The Nova Scotia Legislature

The House resumed on:
September 21, 2017.

Hansard -- Thur., May 25, 2000

First Session

THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2000

TABLE OF CONTENTS PAGE
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS:
Anl. Rept. of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women (1994-98),
Hon. J. Purves 6570
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS:
Human Res. - Transition Support Program, Hon. R. Russell 6570
NOTICES OF MOTION:
Res. 2303, Commun. Serv.: Missing Children's Day (25/05/00) -
Recognize, Mr. Robert Chisholm 6573
Vote - Affirmative 6574
Res. 2304, Exco - Elections Act: Eastern Shore MLA - Action Take,
Mr. R. MacLellan 6574
Res. 2305, Speaker (Hon. Murray Scott): Impartiality - Congrats.,
Mr. R. Hurlburt 6575
Res. 2306, Exco - Elections Act: Violation (PC MLAs [3]) -
Investigate, Mr. J. Holm 6576
Res. 2307, Sports - Hockey (Memorial Cup): Hfx. Mooseheads -
Support, Mr. Manning MacDonald 6576
Vote - Affirmative 6577
Res. 2308, Educ. - Anna. V. Reg. Sch. Bd.: Transport. Achievement
Award - Congrats., Mr. M. Parent 6577
Vote - Affirmative 6578
Res. 2309, Educ. - MSVU: Pres. & Vice-Chancellor (Sheila Brown) -
Second Term Congrats., Ms. E. O'Connell 6578
Vote - Affirmative 6578
Res. 2310, Fin. - Min.: Media Scrum Patrol - Congrats., Mr. D. Downe 6579
Res. 2311, PC Gov't. (N.S.) - Blue Book: Commitments - Delivered,
Mr. J. DeWolfe 6579
Res. 2312, Health - Emergency Serv.: Dispatchers - Fair Treatment
Ensure, Dr. J. Smith 6580
Res. 2313, Commun. Serv. - Child Poverty (17/08/99): Deficit -
Address, Ms. Maureen MacDonald 6581
Res. 2314, Sports - Athletics: Cabot Trail Relay Race (2000) - Applaud,
Mr. K. MacAskill 6581
Vote - Affirmative 6582
Res. 2315, Exco - Media: Foreclosure Power - Absence Remind,
Mr. F. Corbett 6582
Res. 2316, Health - Strait-Richmond Hosp.: McDonald's Restaurant
(Port Hawkesbury) - Fund-Raising Congrats., Mr. M. Samson 6583
Vote - Affirmative 6584
Res. 2317, Premier & Fin. Min. - Political Style (1978-1990):
Return - Condemn, Mr. D. Dexter 6584
Res. 2318, Educ. - C.B.-Vict. Reg. Sch. Bd.: Special Needs Children -
Protect, Mr. R. MacKinnon 6584
Res. 2319, Educ. - C.B.-Vict. Reg. Sch. Bd.: Teachers' Assistants
Reduction - Concern Express, Mr. P. MacEwan 6585
Res. 2320, Educ. - Colby V. Elem. Sch.: Gary Gibson
(Vol. Reader [25 yrs.]) - Congrats., Mr. K. Deveaux 6585
Vote - Affirmative 6586
Res. 2321, Sports - Trans Can. Relay 2000: Participants - Welcome,
Mr. B. Boudreau 6586
Vote - Affirmative 6587
Res. 2322, Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Prospect Rd.: Improvement Plans -
Info., Mr. W. Estabrooks 6587
Res. 2323, Educ. - C.B.-Vict. Reg. Sch. Bd.: Status (Pre-/Post-Election) -
Comparison Telling, Mr. P. MacEwan 6588
Res. 2324, Educ. - Sch. Bds.: Funding Necessary - Provide, Mr. J. Pye 6588
Res. 2325, Nat. Res. - Sable Gas: Laurentian Sub-Basin - Jobs (C.B.)
Advocate, Mr. Manning MacDonald 6589
Res. 2326, Econ. Dev. - Richmond: Business-to-Business Expo -
Commend, Mr. M. Samson 6590
Vote - Affirmative 6590
Res. 2327, Volunteerism - East Hants (Mun.) Award: Eric Horne
(Enfield) - Congrats., Mr. John MacDonell 6590
Vote - Affirmative 6591
Res. 2328, Health - Emerg. Serv.: Dispatchers - Respect Show,
Mr. D. Downe 6591
Res. 2329, NSLC - Future: Public Valuation - Commit, Mr. J. Holm 6592
Res. 2330, Fin. - Min.: Record (PC Gov't. [Previous]) - Disastrous,
Mr. R. MacLellan 6593
Res. 2331, Environ. - Sites Polluted: Info. - Report (MLAs),
(By Ms. E. O'Connell) Mr. H. Epstein 6593
Res. 2332, NDP Leader (N.S.) - Lib. Budget (1999) Non-Support:
Consequences - Condemn, Dr. J. Smith 6594
Res. 2333, Culture - Coffin Isl. Lighthouse Heritage Soc.: Work -
Congrats., Mr. D. Dexter 6595
Res. 2334, Fin. - Min.: Skeletons (PC [Past]) - Re-Familiarize,
Mr. D. Wilson 6595
Res. 2335, Econ. Dev. - WTO: China Entry - Condemn, Mr. K. Deveaux 6596
Res. 2336, Holy Cross Catholic Parish (Glace Bay) - Rev. John A. Graham:
Ordination Anniv. 50th - Congrats., Mr. D. Wilson 6597
Vote - Affirmative 6598
Res. 2337, Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Hwy. No. 103 (Exits 3-5):
Work - Timetable Clarify, Mr. W. Estabrooks 6598
Res. 2338, Premier & PC MLAs (3): Remedial Ethics - Course Take,
Mr. John MacDonell 6598
Speaker's Ruling on Previous Point of Order:
Petitions: Clarification - Petition or Letter
(Point of Order by Mr. B. Taylor p. 6507)
Ruling: Tabling Permitted: Prayer to be Addressed to House 6599
HOUSE RECESSED AT 12:53 P.M. 6599
HOUSE RECONVENED AT 1:13 P.M. 6599
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS:
No. 799, Nat. Res. - Brown Spruce Longhorn Beetle: Crisis - Action,
Mr. Robert Chisholm 6600
No. 800, Exco - Elections Act: Eastern Shore MLA - Violation,
Mr. R. MacLellan 6601
No. 801, Exco - Code of Conduct: Investigation - Info.,
Mr. Robert Chisholm 6602
No. 802, Sysco - Sale: Progress - Details, Mr. Manning MacDonald 6604
No. 803, Health - New Waterford Consol. Hosp.: Doctors - Recruit,
Mr. F. Corbett 6605
No. 804, Educ. - P3 Schools: Construction - Review, Mr. M. Samson 6606
No. 805, Health - IWK-Grace: Cuts - Training Progs., Mr. D. Dexter 6607
No. 806, Health - Seniors' Pharmacare Prog.: Control - Retain,
Dr. J. Smith 6608
No. 807, Nat. Res. - Coal (Strip Mining): Royalties - Insufficient,
Mr. John MacDonell 6610
No. 808, Nat. Res. - Brown Spruce Longhorn Beetle: Areas - Risk,
Mr. K. MacAskill 6612
No. 809, Commun. Serv. - Office New: Min./Dep. Min. -
Bathrooms Private (2), Mr. W. Estabrooks 6612
No. 810, Transport. & Pub. Wks.: C.B. The Lakes - Paving,
Mr. B. Boudreau 6614
No. 811, Educ. - C.B.-Vict. Reg. Sch. Bd.: Cuts - Teachers' Aides,
Mr. F. Corbett 6615
No. 812, Educ. - UCCB: Funding (Trades & Tech.) - Refusal,
Mr. Manning MacDonald 6617
GOVERNMENT BUSINESS:
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:
No. 47, Education Act 6618
Mr. J. Holm 6618
Mr. W. Estabrooks 6624
Mr. R. MacLellan 6639
Mr. D. Dexter 6647
Mr. F. Corbett 6661
Adjourned debate 6670
ADJOURNMENT:
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5):
Health: Cuts - Unpromised:
Dr. J. Smith 6670
Hon. J. Muir 6673
Mr. D. Dexter 6675
GOVERNMENT BUSINESS:
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING:
No. 47 - Education Act [debate resumed] 6678
Mr. F. Corbett 6678
Mr. H. Epstein 6680
Mr. John MacDonell 6693
Adjourned debate 6697
ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Fri., May 26th at 9:00 a.m. 6698

[Page 6569]

HALIFAX, THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2000

Fifty-eighth General Assembly

First Session

12:00 P.M.

SPEAKER

Hon. Murray Scott

DEPUTY SPEAKERS

Mr. Brooke Taylor, Mr. Wayne Gaudet, Mr. Kevin Deveaux

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Before we begin the daily routine, the subject for this evening's late debate was submitted by the honourable member for Dartmouth East.

Therefore be it resolved that the severe and unrealistic cuts to health by this Tory Government are totally opposite to what was promised in their election blue book and will result in Nova Scotia falling behind in medical information technology, causing higher costs for the health care system and an incalculable deficit in the delivery of health services for many years to come.

This will be debated this evening at 6:00 p.m.

We will begin the daily routine.

PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS

PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES

TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS

6569

[Page 6570]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Education.

HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table the Annual Report for the years 1994 to 1998 for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

MR. SPEAKER: The report is tabled.

STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Acting Minister of Human Resources.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today as Acting Minister of Human Resources, to announce that the government has established a Transition Support Program for government employees.

The Transition Support Program will provide employees who receive a lay-off notice with the option of an enhanced severance payment to provide them with some financial support while they seek other employment. We have said from the beginning that we will treat employees fairly. We indicated in the Budget Address that we would establish fair severance arrangements for government employees. Today we are delivering on that commitment.

The Transition Support Program will provide four weeks of salary for every year of service from a minimum of eight weeks severance to a maximum of 52 weeks, a transition allowance to a maximum of $2,500, Employee Assistance Program benefits and continued participation in group life and health plans for the severance period. The program will be in effect from April 1, 2000 to March 31, 2002.

I am also pleased to tell the House that the program has been endorsed by the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union for their members of the Civil Service. The union has agreed with our proposal to extend the time allotted for employees who received lay-off notices to consider their options. As a result, employees will now have five days for full consideration of their options rather than the two days allotted under the current collective agreement. That is an important development and we thank the union for their agreement in this matter. The NSGEU executive is also recommending the program to the correctional officers bargaining unit and the CUPE highway workers have been invited also to participate in the program.

The Transition Support Program is part of a planned approach to reducing costs. As a government, we have been direct and up front with Nova Scotians about the measures that need to be taken to get control of our spending and create a smaller, more affordable government structure.

[Page 6571]

When we took office, we first looked at all programs to determine the scope of current services in order to help us focus on what the core services of government should be. We enlisted the help of the public through the Voluntary Planning Task Force consultation process. While these reviews were under way, Mr. Speaker, we were responsible for restricting hiring to government essential positions only. For the past eight months, many positions have become vacant and not filled. As a result of this planned measure and natural attrition, we have reduced the overall impact on the government workforce.

The budget for this fiscal year indicated there would be 600 fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in the Civil Service compared to the last fiscal year. Many of these reductions will be met through not filling vacancies and through natural attrition. As a result, Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House that we are now looking at reductions of fewer than 300 positions. In cases where the elimination of a position results in a staff lay-off, employees will now have the opportunity to choose this Transition Support Program or opt for either placement rights or recall rights. Unionized civil servants will still have their rights and options under their collective agreement. This includes a notice period for lay-off. The Transition Support Program provides employees with another option by providing them with some financial support and transition services while they seek other employment.

Mr. Speaker, it was clear from the start that this government has the agenda needed to put this province's finances back on track.

AN HON. MEMBER: You have gone a little too far.

MR. RUSSELL: No. We have presented our budget plans in the House. They have been debated and we have had them approved. Our goal is to secure a prosperous future for Nova Scotia and that future is within our grasp. The key to achieving that prosperity is to have a solid financial foundation which only a balanced budget will bring to this province. That means bringing what government spends in line with what it takes in.

The budget measures we have outlined for this fiscal year will help us achieve that. The Transition Support Program will help lessen the impact on government employees affected by budget reductions. It will provide them with fair severance. It is time for government to move ahead, to take the steps and measures we indicated were necessary in the budget. We also need to treat our employees fairly. The Transition Support Program will allow us to do both. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.

MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honourable minister for presenting his statement to us in advance. I would also like to remind the minister that we ought to caution ourselves to those individuals who ingratiate themselves with a move that may not

[Page 6572]

necessarily be supported by the majority of the citizens of Nova Scotia. I want you to know that, Mr. Minister, quite off the top.

I also want you to know, Mr. Minister, that we are unaware of what delivery services or programs this government has yet to offer Nova Scotians because we have not seen that in a package or in a report to the Legislature. Also, it is important to recognize that the best possible world of all is to not to have to lay off employees and to deliver to Nova Scotians the kind of services that government should be delivering to them.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the minister that he and I had some extensive talk about this Transition Support Program during the budget estimates and I am very pleased to see that the minister has made a sort of flip-flop in the suggestion that, in fact, he has recognized that the union does have legitimacy and employees do have legitimacy and making sure that they are heard in any transition that might take place with respect to them being laid off and so on. Our Party has steadfastly stood in this Legislature, not only yesterday and the days before, but years before I became a part of this Legislature, in making sure that employees laid off by previous governments were at least protected in the manner that they rightfully should.

I want to say, Mr. Speaker, that this Transition Support Program is, in fact, endorsed and supported by the president of the NSGEU and I believe that it is going to be, or at least encouraged to be supported by the correctional workers, and even by the Department of Transportation workers and so on. I want to say that this, in effect, is what consultation is all about. It offers a direction and the minister should take heed that if, in fact, this kind of consultation process can take place within government, that maybe it might have been appropriate when a number of times we asked to have bills sent out or issues or items sent out to the public of Nova Scotia, that the government would have and should have done the same thing.

So, Mr. Speaker, having said that, we do see this as a small step. We do see that this is not the kind of thing that we would really like to see take place but, nonetheless, having yourself, being the government, and you are in control of the purse strings and so on, we want you to know that, in fact, we welcome at least the consultation with respect to the unions on this particular issue. (Applause)

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

MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank, through the Acting Minister of Human Resources, the staff at Human Resources for making a copy of the remarks available to me in advance.

[Page 6573]

[12:15 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I know this government wants us to view this as good news, but it is a little hard to view what today's statement is about as good news. This is about people losing their jobs, and that is pure and simple. I find that very hard to view as good news. (Applause) I don't mean to be harsh by saying this, but it is not like these employees have three or four pensions to fall back on. The minister's statement reads, "We have presented our budget plans in the House. They have been debated and we have had them approved." What a joke. The only information that was revealed and debated was as a result of the Opposition in this House, who rose to the formerly open and accountable Premier's challenge and ferreted out that information. Today's statement shows a remarkable similarity to the lack of real information and less than accurate accounting that has been shown by other ministers in this session as well.

Mr. Speaker, I would encourage, no, actually I would challenge the minister to report to the House after Question Period today and reveal some real answers - real answers to questions like exactly how many employees are losing their jobs; what departments will be hit the hardest; when will the firings happen; when will the roller coaster that the government employees are on finally end; how much is this going to cost; where will that money come from; what did the program review say about job losses, and why won't you table the program review for Human Resources?

Mr. Speaker, to conclude, I have to say my last question - where is the money coming from - has me a little perplexed as well. I think I know the answer and I think we all do, it is coming from that $88 million slush fund over there. My final question is, how many times can the Tories go to that well? (Applause)

GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

NOTICES OF MOTION

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

RESOLUTION NO. 2303

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas May 25th has been designated as Missing Children's Day; and

[Page 6574]

Whereas May 25th is recognized by child-oriented organizations in an effort to raise public awareness and the harsh reality of the missing children issue; and

Whereas in 1999, there were 60,360 children missing across Canada, 517 of those children from Nova Scotia;

Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize today, May 25th, as Missing Children's Day, and that all members remember those 60,360 missing children and their families and hope and pray for their safe return.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.

RESOLUTION NO. 2304

MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas yesterday, the Premier said that the member for Eastern Shore did not have the opportunity to defend himself from charges that he used discretionary HRM funding to further his provincial election campaign; and

Whereas despite the fact the member is clearly caught, he did have a chance to defend himself in the media; and

Whereas in an about-face, the Finance Minister cut short the member for Eastern Shore's vain attempt to defend himself by abruptly removing him from a media scrum in mid-sentence;

Therefore be it resolved that the Finance Minister and the Premier be condemned for their flip-flop, and that they should take disciplinary action against the member for Eastern Shore instead of pretending the member is an innocent victim unable to defend himself.

[Page 6575]

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Yarmouth.

RESOLUTION NO. 2305

MR. RICHARD HURLBURT: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Speaker of this House has a very difficult and challenging job; and

Whereas last week the members of both Opposition Parties showed a disturbing lack of respect to the Speaker; and

Whereas the Speaker has acted fairly and professionally and has successfully raised the level of decorum in this House;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this Legislature recognize the difficult job the Speaker has done so well and congratulate him on his impartiality and attention to detail.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

[Page 6576]

RESOLUTION NO. 2306

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas a leader is defined as "a person or thing that leads, a person followed by others"; and

Whereas integrity means "moral uprightness, honesty, wholeness, completeness"; and

Whereas to stonewall means "to avoid or prevent the progress of a discussion or interrogation by making long speeches and vague or evasive answers";

Therefore be it resolved that it is time for the Premier to stop stonewalling, show integrity and leadership by doing the right thing: investigate questionable spending by former municipal councillors who are now Tory backbenchers.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton South.

RESOLUTION NO. 2307

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas on the eve of this year's Memorial Cup finals, seven years ago this week the Cape Breton Oilers brought the Calder Cup to Sydney against all odds; and

Whereas the Halifax Mooseheads are now continuing a proud Nova Scotia hockey tradition as they battle successfully for the Memorial Cup; and

Whereas the Mooseheads are also beating the odds on their march to Sunday's finals;

[Page 6577]

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House give full support to the Halifax Mooseheads and wish them good luck as they continue their drive to Sunday's finals of the Memorial Cup. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Kings North.

RESOLUTION NO. 2308

MR. MARK PARENT: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board has been awarded the Nova Scotia Transportation Achievement Award for the fourth consecutive year; and

Whereas the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board scored 198.5 points out of a maximum of 200; and

Whereas W.C. Rooney Transportation Limited and Perry Rand Limited, private school bus carriers contracted with the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, both received a gold distinction;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House join me in congratulating the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, W.C. Rooney Transportation Limited, Perry Rand Limited, and their excellent team of transportation personnel comprising mechanics, bus drivers, foremen, and office staff, for achieving this important award.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

[Page 6578]

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.

RESOLUTION NO. 2309

MS. EILEEN O'CONNELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Sheila Brown has been reappointed President of Mount Saint Vincent University for her second five year term; and

Whereas Sheila Brown has led the Mount through a period of strong growth despite tight budgets and has also helped raise the university's international profile; and

Whereas Ms. Brown's new term will end June 30, 2006, and she will also serve as Vice-Chancellor;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate Sheila Brown on her new term as President and Vice-Chancellor of Mount Saint Vincent University and wish her continued success.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

[Page 6579]

RESOLUTION NO. 2310

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas since the budget was passed the Minister of Finance seems to have some time on his hands; and

Whereas it was evident yesterday as the minister was placed on scrum patrol, ensuring that backbenchers don't bring further embarrassment to this government; and

Whereas scrum patrol is a very demanding job, sometimes requiring the scrum patroller to remove backbenchers from the media frenzy in mid-sentence, without concern for his own credibility;

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House congratulate the Minister of Finance on his first day of scrum patrol, as he vainly attempted to save the member for Eastern Shore from further self-inflicted embarrassment.

I ask for waiver, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Pictou East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2311

MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Libercrats liked our blue book from last summer's election campaign so much that they wave it almost daily in this Chamber; and

Whereas despite waving the book, the Libercrats refuse to acknowledge that this government has delivered on numerous promises made in this blue book, including desperately needed changes to the Freedom of Information legislation; and

[Page 6580]

Whereas the changes introduced in last fall's session broadened the scope of the FOI, allowing us to provide open and far more accountable government to the Province of Nova Scotia;

Therefore be it resolved that despite the comments of the Libercrats, Nova Scotians recognize their Progressive Conservative Government has delivered, and will continue to deliver, as outlined in our blue book.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2312

DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas since 1993, Nova Scotia has developed one of the best emergency response systems in Canada; and

Whereas those in need of emergency services depend on trained paramedics and a team of dedicated and professional dispatchers; and

Whereas paramedic dispatchers are worried that their services are suffering as a result of understaffing and stress caused by long shifts without breaks;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Health preserve Nova Scotia's top-quality emergency health service by making sure paramedic dispatchers are treated equitably and with respect.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

[Page 6581]

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

RESOLUTION NO. 2313

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas every day in the Province of Nova Scotia, six more children are born into poverty; and

Whereas since August 17th, this Tory Government's first full day in office, 1,670 children have been born into poverty; and

Whereas this heartless Tory Government would prefer to talk about one kind of deficit, a budget deficit;

Therefore be it resolved that this Tory Government start waking up to the health, education and social deficits faced by the 1,670 children born into poverty under this Tory Regime.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Victoria.

RESOLUTION NO. 2314

MR. KENNETH MACASKILL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas May 27th marks the start of the 13th Annual Cabot Trail Relay Race; and

[Page 6582]

Whereas this race has become a world-class event over the years with record numbers of runners wanting to participate in the event; and

Whereas this is one more event to add to the popularity of the world-famous Cabot Trail;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House applaud the organizers as well as the runners and volunteers who make the Cabot Trail Relay Race a huge success year after year.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.

RESOLUTION NO. 2315

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Minister of Finance, yesterday, came to the rescue of his beleaguered colleague from the Eastern Shore; and

Whereas the member for Eastern Shore was being scrummed by the media, who were attempting to get to the bottom of the municipal slush fund-gate, the Minister of Finance intervened; and

Whereas the heavy hand of this minister is just another example of this government's total disregard for Nova Scotians;

Therefore be it resolved that this government be reminded that it may have power to foreclose on certain legislation but it does not have the same power over the media.

[Page 6583]

[12:30 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Richmond.

RESOLUTION NO. 2316

MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas McDonald's Restaurant in Port Hawkesbury held its McHappy Day fund-raising event on May 16th, with a portion of the money raised by this event being donated to the Strait-Richmond Hospital; and

Whereas the funds raised on McHappy Day for the Strait-Richmond Hospital will be used to buy materials to establish a family resource room in the paediatric unit of the hospital; and

Whereas the space provided by the family resource room will be used by families who need to meet with their health care providers;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate the Port Hawkesbury McDonald's for the money raised during McHappy Day, and wish the Strait-Richmond Hospital every success in establishing their family resource room.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

[Page 6584]

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

RESOLUTION NO. 2317

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the latest Tory scam has seen the opening of a new store called Tories R Us; and

Whereas at this store good old Tories can belly up to the patronage trough for untendered contracts of $10,000 or less; and

Whereas these contracts will be awarded without competition, public consultation, or even public knowledge;

Therefore be it resolved that this House condemn the Minister of Finance and the Premier for returning this province to Buchanan-style politics that got us into the financial mess we are in today.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled. (Interruptions)

Order, please. I would ask the honourable members to come to order. If not, they can take their conversations outside the room, please.

The honourable member for Cape Breton West.

RESOLUTION NO. 2318

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

[Page 6585]

Whereas the Cape Breton-Victoria District School Board is facing a $2.5 million shortfall because of the provincial Tory Government's budget; and

Whereas more than 40 teachers' aides are directly affected with a reduction of their working hours; and

Whereas because of teachers' aides working fewer hours, special needs children will be adversely affected;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Education re-examine her budgetary priorities in an effort to protect required educational opportunities for some 100 special needs children attending school in the Cape Breton-Victoria District School Board system.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.

RESOLUTION NO. 2319

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the sorry effects of the Hamm-Purves formula as applied to education are resulting in a slashing of teachers' assistants with the Cape Breton-Victoria District School Board from six hours of work per day to five; and

Whereas the role of teachers' assistants has expanded greatly since the advent of inclusive classes and the abolition of segregated special education classes; and

Whereas proper support from teachers' assistants is vital if the integrated inclusive approach is to continue;

Therefore be it resolved that this House express its grave concern over the deterioration of education in Nova Scotia as reflected by the reduction of availability of teachers' assistants.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.

RESOLUTION NO. 2320

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

[Page 6586]

Whereas Gary Gibson has been a volunteer reader at Colby Village Elementary School for 25 years; and

Whereas Mr. Gibson reads to Grade 1 students; and

Whereas he was recently awarded the Halifax Regional School Board's Golden Apple Award;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate Mr. Gary Gibson for his contribution to the children at Colby Village Elementary School and to the people of Cole Harbour.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.

RESOLUTION NO. 2321

MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Nova Scotia leg of the Trans Canada Relay 2000 arrives in North Sydney today; and

Whereas the relay is an event to raise awareness for the Trans Canada Trail that is now being built in Nova Scotia and across this country; and

Whereas people in the event will deliver water from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans to Hull, Quebec;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House welcome the participants of the Trans Canada Relay 2000 to Nova Scotia, and wish them success.

[Page 6587]

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

RESOLUTION NO. 2322

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas traffic increases daily on the Prospect Road due to the arrival of numerous tourists on their way to the many scenic coastal communities from Terence Bay through to Peggy's Cove; and

Whereas this road has numerous treacherous intersections; and

Whereas these notoriously dangerous spots have been neglected by the Department of Transportation and Public Works;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Transportation and Public Works inform residents of the communities along the Prospect Road if his department has plans for improvements to this heavily used highway.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.

[Page 6588]

RESOLUTION NO. 2323

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Hamm-Purves formula as applied to Education has further resulted in the loss of 10 teachers in music, 10 in visual arts, and 4 in drama in the Cape Breton-Victoria District School Board; and

Whereas further development of arts-related instruction in the area covered by the school board has been frozen by the Department of Education, including Gaelic cultural studies; and

Whereas the attack on arts, on culture, on music, and on Gaelic by this government is one more indicator of why they will be a one-term government, and will never get re-elected when they have to face the accumulated wrath of the voters;

Therefore be it resolved that the comparison between the good days of Premier Russell MacLellan, Liberal Government, and progress, compared with Hamm, Purves, and despair, is a very telling one indeed.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Dartmouth North.

RESOLUTION NO. 2324

MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Leona Helmsley has been referred to as the Queen of Mean for statements like "only the poor pay taxes"; and

Whereas Nova Scotia has its own version of the Queen of Mean, the Minister of Education feels special needs children should pay for this province's debt by cutting the amount of money it gives school boards; and

Whereas our Queen of Mean denies that it is her fault educational program assistants are being cut and services to special needs children reduced;

Therefore be it resolved that the Queen of Mean provide the necessary funding to the school boards and that special needs children will not be told to "eat cake."

[Page 6589]

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton South.

RESOLUTION NO. 2325

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Premier is not doing anything concrete to assert Nova Scotia's rightful control over the Laurentian sub-basin; and

Whereas it is becoming more apparent with each passing day that the Premier is not interested in advocating for jobs for the people of industrial Cape Breton; and

Whereas not only does this demonstrate weak leadership, but also vindictive leadership;

Therefore be it resolved that members of this House call on the Premier to stand up for the rights of Nova Scotians and advocate that all Laurentian sub-basin jobs go to Cape Breton, and that he not settle for less.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Richmond.

[Page 6590]

RESOLUTION NO. 2326

MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Business-to-Business Expo will be held in Richmond at the Johnstown Community Centre on May 26th; and

Whereas this expo will provide a great opportunity for Richmond County businesses to network and form alliances to bring additional businesses and dollars into the local economy; and

Whereas working together to build a strong economy is particularly important in the rural areas of Nova Scotia;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House commend the organizers of Richmond's Business-to-Business Expo for the initiative they have shown in strengthening the economy of their communities throughout this event.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Hants East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2327

MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas on April 14th, the Municipality of East Hants awarded Eric B. Horne a certificate of appreciation for his sterling volunteer efforts in the Enfield area; and

Whereas Mr. Horne has spent the last three years coaching kids aged five to 18 years in the Youth Bowling Program; and

[Page 6591]

Whereas Mr. Horne also coaches soccer and is the vice-president of the soccer association, participates in kids' baseball and still finds time for the Scouting movement;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate Eric Horne for his selfless volunteerism and tips its hat to the Enfield community for its luck in having such a fine community-spirited person.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Lunenburg West.

RESOLUTION NO. 2328

MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas last fall we learned how ill-prepared this Tory Government was to deal with the concerns of paramedics; and

Whereas now paramedic dispatchers are appealing for fairness from their employer and from this government; and

Whereas among the concerns of dispatchers is the strain of severe understaffing and 12 hour shifts, and longer, without adequate breaks;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Health finally show respect for the men and women working in a provincial dispatch centre and ensure they are treated fairly in order to avoid an erosion of the emergency response service.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

[Page 6592]

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

RESOLUTION NO. 2329

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the government has not done a proper evaluation of the Liquor Commission; and

Whereas it would appear to be asinine to sell a business that is making large revenues for this province; and

Whereas due to the financial condition of this province, it would appear to be ludicrous to consider selling one of its few money-generating businesses;

Therefore be it resolved that this government commit to a full, open and public valuation of the Liquor Commission with input not just from Tory bagmen but also from Liquor Commission employees.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.

[Page 6593]

RESOLUTION NO. 2330

MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Minister of Finance is proud of his record as a member of the Buchanan and Cameron Administrations; and

Whereas if he is so proud, one might ask why he refuses to recalculate the 1993 deficit using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles; and

Whereas this refusal further begs the question, if he is so proud, what is he trying to hide;

Therefore be it resolved that the former Buchanan-Cameron minister has nothing in his previous government's record to be proud of and that he should hang his head in shame for that disastrous period in Nova Scotia's history.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.

RESOLUTION NO. 2331

MS. EILEEN O'CONNELL: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the member for Halifax Chebucto, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the provincial Department of the Environment has started a project to identify polluted sites in need of remediation; and

Whereas members of this House are in a position to contribute to the project through their knowledge of their ridings; and

[Page 6594]

Whereas assembling a complete inventory of such sites is a necessary preliminary step to site remediation;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House assist the Department of the Environment by reporting all sites of possible contamination known to them in their ridings.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2332

DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas on Wednesday in Question Period, the Leader of the NDP went on the attack saying the Tories promised to invest in health care; and

Whereas the truth is, the Tories said that they would trim the fat in administration and put a paltry sum back into the system; and

Whereas in reality it was the Liberal platform based on a budget defeated by the Leader of the NDP that called for investments in health care;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House condemn the Leader of the NDP for changing his tune and remind him that had he voted for last spring's Liberal budget we would not be facing massive cuts to health care today.

[12:45 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

[Page 6595]

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

RESOLUTION NO. 2333

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas less than two years ago it appeared the Coffin Island lighthouse would be demolished; and

Whereas the Coffin Island Lighthouse Heritage Society was formed to preserve the lighthouse and had the demolition stopped; and

Whereas the society raised $60,000 and secured the island's shoreline against erosion that had threatened the lighthouse;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate the members of the Coffin Island Lighthouse Heritage Society for their efforts to preserve this beacon of historical significance guarding the outer reaches of Liverpool's harbour.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2334

MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Finance Minister is extremely defensive about his record with the Buchanan and Cameron Administrations; and

[Page 6596]

Whereas it is understandable that the minister would be sensitive, considering such things as NSRL, Westray and the accumulation of the bulk of the provincial debt; and

Whereas instead of becoming defensive of that era, the minister must explain to the House why Nova Scotians should believe the current government is any different than previous Tory Governments;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Finance check the Tory closet, and re-familiarize himself with an extensive collection of Tory skeletons before he takes his current holier-than-thou approach to politics.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Preston on an introduction.

MR. DAVID HENDSBEE: Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise here today to introduce a group of students to the House. These students hail from the constituency of Preston as well as the Eastern Shore. This group of students is from the Eastern Shore District High School in Musquodoboit Harbour. They are here today in the east gallery and the Speaker's Gallery. Their teacher is Dennis LeBlanc; their chaperones are Bret LeBlanc, Kay Kittilsen and Eric Kittilsen. These students are studying political science and sociology. I would like to introduce and welcome them to the House. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.

RESOLUTION NO. 2335

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not China should be accepted into the World Trade Organization and the ability to trade openly with other nations; and

Whereas China has a long history of preventing free speech, stifling democratic freedoms and banning workers' rights; and

[Page 6597]

Whereas previous attempts to protect workers' rights in China by the international community have failed because the Chinese Government profits from oppressing its workers;

Therefore be it resolved that this House condemn the entrance of China into the WTO until it recognizes the universal rights of workers.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2336

MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Reverend John A. Graham, administrator at Holy Cross Catholic Parish in Glace Bay is marking his 50th Jubilee of Ordination; and

Whereas Father Graham has served many years as pastor of St. Joseph, Reserve Mines, Stella Maris, Louisbourg and Mira Ferry; and

Whereas this well-known clergyman is highly regarded throughout the diocese of Antigonish;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Father John A. Graham on his 50th Jubilee of Ordination.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

[Page 6598]

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

RESOLUTION NO. 2337

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas average daily traffic continues to increase between Exit 3 and Exit 5 on Highway No. 103, between Timberlea and Hammonds Plains; and

Whereas this traffic is a reflection of the growing population in the many expanding subdivisions in this area; and

Whereas community residents continue to make requests to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works about his department's plans for this busy stretch of highway;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Transportation and Public Works clarify for these residents of the Timberlea-Prospect constituency the timetable for work on Highway No. 103 between Exits 3 and 5.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Hants East.

RESOLUTION NO. 2338

MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas it appears that it is time for the member for Kings North to teach an ethics course to some of his caucus members; and

Whereas the members for Preston, Sackville-Beaver Bank and Eastern Shore will need remedial ethics in order to stay in this House; and

Whereas perhaps the Premier should join these members in their studies so that he may better understand his ethical duties;

[Page 6599]

Therefore be it resolved that this House direct the members for Preston, Sackville-Beaver Bank, the Eastern Shore, and the Premier to take remedial ethics to be taught by the member for Kings North and that they write an essay entitled, "What I did during the summer election campaign."

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled. (Interruptions)

Order, please.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I assume there are no more resolutions. I wanted to rise before Question Period.

MR. SPEAKER: Are there any further resolutions?

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, earlier today we were informed that the Premier would be late coming to the House today and his office suggested he would be here by 12:45 p.m. It is now 12:51 p.m., and we are ready for Question Period. I would ask that the Speaker give consideration to recessing the House until the arrival of the Premier.

MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

Order, please. (Interruption) Order, please. Before we proceed to other business, yesterday the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley rose on a point of order pertaining to a document that was tabled in the House, a petition. After reviewing the document, and as well, reviewing the rules, there is no clear indication of petition versus letter. It is really hard to determine what the intent of the rules are other than to say that the opening, Rule 63 (1) does say, "A petition to the House . . ." I am willing to allow the document the member has tabled. However, we certainly don't want to restrict constituents from having the opportunity to have their voices or concerns heard in the House, but I would ask members if at all possible to attempt to have those documents addressed, and the prayer addressed to the House as opposed to individual members, more for the ability of the House to deal with it, as opposed to it being a matter of form. We will allow that, and I would just ask in the future the cooperation of the members to ensure, if possible, to have those directed to the House.

We will recess for five minutes, until 1:00 p.m.

[12:53 p.m. The House recessed.]

[1:13 p.m. The House reconvened.]

[Page 6600]

ORDERS OF THE DAY

ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS

MR. SPEAKER: Question Period will begin at 1:13 p.m. and end at 2:13 p.m.

The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

NAT. RES. - BROWN SPRUCE LONGHORN BEETLE:

CRISIS - ACTION

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question through you to the Premier. Ten per cent of the commercial softwood in Nova Scotia is red spruce. It is one of the most significant species for our forest industry. The European brown spruce longhorn beetle, whose presence here was confirmed in 1999, poses a major threat to this very important industry. I want to ask the Premier if he would tell us how this government has mobilized its resources to deal with this crisis and has the government recognized that this is a potential natural disaster with grave consequences?

HON. JOHN HAMM (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for a good question and I would ask the Minister of Natural Resources to respond.

HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. It is a very serious question and a very serious concern to all Nova Scotians. Currently, the situation is that the beetle has been identified in Point Pleasant Park, here in the HRM area. The federal food agency, Agriculture Canada, is the lead agency and are dealing with our department. We are supplying technical expertise, as well as HRM, to offer a way to contain and to ensure, if at all possible, that it does not escape into the wild forests of Nova Scotia.

[1:15 p.m.]

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, the discovery of this beetle on our shores threatens Nova Scotia's exports of round logs and lumber. It threatens hundreds of jobs where those jobs are essential to the rural economy. I wonder if the Minister of Natural Resources would indicate in specific terms, given the severity of this disaster, what steps his government is taking to identify the extent of the infestation and to ensure that every possible action is taken to eradicate this threat?

MR. FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member again for his question. Currently, the extent of the infestation is being identified and it has only been identified here at Point Pleasant Park. Our entomologists with our department are monitoring the situation, providing the expertise that we have, acquiring information on the beetles habitat, what its life cycle is like and the type of threat it may pose to wild stocks in Nova Scotia. We have insect traps and

[Page 6601]

monitoring stations in place in forests throughout the province, as well as traps set up at the Point Pleasant Park site now, and we are working with the federal Department of Agriculture. Certainly, it is paramount that this particular species be contained here and isolated and dealt with in Point Pleasant Park.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to return to the Premier. Right now this government is about to further reduce its technical staff and other resources that it will need to meet this threat head on. I want to ask the Premier, will he, on behalf of his government, suspend all cuts to its forest staff and all other cuts of staff and services needed for this battle and will it provide emergency funding for the identification and eradication of this threat?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I refer that question to the Minister of Natural Resources.

MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member again for his question. Currently, under the situation of quarantine of dangerous species into the country, the federal government is the lead agency. The federal government is providing the financial resources to help HRM and the province deal with the situation. We, as a province, provide the entomology staff, the particular staff and resources needed to identify and ensure that the forests here in Nova Scotia are protected to the best of our ability. We have those particular positions and people in place. We will continue to work with the federal government and the HRM to ensure that we, hopefully, can eradicate this, but it is the federal government's responsibility.

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

EXCO - ELECTIONS ACT: EASTERN SHORE MLA - VIOLATION

MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, yesterday we talked about the activities of the honourable member for Eastern Shore during the election campaign, which were obviously in violation of the Elections Act. The Premier said that it should go to the Chief Electoral Officer, who, in turn, said it should go to the police. The Premier said he would look into it but wouldn't do a full investigation. I am told now he may do a full investigation. Now, five minutes have passed since he talked to the press outside the Chamber, would he tell us what his position is now?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I would remind the member opposite that he made the suggestion that it go to the Chief Electoral Officer, he made the suggestion it go to the police. The member has a very short, if not short, selective, memory. Since yesterday I have had an opportunity to review the situation. Legal opinion indicates that the member for Eastern Shore has not broken the Elections Act. I have had conversations with the member for Eastern Shore and he is anxious to have his name vindicated. We are in the process of approaching the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to see if he would do an assessment of the

[Page 6602]

situation to tell us whether or not he feels it is within his jurisdiction and whether or not he is prepared to do that independent assessment. If he is not, then we will seek someone of similar stature to do it.

MR. MACLELLAN: I want to say to the Premier that we certainly expected much more. If he wanted to keep the House waiting, he should have had a little more information than that. I would also hope he would make the name of the lawyer who has given him that opinion public so the rest of us can stay away from him. I also want to say, what did the Premier have in mind as a means of a full investigation if the Conflict of Interest Commissioner does not accept this case?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I would suggest most strongly that the legal advice we were able to get on the government side was much superior to that delivered to the members of the Opposition. I believe that the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, if he is prepared to take on the assessment of this situation, is the proper person to do it. I believe that will fulfill our obligation of government to be an open and truthful government, and if the Conflict of Interest Commissioner is not prepared to act, we will find someone of similar stature. This government is determined to elevate what goes on in this place. I hope at some point that kind of commitment as well is adopted by the two Opposition Parties.

MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, it is always so convenient that this government finds itself open and accountable after they have been found out. It is never before the fact, it is always after the fact, when the Opposition or somebody else shows they have been in violation, they decide they are going to come clean and be open and accountable. We can only imagine what else is hidden that we haven't found out yet.

If the Conflict of Interest Commissioner doesn't accept it, will there be an independent inquiry, completely separate and apart from government interference? Will they have the staff and independence to be able to do this inquiry totally separate and apart without influence of government?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that the member was struggling to get in his second supplementary. I have indicated that we will go to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, and if, in fact, he is unable to or unwilling to accept this assignment, then we will find someone of equal stature.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.

EXCO - CODE OF CONDUCT: INVESTIGATION - INFO.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, if you were interested today, you could flip to the Progressive Conservative Party's home page and see the Premier's smiling face and

[Page 6603]

then read his words where he says, "It is important that government continually earn the respect of the people . . . proper conduct by officials is mandatory."

Mr. Speaker, mandatory standards are enforceable. Nova Scotians are waiting to see how this Premier will enforce his requirement of proper conduct. Now I want to ask the Premier, what conduct by government MLAs is the Premier planning to have investigated, and when will he report the results of that investigation to Nova Scotians?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, something happened when the question crossed the floor, because it lost a little relevance. What the member seems to be asking is that we investigate every member on the government benches? I would remind the member opposite that for the first time there is a code of conduct. As well, I would remind the member opposite that on two separate occasions, the Conflict of Interest Commissioner has investigated members of this caucus. Despite what the Opposition Parties would say, the Conflict of Interest Commissioner on both occasions exonerated members of this caucus. I believe that puts some doubt as to the level of debate that those members are bringing to the House, when they are simply willing to cast aspersions on very flimsy evidence.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, what I am trying to determine from the Premier is his definition of proper conduct. Donations and promises of donations are forbidden by the Elections Act; it is wrong to wait until an election is under way to make a promised donation; and it is wrong to promise the money during a campaign and to deliver it afterwards. So again with respect to proper conduct, I want to ask the Premier, considering the evidence from three Tory MLAs, considering the admissions made yesterday by the MLA for Eastern Shore, what will the Premier do and have done to ensure that his definition of proper conduct is, in fact, investigated?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, it would appear that the member opposite is not happy with having the matter investigated by someone independent; that is not going to be good enough for the member opposite because they have reached some conclusions that quite possibly would not be reached by anybody who is objective on the situation. My suggestion to the member opposite is there is a process being put in place that will provide an independent assessment of this situation and, I would suggest, that that should satisfy all members on the Opposition benches.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, we are trying to determine an independent assessment of what? Is it what falls under the gambit of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, or is it the Premier's definition of proper conduct which he has told us so much about? What are the standards and what information is going to be put to the test? That is the information that the Premier seems very reluctant to present to Nova Scotians; he wants to try to hive it off, to hide behind some kind of official body in this province . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Question, please.

[Page 6604]

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: This is a matter of the conduct of a member of the Conservative Party that he is the Leader of. I ask the Premier again, he has set the standard for proper conduct for his caucus. What is he going to do, as the Leader of this caucus and the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, to ensure that the information that is presented about the spending practices of those MLAs, members of his caucus, will be properly investigated and the information brought to this House?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is aware, as all members of the House are, that if, in fact, the Conflict of Interest Commissioner accepts this assignment, he does report to the House. He reports to all members of the House. That is the procedure that is inherent in that office, so there will be a report to the House.

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

SYSCO - SALE: PROGRESS - DETAILS

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. Today is a sad day economically in Cape Breton. I just received word moments ago, from the union officials at Sydney Steel, that steelworkers have been told that today will be their last shift at Sydney Steel and the universal mill is being shut down permanently. The plant will be shut down as soon as it can happen over the next two or three weeks, but there will be only 50 to a maximum of 100 people working over the next two or three weeks to clean up the operations at Sydney Steel. In light of this development, I would ask the Premier to tell this House how the sale process is proceeding, or is there any sale process at all going on here? Mr. Premier, what is your real intention regarding Sydney Steel?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, what the member opposite is asking is for an update on Sydney Steel, and I refer that to the minister responsible.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: I am not asking him, I am asking you.

HON. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for the question. He is indeed correct that workers were given notice today. It is something that has been in the works in recognition of the fact that they are not producing any steel product at this time. In terms of an update, we have put support behind the Ernst & Young group to bring forward a buyer, and we are optimistic that that will occur and we think it can happen in the near future.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, there is nothing going on at Sydney Steel because this government didn't do any marketing since the first of the year to try to recapture some of the business that was in place at Sydney Steel, nor did they try to keep Canadian National buying rails from Sydney Steel. They just completely abandoned any marketing attempts at all for Sydney Steel because the real intention here is to close that plant

[Page 6605]

down as quickly as they can. It is now obvious what the government's intentions are. This government wants to double-cross Sydney Steel workers and their families and they are doing it very slowly and methodically. Again to the Premier, what course of action are you going to set out now, Mr. Premier, in the near future for the steelworkers at Sydney Steel and their families? What are you going to tell them in light of what has happened down there today?

[1:30 p.m.]

THE PREMIER: I refer that to the minister responsible.

MR. BALSER: Mr. Speaker, officials with Ernst & Young and management at the plant met with the workers who are going to be affected. They were aware of what is transpiring and, again, we had undertaken orders to Burlington. They were low margin orders; in fact, they were produced at a loss. If, in fact, the plant had continued to operate to fill those kinds of orders, it would have had an operating loss of roughly $2 million to $3 million per month. So it was not appropriate to undertake orders that would not result in any net profit to the plant.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Again, Mr. Speaker, my final supplementary is to the Premier. This act is being done for political purposes only. There was no intention of this government to try to keep a domestic rail producer in Canada at all producing rails for Canadian National. They let Canadian National go when we had them back as a customer for Sydney Steel. They had no intentions of trying to keep the plant open and to produce rails at Sydney Steel. My final supplementary to the Premier is, Mr. Premier, Sysco employees are government employees by virtue of them being employees of a Crown Corporation. Will the Premier at least keep one promise, the promise that he made that he would not forget steelworkers and settle the pension issue to the benefit of the Sydney Steel workers?

THE PREMIER: Yes, this government and this Premier have made commitments to Sydney Steel workers and has made a commitment as to how it is going to handle privatization of Sydney Steel which is the only viable option and we are well on the way to keeping both those commitments.

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

HEALTH - NEW WATERFORD CONSOL. HOSP.:

DOCTORS - RECRUIT

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, yesterday, more than 600 angry residents of New Waterford protested outside their hospital, saying they would not stand for the closing of their outpatient's department. The hospital relented and they have a two month reprieve, but the Cape Breton Regional Hospital is still short 15 physicians. My question to the

[Page 6606]

Minister of Health is, they have only two months to find new doctors, what is your plan to get them new doctors, Mr. Minister?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the concern of the honourable member who asked that question. The department continues to have success with physician recruitment, not the numbers which we would like to have in the Glace Bay, New Waterford, Sydney area, nor in a good many other areas in this province. However, I will tell you that the medical schools are soon graduating physician specialists and general practitioners. We are working to try and attract them. Up until the middle of May we have had 18 family physicians, one cardiologist, one psychiatrist, an ophthalmologist, an orthopaedist, a surgeon, and a pediatrician make visits to Nova Scotia with a possibility of setting up practice here.

MR. CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, the minister says he is concerned about the doctor shortages, but I wonder how concerned he really is when you see him ripping the heart out of the health care system. and leaving nothing but a skeleton. We hear stories every day about how nurses are exhausted, physicians are overworked, emergency rooms are full, waiting lists are longer, patient complaints more serious. This government delivered on one promise; they closed Sysco, so I am going to ask the Minister of Health to fulfil the open bed promise. My question to you, Mr. Minister is, if you were a doctor, would you want to work in these conditions?

MR. MUIR: I believe Nova Scotia is a good place to practice medicine, it is a good place to live, so the answer is yes.

MR. CORBETT: The minister is putting hospital administrators in an impossible position. Not only is he taking money from them, he is also making it impossible for them to attract good quality physicians to areas that desperately need these doctors. Mr. Minister, if you are really serious about bringing doctors to this province, why are you destroying the health care system?

MR. MUIR: On the contrary, the steps that this government is taking is to ensure Nova Scotia does have a health care system. Clearly, at the rate the money was being spent on health care in this province, it would not be long before our health care system was nil.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Richmond.

EDUC. - P3 SCHOOLS: CONSTRUCTION - REVIEW

MR. MICHEL SAMSON: During debate on the Education estimates, the Minister of Education informed me that an internal review was being conducted on the financing options for the construction of 17 new schools yet to be built in this province. The deadline for the completion of this internal review has changed several times, the latest date given to me by the minister was May 24th.

[Page 6607]

Many communities throughout Nova Scotia are anxious to find out if this review has been completed. My question to the Minister of Education is, has the review of the financing for the construction of the 17 new schools throughout Nova Scotia been completed by her department?

HON. JANE PURVES: Within a few weeks we will be receiving the final draft of a report on P3 schools. I would like to tell the member opposite that the extra costs involved in the last batch of P3 schools has created considerable difficulties for this government. In spite of that, we will be coming forth with a financing method that will allow us to proceed with these schools.

MR. SAMSON: First it was in a month's time, now it is in a couple of weeks, next it will be in a couple of days. Nova Scotians, parents, students and teachers throughout the province continue to try to have patience with this minister. Two of the Acadian schools which should have been built has forced the CSAP, Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, to threaten the minister with legal action to try to get her to move on this issue. My first supplementary is, now that the minister says a final draft is being prepared, will the minister table that final draft in this House so all Nova Scotians can be aware of the contents of this review?

MISS PURVES: This government has been tabling the reports of the reviews it has done, including the KPMG review. We will be announcing, as I said, when and how new schools will be constructed within a very short time.

MR. SAMSON: One can only hope this review won't be as expensive as the KPMG review and won't be as much as a waste of money as that review was. What Nova Scotians want to know is when the final draft is received, when will she start to construct these schools? My question is, will the minister assure the community, as she has continually done, will she assure again, today, that the communities awaiting the construction of these 17 new schools that their schools will be constructed as planned, on time, and that the necessary technological equipment will be in those schools to meet the needs of the children?

MISS PURVES: Mr. Speaker, what I can assure Nova Scotians awaiting these new schools is that they will be constructed, they have been promised. They will be constructed as near time as possible under the circumstances.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

HEALTH - IWK-GRACE: CUTS - TRAINING PROGS.

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, one of the casualties of the IWK-Grace cuts was the Department of Learning and Organizational Development. The department provided a wide range of services, including the upgrading of clinical skills so that staff were on the

[Page 6608]

cutting edge of medical practices. The American Society for Training and Development Industry Report 2000 stated that leading edge firms have an employee/educator ratio of 87 to 1. Prior to the cuts, the IWK-Grace was already struggling with a ratio of 225 to 1, and now that ratio is 550 to 1. I want to ask the Minister of Health, how do you expect the IWK-Grace to maintain excellence when you have shredded training?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, the IWK-Grace is a very well-run institution. It would also be classified as a teaching hospital. As a result of that, they have a lot of people in there and also in the buildings at the QE II complex who could provide a lot of that service for them. Although I do regret the loss of that position, like other people do and I am sure they do at the hospital, I am quite confident that the people in there will be able to do what they need to do to stay current.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, the main users of this program were nurses. Nurses depended on this unit to make sure they knew of the latest developments in nursing practices and were trained accordingly. Nine staff in that department were nurses. The Registered Nurses' Association of Nova Scotia says nurses that must have greater opportunities to upgrade their skills. Why is the Minister of Health delivering another blow to the nursing profession by taking away a program that they need to do their job?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the honourable member that our department continues to work with the nurses' organizations and their representatives on a number of projects, including continuing education, and we will continue to work with them.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, the report of the Action Team on Nursing states that public safety is going to be at risk unless the nursing crisis is addressed immediately. My question to the minister is this, why are you ignoring this wake-up call, laying off nurses, and making work conditions unbearable for those who are left behind?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, from a sort of technical point of view, the government hasn't laid off any nurses, and it is certainly not our intention to do so. We will continue to work with the health human resource sectors to see that there are adequate people trained and ready to go to work, and to see that adequate education opportunities, both pre-service and in-service are there for them.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

HEALTH - SENIORS' PHARMACARE PROG.: CONTROL - RETAIN

DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. Earlier this month the Premier pledged to work with other Maritime Provinces on a variety of issues including Seniors' Pharmacare. It makes some sense, perhaps, to look at bulk buying; it makes little sense, really, for Nova Scotia, which has by far the best seniors' plan, to enter

[Page 6609]

into full agreement with the provinces. For instance, 200 more drugs are covered under that program in Nova Scotia than in New Brunswick. At the time that the government wants to exert more control over the health boards, disband the health board, disband the school boards, why is the government considering giving up control on the Seniors' Pharmacare Program?

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I really apologize. I did miss the last line of his statement.

[1:45 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: Would the honourable member for Dartmouth East restate the question please?

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, maybe I will just move to the supplement, because he will just say that they are not. So we will assume they are not, it if is okay with you. If I could be Acting Health Minister again just for a moment. My supplement to that would be that all seniors can participate in Nova Scotia's program, it is a universal program here in Nova Scotia, Seniors' Pharmacare, and this is not the case in New Brunswick and the other Atlantic Provinces. Will the minister ensure today in the House that the Nova Scotia program is adopted as a higher standard for Seniors' Pharmacare for Atlantic Canada instead of lowering the bar on our Seniors' Pharmacare Program?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I perhaps shouldn't mention this at this time, but I am told that one of the honourable members in the House has just reached the Seniors' Pharmacare age today. Is that correct?

MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Could this be me? No.

MR. MUIR: Not you, Michel.

Mr. Speaker, in response to his question - and I now pick up from the first one - what has happened is it is not the intent at the present time to merge Seniors' Pharmacare plans. We are talking about moving toward a single formulary for the three provinces, which is a distinct thing from the Seniors' Pharmacare plan as the honourable member knows.

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, to the honourable minister, I will declare a conflict of interest in this matter. (Laughter) The point the minister did make, though, on the formulary being the same was the point of my first supplemental question, that 200 more drugs are covered under Seniors' Pharmacare in Nova Scotia than New Brunswick, and the standards should be maintained at the highest. It is bad enough the government is adopting higher fees - we saw the co-pay go from $200 to $350 this year - but Nova Scotians, I don't believe, will put up with this government dismantling the Seniors' Pharmacare Program. My question to

[Page 6610]

the minister is, will the minister commit today to ensuring that the 200 drugs will not be removed from the program, and that all Nova Scotian seniors will remain eligible for Pharmacare.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for the question. As he knows, each year the formulary in Nova Scotia adds certain drugs and takes certain ones off, so to commit there would not be 200 come off, from a practical point of view, is a very difficult thing to do in light of what might be added. I appreciate that.

Secondly, Mr. Speaker, the steps we have taken this year, I believe, are a good start to ensure the Seniors' Pharmacare Program in Nova Scotia will remain universal for our seniors in the years to come.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants East.

NAT. RES. - COAL (STRIP MINING): ROYALTIES - INSUFFICIENT

MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, my question will be to the Premier. Our Pictou County Premier is fond of saying that the Opposition doesn't have constructive ideas. Well, here is one, Mr. Premier, and I hope you are listening.

As a result of a Freedom of Information request, we have confirmed, that over the last five years, 1.1 million tons of coal have been stripped from the mines of Pictou County. At market prices the coal is worth between $50 million and $56 million, yet the royalties received by the province at the bargain-basement price of 25 cents per ton were less than $300,000. My question to the Premier is, what steps is your government taking to ensure that owners of the Pictou County strip mines pay a fair royalty for this valuable and non-renewable resource?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is quite correct, the royalty for coal is one that was set many, many years ago. It was set during the time when almost all of the coal mining was done as underground mining, with higher costs per ton and with a much greater labour content. At this particular time, government is not entertaining any initiative that would result in an increase in the royalty; in other words, nothing has been brought from the department to government on that issue.

MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, I would certainly hope that the Premier doesn't have to wait for his Minister of Natural Resources to bring this to him. The fact is that a reasonable royalty would bring in millions of dollars of extra revenue. The fact is that these strip mines are a licence to print money. The private owners reap the profits while Nova Scotians get the shaft. My question to the Premier is, will you raise the outrageously low royalty for coal to help pay for teachers, nurses and to reopen the Well Woman Clinic at the IWK-Grace?

[Page 6611]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is asking a question about what is happening within the department. I will refer that to the minister.

HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for his question. The member opposite would like to direct this issue as one solely of revenue and no benefit to the province. But the bigger issue here is we have an all-Party committee in this House that is trying to deal with coal production and maintaining jobs and economic opportunity in Nova Scotia. Jobs are important to this government and they are important to Nova Scotians, whether it is coal, whether it is gypsum or any other aggregate in this province, those private sector jobs are extremely important. Reasonable rates for royalties certainly accrue to the government but those private sector jobs in this province are extremely important to the economy of Nova Scotia.

MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, jobs are so important to this government, they are laying off people right and left.

Mr. Speaker, I know you are going to find this hard to believe, but the owner of the Pictou County strip mines was the largest single donor to the Tory Party in the last election. He was the largest single donor to the Liberal Party in the election before that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: No, no.

MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Yes, John Chisholm gave more to the Tories than Michelin, $27,000 through seven companies that he controls. No wonder the Premier doesn't have much to say about coal royalties.

My question to the Premier is, why don't you tell Nova Scotians the truth, that you would rather take away teaching assistants for special needs kids, you would rather lay off a child protection worker at the IWK than ask John Chisholm to pay a fair royalty for his coal?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I don't even think the member opposite believes in the premise of his own question. This government is very concerned about what is going to happen in Nova Scotia, what is happening to public sector workers, what is happening to health care, what is happening to education, but we are committed not only to make decisions for today but decisions that make sense for tomorrow. We will continue down that road.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Victoria.

[Page 6612]

NAT. RES. - BROWN SPRUCE LONGHORN BEETLE:

AREAS - RISK

MR. KENNETH MACASKILL: Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Natural Resources. I know the minister shares my concerns about the potentially devastating effects of the brown spruce longhorned beetle. The minister has stated that the beetle is now only found in one area of the province, which is of some comfort. But given how little we know about this beetle and how quickly it can travel, can the minister tell us if other areas of the province have been defined as being at risk?

HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, there has been no confirmation that the beetle has been found anywhere outside of the HRM and because this is an exotic pest, the federal government its exerting its authority to ensure that we try to contain and eradicate the insect here at the site where it is found in the HRM.

MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister. The minister knows that thousands of people travel in and out of Point Pleasant Park every day. The very geography of the park puts it between areas like McNab's Island and the Northwest Arm of Halifax. Given these conditions, is the minister's department watching for infestation in the neighbouring areas which may very well become at risk?

MR. FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for his question and his rightful concern. Yes, entomologists from our department and staff are maintaining insect traps, are monitoring the situation and so far the beetle has only been identified in Point Pleasant Park.

MR. MACASKILL: Mr. Speaker, as the minister has stated, there is a federal pilot project set up around the park. Is the minister's department actively coordinating with Agriculture Canada to ensure the infestation does not continue and possibly threaten Nova Scotia's lucrative spruce industry?

MR. FAGE: Mr. Speaker, that is a very important question. Certainly, the coordination is complete there; the lead, because it is a new infestation, exotic again, comes under Agriculture Canada's prerogative but we, along with the HRM, are coordinating the effort to contain and to ensure, if at all possible, that pests can be eradicated at the present site.

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

COMMUN. SERV. - OFFICE NEW:

MIN./DEP. MIN. - BATHROOMS PRIVATE (2)

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of Community Services.

[Page 6613]

Mr. Speaker, as you probably know, the minister and his department are moving offices and the minister is not just moving, he is movin' on up in style. His new office space includes an 80 square foot private bathroom. It also includes an 80 square foot private bathroom for the Deputy Minister of Community Services. I am dismayed. I want to ask the Minister of Community Services, why can't you and your deputy go to public washrooms like everybody else?

HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right, we are moving. I think as he looks at the construction over at the Johnston Building, he will know that there are some serious problems over there which require that we move. The call for tenders went out and that was handled through the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and the Department of Transportation and Public Works is doing the design and working on it. To be honest, the plans aren't finalized yet; the plans are in the development stage and they are not finalized.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I would like to flush this out a little bit more because perhaps there were plans on the old shower from the days of Savage. Let's put the minister's luxury lavatory in context. He says he needs an 80 square foot washroom. That is in addition to his 350 square foot office. That is 430 square feet, according to my math. The average seniors' public housing unit is only 500 square feet. I ask this minister, how can you cut social services for the poor by $100 a month and then turn around and waste taxpayers' money on personal toilets for yourself and for your deputy?

MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, I will say to the member, again, the plans haven't been finalized but the space is less than I have right now, so we are stepping down in size.

[2:00 p.m.]

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. The Community Services Minister obviously wants luxury, I wonder what other Cabinet Ministers are about. I want to ask the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, will you provide to this House the total square footage of all ministers' personal offices and their personal toilet spaces, as well as the rent per square foot, so Nova Scotians can know what they are really paying for these pay toilets in luxury situations? (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Order, please. He will answer when the House is quiet.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, there is a management manual, and I think it is Management Guide Manual 100, which outlines the space available for every . . .

AN HON. MEMBER: Is that under review?

[Page 6614]

MR. RUSSELL: As a matter of fact it is being updated because the last government didn't update it over whatever period they were in power, about five years. It lists, for every classification, every person in government, the space that they have and other amenities that they are entitled to. If the honourable member looks in there under Cabinet Ministers and deputy ministers and adds up the number in the front row and the second row and multiplies the total square footage, he will arrive at the end.

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

TRANSPORT. & PUB. WKS.: C.B. THE LAKES - PAVING

MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. Residents in my constituency are concerned about secondary roads. Many of these roads are unsafe and barely passable. The Tory bible or the blue book of election promises indicates that there would be a non-Partisan approach when dealing with road construction and repair. My question is, will the minister indicate to the residents I represent that they can expect some paving this year?

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, quite frankly I don't know. I would suggest that he speak to the engineer in his district, and he would probably get that answer very quickly.

MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I have already done that, I would like to indicate to the minister. The engineer indicates quite clearly that the projects are here in Halifax and approval is coming from here. However, many of my secondary roads are included on the Bras d'Or Scenic Drive, and one that comes to mind very quickly is Route 223, which had a portion repaired last year. My question to the minister is, will the minister commit to repaving this project over the next two years to ensure that tourists will not be discouraged from using these routes?

MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I am delighted that the honourable member got some paving last year because I didn't have any paving in my riding for the five years that these characters were in power.

AN HON. MEMBER: Oh, no. Shame. Shame. Shame. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works has the floor.

MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I am quite willing to admit that the secondary highway system in this province has deteriorated to such an extent that it is going to take two to three years to repair the damage of neglect over the past five years.

[Page 6615]

MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I guess there goes the non-Partisan road policy, out the window. My final supplementary will be to the Minister of Tourism who happens to be the godfather in this Cabinet for Cape Breton Island. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. (Interruption) Order, please.

MR. BOUDREAU: I noticed in the papers tenders are going out from all around - there are none in Cape Breton County, particularly in my riding, Cape Breton The Lakes. I want to ask this minister, is he going to fight for all the residents on Cape Breton Island and not just a select few?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. (Interruptions) Order, please. Honourable member, does the question pertain to the minister's portfolio. Are you referring to his portfolio? (Interruptions) Order, please. Was the honourable member's question pertaining to the Minister of Tourism and Culture's portfolio?

MR. BOUDREAU: Yes, it does, Mr. Speaker. The impact on tourism, particularly Cape Breton The Lakes.

HON. RODNEY MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, the last couple of days I have been called lightweight, heavyweight, godfather. I don't know what it is tomorrow. I can't wait. What a career already. I can't believe it. I am so impressed. (Interruptions) A busker, a fiddler, it gets better every day. But, in all seriousness, of course, tourism and transportation are very important. Under my portfolio, the honourable member can be assured that I will be fighting for not only the constituents of Inverness, the people of Cape Breton, but all of this province. (Applause)

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

EDUC. - C.B.-VICT. REG. SCH. BD.: CUTS - TEACHERS' AIDES

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, we have ferreted out more details about how this government has been gouging the education system in this province. The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board has announced close to 20 per cent cuts to teachers' assistants. The assistants who normally work a six hour day are bearing the full brunt of cuts in that region. My question to the Minister of Education is, why will your cuts adversely affect the most needy students in the most economically disadvantaged region of this province?

HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Speaker, there is no question that school boards have to make some tough decisions. We made no secret of that. I will say the boards are doing their very best in most cases to take the bulk of their cuts from administration, not from teachers.

[Page 6616]

I would like to assure the member opposite, however, that the boards have said these cuts are manageable and they will manage.

MR. CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, this is another example of say one thing when you are running for an election and do another when you are elected. To this minister, this problem is obviously out of sight, out of mind. The government said during last summer's election, I will tell the minister what is true. They said, education is leading the way into the future for Cape Bretoners. That is what they said. That is what the truth is, Miss Education Minister. Will you explain to this House how these cuts are going to strengthen the very pillar that Cape Breton's future is going to be built on?

MISS PURVES: Mr. Speaker, education is extremely important to all Nova Scotians. Certainly it is important to Cape Bretoners. Some cuts will have to be made right now in the education system. We all know that. The boards will make sure that the most needy people in the education system will get their teachers' assistants, resource teachers, psychologists, speech pathologists, and so on. A great deal of help is provided to these needy people and they, and all Nova Scotians, and this government value education very highly.

MR. CORBETT: This minister and this government show a complete lack of concern for the children of Cape Breton. She says, look, your future can be on hold. What they have done, they have stood by and watched Devco go. Today, Sysco closed. Highways are falling apart. The Tourism Minister is doing nothing down there. The schools are crumbling and every opportunity to do the right thing for Cape Breton, you people say no. So, to you, minister, will you deliver on the Tory election promise to improve the living standards for Cape Bretoners through an investment . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. CORBETT: . . . in technology?

MR. SPEAKER: Question, please. (Interruption)

Order, please. The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre, question, please.

Order, please. The honourable Minister of Education.

MISS PURVES: Mr. Speaker, there was no question there, but there are a couple of points that I would like to make. One, Cape Breton has and is benefiting from many new schools; the second is that the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board actually has probably the most successful system in Nova Scotia dealing with special needs students and they have done an excellent job.

[Page 6617]

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

EDUC. - UCCB: FUNDING (TRADES & TECH.) - REFUSAL

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is again to the Minister of Education. On May 12th the Minister of Education wrote a letter to the chairman of the UCCB Board of Governors, declining to rescind the Department of Education's breach of its contract with UCCB concerning trades and technology funding. This letter devastated UCCB's Board of Governors and a university already suffering from underfunding by this government. My question to the minister is, despite inaccurate information emanating from the Minister of Education, the trades and technology program is an integral part of the program at UCCB, why is the minister refusing to fund this program?

HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Speaker, the department does fund this program. As I have explained to this House in the past, this particular grant was deemed not necessary by the department, but over four years UCCB will have received a 27 per cent increase in its university funding.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, it may not be necessary to that minister and the Department of Education, but it is necessary to the University College of Cape Breton. My supplementary question, the minister stated in this House that UCCB had received a 27 per cent increase in funding this year and that was taken away. Will the minister indicate when the 27 per cent funding will be returned?

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

The honourable Minister of Health on an introduction.

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I would direct the attention of the House to the east gallery where two residents of Truro are observing proceedings today, Cheryl and Gordon Taylor, and I would ask the House to extend them a warm welcome. (Applause)

GOVERNMENT BUSINESS

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.

PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

[Page 6618]

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 47.

Bill No. 47 - Education Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid, you have 28 minutes.

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to rise again this afternoon and to speak for the few remaining minutes that I have left on Bill No. 47. Some of my colleagues suggest the time that I have left will be too short. It is my hope that before I finish, those on the opposite benches, on the government benches, will think that my time was too long. (Interruptions) I have already achieved that task and it is much like Nova Scotians feel about this government. They already feel that they have been in power for too long and are looking for an opportunity to have some kind of way to undo the damage that they were conned into inflicting upon themselves last summer when they were persuaded that this government actually cared about things like health and education and that those were supposed to be the top priorities of the government.

[2:15 p.m.]

As I look at Bill No. 47, and I am not going to go over as I did last day and take a look at the Education Act in terms of reading out this statement, the resolution that begins the Education Act, because as I pointed out, it is one of those rare pieces of legislation that actually does have the purpose laid out quite clearly at the beginning of it. It is not a . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. There is too much noise in the Chamber and it is very difficult to hear the speaker. I would ask the members to take their conversations outside.

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid has the floor.

MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hope the members on the government benches don't take their conversations outside; I hope, instead, they listen because what we would like to have, on behalf of the children and the people of this province, is some cooperation from the government members to make some important changes to this legislation.

The Premier is here this afternoon and I know the Premier would have, through many of his different experiences, had the opportunity to review, what, for example, responsible government means. I am sure the Premier would have had an opportunity to understand what democracy means. If you take a look at democracy, democracy doesn't mean denying or taking away from the elected representatives of the citizens of this province. The opportunity to have input into and be involved in the actual decision-making process dealing with legislation.

[Page 6619]

I note that some members on the government side have noticed the cooperation of members on this side, because they know that if at least 15 members are not present on the government benches, then what happens is a quorum is called and the House would rise. One way to ensure members of the government benches stay put is to make sure that members of the opposition benches don't have to maintain the quorum for them. So we are helping them to stay in the House to listen to my words, and I notice the Government Whip is standing by the door to ensure that members on the government benches stick in.

However, I want to get back to the Premier. Democracy is not always the most efficient way of doing government, but it sure beats the alternative. It sure beats a totalitarian state where a small, select group, without the best wishes of the general public at mind, in their seclusion, go and make decisions and then impose them upon the citizenry in general.

I am not suggesting for a moment that the government is going that far, but I have to ask the Premier and members of the government caucus, if something is as Bill No. 47 says it is, only a pilot project dealing with school boards, why is it, without any requirement, that pilot project be evaluated and then reported back to this House; why is it that the Cabinet has the power, without any public consultation, with zero reporting to the people of this province or to their elected representatives in the House of Assembly, they have the power downstairs in the Cabinet Room, behind locked doors in secrecy, to simply pass an Order in Council?

We have a Cabinet of 11, so if six of the people in Cabinet say, we have decided we wish to do away with every other school board in the Province of Nova Scotia - six people; carry the vote out of the 11, then of course, Cabinet solidarity and they all stick together. Those six people, under this legislation, have the ability to say we are doing away with the Halifax Regional School Board. We have the ability to do away with the Strait Regional School Board, or the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, the district school board from the area that you are from. They have the ability to do that. They don't have to come back into this House. They don't have to report. They don't have to ask for the elected representatives' approval if this legislation passes. They simply declare that it is done.

If we have any belief in the principles of democracy, how can we give to Cabinet such broad, far-reaching powers? I say that is wrong. Not only is it mildly wrong, it is obscene. I would suggest that it is an abuse of power. It is an abuse of a situation. I can't believe that the gentleman who had such an excellent reputation when he was a principal of the former Teachers College, I cannot believe that somebody who was committed to education and had the great reputation that he did when he was principal of the Teachers College would support such heavy-handed, undemocratic principles. The Attorney General, surely, Mr. Speaker, as a man who is charged with the responsibility to stand up and to protect the freedoms in this province. It just blows my mind to think that these individuals would support such a thing.

[Page 6620]

It is not a hard thing to correct in this legislation. This legislation, Bill No. 47, if it is to pass in second reading and go on to the Law Amendments Committee, there is the ability, either there or back in here in the Committee of the Whole, and it might speed up discussion of the bill, if in fact there was a commitment from government to say that we will amend this legislation and take out the powers that Cabinet would have according to this legislation and to impose the system on all other boards without legislation. A pilot project is simply that. It is a pilot project. Pilot projects are supposed to be reviewed. They are supposed to be examined, and then there should be a report done on that examination. Based on that evaluation that should be made public, then and only then would you be making decisions about whether or not you were going to expand into other areas. That is the way pilot projects, if they are being done properly, would be handled.

Now, Mr. Speaker, there are some other points in this legislation. The minister says in a press statement that she needs this to make school boards more accountable. Do members opposite know that right now the Minister of Education has the power to dismiss a school board if that school board is not living up to the existing Education Act and all of its responsibilities? The minister has that power now. Such hogwash.

What this is about in the Southwest Regional School Board is actually putting the school board completely under the thumb of the minister. The Southwest Regional School Board is being divided into two and, really, you are going to have two districts with each one having their own district supervisor appointed by the minister. They are going to supposedly deal with the educational issues, but the real power is going to rest in the hands of the CEO, the Chief Executive Officer of the board who really is the board. That CEO doesn't respond to or report to the elected representatives. Uh-uh. They report to the Minister of Education and the Deputy Minister of Education. So let's not play games or pretend for one minute that in fact they report to anybody but the minister.

The minister will have them totally under her control, and that CEO controls the purse strings. Let me tell you, there are some members from the Halifax Regional School Board here today, excuse me, I should say who represent areas served by the Halifax Regional School Board. Tell me money isn't important, especially if you are from the former county area, especially if you are from the former County of Halifax.

Money doesn't solve all problems, money doesn't address all the issues, but if you don't have money you cannot hire the teachers' assistants, you will not have staff to clean the schools, you will not have teachers in the buildings, and if the money person doesn't answer to the people who are responsible for delivering the quality of education, then the CEO is not primarily concerned with the education in that board. Their primary responsibility is to their boss, counting beans in the Minister of Education's department.

[Page 6621]

The area of Sackville that I represent, my colleague on the government side from Sackville-Beaver Bank, he was one, as were the members for Preston and for the Eastern Shore that had voted against - in their former lives as members of the county council - supplementary funding.

MR. DAVID HENDSBEE: Uh, uh.

MR. HOLM: Oh, I am told I am wrong on one, the member for Preston. I will check the record. If I have . . .

MR. HENDSBEE: . . . one asked for the plebiscite too.

MR. HOLM: Oh, he asked for the plebiscite, but I don't know if he said he voted for it.

Anyway, the municipality voted against it; it wouldn't impose it. Do you know what is happening now? Children in Bedford with special needs, children in my community with special needs, and all other parts of the Halifax Regional Municipality in the former county area, are losing teachers' assistants. That is going to mean that those children are going to be deprived of an educational opportunity that is equal to those in other parts of the municipality. Their classroom sizes are going to be larger and their buildings, undoubtedly, not maintained as well.

Here we have a government, the Tories sitting on their benches over there, pushing for Bill No. 47 that does absolutely nothing - the square root of zero - to correct any of those injustices.

I see the member for Preston over there going on, making fun of me and my comments, and I hear something about clowns. I hope he is going to stand on his feet, not at the door but on his feet, at his place, to speak on education and about the importance of the children in his constituency, and to talk about the fact that those children deserve an educational opportunity equal to those of every other child in this community. I haven't heard it yet.

This legislation is about power. That is what Bill No. 47 is about, power for the minister and her colleagues, so that if they don't like the Education Act, they can go down in the bunker, and if this passes, they can redefine any word, any expression, any meaning in the bill. They can exempt any school board or any part of any school board from any provisions of the Education Act and, they don't have to ask the public's approval once. They don't have to ask this Legislature for any approval if this bill passes.

[Page 6622]

[2:30 p.m.]

I am going to give a real scary thought to government members. It is something that is looking more appealing to the people of this province all the time, but maybe it will cause some Tories to have a little bit of anxiety. I know that despite the tremendous depth of the arrogance on the government benches, even the most arrogant members of the Tory Government know that at some time they will not be in power. It may take three years. In their fantasies it may take a couple of elections. (Interruption) Well, I heard somebody over there say a lifetime, especially if you are from Queens. Yes, Mr. Speaker. I mean he is so vocal in this House that I am sure everybody hears everything that he says.

However, the reality is some day - we can agree or disagree, or we can agree to disagree on how long that is going to take - but some day another government will take power. If this legislation passes - this is the scary part for Tories - it is even conceivable that the New Democrats could form government in this province. Think how uncomfortable they would feel if we formed government under their bill, we could go in and we could change the Education Act any way we wanted without any public discussion whatsoever.

Now, Mr. Speaker, if that was the case, of course, if we were the ones in government, one of the things that I am very sure we would do if we had that power, one of the very first things we would do is give away that power, because it is wrong. It is wrong. That is not a partisan issue. That is not a Tory or an NDP or a Liberal idea. It is simple basic democracy. In a previous life before I was elected, yes I was a teacher. One of the things I had the privilege to teach was called Civics. Once I got elected, I had to admit that I found out the House doesn't always work exactly the way the rule books say that it does. There are the official rules, and then there are the unofficial rules. (Interruption) I take that as a compliment from the member for Preston. Yes, indeed, I think I do know most of those, and may he hopefully not be here long enough in this House to learn them all, although he was around this House working for a Cabinet Minister once upon a time. That was before a certain mailing list went out. So he did learn certain unofficial ways of doing things at that time, too. However, that is beside the point.

We teach our students about the principles of democracy. We talk about Canada as being such a wonderful place to live and to be and about our freedoms, how we can speak out, how we have a right for its citizens to be involved in the government process. In this process on Bill No. 47, there will be an opportunity for public involvement. The public will be able, whether they are representing themselves, whether it is a parent like the parent who called me not too many days ago with a child who will be going into Grade Primary next year, a child with very severe learning disabilities and the parents are told that child will be on a waiting list. This is a child who has been identified by doctors and others, or the parents have been told, who needs a teacher's assistant. They were told they were on a waiting list before the announced cuts that are coming to the Halifax County section of the Halifax Regional School Board.

[Page 6623]

Those parents may come down and speak on this Bill No. 47 this time, but if this bill passes, and this bunch on the government benches have their way, take democracy for any future changes and chuck it in the trash. By Order in Council, or Governor in Council. Sort of reminiscent of an autocratic kind of government that we in this country have stood strongly against. I find this extremely autocratic and completely undemocratic. I know government bench members find this funny. They think that this is a game. They think it is a game.

Often in here, we do - and let's face it - I take part in it as much as the next person, we will throw barbs back and forth across the floor, good-natured and sometimes not as good-natured. You know, having seen that and despite that going on, and sometimes how we kibitz back and forth, what is done in here, believe it or not - most people, if they were to watch the way the government performs would have difficulty believing it - this is serious business. Laws are being made that affect the lives of every man, woman and child in this province.

This bill, Bill No. 47 is nothing to do with education. Let me correct that a little bit, there is a little bit to do with education and there are even a couple of good things in it and that is why, in opposing this bill, our caucus introduced another piece of legislation that would ensure if it was passed, that a member of the African-Canadian community would be able to be elected to each individual board.

So we have introduced that and that is a positive thing in this legislation, but you know, despite the couple of positive things, this legislation just ignores education. So I say to the government members if there is anybody on the government benches who actually is concerned about education and process, let's see this legislation amended. Let's see it done so that a pilot project is in fact a pilot project and that before there could be any expansions or changes in other boards that that pilot project would have to be reviewed and reported back to this House.

Let's see the Chief Executive Officer of the Southwest Regional School Board being responsible to the elected board. Let's look in an open way and, do you know, the front bench members on the government side have not squawked very much and they have not taken exception to what I have been saying, it is the ill-informed backbenchers who are kept in the dark and told to keep their mouths shut and to be good little do bees and to stay here and to vote for us, they are the ones who are raising the objections from across the floor.

So I say, Mr. Speaker, let them actually read the bill, look at the Education Act, compare facts with fiction and let them, on behalf of the citizens in their constituencies and the children they are supposed to represent, actually push for some reasoned amendments to this bill.

[Page 6624]

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

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, it is again a privilege to stand in my place and to members opposite, and to members on this side of the House, to do my job basically, to make sure that as an MLA, I respond to the requests and the comments that I hear on this topic of education.

Mr. Speaker, I want you to know that many times in the last number of weeks I have had a number of very positive things happening in my community. In fact, last evening I had the distinct privilege of perhaps spending the best three hours of my MLA career when I called the 28 fortunate young people in my community who, this summer, have the distinct privilege - and responsibility, I should point out - of representing this province and representing this country because these 28 young people, who come from Tantallon Junior High, Brookside Junior High and from Sir John A. Macdonald, are going to Switzerland to represent this country.

During those calls which I made to inform them that they had been selected, and I should point out, Mr. Speaker, we had over 200 young people apply, and it would be appropriate to thank the teachers involved as they helped the European Association of Swissair Families to make these decisions, during those calls last night, I can assure you that the reaction that I received from young people and their parents, when they realized that they had been chosen to go to Switzerland this summer and to live with the families of the Swissair disaster, the reaction, of course, was overwhelming. During the conversations that I had, there were many times that I brought up the fact that they had to be at a certain place at a certain time and I would be unable to meet with them because of the business of the House until this Sunday evening, in fact, when we are having a community meeting in West Dover on this topic.

Many parents brought up to me the point of what is the business going on in the House right now and this Education Act, exactly where are we with some of the changes that have been proposed. Mr. Speaker, to those men and women, to those parents, to even the young person who brought it up and said to me, what are the changes all about. I said, well, it is a complicated piece of legislation, but basically, in my opinion as your MLA, it centralizes too much of the power in the hands of the minister. To the people I had the opportunity to speak to, I think the concern that we have here - and I think all MLAs would agree with this - that there has been a miscommunication here. There has been a lot of misinformation and the result of that really must rest with the Department of Education.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I have had the opportunity to read comments in the press from papers throughout the province. I have heard the good member for Cape Breton Nova quote from the Yarmouth Vanguard extensively. He must be on the subscription list. I have heard other comments in other weekly and daily papers from over the province that members

[Page 6625]

opposite continually point to the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and they point to the school boards as the bad guys in this lack of information.

Let's call it like it is, Mr. Speaker. This lack of information, this miscommunication, this information overload at times, which has resulted in the confusion, the chaos, and some of the very emotional feelings that have resulted, is because all people informed are not aware of all the facts.

[2:45 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I am an associate member of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. I have had the opportunity to read their literature. I can tell you that I, as I stand in this place, when I was a practising teacher or a school administrator, did not agree with everything that came out of Dutch Village Road, and I know many times people will say all the teachers in the New Democratic Party caucus, therefore they only speak with the union voice. Well, I would like to assure members opposite that I speak for the parents and the students and the teachers that I represent.

I challenge them opposite. During my comments, I will give them proper opportunity to stand in their place and represent their schools, their teachers, their students, their parents. I know at the end of June, my calendar will be full, and it will be full because of all the graduations that I have to attend. I know the response that I get when I attend graduations in my community. I hope members opposite get invited to the graduations and I hope that when they present these awards to these various young people, I hope they explain to parents why some of these things and this misinformation continues, with regard to education and the future of this province.

Mr. Speaker, you well know, education is an emotional topic for me. On Friday afternoon, with a previous agreement, I was assigned an hour to speak on this topic. For various reasons it was agreed that that would not be the case, we had the long weekend coming. But I can tell you, as I said during those comments, I looked forward to addressing these comments again; I looked forward to bringing the concerns of the people of Timberlea-Prospect to this House again, the concerns about education. These are the concerns that I hear a great deal. I will tell you in my constituency office - and having spoken to my constituency assistant a few moments ago on the phone - people continuously call my office about schools.

I represent, as you know Mr. Speaker, a growing community; a growing community that, therefore, has many concerns about education. I know there are some members in this House who represent other areas that do not have that unique problem. I can assure you - as you well know, you have heard me say to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, the need for work on Highway No. 103 - there are more housing starts between Exit 3 and

[Page 6626]

Exit 5, in those busy new subdivisions that are part of my community, than in any other place in Nova Scotia, and I have students who are attending schools that have portables.

Mr. Speaker, as you are well aware, there were three new schools recently opened in my community, I want to correct myself, one of them I share - sorry to get personal about this, but this is a personal topic - with the good member for Chester-St. Margaret's. I look forward to seeing him back in the House when he is ready to return. The good member for Chester-St. Margaret's and I share the new P3 school at the Head of St. Margaret's Bay, and I was there and attended the opening with the Minister of Education.

The new P3 school, the Madeline Symonds Middle School is the school that I share with Sackville-Beaver Bank. I challenge the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank to go out and meet with the library technician at Madeline Symonds and listen to that young woman's concerns. Of course, I am fortunate enough - and again I know I am saying this in a very personal manner - I had the opportunity, with the Minister of Education, to be at the official opening of Ridgecliff Middle School, which services the community of Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea.

Those are three growing areas that are served by these new schools, yet we still have, in my community, students who have to go to school in portables. Let's look at the problem here. It seems to me that there are issues in my community that revolve around education. I know that the people are aware in Timberlea-Prospect that this is a topic near and dear to my heart, and it is near and dear because these young people are our future, as you have heard other speakers say, but it is also important that we get leadership on where we are going with education in this province.

Mr. Speaker, this bill, this particular piece of legislation does not do that. This particular piece of legislation is not a positive, progressive piece of legislation. Instead it is regressive, it is the centralization of power, it is not what communities want to hear from the Department of Education. It gives more power to the minister, and I can tell you that people across my constituency do not want more power in the hands of that particular Minister of Education. There is no other way to say it. I don't want to get overly personal about it, and I know the good minister has gone through some tough times, but I know that minister, at times, questions some of the advice she is getting.

The Department of Education, over in the Trade Mart building, should not be calling the shots on local community issues in this province. Members opposite, if they closely read this bill as we have, as members of my caucus have and I hope the member of the Liberal Party have done the same, if you look at this piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker, it centralizes the control of education in the hands of the minister. That is not a progressive step. In fact, if you look at one particular section of the bill, it actually allows for the minister to modify, restrict or enlarge the meaning of any word, expression or provision in the Education Act.

[Page 6627]

Now think about that. Those are unbelievable powers. To modify, restrict, or enlarge the meaning of any word, expression or provision in the Education Act.

That reminds me of a history lesson. I would like to turn to this history lesson if I could, Mr. Speaker. I know members realize that in a previous life I had the opportunity to be a history teacher. Let me tell you something, King Philip II of Spain was one of those absolute power monarchs who believed that he and his court had to control everything. He had to see every piece of paper that crossed his desk. So Philip II, as he sat in his court in Madrid, that man, that monarch, had to decide on such minute things. If there was a new church in Mexico City that applied for work to be done on the roof, the King of Spain, at the time, had to decide exactly what the roof would cost. He demanded to see everything. Now what happened to the Spanish empire? The lesson is, the Spanish empire absolutely collapsed. Colonial history proves that the centralization of power is not the way to go for success. Why did the English, after all, have so much success with their colonial empire? They allowed their colonies to have their say. In fact, of course, one particular colony had more than its say, it had its way and formed an independent nation called the United States of America.

Mr. Speaker, that history lesson I refer to, turns to a very important fact, and that is the centralization of power. So, if I could turn to my good learned friend for Dartmouth North's most important document, I would like to refer to the blue book - please don't make me table it, it has been tabled so many times - I want to point to this particular section of the blue book which is on Page 15, under Education. If you will allow me to read this, and all deference to the good Leader of the Liberal Party, this is what the blue book said on Education, "The Liberal Government has failed to give education the priority it deserves. Too many young Nova Scotians are learning from outdated photocopies instead of current textbooks. Too many teachers are faced with overcrowded classrooms and scarce resources."

Now I can't disagree with much of that, although I must tell you that this Minister of Education's predecessor in the other government at times in this House, to his credit, was much more forthright and much more agreeable at times when it came to answering questions about some of the problems that I had with schools in Timberlea-Prospect at the time.

Here is the key point if I may be allowed to go back to it. This is what the blue book says when they finally get around to it after criticizing their predecessors and pointing a stick at what the Liberals had done incorrectly, they say in the blue book, "Our schools must be functional, environmentally-safe and must . . ." and this is the key part, if I may, " . . . reflect the needs of the community."

Now I have a question for you, Mr. Speaker, and I know you are not in the business of answering questions, but I have questions for all members over there. How can the Minister of Education sitting in her office at the Trade Mart building, how can she - I don't care how many assistants she has - know the needs of every community in this province? The answer is, it is impossible. The centralization of power is something that Nova Scotians,

[Page 6628]

parents, myself as an MLA and many Nova Scotians are extremely concerned about and this piece of legislation allows that. Now, I know I can hear the response, but the minister would never do those things. But the power is there. You know, as they say, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Mr. Speaker, it concerns me, it concerns the people I represent, and it concerns many of the people I have heard from across this province that this piece of legislation centralizes too much power in the hands of the Minister of Education. That is not the way education should be going in this province. It is not the way we were promised in the blue book that it was going to happen, ". . . the needs of the community." All the power to the minister in the Trade Mart. She, in her wisdom, will decide on all the issues of education. That power is provided for in this proposed legislation. For that reason alone, I know that Nova Scotians, people I had the opportunity to speak to last evening, want to know the straight goods on this particular piece of legislation.

So let's talk about some of these things. Let's look at some of the issues if I may. I want to go back over them again because I think the members opposite are aware of the fact that there are some times in this House maybe when I am talking about bathrooms or dogs or whatever, maybe I don't have all the facts. Maybe on that particular issue, I may not be as well informed as I should or could be, but I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to schools, on education, I believe I reflect the facts. I would like to go over them for members opposite now.

I had the opportunity last Friday night to meet an exceptional young teacher from Sir John A. Macdonald High School, a school you have heard me speak of many times. Now this young man is the coach of the provincial wrestling team. He is currently, I believe if my time allows me correctly, he is on the Canada Games Diamond as I speak coaching the Sir John A. Macdonald fastball team in the championship game taking place this afternoon. That young man wanted desperately to be a teacher. He trained. He got his proper degrees. Martha Norris, in her wisdom at Sir John A. Macdonald High School made the wise decision to have this young man on the staff of Sir John A. Macdonald High School. Now I know all of the harangues about pink slips and whether they count or they don't count, whether they are really pink slips or not pink slips; I assume, Mr. Speaker, you are aware of that term pink slip. The fact of course is, that this young man is out of a job. That young man is looking at job offers.

I wish him all the best, because he is being recruited to go to Peel County. He is being recruited in Simcoe County in Ontario. They know of this young man and his commitment, not just to extra-curricular activities that I mentioned, not just to activities in the community, this young man is an exceptional, young teacher. He is going to be out of a job at whatever date in the future, whether it is June 15th or July 15th, whatever is decided. This piece of legislation is going to have that young man with no job.

[Page 6629]

Mr. Speaker, this weekend, I heard from an outstanding young man named Paul Armitage. Paul is teaching school. He is from Boutilier's Point incidentally. Paul Armitage is teaching school in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Think about that. Paul would love to be teaching in his own province, but Mr. Armitage said to me on the phone in the middle of expressing his opinions on the Lloyd's application and that is something, of course, which I heard a lot of people from this weekend, Paul Armitage said, Mr. Estabrooks - it is amazing that after all these years he still calls me that. I tried to convince him I would allow him to call me Bill, but - Mr. Estabrooks, I am not coming back home. Why would I come back home? I will just lose my job. So there is this exceptionally well-trained young teacher who has moved to Manitoba, and he is putting down roots when he would certainly be an asset and benefit to any school in this province. Paul Armitage teaches school in Manitoba because he wants a future in the classroom. That, is a sad commentary on where education is going in this province.

[3:00 p.m.]

I also want to point to the role of support people in our schools. Now you have heard me speak on this topic previously. But I hear from many people in my constituency, and I want to point out an example to you. Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea Elementary School is actually made up of two physical plants: there are 350 to 360 students in one of the buildings; right next door, just across the parking lot are another 370 to 380 students that go to the other building. Between those two buildings, we are talking approximately 700 to 800 students, in that range. The people in that community want to know, for reasons of security, will there be one or two secretaries at that school. There is one principal for both schools. This is, of course, a Primary to Grade 5 school. This is because of the overcrowding in that community.

Mr. Speaker, those two buildings need two secretaries. Why? Well, I understand Mr. Speaker, you are probably aware of the safe arrival program in schools. Where children walk to school, where they come in to schools and they have to be checked in for various reasons, or when they are leaving, which is another situation for one reason or another. In your prior career Mr. Speaker, I know these would be the sort of concerns you would want addressed in your community of Springhill.

The secretaries in schools no longer just type letters for the principals. These secretaries have innumerable responsibilities, one of the most important ones is to make sure that at any time they can account for any and every student who is in the school or on the school grounds. If I may - and I have been given permission to bring her name up because of her concerns about this issue - Donna Hopkinson is an outstanding woman in the community I serve. Donna Hopkinson is the school secretary. That woman has the responsibilities that are well beyond what she is paid. She, in many ways, runs the school. Heaven forbid I would admit that to her because I, of course, made many more dollars than Donna did, but Donna

[Page 6630]

Hopkinson controls when it comes to the coming and going of children, to the signing in and out of kids, to making sure that their parents are there to pick them up if they are ill.

You cannot administer a school in two separate buildings with one secretary. That is impossible. That is not the way to run an efficient school of 800 students or there about. Those are a lot of little people to keep track of. When you have half of them in one building and half in another; I believe that community needs two secretaries in that school.

Support workers in education are of real importance. They are no longer people to be taken for granted. I want to point out that custodians, in particular, have to deal with dangerous goods, they have to deal with occupational health and safety concerns, they have to react in times of situations. I would like to tell you of a couple of perfect examples of how custodians assisted me in situations in schools that were of a violent nature. They didn't have to do that, and I can assure you that custodians, secretaries, within schools that I have worked in are a valuable part of the school team. They should not be, in any way, considered anything but most important when it comes to security, safety and cleanliness of your school.

Of course, we talked in the past, and I know you have heard me speak about the role of teaching assistants. There are many parents out there who are alarmed about the future of teaching assistants and resource teachers in this area and in this province. People don't seem to understand that if you have 35 young people in a Grade 8 math class, you no longer, Mr. Speaker, as the teacher, sort of make the round peg fit the square hole. Maybe in our days they taught the middle of the class and the bright ones - of which I was not one in math I can assure you - just did it on their own and the ones who did not quite match the average, well, it was sink or swim. At home in New Brunswick when I was in Grade 8, those particular young people, a lot of them boys, ended up working in the woods, or ended up going back on the farm, or went out and got themselves a good job in the foundries, but that is not the way it is anymore because in that class of 35 young people in Grade 8, you can have some physically impaired young people there. You could have some disabled children there. You could have some young people who need assistance in the class.

Mr. Speaker, no longer do you go in with that one Grade 8 math lesson, open the textbook up and say, we are on Page 35, today, and do questions 7 to 20, I am going to sit down here and read the newspaper. It does not work that way, Mr. Speaker. What you now have is you have about four different lessons which you have to prepare and one of the very first people you turn to is the teaching assistant. The teaching assistant comes in with whatever number of students and says to you, what are we doing today, how can I help you, where are the materials for my students, what time should they have some of these things done, is there anything more I should know?

Those teaching assistants are invaluable, Mr. Speaker. Those young people in those classes need those teaching assistants. So when parents call me about teaching assistants, or curriculum assistants, or program assistants, and I know they have various names in various

[Page 6631]

school boards, those positions are valuable to the success of young people. I used math as an example and, as you well know, of course, there is no tougher course this day, no course that is more important to young people than making sure that they have proper assistance when it comes to Grade 8 math, let alone that science math course that students have so many problems with as they get to high school.

Mr. Speaker, earlier I spoke, and I am talking about the issues that concern people in my constituency. I know there are some teachers over there and I want to point out, for example, there was a teacher I worked with by the name of Ron Naud. Ron Naud was an accomplished hockey player in his day and Ron Naud was a physical education teacher. We had a young man in our school at the time who was physically disabled. Ron Naud worked with him for hours and hours so that he could learn to hit a badminton shuttle.

Mr. Speaker, with your coordination, you are aware of that badminton shuttle and I went in with Mr. Naud and I would take his physical education classes while Mr. Naud worked with this young man as he tried to have the confidence and the self-esteem to be able to make contact with that badminton shuttle. I saw Mr. Naud the other night. In fact, I should point out to the House that Ron Naud is the vice-principal of Tantallon Junior High School and he is going to be one of the chaperones who will go to Switzerland this summer with the junior high group.

Ron Naud, the other night when we were talking about this said, do you remember that day that Matthew hit that badminton shuttle. That was probably the highlight of that veteran teacher's teaching career, the smile on that young man's face that day. Why did that happen? Because Mr. Naud could take the time to deal with that one particular young person, who was a special young person in that phys ed class. I have the rest of the class, and you should have seen the reaction from the other students in that class because that young man had been mainstreamed. Now there is an expression that we could perhaps talk about at length at another time. The reaction from the rest of the class, as they put down their badminton racquets and went over to this young man and congratulated him, I will assure you that is a moment that you don't forget, the success is because of the teaching assistant that I was at that time because Mr. Naud, of course, was the phys ed teacher in charge. That is something that you have to treasure.

Parents are concerned about the fact that special young people such as that young man will no longer have the opportunity to have that one-on-one assistance in a phys ed class. I know there is a certain young phys ed teacher over there, in fact, I know he is called a lightweight, but considering what I have seen lately I think he is a cruiserweight now. I can tell you that that phys ed teacher, the MLA for Inverness, he knows the role that teaching assistants play. I believe he does care, but I want him to understand that he has to, at his high school or his junior high school graduation, explain to the teaching assistants who work in the schools where he worked why those particular people will not have a job next year because of some of these severe cuts.

[Page 6632]

Mr. Speaker, I want to turn to an issue that members opposite like to snipe with me about, that I am an associate member at this stage of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. I want to point out that in The Chronicle-Herald - a paper that was of some significance to the Minister of Education, at one time - that on Wednesday, May 24th - and I can table a copy of this - the President of the Halifax County Local of the NSTU, Colin Campbell, who incidentally was a teacher that I worked with and had the privilege of working with, begins to try to address the disparity issue as it says in the headline, Board moves rural jobs to city schools.

Mr. Speaker, this is an emotional topic. This is a topic that amalgamation, and I have heard recently that we have some previous councillors who now serve in this House, and I am concerned about the fact that Mr. Campbell and his comments (Interruptions) Oh, you were going to ask me a question, the MLA for Inverness?

HON. RODNEY MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The honourable member asked me what I would be telling the people in my area with regard to SPAS, and in fact I look at a news release today and it says, Strait board to maintain Student Program Assistant Services for students with special needs.

MR. SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect has the floor.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, it was really positive to hear a teacher on that side stand in his place and talk on the topic of education. Unfortunately he had to read it in a press release, because after all, the key thing when you talk education or when you talk about other issues in this House, you talk from here, you don't read a prepared statement, whether it is in late debate or whether you have to stick to the text so carefully. I thank the member for that piece of information.

I want to turn to Colin Campbell, the teacher that I referred to and incidentally the President of the Halifax County Local. He says, this is going to mean - he is talking about the disparity between county schools and city schools - larger class sizes and fewer support for special needs children. I encourage - I read the Vanguard in here regularly - the member for Yarmouth to read this. It concerns me about the fact that what we are facing in a growing community, like the one I represent, that you have heard me speak of so many times, we are talking about larger class sizes. As the President of the Halifax County Local, Colin Campbell, has pointed out, we are talking about lack of support for special needs children in those classes.

[Page 6633]

[3:15 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, this is something that we cannot ignore. Politics in the classroom, and the misinformation that has resulted concerns me gravely, because as I said to you earlier, the misinformation that is out there. I had the member for Inverness stand and make this particular interjection. Good for him. However, how does this information all get out to parents? It gets out because of the clarity and the fact that the Minister of Education has to make very clear what her department's plan are for the future of young people in this community.

Mr. Speaker, if I may, I wish to turn to an e-mail, and I will table it because I know this is of some importance. I have a busy office when it comes to education, I can assure you. Lori Robitaille has sent me an e-mail, Cause for Concern, and I am not going to read the whole thing to you, although we can make copies available. "I feel compelled to write in complaint of the Education Budget cuts." Fourth paragraph down, "We cannot lose our specialized programs. Children deserve music education, and certainly in a bilingual country every student and every family should have the choice of French Immersion." Now for members opposite, they are probably saying, how did this guy get from supplemental funding to French immersion? That is the number one issue when it comes to young people in what we call the old county as opposed to the Cities of Halifax and Dartmouth.

French immersion is a program which should be open to all. I believe we agree with that, Mr. Speaker. I have one elementary school where there is early immersion, and parents line up to get into that program. That is at Hammonds Plains Consolidated School. Actually it is over the boundary, just beyond Vernon Kynock's Irving Garage, in Sackville-Beaver Bank. But if you go down the road five kilometres, in overcrowded Tantallon Elementary School where they are in portables, there is no early French immersion. That disparity is causing concern in my growing community. That disparity that we have between the county and the cities takes some leadership and it takes some input from the local community. But if this minister with this new power decides Hammonds Plains Consolidated School will no longer have French immersion, and at the stroke of a pen, or I guess at the stroke of an eraser, French immersion from Hammonds Plains Consolidated School could go out the window.

Now, Lori Robitaille has brought these concerns to me as her MLA, and in turn I bring them to this House at this time. I would, if one of the Pages could, please, table that and if you also, if it is not inappropriate, Mr. Speaker, I would like you to make a copy of that and send it over to the Minister of Education. Hopefully the Minister of Education will benefit from Lori's e-mail and her concerns about French immersion among other issues.

Let's look at some local issues. Let's look at a local issue perhaps in Amherst. Oh, my. The principal of Amherst Regional High School used to be a student of mine, Stephen Blum. Now I am sure that Stephen Blum as the principal of that school would love to continue to

[Page 6634]

have local control over the decisions in his school. Mr. Speaker, Stephen Blum is a sort of educational leader that this Minister of Education should be listening to. But under the changes to this Education Act, she doesn't have to listen to the Stephen Blums. Let's take an extreme example if I may. Breton Education Centre, which is, of course, in the community of New Waterford, is absolutely famous for its Coal Bowl. The powers of the minister can say, if this minister wanted to, heaven forbid that would happen, that no longer would schools offer extracurricular activities in this province.

Now I know members opposite will say, where are you going with this? That minister would never do that. I hope so. But the Coal Bowl, for example, and the wonderful contribution that it makes to New Waterford, when you are allowed and if we were to remember that earlier information that I brought to the House's attention, I don't think members opposite have this in the memory bank yet. So if I may, and I hope you don't consider this being repetitive, the minister is allowed to modify, restrict or enlarge the meaning of any word, expression, or provision in the Education Act.

Mr. Speaker, you want omnipotent power. You want control. Are you telling me that the Coal Bowl at BEC should suddenly go out the window because the minister says it is not the sort of activity that young people from across this country, incidentally, should be participating in, in the middle of New Waterford Coal Bowl activities? Those sorts of things can happen.

Now maybe that is an extreme example. I would like to turn to some local issues which, of course, you knew I was going to do. Let's take this one. Early in the first months of this government, the new Minister of Education, Mr. Speaker, had to deal with an issue about safe busing in the growing communities of Beechville, Lakeside and Timberlea. Perhaps you caught it. The community was in a rage because suddenly they were told that the children would have to walk along the busy St. Margarets Bay Road which, at that time, had no sidewalks. These young people, who would be attending Ridgecliff Middle School, which was going to open that fall, would no longer have a safe way to get to school on that busy road, which, of course, was by bus. The parents made their points known and the Minister of Education, as I said before, to her credit, she came to the community. She listened to parents, and local control, local input, won the day.

Now the Minister of Education at the time - and I am not saying that she is in any way unaware of where my community is - but I don't think she quite knew what the St. Margarets Bay Road was all about. But, to her credit and to the credit of the people involved in that community, they made their views known, Mr. Speaker. If that minister, with these powers continues to sit in her office at the Trade Mart and basically makes all the decisions locally, that is not the future of education in this province. Otherwise we would still have the unsafe situation. Miraculously we now have sidewalks. We now have a safe arrival at Ridgecliff Middle School. The reason, local people had the opportunity to have their say because they know the situation.

[Page 6635]

Let's turn to another local situation and that, of course, is the issue of crosswalks. Mr. Speaker, there was a previous Minister of Transportation and Public Works who assured me in this House, in a previous government, that there would be a full review of all dangerous crosswalks in this province. Now, who do you consult? I asked that member at that time, the good member for Shelburne, the previous member, Clifford Huskilson, I asked him to consult with people about dangerous crosswalks in my community. To that minister's credit, who did he consult? He consulted local school teachers. He didn't sit in his office and decide, well, that one out at Tantallon Elementary School, that is really not that dangerous. It is only dangerous when somebody gets run over. So this minister could learn from the example of the previous Minister of Transportation, who responded to local concerns, who went in and dealt with the issue of crosswalks, a very small issue, but, if you are the Minister of Education and you can change any word, any expression, anything in the Education Act, no longer will there be crosswalk guards anywhere in Nova Scotia.

Now I know the members opposite would say that won't happen, not with this Minister of Education. Mr. Speaker, I am not questioning the integrity of the minister, I am questioning the fact that there is too much power centralized in the hands of one person who does not have the local awareness of an issue such as this crosswalk issue that was brought to the floor of this House.

There are people present, some of them sit over there and say, you actually took the time of the House to talk about dangerous crosswalks at Tantallon Elementary School? You are right, Mr. Speaker, that is my job and that was the Minister of Transportation's job at that time, to respond to that because, if you remember, it only took that one very serious accident to have people across this province react to the fact of all these dangerous crosswalks. How can the Minister of Education know about these issues unless she is going to listen to local people?

Mr. Speaker, I want to turn to Sir John A. Macdonald High School. It is a local issue but is the minister aware of all these issues? How could she be aware of all these issues? She can be made aware of the issues in this House because she has to listen to me as an Opposition member. She has to know about the problems of air quality; she has to know about the two portables in back of this overcrowded school; she has to know about the fact that this school, which will be in its 33rd year, needs a major upgrade.

Mr. Speaker, MLAs have to have the opportunity to stand in this House and speak on local issues, so I turn to the good member for Shelburne who is in this House at this time, and I wonder when he is going to stand in his place and say, what about Lockeport, the home of the Green Wave High School?

AN HON. MEMBER: He won't stand up.

[Page 6636]

MR. ESTABROOKS: What about that school? It seems to me that if the Minister of Education is going to learn about local issues and about what is really important in that member's riding in Lockeport - that school, soon to be closed, we have been told - when we look at the fact that the Minister of Education, she can't possibly know all and see all when she is in her office in the Trade Mart building, and she would have to have local control where people are going to have their input. People are going to have their say and I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that the people of Lockeport do not feel that they have had their say locally on that particular issue, just like some other people who are concerned about some questions which we bring up in this House.

There are some tough decisions to make. The tough decisions revolve around the theme of centralization. That is what we are about here. There is the provision, of course, for proper representation of African-Nova Scotians on school boards and, as you are well aware, Mr. Speaker, members of this caucus have introduced a Private Member's Bill supporting that. What we are talking about here is the centralization of power in the hands of the Minister of Education at the Trade Mart building.

The Minister of Education alone should learn from her deputy minister because of the deputy minister with his New Brunswick past. I know that the New Brunswick experiment of centralization of power in Fredericton has proved to be a disastrous failure, and this new deputy minister should be able to turn to the experience that he has had to go through and say, wow, did I learn anything from being the Deputy Minister of Education in New Brunswick? I hope I learned that I can say to my new Minister of Education, in Nova Scotia, too much power centralized in the hands of the decision makers in Halifax, or Fredericton, is not the way to go when it comes to the future of education in this province.

MR. SPEAKER: I wonder if the member would permit an introduction?

MR. ESTABROOKS: With delight, as long as it is bilingually presented.

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

HON. NEIL LEBLANC: M. l'Président, ça va être en français et en anglais. Je veux présenter la chaire d'un groupe qui vient de la Fédération des francophones hors Québec, and I will say it in English so that you understand. There is a group that is going around with the Federation of Francophones outside of Quebec, that is now changed to FCFA. They are having dialogue throughout Canada, talking to the francophone communities throughout our great country. I had some discussions with them today and they are in your Speaker's Gallery, Mr. Speaker. I would like them to rise as I introduce them: Marc Arnal; Gino LeBlanc; Fernand Denault; and also Stan Surette, who is accompanying them today. I would like them to rise to receive the warm approbation of the House. (Applause)

[Page 6637]

MR. SPEAKER: Welcome to our guests.

The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect has 11 minutes left.

MR. ESTABROOKS: Bienvenue à Nouvelle-Écosse. C'est fini on that topic, okay?

Of course, I know that this is a topic that members in the gallery or members opposite consider an important one and I appreciate their attention today. From the notes I have, I am aware of the fact that I have a mere 11 minutes left, and I can assure you Mr. Speaker, if no other member in this place wants to stand in this place, I have another hour and 11 minutes on this topic right here on the tip of my tongue.

[3:30 p.m.]

However, I want to talk about the centralization of power. That is a dangerous precedent when it comes to where we are going with this Education proposal. If members opposite don't see it that way, I am sure they haven't carefully read this piece of legislation. They haven't read it with the idea that local people will continue to have a say on local issues in their community.

I was speaking about Sir John A. Macdonald High School. As you are well aware, that is the school where I began my teaching career. I was there today, and I had the opportunity to drop in for a moment and share with the 14 young people - and I had mentioned this earlier - who will be representing our community in Switzerland.

It hurts when you go into Sir John A. Macdonald. I have had the opportunity to tour other schools in metro and other schools throughout this province. I have had the opportunity to be in schools in Cole Harbour, Auburn Drive High School, in particular, and I congratulate the principal of that school, Don Buck on the great job he is doing. I look at what is offered at Auburn Drive High School, and I look at what is offered at - I don't want to get sarcastic in the middle of this particular comment, but we used to call it Harrison High - I look at that particular school down in the Valley, and I look at the quality of the building and the fact that this old high school has not received any attention. Meanwhile, young people continue to have to attend a school that on the roof - if you go up to the front door of Sir John A. Macdonald you would look up on the roof and say, who landed a helicopter there - an air exchange unit that is necessary to make that school a safe, environmentally-friendly school.

You go into Sir John A. Macdonald High School, you go to the gymnasium and that gymnasium is 30-plus years of age. It needs upgrading and it needs work. This Minister of Education has to listen to local people, local activists who want the problems of that high school dealt with.

[Page 6638]

Members opposite, other members, perhaps they have their own problems in their schools. Perhaps they don't have some of the things we have to face in Timberlea-Prospect - overcrowded schools, portable classrooms, a need for early French immersion. Whether you are going to Terence Bay Elementary or Hammonds Plains Consolidated. A safe school, a safe school that has secretaries who are going to be involved in safe arrivals. Whether there is 850 students at the elementary school or 120. Those are the problems of a growing community that has many young parents who expect much more than they are getting when it comes to education in this province.

There are many young Nova Scotians with young families who want to know whether this Education proposal will help them guarantee their children an education they will be able to profit from. The answer is no. This is a grab for power. This is a centralization of the decision making in the hands of the minister. That is an example which we should not follow in this province.

I want to turn, if I may Mr. Speaker, to a couple of private individuals. I hear from them on many occasions and I have been given permission to use their names. I want to bring their names up at this time. I am aware of the fact there are members opposite who must hear from constituents. I want to turn to Doug Branscombe. Doug Branscombe has a special young daughter. She is changing schools next year. Doug Branscombe wants the straight goods. When his young daughter goes to Madeline Symonds Middle School next year, will she have a teaching assistant? That is a concern for that particular gentleman. Bruce Munroe has two young boys who will soon be in the school system. Bruce Munroe wants to know whether his sons will have an equal opportunity to French immersion that begins in the elementary school and that you don't pick up when you go to junior high. That is a question that Mr. Munroe would like answered. Susan Doyle, an activist in Timberlea, wants to know when are the children in her community going to have to be made to walk again those many long kilometres with no sidewalks to that school. There still are not sidewalks all the way through Timberlea.

Mr. Speaker, those are all local issues. Those are local people, but those local people have concerns about education. They have concerns about the direction that education is going in this province. So I turn to the blue book and I remind members opposite that this blue book that we point to time after time, Nova Scotians are aware of the words in this blue book. They are aware of the fact that it says in this section, on Page 15, "Our schools must be functional, environmentally-safe and must reflect the needs of the community."

AN HON. MEMBER: Who said that?

MR. ESTABROOKS: That is out of the blue book, that blue book that was paraded around this province and at no time, Mr. Speaker, during the election that took place last summer were we talking about a centralization and grab of power by the Minister of Education. Environmentally safe school, Sir John A. Macdonald is one of those schools that

[Page 6639]

needs attention to that issue. A functional school, how can you possibly have a functional school of 800 elementary students in two buildings when you only have one secretary. The key thing is schools must reflect the needs of our communities.

Mr. Speaker, aside from the power that this minister is grabbing for, no Minister of Education would be aware of all the disparate needs of all over this community that I am fortunate enough to represent, let alone all over this province.

Mr. Speaker, I want to return to one more issue in the time that remains and that, of course, is the conflict, the emotion and the anger that has resulted from parents and young people. We have seen them around this building and we have seen how angry they have become. In fact, if you remember that unfortunate incident when one particular young man was so angry that he actually did damage to this historic House and, of course, we accept the apology that was forthcoming and helping us take care of that broken window at that time, but that anger and that frustration is because of the misinformation and how this whole issue has been dealt with.

So don't point fingers at the school boards. Don't point fingers at the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and say it is their fault. Parents want the straight goods. Many times they listen to this Legislature. They read the comments in the paper. Openness is a reflection of the fact that you have confidence in what you are saying and what you are deciding. This particular bill, this proposed legislation is not based upon openness. It is not based upon giving power to local communities, Mr. Speaker. It is based upon the fact that we must control, we must have everything centralized, and that is not the way to go.

That is not the way to go because what it is going to result in is more frustration, more anger, more finger-pointing, more accusations and I can assure you at the end of June, when young people walk across their graduation stages and when young teachers are called to the stage, Mr. Speaker, and the children there, although when they are in Grade 12, they are not children anymore, the young people there, they have to express to Mr., whoever, or Miss, whatever her name is, that she no longer has a teaching job. That anger and that attitude is going to come back eventually and haunt this government. That is not the way to go when it comes to dealing with young people. I challenge members opposite to consider the fact that this bill is the wrong way to go and they should be voting against it when the time comes to make that decision in this House. Thank you.

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

MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, this is a very important piece of legislation because it is going to send the message to the people of Nova Scotia as to how we feel towards our education system. I think it is becoming clearer now to Nova Scotians how the government feels towards education, they just don't give a darn. They use a very narrow focus, they look at the bottom line, they don't look to the future. The future is not a factor

[Page 6640]

in education, with this government. What they want to do is to be able to say that they allowed the students to pass from one grade to another. They don't seem to care what the students are learning, they don't seem to care whether the students are going to be ready for the technological age that lies ahead. All they want to be able to do is to say that each year students are going from one grade to another.

They are not concerned about the teachers, they are not concerned about whether there are going to be enough teachers, whether the classroom sizes are going to be too large, whether special needs students, along with the regular classes, are going to be too much of a burden for teachers so that we are going to burn out the teachers, the way this government is fully determined to burn out the nurses.

This is the short-sightedness. I think there is going to be a tremendous price to pay for what this government is doing. It is always the way with Tory Governments, that you never really know at that time how terrible they really are, you always have to look in hindsight just to get a full appreciation of just how desperately bad they really are. I say that to the honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works, who was a member of some terrible Tory Governments, other than this one. He sort of spanned the ages. He doesn't go back to Stanfield, but he is living history of how not to govern Nova Scotia. In that regard, I give him full deference. For those who want to mess things up and who want to promote chaos, there will be a pilgrimage forming just outside the Bank of Nova Scotia building to the honourable House Leader's office. (Interruptions) I think so. Maybe a little shrine. Who is that guy in Mad magazine? Alfred E. Newman, perfect, with Progressive Conservative on his Yale T-shirt. That is a great way to start.

I want to say too that education is far too important. If we are making an investment as a province, what better investment to make than in our young people. The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect who talked about the former government and what was said in the blue book, the present government saying that the former Liberal Government did not do enough for education, did not provide the education system that was necessary, and I want all members, including the ones in the NDP - and he has said it and I respect that - upon reflecting on what this government is doing now, we would have to have spent 90 per cent of our budget to really make up for the damage they are doing.

What we are doing now is trying to point out (Interruptions) The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works is in spasm over there. I regret . . .

MR. DONALD DOWNE: I have seen him worse. I have seen him worse. (Interruptions)

MR. MACLELLAN: I am not touching that, Mr. Speaker. I am staying away from

that. I am going from the point of view of education.

[Page 6641]

[3:45 p.m.]

Here we have, today is the day and it was in education, believe me. I want to go to what the Minister of Education was saying today about the P3 schools and how she continues to put off the decision as to whether or not this government is going to go ahead with the 17 new P3 schools that the former Liberal Government wanted to have constructed. It would seem that she doesn't want to come out with this information while the House is still sitting. She doesn't want to take the chance that there is going to be, once again, severe criticism of the education policy of this government while the House is in session. She would rather do it after the House adjourns.

We have heard this government say so many times that the private sector is the way to go. The Minister of Transportation and Public Works has said that because he has a pilot project going where he is privatizing the activities of the Department of Transportation and Public Works. He is saying this is wonderful. It is just like he invented sliced bread. He is saying that he feels this is the way to go. I don't doubt that before this Tory Government is finished, essentially this will be the way they will go in a lot of directions in government.

The Minister of Education is not saying that about education and P3 schools. No. She is not saying that at all. She is saying that we have made an amendment to the Education Act where we want to be able to fund these schools through government resources. That is fine if it is just the funding, but if is wants, saying that P3 schools because they are built by the private sector are not the way to go, then she is running counter to what the Minister of Transportation and Public Works is saying and, indeed, what most other ministers in this government are saying.

So, what is the problem? Now, the former Tory Governments built schools through friends of the government, a lot of good friends. Look at the contractors who built schools back in the late 1970's and during the 1980's, and you will see a real who's who in Tory contractors in Nova Scotia. How long do we think these schools are going last? Why do we need so many schools? Because they are falling apart. The air quality is bad. The only advantage of these schools is, if you are a biology teacher and need a lab, you have one right in the school because you can study all the mould and fungus you can possibly handle.

Why not build first-rate schools? Why not build schools that are going to last for 50 or 60 years. Why not build schools that are going to stand up so that we don't look at schools as having to be replaced every 20 years. Let's build something that is going to be suitable for the future. Let's build something, too, that has a high enough ceiling where we can perhaps put some cables on the floor to connect computers, where we can do something in putting into these schools information technology.

[Page 6642]

One of the villains in all of this, of course, is the Minister of Finance, because he wants us to think that he is moving towards - I know he has just showed, I am glad you did, I was tired of picking on just the Minister of Transportation and Public Works and he was getting sort of tired of it - I wanted to ask the Minister of Finance, why isn't he pushing for the new schools in Clare and Argyle and Pomquet and other areas where we need new Acadian schools. We have to be able to meet the Charter challenge that is going to be brought up against this government. Why is he so opposed to this? Why is he dithering on this subject? Why isn't he out there promoting these schools?

Well, because he doesn't really believe in these schools himself. He doesn't really believe that these schools are needed. I will admit that we can only build so many new schools at a time because we are paying the interest and paying back and making the payments on these schools every year, and we can only make payments on so many schools and keep within the budget. But the fact of the matter is that so many schools in Nova Scotia became health hazards and absolutely the nth degree in health risk that we had to build new schools. Some of them just couldn't be repaired. They couldn't have been modernized. They just couldn't be. They were just too far gone. Well, we did that, we built these new schools. I think if you ask the parents in those areas, parents whose children go to these schools, they are quite pleased with these schools. The fact of the matter is that they are also feeling that these new schools are very important in that they are providing the new technology for their children.

How are we going to continue to impart that new technology to these students? Through young teachers who are themselves proficient in information technology. Where are we going to find these teachers? Well, we had quite a few of them, but unfortunately they are young teachers and don't have seniority, so a lot of them, in fact, even most of them, may be forced to look elsewhere for jobs. This time next year they may be Mississauga or Kanata or North Carolina. They won't be in Nova Scotia. So who is going to teach information technology to the children in the schools? We don't have the people. The older teachers don't have the knowledge. That is not a criticism of older teachers. This is a new technology that has come in essentially in the last 15 years. If we are going to have our young people ready for the future, we have to be able to impart this information and this proficiency to them. That is extremely important because the world is changing so dramatically. Year after year technologies are changing and becoming more advanced.

We in the Liberal Party took a great deal of pride in the Minister of Transportation and Public Works' area of the Annapolis Valley to develop, along with Acadia University a Bachelor of Education degree to teach young teachers in information technology and how to be able to impart that knowledge to students. But, we are not hiring these young people. They are not going to be in Nova Scotia schools. They are going to be schools in other parts of Canada and the United States. So really what we have done is educated these teachers to be able to impart this knowledge to jurisdictions outside of Nova Scotia which is really quite tragic. Eventually, years from now we will be able to take advantage of these teachers if the

[Page 6643]

course is still being given. Right now we can't. We don't have that proficiency. Hopefully we will have the computers because this is very, very important. We as a former government entered into an agreement with the federal government, over $62 million to bring computers to schools and to have programs to linking up Acadia, Dalhousie, and the University College of Cape Breton. So we were on that track. This is where you have to go.

Mr. Speaker, you know yourself, in your area and my area, we have a lot of unemployment. It is a cause of concern in families. In Cape Breton now unemployment is a severe problem. It is getting worse. There is a lot of agonizing in families about how jobs are going to be found for the mothers and fathers of these families; really agonizing as well over what the future is going to be for their children. How are we going to deal with the future for their children? While their parents are agonizing over their unemployment, there is solace in certain areas that they honestly believe that their children are not going to have the same problem they have had. It may mean that they may have to leave the area in which they are living now to find work. With information technology in schools, with a good program in information technology, these young people will not be at a disadvantage just because their parents are not wealthy. They will be able to get into courses at a community college level or hopefully at a university level if they choose that or can do that and allow them to get a very rich career in information technology.

How long is that going to go, though? How long are we going to be able to tell these parents this is going to be something they can take for granted, because of the cut backs in the education system, information technology is going to suffer. That is unfortunate. More and more parents are saying, I think maybe my child should go to a private school, and they are looking to private schools; $6,000 a year for a private school. Certainly private schools can afford computers and to teach information technology, but how many unemployed parents are going to be able to send their children to those schools. So you are going to get a two-tier education system in Nova Scotia, the way this government is working towards a two-tier health care system.

This is tragic, it really is. It is most unfortunate because this is not what Nova Scotians expected from this government. This is not what this government told Nova Scotians they were going to do. They said they were interested in education, they believed the former Liberal Government didn't do justice to education. Well, I am telling you, we increased our budget by 10 per cent in the last two years for education, this government is cutting. They are going back to, they say, to basics, to core programs. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you look after the future as well.

A degree in certain things, if it doesn't have information technology, if it isn't in the sciences or math, if there is not a proficiency in those areas, is going to be difficult to find a job in the future. The honourable Government House Leader, I am sure, realizes that, but the government isn't responding to that course of thinking. That is the tragedy. (Interruptions) You are not listening. Evidently, he is a voice in the wilderness in that Cabinet, and that is a

[Page 6644]

tragedy because I have never known him to be shy, and I know he must be putting his points of view forward. I know he will continue to work on this because he is resilient and he is steadfast and he is focused and he is a visionary, and he wants these things to be brought forward.

AN HON. MEMBER: He has been recycled and he is still doing alright.

MR. MACLELLAN: That's right. Cute is not a word I would use. I have to draw the line somewhere, there is only so far I can go. I am going to take a drink of water after that. (Laughter)

So where are we going with the new schools and the new school programs, the new education? We don't seem to be going very far. The government seems more intent in consolidating power, in education. This is what this bill does to a large extent. There is a pilot project in the Southwest Regional School Board and there is going to be two divisions under the Southwest Regional School Board. The Southwest Regional School Board is just a shell and it is going to contain two divisions. One that will include the Counties of Queens and Lunenburg, the other will be a Tri-county District School Board with Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby.

They will have directors who will report to the Minister of Education. The CEO of the Southwest Regional School Board will also report to the Minister of Education and to the Deputy Minister of Education. No matter what input is given by people in that area, their decisions are not going to hold water unless it is decided by the Minister of Education that that is a good thing to do. They are not going to have control, it is not going to be an independent school board, it is going to be a shell that is going to be an advisory committee to the Minister of Education and the Deputy Minister of Education.

That is not what the people of Nova Scotia wanted. That is not what the people of Nova Scotia were led to believe was going to happen when they voted for this government, not at all. Not in the least. What I think is more alarming is that it is becoming more and more obvious that this pilot project is not really a pilot project to see whether this pilot project works or not, this is more or less just a Judas goat that is leading the way for the other school boards, which are also going to be brought into the same type of structure.

So, what we are going to have, certainly before very long, is all of the school boards in Nova Scotia reporting to the Minister of Education and the Deputy Minister of Education, and there will be no autonomy at all, they will just be toadies of the Minister of Education. That is a shame because one thing is you are not going to get good people who really want to change education, who want to make a difference in education, you are not going to get them to serve because they are not going to be listened to. The good people that are there now serving are going to be frustrated, they are going to be resentful, and I don't blame them

[Page 6645]

because the Minister of Education has no intention of using their talents to the degree to which they need to be used.

[4:00 p.m.]

We have that when the government is doing away with regional health boards and bringing in these district authorities, we now have them in school boards, and that is a major step backwards. This government is also saying that notices of termination with respect to teachers do not have to be given by May 15th, now they shouldn't be given until June 16th. Why the delay? What service is that? It is allowing this government to dither, to procrastinate, to delay and to really not provide service to the people of Nova Scotia. It is allowing them to wait until maybe the House will be adjourned, and to wait until other things happen. They have forgotten teachers, they have forgotten these young teachers who want to know whether they are going to have a job in Nova Scotia.

They want to know if they are going to have job, so if they don't have a job they can apply to another jurisdiction. We certainly don't want them to apply to another jurisdiction because they are among our best and our brightest, and they are the ones trained in information technology and French immersion and the sciences, to a large extent, that we are going to need. They need to be able to look after their future. If they can't get a job in Nova Scotia because of this government's retrogressive policies, then they are going to have to go to another jurisdiction, just the way the graduates of the B.Ed. program in Acadia, with the information technology, are going to have to go to other jurisdictions. We are not going to get the benefit. We are going to lose, perhaps, a whole generation of young teachers. What a tragedy for our students.

Where do we go as a result? Where we go is downward in our level of education, not because the teachers aren't going to try to do the best that they can, they will, we have some very good teachers. But we are just not going to be able to maintain standards under the conditions that this government has forced upon us. That is a tragedy, a real tragedy. Tragedy is the only word for it, because it is our young people who have put their trust in our hands who are going to suffer. That is just not palatable to me, to our caucus, or to most Nova Scotians.

We are going to lose a lot of the teachers through early retirement because they are going to get burned out. We are asking teachers now to teach larger classes, because the Minister of Education thinks larger classes are just nifty and she doesn't mind them one darn bit. She doesn't have to teach in them herself, but she thinks they are just peachy. That is fine for the Minister of Education, who really doesn't understand classes or education in spite of what she has been told in her department. Where are the resource teachers? Where are the teachers' assistants who have been helping with special needs students? Well, the classroom teacher is going to have to look after all of that now. The classroom teacher - I don't care

[Page 6646]

how good that teacher is - is not going to be looking after all of those special needs, routine needs over a long period of time without suffering a great deal of burn-out.

It is most unfortunate that this government is going to foster on future generations a debt, an educational debt, a learning debt the way the former Tory Governments, left for future generations a financial debt on the people of Nova Scotia. There are different types of debts. The financial debt left by the Buchanan and Cameron Governments is going to be matched by the educational debt that the Hamm Government is going to leave to future generations. It is not fair. It is not fair and it is criminal. It is something that has to be rectified.

Now you can talk to this government all you want but if there is a special Japanese beetle around, they burrow right into their ears because if they are interested in wood, there is the wood, right across on the other side of the House. It is not from the backbenches, there are some forward thinking people on the backbenches. I just mean the front benches and two of the middle benches. (Interruption) The Cabinet, exactly, that is the group I was looking at.

Where are we going to go and what does this government propose to do? We cannot support this bill, Mr. Speaker, as it is presently constituted. We do know that this bill will pass if the government is really determined to do it, because of their numbers. What we would like to see are some changes. We have brought forward some amendments and we are going to support our amendments. We would want the government to support the amendments as well because we think they are justified.

We think that if the government is interested in trying to bring some more credibility to this bill, that they will, in fact, support our amendments. We hope they will. We are anxious to go to the Law Amendments Committee to hear if anyone else in this province is interested in the shortcomings of this bill. That is important; we are interested in coming back and going through this bill clause by clause. We want to do that. We are not here to just talk this bill out or to keep it going and the honourable Government House Leader knows that. He knows we are sincere in that.

AN HON. MEMBER: He just wishes other people were.

MR. MACLELLAN: Yes, exactly. We want to get to the point where we can make a difference in this bill. If we can't, then we will certainly vote against it on third reading, there is no question about that.

Education is competitive. It is not only a factor that relates to education, it is going to relate to economic development. We are not going to be able to attract the industry and the job opportunities unless we can show that our education system and our health care is, in fact, the standard in this country, or very close to the standard. We can't say that as a result of the cuts that have been brought about by this government. Who do we expect to come into Nova

[Page 6647]

Scotia and invest? Hopefully, there will be some. Certainly we will support that and we will encourage anyone to come to Nova Scotia.

A lot of these people are doing their own due diligence on the Province of Nova Scotia. They want to know what is there for their children, what is there if they get sick or somebody in their family gets sick. They want to know what kind of health care program is here. If we can't show them that it is up to a very high standard, then we are going to lose a lot of opportunities.

This has spinoff effects in many directions. It is unfortunate that this government is so short-sighted that they can't see this, that they don't want to see it and that they can't see that in the long term, their cuts now are not only to do more damage than they should be doing, but in the long term it is going to wind up costing this province a great deal of money. If we can't show that our education, our work force is well trained, then industry that would come just for the purpose of a well-trained work force, excluding the future of education and health care, they won't come for that reason either.

Mr. Speaker, it is not pretty, it is not futuristic, it is not encouraging. I think that Nova Scotians would support my view of that. Frankly, I hope that there will be some changes in this bill. I would encourage government to look very closely at it and to make these changes. Unfortunately, they don't see education as being important; they don't see the value of the future; they don't see the connection between education and where our young people are going to be able to compete and where they can't compete and what we are going to be able to attract and not attract.

Mr. Speaker, I don't want to carry this on too much longer. I did want to personally make some points which I believe very strongly and that certainly members of this Party believe very strongly, to give one last shot at hoping that the government will see the light. Granted, with their past record, that is not something I would want to be hanging by my thumbs, waiting to happen. The fact of the matter is that it might, and you have to try. If you don't try then you can't chastise the government for not doing it. So, Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for this opportunity. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to rise this afternoon to have an opportunity to provide you with my comments on Bill No. 47. This bill I think is formally entitled An Act to Amend Chapter 1 of the Acts of 1995-96, the Education Act.

MR. SPEAKER: If I could interrupt the member, the honourable Liberal Leader wants to make an introduction before you get started. Is that all right?

MR. DEXTER: Yes.

[Page 6648]

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

MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce in the gallery a very prominent lawyer from Sydney Mines, my riding, a very capable individual, a good friend for many years, Mr. Bill Burchell. I would ask the House to give him a warm welcome. (Applause)

MR. DEXTER: Welcome, Mr. Burchell, I hope you are enjoying the debate this afternoon as we try as diligently as we can to instruct the Minister of Education in the proper approach to this bill.

As I was saying, this bill is formally known as An Act to Amend Chapter 1 of the Acts of 1995-96, the Education Act. There certainly is lots going on in education this day and I think we only had to wander outside the doors of this Chamber to get some idea of just how passionately the people of Nova Scotia feel about their education system and about what it is that they are delivering by the way of education services to their children. Then we would speak to them and we would come back into this Chamber and we would receive daily, in Question Period or through other sources, through the school boards, what amounted to a litany of things, a litany of events, a litany of undertakings, by the Minister of Education that we're doing anything but strengthening the system and I think we knew, right from the introduction of the budget, that the end result of the financial measures that were being undertaken by this government were going to have a devastating effect on the education system in this province.

I want to draw a little parallel here, Mr. Speaker, if I may, because I think like many members of the House, myself included, we have been watching with a fair amount of concern at what is going on in other areas of the world and, specifically, in Los Alamos where there has been a fire raging out of control and it threatened several communities. It has burnt down public buildings as well as private buildings. You may remember, as I do, that that particular fire was actually set, I believe, by the National Park Service in the United States, and then what happened is it got out of control. Now, I understand that this was done on the recommendation of people who are supposed to know what is good for the management of the forests, good for the management to prevent fires from getting out of control, to protect these communities. So it was done with the best of intentions, and in some ways this is very much like what the Education Minister and the Minister of Finance have done with the budget.

They come in and they say they are going to introduce these measures because they think they are good for the Province of Nova Scotia and then, all of a sudden, whoops, the whole thing is out of control and - what do we know? - they are not building the system anymore. They are not doing any good; in fact what they are doing is they are burning it down. They are destroying the system that they have set out to save. I think it is a very apt

[Page 6649]

comparison between what happened there and what happened with the introduction of the Education budget by the Minister of Education.

What they have done, rather than create a positive environment for learning in this province, is they have injected a level of cynicism, a level of distrust, a level of disrespect for the communities, for students, for teachers, for staff. I think it is truly a sad commentary when we have people who are supposed to know better, who are supposed to know the difference between what a system can reasonably be expected to handle and what is going to be impossible for a system to absorb.

[4:15 p.m.]

In this case the Minister of Education was very pleased to stand up and say, well no more than 400 teaching positions will be lost and they will be lost through attrition, as if that were a good thing, as if taking 400 teachers out of the system was somehow going to have a positive effect on the province.

Not so, Mr. Speaker. Clearly what it means is that the children in this province are going to receive less services, that the boards that were set out to provide advice to the Minister of Education on what services needed to be delivered in their communities had been ignored. How can this be healthy for the system? How can this be a healthy state of affairs for the children of the province, whether you live in Guysborough or Queens or Shelburne Counties, no matter where you live, this is going to impact the children of the constituents of your riding.

I don't know who it is who is advising the Minister of Education. I heard this morning, I believe from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board on CBC this morning, talking about what I think they referred to as the nonsense that comes out of Halifax that maintains you can make cuts to a system that is not going to affect the classroom. I didn't catch the name of the person who was speaking but what he was saying was that every cut you make directly affects the classroom, no matter where you make the cut, it is going to affect the service being provided to the children who are the subjects of the education system that is in place, who attend those schools.

I think one of the ones that really personally angers me the most is the whole question of library services and library technicians. I know many of these people, they are dedicated, hard-working staff of the board. I want to point out something, in case the Minister of Education missed it, in case the Minister of Finance missed it, in case all of you who sit on the government benches are unaware. I want to point out that library staff are, in fact, directly involved in education. They have direct contact with students, and although they are not classroom teachers, teaching is one of their primary functions. They teach students how to use CD-ROM resources, they teach students how to use the Internet, they teach students how to use encyclopedias, they guide them through the research process, they teach them how to

[Page 6650]

critique information resources. Mr. Speaker, they are not just the custodians of books, they are part of the team - teachers, program support assistants, library staff - they all work together to educate the students of Nova Scotia.

Maybe that somehow got lost on some of the educators who make up the government caucus. I don't understand it. I know that when I attended Liverpool Regional High School that the staff of the library were every bit as much a part of my education as the teachers who taught in the classrooms. In fact, if particular students show a gift or a particular propensity for wanting to be involved with reading programs or wanting to spend extra time in the library, who is it who assists them? It is the library staff, Mr. Speaker. So to see what is happening, as an example, in the Halifax Regional School Board, where perhaps all of the library technicians will be laid off, I think is an abomination.

Mr. Speaker, it is in fact undermining the education that the children of this region will receive. I heard the previous speaker talk about an educational deficit, talk about a learning debt, and I believe that if you think that librarians don't add value to the education system, then you are sadly mistaken. I would encourage the government and the members of the government caucus to think back on their own education, to think back if they were fortunate enough, as I was, to have an opportunity to have access to library resources and to librarians who assisted, oftentimes with the preparation of terms papers and essays, finding information on any subject on the fact of the Earth. They were always there, they were a constant part.

If you remember, one of the things, when there were study periods, students often looked forward to was going to the library, to be able to spend that time reading or doing research, and inevitably requiring the assistance of the librarian or the library technician. Often it was those individuals who had the extra time that was available for students who were having a difficult time going through high school or through any grade. They were the ones who were there when the other classes were either over-populated or there was something that was distracting perhaps the teacher from doing a particular task, it was the librarian who was called in to assist.

I think this is a terrible injustice. I think it is wrong-headed to allow this to happen, and I think that if the members reflect on it, they will agree. What happens is that the cuts filter down through the whole system. If you make a cut and you say, well, we are going to take the administration out, then those administrative duties, they have to go somewhere, and they often fall to the teachers. In fact, I mentioned this before but I believe it bears repeating, the schools have become an open door for many things, and the schools are being asked to provide services that were not contemplated in years past.

The principal of Joseph Giles School in my district last year told me, I am being asked to provide public health assistance, I am being asked to be a social worker, I am being asked to do child protection work, I am being asked to provide recreational services, I am being asked to do any manner of things that don't fall strictly within the definition of education. I

[Page 6651]

have to allot my resources to be able to do that. If you are piling more and more of this on the backs of teachers, then when do they have the time to do the traditional extra-curricular things that I think we all had an opportunity to engage in when we went through high school or when we went through elementary school? Who is it that puts on the school play? Who is it that coaches the basketball team? Who is it that provides all of these? I don't care if it is the chess club or the creative writing - when I was at high school, creative writing had a separate club of their own, and there was a person who assisted with that, one of the teachers.

Who is going to have the time if they are being asked to do all of these other so-called administrative duties? I think what you are going to see as part of the filtering down of these cuts won't just be at the program delivery point of the stick, I think it is very true that the programming is going to suffer, the actual delivery of an education will suffer; but the things that are ancillary to your education, necessarily incidental to a health education environment, are also going to suffer.

We are robbing children at a very young age, and we are creating, what I heard called, an education deficit. Who is going to pay for it? Well, inevitably we will pay. I think it was Mark Twain who said every time you close a school you must open a jail. I know they are busy opening a jail, Mr. Speaker - I guess I say that half in jest but I think that the inevitable result of these kinds of cuts to education and the kind of appropriation of authority that takes place in Bill No. 47, the disenfranchisement of communities, will only lead, inevitably, to us having to pick up and to spend more on these children as they become adults. Ultimately we will all be worse off.

I think it is ironic, here we are at the beginning of the next century and looking at an education system that is consistent with what existed at the beginning of the last century. I do not understand it, and when people out in my community, say don't they understand that this is the effect that it is going to have on the classrooms? I say of course they understand, they always intended this. They intended it when they ran on the platform they ran on, I believe they knew this was what they intended to do when they came to this place. We have been unable to deter them, we have been unable to convince them that this is not an appropriate standard for education in the province.

Mr. Speaker, like many of us here, we are constantly taking in information and constantly processing it and trying to make some sense out of the world and trying to convey, whether it is us conveying to the government or the government conveying to us, to make each other understand the point of view of each other. In the last couple of days I had the opportunity to hear a story which I thought was amusing, but instructive as well.

A fellow was saying that a man once said he was so glad he was born in the modern age, he was so glad he was born at a time when the amenities that existed, existed, and that he did not live in ancient times because he could never have survived, he could not have lived

[Page 6652]

under the conditions of the antiquities. I think if you reflect on it that you hear people say that all the time; I just could not have lived in those times.

The interesting thing is that the person who said that was Ovid. Now, Ovid lived - my recollection of history was that he came along just after Julius Caesar - I think, around 40 BC and is acknowledged as one of the great authors of the time. My recollection of history was he came from an aristocratic family and was originally sent off to get an education to become a lawyer. In those days they called it being schooled in rhetoric. I think there are those who would argue that that is still the case, but because he displayed a love for emotive arguments or the emotive rather than the argumentative, he went on, not into the practice of law but into the business of philosophical writing. Often, I think has been credited with many of the myths. I remember from some information that I saw that in the old Roman ruins they actually find what they call Ovidian graffiti because he was so popular at the time that they would actually scrawl what it is he had written on the walls of the temples.

[4:30 p.m.]

I think it is interesting that that was a perspective of a man who lived at that time and who was putting forward a point of view that said, gee, I couldn't have lived in those times. And this is just exactly what the government does and I think what people say, I am so glad that I am in the education system that I am in today and not the one that existed 100 years ago. I think that, generally speaking, the people of the province believed that they had a good, solid public education system. I am not talking about the best of all possible worlds, not the Panglossian view of the world. Certainly, everything was not for the best; well, we knew that.

But it was a good, solid public education and people who went through the system, when they got out on the other end, they were capable of going on to university, capable of achieving, capable of meeting the needs of industry, capable of succeeding and contributing to our society. But yet, here we are, turning back the clock. Here we are creating a system which I believe - and perhaps this is part of the plan, perhaps this is part of the initiative that the government is undertaking - but what you are doing when you erode the confidence in the public system, when you erode the delivery of educational services, whether you intend it to or not, what you are doing is creating, fostering and promoting a two-tiered education system. What you are doing is you are telling people, you would be better off with a private education.

Why is it now that we have seen just lately a much more vocal lobby coming forward around the question of charter schools. The reason why that is coming forward at this time is because people are saying, I would rather get a voucher from the government and go somewhere and purchase my educational services and that way, I can top it up, I can pay more if I like and my child can get a superior education. I don't blame people for wanting better for their children; what I will do is I will point the finger of blame squarely at a government that promotes and fosters the attitude that it is necessary in order for a child to

[Page 6653]

get a decent education, to have to go to a private institution. I believe it is the same set-up that is going on in the Department of Health.

I believe part of the plan is to undermine confidence in the system and therefore create the false assumption that we need private institutions to provide these services and I think it is a terrible shame that we have embarked on that road. You know something, Mr. Speaker, whenever I hear phrases like I heard in the budget, the road less travelled. Well, in this case, the road less travelled was not travelled because it was the wrong road because it is incomprehensible to most people in the province that you would cut off the children of the province from a decent education. There is a reason why that road is less travelled.

I want to talk just for a second about some of the other aspects of what we have seen out of the Minister of Education over the debate on this bill, over the past number of months. I want to use as an example, one of the losses that I know that has taken place in many of the schools and it is the loss of secretarial services. The government says apparently that such services are administrative and therefore should be able to be withdrawn from the education system without affecting the quality of education that is being delivered in the classroom. Well, I am afraid I have news. That is not the case.

The reality is that secretaries act as a kind of gatekeeper in and out of the school. I know that is true in the school my son attends. I believe, if I am not mistaken, by this time that secretary has been laid off. So what happens? Who is it that carries out that function? I can tell you. What happens is the principal or the vice-principal simply move their desk out. They move out because somebody has to monitor who is coming in and out of the school. Somebody has to do that job.

In schools, when the doors close and the teachers begin teaching class, the school doesn't shut down. There are so many people coming in and out of the school. There are classroom assistants who come in and out. There are volunteers who come in and out, members of the parent-teacher organizations who are in the school. It is usually the secretary who is on the front desk who knows all those people and who controls the flow in and out of the school.

Instead now, the time of the principal, which could be spent dealing with other matters, is left to deal with this. Is this an efficient use of the time of the principal? I don't think so. I think that there are many things, especially under very tough circumstances and conditions that exist in today's education system, there are many things that the principals can be doing rather than that. It is a valuable service, Mr. Speaker, but it was one that was carried out by secretarial staff. I think a need was recognized and adequately fulfilled by that staff.

Like many other people, I saw the recent piece on television with respect to Atlantic View Elementary School. You may remember this story, but there the secretary saw a child choking and assisted that child. In fact, I remember seeing the mother of the child on

[Page 6654]

television saying that she credited the secretary with saving that student's life. Well, what did this secretary get in return? What was her reward for this? She received her pink slip. Far from being valued and respected, that person does not even have a job. It is a great loss to the school. I say it is a great loss to the community, Mr. Speaker.

So, it is a great question that is being faced by the Department of Education, by the Minister of Education when she introduces this kind of a bill, a bill that is designed to wrest power out of the hands of the elected school boards, out of the hands of communities, and to centralize it on Hollis Street and to take away local control. I remember, Mr. Speaker that there wasn't a single word in last summer's election campaign about this. In fact, my recollection is that the Tories actually promised more effective community control over education. What has happened instead? The minister, under Bill No. 47, has done away with any ability of the local school boards to challenge her authority.

I really cannot believe, given what we have seen on the streets of Halifax and on the streets of communities in Yarmouth and in Sydney, that anybody in their right mind would want to give the Minister of Education more power. In fact, I think there are many who would suggest, and I believe, that one of the reasons why the minister seems to want more control is because they say that if certain standards are not achieved by the board, then the minister will intervene.

I think there are many students, many teachers and many parents in this province who would say that the Minister of Education has not met an appropriate standard for a person in her position, that she does not seem to have a grasp of educational issues in the province to a sufficient extent to warrant the job that she has and, like everyone else, I have heard them say that what they are going to do is try to bring more resources into the classroom. I don't think that they are going to do that at all, Mr. Speaker. I think instead what we are going to see is a further erosion of education standards, what we are going to see is a further deterioration of the education standards of the province and I know that the Minister of Health who, himself, is a former educator, knows that that is true, too. He knows that when they closed the institution that he was part of, that cost his community and it was a mistake, a loss to his community and a loss, I would say, to the province. However, as they say, that was then, this is now and I don't think it behoves us to now compound the situation, make it worse, by further destroying the standards that we have set for the province. Unfortunately, I have to say that I believe that that is what this bill is all about.

Perhaps members here don't know, or perhaps they have not had the opportunity to look as I have at the website of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, but there is quite a history in Nova Scotia with respect to Nova Scotia school boards. Mr. Speaker, as you know, Halifax was founded in 1749. The first school Act which ceded most of the control of education to local authorities and trustees and, in fact, to local clergy and certified teachers took place in 1766. So virtually one of the first things that was undertaken by people in settling a new country is to establish local control over school boards. That is one of the first

[Page 6655]

things they do and it is because teachers are so important and students are so important to the province.

I see the government is doing its job, trying to keep the number of people in here, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure it is because what it is we have to say about things like the Education Act are so important to them. So I am pleased to see that they are paying attention. (Interruptions)

Mr. Speaker, back as far as 1826, the Education Act mandated school districts and trustees to administer them. So, as I said, for as long as there has been the organization within the province to carry it out, there have been school boards and trustees elected locally to dictate education policy, to look at the whole question of what education should be delivered to their students.

[4:45 p.m.]

We in this caucus, all the members of the New Democratic Party, all those who are here, we all support the right of residents in regions across the province to participate meaningfully in the formulation of educational policy, and that has been a position we have taken for many years. In fact, many of the members here in this House would not recollect now, because they were not here at the time, but the fight to establish elected school boards in this province, after years of having them appointed, didn't take place until 1991.

Now there had been significant advances prior to that in there were some 85 school boards in the province and in 1981 they reduced it to 21 school boards and then in 1991 for the first time we had fully-elected school boards. I remember early on, when I became involved in the political process, that the school boards were subject to the same kind of chicanery that we see the government engaged in now with the Human Resources Committee, where they simply appoint their friends to these kinds of boards, agencies and commissions. That is what happened at the school boards. It is not that good people didn't serve on those boards, because there were good people at that time, however I think they were tainted by the fact that they are always viewed as kind of an auxiliary arm of the government.

Mr. Speaker, I ask you to consider this: what do you think would have happened in this province, had the kind of education cuts been made that were made in this budget, if the school boards were appointed by the government? I suggest to you that very little would have been said; it would be very much like what is happening right now with the Department of Health. The Minister of Health has the budgets for the NDOs, he has the budgets for the health boards and is just sitting on those. He won't release the information; he won't let people know how deep the cuts are. I have no doubt that he will sit on those until this House closes so we will be gone and there will be nobody to hold him accountable for the kind of devastation he is going to wreak on the health system in this province.

[Page 6656]

The same thing would have happened in education had fully elected school boards not been there. That is why what is contained in Bill No. 47 is so detrimental to education in this province; they are grabbing power, they are centralizing it in Halifax. Every time we listen to people from rural communities, they say to us, look, we are tired of the nonsense coming out of the Department of Education in Halifax, they don't seem to know what is going on in rural communities, they don't seem to understand that we expect and demand control over our own schools; that is what they say all the time.

I think when they sit back and watch what the Minister of Education has done - much like the Minister of Health, in bringing all that back into the centre - they are very disappointed. I will tell you something, Mr. Speaker, and you know this to be true, there are many people in this province who will say that it was rural Nova Scotia that elected this government. There are many people who will say that. I think - in fact I know - in many parts of this province, in rural Nova Scotia, they are now saying it is rural Nova Scotia that has been betrayed by this government, by things like Bill No. 47, the Education Act, have been betrayed by the Financial Measures Act, have been betrayed by the Health Authorities Act, and have been betrayed by the budget.

The government talked about implementing a code of conduct, and it turned out that is a sham. So they are very disappointed when they look at pieces of legislation like Bill No. 47, because they know what they received in return, for placing their trust in the Conservative Government, is nothing. It is no more than a wind blowing across the province. It is no more than a mirage, the idea that this is a government that is concerned with rural Nova Scotia.

They painted a beautiful picture, they set it out there for everybody to see, but when you actually got a chance to touch it, it disappeared. There was no substance behind it; they never intended it, they never believed it because if they did, we would be seeing something in Bill No. 47 that is much different than what is contained in here today.

I know that expectations are often hard to live up to, but I believe in many cases people try to meet these challenges. That is certainly the case in schools. The equation is not just one-sided. We were talking about this a little earlier, Mr. Speaker, why I was saying that this is part of the plan of the government to foster and promote a two-tiered education system is because there are two sides to the equation. There are those children who are exceptional, who achieve beyond the level the median student doesn't reach. They are exceptional. Then there are those on the other side of the equation who have special needs, who aren't achieving as fast as those children in the middle.

This kind of a funding proposal, these kinds of education cuts, this kind of a bill, what it does is it has a deleterious effect on both sides of that equation. Those children who are exceptional and who need the additional stimulation, need the additional contact with teachers, with library technicians, with the other staff in the school, they are not going to receive it, because it is not going to be there. Those students who fall into the category of

[Page 6657]

special needs; those children who may suffer from an attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity disorder; those kids who have dyslexia or have a learning disability of one form or other; some of them come with cognitive deficits; some of them come with social deficits, all those kids come to school, and the reality is the services they require are not going to be there to meet the needs they have.

So, what is a parent to do? There are many parents out there, and I know them, who take it upon themselves to try and make up for the deficits they see arising in the school system. They are out there getting the extra help; they are buying the extra textbooks, they are supplying adjuncts to the education system. There is an institution called the Kumon Learning Centre that provides additional help for children in reading and in math. I see the parents out there, and they pay out of pocket for these additional services. If you are in a position to be able to do that, it is a wonderful thing, if both parents are employed or if one parent has a good job.

However, the statistics that were put forward by Voluntary Planning prior to the budget said, 55 per cent of the people of Nova Scotia had an income under $20,000 a year. Mr. Speaker, those people are not in a position to be able to provide supplementary services to their children. They just cannot afford it. Life is a struggle for these people. They are working hard day by day to try and make ends meet, to try to buy food, to try to pay the mortgage, if they are lucky enough to have been able to get into a first home. They are trying as hard as they can to deal with special expenses which we know come up in every family, whether it is medication, or whether it is the car has broken down, or whether somebody has had an unfortunate problem of one sort or another that requires an additional expense. They don't have the money to invest further in an education which they expect ought to be provided at the cost of the state. They don't have it. So what happens to those children?

Well, Mr. Speaker, I guess what happens is that they are left, to the extent that they are able, to cope on their own and I think that what happens in the end is that they are excluded from those doors that are open to so many others. They don't have an opportunity to go on to post-secondary education. They don't have an opportunity perhaps to go on to community colleges. They don't achieve the level of success that they could achieve if they were given a decent education so that is the kind of deficit that is growing as a result of these kinds of cuts to the education system.

Mr. Speaker, I feel that we in this province with the Education Bill are, right today, are sowing the seeds of a crop of discontent that we will harvest in 10 years. That is what we are doing with this kind of a bill. I say that with a great deal of sadness because many of those children I know who are going through the system right now are the sons and daughters of constituents of mine who I see every day. I have to go back to those people, I have to go on the weekends and at school functions and see them and say to them, we are doing our best to try to convince the government that the path that they have taken is the wrong one, that

[Page 6658]

they have got their priorities confused, that they are mixed up about what it is that the people of the province want, need and expect from them.

I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, what the people of the province expected was more, not less. I suppose, if they believed that there was an intelligent and articulate debate going on within the government, that they were struggling over the question of what services had to be provided, if there was some real thought put in this, that they would be prepared to say, well, if this is what you came up with in the end, if you engaged the public, if you brought them into the debate and everybody felt that they were included in it and then said this is what we are left with, this is the money we have and this is the way we are going to allocate those resources, I suppose that people would feel better about it. I don't know how much time I have left.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Would the honourable member allow for an introduction?

MR. DEXTER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.

MR. KERRY MORASH: Thank you very much, honourable member. I would like to take this opportunity to introduce to the House the Mayor of Queens County, Christopher Clarke, who is in the gallery today. I would ask him to rise and receive a warm welcome. (Applause)

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I would certainly, as well, like to welcome Mayor Clarke to the House this evening to hear us take part in this debate.

MR. SPEAKER: You have about 11 minutes.

MR. DEXTER: I have 11 minutes left, thank you very much. Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, Mr. Speaker, I attended Liverpool Regional High School in Queens County, in the Town of Liverpool, and it is an area that I am very familiar with and I know the member for Queens knows I am very familiar with it, too, because I am constantly reminding him of my connection with that community and how important it is to me and to members of my family and friends. I can tell him I am going to continue to do that as well whether he likes it or not. You are going to continue to hear from me on it.

[5:00 p.m.]

Just before we started here, we were talking a little bit about the whole deficit that occurs as a result of not funding education to the extent that is required and I want to continue on with part of that debate. I think it is important that the members of the

[Page 6659]

government understand that communities right across the province depend on their school boards, they depend on their schools to deliver in their communities the services that are required by the children of that particular community.

I said this a little bit earlier, that if we fail to prepare these students for the challenges that they are going to meet in the future, then what we are doing is we are preparing them to fail; fail to prepare and prepare to fail. That is what is happening as a result of the budget cuts that have been made to the Department of Education.

It is, I guess, waiting here patiently here as I do for members of the government to stand up and to speak on the amendments to the Education Act, whether it is the member for Queens or the member for Shelburne or the member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury, I am beginning to feel that, waiting for them to speak out on pieces of legislation like this is a little like leaving the landing lights on for Amelia Earhart. It is just never going to happen, they are not going to get on their feet, they are not going to speak on this kind of legislation because they have received their marching orders.

They have been told, you don't speak out even though you know in rural communities that this is going to affect your schools, whether it is the Lockeport High School or Liverpool Regional High School or any of the other, the centre school in Yarmouth. They are all going to be affected by this kind of a power grab that is taking place in Bill No. 47. Some people described it as a startling grab for power and, I must say, I think I quite agree with that analysis.

Can you imagine that one of the powers the minister has under this bill is the power to go in and to change the meaning of words? They can go in and they can expand the meaning, unilaterally modify, restrict or enlarge the meaning of any word, expression or provision in the Education Act. I thought, and maybe my years of training in the law school at Dalhousie, but my recollection was that the proper thing to do when you amended legislation was to bring it before the House and to explain the reason for the modification or the amendment and to achieve maybe not the consensus but at least the majority consent of the House of Assembly, and then to have the bill assented to, and proclaimed and that is how you change the law in Nova Scotia.

Apparently, I am wrong. Apparently, what this government wants to do is they want to set up a system that will allow them to simply change or dictate that the meaning of a word is something different than what appears on its face. I heard one of the members say that maybe it is time to go back to law school. Well, maybe it is, because this is certainly not a precedent that I am familiar with.

For one thing, one of the ways that we seek to create good laws in this province is through the process of debate. So that the individual piece of legislation that comes forward before the House can be properly scrutinized by both sides of the House so that the

[Page 6660]

government can have the opportunity to hear the opinions of the members opposite, that the members of the Opposition have an opportunity to fully understand and explain to their constituents what is contained in a piece of legislation so that constituents, in our particular system, can come and appear before the Law Amendments Committee and make known their opinions.

In this session of the House, that system has worked efficiently, maybe not always to our satisfaction, but it has worked efficiently. There have been changes, even now, to the legislation that comes before this House that I believe have made the bills better. We know the Health Authorities Act is going to be coming forward shortly, and there were significant legislative changes made at the Law Amendments Committee stage to that legislation and I assume will ultimately be passed into law. Our province benefited from that. What our province will not benefit from, Mr. Speaker, what the children of Nova Scotia will not benefit from is a piece of legislation that allows for the manipulation of the Education Act at the whim of the Minister of Education.

Parents, teachers, and students across the province have spoken out loudly and clearly against many of the actions that the Minister of Education and the Minister of Finance have already taken. I say to you, Mr. Speaker, to bring forward this kind of is really a travesty. It seeks to manipulate the legislation, it seeks to go around by the back door to get something that you could not get by reasoned debate. Well, if it won't stand the scrutiny of the House, then it ought not to be the law of the province. That is why we are engaging in this process that we are engaged in now. As I was pointing out earlier, school boards in this province go back to 1766, barely a few years after the province was founded. The first thing people in this province did was to organize themselves so that local communities would have control over their school boards, would have control over the provision of educational services in their community. It is true that it wasn't until 1991 that they actually got fully elected school boards, but nonetheless, the demand by the public of the province to always have local control as a primary function of school trustees, as a primary function of their community, is a theme that runs through our history, virtually from the time of the first settlements of the province.

What I think we are seeing today, Mr. Speaker, and I pointed this out earlier, was the whole question of the undermining, not only of educational policy, but also of the infrastructure, not only - I can see already that the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank is thinking that I am in error with respect to the history of the school boards, but I would invite him to go to the Nova Scotia School Boards Association website as I have and to read a history of Nova Scotia school boards which starts in 1766, just for the member's information.

What Bill No. 47 does is it leaves the whole question of labour relations in a very fuzzy state. There is no question that there are going to have to be significant amendments to this bill, if we are to ensure a smooth transition from the current collective bargaining environment into the new one. If we are to ensure that none of the employees negotiated rights are lost

[Page 6661]

accidentally in the transition, that is what the government has been saying, that they don't intend to take away any of these rights.

Well, Mr. Speaker, we are not prepared to take them at their word. If they mean that, then we want to see that in black and white. We want to see it in the amendments that are going to come forward. I understand that the Nova Scotia Teachers Union as well is going to be proposing a whole host of issues and amendments to deal with this issue. So, as you know, trying to keep a proper labour negotiation environment in this province is an important aspect of what we do here. I understand you are giving me the hook, I guess, so, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for the opportunity to address Bill No. 47 this evening. I will be back for the late debate so I will see you then.

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

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, I stand tonight to say a few words on Bill No. 47 and the impact this will have on our education system - there is not a lot of it good. We in this Party have been loud and prolonged in our condemnation of this bill. It is interesting, this bill came forward after days and weeks of protests by many groups outside this House. Much that is contained in this bill is, I would say, a reaction to those protests. In some respects they are to mute some of that protest in the future. It is the proverbial use of a sledgehammer to kill an ant.

With that in mind, I would like to talk about, where I come from, in a historical aspect of education and how it has to be driven locally, and that is one of my prime concerns with this bill, the power that it vests with the minister.

Mr. Speaker, there was a time not long ago, where I come from, the Town of New Waterford, I mentioned another time that there were three high schools in that town that basically were neighbourhood schools, if you will. There was one, St. Agnes, which was on what was referred to by a lot of people as 12 Hill. Mr. Speaker, you coming from Springhill, know full well the community and its association, if you are a coal mining community, the situation that how you are identified a lot of times by the mine or the colliery where you may live in that part of town. Now in New Waterford there was St. Agnes, which was considered 12 Hill which, because it was up by Number 12 coal mine.

Mount Carmel was 14 because it was by Number 14 mine and Central was Central because it was central in the community - it was physically in the centre of the municipality. Mr. Speaker, that was when I was in high school and, indeed, through Primary to Grade 6 and junior high and on to high school, that these three schools provided quite an element of rivalry to one another in scholastic and probably more than most people would see in a larger area, of the sporting venues, not just scholastically. You know that from those three little schools many provincial championship teams came. Many soccer teams came from there, Mr. Speaker, many championship basketball teams and, indeed, up to the early to mid-1950's

[Page 6662]

where rugby at that time was extremely popular in the Town of New Waterford, many rugby teams came out of that area. It was through that local competition that people got involved and really identified in the small town by the school you went to, Mr. Speaker. That was important in those days, that you knew your identity as someone who went to St. Agnes Elementary School or Mount Carmel Elementary School or Central School. The reason for that was that it was local and you knew that it was run by people in your community, whether it was the board of trustees or a school board from the municipality.

[5:15 p.m.]

Now, Mr. Speaker, most of my school years were spent at St. Agnes and a large amount of that instruction was given by the religious orders, primarily the Sisters of Charity, with, one would say, a fair amount of input from the local Catholic Church parish because you had three physical buildings and in the core of those three buildings was the parish church and the glebe house. So by virtue of that one of the main figures in your school life was the parish priest, who in conjunction, many times from my history of being involved with that school when it was a high school, was the fact that there was a religious person as the principal, Sister Evelyn Moore comes to mind, Sister Frances Cabrine, and so on. They provided a very local input to the education system.

Mr. Speaker, we enjoyed having that local level of autonomy and for a small community at that time, it was a very active community because many more people were employed in that community. There were three active coal mines in the community, there was a thriving steel plant just 10 miles down the road, so many people were employed and enrolment was extremely high in those schools. But as we move forward, those schools were beginning to age and the advent of the school board run by the town, New Waterford and District School Board, came into effect.

What this far-reaching group thought, and rightfully so, realized that while it was nice to have these three distinctive places of learning, it would be, from a cost perspective, and I would daresay an educational perspective, to bring the three schools together rather than try to rebuild, especially some of the older Primary to Grade 6 schools and so on. So, Mr. Speaker, in the late 1960's, the school board decided that it was advantageous to build a new high school for the town. It was a junior/senior complex and they brought together not only the three high schools then physically in the Town of New Waterford but what they also did was to bring in students from the outlying areas, New Victoria, Scotchtown and River Ryan.

Mr. Speaker, in 1970, the first students started going to the new Breton Education Centre and this provided a unique form of education for a lot of people that they had not been able to avail themselves of. While I say there was a uniqueness in the former three high schools, that uniqueness also stopped them from realizing the potential in the area of the arts, because at that time you had older schools that didn't have an audio-visual room, a theatre, a band room and so on, and with the construction of Breton Education Centre, it allowed for

[Page 6663]

the inclusion of these facilities. I can remember back, the first music instructor at the Breton Education Centre was a gentleman by the name of Terry Hill who has invoked fond memories for a lot of people still to this day because there were lots of people who he had taught, and if it was not for Mr. Hill's love of music that talent may have been lost.

It comes to mind when I think of that band instructor, he was probably one of the most influential instructors that a young musician by the name of Kirk MacDonald ever had. Kirk, as some of you may or may not know, is a Juno Award-winning saxophonist, and he won the 1999 Juno for Best Mainstream Jazz Album, or CD. That was quite an accomplishment, coming from the Town of New Waterford, when it did not have a long history of band instruction by putting together, as I guess the way a lot people would refer to Breton Education Centre, a kind of composite high school.

So we have this moving forward, Mr. Speaker, and it is still under the guidance of the Town of New Waterford and District School Board. Back then, these school boards were all appointed but, again, it was much easier to find a community of interest because oftentimes you would have representatives from the town council, and there were clergy and so on, but the one thing you knew was that these decisions made for these schools were made at a local level by people who understood the local needs.

That is what is scary about Bill No. 47, the fact that there is so much power vested with the minister that that local flavour will be lost. We have almost skipped a whole course here of how we moved into large regional boards. Is it fair to allow one minister to have this much power? Mr. Speaker, we are not talking just in terms of the minister of the day, what we are talking about is any minister who may follow and may have not the best interests of all school boards. They may have the best interests of their political Party and not the best interests of students. That could cause a great deal of stress for those school boards if, all of sudden, the Minister of Education decides for whatever reason she or he doesn't like the way school boards are operating and they will get rid of them; there is no court of appeal here. The minister, in their wisdom, decides no we don't want that school board and, therefore, we are nixing it.

Earlier today, my colleague, the member for Timberlea-Prospect, got up and talked about something that happens at Breton Education Centre, as I said before, it is national in scope, which is the Coal Bowl Basketball Classic. Mr. Speaker, that is a program that was put together not only by people who are directly involved with the school there, but it was done as a community event by many people outside of the school auspices, if you will, by people who saw a vision of a few things. That vision was to expose other schools and other athletes to a way of life. That tournament is not just about a sporting event.

It is interesting because, as you know, many of us who have children who played in various sports and so on, oftentimes the students go somewhere and they billet them in local homes, or we raise money and put them in hotels, well, the uniqueness of this basketball

[Page 6664]

tournament is the fact that all the students, all the coaches, all the people who are involved with the teams, stay at the school itself. They actually shut down the Grade 7 wing of that school and turn it into a mini-dorm, if you will, and the Grade 7 classes adopt the various other schools that come in. They turn their classrooms into dorms for a period of roughly nine days.

It substitutes in a lot of ways for the school's winter carnival, but the most important aspect of it, I would say, is that while it may substitute for the school's winter carnival, it becomes the town's winter carnival because when you go to these games - Mr. Speaker, if you ever have the pleasure of being in New Waterford at that time of year, I invite you to come because - there are as many adults enjoying the various games as there are students because it is something that they feel ownership of, it is not just a school tournament, but a town tournament.

All that could be for naught, Mr. Speaker, if at some point Bill No. 47 was to go forward in its present language and at the whim of the minister say, look, you know, no, I have a different perspective on what schools should do, I don't think you should shut down that wing, I don't think that we should be making these students go to class. We don't think it is important that as part of the Coal Bowl Basketball Tournament that they are made to take a lesson and they are given a textbook that was done by two teachers from Breton Education Centre, to take that textbook and at the end of the week write an exam and, may I add, the student who makes the highest in that test gets a $500 scholarship as they further their education.

We could be saddled with a minister who does not appreciate that, who does not appreciate what we are trying to do outside of the community, indeed outside of the province, because this tournament attracts players and teams from all over this country, and that would be a shame to be lost, but it could be if the power is vested with one person.

[5:30 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I see under Bill No. 47 that the minister can unilaterally dismiss or override district school boards, and that is one of the large problems with this bill. Maybe, quite honestly, the minister today would not do that. Maybe the minister would stand up in her place and say, no, that is not my intention. My intention is to make sure that school boards are run in an efficient manner, spend their money wisely and prudently, and that the best interests of the students are held by the board. She may very well be right in that but, nonetheless, it is left open to that.

What we have here is the fact that when you have something as broad as this issue, you have to worry if the minister is going to use his or her power in the best interests of the school board, or of his or her government or Party. That is where trust comes in. Do the people of

[Page 6665]

this province trust this government to do that in a prudent way? Well, I would think not, Mr. Speaker.

I talked going in about this bill being a reaction, in a lot of ways, to the protests that have gone on just outside the doors of this Legislature, with regard to education. We had teachers, we had students, we had teachers' aides, we had various other labour groups that had workers in that system who are worried, because there was no direction. There was the infamous 400 jobs, 400 teaching positions will be gone, but they will be gone through retirement. Well, we knew very soon after those words were spoken, that that was not accurate, that there were not that many teachers prepared or in a position to take early retirement; it just was not a fact.

Then they take another tack and say, well, we are going to put a package together. But the package is woefully inadequate, they still could not reach their 400. So then they convened a group of meetings with school boards to hammer out a deal. Lo and behold, new money was found and, all of a sudden, this new money that was found helped them through this period; they tried to save face, so they will not have to lay off teachers. But what they are doing is they are putting the onus on school boards and now school boards have to be the culprits in this. We saw this within the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board where they are cutting back on hours of teachers' aides; they are going from a six hour day to a five hour day.

What is the impact on that, Mr. Speaker? Now that we are pushing down costs and we are looking at eliminating the positions of teachers' aides, well, what we are doing here is attacking some of the poorest paid individuals in the school system; we are taking people who are living just above the poverty line on their wages now and we are putting more pressure on them. We are driving them further into the hole of poverty; yet, this government thinks it is doing the right thing. We are supposed to trust this government when it comes to overhauling the Education Act because they, quite literally, say so. Well, that is wrong.

Mr. Speaker, what we have here is a classic case of a department that certainly leaped before it even looked at what was below. They were wrong when they told us about the 400 pensionable teachers; they were wrong when they said there would be no layoffs. Now, Mr. Speaker, they are wrong again when they think that laying off direct non-teaching staff isn't going to hurt the system. True to form, this government has attacked a group of employees, instead of sitting down and trying to negotiate a settlement.

Now, Mr. Speaker, last fall we spent many arduous hours here regarding the 911 employees, the emergency medical technicians. It took a strike to bring this government to its senses but one could say that that strike was easily avoided earlier on by whomever was in power, when they set this in motion of taking over this system of medical emergency technicians, had they sat down with the employees and said, okay, one of the first things we are going to do is to provide a collective agreement and we will know where everybody falls

[Page 6666]

on the wage scales. We will know what everybody's job is and that would be the prudent thing to do. That was not done at the outset, Mr. Speaker, and therefore it came to what I would call a crisis situation.

They are going down the same road again with regard to labour and bargaining issues with this bill. They are not doing this in an about-face, or I should say in an open faced manner. What they are doing is telling the school boards to go back and hammer it out yourselves. They are forcing their will on the school boards but, yet again, telling the boards that you have to ferret this out yourself, do it on your own, you are not going to get any support from us; whatever happens by way of labour relations, that is your problem, not to worry. If you have a work stoppage on your hands, that is your fault.

It is similar, Mr. Speaker, to the changing of the lay-off dates. Why does that have to be done? Why does it have to be in legislation? I think as an employer, one of the main functions that you have to do with your employees is that you have their confidence. Part of that confidence is built through honesty and openness and this is not moving in that direction by moving the lay-off date from May to June. I think what you want to do, if you are not going to be renewed for the next year, you have to know that as soon as possible.

What they did is because there was a situation at hand this year, they decided to throw this in there. They tried to buy themselves some time this year. Now, whether that was a wise or a foolish thing to do, history will decide that. I would say to you that it would be a foolish thing to do to entrench that later date in a piece of legislation just because you overreacted this year, Mr. Speaker. What they should do is take that date and wash it away and bring it back to the May 15th date.

We have people whose real lives depend on this. We have young people coming out of university about that time with their B.Ed., we have young people who are in the school systems wanting to know where they are going to be next year. Heaven forbid if they have to move out of this province to get work, they are behind the 8 ball in other provinces because other younger students that may be moving on elsewhere will already have their notice and know they are not moving on and be shopping for those jobs elsewhere. They will be encumbered by the late date in this legislation which is unfair to them. In a perfect world, we would like to say that there would be no job losses ever, but we don't live in a perfect world and from time to time things change and there have to be from time to time job losses.

What we have to do in those times is to protect the employees as best we can. By changing the date back to the May date, it is not an economic problem, it is only economic if you don't reach it. If you don't reach it in May then you probably shouldn't reach it in June anyway, so it is not really one of economics, it is one of giving people time to do other things.

[Page 6667]

We should be looking at that in this bill and looking seriously at rolling that date back to where it was because we have a real problem with what is going on in this province because we are at the point that if we don't make it attractive for many of our young people to stay and teach in this province, we are going to lose many of our good young teachers. There will be people who will go away and decide that they have made a life for themselves somewhere else and are not willing to go back and put my life on hold for three or four more years to see if I can get a full-time position in the teaching profession of this province.

My nephew, who graduated from St. F.X. in 1998 has taken up a full-time teaching position in the Ottawa School Board and that is where he says he is going to stay. He is making his life now in Ontario, a fine young teacher, a credit to his community, a credit to any school board that could hire him, but his position is the same as six other graduates of the same class who have moved on to work for that school board.

So, we not only in those instances lose those young men and women as teachers, we lose the investment, the 13 years of P to 12 education, we lose the investment in five to six years of university; all that money that this province had invested in those young minds is now lost for us to the benefit of the Province of Ontario. You think of it, Mr. Speaker, any graduating class that would lose six young people like that right off the top has to hurt our chances to grow our economy because of the good young thinkers.

These are the people that we are pinning our hopes on in Cape Breton. Not only are they six people from the graduating class of St. F.X. of 1998, but they are all Cape Bretoners, they are all from Cape Breton County, they are all young people that I think could help in the rebirth of that area. Because of attitudes surrounding education, they have left and I think it is fair to say that they are gone for good, that they are not going to be available to us to use in our educational system again.

[5:45 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, how school boards hire teachers and the availability of teachers at school boards, how they are used in this bill is an interesting one, too. The Tories, when in campaign mode, spoke about a new way of doing funding, a way that would rationalize areas of decreased enrolment, whether it is the County of Cape Breton or the more rural areas of Cape Breton or, indeed, rural areas of Nova Scotia, in general, and how the funding structure has to be changed so those people and those school districts will not be left behind.

Mr. Speaker, in the budget or in this bill, there is no mention of that. There is no mention of how we are going to revitalize those school districts. It is a very moot point with this bill and that worries me. Why would you say one thing when you are running for public office and not go through with it? I realize that many members across the way represent rural ridings. Some of the other ones over there, I know the Minister of Tourism represents a very rural riding in Cape Breton and the member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury, he

[Page 6668]

represents part of Port Hawkesbury in a rural riding. It is important that that be a campaign promise, you would think, that they would want to make sure that they lived up to, because it looks after their constituency, if you will. That is one that is not found anywhere in this bill or in any legislation or any budget.

The other side of the equation, when you talk about the young people graduating from university with their B.Ed. and moving out of province, is that it leaves the teachers that are more senior, Mr. Speaker. What are we doing for the senior teachers? This afternoon, in this very House, the acting Minister of Human Resources presented a statement about how the Civil Service will be handled if they were to be affected by a lay-off. It will be interesting to see if that same offer is an offer that would be acceptable to school teachers, that would be able to bridge them one year into retirement. It would be interesting. Would they be allowed to carry their medical benefits and so on, on into that year and be able to retire with dignity? We see some stories here coming from this government and what it has done with the Pharmacare and so on. So it is very interesting when the Civil Service and so on can carry some of their benefits with them and how long that will last.

Mr. Speaker, what has really been done to entice these people to take retirement, to allow positions to open up for young teachers? I guess the other side of that is that if you use the 400 teacher analogy that they used in the budget, that if everybody availed themselves of a richer package, if you will, to early retire, well it is not going to create any jobs for the young teachers because it is just going to enlarge the class sizes and do relatively no hires. We will be doing more with less.

So that does absolutely nothing to help the situation with whether it is student/teacher ratios, or getting younger teachers into the classroom, Mr. Speaker. We have a problem here that this government is not addressing with this bill. It is a problem that I would suspect if let go unchecked we are going to turn around in two or three years time and find ourselves with a rash of retirements in that system with no young people willing or able to be there to fill in those positions because they are gone. They have made a life for themselves somewhere else, and have said, look, that is it, I don't need that stuff. I want to move on with my life, whether it is with the Ottawa District School Board or whether it is Etobicoke or whether it is south of the border. Some of these people will do that.

That is where we are left, Mr. Speaker. We do not have a mechanism that would want to keep these young people in the province, nor do we have a mechanism that would give the more senior teachers the ability to retire with dignity.

Now, I want to move back over to the line of trust again with this government, and with this ministry in particular. One of the things that came out of the budget, and it had to do with trust, was the elimination of $1.5 million to the University College of Cape Breton's trades training program. There have been many arguments made here about it being a deal made against the advice of the department. Mr. Speaker, there is nowhere in any factual

[Page 6669]

context that that could be proven. We had statements by the deputy minister, when approached by the president and some board members from UCCB who were told by that deputy, that we saw the money and we took it. They didn't say anything about, we didn't believe it was appropriately given to the university; therefore, we just took it. That is all he said. You take that $1.5 million out, and what really amounts to what was in the budget for universities then, is $2.5 million because they took that $1.5 million out, took it away.

Mr. Speaker, that goes to trust, and the powers that will be vested in the minister by Bill No. 47. Do we really want that? When the president of that very university wanted a meeting with that minister and the deputy, they had to go to the local, what is called a Cabinet office in Sydney, and plead with a politically appointed individual to get a meeting with the minister. After much intervention by that individual, the politically appointed individual, they finally got a meeting that lasted roughly 10 to 15 minutes with really no satisfaction for that group. They were just told, we have decided we are taking it and we are going, tough noogies, we don't care anymore, that is all.

We are supposed to now say, that's fine. That is okay, because we are going to vest more power in this minister now, and if they want to meet with you, they will meet with you. But you know what, better still we, as a government, through this minister, can now decide that maybe we are going to not just stop at school boards, we are going to use my sword of Damocles, Mr. Speaker, and we are going to make a large cut through universities. I am going to use my power to now physically go in and tell universities how they are going to run.

That is what is in Bill No. 47, that this university, which by - I think not just my own - by most people that have been there, is one of the instruments that is going to have to be there to provide a renewal of the work force for the economy of Cape Breton. That is a strategic part of the puzzle for the renewal of the economy. But when we see things like this happening, where the president of that university cannot get a hearing with the minister unless it is done through a political patronage appointment, that scares me.

That university is unique in very many ways, it is unique in the trades component and the cost of delivering those trades programs. As they call them, the weight of those programs, which refers to the costing aspect, the weight is not like your average liberal arts program. The cost of delivering that program, we will say a science technology degree at UCCB, is much more expensive than giving a straight B.A. program out at Mount St. Vincent because of the variables and so on, or one where you are talking about just straight ahead text books and so on; we are talking about various labs and the weight and the costs that are associated with that.

We have a problem; the minster has taken a $1.5 million as a whim and basically has told that group, let them eat cake. We saw the money and we took it. But when it was exposed, the minister then changed her tune and said, well, they were never supposed to get it anyway. In looking at various correspondence with that group, the only person on paper

[Page 6670]

that the Department of Education got counsel from, to say that that money was not supposed to go - was from an official by the name of Mr. Harrigan, who described the extra funding for UCCB as a political side deal.

From what I know of Mr. Harrigan, he is in the Communications Department and I did not know that he was involved in banging out these deals. He is referred to by many in the business - as most of those are - as a hack. He is setting policy now for the Department of Education when he says it was done against the department's advice. Mr. Speaker, if that is the level that this minister is going for to get her advice, it doesn't evoke a lot of trust. We have to be worried about that. If we are going to lose valuable monies to an institution that is gong to be pivotal in the turning around of the economy of Industrial Cape Breton, then we are really afraid. It is just a whim, we want it, we took it. It causes all kinds of problems.

This government does not evoke that trust. Why should we believe that they are going to not wield a larger sword than they have to in cutting budgets of school boards, of getting rid of school boards altogether.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We have reached the moment of interruption. The subject of this evening's late debate was submitted by the honourable member for Dartmouth East, who wishes to debate the resolution:

[6:00 p.m.]

"Therefore be it resolved that the severe and unrealistic cuts to health by this Tory Government are totally opposite to what was promised in their election blue book and will result in Nova Scotia falling behind in medical information technology, causing higher costs for the health care system and an incalculable deficit in the delivery of health services for many years to come."

ADJOURNMENT

MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

HEALTH: CUTS - UNPROMISED

DR. JAMES SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the chance to join the late debate this evening. The Tories promised to cure the health care system for just $46 million. Instead, we have seen cuts this year of over $80 million and Tories promised these cuts would not affect patient care. Instead, we learn from CEOs Rick Nurse and Bob Smith, in the local hospitals, both are saying that it is impossible to make these cuts without negatively impacting on patient care. The Tories have broken nearly every single promise they have made regarding

[Page 6671]

health care. They have broken their promise to hire new nurses. Instead, we get a new Deputy Minister of Health and his high-paid entourage. I don't know what the person is called, an associate or assistant deputy minister, and we hear rumours in the range of $140,000 a year. The Tories have broken their promise to invest in medical information technology as well.

On Page 30 of the blue book it clearly shows that the Tory promise to invest $30 million in medical information technology in year one of the mandate, and that is this year the Tories have broken that promise. Nova Scotians will suffer from this.

Page 9 of the Tory blue book says that the Tories will establish an Information and Medical Technology Advisory Committee with broad geographic representation to ensure technology dollars are spent fairly across the province and to promote the use of new, cost-efficient technologies and information systems. The Tories have barely fulfilled this promise, unless you consider the expensive deputy minister from British Columbia as an example of broad geographical representation.

In the Halifax Chronicle-Herald of June 29th, during the election, the Leader of the PC Party said, "I'm talking about doing a lot of sensible things. We don't need the working committees that the Liberals (require) after six years, to tell them what's needed in health care." So, Premier Hamm says that he does not need to consult, he does not need committees, he has all the answers, he is going to do the sensible thing. Is it sensible to cut investment to medical information technology. The Health Investment Fund, our fund of the previous government, was designed to meet the challenge facing our health care system head on. The Health Investment Fund was to provide the tools needed to manage the system more efficiently, make it more dependable in the long run. Time and time again the health care providers in this province say, give us the tools to manage and we can do the job.

Through this Health Investment Fund the Liberals proposed to buy new hospital equipment, develop a modern information and communications system that will connect the diverse sectors of the health care system. This would have resulted in better management of the system and best patient care practices. The Health Investment Fund had the approval of every major health organization in Nova Scotia. That includes the Medical Society, the CEOs of the hospitals, nursing organizations and others. Who supports the Tory plan? Nobody.

The Health Investment Fund proposed to invest in medical information technology in several key areas. One was $30 million for new hospital equipment; $25 million to train health care professionals; $75 million to build a province-wide information system that would help ensure best patient practices and improve overall management of the system. To delay this investment in information technology puts Nova Scotia at a considerable disadvantage.

The Tories are doing their worst in just delaying it. They are cutting funding for medical technology. Because of the Tory budget cuts, hospitals like the QE II and the IWK Grace are being forced to lay off highly trained information technology specialists. The IWK is laying

[Page 6672]

off several IT specialists; the QE II is laying off nearly a dozen IT specialists. The QE II has invested millions in information technology in the past few years. In order to allow computers at other hospitals in Nova Scotia to talk to computers at the QE II, money needs to be spent on compatible technology. The Tories have effectively crippled this effort with their short-sighted cuts to information technology. It is bad news for health care and it is bad news for patient care.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, and the Association of Radiologists, Canada is facing a looming crisis because of a shortage of physicians trained to diagnose and treat complex diseases and ailments. These groups also say there is a severe shortage of high-tech medical equipment. What is this Tory Government doing to stem this crisis in Nova Scotia? I asked the minister this question last Tuesday. The Minister of Health said he is talking to the feds. He also says he is talking to other provinces. The Minister of Health said, we have to get an Atlantic Province, or at least a Maritime system. Well, I think the first priority of this minister would be to get a Nova Scotia system.

While the Nova Scotia Health Minister is talking, the other provinces are doing something. For example, Newfoundland is making a significant investment in medical technology with their own version of the Health Investment Fund. The Tories also made a promise to invest in bone densitometers. They complained that the Liberals, our government, had not been doing enough about bone densitometers when we were in power. Now we see, in addition to this, the cutting of the Well Woman Clinic, and those types of initiatives around menopause which are so important for the osteoporosis, technology and diagnosis. So they have done absolutely nothing in that area.

I made those first comments, Mr. Speaker, and I know I still have some time left. Referring to the Canadian Medical Association and the crisis within technology and radiology, it is interesting, they have five recommendations at the end. There is an article here in the newspaper, but the recommendations they made, increase re-entry positions in radiology by giving practising physicians, that is physicians already in the community, the chance to enter a residency program. This is a program that Nova Scotia, under our government, brought in and funded through the university, and this was working. The alternate funding that we brought in for specialists has recruited specialists from the United States and Canada, both in cancer, oncology physicians, and diagnostic imaging physicians. The third recommendation that this province has done, under the Liberal Government, was to broaden the teleradiology, I should call it, and telehealth, basically, and this is throughout all of this province now.

I did want to spend the last moments here talking about something which is not directly related to technology, but I think it ties in with the cuts and everything. It is an e-mail, several people of the Legislature have been copied, and I don't think she would mind me talking about it because she has made this public. It is from Nena Nauss, who has a Master of Social Work, and works at the IWK-Grace Health Centre. It is copied to myself, Mr. Dexter, the Premier and a few others that I cannot make out here, but it is from a social worker who

[Page 6673]

basically is crying out on behalf of patients, that " . . . no patient services will be compromised during this time of Health Care cuts . . ." this is what was said.

She is a 15 year veteran, and she is talking about perinatal psychiatry, which has to do with the early identification, assessment and treatment of women at risk and there is nothing worse for a child than to have a depressed mother at the time of birth. That often does irreparable damage. This is well documented and she is speaking for the consideration for that. She goes on and speaks about this depression. These are people who are in personal crisis who often need this type of care. This was funded, she says, 50 per cent by the QE II Health Sciences Centre and the IWK-Grace. The IWK-Grace has withdrawn its funding so we can expect the rest to follow.

She says she does not have a political voice and now these women don't have a political voice and she wondered what to do. The current waiting lists for psychiatry outside is months at a time. She says, " . . . the purpose of my letter is to be an advocate for a large group of women, children and families whom I strongly feel deserve appropriate care and are in a very vulnerable position . . . I urge you to advocate for the on going funding of this specialized service."

Mr. Speaker, I want to table this because I think it is my way of carrying out what I feel is an obligation to this person and also to the women who will be at the IWK-Grace who will need that service. Thank you. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member's time has expired.

The honourable Minister of Health.

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise for a few minutes to speak to the motion proposed by the honourable member for Dartmouth East. I must say, however, in beginning that I cannot accept the premises nor the conclusions that are stated in that resolution. We will be prepared to advance some of the reasons for this statement.

Our commitment as a government is to protect core health services in this province through strategic planning and responsible spending. We believe that if we take these steps we will be in a position to ensure a quality and sustainable health care system for all Nova Scotians. A few minutes ago I got off the phone with a resident here in Nova Scotia, talking about one of her concerns in health care which related to an item here in this city. She said to me that we pay more taxes than anybody else, yet the services we are getting are not what they should be. I said, basically, yes, I have to agree with that. She said, that I don't think there should be any reduction in services to health care. I said, that would be really great, but the fact is that we are spending - and she wanted to know why the taxes were so high and what she considered services to be limited. I said one of the reasons for this is that we spend approximately more than $900 million a year in debt servicing charges. Our debt problem here

[Page 6674]

in Nova Scotia is roughly around $11 billion. (Interruption) It came from the previous government, a good portion of it. They refuse to recognize it.

Mr. Speaker, I said, well, we are spending more on the debt servicing charges than we are on acute care in this province. I said, if we were spending less on debt servicing costs, we could get our expenditures under control, then we would have more money to put into programming. This becomes even more important when we think - you know the cost of delivering health care is escalating. I am talking about the costs of things in health care, for example the cost of new drugs. I was talking to a person this afternoon who represented one of the pharmaceutical companies, and we were talking about a new drug and the question of whether this could go on the formulary here in Nova Scotia. As you know, we have, I think, a good system for determining what drugs are going to go on the provincial formulary and then also which ones would be covered under Pharmacare. The point of this was that the person who was in recognized it was going to be a cost increase from the pharmaceutical that is most commonly used. Of course, one of the justifications he put forth is that we think if this medication is appropriately used it may reduce pressures on acute long-term care institutions. But the fact is it, presumably, in the words of the representative, is an improved drug. But the fact is, every time they make an improvement it costs more.

If we are going to be able to finance these improvements, we have to restructure or do something so that we can get our costs under control so that services and advances can be accommodated. It is why we believe, Mr. Speaker, that better management and planning around health care services is key and that is the goal which, as a government, we are focusing on.

[6:15 p.m.]

We are taking an integrated approach. We are looking at our health facilities, our programs and services in the context of what is being offered elsewhere. In other words, do we have to be all things to all people in every health care facility, or is it possible to make some adjustments, that where appropriate services can be delivered in a more reasonable way so that people have access to it, but it does reduce the cost, so the issue of sustainability can be truly addressed?

We heard the honourable member for Dartmouth East repeating the solution which was roundly rejected by the members of the NDP, as well as our own, last year, about the way you cure the health care system is if you put $600 million into it, you are going to fix everything. That was the solution. Nova Scotians rejected that, Mr. Speaker. They understand that simply pouring more money in without restructuring, without analysing the situation, without looking for efficiencies, without setting up a pattern of clinical services, was not going to work. All that was going to do was just add to the deficit and to the debt and, as a consequence, there would be more money being paid each year to service the debt, less money for programming.

[Page 6675]

Health care is a big ticket item in this province, Mr. Speaker; people, I don't think, really understand that about 42 per cent of the program spending in Nova Scotia goes to Health. Therefore, if we are to get our financial situation under control, then Health had to be a part of that. What we find is that many people, including members of the Opposition, say, look, we agree that it is high time that Nova Scotians took a responsible approach to the finances of the province, as long as it doesn't affect me. As long as it is you that has to make the adjustment or you that is going to try to take the steps, that is fine, but don't let it affect me. The fact is, we are Nova Scotians together. I believe that Nova Scotians, collectively, are willing to take the steps to do the things that are necessary so that we can protect health care for the future.

As I said, we have evidence, certainly from the last five years or six years, Mr. Speaker, that more money wasn't going to solve all the problems in health care. Indeed, there was about $.5 billion put into it and, as I have said on a number of occasions in this House, and I think it will be supported when the member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour gets up and speaks, that if you were to talk to people about the health services being delivered in Nova Scotia in 1994-95, versus those being delivered in 1999-2000, that they would indicate that, certainly, there was no improvement, if there was no difference.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I do want to tell you that we intend to make things better. One of the ways that we are going to do it is to ensure that there is an organized, systematic approach delivering health care here in Nova Scotia. We are concerned about technology and health information. We are also concerned about a clinical services footprint. We are concerned about long-term care. We have taken steps to integrate many of the services down into the primary care level and these will be rolling out later on this year. We think the Health Authorities Bill, which I certainly hope that the members from across are prepared to support because they know it is a good bill, it is good for Nova Scotians and they would like to do that.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member's time has expired.

The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, I think what I hear is people saying, everywhere I go, about what we hear over and over again from the Minister of Health, and he says it every chance he gets - restructure, not enough money, have to find efficiencies, cut services, what he is really saying is merge services, all this. If he had had the guts to say it during the campaign so that people had an opportunity to hear what he had to say and what he was going to do, I think that would have been different. I think people would have had an opportunity to evaluate it at that time. I think the reality is that what they did is they went forward with their blue book and they made all kinds of promises about what they were going to do and now what they are doing is turning their back on the people who voted for them based on what they said during the campaign. That is what I think is unfortunate.

[Page 6676]

I felt obligated off the top of this debate just to put that on the record. I don't think the Minister of Health should get away as he does all too often with just indicating somehow in some fantasy land where this was all part of their campaign. It never was, it is not what people voted for and he knows it and we know it. The reality is we are here to speak on a resolution that I don't think the member for Dartmouth East even read. If he were tuning in to see the debate, they wouldn't know what it was we were talking about. The resolution read as follows:

"Therefore be it resolved that the severe and unrealistic cuts to health by this Tory Government are totally opposite to what was promised in their election blue book and it will result in Nova Scotia falling behind in medical information technology, causing higher costs for the health care system and an incalculable deficit in the delivery of health services for many years to come."

As I just pointed out, that resolution, I think adequately if not completely, sets out how we feel about the government's record with respect to its performance when compared to what was set out in the platform of the Progressive Conservative Party during the last election.

Having said that, what I wanted to talk about a little bit was the whole question of medical information, information technology and its application to the delivery of medical services in this province. I think one of the things you have to do is not just listen to what the Minister of Health says but to investigate what his deeds have been since he has taken over the Department of Health.

Here we have the release from the QE II and what we know already is that information technology at the QE II has been slashed, they lost seven positions that had been discontinued, including the manager of project services, the manager of planning and standards, system analysts and a project manager; a position of IT financial analyst has been transferred to financial services, so they lost seven. One of the other positions was transferred within the institution.

In the IWK-Grace, they lost just recently within the last few days, 3.75 full-time equivalents in information technology. That is what is actually happening out there. These services are suffering mightily as a result of budget cuts, but that is not the end of it. There is within government a group of individuals who function under the name of the Patient Administration Software Support Group. I understand that they are located physically, over at the Dartmouth General Hospital and what they do is they support the information, the software that is used in our institutions. A little bit of background on them so that everybody has the full information. In 1985, the Nova Scotia Government purchased as I understand it, from Sphere Holdings a set of software modules which would provide patient administration information. The province made the software available to the Nova Scotia health care

[Page 6677]

facilities at no cost and with the assistance of these facilities, set up the necessary administration for ongoing support.

The group of computer programmers assembled to maintain and provide enhancement to this software are that group - the Patient Administration Software Support Group. My understanding is even though that system has been in use in the province since 1985-86, in 1995 the Department of Health mandated that abstraction data be submitted to the Canadian Institute of Health Information and that the past Health Management Research Institute software be adapted for this purpose. As I understand it, the software has met those requirements to date. However, regardless of that, the work that these programmers have done traditionally, in terms of the development of new software to support that system and in terms of their writing of new programs to be able to keep pace with what it is that the government wants from its technology, has been restricted. They are not being allowed to do their jobs. Why is that?

Well, Mr. Speaker, they are not being allowed to do that because I believe, and I think many people believe, that what the Department of Health wants to do is to go out and buy American software, I think it is a product called MediTech, to replace the software that we in this province have developed and supported for more than 15 years. It is a bad decision but I believe, sadly, that it is ultimately one that the Department of Health is going to undertake. Now, what is going to be the result of that? Well, we won't own this software, it is proprietary; it will be owned by 3M or whoever the company is that they are going to buy it from.

So our people, the programmers and the support staff who work in IT for the government will not be able to go in and make modifications to that software, and the government will be stuck in the position of having to rely on and contract for individuals they are going to hire, IT consultants, who will have to come in and make the necessary modifications. When a computer goes down, it is those people who will have to be hired to come in and fix it. I don't know if the Minister of Health has ever been involved in this, but I certainly have in my office, and it is not buying the program. It is not even installing it; it is having the system support in place to see to it that the software you have bought meets the needs that you have.

So what we are being told is that within the Department of Health we have the talent and the skills to develop and support the software that the Department of Health requires, yet for some unknown reason, I assume on some kind of an ideological principle, what they are going to do is they are going to contract that work out. They are going to source some software out there somewhere and, inevitably, what is going to happen is the people in the Patient Administrative Software Support Group are going to lose their jobs, or they are going to be transferred somewhere else.

[Page 6678]

It doesn't make any sense, because what is going to happen is you are going to have a more expensive system: the cost of things over and above the purchase price; the cost of training; the annual licence fees; the conversion of existing patient data and statistics into a new format; the ongoing support that can only be provided exclusively by the software vendor; and all of the other software changes that are going to have to be requested by particular sites. All of that is going to cost the government so much more than if they simply allowed the programmers they have on staff to develop and test their own software and to support it on-site, at the various institutions.

Mr. Speaker, what this shows clearly - and unfortunately my time is running out, but there is much more to be said on this - the reality is that we have, right now, the ability to develop this software program in-house and to support it in-house, and this opportunity is being missed. The Minister of Health talks about evidence-based decision making. Well, unless he has taken a close look at this, he is not going to be in a position to make a decision. So when it comes forward, I would ask the Minister of Health to take a close look, and to support the past group that is already in existence. Thank you.

[6:30 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The member's time has expired on the late debate. We will go back to second reading on Bill No. 47.

[PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING]

Bill No. 47 - Education Act. [Debate resumed.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre. You have 11 minutes.

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, my home away from home. When last we spoke, I was talking about what is happening at the University College of Cape Breton and the impact that this Education Minister is having on that very important institution on Cape Breton Island.

The fact that she would take the word of a member of the communications team for that department, to not allow UCCB to have access to the proper funding, causes me great distress. Is that what we have in the Department of Education now? Communication hacks now not only help to write policy, but to enforce it and to interpret it. It clearly states in this document, and I can table it, if you wish, that Mr. Harrigan did say that a political side deal was done against the department's advice.

[Page 6679]

Mr. Speaker, why would a supposed non-partisan employee venture down that road with those types of statements? His role should be helping the minister and the department articulate public policy, maybe, for the media and things like that. But I certainly think . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I would just remind the honourable member that we are back to second reading of Bill No. 47.

MR. CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, it is coming. (Laughter) (Interruptions) I always like advice from the Minister of Finance on anything but money. Well, it goes to show you about Bill No. 47, why that impacts on it is because where does the minister get her counsel from in putting such a bill together? Is she taking second and third-hand advice from someone in the communications department and not from the people who actually are involved with policy? It goes to the very essence of trust, as I said. Do we trust this minister or, indeed, any minister that can unilaterally dismiss or override district school boards? Do we trust a minister that takes counsel from somebody in her media department to cut $1.5 million, because that person said, well, when I was around with the previous government, that was done without the department's say-so?

Mr. Speaker, I don't think Nova Scotians trust that and I don't think that much power should be placed with one Minister of the Crown, that school boards are such an integral part of the education mosaic that we need local input. We have heard before even this bill was introduced about the size of the Southwest Regional School Board and with the magnitude of the geography that it should be split up. I think it would be appreciated in that part of the province if it was, to make it more responsive.

But again, I don't see the minister's ability to get involved with all aspects of school boards as being part of that. I think the Southwest Regional School Board sees it as an intrusion. I think they want to see that school board cut down to a workable size, but I don't think, as a matter of fact, I know, they don't want the minister to go in there and just inflict their jurisdiction on them because they may have done something that this minister disagreed with. Indeed, as I say, Mr. Speaker, let's remove this minister from it altogether and any future minister. It is too great a power to put in one minister's hands, a form of education that has been accepted in this province for as long as I can remember.

Whatever form that school board took, whether it is an elected board, or the old appointed board, or ones of my early education where the schools were owned by the religious groups and they were responsible for a large portion of the budget, they went forward with it. There was always a form of local control where the proverbial buck stopped. People understood that education, while it has to have provincial parameters, has to be driven locally and that school boards have to have the same ability of municipal governments, that level of responsiveness that municipal governments are responsible for, a level of governance that is very important to the people of Nova Scotia. That governance should not be just jerked away by the province.

[Page 6680]

If they gave that type of power, we will say, to the Minister of Municipal Affairs, then rightfully many Nova Scotians would be upset. So therefore, why wouldn't they think that Nova Scotians would be just as upset if they took that governance of their school away from them and put it solely in the hands of a minister of their own discretion who could just go and, after years and years of communities from one end of this province to the other administering and looking after their schools, building schools, building local curriculum in some cases, to have it taken away by the stroke of a ministerial pen. That, I would say to you, Mr. Speaker, is blatantly unfair and it is not what Nova Scotians want. No way, no where, no how in the blue book in the campaign of 1999 was this type of action contemplated.

I go back and say to you, Mr. Speaker, this bill by and large is a reaction to protests that took place in the streets outside this building, the streets in many towns and villages in this province, and it is an instrument by which the minister can really cause the ability of local communities, for a form of freedom of speech, that that hammer can hang over their heads and say to them, if you protest too loud, too long, too hard, I will take your authority away from you. It will be leaving people in a local community with no access to running their own affairs.

As I mentioned to you earlier, Mr. Speaker, I am sure if the same sort of wording ended up in a bill regarding municipal affairs, you would have the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities here upset and looking for blood because they wouldn't put up with it.

Mr. Speaker, I want to say in closing that this bill would have an impact in communities such as mine, one that as most communities - as the member for Dartmouth North says, his - but there are many communities in this province that are proud of their heritage and their traditions. As you very well know that your part of the strong heritage of coal mining, your great Town of Springhill, Mr. Speaker, is involved with coal mining as my great Town of New Waterford was for many years. We did not, nor do we, take kindly to people coming in and telling us how to run our affairs. People in our communities and indeed your community can operate well on their own. That is why I will not be supporting Bill No. 47.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to follow the eloquent remarks of my learned friend who has just finished. I stand in admiration of his complete survey of what it is that is problematic with the bill we have to deal with, Bill No. 47. But I think there are some points that might yet be raised to direct the minds of the members opposite to some of the fundamental flaws with the legislation.

I had the opportunity a little while ago, when we were debating the procedural motion we had before us, to make some remarks about Bill No. 47 and its implied disrespect for the value of education. I have to say that I didn't notice this had any effect on the members opposite. It didn't seem that the points I raised have really persuaded any of them that this

[Page 6681]

is the wrong course on which they have embarked. I find it puzzling that that is the case. I find it puzzling that the members opposite have taken the view that steps ought to be taken to undermine the importance of the education system in Nova Scotia. I don't know what it is that could possibly have led them to the conclusion that they can do this and get away with it. I am really scandalized and, at the moment, puzzled that the government has decided that it is at all possible to take steps that significantly undermine the education system in Nova Scotia and think they have some chance of coming back as a government on a second occasion.

I know the members opposite wish to be more than a one-term government, yet it seems to me that the whole path upon which they have embarked leads to quite a different conclusion. Indeed with respect to the Minister of Education herself, I have to say that I find it very hard to imagine how she will be able to stand up in front of the voters in her district asking to be re-elected, given that is a district that places such a high level of importance upon achieving a good level of education. Her home district is the one that has several universities in it. Her home district is in the central area of Halifax that voluntarily pays extra money so that the quality of the school system will be improved; that is the supplementary education funding. They do it voluntarily. There is nothing that requires them to do it. They decide to do it. Voters here, homeowners in the minister's own district are happy to pay that extra amount because they know that the way forward into the future for their children is for them to attend a school system that is of the best quality.

Not only do I predict that this is going to cause significant problems for the honourable minister should she choose to run again. I predict she won't even get the nomination. I predict that the next time in South End Halifax, if that minister comes forward and puts herself forward, as the person who wants to be the candidate for her Party in that district, given the record that she is now establishing, she won't get the nomination. I think that the responsible homeowners, business people, citizens who belong to her Party who live in her district, won't put up with it. I don't think this is what they voted for. I don't think this is what they wanted. I don't think this is what they expected. As I said, it is not what they are going to put up with.

I hear some members opposite suggesting that there might be problems in my district. Well, I look forward to seeing who they might try to put forward next time because anyone who they put forward will have to carry the burden of this record. I can tell the members opposite that in my district, just as much as in the Minister of Education's district, the parents of the children have likewise voluntarily chosen to pay supplementary education funding and they know which Parties are prepared to stand up and defend education and which are not. I am left, given that it seems obvious to me, and I think obvious to the parents, that there is a serious problem with the thrust of what it is that the education policy is here, we have to speculate as to what it is that the objective is.

[Page 6682]

[6:45 p.m.]

Why is it that these kinds of moves are being made with respect to the education system? That is the key question. We have to ask ourselves why. We have to ask ourselves what is actually going on here. Do we know what it is that the policy of the bill is to be characterized as? As in all pieces of legislation, there is what is said about it and there is what is actually implied and what the real agenda is. So I have gone back and I have had a look at what it is the minister said when she brought forward her bill on second reading because I was puzzled. I wanted to know what on earth the minister thought she was doing by bringing forward this bill. What is the agenda according to the government? What is the agenda according to the minister? What does she think her Bill No. 47 is all about and that is what we are here debating.

We are here debating second reading of Bill No. 47 which the minister brought forward for some purpose. Well, what was the purpose? I read her speech in Hansard from May 16th. I listened to it. I was here when she gave the speech, but I went back and looked through it in detail to try to figure out what were the main stated objectives of this bill. There were general statements made about the goal of Bill No. 47 and here are two phrases, two parts of sentences that the minister gave us as to her goals when she explained what it is that Bill No. 47 was about. She said that she wanted, " . . . to offer the best possible public education system for all Nova Scotians." I will get around to asking whether Bill No. 47 actually does that, but this was her starting point. She said one of the goals was, " . . . to offer the best possible public education system for all Nova Scotians." We will have to test what the bill actually contains against that stated goal.

Here is the other stated goal, it was to, " . . . advance public education in Nova Scotia to serve our children better today and tomorrow." This kind of general statement does not necessarily tell us a huge amount. It is not surprising to hear a Minister of Education suggest that they want to advance education and it is not surprising to hear a Minister of Education say they want to offer the best possible public education system. Indeed, that is exactly what it is that you would expect them to say. So the real question becomes, well, how do they propose to do that, just how do they propose to offer the best education system or to advance public education in Nova Scotia? I am not making these up. It is not a question of saying that we are imposing this standard on the government. These are the very words of the Minister of Education on second reading of her own bill.

So what is it that the minister does in this bill? Never mind there has already been an erosion of the funding of the school system, never mind there has been a very recent history of outraged parents, teachers and students coming to this building in their hundreds and thousands, yelling at the minister in objection to that. Never mind that the government has beat something of an undignified and hasty retreat. Clearly they did not come up with all the money that was needed by the school system, but they came up with some of it. That is the context within which Bill No. 47 comes forward and the standard the minister sets, is she is

[Page 6683]

trying to offer the best possible public education system for all Nova Scotians. Very nice, but what does the bill do? It does four things, according to the minister, and she is more or less right.

I want to deal with this one right off the bat because, of course, in our Party we have no difficulty with it. She points to an intention to improve conditions for African-Nova Scotians. Quite clearly what the minister means is that there is going to be a guaranteed position on each of the school boards for African-Nova Scotians if they wish to put themselves forward as candidates. This is exactly the kind of measure that we have spoken for, it is exactly the kind of measure on which we introduced our own separate bill that embodies that objective, that is Bill No. 51. We have no problem with that particular objective. It is quite obvious that the Black community in Nova Scotia, among others, but certainly the Black community has been excluded for all the hundreds of years that it has been here, from mainstream economic life. It is quite obvious that community wants to make its way forward now into mainstream economic life and come out from the margins. It is quite obvious that community, like everyone else, has identified investing in their future through education as the way forward. We have no problem with that and we will stand four-square behind attempts to offer that kind of advantage to the Black community so they can, as a matter of value and policy inside their communities, go forward through education. I have no problem with that.

The minister said there were three other things this bill actually did. She said there would be greater accountability for money spent, there would be strong community involvement in decisions affecting children, and she said the bill would treat everyone fairly. I find these three things completely puzzling as statements from the minister when I actually read the details of what it is that the bill does. Greater accountability for money spent. What on earth is there in the bill that gives greater accountability for money spent? There really is nothing in the bill that is directly on target with greater accountability for money spent.

There are very puzzling statements in the minister's second reading speech. Here is one of the very puzzling statements connected with this problem of greater accountability. She says, "I know they want to be assured that someone knows where every dollar is spent and that it is spent on the right things." The "they" the minster is referring to is the public of Nova Scotia. Well, we have school boards and they have auditors; we have a Minister of Finance and a Department of Education, and they have auditors; we have an Auditor General. There is no question of dubious financial dealings inside the school boards. If there is, I certainly have not heard it from the minister. That kind of statement almost sounds as if the minister believes there is some kind of financial hanky-panky going on in some school board somewhere. If that is what the minister thinks, she ought to say so. There is nothing in the public record or, as far as I have heard, in the private record that could even remotely indicate that there is a financial mismanagement problem inside the school boards.

[Page 6684]

In any event, there is a hierarchy of systems in place in order to make sure that the public does know how the money is spent inside school boards. Most puzzling of all, there is nothing in this bill that addresses questions of how the money is spent, so you have to ask yourself, what on earth was the minister on about when she made that statement in her Bill No. 47 speech? What on earth did she have in mind? I think the only thing she had in mind was filling up a couple of pages of Hansard. I can't see that this statement of hers actually has any kind of relationship to what it is that goes on inside the bill because there is nothing there that deals with financial management. There is nothing there that somehow introduces an element of additional legitimate financial controls. There is nothing there by way of scrutiny by accountants; there is nothing there of additional powers for the Auditor General to come in and have a look. That is not there. We already know that there is a detailed system in place.

I have to say that when I look at these words of the minister, I can only conclude that on the one hand, there is what she says she is doing and on the other hand, there is something else actually being done. On the one hand she is telling us that this bill has something to do with greater accountability for money spent; on the other hand there is nothing in the bill that even remotely deals with greater accountability for money spent. This is a big puzzle.

Well, let's look at another of the points that the minister brought forward in her Bill No. 47 second reading speech, that is that Bill No. 47 somehow gives strong community involvement in decisions affecting our children. Where is that? Now, let's be clear that this is a separate point from designated positions for African-Nova Scotians. It is a separate point in the minister's analysis. So somehow there must be something in the bill, we are led to believe, that increases community involvement in decisions affecting our children. Obviously that has to do with the school board or the school system.

So where is the strong community involvement? Again that is something the minister is saying to us but is not in the bill. If she is saying to us that there is strong community involvement, naturally enough we are going to read the bill and look for it and say, where is this strong community involvement? What is it that the minister is doing that strengthens community involvement? What is it that the minister gives us in her Bill No. 47 that even lays the groundwork for stronger community involvement?

I have looked high and low in the bill, it is not obvious to me. I am used to reading legislation, I read legislation all the time and I try to understand what the bills mean. Community involvement, stronger community involvement, I don't want to be misunderstood, Mr. Speaker, I believe in stronger community involvement. I believe that these kinds of decisions about the future of our children ought to be made as much as possible at the local level.

I believe in things like elected school boards; I believe that most Nova Scotians do as well. I think we get the best school system when those kinds of decisions are made in consultation with parents in the community. I think we get the best kind of school system

[Page 6685]

when there is involvement by the teachers, the parents, by those who are elected to school boards. We have a name for that, those are the stakeholders. Those are the people who, together, form an interest group inside their community that speaks out for their children, and in the case of having children this is virtually everybody in the community; everyone in the community has an interest in this. Of course, there has to be a mechanism in place to allow for, in the minister's words, "strong community involvement in decisions affecting our children."

[7:00 p.m.]

Of course, those mechanisms are in place. We used to have PTAs, now we have school advisory councils. We can debate that I suppose, but that isn't really germane absolutely to what we have here, but it is a mechanism for parental involvement. Most importantly, we have schools and we have school boards. School in the community is an important value, think of all those rural areas that need the school at the heart of the community, and if they don't have a school in their community, they have nothing.

We all know the pattern. In small-town Nova Scotia, just as in small-town Canada in any province, the kids are already strongly tempted to move away and go to the bigger towns, to the cities, and to the big cities. What makes it easy for a community to suddenly stagnate and ultimately disappear is the moment the school is closed in that community, the kids have to be bused to some other community. When they do that, it is wearing, it is just hard to be bused an hour one way, an hour back, every day, and it is wearing on the community not to have a communal facility in the middle of the town that they can turn when they want to have public events. It means loss of jobs if the teachers move out of that community. It is a well-noted turning point in the history of any small community, when its school closes that is the beginning of the end for a community.

I can't understand how this government, faced with the decline in a number of rural areas in this province, can fail to do something about that. The minister stands up and says that she wants strong community involvement in decisions affecting our children. Well, where is it in the bill? Is there a dedication in this bill that says every small town has to have a school and it will stay open? It doesn't say that in Bill No. 47. Does it say we are going to open more schools in small towns? It doesn't say that.

Where is the strong community involvement in decisions affecting our children? Maybe it hasn't anything to do with community involvement and whether the school stays open. Maybe it has something to do with the curriculum; maybe it has something to do with dialogue between the parents and the teachers. Where is that? Is that here? Hello? I don't see it. Again, I am puzzled. There is what the minister is saying, but there is what the bill actually contains; it isn't there. I just find this an amazing dichotomy, between what it is the minister, who presents this bill to us in the Legislature, claims it is all about and what is apparent to my eyes when I read the words on the page. What is this?

[Page 6686]

You will recall that the minister actually pointed to changes in four areas in the bill, and I have dealt with three of them according to her words. The fourth one is to treat everyone fairly and, again, I am left to wonder just what exactly it is that the minister means by treating everyone fairly. Do you know what it turns out to mean? It turns out that when you actually read the minister's speech, her May 16th speech in this Chamber, which is the second-reading speech in which the minister tries to convince all of us here of the merits of her bill. Do you know what it says about treating everyone fairly? What that amounts to is code for the fact that they are going to charge all teachers certification fees.

I wouldn't have chosen to use the words treat everyone fairly as a description for charging teachers certification fees. The way the minister arrives at this particular characterization of charging certification fees is to say, well, we want to treat teachers the same way as everyone else who has to get a licence to practise whatever profession somewhere else in the province. So that is treating everyone fairly. Well, I find that quite a fascinating use of language. Now that may be the minister's fundamental idea of fairness, but it doesn't strike me as the first words that I would somehow choose to describe putting in place an additional tax grab. I think that the people most affected, the teachers, are going to look at this, and they are not going to say to themselves, this is a wonderful example of the minister's sense of fundamental fairness about the world.

I think that the teachers are going to look at this and say, by gum, we have just been whacked with a tax increase. If the minister to wants to whack teachers with a special fee, she ought to say so in clear expository prose. Clear expository prose is what gets taught in the schools. Plain language is a virtue. Say what you mean and mean what you say. That is something any elementary school English teacher would regard as a lesson worth learning in our fine school system. But, somehow, either the minister herself, or whoever gave her this speech to read, must have skipped out on the clear expository prose lesson. Well, I am left puzzled as to what it is Bill No. 47 is all about, except for the fact that I can read between the lines. If I had to read the minister's speech and conclude from what it is that she had to say, I would be none the wiser.

This is a bill in which there is a fundamental disconnect between what it is that the minister says and what it is that the bill is all about. The bill is not about greater accountability for money spent. The bill is not about strong community involvement in decisions affecting our children. This bill is not about treating everyone "fairly". What is the bill about? When you face up to asking that question, you have to look at what it is that the bill actually does. The only way in which you can reach any conclusion at all about a piece of legislation is by reading it, analysing it, thinking about it and paying attention to what the details of the bill might be.

It seems to me that there are a couple of thrusts to what it is that the bill does. One of the solid provisions is to change the date for contracts for notice to come from school boards to teachers about when their contracts are to be renewed or not, as the case may be. The bill

[Page 6687]

changes the date from May to June. Well, there is only one comment that can be made about that, which is BFD. This is a provision that has no useful content. If anything, what it does is it makes it more difficult for the individual teachers to plan their lives.

It is only one month, it's true, but at the same time, what does it add to the education process? It doesn't add anything to the education process that I can see. Does it give greater accountability for money spent? I don't think so. Does it give stronger community involvement in decisions affecting our children? Doesn't look like it to me. Does it treat everyone fairly? Doesn't seem to come within a country mile of that or of any of these other things that the minister says the bill is all about.

What it does is it allows the minister technically to say, as she said in the past, that when all of the lay-off notices were issued by the boards around the province that they no longer exist. If Bill No. 47 is passed, those lay-off notices become a nullity. True enough, the school boards will have to issue new lay-off notices after the negotiations with the Department of Education by the middle of June. It is certainly the case that talks between the Department of Education and the school boards has resulted in a slightly different picture due to the fact that the government came up with more money when they were subjected to public pressure.

What all this really does is recognize that there were some talks going on. That is right, fair enough, but does this have anything to do with the best possible education system for Nova Scotians or advancing public education in Nova Scotia to serve our children better today and tomorrow. Those are quite lofty words, but doesn't really seem to have a lot to do with this particular provision which is narrowly focused on a labour relations situation.

It is true enough. If the minister wants to deal with this in some fashion, maybe it was appropriate to bring in some provision along those lines, but I don't see that this advances the education system in any compelling way. Doesn't seem to do anything for our children, it just recognizes that some negotiations have been going on. That is fine, glad negotiations were going on, but it doesn't seem to be really part of what the minister said the bill was all about.

So what actually does the bill solidly do apart from relative trivialities? Well, the main thing that the bill does is that it interferes with the existence of the Southwest Regional School Board. There might be a particular logic to that if that were the only question. If the minister came and said look, the Southwest Regional School Board is too big, it covers five counties, it is awkward, it is not a useful way for people in communities to keep in touch with their local elected school board. Let's split it in two. She could have done that, she could have come along and said let's take Queens and Lunenburg and make it one school board and let's take Shelburne, Digby and Yarmouth and make it another school board. She could have done that and you know what? If that had actually been the thrust of the bill, I don't think people would be here objecting. They would have said, you have a point. You have a point that is reasonably well documented and in line with the idea of making communities closer to their school boards. That is fine. There wouldn't be a fight, but that isn't what the bill does.

[Page 6688]

The bill does something different. The bill says, yes, let's split up the Southwest Regional School Board according to the Queens-Lunenburg and the Shelburne-Digby-Yarmouth split, but it brings in a different and new form of governance in the Southwest Regional School Board. Now, why is this? Why is it that there is this new form of governance being brought in? Do you know what? The minister does not say in her second-reading speech what it is that she intends. She does not tell us why it is that this so-called pilot project has been introduced. So we are left to speculate about what it is that the minister really intends, but before I go on to say what it is that is actually at work here, let me point out one of the other very few solid provisions in this bill.

[7:15 p.m.]

Do you know what the other solid provision is? It gives the minister an additional basis for exercising power to wind up school boards. There it is. Finally, at long last, you get to the point of what it is that the minister had in mind. As she correctly points out, there already were several grounds on which the Minister of Education can step in and take control of the affairs of an existing school board. They already existed under the Education Act. They were financial mismanagement, they were protecting the health and welfare of children and they were protecting the educational welfare of children. Those are very broad powers for a Minister of Education to have over elected school boards, already, in the Education Act but this bill adds another basis on which the minister can choose to dissolve a school board and take control of its affairs and that basis is that the school board is not meeting educational standards.

It is interesting the way the minister characterizes that because here is what she says about that new point. Let me tell you, Mr. Speaker, that I think the minister's characterization of what she does was not lost on any education administrator anywhere in the province because here is what she said on May 16th. She said, ". . . it is valuable to have some flexibility to deal with situations as they arise." Those are not innocuous words, ". . . it is valuable to have some flexibility to deal with situations as they arise." Well, do you know what that means? What it means is the key to what Bill No. 47 is ultimately all about and here is my central point. This is the disconnect between what the bill says and what the bill actually means, or more accurately, the disconnect between what the minister says it is about and what is really implied. The disconnect is between a velvet glove and a hard fist because what the bill is about is threatening school boards. The so-called pilot project and the arbitrary way in which the Southwest Regional School Board's powers have been split up and devolved upon different kinds of administrative functionaries is meant as a warning shot across the bows of the school boards in the province. That is what it is about.

That is what Bill No. 47 is about. It is not about greater accountability for money spent. It is not about strong community involvement in decisions affecting our children. It is not about treating everyone fairly. What it is, it is about threatening the school boards, every school board in the Province of Nova Scotia, and the threat is very clear. The threat is that

[Page 6689]

the minister will either bring in legislation or will choose to interpret the powers that she has now decided that she will have in a way that will allow her to wind up the administration of elected school boards all across Nova Scotia.

What on earth could this possibly be by way of advantage to the education system? I can understand that a government that was paranoid might decide that they want to centralize power in one particular ministry with respect to the whole of the activities of that ministry. But you know what? That isn't the way we deliver education in Nova Scotia. It is important to Nova Scotians that there be school boards, and that those school boards be independent and elected. That is the model Nova Scotians like. That is the model Nova Scotians have grown used to. That is why citizens are prepared to stand up every three or four years at election time and put themselves forward and say, I am prepared to do the work as a member of school board if you will elect me. I am prepared, they say, to try to win your trust in my local community to run the schools. Citizens all across Nova Scotia, 100 of them, do this, 100 of them get elected. They do a good job.

There is nothing wrong with the minister having some back-up and safeguards. But that is not what this bill is about. This bill is about threatening the school boards so they won't be independent minded. This bill is about sending out a trial balloon to see whether there might not be some kind of response out there in favour of doing away with elected school boards. I will bet the minister hasn't heard one word in favour of getting rid of elected school boards. I will bet this is one trial balloon that will pop the minute it goes up. Have we seen letters in the newspaper about let's get rid of elected school boards? I don't think so. Have we had faxes and e-mails to our constituency offices saying, oh, I have a good idea suggested to me by Bill No. 47, now that I think about it, the minister might have a good idea here, why don't we get rid of elected school boards? None of us get e-mails or faxes or letters that say that. We just don't, and the reason we don't is because Nova Scotians don't want it. That means, to the extent that Bill No. 47 is about sending out a trial balloon, it has flopped. It is over.

It doesn't mean that the threat element has disappeared. The threat element addressed at the school boards is still there. But you know what? The school boards, elected officials, parents and their own communities have a lot of spine. They exhibited it during the last few months. They not only have a lot of spine, they have a lot of organizational ability. They stood up to the minister, and the hard fact is, they won. The minister blinked. The minister and her whole government blinked first. It turns out this isn't Ontario. It turns out that government is not quite able to carry itself along the lines of its model and mentor, the Mike Harris Government in Ontario, because of course the predecessor for this kind of legislation was the old Bill No. 104 in Ontario, the one that beat up on the education system in Ontario so extensively and that caused such dissention in the Province of Ontario.

This hasn't worked here, and it won't work here. I find it appalling that the minister has on the one hand, tried to tell us something about the bill that is not really anchored in reality, while at the same time, any sensible person having a read of the bill can easily conclude

[Page 6690]

something quite different. So, I think this bill will probably end up as the classic example of saying one thing and actually meaning and intending and doing another.

The disconnect I talked about is nowhere more striking than when we consider whether there might not be some other kind of explanation. We have to ask ourselves, well, there is what the minister says, there is this whole question of creating the best possible education system and then there is this content of the bill which really, at heart, is to give more powers to the minister and to send a message to the Southwest Regional School Board, and then there is what I have been saying about the content of the bill. I have been saying it is a threat, I have been saying it is a trial balloon.

Is there any other possible explanation? Is there anything else a person could say about what it is that this bill is all about? Now we have heard other suggestions. One suggestion is that this is meant as an actual first step towards abolishing all the school boards. Is it the case that this bill is not just a trial balloon but is the first of several steps that will be taken over the next couple of years? We have to ask ourselves, when the government chooses to bring in from New Brunswick a Deputy Minister of Education who had direct experience with abolishing school boards, then reduces funds, then brings in a bill like Bill No. 47, we have to ask ourselves what will happen next fall? Will there be another piece of legislation next fall or next year that will say, well, we have tried our best to live with these school boards but we find them to be unresponsive to our idea of appropriate educational standards and we are not going to put up with it anymore?

We have to remember in this context that very interesting provision at the end of the bill in which the regulation-making powers are expanded to allow the minister to define and redefine certain terms in the bill. I just put forward a scenario in which it may be the case that there might be another piece of legislation that comes in to actually abolish school boards in Nova Scotia. That is a possibility but, unfortunately, do you know what? If Bill No. 47 goes through in the form in which it has been presented to this House, all the school boards in Nova Scotia could be done away with without further legislation; they could be done away with without coming back to this House to debate it; they could be done away with by an order of the Minister and her Cabinet colleagues if they take the powers that have been set out in Bill No. 47.

I don't find that acceptable and I cannot imagine that given the history in Nova Scotia of moving, over time, towards the state of having elected school boards, I cannot imagine that that is going to be of interest to any parents in this province. What fantasy land can they possibly be living in if they think this is the case?

Now at this point I am speculating because we don't know what this bill is actually about. I think I have demonstrated that there is what the minister says about the bill and there is what is actually in the bill and they have nothing at all to do with each other. So the government has yet to go on record telling us what on earth their long-term plans are for the

[Page 6691]

school system in Nova Scotia. Now, it either means that they don't know or that they are not prepared to tell us. I wish they would explain which it is. If they don't know, then why don't they say so. That is fine; it is fair enough for them to stand up and say we haven't decided yet. We don't have a plan; we are still thinking about it. That would be honest. They could say that. Or they could say we have a plan, but we are not prepared to trust you with it; we have a plan, but we are really wanting to dance around the subject, not be out in the open.

[7:30 p.m.]

The big difference between Bill No. 47 in Nova Scotia and Bill No. 104 in Ontario is that at least Bill No. 104 in Ontario was straightforward, up front, in your face; they said what they were doing. They took the direct attack on the school boards, and they put it in front of the public. There were no shilly-shallying, they said this is what we are about to do. It was the wrong policy and it was obnoxious and if they tried it here there would be one heck of a fight. At least they said what they were doing, but the hallmark of this government has been to say one thing and do another; it has been to hide away what their true plans are and to dance around the subject.

That is not an honest way to run a government. That is not a forthright way to run a government, never mind one department. Any part of a government, it doesn't matter whether it is the Education Department or the Environment Department or Transportation, there should be transparency; there should be openness; there should be a genuine adherence to an agenda; and there should be honesty with the public.

Every time I go back and read that May 16th speech of the minister, I am appalled. I cannot imagine anyone in this Party bringing in legislation and standing up at second reading - where you are supposed to explain what your bill is about - and uttering nothing except platitudes that don't come within a country mile of what the bill is all about. I would have thought that someone who did that would have been hooted off the floor.

AN HON. MEMBER: They don't give a hoot.

MR. EPSTEIN: This is just extraordinary that such a thing could occur, but never mind that it is extraordinary in terms of Legislature history, it is just outright insulting to the people of Nova Scotia. It is insulting to the people of Nova Scotia for a piece of legislation to come forward, sponsored by a Cabinet Minister, a Cabinet Minister in charge of a very large and expensive department with a crucial subject, education, and it is outrageous for her to come forward with this bill and not be forthright and straight with the people of Nova Scotia.

I am going to remind members of what it is that the minister said. Here is what she said. "My goal as Minister of Education . . . is to offer the best possible public education system for all Nova Scotians."

[Page 6692]

Is "piffle" parliamentary language, Mr. Speaker? If it is, I want to get it on the record right now, that is piffle. Here is the other goal, ". . . to serve our children better today and tomorrow." Well, I haven't heard you tell me it isn't parliamentary language, so I am going to use it again because that is piffle. Those two statements have no content; those are words on the page that lead nowhere.

It is fine that the minister can take our time and use up space on the pages of Hansard, but it is just amazing. I am sure that the Hansard reporters listening to this stuff, as they are typing it up would either have to be laughing or finally get themselves into a state where they can just do it automatically, because I don't think they could put this sort of stuff down on paper with a straight face. I know that the public can't look at this and look at Bill No. 47 and keep a straight face. The question, again, and I ask the question, because I would welcome hearing from some speaker over there, a better explanation of what it is that they really think Bill No. 47 is all about. Their minister has not given an explanation of what this bill is all about that is satisfactory.

We know that it is a fact of everyday discourse that when you are talking with people, there is what they say and there is what they really say. In theatre the term for this is text and subtext. There are different ways you can deliver a line. There are the words that are spoken by the actors to one another, but the important thing anyone in theatre will tell you is what are their emotions, what are they really telling you here, what is actually going on between the parties on the stage here? It does not matter that one of them says, hello, how are you. Well, you can read the words but, hello, how are you today, means different things in different circumstances. It means one thing when I say it to my esteemed colleague, the member for Dartmouth North. It probably means something else if it is the title of a fiddle album by a certain fiddle player from Cape Breton but, you know, there are different ways and different contexts in which words have a meaning and it is well recognized that there is a difference between what words spoken on the stage or in everyday discourse mean compared with something else. There is another dimension but, do you know what, that should not characterize legislation.

Legislation should be straightforward, honest, clear and carry a distinct message that lets people know what is going on. Bill No. 47 does not do that. I am not aware of another bill that has come forward in this Legislature that has had such a separation between what the minister says about it and what the bill is really about. Normally when you get a bill, you can read it and understand what is going on. The message is clear. (Interruption) I see the Minister of Finance does it again here.

AN HON. MEMBER: He is still trying to juggle the books.

MR. EPSTEIN: Our friends and audience at home may not have understood exactly what is going on in this Chamber with respect to some of the antics of the members opposite, but I will let them read about it on another occasion.

[Page 6693]

I want to just finish up, Mr. Speaker, by saying that I know that the minister can do better. I am sure that this minister can do better. I am sure if this minister were to go back to her Grade 6 teacher and say, I need some remedial lessons in clear expository prose, that her Grade 6 teacher would be happy to offer them to her and she would say, Jane, what are you trying to say here? What is the message that you are trying to convey? What exactly is it that you want to include in this legislation? I am sure that if her Grade 6 teacher is retired and not available, there are people out there who would be happy to offer this kind of advice to the minister. (Interruption)

The honourable member for Halifax Fairview is not only a school teacher with years of experience, but a person with years of experience in this Legislature. I am sure that she would be happy to help out. Any of us here would be happy to help out because it is obvious that the minister has a problem and I think that we could, in the general spirit of amicability that might prevail here, take steps together to move forward if only she would explain what she is trying to do in clear terms. I would make that plea to her. I would ask the minister, or any of her colleagues, to take the opportunity to tell us what they really want to do in Bill No. 47.

It would be welcome news because I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, and my colleagues, that when I read the minister's speech on May 16th and when I read the bill, I am left completely puzzled as to what it is that this bill could possibly be about except for intimidation of the school boards. Mr. Speaker, I wouldn't find that and do not find that acceptable.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants East. (Applause)

MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, I thank the members opposite for their encouragement. I will take that as a signal they are going to wait on every word and, therefore, before this bill gets to the Law Amendments Committee, they will probably be drafting changes to it on the basis of what I will say this evening.

I got the impression from the minister's comments, and I have looked at them as well, that accountability is a major thrust for this piece of legislation, and that the minister felt during the election campaign that the Tories were listening to the people in the Southwest Regional School Board and they wanted a greater voice in the direction of the school board. They felt that the community didn't have an opportunity to have its views heard and actually acted on.

Well, members of the House would know by now, Mr. Speaker, that I was a school teacher for 15 years prior to coming to the Legislature. I certainly know a little of the history of community involvement in schools in my area. My great-grandfather was a trustee in the schools in the Enfield area. Not that I know an awful lot of what the role of the trustees was, but I remember an elderly gentleman in his 90's who recollected being in the one-room schoolhouse in the area and remembering a visit of my great-grandfather to the school. One

[Page 6694]

of his most vivid memories was of my great-grandfather pulling his fur coat next to him as he walked by the woodstove in the school. I think all members of the House probably know individuals in their communities who have recollections of one-room schoolhouses, how this was a community effort, how lighting the fire in the morning, that it was somebody's job, having somebody making sure there was a bucket of water there was somebody else's job.

My grandfather, as well, was a trustee in the E.H. Horne School which actually a couple of weeks ago, we had the closing ceremonies for. The community turned out, mostly for nostalgic purposes to say goodbye to the use of that building as a school and the hopes it will stay in the community with other functions. My grandfather actually had the contract to dig the foundation for that school. It was the first job my father worked on at 17 years of age. At one point in his life, my father was a school bus driver and then I was a school teacher. My family has been involved with decisions around education in my community, specifically in the Enfield area.

I could recognize the minister being concerned that communities felt they didn't have enough of a voice in decision making for school boards. I would share that concern, and I certainly have questioned the large size of school boards and certainly the one I worked for was twice the size of Prince Edward Island. I would say that definitely was problematic as far as a voice from communities in the decision making that affected the schools in the area. I think for all of Hants East there are two elected school board members. Certainly at one time, beyond the stage of the schools in each community that were controlled by the community, Hants East became an amalgamated board. In other words, they amalgamated all the schools in the Hants East area and that became a school board for that area.

We often have questioned when further amalgamations occurred, when we became Colchester-East Hants, Hants East had a surplus, Colchester did not, and therefore the extra funds from Hants East went to help out the Colchester-East Hants board, or we thought helped out the Colchester part of the board more. I know the honourable Minister of Health may have some comments in that regard and then recently when we went to the further amalgamation to Chignecto-Central Regional School Board there actually were surplus funds in the Colchester-East Hants board that were distributed throughout the further amalgamated board. I know that at the Hants East end, we have wondered whether or not these amalgamations have been in our best interests and I certainly question whether large boards actually can hear the voices of communities and whether that is the direction to go.

[7:45 p.m.]

In saying that, I am not advocating the abolition of school boards, but perhaps maybe more of them. I know in Saskatchewan, which has a population which is similar to Nova Scotia and has about one million people, I think there are over 100 school boards and they have managed to balance their books. They seem to have accountability built into the system

[Page 6695]

and communities have a voice and I would certainly say that may be something the government might want to consider looking at rather than going to the other extreme.

I know with the amalgamations we didn't lose much in the way of staff and school boards. People were rehired as consultants, we just had more assistant superintendents and I am not sure if anybody lost a job with the amalgamation. As far as the proper use of dollars, I am not sure that the large school boards have done that, but that doesn't mean to get rid of them, but maybe to have more smaller boards that are more accountable to the community. I thing that is something I would like to see the government pursue.

I, likewise, as my honourable colleague, the member for Halifax Chebucto, have to question the stark difference between what the minister has said in her opening remarks about her bill on May 16th and actually what is written in the bill. Maybe we all should be willing to give that leap of faith, that what the minister says is actually going to happen from the piece of legislation, but it is not written in the legislation for it to occur. No one can argue that taxpayers deserve accountability.

But, the minister in her speech on May 16th said this, ". . . will allow for more community involvement. Freed up from day-to-day operations and administration, the district boards will have more time to focus on what matters most to parents and communities - the education being offered to children in the classroom." Well, I think we all realize the bottom line in education is what goes on in the classroom. That is where the rubber hits the road and the product that walks across the stage in Grade 12 is going to get that training in the classroom and it won't be at the school board, but, "Freed up from day-to-day operations and administration, the district boards will have more time to focus on what matters to parents and communities . . ." My question would be, what does she think they are doing now?

If they are going to be freed up, freed up from what? Isn't the operation of the board to see that the product is correct in the classroom? We know the province has a curriculum and so what is it she thinks boards are doing at the present time? It certainly is not clear from this statement what she thinks and the bill doesn't indicate a change to direct the thinking to something else.

"The amendments are also about accountability. The CEO will be appointed by the minister and will report directly to the Deputy Minister of Education. This structure will keep the lines of communication open and create clear accountability between the department and the school board for expectations and results achieved."

So I know they want to be assured that someone knows where every dollar is spent and that it is spent on the right things. This structure will enhance accountability. Well, Mr. Speaker, Section 64(1) of the present Education Act says that the boards are accountable to the Minister of Education. It is right there in black and white. So how is the accountability that is presently written into the bill, as it exists today, different from the accountability that

[Page 6696]

the minister is seeking? What is happening? In other words, if the boards are accountable to the minister, why doesn't she use her power to achieve this greater accountability within the present legislation?

I want to state to the minister and to the members opposite that something I have said in this House on other occasions, there is no escaping what you are. In other words, it doesn't matter what you tell people on the doorsteps because you can dance around issues as much as you like, but you can't dance around the legislation that you write. In other words, what goes on a piece of paper in the form of a bill in this House, you have to be able to explain that to your constituents and you can't say, I thought it meant this or I thought it meant that; you have to be clear because what will change the direction of the Department of Education and education of students in this province is the legislation you bring forward.

It would seem clear to me and it obviously is clear to my colleague from Halifax Chebucto that one of the main thrusts of this piece of legislation has to be the potential for the abolition of school boards. Even in the most remote terms, you can't seem to come up with anything else other than the eventual product of this bill because that is the power that the minister has. Actually she kind of boxes the boards into a corner because from the minister's statements, "There is a provision in these amendments to apply this structure to other school boards. Right now, the Minister of Education can remove a school board for reasons of financial mismanagement, health and welfare of children and educational welfare. The amendments we propose strengthen the minister's authority to remove a school board that is not meeting educational standards."

How does it strengthen her ability? She has lots of power there in the present legislation so what does this bill do to give her additional power? Actually what I would submit to all members, Mr. Speaker, is you back the boards into a corner financially and then force them to say no, we are not going to submit to the cuts of the department and that is the excuse the minister needs to abolish the board. So then the board realizes the jig is up and says, all right, we will comply with your cuts, but then they can't deliver quality education based on the funding from the government and the minister abolishes the board. So you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. I am not sure if that is unparliamentary, Mr. Speaker, but I think not.

Mr. Speaker, I am worried, worried enough from the direction of the bill, if the bill was clearer I would be worried, but the fact that the bill is vague makes me even more worried. I think all Nova Scotians have every expectation that this is not necessarily in the best interests of their children. Now the minister's comments about, "I know they want to be assured that someone knows where every dollar is spent and that it is spent on the right things," the only part of this bill that even mentions dollars is regarding the cost of certification for teachers. That is the only place that there is a dollar figure mentioned anywhere for this piece of legislation. I know in my constituency - and I have been a teacher for 15 years - it was not a hot topic in the election campaign that people felt that I should pay

[Page 6697]

for my certification. It never came up once, not anywhere, not during any debate, no letters from constituents, nothing. It never happened.

I do have to agree with the minister, for the seats that are provided for African-Canadians on school boards. This is an appropriate move, it is long overdue, this is an avenue that had been provided to Mi'kmaq communities some time ago and certainly glad to see it offered to the African-Canadian community. I would certainly encourage the minister that this is a very good thing but she did not need this piece of legislation to do it. She could have, if she had wanted to, amended the present Act and brought in this section. That would have been fine, we would certainly have been supportive of that, but not supportive of this bill as it is doled out by the minister.

In another comment, I guess the summary comments by the minister on her address on May 16th, she talks about the initiatives of the bill. "They will address some very important issues in public education today in Nova Scotia. They will strengthen the accountability of our school system and focus on what we all value the most. Nova Scotia students should be able to leave our public school system with the confidence that they have the skills and preparation to succeed. As I said, we have to take every available opportunity to improve the system. We are doing so now, where we are able, to make sure the system encourages every student every day to advance as he or she should."

That is a pretty big statement and I have to ask the minister, is there anything in this bill that affects the community college system? Is there anything in this bill that will allow for a greater number of students, like approximately half of the 15,000 that apply every year who don't get in? We used to have a vocational system that allowed students to go from Grade 8 or Grade 9 to finish their schooling and also get a trade along with it. Then when they graduated they had some skill to take out into the world that could provide them with an income. Under the present system that is impossible and I think that there is nothing here that says that we are going to make a change that will fill in some of the cracks that actually have been widened by previous legislation.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Would the honourable member please adjourn debate.

MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Yes, Mr. Speaker. I move adjournment of the debate on Bill No. 47.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, the hours for tomorrow are from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and we will continue with the second reading of Bill No. 47 and at the conclusion of that we will do four private and local bills for second reading, Bill Nos. 53, 52, 50 and 48. Then we will go into the Committee of the Whole House on Bills. We will do Bill

[Page 6698]

No. 46, the Financial Measures Act. If we get through that early we will rise, if not we will go until 5:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.

The House will now rise to sit again tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.

[The House rose at 7:59 p.m.]