Nova Scotians. There is no reason to pit one part of society against another and say well if they get some money you can't and if you want some money you can't. Now we find today the Liberal Party, which proclaims victory in the reinstitution of a Keep the Heat program, are equally responsible for the increase in the electricity tax on all other households in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Speaker, 378,000 households in Nova Scotia who currently get the electricity rebate and 50,000 households, at the maximum, will qualify for the new Keep the Heat program - everybody else is going to see their electricity bills go up. That is not a good choice. That is not a necessary choice, particularly from a government that went on a year-end spending spree costing hundreds of millions of dollars. It's difficult for them now to turn around and say, well, we didn't have the money, you have to make choices.

Mr. Speaker, in the news conference just preceding the Budget Speech, the Minister of Finance even suggested that it was a choice between funding the Pharmacare Program and funding the energy rebate. He actually drew a line between those two and said it was one or

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the other. Well, in the 2006 election I remember the Premier promising both. I don't remember him saying that it was a choice, that it was one or the other. This is the wrong choice for the people of Nova Scotia. It's going to hurt Nova Scotia families at the very time that energy prices are rising. At the very time that Nova Scotia families need help, their government's answer is to increase, across the board, the tax on electricity. Nova Scotians will be dismayed by this and we, too, are dismayed by this.

Naturally there are good things in the budget. It is not possible for anyone to spend $8.3 billion and not do some good things. I want to mention, in particular, the new money for colorectal screening. I want to mention the government's funding of the drug Avastin, Mr. Speaker, something that has been asked for by many. I know that a particular person is in the minds of everyone when the drug Avastin is mentioned and for him, unfortunately, it comes too late.

Mr. Speaker, we are pleased to see that part of student assistance, 20 per cent of provincial student assistance, will now be paid as a grant rather than as a loan and that is a small but positive step forward for post-secondary education in this province. Of course, there are a number of other things which I will be pleased to discuss further in my speech on Thursday. I don't want anybody to think that I or my colleagues are completely opposed to the budget. Of course, there are some good things in it but that doesn't take away from the fact that the centrepiece of the budget is not good for Nova Scotia families. It's going to make life more difficult for them.

Here in this caucus we know what our job is. We will take our time to decide. It's a heavy decision knowing that if a budget is defeated, there must be an election. It's not a decision to be taken lightly, notwithstanding the fact that we are dismayed by the government's increase in the tax on electricity. We are not going to decide today whether or not we will support the budget. We will do our job. We will listen to the people who sent us here. We will listen to what they have to say. We will listen to their reaction to the budget. We will hear from them whether they believe that this budget is good for them and their families. When we come back here on or around May 14th when we expect to vote on the budget, we will do our job. We will do what is right for the people who sent us here and, above all, we will do what achieves a better deal for Nova Scotia families.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I move adjournment of the debate in reply to the budget.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a motion to adjourn the debate.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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We will now go to the daily routine but before I go there, there has been a draw for the late debate. Tonight's late debate was put in by the honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.

Therefore be it resolved that the government recognize the increased costs of fuel, electricity and other direct expenses incurred by organizations that offer day programs for disabled individuals and provide appropriate funding, lifting the freeze on funding that most such organizations have experienced for at least a decade.

PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.

MS. VICKI CONRAD: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table the following petition, of which 225 signatures that are there, my signature is affixed. The operative clause is:

"WE, the undersigned, petition our government to fix the Port Medway road, properly. For years they have either ignored our road or patched the large problem areas only to have the same ruts and bumps reappear the following year. The current road condition is unacceptable. There is only one access road to our scenic little village, which brings in numerous tourists each year. We have a lovely park, a tennis court, a ball field and a fire department, all on the highly published light house route, we don't believe the current road condition would be appealing to any visitors let alone residents. The ruts and bumps have already cost many of the tax paying residence [sic] in numerous vehicle repairs. PLEASE FIX OUR ROAD."

MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.

PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES

TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table the Nova Scotia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Office, 2007 Annual Report.

MR. SPEAKER: The report is tabled.

STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS

GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION

[Page 2271]

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

NOTICES OF MOTION

ORDERS OF THE DAY

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Speaker, just in advance of Question Period, to make sure we have the full complement for the benefit of the Opposition, I would ask for the concurrence of the House, if we could recess for four minutes and we'll be ready to start on or before the hour.

MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

We are recessed for four minutes.

[3:54 p.m. The House recessed.]

[4:07 p.m. The House resumed.]

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time is now 4:07 p.m. We will go until 5:07 p.m. for Oral Question Period.

ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

PREM.: ELECTION PLATFORM - COMMITMENTS

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, my question is through you to the Premier. Giving working families lower taxes on household essentials like energy was one of the seven key priorities in the Premier's 2006 platform, Rodney MacDonald's Plan for a Stronger Nova Scotia. Now Nova Scotians have learned that, just as in 2003, a Progressive Conservative tax promise in a Progressive Conservative platform isn't worth the glossy paper it's written on. My question, Mr. Speaker, through you to the Premier is this: Why have you renounced one of the seven key priorities in your election platform?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in my place, following the address by our Minister of Finance, to announce our seventh consecutive balanced budget for this province. (Applause) A budget that focuses on the priorities of Nova Scotians and many

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areas of that budget provide tax relief and puts dollars into the hands of hard-working families throughout our province.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, the fact is that by breaking one of his seven key commitments from the last election campaign the Premier is imposing an 8 per cent increase in the cost of electricity for nearly 380,000 households in this province. This is being piled on to the increases in other energy costs like gasoline, heating oil - increases that have already put severe strains on household budgets. So my question to the Premier is, how can the Premier justify imposing an electricity price increase on Nova Scotia families at this time?

THE PREMIER: I can appreciate my honourable colleague is attempting to confuse the situation. The reality is this: Nova Scotians will receive the 8 per cent HST for their essential heating, whether it's oil or over the 27 kilowatt hours in the day. It's very broad based, including - and I've heard it time and time again from the members on the opposite benches, suggesting we should do more for low-income Nova Scotians, and we agree, Mr. Speaker, we agree. (Applause) That's why low-income Nova Scotians will not only get the oil HST rebate, not only perhaps receive some portion of their HST, that 8 per cent on other electrical, will also receive the $200, potentially, rebate under HARP. So this is making a difference where a difference needs to be made.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I don't think Nova Scotian families are confused. They remember when this Premier went out on the election hustings and went out and told people (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order.

MR. DEXTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This Premier made a commitment to the people of Nova Scotia. He said that home energy costs were no longer going to have the HST on them, and now Nova Scotian families are going to be hit with higher power rates. They have been hit already with higher power rates in three of the last four years, and the 8 per cent Progressive Conservative power price increase that takes effect in two weeks is one of the single biggest hikes in a generation. My question to the Premier is this: Can he tell hard-working Nova Scotians how this electricity increase - one of the highest in recent years - is going to build a stronger Nova Scotia?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the NDP think there's an endless pit of money in this province. That's what they're saying - nothing about affordability, nothing about getting to those who really need the help. This government is going to make sure that low- income Nova Scotians get the help they need, and that's what our program is all about. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.

[Page 2273]

PREM.: GAS PRICING - ADDRESS

MR. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. Today we have seen that this government is committed to high gas prices in this province. The Premier refuses to put forward any policy that would help the pocketbooks of consumers. Gas regulation and high gas taxes continue to make our province uncompetitive and it continues to drive business out of this province. My question to the Premier is, why do you continue to refuse to deal with the high price of gas in this province?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, there are many investments made in the budget to assist Nova Scotians in a variety of areas whether that's through new recreational infrastructure in their communities, the healthy living tax incentive, many other tax incentives, putting dollars back into their hands. The reality is - as I've said time and time again - we need those dollars, by law, to go back into our highways. I'm sure my honourable colleague is not suggesting that this province go back to what it was doing in the 1990's back into deficits and growing debt.

MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, when the Premier won the leadership, the price of gas in this province was 92 cents a litre - the price of gas is now well over $1.30 a litre. This government has not done one thing to help lower the price of gas. In fact . . .

MR SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. MCNEIL: . . . they've continually put forward policies that keep the price of gas high. The evidence is clear - this government is committed to high gas prices in this province. My question to the Premier is, how high does the price of gas have to before you stop gouging consumers in the province of Nova Scotia?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Liberal Party wants this province to go back into a deficit and a growing debt. It might be the way for that Party, it's not the way for this government - the 7th consecutive balanced budget in this province.

MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Liberal Party wants business to be competitive in this province and the Premier to take his hands out of the pockets - every Thursday of the week, he and the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations stick their hand in the pockets of Nova Scotia consumers.

MR. SPEAKER: I think you're pretty close to the line.

MR. MCNEIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Premier needs to look at this issue not as a struggling politician trying to hold onto his pride but as a small business owner or a consumer of this province who are falling behind on hard times. Stats Canada reported yesterday that Nova Scotia is the lowest real GDP growth in Canada. We have all heard of the

[Page 2274]

struggling businesses along the border due to the 10 per cent difference with New Brunswick and yet this does not concern our Premier. My question to the Premier is, how long do Nova Scotians have to suffer before you address the price of gas in the province?

[4:15 p.m.]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, if my honourable colleague is asking if I'm proud, I am proud to be a Nova Scotian. I am proud of a great province that is growing each and every year, that is investing in priorities like a new Pharmacare Program for all Nova Scotians, that is investing and making our roads better from one end of the province to the other, investing and making business grow. It is not by accident that there are over 20,000 new jobs in this province in the past year as a result of good decision-making by this government.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

PREM. HARP PROGS.: BENEFITS - DETAILS

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, my question will be through you to the Premier. In 2006, the Premier stood on people's doorsteps, he knocked on their doors, he may have even gone into their houses and he made a commitment to them and today he has decided not to keep that commitment. I don't know what they call that in Mabou but I do know what they call that in Milton.

Mr. Speaker, under measures announced in the budget, 380,000 households in Nova Scotia will be paying more for electricity.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. DEXTER: This tax grab will put some $30 million more in government coffers. At most, only a third of that extra revenue will be redirected to assist low income Nova Scotians through the HARP program. My question to the Premier through you why is he planning to grab nearly $30 million from electricity users while returning only a small portion to help low income Nova Scotians with their heating costs?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, a broad- based program that is helping Nova Scotians and specifically low income Nova Scotians makes absolute sense. Last week, my honourable colleague has suggested that a new nursing home wasn't being built. In fact, the walls are going up and I don't know what they call it in his area but I know what they call that in my area.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

[Page 2275]

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, reimposing the electricity tax on Nova Scotians will raise a lot of money for the government but very little of that will be used to help those on low incomes. In fact, under the Premier's new plan, the net home heating assistance for people on low incomes will be less than half of what it was under the old Keep the Heat Program. So my question to the Premier is this, why, at a time of soaring prices for home heating costs, would he bring forward a program that provides so few benefits for the neediest among us?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, in fact, the program is designed to help those Nova Scotians who need our help. I heard the Leader of the Opposition and all colleagues in the Legislature suggesting that the government should do more with regards to providing a direct assistance program. Through the announcement today and through the budget, the government has done just that. Yes, it is the Nova Scotian way to help those who are in need of help and we also have to find a balance between helping those who need our help and making sure that these programs are affordable. Today's announcement in the budget does just that.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, with this electricity tax, the Premier has abandoned one of the seven key commitments made in the 2006 election platform. He has abandoned his pledge of lower taxes on household essentials like energy.

So my question, Mr. Speaker, through you to the Premier is this, what other priorities in his platform, or in today's budget for that matter, does he plan to abandon next? (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. There will be no more breaks before Question Period. (Laughter)

The honourable Premier.

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, my colleague suggests that the Opposition Leader has abandoned common sense and perhaps he's right.

Mr. Speaker, again, the government has found a balance in moving forward with this program, a balance between providing HST relief to our fellow Nova Scotians and to ensuring that there is additional relief for low income Nova Scotians. I find it hard to believe that he's speaking out against helping those who are in most need of help.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

BUDGET (N.S. 2008-09): SECURITY BREACH - EXPLAIN

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, my question is through you to the Premier. As we all know, budget security is taken very seriously because the contents of a budget can be used for many things, including personal gain. That is why a lockup is held. Last night the

[Page 2276]

CTV Evening News from Halifax carried an accurate report of the single most significant item in today's budget - the new 8 per cent tax on household electricity. This news item has direct relevance for a publicly traded corporation and I would like to ask the Premier this - how does the Premier explain this extraordinary breach of usual budget security?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I share my honourable colleague's concern in that regard but we take this issue, as with every issue around the budget, very seriously. I do appreciate that he has raised the issue. It's certainly something I've already raised with members of the government.

MR. DEXTER: Well, Mr. Speaker, this morning the Halifax Chronicle-Herald reported additional details from the budget. These details are directly attributed to a source within government. That same government source appears to have confirmed the electricity tax hike a day before the budget, knowing that Nova Scotia Power is a publicly traded and regulated corporation. So my question to the Premier is this, will the Premier report what he has done to determine who in his government provided that information in breach of all the measures taken to ensure that no one can benefit from advanced knowledge of the budget?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition is stretching a long bow, but I indicated, of course, that it's a concern for me and I share the concern that he has, but what is this issue all about? This issue is about a program that is helping low income Nova Scotians. I'm more concerned with ensuring that the heat is on in the homes of my fellow Nova Scotians.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious question about something that all Nova Scotians should be concerned about, which is the security of the Department of Finance with respect to the preparation of the budget. With the greatest respect to the Premier, staff may not always tell him everything he needs to know in order to do his job properly. It has been known to happen.

Mr. Speaker, through you, will the Premier ensure that there is a proper investigation and a report to Nova Scotians through this House about the breach of budget security and, in particular, will he find out and tell us whether anyone on his own staff breached budget security.

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I share the member's concern and I will do as I would do in any situation like this, do a proper review with my colleagues and in my office and ask questions.

Mr. Speaker, again the Leader of the Opposition is stretching a long bow. It sounds to me like he agrees with a lot of the things this government has done in the budget because he is speaking about an issue and the focus of that issue should really be on the program that is helping our fellow Nova Scotians.

[Page 2277]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.

HEALTH: PHYSICIAN SHORTAGES - ADDRESS

MR. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. Today Nova Scotians learned exactly where this government stands when it comes to ensuring that health care will be available to Nova Scotians where and when they need it. This past weekend Northside General ER was closed for 18 hours and New Waterford for a total of 14 hours, due to the lack of physicians. So my question to the Premier is, why does your government not have a plan in place to better address the issue of physician shortages in underserviced areas throughout this province?

HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, there are a number of issues and a number of things going on to ensure that ERs do not close across this province. We are negotiating the master agreement to make sure that all physicians are treated equitably in their funding and making sure that there are no discrepancies among ERs.

Mr. Speaker, we're also making sure that we have the correct number of residency seats, as was mentioned in the Budget Speech. We'll continue to work on a fair strategy so that all regions of this province are treated equitably when it comes to ER services.

MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, they're all treated equitably, they're all closed an equal number of times across the province.

The issue of ER closures across this province has not miraculously corrected itself. Residents in Tatamagouche, North Sydney, Annapolis, New Waterford, Digby, Glace Bay, just to name a few, don't believe for a second that this government has a plan to ensure the availability of physicians or, more importantly, into the future.

My question is to the Premier, could the Premier explain why his government has failed to comprehend the future needs of underserviced communities across this province when it comes to physician recruitment?

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his concern in rural areas, Nova Scotia as well. Digby, for example, has been successful in recruiting and ascertaining an ER doctor. It is going forward in the hiring of two nurse practitioners. That ER will be servicing the population of all the Digby area as soon as those people can be hired. Also the member opposite forgets the stellar EHS system that we do have in this province. We do have the best emergency system in all of Canada.

MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, last week I suggested one initiative that the province should consider, by dedicating 20 medical school seats per year, offering free tuition to those students who agreed to work in underserviced areas for five years. This will help to ensure

[Page 2278]

that these communities will have stability into the future. So my question to the Premier is, what initiative does the Premier plan to implement that will ensure Nova Scotians living in underserviced communities will once again have 24/7 emergency room access?

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the member opposite for the suggestion. It is one that we've been working on for a number of months with Dalhousie University, which does have our medical program in this province, to make sure that there are 20 seats available.

As the member opposite may or may not know, New Brunswick is going to be setting up their own medical school, which will be freeing up some spaces within that school. We'll be utilizing those spaces, as well as 10 more spaces, to use for Nova Scotia students to go through that medical program to come back and work for Nova Scotia.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.

HEALTH - LILLIAN FRASER MEM. HOSP.:

RENOVATIONS - STATUS

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, my question is through you this time to the Minister of Health. The good people of Tatamagouche have been waiting years for this government to live up to promises of renovations at the Lillian Fraser Memorial Hospital. As a matter of fact, it has been three years and 15 days since that renovation was first announced. People all along the North Shore dug deep into their own pockets to raise $500,000 for their share of the upgrades but were met with Progressive Conservative inaction. So my question for the minister is this, if it is ever going to be completed, will the North Shore residents be getting everything they were promised?

HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, the residents of the North Shore, of course, will be receiving as much as we possibly can provide to them. It is in design work right now. We are making sure that the needs of that community will be helped. I can assure the member opposite that Phase 1 has already been done on that facility which was, of course, working on the electrical systems, the mechanical systems of that facility and then the renovation, I believe, of the in-patient piece will be to follow. I can assure the member opposite that work will be begun.

I want to do this. There is another press release that came out from the NDP that was quoting something which wasn't happening in this province which actually was and I am going to quote from that press release: A nursing home to serve the Cobequid region was first promised in 2002 but nearly six years later, more than a dozen promises, including one in 2005, ground has yet to be broken. This badly-needed, 150 bed facility. Again, Mr. Speaker, I am going to table a picture of construction ongoing at that wonderful facility just off the Hammonds Plains Road which serves all that region.

[Page 2279]

[4:30 p.m.]

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, the minister said on February 21st, "We believe it is very important to provide all rural residents with a broader range of health services so that they can get the care they need and deserve in their own communities." But that is not apparently what they have decided to do. The Colchester-East Hants Health Authority reports, "The scope of the work does not include upgrades to all inpatient rooms or the redevelopment of the laboratory, registration area or emergency department." So my question for the minister is pretty simple, which one is it, Mr. Minister, upgrades to the lab and ER or not?

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite brings up an interesting and very important issue for the residents of Tatamagouche and, of course, the North Shore of that county. We continue, we have already announced Phase II will be going on. Construction, I hope, will begin as soon as design work is done.

Mr. Speaker, I do also want to quote from an article that was in The ChronicleHerald, I believe it is the Bedford-Sackville Daily News. Basically, this came from the member for Sackville-Cobequid who, of course, is my Health Critic. He also quotes: Recently the Conservatives have promised two area facilities but no ground has been broken. Again, I would like to show a really nice document here, a picture of work that is going on right now.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I am sure the minister has gotten that out of his system now. Maybe we can get on with the business. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I can't hear the member.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, the Lillian Fraser ER has been closed a total of 26 days since December because of the lack of ER doctors. My question is why doesn't this government admit it has no plans to continue emergency care in rural communities?

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, once again they are not paying attention to what is going on on this side of the House. What is going on in the Government of Nova Scotia. Looking at the changes that we have been talking about, transformation in the health system all across Nova Scotia, looking at the opening, and making sure of the continued opening of ERs across this province. Looking at the added primary services that we want to give to all Nova Scotians, making sure that they have the services that they need in all areas. We will continue to do our work. If they choose to ignore it, well, that is just their fault.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

HEALTH - PICTOU. CO.: MEDICAL TREATMENT - ASSURE

[Page 2280]

MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. Yesterday, the Pictou County Health Authority announced it was shutting down its intensive care unit for at least two weeks because the interns are exhausted and I will provide a picture of that for the minister when it closes. Those specialists have been working on-call shifts every second and third day for a month. That's not sustainable for any professionals, let alone a specialist who makes a life and death decision on a daily basis. My question for the Minister of Health is, what is his government doing to ensure the people of Pictou County get the quality medical treatment they deserve in a timely fashion?

HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, as we know, this is an unfortunate situation for the residents of Pictou County, of course, the people going to the Aberdeen Hospital. It is very important this information became available to the community to make plans for the future. We are, through Doctors Nova Scotia and the department, currently negotiating the master agreement plus we need to make some of those changes and have them available so the recruiting can become easier for all ICUs, ERs and such across the province.

At this point, we understand locums were unable to come at this time, but they do hope to have that ICU open by mid-May.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Speaker, the Aberdeen closure is just the latest in a series of cracks we have witnessed in the fragile health care system here in the province. The ICU is often described as the heart of the hospital, allowing for the critical care for the most ill patients here in our province. Since last Spring, the intensive care units in Bridgewater, Amherst, Truro and now in New Glasgow have gone into cardiac arrest, shutting down their services. My question to the Minister of Health is, why has his government failed to respond to an ongoing problem that threatens the core services in regional hospitals throughout Nova Scotia?

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, to the member opposite, I can quickly say, through the master agreement, a lot of the issues brought up from the other ICUs across the province - more specifically the ones in Bridgewater and Amherst - will be addressed. We do have the added issue of a lack of a doctor at the ICU in Pictou County and I know the district health authority is doing everything it can do to recruit another professional for that area. I'm very happy to know some of that work is being done right now.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Speaker, the government's own guide to transforming health care in Nova Scotia concludes that every regional hospital outside Halifax and Sydney supply a minium of core services - safe, reliable emergency care; family medicine; general internal medicine; general surgery; anesthesiology and critical care capability. Although there is an obvious shortage of internists, why is his department only recruiting for three internists in Kentville, Antigonish and Truro?

[Page 2281]

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite knows, all district health authorities are responsible for recruiting to their areas. I know the Pictou County Health Authority is doing all it can do to recruit an individual for that site. Again, I'm bullish about the future there, that they will have the full complement of ICU doctors and internists to offer that service on a full time basis.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.

EDUC. - SCH. PRIORITY LIST: SCH. BDS. -

REQUESTS HONOUR

MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education. Yesterday the Department of Education was ever so gracious to hold a briefing on the status of the school capital construction list. As most expected, 11 of the 13 new schools scheduled for construction from 2008 until 2011 are in government ridings, and much to the disappointment of students and parents who have patiently waited for renovations and/or construction in non-government ridings, little progress has been made.

Mr. Speaker, every student in Nova Scotia deserves a safe learning environment regardless of their geographic location. My question to the minister is, why has the government ignored deteriorating schools, desperate for repair and reconstruction, in non-government ridings?

HON. KAREN CASEY: Mr. Speaker, to the member opposite, thank you for the question. We certainly do agree on one thing and that's that every student in this province deserves a top-notch facility within which they should study. I do appreciate the reference to the briefing that was prepared and delivered yesterday by my staff to make sure that people completely understood the capital construction process. As part of that report I would also like to draw the member's attention to the fact that in that 2003 list, from which we are working, five schools have been completed, three of those in non-government ridings.

MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, we're obviously talking about going forward. This government has disregarded the priority list of school boards in the past and I have no doubt they will continue that trend in the future. In an article published in today's ChronicleHerald, the Department of Education acknowledged that they had received a phone call from a Minister of the Crown asking for a newly constructed school instead of a renovated one. That request was granted.

Mr. Speaker, this government is building new schools in ridings where they only require renovation and ignoring schools in other ridings that are in dire need of renovation and reconstruction. My question to the minister, will the minister stop pitting schools against one another and base school capital construction on merit?

[Page 2282]

MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, I would again refer to the 2003 construction list. On that list we had 12 new schools and 45 renovation projects. I would like to remind the member opposite and all members of the House that I was pleased to join the member opposite as we officially opened the renovations to his former school in his riding.

MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, obviously a picture is worth a thousand words, but the minister has only been around since 2006 and that school was a priority of AVRSB. Many students continue to be subjected to unsafe learning environments and this government has turned a blind eye. Dartmouth High is one of these schools. First opened its doors in 1959, the last significant renovation occurred in 1967. It has been among the top priorities of HRSB since 2005 yet no progress has been made. To add further insult to injury this government has promised renovations to Dartmouth High.

MR. SPEAKER: Is there a question?

MR. GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, I want to repeat, 11 of 13 new schools scheduled for construction in government ridings.

MR. SPEAKER: Do you have a question?

MR. GLAVINE: This is an initiative . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order. Do you have a question?

MR. GLAVINE: This is an initiative for Progressive Conservative ridings, not a province-wide initiative. My question to the minister is, will the minister commit to working with the school boards and honouring their highest priorities rather than ministerial requests?

MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, to the member opposite and to members of the House, I am not prepared to repeat my answer, but I will say that all requests from school boards are given serious consideration. There is a capital construction list review committee that reviews all of those requests and they give advice to the minister and when that advice comes I will be taking a new list before the capital construction and before Cabinet. I will say this, that every school in this province that has a need has an opportunity to identify that through their school board on to my department and we will respond, we have with the $400 million plus commitment and we will continue.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.

TIR: ROAD DETERIORATION - JUSTIFICATION

MS. MICHELE RAYMOND: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. Our province justifiably prides itself on its natural

[Page 2283]

beauty, its built heritage and its many tourist attractions. Many of the roads, however, that lead to those attractions are in dreadful shape and have been getting worse. A critical part of marketing our province is ensuring that travellers do have a safe and pleasant experience while they're here. Tourists post their impressions good, bad, or otherwise on Web sites that are read by thousands of people around the world and the reports on Nova Scotia are an embarrassment.

MR. SPEAKER: Question.

MS. RAYMOND: I ask the minister, how does this government justify allowing our province's roads to deteriorate so badly during the past nine years?

HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, it's almost like fishing in the bathtub. I'm not sure where the honourable member has been for the last nine years. This government has gone from a $47 million capital budget to last year of $160 million. I'm very proud of the capital budget this government put forward for roads. We have a commitment of 2,000 kilometres over four years; we're meeting that commitment. The Premier has made a commitment to twin, modernize highways from one end of Nova Scotia to the other by 2020. That's a proud record and I'm proud of the government and proud of the Premier for that commitment.

MS. RAYMOND: Mr. Speaker, I'm glad to hear that the minister is proud of his time spent fishing in a bathtub. Where I have been during the past nine years has been around this province. Some of those places have, in fact, been in Cumberland County, and one thing I know is that the good people of Cumberland County have been working very hard on developing the Fossil Cliffs Interpretive Centre and they've worked very hard to make that dream a reality for themselves, but the roads (Interruptions) They are and they should be very proud of their own hard work, but the roads, unfortunately, which go to that product are a bone-jarring experience. I ask the minister, with all the talk about gateways, what about acknowledging that the gateways, the secondary roads of this province, are the real gateways to the rural communities and their tourist attractions?

MR. SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for not only acknowledging the hard work of the people of Cumberland South but their good judgment when it comes to elections.

Mr. Speaker, the secondary roads in Cumberland South are not unlike secondary roads across this province that were neglected for 40 and 60 years, but I can tell you, as the MLA for the area, I'm committed to looking after those people and those roads in my constituency.

MS. RAYMOND: I'm glad to hear that the minister is committed. Many tourism operators, however, throughout the province identify the roads to their tourism attractions - often developed through the hard work of the individual members of the constituency - as a real challenge to the industry. Our tourism has huge potential, especially for our rural

[Page 2284]

communities, if you can get to those attractions. My question to the minister is, when will the government begin seriously considering economic factors and be rational in assigning its paving priorities?

[4:45 p.m.]

MR. SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the question. It's a very important issue for all rural Nova Scotians when it comes to our roads. I find it quite interesting that folks get up and stand in this House and suggest to us that we cut taxes from such things as highways and then get up and demand that we do more work. Which way can it be? It can't be both ways. I'm very proud of what this government and this Premier, and the previous Premier, have done as regards roads in this province. I can tell you the public survey that has been taken shows that Nova Scotians recognize and appreciate the great work that this government has done on rural roads in Nova Scotia, and we'll continue to do so.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Glace Bay.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The list that I have shows that the next question comes from the Liberal Party. It is the same list that we used the first day in Question Period. It is the same rotation that we used in the last Question Period we had in the last House, and this is the order that we are going to follow today. If there is discussion, we'll have it after this Question Period.

The honourable member for Glace Bay.

EDUC. - GLACE BAY JR. HS: PRIORITY LIST - STATUS

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Education. This government first announced the construction of a new junior high school in Glace Bay way back in 2003. The opening of the school was originally scheduled for 2007 and then 2009. The government assured the people of Glace Bay the project would get underway immediately. The construction has been delayed a couple of times.

Mr. Speaker, my question for the minister is, is the construction of a new junior high school in Glace Bay still a priority? Has the construction on any other schools been bumped ahead and does it mean another delay for the construction of a new junior high in Glace Bay?

HON. KAREN CASEY: Mr. Speaker, I do believe there are three questions there. I will answer the first question which was, are we still committed to a new junior high school in Glace Bay? The answer is yes.

[Page 2285]

The member opposite would know, as all other members in the House know, I've answered this question many times and I will answer it one more time. One of the things that we are required to do is to find a site that is suitable for the construction of any new school. We are continually working through site selection and assessments of a site to make sure that the site is safe. My commitment to the member opposite and to this House is that when we have a safe site, the construction on the Glace Bay junior high school will begin.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, students and the people of Glace Bay have been waiting for a commitment. They need the commitment from this government and from the minister. I'm sorry if the minister doesn't like that I ask three questions; if you build the school I'll stop asking the questions.

Mr. Speaker, my other question to the minister is, will the minister stand in her place today then and say that the money that has been allocated way back and announced way back in 2003 for the new junior high school in Glace Bay, that money will not be redistributed elsewhere, it will be there for a new junior high in Glace Bay?

MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite does know, the junior high school in Glace Bay is one that this government is committed to and, in the process of that commitment, there was a scope of work identified and there was a price tag put on that scope in 2003. We will build to that scope of work and we will make that commitment to do that when we have a safe site.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, Department of Education officials have been quoted as saying that the construction of Glace Bay junior high may be delayed. The deputy minister has suggested that the money allocated for Glace Bay junior high could get reshuffled to other projects, including a recently added school in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

So, Mr. Speaker, my final question for the minister is, will the minister tell her deputy minister to keep his hands off the money allocated for Glace Bay junior high and tell him to get on with the building of a new junior high in Glace Bay?

MS. CASEY: Mr. Speaker, to the member opposite, the reference to money being redirected to a school in another riding I would like to provide clarification. I know the project that the member speaks of, the dollars that were in that project for 2008-09 have not changed as the result of a new announcement and we will continue to work with the planning on that project, the same as we are on every other one.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

CONSERVE N.S. - GREENHOUSE GAS REDUCTION TARGET:

REVISION - PLANS

[Page 2286]

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, thank you. My question is for the Minister responsible for Conserve Nova Scotia. Last year this House adopted the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act that set a goal for the province's reduction of greenhouse gases by 10 per cent below 1990 levels, to be achieved by the year 2020. Since then additional prestigious studies have suggested that the global situation is much more pressing than the Nova Scotia goal contemplates.

I will give two examples. In 2007 the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which produced the Bali Roadmap, opted for global reductions of 25 per cent to 40 per cent below 1990 level and, as a second example, Sir Nicholas Stern, the UK economist and author of the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, opted for a target of minus 50 per cent for 2050, and he said the target should be increased. In light of these studies, would the minister tell us whether the government is about to revise the greenhouse gas reduction target in any way?

HON. MARK PARENT: Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have a question on the environment. The NDP have been so silent on it, I was beginning to wonder if an environmentalist around the NDP caucus felt the same way as a mosquito in a nudist colony. I do welcome the question and the answer is no, we have not changed our target. It is 10 per cent below 1990 levels.

MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, all responsible studies of global climate change show that comprehensive, aggressive action is imperative. What we are talking about is protecting a fundamental life support system, that is to say, a liveable climate. So let me try a specific number. Will the minister agree that a goal of 40 per cent reduction of greenhouse gases in Nova Scotia by 2020 is both desirable and achievable?

MR. PARENT: Mr. Speaker, the goal that we have set is a 10 per cent reduction from 1990 levels. It is one of the most ambitious goals in Canada. It's about a 36 per cent reduction of what would happen unless we began the reductions that we are going on. So it is an ambitious reduction and we intend to meet it and, if we can, we will surpass it.

MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, all the experts don't agree that this is an ambitious target. Prevention is much better than a cure. In fact, when it comes to global climate change, if prevention is not adequate, then cure, in fact, is not how the problem is described. The language is of coping or of disaster impact. Will the minister explain why, instead of taking effective actions now, he prefers that future Nova Scotians will have to cope with environmental disasters.

MR. PARENT: Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the honourable member that we are working hard on the Climate Change Action Plan. We are leaders. The Province of B.C., which is touted as one of the leaders, has a similar or perhaps even a percentage points less

[Page 2287]

in terms of their greenhouse gas reductions. We are doing things in terms of the electronic recycling program which reduces greenhouse gases. We conserved land in the Halifax area which has conserved greenhouse gases. I am working with my colleague from the ministry in charge of forestry sustainability which will result in credits on greenhouse gases. We just announced, in the budget, a $3 million Public Transit Fund which will help reduce greenhouse gases. We are working very hard and will continue to work hard because we are committed to protecting our environment and to providing our children with as good an environment and as good a quality of life as we have now.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.

SERV. N.S. & MUN. REL.- PESTICIDE BAN:

LEGISLATION - CHANGE

MR. CHARLES PARKER: Mr. Speaker, my question, through you, is to the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. This morning the minister, myself and others in this House, attended the Canadian Cancer Society breakfast and one of the priorities for cancer control outlined by the society was the need for more stringent pesticide controls. Their pamphlet states, research is uncovering worrisome links between pesticide exposure and cancer. They are recommending the banning of cosmetic pesticides to help reduce exposure. They outline the first step is a change to the Municipal Government Act to allow other municipalities outside the HRM to ban pesticides. My question is, will the minister bring forward these needed changes?

HON JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I, too, as the honourable member for Pictou West indicated, was at that breakfast this morning and heard the comments of the Executive Director, Ms. Summers. One of the things that the province was complimented on was its smoke-free policies as being the greatest contribution right now. I believe they still say that tobacco smoke is still the greatest contributor to cancer that there is in the province. The policies which have been established by this government probably lead the country and have been the model for other jurisdictions. I want to compliment my colleague, the Minister of Health Promotion and Protection. Indeed, I was sitting at the table this morning with the Mayor of Wolfville, who did take the time to talk about the recent issue of banning smoking in cars or in vehicles when there are young people present.

Mr. Speaker, we will note, and I just want - I know I am going to get back to this in second supplementary but, Mr. Speaker, other provinces have followed the lead of my colleague in this thing and, of course, the Mayor of Wolfville - it was his council that actually initiated this in this province. So to indicate that we have not done anything in terms of trying to participate in the war against cancer is not accurate.

MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question was on cosmetic pesticides but it is nice to get the update on smoking. Last Fall, the members of the Union of Nova Scotia

[Page 2288]

Municipalities voted unanimously in favour of legal changes that would allow them to enact meaningful pesticide by-laws. Towns like Wolfville and Truro want to take action to protect their residents and ban the cosmetic use of these pesticides. The minister should also be aware of the numerous Nova Scotians who want to see these changes in place.

A recent poll showed that 69 per cent of Nova Scotians want pesticides banned. Even large department stores are now taking the product off their shelves but this government refused to make these necessary changes. So my question - can the Minister tell this House, tell UNSM, tell the people of Nova Scotia why he is refusing to bring forward these changes.

MR. MUIR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm just going to ask for one clarification. The statistic used, 69 per cent of Nova Scotians - I heard another source this morning that said something about 52 or 53, a CRA poll, and I would really seriously appreciate seeing the hard thing because I haven't seen it.

Mr. Speaker, I do recognize and have consulted with UNSM and I will make the same statement I made yesterday in at least two media interviews - we are still considering our legislative agenda. We recognize that this is the number one issue of the UNSM and we are still actively - we have not completed our legislative agenda for this session. I said that yesterday when we introduced the amendments to the Municipal Government Act.

[5:00 p.m.]

MR. PARKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The minister indicated in his interviews yesterday a number of options that were being looked at, that should apply the HRM rules to all municipalities, whether there should be a province-wide ban, perhaps a ban on the sale of the product, or whether the government should just do nothing. But doing nothing is not an option; municipalities need the right to ban this product from their jurisdiction.

My question through you, Mr. Speaker, while he and his colleagues continue their discussions on the possible stronger legislation, will he at least grant the municipalities the same by-law making powers as HRM?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, it's a complex problem. The honourable member knows that and I appreciate him raising the issue. He cited the case of the Municipality of the Town of Truro and what they did was currently within it and they've set up a registry. I've been told by some people they don't need any more authority, there's adequate protection on MDA now, they want to set up a registry.

I've been told by other people that if you allow the banning of cosmetic pesticides the next thing you will do is you will be banning pesticides for the logging operations, you'll be banning them for blueberry operations, you'll be banning them for other agricultural purposes.

[Page 2289]

There are some people who say that giving the municipalities the right to ban is not the answer because it will create a patchwork across the province, there will be no consistency.

Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of questions. This is not simple. What we will try to do, we are still considering what type of legislation, if any, would be in the best interests of Nova Scotians at this time.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Glace Bay.

HEALTH - 2008/2009 DHA BUS. PLANS: APPROVAL -

TIME FRAME

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. As perennial as April showers, district health authorities have been working with the Department of Health since last year on their business plans for 2008-09.

Considerably less predictable, however, is when DHAs can expect approval from government on plans that govern everything from where health services are delivered, more importantly the proper mix of health human resources, to deliver that plan. My question for the minister is, can the minister please indicate this year's target date to approve the 2008-09 District Health Authority Business Plans?

HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite knows that last year we had some fair amount of success where the majority of the business plans were approved by the Fall. I will commit again to work our best through the department to have those business plans approved by September.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, April 3, 2007 - the minister stood in this House and stated, and I quote, "Mr. Speaker, if I could find a way to approve those budgets before we approve the budget here in the House, I would try to do so . . ." He also stated that he would work as fast as he could. Colchester-East Hants received approval of its 2007-08 business plan February 12, 2008, just 48 days before the fiscal year end. It has been an ongoing problem for several years now, and it continues. My question to the minister, why is it not possible for his government to table the District Health Authority Business Plans at the same time the budget for this province is being debated?

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, I know the member for the Official Opposition is answering my question for me, but I won't go down that road. I do want to work as quickly as I can through the department. Of course there are always challenges on bringing those budgets as close to zero as we possibly can when it comes to balanced positions. I know that we came in over the last couple of years with the district health authorities - with the work that they've been doing - within one half of one per cent of budget, which is absolutely phenomenal where we were way off in previous years. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank them for

[Page 2290]

their dedication, the district health authorities, for bringing business plans to the department, ones that we can support and work on.

Mr. Speaker, early last year, I believe it was August and September, we did have the business plans approved for Capital Health, for Cape Breton, for Valley, for Cumberland. So the majority of the business plans were approved at a very quick rate, there were others that did have challenges.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, you've heard the old saying, the tail wagging the dog. It would appear that instead of sitting down with the DHAs to work on an overall strategy on a health plan and the company financial resources - DHAs go through the business planning process, they wait for government then to finally get its act together.

Mr. Speaker, my final question for the minister is, can the minister please explain to us how district health authorities are expected to manage their hospitals along with their health human resources without approvals of business plans?

MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to stand in my place today as a government that has just tabled the seventh consecutive balanced budget in Nova Scotia. It is incumbent upon us to have business plans that are zero, that they are balanced as they come to our department when it comes to the services available in those areas.

Mr. Speaker, it has happened in the past that those business plans have not been in a balanced position. It does take a fair amount of time to come to an agreement with those district health authorities when it comes to the services that they do want to expand, the services they do want to do. I know that they've been working hard to have balanced budgets coming to us. There will come time to time where we will not have balanced budget business plans coming from those departments or from the district health authorities. We will work our hardest to make sure they are. Again, I will commit to the member opposite to have them done as soon as possible, to have them available for September.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, the morning commute from Timberlea, from Lakeside and Beechville is becoming more confusing every morning. When Highway No. 103 merges with Highway No. 102, the traffic snarl that results there is absolutely inexcusable. The problem has been brought to the department . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for a few moments of your time. (Laughter)

[Page 2291]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.

MR. CHUCK PORTER: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.

PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.

MR. CHUCK PORTER: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 125.

Bill No. 125 - Public Service Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Labour and Workforce Development.

HON. MARK PARENT: Mr. Speaker, on April 24th the government introduced the bill that would establish a new Department of Labour and Workforce Development. I thank you for using the full title of the new department since it's important that it be used because it is a new department with significantly new added responsibilities.

When the Premier announced the Department of Labour and Workforce Development in the Throne Speech last November, he noted that one of the challenges facing Nova Scotians was the retaining and recruiting of skilled workers and that positioning those workers for the new industries would be vital for the success of the new Nova Scotia. So, Mr. Speaker, the creation of the Department of Labour and Workforce Development will help us make a very key contribution to that goal that is so important to all Nova Scotians.

The divisions within the Department of Labour and Workforce Development ensure that every Nova Scotian's experience in the workplace is a safe, healthy and productive one, that they have recourse and support when things go wrong in the workforce. Our divisions ensure that our workers enjoy public safety even in their off-hours so that they can look forward and trust in their retirement plans.

I mention workplace safety first - I'm going to get to the workforce development part of it but I mention workplace safety first, Mr. Speaker, because we were here just yesterday on the National Day of Mourning and we want to remember and continue not only on that day but on days throughout the year to remember those workers who died and lost their lives on the job in 2007 and to rededicate ourselves - all of us as MLAs in the respective responsibilities and spheres of influence we have and, of course, my department in its key role - to lift high the culture of safety and encourage people to put safety first, both employees and employers.

[Page 2292]

Mr. Speaker, we are pleased that we have made gains in regard to reducing those tragic statistics but we need to do more and we will not rest until not only do we have a safer Nova Scotia but the safest Nova Scotia across Canada. Workplaces are changing and this division is also changing to keep abreast of the safety needs of new jobs. It's working hard, I want to assure you, to protect Nova Scotians from injury and illness at work.

Along with my division, the Occupational Health and Safety Division, Mr. Speaker, and a very hardworking member, the leader of that division, Jim LeBlanc, I want to mention the work of the Workers' Compensation Board. I don't know if members have seen the ads that are out - I had a chance to preview them. They are heart-rending. I want to thank the family members who have allowed themselves to be interviewed because they share dramatically what it feels like to have a loved one who doesn't come home any longer.

So, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Workers' Compensation Board. They've done some good work also in regard to young workers and that's a challenge that we have. As young workers go into the workforce, young people oftentimes are unaware of the dangers and don't have the experience. So the Workers' Compensation Board has done great work in training and alerting workers. At the Labour Ministers Conference, I was asked - as one of the ministers in a jurisdiction that's leading the way - to speak to this issue and to show the portal we have working with young workers and a lot of that's due to the work of the Workers' Compensation Board.

In addition to safety, Mr. Speaker, we set and meet standards for fairness in our Labour Services and Labour Standards Divisions. We are very, very proud in this province of the work of our conciliators and our labour negotiators. I think members on all sides of the House would agree that they have done a yeoman job. I talk to our mediators now and then and I marvel at the sort of perspective that they have in order to sit down and to work through some very complex issues and to do it in a way that's fair to everybody, and I want to thank them.

With regard to Labour Standards, we have made significant progress. We now protect workers on designated holidays, retail workers. We have raised the minimum wage - I want to thank the committee that worked so hard on that. In particular, I do want to single out one person - all four worked very hard, but I do want to single out Mr. Rick Clarke who's on that committee. Mr. Rick Clarke works on the minimum wage committee as a volunteer, he is on the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee for me and I do want to mention him for his work and, of course, pass on my public condolences to him. Many of us were at the very moving service for his son, who died rather tragically and suddenly. Our hearts go out to Rick and we want to give the best thoughts of this Legislature to he and his wife, Judy, to Nicole and to Tara, the partner of his son. Our thoughts go out to them.

That minimum wage will lift the minimum wage to the low-income cut-off range - I think one of the first provinces to do so, if I'm not mistaken. This, of course, fulfills a

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commitment that we've been making in terms of poverty reduction, which is led, with assistance from me, so ably by the Minister of Community Services. So the division of Labour Standards works hard with those who are not unionized, help get them protection, and the division of Labour Standards works hard with unionized members to make sure there are fair settlements.

We do much more than worker safety and worker protection and standards for fairness. I want to get to this because one of the new aspects of the department that's exciting to me, as minister, is the addition of the Workforce Development. It helps workers take advantage and retrain and look towards the future and get the skills and the training they need in order to take fullest advantage of those opportunities. It works with adults who didn't get their high school education and now have an opportunity to do so.

[5:15 p.m.]

If any of you have ever been at an adult high school graduation, you will know how moving it is. I've had the opportunity to be at a few of them, a couple in Kentville, one in Windsor. Mr. Speaker, these are individuals who have overcome incredible odds and got their high school and then are moving on to pick up other skills. It really does your heart good to go to one of those graduations and to hear the stories and see the determination, excitement and enthusiasm.

The Workforce Development side of Labour and Workforce Development works in that regard - the adult education program, the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning, which has 150 sites across the province, and resources to research careers and to help take advantage of labour market information as well as find jobs in the province through programs such as Opportunities Nova Scotia.

The Apprenticeship Training and Skill Development division of Labour and Workforce Development ensures that training offered in training institutions and in industry - I do want to thank Nova Scotia Community College, they're the main training institution that we partner with, but there are many others as well, but I want to thank them - to ensure their apprenticeship and skills are the highest quality in order to help our province and ensure our province's economic future is even brighter in the coming years than it's been in the past.

We have our Public Safety division where we enforce regulations on equipment, product, services - things that Nova Scotians use on a daily basis and just assume they will be safe. They're safe because our division works so hard on them - things such as elevators, gas boilers, building codes.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the work of the firefighting services and the work that Mr. Cormier and that whole department does, and all of our volunteer firefighters and professional firefighters across this province who work so hard. Also, our paramedics, of

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course, some of whom have deserted their occupation for a little while to be of greater service, or additional service. (Interruption) A long, long while - yes, some of them will for a long, long while, but sometime he'll go back and volunteer maybe in his senior years, when he's 65, unless he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Mr. Ronald Russell, and he will be here for a long, long, long time.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I do want to commend the work that is done by our firefighters and then the work that we do in the regulation of alcohol and gaming. This division ensures the sale and distribution of alcohol, games of chance and film classification are all taking place in ways that protect Nova Scotia and they work very hard at this and do an excellent job.

Then, Mr. Speaker, as people's careers draw to their close, one of the areas I spent a lot of time on recently is another division of the Department of Labour and Workforce Development, one that protects people's pensions in their retirement - the Pension Regulation division. I do want to commend the head of that particular division because it is a real challenge. We hear of horror stories in California where pensions are paying out 20 cents on the dollar and we certainly do not want that to happen to Nova Scotians. So Nancy MacNeill-Smith, head of our pension division, is committed to ensuring that pensions are healthy and strong, private pensions here in Nova Scotia.

So, Mr. Speaker, there are many different divisions in the new Department of Labour and Workforce Development. I would be amiss if I didn't mention how excited I am to have a deputy minister of the caliber, the enthusiasm and the experience as Margaret MacDonald. It is something that I am very grateful for, that she was willing to come on and take on this task, because the Department of Labour and Workforce Development is going to be, and already is, one of the key departments in moving into this new Nova Scotia. It will protect Nova Scotian employee rights from youth to retirement; but it will integrate those protections with the skills, trading and strong workforce that will make them meaningful and desirable in the future.

Educators often talk, Mr. Speaker, about the three Rs. In Labour and Workforce Development, we have the four Rs - recruitment, retention, repatriation and retraining - strategies that encourage people to come back and work in the province. We now have all the critical components that we needed to have a coordinated strategy for the future. We have them all together in one department and the whole will be better than the sum of the parts.

So let me just end very quickly because these demographic challenges are coming upon us. We know of an aging population. We know the pyramid is inverted here in Nova Scotia, similar in many ways to what is in the western world. So we need to work very hard to make sure we have a well-trained and an adequate workforce for the future, Mr. Speaker. Unless we do that, then many other things will not take place and the quality of life we enjoy will not be there.

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So we now have this new department. It's an exciting department, Mr. Speaker, pulling together the old Department of Labour with its emphasis upon protection, upon workers rights, upon labour standards, fire services, pension regulation, with labour and workforce development, marrying them together with a synergistic energy that will make this department one of the key ones. So with those introductory remarks, I will close my comments.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise in my place and speak to Bill No. 125, which is a very short and fairly simple bill establishing a Department of Labour and Workforce Development. Just to put this bill in some context, we used to have a stand-alone Department of Labour in the Province of Nova Scotia until probably the early years of the Hamm majority Government. I think at that time, Premier Hamm had made a commitment to have a smaller Cabinet and in the process of looking at some fiscal restraint and not as big an Executive Council, the Department of Environment and Labour was combined. So really in some ways, Mr. Speaker, this is not an initiative that we haven't seen in the Province of Nova Scotia before, let's put it like that. There has been a stand-alone Department of Labour before and we're returning to that situation.

This particular configuration of the Department of Labour, though, as the minister has indicated, is not precisely the same as the old Department of Labour. There is a new component or a new element to it. That, essentially, is this business around skills development or workforce development, which is taking an existing section, which exists in the Department of Education, as you would know, Mr. Speaker, and moving it into this new department.

Now, Mr. Speaker, the Department of Labour, as we know, is largely responsible to create a regulatory climate for safe workplaces in the province. They do that in a variety of ways and through various components of the department. They have many inspectors who ensure that workplaces are secure and safe and follow all kinds of complex pieces of occupational health and safety regulations. For that, we are very grateful, Mr. Speaker, and we know we have, as well, the Workers' Compensation Board. The minister made reference to this and to yesterday, as the National Day of Mourning. We all attended the service here outside Province House, recognizing the 12 families and the 12 Nova Scotian workers who, unfortunately, lost their lives in workplace accidents over the past year.

The work to improve on workplace safety, so that we can reduce not only tragic deaths but also injuries in the workplace, largely falls on the shoulders of the men and women in this department. Mr. Speaker, it's a very important feature of the Department of Labour and Workforce Development.

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In addition, as the minister also indicated, this is the department that mediates the relations between employers and workers in the province and ensures that there are some uniform standards, in terms of pay, minimum wages, hours of work, uniform closing and holidays and so forth. So it's a very important department, it impacts on a very large number of men and women, families, communities, businesses in the Province of Nova Scotia.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I think quite appropriately, putting the workforce development component into this department, we will see some new activities out of the Department of Labour and Workforce Development.

We all know that we live in a very different time, where our economy has changed quite dramatically and we face challenges. North American employers are investing less and less in workplace training and this has historically been seen by many employers as a cost, rather than an investment. We need to do more work to convince employers that investing in their workforce will increase their productivity and their bottom line and that they not see investment in workers at a cost but, in fact, that they see it as a great benefit.

This department will be tasked with that job of ensuring that human resource development is important and that it gets the proper attention and the priorities so that every man and woman who is able and willing to work is able to work to their full capacity and that they not just have skills, but that they have the kind of skills that will really benefit our economy. Increasingly we know that those skills are the skills of innovation, that you don't just come to the job prepared to work with your particular little widget as it goes along an assembly line. Those days of the assembly line have dramatically changed and now we need people in a knowledge-based economy who are able to problem solve and in fact who can tell the employer how to make the productivity better, how they can do things more cost-effectively, how they can innovate.

So we need those kinds of skills in our workforce and we need employers who understand those are the skills that will benefit them, as well as workers who are prepared to have confidence and are welcome into the production process in a way where they make a contribution beyond just being a cost of production. It's a completely different mindset in many respects and this department is an important part of developing a different mindset.

Mr. Speaker, we certainly support the idea of a stand-alone Department of Labour with a workforce development component. We note that the labour market development agreements between the federal government and the Province of Nova Scotia are being negotiated and will result in a devolution of a number of federal government employees into this department to run employment centres around the province. We sincerely hope that transfer precedes seamlessly and that this government will maintain the employment centres and services, particularly in small towns across the province, and that the labour force, the men and women who need these employment centres and services, will not be in any way disadvantaged and have less services available to them.

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[5:30 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I don't have a lot more to say with respect to this bill but before I take my seat, I do want to register my disappointment that on the one hand, the minister and the government talk almost lovingly about the respect and awe they have for the working men of women in this province. I find it a little bit hard to swallow at times given that Bill No. 1 is still on the books of this Legislature, that the debate on Bill No. 1 has been suspended or postponed on some level, and that the government hasn't had the courage to bring that bill to a vote. Just to remind members of the Chamber what Bill No. 1 is all about - Bill No. 1 as you know is the legislation that this government made its centrepiece of legislation in that very short Fall session that we had where they brought forward legislation that would take away the right to strike of the hard- working men and women in health care and community service organizations across the province.

Mr. Speaker, it is a little bit galling, I have to say, to have a government on the one hand talk about their commitment to working men and women in this province and their belief in the great job they're doing and on the other hand they have the audacity to bring in legislation that shows such contempt for the men and women who work in our health care system, and they compound that contempt by not allowing that bill to proceed through the democratic process of this House, to have a full debate, and to result in a vote in this Chamber. So I look forward to the day when they find the courage to bring that bill here for a vote. In the meantime we will support this legislation even though there is a bit of a contradiction in the way the government proceeds, but what else is new? Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.

MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to rise on this bill which takes, I guess, a look back in the history of this province to a time when Environment and Labour were two separate departments. This government, however, when it took office in 1999, decided that they would fuse the two departments together. So our caucus does welcome the change and placing the emphasis on a stand-alone Department of Environment and now a Department of Labour and Workforce Development.

In terms of the Department of Labour, you know, over 450,000 Nova Scotians go to work every day and it has a number of very, very important functions and roles to play; one that has been mentioned by the minister this evening is the Workers' Compensation Board. The WCB is a very, very significant body that does support workers and families when they do have an injury in the workplace. We have had in Nova Scotia a very, very poor history of safety in the workplace. I think some small improvements have been made, especially in relation to tragedies - we were averaging over 20 for the last number of years and we saw it reduced last year. Also that department, in addressing a long-standing issue in this province, adequate compensation for chronic pain - and, again, that's an area where over I think 5,000 cases now have been investigated and rightly and duly compensated.

[Page 2298]

I believe one of the areas that Workers' Compensation still has a challenge with, and it is an important part of their mandate, is around safety in the workplace. I think moving people over from the Department of Education to develop the workforce development component is going to bring a strong education piece, a strong education platform to the Department of Labour. We all know that lives should not be put on the line at work because there are inadequate education and safeguards in place. So I think that's a huge area. I think this new department will respond, perhaps a lot quicker, to developments, for example, like we had this winter. This winter was an extraordinary one in terms of the number of accidents relating to slips and falls. In fact, there was a 60 per cent increase in injuries reported to Workers' Compensation due to slips and falls with the kind of winter that we had in this province. So, again, I think getting information and an education piece out to all workplaces will go a long way to reducing those claims and days lost on the job.

So, I think that's where this workforce development and an emphasis on education will definitely show up. I don't think there's any part of this department that is more important and it will be a real challenge to keep up with the requirements of the workforce. The workforce is in a constant state of change. We now hear, for example, of workers who have five, six, seven different careers during their work lives. A significant part of that is retraining, certification, the apprenticeship process.

I think this will be an aspect this new department can actually put a lot more emphasis and a lot more targeted seminars, workplace instruction for companies. Personally, I take the view that the worker that we need to concentrate on to keep in this province is not the one who isn't here, who is in Alberta or a potential immigrant. I think it's the workers who are already here in Nova Scotia raising their families. If we can help retrain, we can also help upgrade their skills. Those are the workers that can give their companies, their communities and the province many more years of very productive labour.

I think one of the very, very big areas that we've had through the Department of Education is adult learning, the GED program, the skills upgrade, such as the work activity centres where we have people going to those schools who only have maybe as far as junior high and really need a major infusion around literacy, in particular.

This is one of the areas now that is being very strongly identified by a significant number of employers in this province. In order to upgrade their workforce, they have to go back to the very fundamentals of improving the literacy and basic numeracy skills of their workforce. We're talking about 30 to 40 per cent of adult Nova Scotians who have significant deficiencies with literacy. This makes it very difficult to even give pamphlets and information for workers to read around safety, in particular, that the Department of Labour and Workers' Compensation are very focused on.

There have been examples in our province of employers recognizing the value to their company of upgrading their workforce. One of the ones I first heard about was a company that

[Page 2299]

has since closed its doors, but it was a canning industry in Berwick - Avon Foods. At that company, their line workers had very limited education, for the most part, and the plant manager decided to bring a GED program right into the plant. He kept increasing the percentage of his workforce that had a Grade 12 equivalency in education.

So, I think those are the kinds of models that more and more companies need to look toward and I think the emphasis of moving education as a significant part of labour will bring dividends to the workforce of Nova Scotia. If you take a look at the possibility of government looking at perhaps a tax credit for an employer who would allow a member of the workforce to take some time off the job and to go back to school - whether it be for a very short term or for a long time, especially in the development of basic literacy skills.

Those are the kinds of things that I think the new Department of Labour and Workforce Development should put a major emphasis on. We all know that many employers now do not have sufficient number of employees and projections are even forecasting some very challenging times.

So, again, last year in this Legislature, a bill was passed by government that would do away with mandatory retirement, with no longer having to retire at 65. But, again, many of these workers do need some upgrade and some skill development. That is another area. We know these workers are here in the province and have spent, perhaps, a lifetime or in many cases now, perhaps even a shorter time on the job with those companies that, in fact, do need a new trade enhancement, a new skill. This will be a department that can definitely make some improvements in those particular areas.

I just want to finish by saying that our caucus sees the separation here, the emphasis placed on workforce development, as a positive one and we will support this legislation going forward. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the minister it will be to close the debate.

The honourable Minister of Labour and Workforce Development.

HON. MARK PARENT: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the members for their comments and for their suggestions. I was particularly pleased with the comments of the member for Halifax Needham, who was very positive and I appreciate her comments up until the very end but that's okay, we can't all be perfect. Seriously, I do thank them for their comments and for their good wishes toward this new department because I think it does have some very exciting potential and with those words of thank you to the Critics, I would like to move second reading - what am I supposed to do?

AN HON. MEMBER: Close debate.

[Page 2300]

MR. PARENT: Close debate. I would like to close debate. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for your help.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for second reading of Bill No. 125. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye, Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.

The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.

[5:45 p.m.]

MR. CHUCK PORTER: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 126.

Bill No. 126 - Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Labour and Workforce Development.

HON. MARK PARENT: Mr. Speaker, the Premier announced the plan to introduce a new Department of Labour and Workforce Development in the Speech from the Throne last November. He noted, as I mentioned before, that retraining and recruiting skilled workers is vital to the new Nova Scotia. Building a globally competitive workforce, as my critics have mentioned, is absolutely vital to creating winning conditions for our province.

Mr. Speaker, to truly create these conditions, Nova Scotia needs a straightforward, accountable process to register and certify professionals from other jurisdictions in Canada, other provinces in Canada and throughout the world. We need a process that allows professionals easy access to clear, understandable, transparent information about registration practices and requirements. We need regulations that will ensure regulatory bodies are able to accomplish these objectives. We need all these things to make Nova Scotia a more attractive destination for professionals who are considering moving to this wonderful province that we have the fortune of calling home.

So, Mr. Speaker, in that regard, on April 24th, I introduced a bill that would help newcomers to Nova Scotia navigate the certification and registration process and find a job in their chosen profession. The fair access to regulated professions legislation is intended to offer this framework that will help regulatory bodies to be even more transparent, objective and timely than they are now in delivering certification and registration with their professions.

I would like to emphasize, Mr. Speaker, because it's very, very important that under this Act standards for Nova Scotia certification will continue to be established by the self-

[Page 2301]

regulating professions themselves. That's an important point to make - I made it when I introduced the bill and I make it again here in this House.

What this legislation is about is not standards - that is in the hands of the self-regulating professions - what it's about is giving professionals from other jurisdictions clearer, more timely access to certification and registration processes that will help them connect to the Nova Scotia workforce more easily. Regulatory bodies will maintain control of their own professional standards and will have the authority to ensure that only qualified workers receive certification in this province.

So the legislation is fairly minimal, Mr. Speaker, but nonetheless important we feel, because it will support accessible, fair, objective and transparent registration processes. It will also ensure that regulatory bodies have a procedure in place for individuals to appeal registration decisions. It is designed to address the needs of nationally and internationally educated professionals applying for registration and it will support the regulated professional bodies as they work to comply with Chapter 7 of the Agreement on Internal Trade, which was signed by all the ministers of the provincial departments, territorial departments, and the federal department - all the ministers of the Crown then.

So, Mr. Speaker, this bill will clarify the certification process across regulated professions ranging from engineers to lawyers to crane operators, quite a wide schedule that you've seen in the bill in both Schedule A and Schedule B. We intend to let professionals across this fair country of Canada and throughout the world know that Nova Scotia is taking a progressive and transparent approach to welcoming newcomers and connecting them, if they qualify according to the self-regulating profession standards, to the workforce.

In developing the draft of this legislation, government consulted with regulatory bodies and immigrant settlement associations. I was very pleased, Mr. Speaker, that when I introduced this bill that the Minister of Immigration, my colleague, my seatmate, a great friend, a wonderful MLA and a hard worker, was able to be there because a lot of the work that this bill is intended to facilitate will really fall on his shoulders and not on mine, so his help is needed.

These groups, Mr. Speaker, the immigrant settlement groups, MISA and many others throughout the province, and the regulatory bodies, they provided valuable input and they helped us shape the bill to make sure that it's the best bill possible. So based on the consultations that we had with the regulatory bodies and the immigrant communities, it is our view that this legislation will improve and facilitate a transparent, open registration process, while at the same time ensuring that the regulatory bodies maintain control over standards, as should be the case. It will provide a framework, we hope, that will assist all self-regulatory bodies in achieving fair, transparent and timely registration practices.

[Page 2302]

It is also important, Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, that the regulations - because oftentimes the Opposition quite rightly say the legislation is fine but we want to see the regulations because the devil is in the details, and so the regulations of this bill will not be proclaimed until we have full consultation, and they are vital to setting out the bill and so the commitment is to have consultation on them as well.

We will appoint a review officer, Mr. Speaker, to work closely with the regulatory bodies to support them in meeting the legislation's objective, and that person will be appointed once this bill passes and when we work with the regulations. So I think the bill is fairly straightforward. As I said, it will help ensure timely, transparent, accountable, consistent information for those who are seeking to work in some professional capacity here in the province. It will be tailored so that professions where a high degree of risk exists will be recognized and yet, at the same time, provide flexibility for professions where practices already meet or exceed the obligations of the proposed legislation.

So, Mr. Speaker, I've gone on a bit of a length about this bill but I do think it's important. I know my critics understand the bill well and they've had a briefing on it, but I want all Nova Scotians and all members of the House to understand the bill because it does not touch the self-regulating professions. They still set the standards of what they demand. All it really states, but it is an important statement, is that this needs to be done in a fair, consistent, transparent manner. There will be a review officer to help out with that process. There will be some appeal and there will be flexibility in terms of how this is set out and there will be full consultation once we move forward to drafting the regulations, which are important for any bill. So with those comments, I'll take my seat.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, this indeed is a very important matter that the minister brings to the floor of the Legislature. Before I speak to the principles of this bill, I would like to thank the minister for organizing a bill briefing prior to the House coming back in session, to have an opportunity to actually look at the draft of the legislation and meet with senior bureaucrats in the department, as well as the minister, and having an opportunity to meet the new Deputy Minister of the Department of Labour. That was very much appreciated and I think it allows for us to do a little preparation in terms of legislation that is being brought forward. That can only improve upon the debate in this Legislature, as well as the legislation that we ultimately pass.

Mr. Speaker, this is a bill, as the minister indicates, that seeks to give clear information and a timely process to individuals who, generally speaking, have credentials, education and practice credentials from outside of Canada in a variety of professions, who come here to Nova Scotia and apply for membership and a licence to practise in a whole variety of professions. The bill applies to more than 37 professions, many of them health professions - 19 of them health professions.

[Page 2303]

For example, it will apply to someone who has trained as a medical doctor outside of Canada. It will apply to someone who is trained as a nurse and wants to be a registered nurse in the Province of Nova Scotia, to a pharmacist, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, a social worker, a whole variety of health professionals, but not just health professionals. It also applies to other professions that are self-regulating, that have a membership, that have credentials that you're required to have attained, a body of knowledge to practise in the Province of Nova Scotia, including barristers, including engineers, including land surveyors, cosmologists, interior decorators, geoscientists, chartered accountants. So it's a really important piece of legislation for a very large number of people.

The minister talks about the intention of the legislation and, Mr. Speaker, I'm not going to get into that at this stage because I understand that the moment of interruption is at hand and perhaps I should adjourn the debate until a later date and I would be happy to do that. So I move adjournment of the debate.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion before the House is to adjourn debate on Bill No. 126.

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 Government House Leader.

HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Speaker, that concludes the government's business for the day. I now ask you to call upon the NDP House Leader for the Opposition's business.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable NDP House Leader.

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, the order of business tomorrow will be Bill No. 37, the Cosmetic Pesticides Act, and Bill No. 20, the Health Insurance Protection Act. I now move that the House do adjourn to meet from the hours of 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. tomorrow.

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.

[Page 2304]

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

We have arrived at the moment of interruption.

The Adjournment motion was submitted by the honourable member for Queens:

"Therefore be it resolved that the government recognize the increased costs of fuel, electricity and other direct expenses incurred by organizations that offer day programs for disabled individuals and provide appropriate funding, lifting the freeze on funding that most such organizations have experienced for at least a decade."

ADJOURNMENT

MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.

GOV'T. (N.S.) - DISABLED INDIVIDUALS DAY PROG. ASSOCIATIONS: FUNDING FREEZE - LIFT

MR. GORDON GOSSE: Mr. Speaker, tonight's late debate is a very important matter to many parents in the Province of Nova Scotia living with adults with very challenging issues and mental and physical disabilities. The reason that topic is on the agenda tonight is because most of these organizations in the Province of Nova Scotia have had their operating budget funding frozen since 1994. Thirteen years ago - I'll bring it up clear as mud - these organizations were told that the services they provide to these most vulnerable people in our society, their operating costs were going to be frozen. Let me talk about some of those operating costs like we talked about in today's budget, oil, electricity, building maintenance and all of those things frozen.

[6:00 p.m.]

I know now that there has been a review, that there was a need for the government of the day back in 2004 that said there was a need for a separate, vocational review. That review has been ongoing and I'll go through some of the details of that. In 2005 and 2006, the renewal team established that individual centre reviews would be held and again here we are in 2006. The next step, the discussion paper. The discussion paper was put on hold until the department addressed the gaps that were identified in the review. What gaps? Nobody seems to know what the gaps are, the identification of what are going to be the next steps in the industry.

[Page 2305]

Many of the executive directors of these organizations and other organizations have to do an exorbitant amount of fundraising. I made this a while back and I said it at the Standing Committee on Community Services, how many cinnamon rolls do these organizations have to bake to keep their doors open, to keep our most vulnerable in society with something to do, with a day of activity programs?

Mr. Speaker, operating costs have been frozen since 1994, heat, lights and even insurance. The average percentage of increases in those rates to these facilities is about 64 per cent. Most of this has been borne by these service agencies by increasing the business that they have to do. Again, I make reference to how many cinnamon rolls that they have to bake and sell at fundraisers for activities so they can provide the proper staffing. These facilities of staffing is a 1 to 8 ratio. In other industries or wherever else, it is a 1 to 1, or 1 to 3, or 1 to 5, but a 1 to 8 ratio, Mr. Speaker. The waiting list, let's talk about the waiting list. There's an organization in my riding that has a waiting list for people with disabilities, adult service centres, from one to five years to get that person into that facility, based on the program needs. For individuals with higher needs the waiting time could even be longer. While additional staff may assist some agencies in resolving the issue, facility size can also play an integral role.

Again, the freeze for 13 years now of the operating budget of these facilities, our most vulnerable citizens in the Province of Nova Scotia. I'll bring reference today to the budget. On Page 23 of that budget, and I will quote on the page of that budget, Mr. Speaker, today, we will not allow anyone to be left behind.

Mr. Speaker, we are leaving people behind. We have known for years now the rate of autism in this Province of Nova Scotia has increased threefold or fourfold. These parents of children with autism and children with disabilities are keeping their children in school until the age of 21. They should be graduating with their friends at age 18 and 19 and whenever they're leaving school. Parents have no choice but to keep those children in those high schools because of this, because there is no place for these people to go and learn a trade or learn to be employable.

We had a pilot project this year in Port Hawkesbury. I have no idea what the outcome is, I don't know if anybody in the Legislature has any idea of what that outcome is in Port Hawkesbury. Maybe this evening I'll get some light on that fact about this employability program.

Parents and service providers and clients of these are becoming increasingly frustrated with the service providers' ability to give them a clear timeline and a direction for when their children - these are young adults - can actually get into these programs. For us to stand in this Legislature anywhere else in this province of ours to think that we have people like this with disabilities who have nowhere to go in that age group - we have aging facilities with no

[Page 2306]

equipment and we have no formal method of a process for application for infrastructure or capital projects for these facilities - that's unfair, Mr. Speaker, very unfair.

Clearly defined, like the people who run these organizations and the parents of the children or young adults, they have no definite future plans for their adults. We're all getting older. I'm 52 years of age, Mr. Speaker, and I have a son who is mentally challenged who is 32. Now what is going to be left for him in society? I hear the members over there "hoo-ing and ha-ing" about my age, when they really should be hoo-ing and ha-ing about nobody being left behind. This is a very serious matter when you have mentally challenged and physically challenged adults who have nowhere to go in this province. It has been 13 years and it has been frozen. When are we, as Members of the Legislative Assembly or anybody else in society in the Province of Nova Scotia, going to start dealing with some of these issues?

We've heard the stats on autism, they have to stay in school until they are 21, they have no other choice. They would like to graduate but they can't. They would love to graduate with their peers. The age requirement for vocational training centres is 21. If we change the age requirement, will we have spaces? No, we'd have that many more people looking for spaces; no, we wouldn't have any spaces.

Mr. Speaker, this is long overdue, the recommendations and the review. Every time I go to ask a question or find out when it is going to be made public, I never get an answer, nobody gets an answer. There is no clear plan for children and families with adults who have learning disabilities.

Mr. Speaker, to give you an example, here's an example of a centre that applied for a summer student under the Nova Scotia Economic Development Student Program. They asked for four students to help their facility for the summer; they got one student, one student for that facility for the summer.

Now I said to them this year, are they going to apply for students again this year? Well yes, we're going to ask for six students. Are they going to get one student again, to help alleviate some of the staff vacations or some of the stress on this?

Mr. Speaker, I'd also like to mention that requests made by these organizations for additional funding for staff and operational class were again deferred pending the outcome of the review. Deferred, pending the outcome of the review. That's all we hear. Parents are just frustrated, they have nowhere else to turn. I'm standing here today, you know, for training, for employment, for adults in our province.

Again, I'll say it was said in the budget today, we will not allow anyone to be left behind. Well, we are leaving these individuals behind. We are causing great stress within the family, we are causing great stress within the staff who work in these facilities. How many cinnamon rolls do you have to bake to keep the doors open to pay the lights, heat and

[Page 2307]

insurance? Could you imagine sitting down every day as an executive director at one of these facilities, trying and trying to keep your doors open. You're spending 80 or 90 per cent of your time writing proposals. Writing proposals, so we can have our most vulnerable citizens in society to have them in a program.

This is unacceptable, unacceptable. Each and every time we ask about the funding operations in this, it has always been deferred pending the outcome of the review. Well maybe today, April 29th, the day of the budget, maybe they can stand up in this Legislature and say the review is done, some of these buildings and outdated structures will now have the funding that's necessary to provide the funding so these people can have programs to make their lives better in this Province of Nova Scotia. Thank you. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton South.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to join in the debate this evening on the topic. I want to read the topic because I think it's significant in light of some of the comments that my good friend for Cape Breton Nova has made.

"Therefore be it resolved that the government recognize the increased costs of fuel, electricity and other direct expenses incurred by organizations that offer day programs for disabled individuals, . . ." and it goes on. But, go back to the first line, the increased cost of fuel in Nova Scotia. It would be very helpful if the NDP would support the Liberal position on getting rid of regulation in terms of gas costs in this province and go back to a free market system where the gas operators could then compete with one another. The consumer would be the winner in that by being able to go to the cheapest place possible.

What has happened under regulation is the gas prices are going through the roof in this province and nobody is doing anything to stop it. Our request to reduce the gas tax by 3.8 per cent, the motive fuel tax at the pump, has fallen on deaf ears in both the government and the NDP. I just wonder, while I know my good friend for Cape Breton Nova is sincere in his remarks, it would be helpful if the NDP and the Liberals could perhaps get together and convince the government about the error of their ways in regulating gas in this province.

Number one, no one can figure out why it's so high and no one can figure out why it's higher than New Brunswick and nobody can figure out why it's higher in Cape Breton than it is in Halifax. But, that's the reality of this situation. It's causing a great deal of concern for those people who have to transport, for example, Meals on Wheels. In my riding and in the member for Cape Breton Nova's riding, and I'm sure in ridings all over Nova Scotia, but particularly the ones I'm familiar with in my area, it's getting very expensive for those volunteers to be taking meals to people who live alone and depend on the volunteers from Meals on Wheels to deliver a hot meal every day to somebody who is disabled or a senior citizen.

[Page 2308]

I know one disabled person that I go to see every once in a while, waits every day for that Meals on Wheels volunteer to come to his door with a hot meal. He can't get out, he has very limited resources, he's on Canada Pension Disability, so he doesn't have a lot of money. That volunteer is concerned now because it's costing him a lot more money to put fuel in his car in order to get that hot meal to that person. Let's hope that at some point in time, the three Parties in this House can decide there must be a better way of dealing with the fuel tax situation in this province.

I say the same thing about home heating oil in this province. People on low incomes in Nova Scotia - in the area I'm most familiar with, the people are hurting out there and this government has to come up with policies, in co-operation with the other two Parties here in the House, to alleviate some of the problems that these people have having to determine whether or not they are going to heat their homes or eat dinner - and it's that serious, in some cases, in this province.

I don't believe that the programs for the disabled, in my area at least, and seniors are not given the attention they deserve from the government. The member for Cape Breton Nova is quite correct - there hasn't been an increase in perhaps a dozen years, in any meaningful way, to support volunteer organizations in the community. I am thinking about Meals On Wheels of course, I am thinking about the sheltered workshops that are in both our areas, and I am thinking about the other organizations that deal directly, as volunteers, with those people in our community who need assistance and can't get it from government.

It has often been said - and it is quite true - government can't be all things to all people. You need a community-based organization, but that community-based organization has to feel that they are not only necessary but that they are wanted in the community. And they have to feel that, Mr. Speaker, and if the do, every once in a while, receive some assurance from government that it is going to be made easier for them to support the people they serve then I believe they will grow in the terms and the ranks of the volunteers. But if they are continually having to reach into their own pockets for things like additional fuel costs or transportation issues or issues with particular halls or issues with the transportation of the disabled in vehicles designed for that purpose, then they are going to be very frustrated.

For example, people living in apartments. More and more people depend on Handi-Trans in my area. Handi-Trans is a very important tool to get these people to daily doctor appointments, get them to get their groceries, and some of these people don't have anybody to do that. I know a number of them who don't and they depend, not only the gentleman I talked about who depended upon and looked forward to his Meals on Wheels volunteer every day because it's the same guy, and another female disabled person I know looks forward every day to the Handi-Trans to be able to take her downtown to do her shopping or do her business or pay some bills or go to the hairdresser or whatever.

[6:15 p.m.]

[Page 2309]

If those start to disappear, then the burden on government is going to be tenfold or a hundredfold what it is now, because just imagine if all these volunteer organizations in our community decided that they were no longer going to fulfil that role - where would that leave government? What I said earlier, it can't be all things to all people, but that would in effect make government all things to all people.

So government has to recognize that the volunteers in our communities need help and they need to be shown that they are wanted, that they are necessary and they are providing valuable service to people who are not as fortunate as we are in this place, or as fortunate as a lot our friends are. They have limited income sometimes, they have limited resources to get things done themselves and they need help. I found over the years that those who do not have an advocate these days to help them get through this maze, for example, of government services that are out there - you know, just to access some of these government services today, these people need help.

There has to be a system where we make it easier for people to access government services, Mr. Speaker, we make it easier for people to be able to rely on the fact that every day, if they need a meal, it's going to be there, if they need transportation it is going to be there, and if they need to access a government service that they can actually talk to a live person. Senior citizens and the disabled are having increasing difficulty every day trying to access government programs because of the problems in trying to actually talk to a live person. If you can actually start dialing a government department some day - not necessarily this government but any government department - and try to get somebody to answer your specific questions on the phone about your specific problem, then I am going to tell you, you are going to be in for an awful shock when you find out that you have to touch this button or touch that button, or you have to go to this line or another line and you can't really get somebody who genuinely knows about your particular problem and knows how to give you some advice, or who wants to give you some advice. That doesn't happen and I think what I'm getting at is it's so impersonal today. It's so impersonal that people, unless they have elected advocates, or unless they have friends, and what I'm getting at is unless they have volunteers who they can go to in the community to do that work for them, I believe we all have a responsibility to ensure that continues.

The way that can continue is for government and the department involved, many departments and Community Services particularly - I see the minister is very interested in what I'm having to say because she's listening very intently and I appreciate that - we show them that we want them, we show them that we need them and we show them they have a role to play in the community because you just can't leave it all up to government. We have to treat them, I believe, as part of the solution and not part of the problem.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Community Services.

[Page 2310]

HON. JUDY STREATCH: Mr. Speaker, indeed it's a pleasure for me to rise this evening and speak to this resolution. I have to admit that it never ceases to amaze me, the passion and compassion displayed on the floor of this Legislature when we speak of issues that truly touch our hearts. I have to say again that both my honourable colleagues who have spoked before me here this evening I know do so from the bottom of their hearts, some with more personal connection than others perhaps of those of us in the House, but all of us nonetheless with a true desire to make a difference.

So, Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight and although our numbers are perhaps fewer this evening than they were this afternoon when my honourable colleague delivered the Budget Speech, I want to say for those in the House tonight that I rise with hope and with vision, especially for the division within the Department of Community Services known as Services for Persons with Disabilities. We all know that the challenges that are before us when it comes to financing, we all wrestle at the table to get our fair share and sometimes those with bigger shoulders than I perhaps are more successful with the wrestling competition, but I have to tell you I was extremely pleased today with the commitment that the Minister of Finance and this government made with a vision for Services for Persons with Disabilities in this province.

Although I'm not going to give away all of the details and spoil the fun, Mr. Speaker, of estimates debate, I do want to indicate to both of my colleagues who have spoken so passionately here this evening that there are very, very good things to come.

Now, I do want to review, this evening, a couple of issues that come out of this resolution because, Mr. Speaker, I agree the challenges are great. The challenges that arise every day for organizations, for volunteers, for boards across this province, they're vast and we all know that the majority of those organizations and those groups - and especially those groups and organizations who do so on a volunteer basis, who do make the cinnamon rolls and who do go out and fundraise - they're valuable partners for us. We can't do it alone and they can't do it alone, and we know that we do it together.

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of specifics that I do want to mention and I know my honourable colleagues know all the statistics. My honourable colleagues know in excess of 2,000 individuals, that we provide over $11 million annually to those Adult Service Centres across this province, 30 of them indeed. My honourable colleagues know of those operational pressures. They know of those salary increases of late and they may not know of a couple of projects that perhaps flew under the radar.

I know that some members in the House this evening would be pleased, for example, to know of the $60,000 on top of the operational funding, Mr. Speaker, that was provided to the Shelburne Association for Community Living through strategic infrastructure funding in the 2007 fiscal year because we recognize that those associations, those groups, provide valuable work in our communities, as do DASC Industries and the former Brass Tack

[Page 2311]

Industries - I was thrilled to be in Glace Bay and open the new site after that devastating fire. It was exciting for all of us in the room and I gave credit where credit was due. The day of that fire the honourable member for Glace Bay was on the phone calling, saying we need dollars. Mr. Speaker, we were there with the dollars because we knew that the service provided by that association was invaluable and we would continue to do so.

I know that the list can go on. One of the ones that was near and dear to my heart, Mr. Speaker, was in Heatherton - the Heatherton Activity Centre, which needed a new kitchen. They needed a new kitchen for more than just the cinnamon rolls, they have a vibrant business there where they provide a service to the community and they needed upgrades on their kitchen. We were able to do that. Again, it was within our means and it was the right thing to do. I'm not the Minister of Finance, thank heavens, but I am more than happy to wrestle with the Minister of Finance to get as many dollars as we can for those very valuable, vulnerable Nova Scotians and the folks, the staff, the amazing staff who work with these Nova Scotians.

You know when I traveled over to Pictou County after the sprinkler evacuation that took place at Riverton in Riverview, I was blown away by the staff, by the community. They had a successful evacuation - I wasn't overwhelmed by that because I knew that the amazing individuals there would do that but, Mr. Speaker, you should have seen the community support. The community support, the community that rallied around these individuals, who brought meals, who provided activities for them and the fire departments while they were waiting to get back into their homes.

So again, when you travel around and you meet with some of these individuals and, Mr. Speaker, if you've not had occasion - and I know you have had occasion - for anyone in the House who has not had occasion, I would encourage you to do so. It provides you with a whole new outlook on the quality and the amazing things that are going on in each and every one of our communities.

Mr. Speaker, I was a teacher in this province for 15 years and I saw firsthand the invaluable inclusion that took place in our school system. I see every day when I travel by Bonny Lea Farm - an amazing spot in my riding - the quality of life that each and every individual Nova Scotian deserves and that we're able to provide.

Mr. Speaker, would I like to be able to do more? Always. Do we do a good job with the dollars that we have? I believe we do.

My honourable colleague mentioned the review process. Mr. Speaker, I know reviews drive all of us a little bit crazy at times because we could review ourselves right to death. I have to admit that I agree with my honourable colleague, that I have about had it with reviews and I'm ready to start putting some of the recommendations and some of those decisions into action.

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We're going to do that, Mr. Speaker, and again I will close with my final - again that re-emphasis on the vision and the hope that that $6 million that was announced today is just the beginning. We have started the process of putting the dollars on the ground. We've started the process of not looking at classifying valuable Nova Scotians by the type of residential or day programming that they require, but we're looking at these individuals as individuals, with challenging needs that we need to respond to.

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to working with the service providers, with our partners in the communities, with Directions Nova Scotia Council, with the parents and the adults in our communities, to ensure that the quality of life that they so richly deserve is provided to them.

Mr. Speaker, with those words I'll take my place and thank you very much for listening.

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you very much. I want to thank all the honourable members for having taken part in tonight's excellent debate.

The motion for adjournment has been made earlier. The House will rise and meet tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.

The House now stands adjourned.

[The House rose at 6:27 p.m.]

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NOTICES OF MOTION UNDER RULE 32(3)

RESOLUTION NO. 2163

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas local fire departments across our province are an integral part of the emergency protection service within communities across our province; and

Whereas these departments are made up of women and men who volunteer their time and energy to provide this vital service; and

Whereas at this year's Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department Awards Banquet, the prestigious long service award was presented to Clarence Cameron for his 40 years of service;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this Legislature offer congratulations to Mr. Cameron on this remarkable level of service and personal achievement.

RESOLUTION NO. 2164

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas local fire departments across our province are an integral part of the emergency protection service within communities across our province; and

Whereas these departments are made up of women and men who volunteer their time and energy to provide this vital service; and

Whereas at this year's Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department Awards Banquet, the prestigious long service award was presented to Gerard MacDonald for his 40 years of service;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this Legislature offer congratulations to Mr. MacDonald on this remarkable level of service and personal achievement.

[Page 2314]

RESOLUTION NO. 2165

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas local fire departments across our province are an integral part of the emergency protection service within communities across our province; and

Whereas these departments are made up of women and men who volunteer their time and energy to provide this vital service; and

Whereas at this year's Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department Awards Banquet, the prestigious long service award was presented to Malcolm MacEachern for his 40 years of service;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this Legislature offer congratulations to Mr. MacEachern on this remarkable level of service and personal achievement.

RESOLUTION NO. 2166

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas local fire departments across our province are an integral part of the emergency protection service within communities across our province; and

Whereas these departments are made up of women and men who volunteer their time and energy to provide this vital service; and

Whereas at this year's Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department Awards Banquet, the prestigious long service award was presented to Sonny MacInnis for his 40 years of service;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this Legislature offer congratulations to Mr. MacInnis on this remarkable level of service and personal achievement.

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RESOLUTION NO. 2167

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas volunteers are the backbone of so many of our community organizations, especially in rural Nova Scotia; and

Whereas the members of the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department have provided emergency service for the community and surrounding areas since its incorporation in 1961; and

Whereas Archie MacDonald, a founding member, has given a phenomenal 47 years of active service as a volunteer firefighter with the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department;

Therefore be it resolved that all the members of this Legislature congratulate and thank Mr. MacDonald for his decades of life-saving, exemplary volunteer service.

RESOLUTION NO. 2168

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas volunteers are the backbone of so many of our community organizations, especially in rural Nova Scotia; and

Whereas the members of the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department have provided emergency service for the community and surrounding areas since its incorporation in 1961; and

Whereas Cameron MacDonald, a founding member, has given a phenomenal 47 years of active service as a volunteer firefighter with the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department;

Therefore be it resolved that all the members of this Legislature congratulate and thank Mr. MacDonald for his decades of life-saving, exemplary volunteer service.

[Page 2316]

RESOLUTION NO. 2169

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas volunteers are the backbone of so many of our community organizations, especially in rural Nova Scotia; and

Whereas the members of the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department have provided emergency service for the community and surrounding areas since its incorporation in 1961; and

Whereas Donald A. MacEachern, a founding member, has given a phenomenal 47 years of active service as a volunteer firefighter with the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department;

Therefore be it resolved that all the members of this Legislature congratulate and thank Mr. MacEachern for his decades of life-saving, exemplary volunteer service.

RESOLUTION NO. 2170

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas local fire departments across our province are an integral part of the emergency protection service within communities across our province; and

Whereas these departments are made up of women and men who volunteer their time and energy to provide this vital service; and

Whereas at this year's Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department Awards Banquet, the prestigious long service award was presented to George Meisner for his 40 years of service;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this Legislature offer congratulations to Mr. Meisner on this remarkable level of service and personal achievement.

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RESOLUTION NO. 2171

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas volunteers are the backbone of so many of our community organizations, especially in rural Nova Scotia; and

Whereas the members of the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department have provided emergency service for the community and surrounding areas since its incorporation in 1961; and

Whereas Gerard Beaton, a founding member, has given a phenomenal 47 years of active service as a volunteer firefighter with the Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department;

Therefore be it resolved that all the members of this Legislature congratulate and thank Mr. Beaton for his decades of life-saving, exemplary volunteer service.

RESOLUTION NO. 2172

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas local fire departments across our province are an integral part of the emergency protection service within communities across our province; and

Whereas these departments are made up of women and men who volunteer their time and energy to provide this vital service; and

Whereas at this year's Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department Awards Banquet, the prestigious long service award was presented to Jackie MacDonald for his 40 years of service;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this Legislature offer congratulations to Mr. MacDonald on this remarkable level of service and personal achievement.

[Page 2318]

RESOLUTION NO. 2173

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas local fire departments across our province are an integral part of the emergency protection service within communities across our province; and

Whereas these departments are made up of women and men who volunteer their time and energy to provide this vital service; and

Whereas at this year's Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department Awards Banquet, the prestigious long service award was presented to Johnny MacDonald for his 40 years of service;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this Legislature offer congratulations to Mr. MacDonald on this remarkable level of service and personal achievement.

RESOLUTION NO. 2174

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas local fire departments across our province are an integral part of the emergency protection service within communities across our province; and

Whereas these departments are made up of women and men who volunteer their time and energy to provide this vital service; and

Whereas at this year's Port Hood Volunteer Fire Department Awards Banquet, the prestigious long service award was presented to Lewis Smith for his 40 years of service;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this Legislature offer congratulations to Mr. Smith on this remarkable level of service and personal achievement.

[Page 2319]

RESOLUTION NO. 2175

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Eastern Passage native and university student Chris Cunningham is a talented cheerleader who is recognized around the region for his athletic ability; and

Whereas Chris is a tireless and devoted coach of several cheerleading teams, including Cheer Extreme Fury; and

Whereas at the Cheer Expo National Championship held in Halifax in March, Chris was named Coach of the Year because of dozens of heartfelt nominations from his colleagues, parents and his cheerleaders;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House commend Chris Cunningham on his dedication to young athletes in Nova Scotia and congratulate him on being honoured as Cheer Expo Coach of the Year.

RESOLUTION NO. 2176

By: Hon. Rodney MacDonald (The Premier)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Nova Scotia's Cheer Extreme Fury and Cheer Extreme Rage were two of over 100 cheerleading teams competing in the Jamfest National Championships in Springfield, Massachusetts, on April 19 and 20, 2008; and

Whereas under the guidance of coach Chris Cunningham, Cheer Extreme Fury claimed the title of Jamfest National Champions in the Large Junior Team Division; and

Whereas Cheer Extreme Rage, coached by Robyn Edwards, was named Jamfest National Champions in the Senior Co-Ed Division;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate the coaches and athletes on Cheer Extreme Fury and Cheer Extreme Rage on their excellent showing at the Jamfest National Championships, and thank them for representing Nova Scotia so well at this prestigious event.