MR. SPEAKER: Order, please, honourable members. I would like to call the House to order at this time and commence this morning's sitting.
Are there any introductions of guests? If not, we will go directly into the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas 50 years ago the cry, "The war is over", rang out around the world; and
Whereas to millions the proclamation that the war in Europe had ended meant an end to hardship, bloodshed and pain, but to others it also brought the realization to them that many friends and loved ones would not be coming home; and
Whereas VE Day still holds for so many Canadians memories of heroes, but also of memories so painful to remember;
Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House remember on this 50th Anniversary, as all of Canada remembers, the lives lost and the lives and freedoms protected as a result.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice and passage without debate.
MR. SPEAKER: If it is agreeable to the House. The sad fact, however, is today is not the 50th Anniversary of VE Day. That would be on Monday, May 8th. But if the House wishes to put the motion, so be it.
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 New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas military and civilian personnel in the Halifax-Dartmouth area lived and worked just behind the front lines of the war effort, contributing immensely to victory in Europe; and
Whereas the City of Halifax is today beginning "A Celebration of Peace", four days during which residents and visitors will mark the end of hostilities in Europe and recall the World War II period; and
Whereas this celebration will also include tribute to and remembrance of those who gave their lives fighting injustice to secure freedom;
Therefore be it resolved that this House joins the City of Halifax and all residents of the metropolitan area in celebrating the peace that was won 50 years ago and in remembering the terrible sacrifices that were made to achieve victory.
Mr. Speaker, I would request waiver of notice and passage without debate.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice.
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 Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the member for Victoria referred to Question Period as an important vehicle for the Opposition to make government accountable; and
Whereas he then slammed the Mr. Premier I Want to Know Initiative which gives Nova Scotians who do not have the privilege of sitting in this Chamber an opportunity to bring their questions and concerns directly to the floor of the Legislature; and
Whereas hundreds of Nova Scotians are participating in this initiative because many of the members on the government side of the House refuse to attend public meetings, fail to return phone calls and have basically abandoned their responsibilities to their constituents;
Therefore be it resolved that the member for Victoria and his Liberal colleagues recognize the unique and valuable opportunity the Mr. Premier I Want to Know Initiative provides Nova Scotians and rather than slamming the initiative, they congratulate those individuals and groups who through it are helping to demonstrate what democracy is all about.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I will accept the notice of motion but the third whereas clause there seems to be pretty close to a breach of the privileges of the members of the House. The therefore be it resolved portion is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Maritime Tel & Tel will provide the necessary telecommunications equipment to the world for the upcoming G-7 Summit; and
Whereas numerous employees have been working many long hours over the past year to ensure the telecommunication needs of world leaders can be met; and
Whereas these needs involve everything from fibre optic cables being in place to carry Summit broadcasts to phone technology being in place to permit the use of 2,000 extra cellular telephones;
Therefore be it resolved that members of this Legislature commend the staff at Maritime Tel & Tel for the diligent and hard work in preparing telecommunications technology for the G-7 Summit.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: 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 Eastern Shore.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Sheet Harbour Archery Club recently won seven medals in a variety of classes in the interprovincial archery tournament; and
Whereas the Sheet Harbour Archery Club has over 60 enthusiastic members who enjoy the outdoors and natural beauty of the Eastern Shore; and
Whereas the growth and renewal of the Archery Club is due to the dedication of club members who are committed to enhancing the quality of life along the Eastern Shore;
Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate Finlay Scott, President of the Sheet Harbour Archery Club and all the club members for the quality of excellence they have achieved in winning seven archery medals.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: 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 Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas Nova Scotia's strategic position ensured that every corner of this province participated fully in preparations, staging and support of the Allies' European campaigns during World War II; and
Whereas Sydney, Shelburne, Debert, plus Cornwallis and many other sites in the Annapolis Valley, are some of the communities where the sacrifices made and the victory won 50 years ago will be particularly remembered; and
Whereas this anniversary reminds us of the importance of resisting dictatorship, intolerance and hatred, which led tragically to such destructive violence and war;
Therefore be it resolved that as Nova Scotians remember and celebrate on the anniversary of VE Day, this House commends to all citizens a revitalized commitment to democratic principles, tolerance and the promotion of peaceful solutions.
I would ask for waiver of notice, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: 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 Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas yesterday the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce opened its 99th annual meeting in Yarmouth; and
Whereas business and industry representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, France and Romania were invited to this year's conference; and
Whereas numerous topics are up for discussion at this year's annual meeting, including the fishery, aquaculture and coastal zone management;
Therefore be it resolved that members of this Legislature wish the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce the very best now and with all of their future endeavours.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: 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 Halifax Fairview.
MS. ALEXA MCDONOUGH: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas this year's provincial budget trumpeted a financial and economic recovery in Nova Scotia, claiming full credit on behalf of the Liberal Government; and
Whereas the Department of Finance now reports that March saw Nova Scotia suffer the first year-over-year decline in total jobs during a 12 month period, and below average economic performance in almost every indicator; and
Whereas this confirmation of an economic slump comes long before Nova Scotians have even recovered from the last deep recession;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Finance should concentrate on delivering the comprehensive, bottom-up community-based jobs strategy that he and his colleagues promised, rather than giving Nova Scotians empty assurances that there is light at the end of the Liberal tunnel.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
Are there any further notices of motion? If not, we will advance to Orders of the Day, Government Business.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Government Motions.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, I move that you do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House on Supply unto Her Majesty.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am going to take the opportunity to rise and speak for a few moments this morning, as the House dissolves itself into committee, to talk a bit about the current discussion over the TAGS program and the comments by National Sea executives criticizing the 25 or 27 employees at their fish plant in Lunenburg who had made a decision, at some point over the recent time, to take advantage of that program to seek further upgrading in education and training, as is provided for under the TAGS program.
I think what we are hearing - and it was in The Globe and Mail yesterday and it is on the front page of the Chronicle-Herald today - from the senior executives of NatSea is the worst kind of hypocrisy that I think we ever come to face in this province. National Sea is a creature of the government; it exists because of taxpayers' dollars, for Heaven's sake. It has been rescued from bankruptcy. Any profits it has made have primarily been based on the benefits it has gained through direct tax dollars, either in terms of the building of plants or in terms of unrestrained access to fish stocks.
Mr. Speaker, for these senior executives to now be jumping on the backs of 25 fish plant workers, most of whom I understand are junior workers trying to sort out what in the name of Heaven they are going to do in their future years to provide support for their families and themselves, I think is just absolutely unbelievable and is not something that should be tolerated in this Legislature or in this country.
Mr. Speaker, it makes me sick to my stomach when I get up and read this paper, like the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and see them basically taking verbatim comments from the senior executives of NatSea throughout the whole thing. In other words, the presentation of this material is that they have already decided these people are abusers of the system and, Heaven forbid, that poor NatSea has identified people, you know these workers who are leaving them high and dry, they have decided there is an abuse of the system and therefore, immediately people all rise and say, well, that must be the case, we have a real problem here and we have to solve it.
Well, Mr. Speaker, anybody who knows anything about the TAGS program, including the federal minister responsible, understands that there are serious problems with the TAGS program; but those are with the TAGS program, not with the people who are trying to survive as a result of the crisis in the fishery. If there is anybody who should be held accountable for the flaws in that system, it is the federal minister, not the people who are trying to cope with the crisis and who are trying to sort out whether there is a life, a future for them in the industry or whether, in fact, they should do what everybody is saying and get out of the industry, take advantage of retraining and upgrading, in order to provide themselves with a job opportunity in another line of work.
Mr. Speaker, I think it doesn't serve anyone's interests to be attacking people who are the most vulnerable. In this case it is people who are in the industry who, in many cases, are at the bottom of the seniority list, they are the most junior at this fish plant. They get laid off, they get recalled, they get laid off, they get recalled. They may get 10 hours, they may get 20 hours, they may get 30 hours a week, in terms of paid work from that facility. They never know from one week to the next what, in fact, that is going to be. Yet they are supposed to sit home by the phone and wait for the senior executives at National Sea to call them, if they decide that they happen to have brought enough fish in that particular week and that they have some opportunities for those people to work.
It is companies like NatSea and other major companies, in fact other fish processing companies in this province, who have to take some responsibility with the problems, in terms of the UI system and the way that has been used to facilitate the ups and downs in the processing industry in this province and how the UI system has helped fish processors to have a stable work force, a skilled, readily available work force in this province.
But when that system is under attack - it has been cut now to 50 per cent - fish plant workers and any other workers in this province are having a hard time being eligible for UI. All the signs are and all the experts are saying to people, get out of the fishing industry because there is no future. There is a federal program designed to provide that kind of assistance. When 25 workers at the Lunenburg fish plant make that decision to follow that path, the federal government and NatSea and everybody else, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald included, come down on those people like a ton of bricks and I think that is the ultimate unfairness. I do not see in this article at all where somebody spoke to those fish plant workers and said, what was it that led you to make this decision? Who was it that determined whether or not you were eligible for this program? It is not as if these fish plant workers or anybody else who applies for TAGS says, I am eligible, and the people who deliver the TAGS program say, okay, here you go, here is your money, or, here is your training program. That is not the way it works.
Where you have abuse or reputed abuse or reported abuse, the system is pretty quick to respond, at least in terms of rhetoric, but when it comes to that system not actually doing what it is supposed to do, the system is extremely slow in responding.
Mr. Speaker, I just want to rise today. I attempted yesterday to make some of these points on the concern and in response to the article in the Globe and Mail yesterday, that this criticism and this attack by National Sea Products Limited executive is the height of hypocrisy. I tell you, when that point is made and I see on the following day that our newspaper here in Nova Scotia, one of our major newspapers in this province, takes the same kind of line, to spout off the line that is presented by National Sea executives, attacking workers who are trying to survive in a climate of crisis and uncertainty in the fishing industry, it makes me absolutely repulsed, to see that kind of thing happening.
What we need more of in this province is a questioning of the kinds of policies and the kinds of statements that companies like NatSea make, because it is those same people, I would suggest, who have said in the past, let the corporate sector, let the NatSeas with the modern technology take over the seas and we will make sure things are managed. You know, as a result of the Kirby Report, the government followed that particular strategy and look where we are now, 12 to 13 years later. We are at a situation where the groundfish have been sucked out of the waters of Atlantic Canada at such a rate that we don't have anything left and communities are suffering and trying to survive in the face of that. I think it is time that we started to question the rhetoric and the comments that come out of the mouths of these self-serving executives.
I would hope that this House and all Nova Scotians would agree that, if there is a problem with the TAGS program, it is a problem with the TAGS program itself and with the people that have designed it, the minister of that program, and not with those individual workers who are trying to survive in the face of crisis in the groundfish industry. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I want to spend a few moments on health care. I had the opportunity this week to meet with a group of nurses from metro who belong to the Nurses' Union. They were RNs. They told some horror stories of the effects cuts in the health care system, or reform, are actually having on the patients. Some of the stories related to people, obviously because of a shortage of ICU beds. One nurses related stories of people being moved to the wards because the bed was absolutely needed in ICU and she indicated that in one particular case, a person did not live very long on the ward. When she and the doctor did a check, the people on the ward were stretched to the limit. In other words, they couldn't give the same level of care that somebody could give on an intensive care unit. They talked about the kind of care that is now being given and the time that one has for the operating room, that they are over-booked and over-worked and all of those kinds of things. I think the comment was because of the cuts you better stay healthy.
They did indicate that there was some work being done in ambulatory care. What they couldn't understand was why on one hand there was program money to spend time with people on how to stay out of the sun, the hazards of too much sun, some of those preventive things that one needs to know but lack of funding for actual nurses on the floor.
One of the things that this government has indicated is home care, I thought it very strange, they have always had a coordinator of the VON at the Victoria General Hospital which that person obviously coordinated discharges with the VON from the hospital. I suppose because of cuts, the coordinator of the VON at the Victoria General Hospital, that position had disappeared. With that position disappearing and as people are released, the VON indicated to us that they don't get the information that they got before when these people are released and when they go to do the visits on the weekend or whatever, they haven't got the kind of information that they should have to do the home visits.
What this is actually doing, because this coordinator's position has been done away with by the government, the level of care and the type of care that this person may receive or the quality of care, according to the VON, is not there. One can't understand if we are moving into this direction of early discharge home care why positions such as the coordinator at the VG Hospital, why that would disappear. I would have thought that the government, in getting into home care, would go the other way.
Also, we talk about home care and what it provides, one person indicated to us that her father had to have home care and he had a plan. He was a retired individual who had a plan and he was sent home from the hospital. Even though he had a plan which paid for some of the costs, it did cost him $600 for the Home Care Program. One of the things that was raised at the Canadian Pensioners' Concerned, when they had their annual meeting and people talked about home care, some of the questions they had was the government talks about a Home Care Program but they don't talk about how much the Home Care Program is going to cost and what is it actually going to cost a senior?
If you are going to provide seven days a week, 24 hour home care which you have to provide if you are going to provide an early discharge from the hospital, in other words, you are going to look after some of these people who are discharged earlier than they would have been had we had the past system. Then you say, it is going to be picked up by home care and it is going to be in the rural area. VON will tell you that they can't provide it, they are going straight out now and are heavily booked. Now we are going to say that we are going to have 24 hour service in the rural areas seven days a week. Obviously, the cost factor, there has been no cost given by government and are the seniors going to have to pay as individuals?
My prediction is, yes they are going to have to pay as individuals. In the past the senior would have obviously been in hospital and that cost would have been picked up by government. What the government is doing is down-loading this onto seniors because as we all know, they are the ones that use the health care system the most. Everybody says yes, this is wonderful, we will be able to send the senior home.
One of the other things I think we have to consider is and I don't know if there has been any study but most of the caregivers at home are going to be women. I am willing to bet that the load on many women as families get older, it usually ends up that the woman will end up being the caregiver. This will be, in many cases, I have had stories related to me at that same session that it was 24 hours a day, seven days a week for some wives to give to be the caregiver. They were changing dressings and doing all kinds of things that they were never trained to do. Yet, because the spouse was sent home, they had no choice but to give that kind of care.
We have had stories of people going home too early. What they say is, well, if you have trouble, come back to out-patients. We heard stories about people not getting back to out-patients in time, and if you live far away, as I indicated this just happened last weekend, where somebody brought his wife to Halifax. They don't drive, they hired somebody on Sunday morning to bring his wife to the VG Hospital, and at 5:00 o'clock they get a call, she is being discharged because everything is overbooked and this sort of thing. They will have to come back in two weeks time.
The cost to that person, who doesn't have a lot of money, doesn't have a vehicle, had to hire someone to bring them in, hire somebody to go get that person, whereas normally, in the past, that person probably would have stayed in for a day or two in the hospital, had their procedure and gone home. Now if you are not having your procedure that day and they get you in and things are overbooked, you might end up going home and then having to come back.
That is okay if you live in metro, but what if you live in the Valley? That is quite a burden for some of these people. So what is happening in the system is that, yes, government may be saving some dollars but the burden is being pushed down on the poor senior and the poor individual. That is what is happening in the system.
When this government, which has closed a number of beds, says that, yes, we have home care available, but even in Kings County, in western Kings County, we don't have the level of home care. We don't have seven day a week, 24 hour home care available. We don't even have all of the five prongs or the five areas of home care that the manual talks about. As a pilot project, we have one prong, the acute care one.
So we are being told that, yes, the beds are disappearing and all these programs are magically coming forward. When people try to access the system, they find out it is not available. So as time goes on, no wonder I get calls on a continual basis about kinds of horror stories, about people having difficulty with the system. We say, and the government says, oh no, everything is just fine, everything has been planned out, everything is going to work, never mind.
But the problem, there is a word called compassion and understanding of some of the problems that people are having and it seems to go unnoticed by government when these people are faced with real problems. When they face real problems and they turn to the government, the government throws up their hands and says, well, you know, we have reform and everything is going to be wonderful, just give us time. But what about these people in the meantime that have fallen through the cracks? They are facing real difficulties in real life situations. They don't know where to turn and they always counted on the government in the past because they always felt there would be a health care system available for them. They always felt the system would be there and if they needed to use it then obviously it would be available for them.
I tell you, Mr. Speaker, it is very scary because what we are creating by this government is a two-tiered system. I have heard stories of people who have had to wait for certain medication, for example, that if it is not covered by the seniors' Pharmacare and if the individual can go out and buy it or they have a plan of their own, then that medication is available to those who have money in their pockets but not available to every Nova Scotian.
As I heard from some of these nurses, we are a two-tiered system when it gets getting into the system because there are long waiting lists and if you happen to have a friend who knows a doctor or knows somebody, then they get in quicker because no longer are we strictly on just a waiting list, as those waiting lists grow longer and longer, unless you have an in, you are going to be the last one getting in for that procedure. OR times, I am told that many times people are cancelled because doctors are overbooking ORs, because of the limited amount of time they have. Then people who get lopped off at the end sometimes are pushed back days, weeks and months.
I visited an individual at the VG Hospital who was in a bad car accident, lying on the bed, thought they were going to get in the OR but because of the OR being overbooked were still lying in that bed and hoped that the next week maybe they could get to the OR. That is not good enough, Mr. Speaker, that man should have been to the OR the week before. So we don't always talk about life and death, we have to talk a little bit about the quality of life and what is happening in the health care system. We are taking away a lot of quality for many of these people who had to suffer because of what this government is doing to the health care system. Thank you very much.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Labour.
HON. GUY BROWN: Mr. Speaker, I am not going to take too long but I do want to bring something to the people's attention in the province, that is with regard to, I want to talk a little bit about Stora Forest products in the Strait area, where I had the chance to visit not long ago, as well as Canadian Salt. Both of these companies have received or will be receiving what we call the Millionaire Award where these companies, through their occupational health and safety and through the committees they have at Stora as well as in other industries, and at Canadian Salt, I believe have created a major achievement. That is that both of these companies have been awarded the Millionaire Award for over one million hours in accident-free lost time in this province.
To me that is a major accomplishment; to me that is a major story and to the people in this province that should be a major story, where we have these two major industries in this province that have gone over one million hours of employment without any lost time. What that has done to the economy of this province is unbelievable and what it has done for the employees there, the employees' families with no loss of time, to me, and I bring this to your attention because I wasn't here last week when we were dealing with injured workers and I hope to bring a bill before this House some time in the next year, to make April 28th recognized as the day with regard to injured workers.
To achieve this and to see this go unnoticed by many people throughout this province, the labour movement which are partners in this achievement, through their committees within these shops, Mr. Speaker, just goes beyond. To me it should be a major headline across the Province of Nova Scotia, because of the partnerships through occupational health and safety, because of the partnerships with management, because of the partnerships with the labour movement in these industries and many other ones across this province of ours that are doing such a great job.
You know, they have been so faithful to their workers, the workers have been so faithful to them with regard to safe and healthy work places within this province. In fact, this afternoon I will be at Canadian Salt in Pugwash with regard to their award. Their record is one of solid achievement for both of these industries. I also understand Canadian Salt has received the Morton Salt Presentation with regard to achievements in safety. Both of these companies have over one million hours now in accident-free time. Many members should be congratulating the labour movement as well as the companies themselves with regard to this achievement because there is no way that you can hang the flag up and say, well, the private sector has done this or labour has done it because both parties had to come together to work together hand in hand to achieve this sort of health and safety within their area.
In the Department of Labour, my own department, we are very proud of this and want all members of this Assembly and all residents of this province to give thanks and to congratulate the labourers, the workers and the company for the professional way in which they run their operations and their work sites with regard to occupational health and safety.
Last year we paid out about $120 million in workers' compensation claims. The total cost to the economy in Nova Scotia last year, we talk about manufacturing, we talk about these things but if you look at the lost time, the damaged equipment, the legal fees, the whole package then we are dealing with injuries last year that cost this province over $600 million in Nova Scotia. We have to deal with that.
At this time I want to publicly, as Minister of Labour, on behalf of all members of this House, congratulate Stora Forest Industries, to congratulate Canadian Salt and to congratulate all the people through their safety committees, through their Occupational Health and Safety Committees, from the office staff to the caretaker people that are involved with these companies right through the whole operation and say on behalf of this province that we thank you for this major accomplishment and wish you continued success. We hope that many other industries in this province will also work toward the Millionaire's Club with regard to lost time in Nova Scotia. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Are there further speakers on the motion to go into Supply? I don't want to request volunteers.
If there are no further speakers, the motion is carried and the House will now resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House on Supply unto Her Majesty.
[8:44 a.m. The House resolved itself into a CWH on Supply with Deputy Speaker Mrs. Francene Cosman in the Chair.]
[12:45 p.m. CWH on Supply rose and the House reconvened. Mr. Speaker, Hon. Paul MacEwan, resumed the Chair.]
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The Chairman of the Committee of the Whole House on Supply reports:
THE CLERK: That the committee has met and made some progress in considering Supply and asks leave to sit again.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 10.
Bill No. 10 - Highway 104 Western Alignment Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The debate was adjourned by the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, whom I now recognize, with 10 minutes remaining.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, again, I rise to debate Bill No. 10, An Act to Provide for the Financing, Construction and Operation of the Western Alignment of Highway 104. After perusing and carefully examining the bill, one quickly understands that the Minister of Transportation and Communications, I believe, has bent over backwards to accommodate, and he is very generous to the Western Alignment Corporation, however, there appears to be little regard for the Nova Scotia taxpayers' considerable investment of somewhere around $30 million.
The Western Alignment Corporation will not be subjected to the Public Utilities Act; the Western Alignment Corporation will not be subjected to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act; the Western Alignment Corporation will not be subjected to the Provincial Finance Act nor the Auditor General; the Western Alignment Corporation will not be subjected to liability damages; the Western Alignment Corporation will not be subjected to building permits or required to apply for any. Mr. Speaker, I submit that the Western Alignment Corporation is receiving a very good deal; in fact, they are receiving the best of both worlds.
Now, if we look a little closer at this bill, we will see that at any time that the Western Alignment Corporation wants to raise the tolls, they can do so without any involvement, without any concern, without having to adhere to provisions of the Public Utilities Act. If we have some concerns about the goings on of this agreement, we cannot apply through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The Auditor General cannot hold this corporation accountable. They are not required, as I said before, to apply for building permits. So, again, the Western Alignment Corporation is getting the best of both worlds, Mr. Speaker, no question about it.
You know as well as I know, Mr. Speaker, that this bill was precipitated by the fact that the Minister of Transportation wrongfully redirected - for the lack of a better word - some $26 million from the Strategic Highway Improvement Program to a secondary road in his riding and in the federal riding of the federal Member of Parliament and Minister of Public Works, David Dingwall.
Cumberland County Council and the Town of Truro are very upset with the proposed toll highway between Thomson Station and Masstown. They are extremely disappointed with the response they have received from their MLAs. No question about it. I don't even think those MLAs can argue that fact. Those municipalities want the return of the $26 million which was earmarked for the Trans Canada Highway No. 104. The funding was to upgrade the Trans Canada where the toll road is going to be constructed; that money was not placed in the Strategic Highway Improvement Program for secondary roads. That money is specifically for, the major criteria is that that money be expended for, our national highway system. No question about it.
So, the project is going to have no accountability, but it must have, Mr. Speaker. I asked the Acting Minister of Transportation and Communications - who sponsored this bill -to tell us last night why he feels the Auditor General should not be able to scrutinize and examine where and how our $30 million is being expended. The minister refused to even respond to that concern.
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I certainly would intend to respond to all measures, unless the minister is here himself on the summing up of the bill. The honourable member has repeated a couple of times that the Act precludes the Auditor General from viewing. Would he just refer the clause to me so I can write it down for reference?
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I take from Clause 16(2), "The Corporation is not a department or a crown corporation within the meaning of the Provincial Finance Act, the funds of the Corporation are not public money within the meaning of that Act and, for greater certainty and notwithstanding subsection 72(5) of that Act, that Act does not apply to the Corporation.".
So I gather from that that the Auditor General, and perhaps the minister can point out otherwise, Mr. Speaker. There is another clause that (Interruption) in an effort to answer the Acting Minister of Transportation's question, Clause 5(2) "The Corporation is not an agent of Her Majesty in right of the Province for any purpose.". So what would you gather from that and what would the Acting Minister of Natural Resources gather from that? And, more specifically, what would the Minister of Finance gather from that? It is not an agent. (Interruptions)
I beg your pardon and I am sorry. The Acting Minister of Transportation and Communications - Mr. Speaker, there is just no accountability. So as I indicated earlier, I cannot support the bill. The Western Alignment Corporation will not be subjected to Public Utilities Act, freedom of information, the Provincial Finance Act, lability damages, building permits.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce an amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: All right, let me hear it.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, in respect to Bill No. 10, I move that the words after "that" be deleted and the following substituted: the subject matter of Bill No. 10, An Act to Provide for the Financing, Construction and Operation of the Western Alignment of Highway 104, be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.
MR. SPEAKER: I would like to have some time to consider the amendment, possibly in consultation with the Clerk. Could you send the amendment up here first, as a first step, and I will take a look at it.
With the indulgence of the House, I might crave a short recess while I consult with the Chief Clerk in this regard.
[12:55 p.m. The House recessed.]
[12:58 p.m. The House reconvened.]
MR. SPEAKER: The House will come to order. Both Clerks at the Table concur in this judgment, that the amendment is in order. Debate will therefore be to the amendment. I might state in beginning that the amendment proposes the referral of Bill No. 10 to the Public Accounts Committee for study. Therefore, only remarks directly relevant to that proposition, that this bill be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study, will be in order. Any irrelevant, extraneous comment will be ruled out of order and members who persist, of course, will be asked to take their seats.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am very familiar with the rules and I can assure you that I am going to try to make sure that all of my remarks are very germane and pointing out why it is vitally important, and put forward some concrete arguments about the Public Accounts Committee which is, after all, a watchdog. The Public Accounts Committee has a responsibility to look at how the province finances and spends money. I am sure you know, Mr. Speaker, I don't need to remind you, sir, with your excellent years of service in this House know that the Auditor General, for example, is responsible to this House and reports to this House on a regular basis through the Public Accounts Committee.
We live in a day and age when the public correctly is asking for increased accountability, increased openness and not only are they asking for that but they have a right to expect that. What we have before us is a piece of legislation that is modeled, that is being built and the government's plans are based on the report that they have received from Arthur Andersen.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Eastern Shore.
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Seated in the Speaker's Gallery is a very special guest to me, it is my son, Aaron Colwell and he is visiting the Legislature today to see how business is conducted here and it is his first visit to the Legislature and I would like to have the House extend a warm welcome. Thank you. (Applause)
MR. HOLM: I also, of course, would like to add my words of welcome to our guest in the gallery. It is not often our families get a chance to watch us publicly in our place of work and it is good to see that the member's son has come to do that.
I want to go back to what I was starting to say a moment ago and that is that this bill that is before us does in effect eliminate any opportunity for public scrutiny, for any public review of what the government is doing or is planning and there are major financial implications about what is happening. We know that the government is planning to invest $29 million of public funds into the western alignment route, 50 per cent of those dollars, or $14.5 million of those dollars, will be Province of Nova Scotia dollars; $14.5 million will be federal money, transferred through the province as part of the SHIP agreement.
Yet once that money makes its way into the coffers of the corporation and the Andersen Report says that those public dollars will be drawn down in the early stages so some of the first money to be spent will be the public dollars. Once those dollars go into that corporation they are beyond the scrutiny and the examination of the Auditor General because the Auditor General Act gives the Auditor General the opportunity, the ability, to audit just any department, any agency of government and in fact, the ability to audit agencies or organizations where the Governor in Council appoints the board of directors. So, when you read that Auditor General Act, which I have the excerpts of here and I may read later on, if you read that you would say, well, it sounds like the Auditor General can examine and audit that corporation but then when you read the bill that is before us it specifies that the agency, the Western Alignment Agency is not an agency of the Crown for any purpose.
If it is not an agency for any purpose of the Crown then the Auditor General cannot audit that corporation. But, we also have to even go beyond that, we have to take a look at the kind of financial arrangements and conditions that the government is proposing. The government's proposal will see the revenues according to the Andersen Report exceeding by 21 per cent the operating and maintenance costs and the amount of money used for financial debt charges. In other words, there is going to be excess revenue of 21 per cent.
They also under their suggestions are not going to require that the concessionaire, the one who builds this highway pay down that debt until the end. There is no requirement in the Andersen model, no obligation to pay down the principal during the time the road is open and the toll revenues are being collected. If that is the model that is followed that will mean that the amount of money that is paid in the way of interest will be excessively high. That is money that Nova Scotians, whether you are actually driving that road or whether you are consuming any of the products that are coming down that road in trucks, will have to pay. That means everything pretty well in the way of what we eat that is trucked into the province, any goods, supplies or services, those operators, the consumers, are going to be paying more.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, with deference, I want to make some observations on the quality of this debate. The motion that is before us proposes "that the words after `that' be deleted". That means that the entire bill is struck down and does not exist. The bill does not exist because everything after the word "that" has been scratched.
Now the proposal that is in place of the bill, the following formula be substituted: "the subject matter of Bill No. 10," - which is then named - "be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.". So that is the proposition which is before the House. Whatever was in Bill No. 10, whatever it was, whether it was an Act that all dogs should get their tails cut, or whatever it was, we don't talk about that. We talk about why this should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study. There is nothing else before the House and therefore this commentary, much as it may be interesting and worthwhile, is not germane to this amendment. We are not debating the bill any longer, it is this amendment and only an explanation of why this should be done is in order.
MR. HOLM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Not only are the comments "may be worthwhile and interesting," they are also very accurate. Very accurate.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, they are very tedious . . .
MR. HOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, . . .
MR. SPEAKER: . . . because they are not relevant to the proposition before the House.
MR. HOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, one has to put forward some arguments. With the greatest amount of respect, one has to put forward some arguments as to why it is this bill should be going to the Public Accounts Committee for scrutiny because in the Public Accounts Committee, the committee isn't only going to be looking at the wording of the bill, the Public Accounts Committee will have to be doing its job and try to be examining if, in fact, the kind of arrangements and deals that the Government of Nova Scotia is trying to impose are in the best interests of the people of this province and the taxpayers of the Province of Nova Scotia.
In order to do that, Mr. Speaker, it is necessary, it is essential, because we are talking about some vitally important issues. We are talking about public safety, lives, and the need to get on with the building of a highway that is going to be safe and provide a proper diversion through this area, at the same time . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Well, all that is true and could be debated properly on second reading of Bill No. 10, but this amendment says that Bill No. 10 not be read a second time and instead is going to be replaced with a referral to the Public Accounts Committee for study. There might be good and satisfactory reasons why that should be done, and I would like to hear them. That would be what the floor will be open for now - please sit down until I finish - that would be what the floor would be open for now, for honourable members to get up and explain why we should do this. I would like to hear that. I have not heard it yet, but I would like to hear why.
Now, if we, instead of doing that, attempt to pre-judge what the Public Accounts Committee will do when it receives this material for study, that to me would appear to be an expression of want of confidence in our Public Accounts Committee. I am sure the Public Accounts Committee, when it gets this material, would examine it as the committee sees fit. I don't think we should pre-judge what the committee is going to do when and if it receives this material. I think all we should do now is explain why it should be sent to them and that is all.
MR. HOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, we are talking about the subject matter of the bill.
MR. SPEAKER: We are not. That is where you are wrong. We are not.
MR. HOLM: We are talking about the subject matter of the bill being referred . . .
MR. SPEAKER: No, sir. No, sir. We are not. We are talking about this amendment.
MR. HOLM: May I read the amendment, Mr. Speaker?
MR. SPEAKER: It has been read already and we have a rule against repetition, but read it again, so you get it straight, what we are talking about.
MR. HOLM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It says that "the subject matter of Bill No. 10, An Act to Provide for the Financing, Construction and Operation of the Western Alignment of Highway 104, be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.".
MR. SPEAKER: That's right.
MR. HOLM: It is the subject matter. Mr. Speaker, I am trying . . .
MR. SPEAKER: That it not be discussed here, but it be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.
MR. HOLM: Yes, Mr. Speaker. And what I am trying to explain . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Why is it being sent?
MR. HOLM: If I may, obviously not to the satisfaction of yourself and to the members of the government benches, I am trying to explain by looking at examples of subject matter that need to be referred.
MR. SPEAKER: That goes beyond the scope of the amendment and gets into the realm of irrelevance and tedious repetition.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am not allowed to challenge and disagree.
MR. SPEAKER: No, you are not.
MR. HOLM: Yes, I know I am not. I am trying my very best, I can assure you, to maintain my decorum.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, so am I.
MR. HOLM: What I am saying is that we have a piece of legislation here . . .
MR. SPEAKER: We don't. We have an amendment here.
MR. HOLM: We have an amendment before us dealing with a piece of legislation. The amendment that is before us is suggesting that that piece of legislation, with all of the material that is contained within it, be referred to a very important committee of this House, the Public Accounts Committee.
The Public Accounts Committee is the watchdog. The Public Accounts Committee has the legal ability and we amended the rules to ensure, as much as possible, the impartiality of the Public Accounts Committee.
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I think you have made it very plain but it appears the member doesn't understand. This amendment does not ask that the bill be referred to the committee. It does not ask that the bill be referred.
MR. HOLM: It asks that the subject matter.
MR. CARRUTHERS: It states that the words after that in the bill be deleted. Effectively, that is the end of the bill. Then he asked to have the subject matter referred. He is debating the bill and, as you have already ruled, that is out of order. You ruled it twice, I don't understand why he doesn't understand his own amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: It would seem to me that in essence the very . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: On a point of order.
MR. SPEAKER: Yes, I will hear the submission in a moment. It would seem to me that the essence of the matter would provide for a very narrow window which could be argued with some skill, I suppose, a convincing argument as to why this action proposed should be taken. But anything beyond that, in my view, is out of order because it is beyond the scope of the amendment. The amendment itself is so narrow that it just doesn't give you much room to skate.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I am wondering, the submission in terms of the point of order here, is the question about how do you argue why the subject matter should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee if you don't tie in the question of the relevance of the subject matter that is written.
AN HON. MEMBER: It is not for us to tell you how to do it.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, I didn't write the amendment.
MR. CHISHOLM: If I may conclude, if the member for Timberlea-Prospect wants to get to his feet on the point of order, I encourage him to do so. What I am troubled about here is the fact that there seems to be some concern here as to whether or not we can even debate this amendment. When the member for Sackville-Cobequid is trying to explain why it is that the subject matter of this bill should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee, if you can't tie in questions relative to financial questions, to taxation, to other matters relevant to the purview of the Public Accounts Committee, which takes some discussion of the implications of the bill, then what is the point of having debate on the amendment whatsoever?
MR. SPEAKER: Well, let me explain where I am coming from. I didn't write this amendment but the author of the amendment in his wisdom saw fit to insert this beginning clause stating that all the words after that should be deleted. That was why there was a delay when I was consulting with the Clerks at the Table. The form of the amendment was different from other amendments that I have seen in the past that would simply ask that the subject matter of a bill be referred to a committee for study. On that kind of an amendment, there would be considerable scope for latitude.
But when you insert this additional qualification that all the words after that be deleted and the following substituted in place of the whole bill, that means that only those words there are before the House for discussion. The bill itself has been taken out, it has been cancelled by the request that the words after that be deleted and so the whole bill be removed from the Table.
Therefore, the only thing that one could state to be in order on this is, Mr. Speaker, I would propose the reason why we ought to do this is such and such and so and so. But there isn't enough room with this amendment as it is worded, in my view, to stretch it out to a full one hour speech per member times how many members. There just isn't enough latitude.
Sir Erskine May not only rules out of order repetition of one's own arguments but also repetition of arguments previously made by another member. So, I would think that a very short, concise explanation of why this unusual procedural move should be employed would be in order, but it is not possible to have a full blown debate on this amendment because of its construction.
MR. CHISHOLM: On that point, if what you are saying is correct, in other words, all we are talking about is the subject matter of something. It could be the subject matter of the Minister of Education's coat or it could be the subject matter of the air outside. In other words, what you are trying to suggest to me and to members of this House, Mr. Speaker, is that all of a sudden we are talking about subject matter that has no relation to the bill?
MR. SPEAKER: That is what the amendment says, in essence.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, then the amendment shouldn't be in order then, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: It is in order. The amendment is in order, I have so ruled.
MR. CHISHOLM: How can you separate, Mr. Speaker, the subject matter, like what is the subject matter? Is it about what I had for lunch? What is it about, I mean the subject matter is about the bill? Now, come on.
MR. SPEAKER: Now, I would say, now, please . . .
MR. CHISHOLM: We are not operating here . . .
MR. SPEAKER: . . . you have made your point, I am making mine. You have made your point, I am making mine. This amendment, as I have read it, prevents discussion of the subject matter of Bill No. 10, because it takes it off the Table by deleting it. But says, that whatever is in Bill No. 10, that is to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study. That is what the amendment says, as I have read it.
So, I want to hear why that should happen. I don't want to hear anything else. I will rule out of order anything else. But I will hear submissions as to why that should be done.
MR. HOLM: I am having trouble, then, Mr. Speaker, and I will try to do that, but right now the vision that I have, is that I have the vision that we have a great big openness, we have a hole which is filled with absolutely nothing. We have a vacuum as a result of your ruling because everything has been deleted, there is nothing there. So, now we have . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Not my ruling, the amendment.
MR. HOLM: . . . to debate not the subject matter of the bill, but we have to debate this somehow openness, this vacuum, this absence of anything . . .
MR. SPEAKER: We don't have to debate it. We have to explain why the House should adopt this course of action. That's all. If there is a reason why, I would like to hear it.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, the bill that we have and that we aren't talking about because now it is gone, may come back in some re-created form. If and when that does, it may contain certain information. As I started before the member for Hants East rose, trying to be, as he normally is, very helpful and open type of debate, wanting to make sure that there is full public discussion of the issues, as he normally does. The point is, that the Public Accounts Committee has a member of the Opposition as the Chair. We chose that, and you are a member of the House, we decided to make amendments so that the Public Accounts Committee could be seen to being and acting in a more independent fashion from the government. In other words, it wouldn't just be a rubber stamp for the government and try to hide and cover things up.
Mr. Speaker, we have all members of this House sitting on the Public Accounts Committee. They meet in a public forum. They meet here. It is open to the press. It is an opportunity and the Chair and the Public Accounts Committee have an opportunity to call before it witnesses. For example, the Public Accounts Committee could instruct that the authors of the Andersen Report appear before this committee and give evidence, under oath, because that is really when you are giving testimony here before the Public Accounts Committee, that is, in effect, what you are doing. You would be in breach of this House if you give information that is inaccurate, intentionally or if you tried to mislead. So, it is an opportunity in a public forum, in an accountable way, to try to discuss not that vacuum, but the concrete substance about the financial and the safety aspects, the environmental aspects relative to the subject matter that is now gone.
We have no access to information unless we have an opportunity through that Public Accounts Committee because if this amendment is defeated, this government will go back to its original bill and even deny the Freedom of Information Act, Mr. Speaker. It should be better called the freedom from information Act.
MR. SPEAKER: An attack on the Freedom of Information Act surely is beyond the confines of this amendment . . .
MR. HOLM: Oh, indeed, it is.
MR. SPEAKER: . . . and you agree. So possibly if you go to the amendment . . .
MR. HOLM: My point, Mr. Speaker, is I am trying to get my point across to you, in my obviously inadequate way as we have so much latitude here. My point is that since every other single door is shut, the freedom of information, the opportunities for the Auditor General, the Public Utilities Review Board, all those avenues are shut. Nova Scotians deserve, the people of this province deserve to know why it is that this option is being suggested, what kind of financial arrangements are going to be entered into and the only avenue that that can be done is in here, in the Public Accounts Committee.
I don't know how to make it any more clear than that. I will talk later on, I can assure you, and I didn't intend to stand and speak for an hour at this stage. I will talk about financial projections; I will be talking about the huge profits that are going to be made by the province, as well as the concessionaries and those profits will continue on, year after year, as Nova Scotians pay for it because of decisions made, in a way, behind closed doors and the government is afraid and totally ashamed to release that information to the public.
The only opportunity we have, because of the route they are taking, is this Public Accounts Committee. It is the only chance we have for any sunlight, any openness, any accountability to show up because this government is so intent on the veil of secrecy, Mr. Speaker, that they won't even release reports that they know were prepared for public distribution because they are afraid to let even that much light shine on what they are doing. This is a very important amendment. I certainly hope the government members are not afraid to allow a couple of weeks, even a few days, because the Public Accounts Committee is called by the Chair and the Chair is a member of the Opposition. I will commit our caucus member of that committee and I am sure the Opposition Party would commit their Party members on that committee as well and, therefore, the government members would have to show up, to call that meeting and to have that committee meet within a couple of days and to then start put together the kind of questions, the kind of witnesses they want to call before us.
Mr. Speaker, that doesn't take weeks or months or years. Nobody is suggesting that. Members of the government benches say that we are just trying to delay. How long does it take to get Mr. Andersen to appear before this committee? How long does it take for members on this side of the House to fire questions at Mr. Andersen? How long does it take to get the representatives from the Department of Finance or from the Department of Transportation to appear? I would be quite happy to even have that committee meet for 12 hours a day or eight hours a day, which they can do by consent, and this House could adjourn for a couple of days, if need be, to facilitate that meeting of that committee, to get to the bottom, to get to the heart of the issues before us.
This is a crucial issue, it is a very fundamental issue. The province is starting down a new road, a new direction, in an attempt to hide not only information but to hide true costs from the taxpayers, from the people of this province who have a right to that information. It is an attempt to hide their own costs on somebody else's books.
Mr. Speaker, I see your gestures. You are getting ready to tell me that I am getting beyond it again, so I won't get beyond it again and I won't test your patience any further. But I will say, if members of this government, all 40 of you, unless you are afraid of having the information see the daylight, you will support this very reasonable suggestion and have this matter investigated by the watchdog committee of this House, the Public Accounts Committee, since you are planning to deny the Auditor General, the Freedom of Information Act, and the Utility and Review Board even to be involved in setting of the rates. I throw that challenge out to the members of this government's benches. Let us see if you are prepared to pick up a challenge, to show that you are open, to show that you have nothing to hide, by adopting this very responsible and reasonable amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: I don't know what is perfect about amendments and what is not perfect about them. The gist of the amendment certainly was both, I think, in the spirit of what is good for Nova Scotians, for information so that the taxpayer would have a feeling that all was done to make sure the province is being well treated and the watchdogs, those representatives who were elected to serve, are trying to serve. This is a great departure from the usual method of doing business in this province. Truly, what better committee that the Public Accounts that the honourable Deputy Premier was on for so many years? I served on that committee with the Deputy Premier when the Deputy Premier said, look, the Public Accounts Committee should be chaired by a member of the Opposition and that member is me. Month after month, that Deputy Premier said that he should be the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and in due course, after a year or so, it was agreed and the Deputy Premier became the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
The Public Accounts Committee is much the same as this Chamber, the rules change and it evolves and becomes better. It is better now that a member of the Opposition is chairman. I was at one of those meetings a little while ago and all members took equal opportunity to ask questions. Before, the Opposition had 20 minutes, the government had 20 minutes and the Third Party had a mere five minutes to ask their questions.
MR. SPEAKER: Would the honourable member permit an introduction while he is gathering his thoughts and warming up?
MR. ARCHIBALD: Yes.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage on an introduction.
MR. DENNIS RICHARDS: Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure today, on behalf of my colleague the honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, to introduce to you and to all members of the House the Grade 8 class of Sir Robert Borden Junior High School in Cole Harbour. This afternoon they are accompanied by three leaders of their group, Ronnie Reynolds, Mrs. Woodford and - I am going to be probably criticized at some point for maybe mispronouncing, but I think it is Mrs. Fourynaud. If I have incorrectly said that, I apologize. I would ask the House to extend a warm welcome to this class and their leaders here to watch some of the proceedings this afternoon. If you would stand and receive our welcome. (Applause)
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I too want to welcome the folks in the gallery and wish them all the best. Thanks for coming. You have a great member over there. He is in attendance all the time and he is trying to fulfil your wishes at all times.
Mr. Speaker, it is important that the Public Accounts Committee have an opportunity to examine the substance, the subject matter that we want to refer to it. This is such a departure that nobody thought for a moment that we would be going down this road.
The other day in this Chamber the Opposition asked for a House Order to get a copy of the Andersen Report.
MR. SPEAKER: You know that is not germane to the amendment.
MR. ARCHIBALD: It may not be and I apologize for that if it isn't. But, you know it is germane to a lot of Nova Scotians. (Interruption)
MR. SPEAKER: That is not the point and I am not going to get into that. The rules of this amendment are very strict and narrow. The amendment throws the bill out and simply says that whatever was in that bill is to go to the Public Accounts Committee for study, that is it. If there is anything else you want to talk about you will have to wait until we get back to second reading, if the amendment is defeated. It may not be defeated, it may carry and that would end the discussion of the bill completely.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, we are certainly fortunate that a person who understands the rules as well as you and can interpret them on our behalf as well you can is interpreting them, otherwise we might make a mistake. The Public Accounts Committee has an opportunity to examine and look into with the assistance of the Auditor General and we are all familiar with the Auditor General because certainly he has been playing a key role in this entire subject matter that we are not discussing here today because we are not supposed to.
MR. SPEAKER: The subject matter is referred to the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General has nothing to do with the Public Accounts Committee except he reports to it but he is not a member of that committee. You see, where the problem is, is the beginning clause that the words after "that" be deleted. If that was not there, you would have great scope. But, it says that the words after "that" be deleted, the whole bill be deleted and this referral substituted.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, and I am certainly not questioning your ruling but the amendment to Bill No. 10 that we are talking about states and I moved, "that the words after `that' be deleted and the following substituted:". The subject matter, Bill No. 10, be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study. What we are doing is explaining the rationale and being relevant and on topic as to why we want it referred to the Public Accounts Committee and that is not precedent setting and you certainly know that it is not precedent setting. It has happened before in this House, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: I think that what the honourable member has just stated is the essence of my ruling. It is based on the very plain reading of the words that appear before us and the subject matter of the bill has been removed from the Table, the bill itself is to be deleted in its entirety from the word "that" forward and this whole business whatever it is to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: With respect, Mr. Speaker, and I hope I don't offend by using the words I am going to use. I think that is the finest hair-splitting that I have ever heard in my 18 years in this place. Because with respect, Mr. Speaker, you have ruled that this amendment is in order.
MR. SPEAKER: Oh, yes.
MR. DONAHOE: Correct. The amendment asks this House to deal with a substantive clause and the substantive clause is that the subject matter of Bill No. 10, An Act to Provide and so on and so on, be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.
MR. SPEAKER: I agree.
MR. DONAHOE: By definition, I submit to you what is to be discussed by all members who wish to address this amendment is the subject matter of Bill No. 10. I say to you as sincerely as I can and as forcefully as I can, it is, with respect, impossible to come to any other rational conclusion that anything but the subject matter of Bill No. 10 is relevant in this discussion that therefore enables each and every one of us who wish to speak to this amendment to make reference to Bill No. 10 and the subject matter contained therein and in doing so, I agree with you and you said earlier, that the debate has to be constrained and it has to be constrained in a way that describes what it is in regard to the subject matter of Bill No. 10, which those of us who are the sponsors of the amendment believe should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study. But by definition, it is the subject matter of Bill No. 10 which has to be the subject of this debate.
MR. SPEAKER: Well, if I could comment on that and I am prepared to and then I will hear the honourable member for Hants East. I don't want to get into an argument with the honourable Leader of the Opposition. I think his own comments outline somewhat of the dilemma that is created, not by the Speaker's interpretation here or the narrow hair-splitting of the Speaker, but rather the very fine and narrow confines created by the wording chosen by the author of the amendment. It is a rather unusual wording, it is not a wording I had seen previously. It doesn't just ask that the subject matter be referred but it also asks that the bill as a whole be deleted. That is where the narrowness is created in the first instance.
If you look at the section that is in quotation marks, the three lines that are in quotation marks, the subject of that clause is, "the subject matter of Bill No. 10", and the predicate is, "be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.". The verb, the action verb in that group of words is, "be referred", and what we are discussing here is a referral to the Public Accounts Committee. It is not the subject matter of Bill No. 10, that we discuss in second reading. That is my ruling.
MR. DONAHOE: With respect, if I may, Mr. Speaker, if we were to proceed and take what you have just said to its logical consequence and say that everything, everything is deleted except the action word, referred, with respect, to carry it to the extreme and if I may, to the ludicrous, I could stand up and talk about the menu enjoyed at lunchtime by the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency and suggest that that be referred to the Public Accounts Committee.
There must be something which is intended to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee and I say to you that it is the subject matter of Bill No. 10 which is to be referred. The subject matter of Bill No. 10, with respect, has all kinds of elements and issues which I wish to address and other members wish to address.
MR. SPEAKER: Yes, and you will be given every opportunity to do so but I would suggest that we cannot have second reading and referral to a committee simultaneously. It is one or the other, either/or. This amendment proposes to substitute for second reading of the bill - indeed it proposes to delete the bill as a whole - referral to the Public Accounts Committee for study and that is what we have under debate. I think we are saying the same thing.
The honourable Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency.
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, in the interests of the guests in our gallery, I would like to point out, as I am sure their teachers have many years now, the importance of grammar, of subjects, of predicates, of action verbs and inaction verbs and just while we are deliberating this, perhaps it is important for those teachers too on the floor of the House realize why grammar is such an important thing to be studied in Grade 8.
MR. DONAHOE: I hope those teachers teach the definition of pretension too.
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I believe that the Leader of the Official Opposition has worked himself around so that he has got it because his last comments, I agree with. The subject matter and the reason why the particular subject matter should be referred is the essence of the amendment. But he began his comments in this debate by saying that the issue under discussion is the subject matter. Now, I have read the rules, that is what debate at second reading is all about.
If you wanted to leave it at second reading and debate the subject matter of this bill, don't make an amendment. If you want to say, this is the reason why we want to refer it to the Public Accounts Committee, that is the reason for the amendment. I think the Leader of the Opposition has worked himself around to getting it. It is not the way he started when he objected to the ruling.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I would just like to make an intervention on that point. We are talking about the subject matter of a particular piece of legislation as it refers to the Public Accounts Committee. There are other things, undoubtedly, within that bill that are not subject to the Public Accounts Committee's parameters and authority. While I appreciate the intervention from the member for Hants East, the question is what we have to do on this amendment at second reading, where we are talking about the principle of the bill, we are talking about that principle as it relates to the Public Accounts Committee. Otherwise, why would an amendment to refer that subject matter, the subject matter of that bill, why would it be in order then to refer that subject matter to the Public Accounts Committee?
It has already been ruled, I believe, that it was in order for us to refer the subject matter of the bill to the Public Accounts Committee. Now I see my role, if I were to decide to get up and discuss this particular amendment, to discuss why or why not the subject matter of the bill that we are talking about at second reading that is being amended, why it is or why it is not appropriate for that subject matter to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee.
MR. SPEAKER: Again, that is the essence of what I have been saying. That is it. You've got it.
MR. CHISHOLM: Thank you and then I think that the whole point is then we have to talk about the subject matter of the bill. I don't understand why it is (Interruption) that the member for Hants East and others are trying to have us talk about something other than the subject matter of the bill as it relates to the Public Accounts Committee?
MR. SPEAKER: I don't want to see this matter trampled to death. We all know that second reading is a stage at which we debate the principle of the bill. That is when we debate the principle of the bill. The debate is more narrow and focused sharply to the text of the amendment. Now if the amendment is worded in a broad sense, for example, if it were an amendment that the bill be not now read but would be read this day six months hence. I think we know that there is a very broad scope on that because the amendment refers to the principle of the bill and in essence gives you a chance to debate the bill all over again, in essence.
But this amendment, which I didn't write, somebody else wrote, is narrow. I am just asking the honourable members to bear that in mind. That's all. The very clear, plain wording of the amendment.
MR. CHISHOLM: On that point, Mr. Speaker, in order to clarify it, I would suggest to you that it is reasonably broad in that we are talking about subject matter. Subject matter is fairly broad as it relates to the particular bill. I mean it is not that narrow . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Debate on amendments by its very nature, is more narrow than debate on second reading of bills.
MR. CHISHOLM: Absolutely, in other words, it has to relate specifically to the Public Accounts Committee and if it doesn't do that, then it is not relevant. I agree with that.
MR. SPEAKER: All right. We have heard it about five times now. Thank you.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, we sure are learning a lot about parliamentary procedure. I don't think we are learning a whole lot about this bill, but we are learning parliamentary procedure as perhaps we have never learned it before.
The Public Accounts Committee is an excellent committee and it would have an opportunity to look into certain items that would be of interest to all Nova Scotians. Nova Scotians have the right, members of this Assembly have the right, to gain information that could be attained from the Public Accounts Committee. We have been unable to get any information from the government minister or the government pertaining to this bill up until this point.
AN HON. MEMBER: He is up in Ontario.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Yes. Under an oath, witnesses would appear at the Public Accounts Committee and perhaps witnesses from the Arthur Andersen report who have made various and sundry recommendations to this government about certain items that would be of interest to people that own vehicles and maybe wanting to make a trip to or from New Brunswick. They would be most interested.
The principle of the Public Accounts Committee is to get to the bottom of financial situations. As that committee has been evolving over the past number of years, it is showing a greater impartiality than it used to. It used to be a very biased committee with the government Party controlling its operation completely. But now, with an independent chairman, as was started under the Deputy Premier, when he was in Opposition, and continuing with the member for Queens, the Auditor General indicated to me one day that he gets out of it that there is a feeling of collegiality among the members and a feeling that we should be working together for the betterment of Nova Scotia.
AN HON. MEMBER: We are a friendly committee.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Yes. (Interruption) So with that in mind, this is why this amendment is so important because it is going to refer something to the Public Accounts Committee so that committee could look into it. It by no means, this amendment, if carried, and it should be carried by no means, slows down the intent nor the result of the bill that we were discussing before the interpretation was put on this amendment.
We are interested in giving the Public Accounts Committee an opportunity to grow and to show Nova Scotians what a committee of this Legislature can do, if the committee really wants to. Does this committee want to do away with partisanship and does the committee want to show Nova Scotians the bottom line, so to speak? We want the opportunity there for Nova Scotians to see, like looking through a window, transparent, so that Nova Scotians can understand the rationale behind the government decision.
Is it the best decision for the members from Cape Breton and Cumberland and Halifax? Is it the decision that should be made? How else are Nova Scotians going to know, unless there is an impartial organization made up of elected members of this Assembly, under the leadership of the member for Queens?
We have a unique and rare opportunity. (Interruption) Yes, well there are a lot of members on the committee and all of those members are going to work together to get to the bottom of this because there has not been a decision lately that has affected quite as many people. About 6,600 a day will be directly affected, perhaps just for 30 minutes or so at a time. Others could be affected 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the rest of their entire lives, we are not sure, perhaps only for 10 years of their lives would the Public Accounts Committee have to make any recommendations and decisions.
You know, we want to have safe methods of transportation in this province, there is no question. There is not a member in this Chamber who would have anything to argue about when it comes to safety. But you know, are there people in this Chamber who are arguing against getting value for money? The Public Accounts Committee will be able to tell each and every Nova Scotian whether, in fact, they are getting value for their money.
You know, in this day and age with high taxes that are getting higher all the time, people are entitled to that information. We have an Auditor General, who reports to the Public Accounts Committee. On most days, the Auditor General can be seen sitting in at the committee. He could be one of the persons at the committee who helps the Public Accounts Committee as it grows and develops into the watchdog that it really could, be for matters pertaining to the Legislature itself. Mr. Speaker, I think this is an opportunity that we should not allow to slip through our fingers.
I think we should encourage a positive response to this amendment, so that the subject matter may be referred to that committee. You and I both know, that the subject matter is a very large subject. I mean it is not small, it is bigger than a dump truck. We can guess at just exactly what the subject matter is, if you wish. Under the constraints we have been placed under with this amendment, it is very difficult and I guess probably your desire to limit debate, I guess this is one method of doing it, to keep us down to 10 minutes by interpreting this. But you see, I move that the subject matter of Bill No. 10 be referred to the Public Accounts Committee. That is the essence of this amendment.
All this other business is very peculiar to me and I don't understand where that interpretation came from because I feel that this is such an important matter and it is going to affect all Nova Scotians. Nova Scotians have placed faith in members of this Assembly. Members of this Assembly have been chosen, by one reason or another, to sit on the Public Accounts Committee. Yes, the member for Halifax Atlantic is one and the member for Queens is another and the member for Hants West is another and there are other members - probably the member for Bedford-Fall River.
Those members would be doing a great service to us by looking into this subject matter and reporting back because certainly, as members of this Assembly asking questions, we have been unable to pry from this government the information we have been trying to get on behalf of the people. The questions have been asked and they have been evaded and gone unanswered. That is fair, because Question Period in this House, I guess the first rule you learn is that you don't have to like the question but, then again, you don't have to like the answer either. So, that's the way Question Period works.
Up until this point, we have not received any information. We have not received any information either from House Orders. We have now proceeded to the Freedom of Information Act to try to get the information. All of those avenues could be solved so quickly and avoided, the unpleasantness of having to go to freedom of information to get the Andersen report, if we could just have the Public Accounts Committee summon in the Andersen people to tell us what were the parameters of their thought process. What were they thinking about when they wrote the report? How much were they paid when they did the report? Were they looking at reports from Tokyo and Toronto and southern Florida and California, areas that really are just not quite like Nova Scotia?
AN HON. MEMBER: Mexico City.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mexico City, that is another one.
MR. SPEAKER: Let's not get too far afield. We are not down to Mexico City; we are on this amendment.
MR. ARCHIBALD: No, it would be too hot this time of year anyway, probably, Mr. Speaker. We do want to give the Public Accounts Committee the opportunity to question the Arthur Andersen people and find out exactly what they were thinking about when they wrote the report. Is their information factual? We are going out on kind of a new adventure on this subject. There is nothing in Nova Scotia to back up the information that they have furnished to us, so we need and I think it is the responsibility of all members of this House to say, look, let's get the information. There has been no discussion on it up until this point. My information is that it was five minutes, I guess, and whoosh, through the room downstairs, on this subject. I think the taxpayers are entitled, they are the ones that are paying the fare, and they ought to know what is happening around here.
So, it is only fair that the Public Accounts Committee have the opportunity to review this subject in as great detail as possible, in as quick a time as possible. We are not saying we want to delay anything untimely at all. All we are saying is, well, one thing is happening over here, let's have the Public Accounts Committee looking at this subject at the same time. The Deputy Premier, he can tell you for sure that the Public Accounts Committee works very quickly. It always did when he was chairman of the committee, and I know that it could work just as fast now. I am sure we could find this Arthur Andersen fellow somewhere. He couldn't have disappeared.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to suggest that this amendment, although interpreted as rather narrow, I think is broader than that and would serve the people of Nova Scotia and the members of this House well if, in fact the subject matter was referred to the Public Accounts Committee for their perusal, discussion and information. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I don't intend to be long, but I guess the reason to refer this to Public Accounts and the difficulty I am having with this whole thing - and that is why I think Public Accounts could be useful - is that the government has not been open on this whole concept or been honest, and that all of the information is available to the public. Any time you don't open up the information, like you cannot get the Andersen report and you cannot find out why certain decisions were made. Maybe they were made for all the best reasons but, unless the government allows that open process to happen, then one has to wonder about some of the other decisions that might be made.
Now this Andersen report, somebody was able to table about a page of it and that, again, is kind of unfair, to make a decision or from an opinion when you cannot really see the whole report. Even though it says confidential, we had tabled in this House one page from that report. You could draw whatever conclusion you wanted to draw, but if we are going to find that we are given bits and pieces of paper, I cannot understand why it is that we cannot be given the whole report.
The bill itself, the reason that the Law Amendments Committee could maybe find out some of the answers that I don't think we will find out in second reading, and traditionally most ministers have not provided many answers when summarizing or been very helpful. We have a toll on our bridges in Halifax, but in order for those bridges to get an increase in tolls, obviously it has to go before the Public Utilities Board. What we find, and why we don't know enough about the financing or exactly what kind of return the private investor is going to get to know the tolls are put up from $3.00 to $4.00 or $3.50 to $4.00, or more than $2.00 an axle for trucks, we have no basis. We have seen no report that says this makes it financially viable that in five years time or two years time this won't change. We don't see anything from the government that says, in any financial way, even though with revenues from fuel tax and the Registry of Motor Vehicles they take in over $230 million to $240 million a year in taxes, why some of that money isn't spent on this highway.
I think if it went to the Public Accounts Committee, and I understand that Public Accounts and, Madam Speaker, you are a member of that Public Accounts Committee, it is a very good working committee as I understand it. One that has done a lot of good work in the last year or so. One that is not a place where like it used to be where each Party had so much time and the Opposition was there to get publicity. The committee is now a working committee, it is there to seek out information. It is there with the Auditor General's help to get financial information that can be distributed and the public can become aware of.
As you know, Madam Speaker, the meetings are open. The information that is received by that committee is public information, it is not a secretive committee, it is one that holds its meetings with the press and anyone else that wants to attend to hear. That committee could also hear from people in Cumberland County so that the effects the tolls would have on those people could be taken into consideration by the Public Accounts Committee. In other words, they would get to know what study was done on the impact on trucking and the movement of goods, either within Cumberland County or within Nova Scotia, it would have to pass through those tolls. How much will those tolls contribute to the actual cost of the movement of goods? What is the cost to the trucking companies or if that cost is passed on to consumers so our consumers are being hit not only with a toll when they use the road are they also being hit in the movement of goods?
I think, Madam Speaker, when tolls are put on any road in this province, there is an economic impact. When the government comes forward with legislation and we are not allowed to see any economic studies or any studies that say tolls are good for Nova Scotia or the best way to build this road is through tolls, well, are we to just accept face value that because the minister says this is good for us that we all accept it and we accept it with no back-up information. The minister in the backgrounder wanted us to know all about the consultants, how good they were and how wonderful they were and where they had done their work. But, what he didn't produce was a copy of the study.
I find it quite offensive sometimes, Madam Speaker, when we all of a sudden think an expert from Washington can come to Nova Scotia and tell us in Nova Scotia, listen, trust me, I know what is best for Nova Scotia, you people aren't capable of making your own decisions or doing your own studies to figure out what is best for you. Now, I would like to have an opportunity, I am sure, through the Public Accounts Committee to question the expert from Washington just exactly what he knows about Nova Scotia and what he knows about our way of life here and about just exactly what is best for Nova Scotia.
I guess you can look up the definition of expert and I won't get into that, but it is usually from somebody from out of town and the government says, here. So the people in Cumberland County are saying, look, we would like to know the financial impact and it may have some social impacts. If you look at where the tolls are, obviously, we have no way of knowing except by what we read from the page that was distributed out of the report that, obviously, you are going to ding more people if you put it up by Oxford than if you put it down near Thomson Station. So there is a rationale of trying to ding Nova Scotians and local traffic especially. Because if we knew what it is, I am sure that people that would have by-passed the road would have been local people. People coming into the province, visitors, have no idea which way is shorter or longer or that they can by-pass the toll like the local people would.
By going to the Public Accounts Committee, we would be able to bring in these experts that did the report. We would actually be able to ask questions. Not only would we bring in the experts, we could look at the financing and find out the kind of financing that would be put in place. We would be able to find out from the minister the other options, the money generated through gasoline tax and the Registry of Motor Vehicles, over $200 million a year and whether the gasoline tax and the Registry of Motor Vehicles was fair whether you lived in Waterville, Cape Breton or Yarmouth. Because it was fair, you travelled, you had a vehicle or you bought gasoline, it is sort of like user pay. Now, we have an area of the province that if you live in that area, you are sure going to pay a lot more than I do living in Waterville, going through that place once or twice or three times a year. But the local people are hit hardest.
They could come in, Madam Speaker, to the Public Accounts Committee and explain that all the business isn't going to go to Truro anymore, it is going to go to Moncton, because if you have to go down, as one trucker said and pay the toll to get through and then buy your goods in Truro and bring them back, you pay again. You can go through the border to Moncton, you pay nothing either way. So there is, for Amherst and local communities up there a real financial impact.
Now, through Public Accounts, you could get an idea and I would like to know from the Department of Transportation and we have no way of knowing, what kind of a local impact study was made on the businesses of that area? Nobody can tell me and I haven't been able to find out from anybody, what kind of a local impact study was done, because businesses tell me that quickly will they lose their connection with Amherst, with Truro and Halifax because they can see the traffic going the other way. If that happens, it could have an effect on the loss of business. What we do, we have tax dollars now being spent in New Brunswick that would have normally been spent in Nova Scotia. But if it went to the Public Accounts Committee, if there were no study done, that maybe a study could be commissioned by the Public Accounts Committee. Or, if there were a study done, we would get that information.
For the average person and for the people that spoke up in Amherst who are saying, look, if the government insists this is the best decision, then why is it we can't get all the information? If it is such a good decision and all of those studies have been done and that is the way we should go as a province, then why is it we are not allowed access to that information? All we get from the minister is an argument about funding. The government will not discuss in any form, the kinds of issues that I raise that could be discussed in the Public Accounts Committee. That committee that answers would have to be given because that is the kind of committee that digs into that kind of research.
MADAM SPEAKER: With respect, honourable member, you are starting to be a little repetitive in your line of reasoning here.
MR. MOODY: Yes, I apologize, Madam Speaker. I guess, and you probably know this as well as I, when you think you have a very important point, sometimes you say it a couple of times so you hope they grasp it. But I apologize for being repetitive and if it is being grasped the first time, then I obviously should not do it the second time. So, I will try not to repeat what I have been saying. I understand the rule. But it is human nature to try to make sure people get your point. But I apologize.
So, this whole corporation brings in another question. There are a lot of questions. I think different rules apply to this corporation even though we are putting $30 million of taxpayers' money into this corporation, Madam Speaker. I think if the taxpayers are putting $30 million into a corporation, then there ought to be an opportunity through Public Accounts to have some accountability. Because if you read the legislation, the accountability is not there. I think that, as a taxpayer and as a representative of taxpayers, that because this corporation has government funds of $30 million, we have no way, like we do in other areas where government funding is put in, to have the same kind of scrutiny. So, it is very important that the Auditor General and this whole thing be very open, so the general public can really understand where their money is going, how it is being spent and those kinds of things.
What the Public Accounts Committee could also find out is, is this corporation going to profit from big truck stops along the way? Is it going to profit from other things than the tolls? The legislation leaves itself open to that, but the Public Accounts Committee could probably find out exactly how - because of the legislation - what kinds of things the government has in mind for this corporation that would generate revenue other than the tolls themselves.
We could also find out from the government on the study that showed us what the maintenance costs would be on the servicing of the debt, so that we could tell whether the money was going to be borrowed on the U.S. market, Canadian market and whether the fluctuation of the market would have an effect in the years down the road on the amount that the tolls were going to be. If you are borrowing on certain markets, and the dollar changes, then the toll could go up dramatically to pay for it.
There are a lot of unanswered questions. Is there any guarantee to government that this corporation that is putting in the rest of the money, that is allowed to borrow the funds, that this corporation will guarantee the government that they will have no more than a 12 per cent return? What is the return that is being given as a guarantee to the group that is building the road? Is there an amount or could that fluctuate from 12 per cent to 20 per cent? What kind of guarantees does the Province of Nova Scotia have? Do we say, well, they are private sector so we will put the $30 million in and if you can make a 25 per cent return that is good? That is taxpayers dollars. Is it going to be limited to 12 per cent, is it going to be limited to 10 per cent? The Public Accounts Committee could find out.
The Public Accounts Committee could say, if the government had gone out and borrowed the money at 8 per cent and paid it off over a period of time, would that be less money to the taxpayer than by allowing the corporation to do it who not only builds the road and I think we all know the private sector builds all the roads anyway, would that be better because this corporation is going to make x number of dollars profit off this venture.
We also get into another area that the Public Accounts Committee could look at. That would be a safety aspect, standards, how it is going to be maintained, how government will pay for the maintenance of that particular road, are our Department of Transportation trucks going to plow it or is it going to be plowed by the private sector. The Public Accounts Committee would look into all of that and then come back and say, we think financially this plan is good or financially we think the information is incomplete or the government should build the road like it has built roads in the past because actually it is cheaper for Nova Scotians to go out and borrow the money at 8 per cent than to give the private sector a 12 per cent or 14 per cent return.
All of that could be analyzed in an open process. We could have all of the experts in on it and I know the people on that Public Accounts Committee are the kind of capable people that would put in a report that would be fair, that would gather all of the information and report back to this House and I think we then would have the kind of information that we would say, hey, we have the information, we know it is open, we know the general public has the information and we know that people would have a better understanding.
The other reason to go to the Public Accounts Committee is because the corporation is not a public body so that freedom of information doesn't apply. Part of it is, why the secrecy? If we went to the Public Accounts Committee we wouldn't have to worry. We can't put in freedom of information for this corporation no matter what. So what is the big dark secret? Maybe if this went to the Public Accounts Committee we could find out why all of this is a big, dark secret.
I will be supporting this amendment and I hope others will consider this amendment, not as if we were not going to do the highway. Everyone in this Legislature agrees the highway has to be built. I think what we need to find out is if the government is going to do it under a new method, under a corporation, then we have to have the kind of corporation and some way so we can find out, yes, this is being done for the right reasons, yes, this is being done in the best interests of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia and yes, this is being done without hurting the residents of Cumberland and Colchester County.
We haven't got that information and any information that I have heard so far does not lead me to believe that tolls to build that road are the best way to go. That is because this government has failed in every way to come clean with Nova Scotians and with the Opposition in giving us the information so that we can make a fair and open opinion on what is best for Nova Scotia. By going to the Public Accounts Committee, I honestly believe that process would be one that would be that way and we would all have a better understanding of why certain decisions are made. I will be supporting this amendment and hope that I wasn't too repetitive. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour on an introduction.
MR. ALAN MITCHELL: Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to introduce to you and all members of the House 26 Grade 8 students from Robert Borden Junior High School who are in the gallery today. They are accompanied by two of their teachers, Mr. Travis and Mr. Pay and also by two parents, Mrs. Depetris and Mrs. Fougere. I would ask them to please rise and receive a warm welcome from the House. (Applause)
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to offer a few remarks in support of the amendment which is now before us. That amendment is, as you are well aware, that "the subject matter of Bill No. 10, An Act to Provide for the Financing, Construction and Operation of the Western Alignment of Highway 104 be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.". I believe that as a consequence of discussions with Speaker MacEwan, it was agreed and understood that the operative clause of that motion carries with it, of necessity, the words, "the subject matter of Bill No. 10" and it is that which the motion seeks to have referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.
The reason for the motion and some of the subject matter described in Bill No. 10, which prompts this motion, is in some ways pretty self-evident, Madam Speaker. You know, it is possible - it may not happen, God forbid that it would happen - but it is possible if one looks at the subject matter of Bill No. 10, that this corporation which is to be established pursuant to this legislation which will not only not have anything except the toll revenues and any other ancillary revenues which it may be able to generate, and I will talk about those in just a moment . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I just would want to caution you when you refer to it as "possible if one looks at the subject matter of Bill No. 10", but we are not looking at the subject matter of Bill No. 10, we are looking at the amendment. The discussion on the amendment precludes or goes before the discussion on the bill. So I would like you to restrict yourself to the amendment.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, I am, Madam Speaker, and the amendment says that the subject matter of Bill No. 10 be referred and it is impossible to talk about the reference without talking about the subject matter of Bill No. 10. I don't propose . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Well, I am sorry but that has already been ruled on by the Speaker who was in the Chair a few minutes before me, in which the Speaker said you could only discuss the amendment. So you can't get into the discussion on the bill, you are going to be restrained to discussion on the amendment.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: On a point of order, Madam Speaker, I was in the House and participated in some discussion with the Speaker on this matter. I thought, in clarifying this question, we had come to the understanding that the amendment dealt with the subject matter of Bill No. 10 that related to the Public Accounts Committee.
So our job, or those people who are speaking on the amendment now, have the responsibility of arguing why that particular subject matter is appropriately referred to Public Accounts Committee and therefore, that is the only subject matter that we are permitted to, but that we must talk about subject matter of something. That has been the question, we went around that quite a bit with Mr. Speaker, Madam Speaker.
MADAM SPEAKER: You are quite right. Yes we did and I, too, was in the House and I heard the discussions. The ruling was that we restrict ourselves to the discussion on the amendment, therefore why it is meritorious to be sent over to the Public Accounts Committee.
I was cautioning the honourable Leader of the Opposition because he started speaking to the principle of the bill.
MR. DONAHOE: With respect, the honourable member took the words right out of my mouth. I was talking about, with respect, the subject matter of the bill. I don't want to offend Madam Speaker, and perhaps I might, if Madam Speaker would permit me, I would like to, and I don't want to turn this into Question Period either, but I guess I really do need some help. If Madam Speaker is going to, each time I try to engage in this debate on this amendment, is going to caution me that I have to speak to the amendment, I really need some more precise definition and direction from Madam Speaker.
The question that I would like direction on from Madam Speaker, is as she reads the amendment which has the words, be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study, I wonder if Madam Speaker, could help me by understanding what it is that she understands is being referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study?
MADAM SPEAKER: I think that the previous Speaker already made a ruling on that, honourable member and it was that the members should debate the relative merits of referring the bill to the Public Accounts Committee, not the bill's merits itself, but the relative merits of referring the bill. It is a motion to refer.
MR. DONAHOE: Exactly. The amendment which has been ruled by Mr. Speaker, to be in order, is that it is the subject matter of Bill No. 10 which is to be referred. It is a physical and linguistic impossibility not to be permitted to speak within reasonable limits and I understand that about the subject matter of Bill No. 10 as the item or the issue or the elements which are to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study. I do not propose to speak clause by clause or on the principle of the bill, but there are elements of the bill there are certain elements of the subject matter of the bill, which in this motion approved by Mr. Speaker MacEwan, as being in order, are being asked to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study.
I say to you with respect that it is therefore completely legitimate, sensible, rational and appropriate that I would be permitted to make reference to certain of the pieces and bits of subject matter, which I suggest should be referred or justify the referral to the Public Accounts Committee.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I just wish to respond before I recognize another intervention. I don't think we are differing here. You started to stray off the amendment and I cautioned you. Since then, there have been numerous attempts at clarification and points of order and I will say it again, I would like you to attempt to keep your debate to the amendment. Yes, I know what it reads and if I have to caution you again, I will caution you again and so be it.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: On a point of order, Madam Speaker, because I will undoubtedly have the opportunity to get up and speak and seeing as how we are at a point of trying to clarify what it is we are focusing on, I would understand the subject matter of the bill as it relates to the Public Accounts Committee. For instance, I couldn't talk about the regulations that are provided for, the regulation making power that is provided for in Bill No. 10. Unless I can make an argument, that doesn't have anything to do with why the subject matter of this particular bill would go to Public Accounts, it would be appropriate to Public Accounts.
The aspect in here, in terms of the corporation may borrow money on its own credit, is something that is part of the bill, the subject matter of the bill that I think is extremely germane and goes to the heart of why this thing, the subject matter of Bill No. 10, should go to the Public Accounts Committee. In other words, we can't talk about the principle in general, we can't talk about regulations or anything else, it doesn't relate to financial fiscal taxation, other questions relative to taxpayers' dollars. But we can surely talk about those aspects of the bill that relate to, in other words, those aspects of the bill, the subject matter of the bill, that relate to the authority of the Public Accounts Committee. I hope we are of that understanding, because otherwise, how could I possibly argue either for or against this particular amendment, if I can't talk about the subject matter that I think it relates to?
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member on your point of order, I rule it not a point of order, it sounds now like you are trying to talk to the amendment. It is interesting, it is clarifying, but it not a point of order.
MR. DONAHOE: I will do my best to make remarks which do not offend the outer limits of your interpretation of what it is we are about here this afternoon, by way of debate of this particular amendment. The reason for the amendment, Madam Speaker, is, as has been said by other members and I support the view, that there are so many unanswered questions raised by Bill No. 10 that are ideally suited to be subjected to analysis and scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee. One of the reasons I say that is because, as you well know, you better than, certainly as well if not better than most members in this place, know that the Public Accounts Committee has available to it the expertise of the Auditor General and all of his staff.
The Auditor General is a servant of this House, he is a servant of all of us who are attempting, from our respective vantage points, to make the very best laws to rule the lives of all Nova Scotians. This particular piece of legislation, if it comes to pass, in a very significant way, in a very dramatic way, in a unique way, in a way that has never before been seen in the Province of Nova Scotia, may I say never before been seen in all of Canada, namely that there will be a toll road affecting the lives of all Nova Scotia, is the subject matter or the kind of subject matter in relation to which the Auditor General, with his own and with his staff's expertise, has an opportunity to analyze.
Now, I started a few moments ago and I guess I started into an area where Your Honour started to become concerned that I was straying a little bit, but one of the things that the Auditor General, in concert with the Public Accounts Committee - and perhaps better said the other way around - the Public Accounts Committee supported and aided and abetted by the Auditor General and his staff, would be in a position to assess, in relation to this particular legislation, is a very fundamental question which is raised by this legislation.
It is simply this, that we will have a corporation which is not a Crown Corporation, interestingly enough a corporation which will have one share and the one share will be held by Her Majesty The Queen in right of the Province of Nova Scotia, in other words the taxpayers will be the shareholders of this corporation. This corporation will have no assets, save and except those service facilities or other ancillary and related facilities that they might, with the approval of the government, allow to be constructed along this particular piece of roadway.
They have no assets at all, except they have a power and authority under this legislation to impose a toll upon Nova Scotian, and indeed, not only Nova Scotian, the travelling public, be they Nova Scotian or tourists. The only asset that will be owned by this company is that revenue generation capacity.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury on an introduction.
MR. RAYMOND WHITE: I would like to thank the Leader of the Opposition for the opportunity to do an introduction. Madam Speaker, through you to the members of the House, I would like to introduce my wife Judy, my daughter Stacy and her friend, Jennifer Murphy, from Canso. I would like to ask them to stand and receive the warm welcome of the House. (Applause)
MR. DONAHOE: Madam Speaker, we have a situation where we have the potential of having a corporation which has one share issued. That one share is held by the Crown, in trust for the taxpayers of the Province of Nova Scotia. That corporation will have no assets, again I repeat, save and except any ancillary services which are constructed along the side of the roadway. Those ancillary services, by the way, will only be permitted to be constructed in the event that the government allows them to be constructed because they will have control over that. That same corporation will have no assets, save and except the power to impose tolls.
Now the difficulty here is, and I am going to come to the real concern that I think is appropriate for analysis by the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General, that company which has the power to impose tolls, which revenue generation source is its only asset, essentially, would, under the terms of the authority that would enable it to impose those tolls, only be able to do so in the event that it has the approval or is doing so under the terms of an agreement executed by the Minister of Transportation and Communications, presumably approved by a Cabinet.
Now the concern I have, Madam Speaker, is that that same corporation would have an authority to issue bonds and debentures and to go to the market to seek funds from the private sector. I am very concerned and this is the point I try to make, I believe it is possible -I don't believe for a minute it would ever be done intentionally - but I believe it is possible through inadvertence, through a misconception or a misapprehension of the relevant financial circumstances at any given time because the Minister of Transportation has to approve the tolls and the only revenue source available to this corporation is the imposition and collection of those tolls.
I want to ask the question but more to the point, I want and support this motion because I want the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General to have an opportunity to have a look at what are the possibilities and what are the difficulties and what is the economic or financial viability of having a corporation which has no independent authority to set its own revenue generation capacity, has to have the authority of the Minister of Transportation to do that and at the same time is given an authority to go to the market at large and invite the public to come, buy its bonds and debentures, but it has no control over its own capacity to generate revenue.
My sense of things, Madam Speaker, is that that is the kind of issue and element, if I may say so, one of the sub-matters of subject, the subject matter of this bill, that would be highly relevant and important to have analyzed by the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General. That Public Accounts Committee, as you know so well, has a capacity and has in the past called expert after expert to offer advice and opinion as to whether or not certain things are done properly, have been done properly or can be done properly. A perfect opportunity exists here in relation to the issue which I now raise for the Public Accounts Committee, to be able to call appropriate accounting and actuarial and toll-road operation officials and authorities to offer advice and opinion as to whether or not that kind of legal, fiscal financial framework and configuration is relevant and would make sense in the operation of such a toll-road here in the Province of Nova Scotia.
We have not seen any analysis, we have not seen any economic studies done by the Minister of Transportation and Communications. Nobody has. It is possible, or would be, if the Public Accounts Committee were to have access to the minister, the minister's officials, to the Arthur Andersen and Company, who did some of this analysis. If the Public Accounts Committee had all of the above available to them, they could conduct and engage in examination and cross-examination of such a nature as to make a judgment and a recommendation as a servant of this House. It is a standing committee of this House. The Auditor General is a servant of this House, to be able to make recommendations to this House as to whether or not, from a fiscal or a financial point of view, this kind of a proposition is in the best interests of the taxpayers of the Province of Nova Scotia. I am not talking about the framework here, for the moment, of how many miles or kilometres long is the piece of roadway and so on and so on. I am talking here, Madam Speaker, about an opportunity which is not available to us, truly, to the extent that I believe it should be in second reading or, indeed, even in Law Amendments Committee, I really do not believe is available to us, to the extent and in the depth which is appropriate and which is available through the Public Accounts Committee.
This I think is a question that is highly relevant. What happens if, for instance - and this is what I was about to say a few minutes ago. I do not believe for a minute that the current Minister of Transportation and Communications or the current Premier, the current members of the Treasury benches, any member of the governing caucus would consciously engage in discussions and dialogue and ultimately make agreements with the corporation that we are talking about here and establish or approve the establishment of tolls that would result in this corporation going bankrupt.
MADAM SPEAKER: That does sound a tad hypothetical, doesn't it?
MR. DONAHOE: Well, I said I don't believe that any of them would do it consciously. But it is not hypothetical at all that it could happen. It can happen.
AN HON. MEMBER: If it could happen, Terry, then it is hypothetical.
ANOTHER HON. MEMBER: That's hypothetical, my friend.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, I guess it would be hypothetical in those cases.
MADAM SPEAKER: That was precisely my point, honourable member. If you could draw yourself back on the discussion.
AN HON. MEMBER: You are 2 and 0.
MR. DONAHOE: No, I am 2 and 1. It is a shoot out. (Interruption) I understand it was 2 - 2, overtime, and now they are into the shoot out. It is something like trying to debate this amendment. It is a little bit of a shoot out.
AN HON. MEMBER: Is that where Richie was? Was he at the hockey game last night?
MR. DONAHOE: It is possible. It is possible, Madam Speaker, that a toll regime could be established which could or would result in the bankruptcy of the corporation. I think that the Public Accounts Committee, being unique as it is, with the assistance and the benefit of the Auditor General, as it does, could conduct an analysis that to our knowledge has not been conducted. We have no information that the Minister of Transportation and Communications has done any such analysis. If he has, he certainly did not indicate to us here in this House, nor did his surrogate, the Minister of Finance, when he moved second reading of this bill, indicate that such an analysis has been done. It is the very kind of analysis which could and, I think, should be done by the Public Accounts Committee.
The corporation which we are talking about, which would have no assets other than the revenue it would generate . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Now you are going back into repetition. I just want to caution you. You have said that before.
MR. DONAHOE: As I say, this corporation, which I agree I have said, will have no assets and have only the revenue arising from the collection of the tolls, we do not know and nobody in Nova Scotia knows at this moment and we are being asked to approve an arrangement which would result in the establishment of this corporation of the establishment of a toll road. We don't know anything at all about the amount, the extent, the percentage, the proportion of those revenues which would be able to be generated by a toll which would be required by this corporation for the operation and maintenance of the roadway itself. So, we have no idea what return is available so as to make it reasonable for us to come to a judgment as to whether or not it is even possible for this corporation to construct and operate and maintain the kind of roadway which is intended here. In my opinion, there are very real legal concerns here and the Public Accounts Committee could have the opportunity to call some very vital and necessary legal opinion.
The proposition that is before the House and the subject matter of Bill No. 10 that I suggest justifies review and analysis by the Public Accounts Committee is that the Governor in Council, Her Majesty The Queen, will be the single shareholder. There will be a board of directors running this corporation. It is purported that, Clause 11(1), "The Corporation is not liable for any damages suffered by any person by reason of any defect or insufficiency in the design, construction, operation or maintenance of the Western Alignment.", so the corporation isn't liable. There is a provision or element in this legislation which says that the corporation is not an agent of the Crown. So they purport, as I am sure the Deputy Clerk would, with his learned and lengthy and distinguished legal career, concur, they purport to, as would the Minister of Finance with his, they purport to exempt themselves, the Crown does, from liability. They say that the corporation has no liability. I think there are some very real questions that are able to be asked and should be asked and could be asked by the Public Accounts Committee calling experts before it as witnesses.
What happens if there is a tragedy on that roadway? God forbid that there would be. We have a situation, ostensibly, the government would have us believe that we would have a situation then where the corporation isn't liable, the corporation isn't an agent of the Crown, the corporation isn't a Crown Corporation. There are provisions where the corporation which is going to build this thing doesn't have to comply with the Electrical Installation and Inspection Act. First of all I might ask the question, I would like to know where in the free world we have ever had a government pass a piece of legislation which says that a major highway within its jurisdiction or confines is going to be built and a piece of legislation that deals with electrical installation and inspection isn't going to have to be complied with. (Interruption) What a precedent.
I think there are some very real questions that should be asked of experts in highway construction and again, the Public Accounts Committee could call such people as witnesses, to ask what that means in the context of the construction of a highway which is safe and proper for any one of the members of this House or more important, any travelling person, any taxpayer, any resident of Nova Scotia or any person driving a vehicle or being anywhere in close proximity to this highway. What are the possible dangers? That, I say, Madam Speaker, is an element which undoubtedly is the kind of issue in relation to which the Public Accounts Committee could, would and, I say, should have the capacity to call witnesses and seek professional advice.
This corporation that is proposed to construct the roadway in question is clothed with all kinds of authorities to do certain things relative to financing, design, construction, operation and maintenance and so on. It is all on the basis that they enter into agreements with the minister. Now, I think, again, Madam Speaker, there are some very serious legal questions. I don't presume to know the answers because, with respect, I have not had an opportunity to do the research or to have had the research done for me or for our caucus. But I think there are some very, very serious legal questions that must be asked and answered about the extent to which the taxpayer is or will be liable in the event that there are agreements between the corporation and the minister relative to the financing, design, construction, operation, maintenance, leasing or acquisition of this roadway.
Again, something goes wrong. What kind of a situation have we got if the Minister of Transportation and Communications engages in an agreement with this corporation that addresses the design, construction, operation and maintenance of this highway? I suggest to you, without a lot of research and, obviously, subject to reading any such agreement which presumably would purport to have a whole raft of exclusionary clauses contained in it, I really wonder of the extent to which, in the event that there was serious injury or tragedy on that highway, from a legal point of view, the extent to which the minister, being a signatory to the agreement which approves financing, design, construction, operation and maintenance of such a highway, I wonder, seriously, about the extent to which the minister can exempt himself and, through him, can exempt the Government of Nova Scotia, and through them, exempt the taxpayers of Nova Scotia from potentially very serious and costly litigation?
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, you are now into the third repetition on this point, so I just wish to caution you again.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, I say to you, Madam Speaker, that that is an issue which I believe that the Public Accounts Committee, aided and assisted by the Auditor General, could, and should, have a look at it.
The corporation that is proposed here is supposed not to be "liable for any damages suffered by any person by reason of any defect or insufficiency in the design, construction, operation and maintenance . . ." - and I will say it for the last time because I may have said it before - they aren't responsible for any deficiency, for design and construction, the minister isn't responsible for any deficiency in design and construction and I have to ask - and I ask seriously because I think it is a fundamental question - if the corporation isn't, by this legislation, to be liable if there is a deficiency in construction and design, the minister says in his words in his bill, he isn't liable if there is a deficiency in construction and design and, God forbid, Nova Scotians or others are killed on this highway, or there is serious accident, even if there isn't death, and there is tremendous property damage, who is liable? Well, that again, I suggest to you, Madam Speaker, is the kind of question, before we embark on this unique, never before undertaken enterprise in this province or in this country, is the kind of question that can reasonably and appropriately be considered by the Public Accounts Committee.
Madam Speaker, there is an element of the proposition that we consider today that addresses the question of, and the government has said with some fanfare and somewhat smugly, oh yes, but there is going to be a time when the tolls are going to come off. Well, if you look at the subject matter of Bill No. 10 relative to the process whereby the toll shall cease to be imposed or collected, that I suggest to you is an absolutely ideal, classic situation for reference to the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General. As you look at that element of the bill and the element that I suggest should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee, you will see that those tolls apparently are to, Clause 13(2) ". . . cease to be imposed or collected . . . when all costs and liabilities relating thereto, including its financing, design, construction, operation and maintenance, and any repair, improvement, replacement, alteration or extension, have been paid or otherwise discharged, and all financing with respect to the Western Alignment has been paid or otherwise discharged.". That is the kind of language, if I may say, Madam Speaker, which clearly is the kind of situation where the guidance and advice of experts in accounting and auditing could and should be sought and through the aegis of the Public Account Committee could be reviewed.
I think that element of this particular piece of legislation is not at all precise. There is accounting and there is accounting. Yes, it is all over but it isn't all over kind of situations when it comes to how one makes the determination as to whether or not the tolls shall cease.
Madam Speaker, one of the elements of this bill indicates that the corporation which is to be established is to comply with all building code and safety and construction and other standards, except the Planning Act doesn't apply. Well, I say again, it almost boggles the mind that this or any government could propose that a major super highway in the province be constructed, never mind that it is a toll road, that a major super highway in this province could be constructed and such legislation as the Electrical Installation and Inspection Act and the Planning Act do not apply.
Again, it is the kind of situation, I submit, Madam Chairman, which could very usefully be reviewed and considered by the Public Accounts Committee and all of the witnesses that the Public Accounts Committee has the authority to call before it.
I will stop there, Madam Speaker. There are a number of elements of the subject matter of Bill No. 10 which just are truly surprising but are probably matters which, in fairness, could be addressed by way of submissions in Law Amendments Committee and not necessarily require the attention of the Public Accounts Committee.
The remarks which I made now in the last few minutes, some might think disjointed, I hope not too, I honestly believe represent certain elements of what is ahead of us if, in fact, that Bill No. 10 were to pass, that I believe would not be subjected to the kind of scrutiny and analysis and assessment that they really deserve and they virtually scream out to have. I am very concerned that without a very careful look, it doesn't have to be an unreasonably long and lengthy process and it could be done in relatively short order and I think it could be done, properly orchestrated and coordinated with the assistance of the Auditor General and his office. Each and every thing to which I have referred, could, in my opinion, be handled, probably within the space of 30 to 60 days, maximum, if the commitment were made by all members here to refer the subject matter of this bill to the Public Accounts Committee for study. I think it really does deserve and require that kind of analysis.
So, I say the things I have said in support of the amendment which is before the House, Madam Speaker, and I recommend that amendment to the serious and sympathetic consideration of all members. I will support the amendment and I would urge all members of the House to do likewise. Thank you.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak for a few moments on the amendment before us, to refer the subject matter of Bill No. 10 to the Public Accounts Committee for consideration. I recall the words that have been used by the Minister of Transportation on a number of occasions, to describe this agreement with respect to construction of this part of Highway No. 104 and the use of tolls. He referred to it as a creative vehicle to construct this piece of highway that has been so long in the waiting. I think he is absolutely right. It is new, it is something that may have merit, but it is something that clearly will have an impact on the taxpayers in this province. I think that is something that we have to deal with and it is something that would be appropriate for the Public Accounts Committee to do.
I look at the announcement the minister made with respect to this, and he made some statements that had very much a reflection on issues that are under the purview of the Public Accounts Committee? Such things as completing a critical project without increasing the public debt. Well, that is an interesting statement and were it to be true, I think it would be interesting. But I would suggest, just in my own layperson's knowledge, that the public debt is not just the debt that is on the books from year to year of this provincial government, it is the long-term, long-lasting obligations that not only this government, but also the taxpayers of this province have, with respect to public services and public infrastructure.
MADAM SPEAKER: I just would like to gently caution you that the statements of the minister are rather irrelevant, when the amendment is to refer the subject matter of the bill. His statements aren't the subject matter of the bill.
MR. CHISHOLM: Thank you. You are absolutely right, but if you recall, the bill is to create a tax-exempt Highway No. 104 Western Alignment Corporation, to facilitate the financing, construction and management of the project. It says that the corporation will not be a Crown Corporation, its debts will not be the responsibility of the province or constitute a lien on the highway. These are claims, the subject matter of this bill, that will do these kinds of things and I think those are questions that need to be examined by the Public Accounts Committee.
We can refer back to the specific sections of the bill that deal with that, but my intention and my whole point in referring to those statements of the claims by the minister, is that that is what he intends Bill No. 10 to do. That is why I think this amendment is so important, because we have to examine. Not to suggest that the Minister of Transportation would be trying to mislead or otherwise present information or make suggestions that aren't true, but it is that this is a new kind of project.
I know, as a member of that committee, I would be quite happy to have the opportunity to focus in on whether or not this or any other public/private partnership constructed in this fashion, constructed in terms of the legislation, actually really is a good deal for taxpayers. The question is do we pay for it now or do we pay for it later? Those are some of the questions.
The whole issue of the fact that we know the provincial government can borrow at a better interest rate than can a private corporation. On that basis alone, how can it be cheaper for taxpayers to have somebody outside of the government actually incur the expense because if not the taxpayer then certainly the users of that highway are going to have to pay that and those people are, in effect, taxpayers.
There have been a number of questions raised on the whole issue of the tolls and how the structure of how those tolls will be set in terms of taking into account inflation and whether or not the revenues will be used to pay down the principal or just to maintain the interest costs. All of these questions, I would appreciate having the opportunity, as I know many members of this Chamber would, to examine them in light of the whole question of maintaining the public trust and confidence over the use of taxpayers' dollars in this province.
The idea that was raised about this corporation having as its sole asset, the ability to raise revenues through the tolls and the idea that authorization for the establishment of those tolls will be made strictly by the minister, I think is an interesting question. I am sure that no minister of this government would ever craft legislation that may create in the future the potential for conflict but yet, this government and minister doesn't necessarily have all of the answers and may not be aware of the potential implications of a given authority within this legislation.
That is what our job is here in this House, to deal with those kinds of matters and specifically as the relate to the detailed financial aspects and implications, raising of capital, the setting of tolls, the tax exempt nature and so on, are questions that should be examined under a magnifying glass by the Public Accounts Committee in consultation with the Auditor General and his staff and any experts that we may need in order to arrive at some kind of conclusion.
The fact that this public/private partnership is going to be based on the taxpayer putting up 30 per cent equity, that that supposedly is the measuring stick or the rule of thumb for this public/private partnerships. Well, who says that is the way it should be? Who says that is the best use of taxpayers' dollars? At the same time, I think that the question has to be asked, because we are getting into a new arrangement that has never ever happened before in this province and it is probably the beginning of a number of these kinds of arrangements, these kinds of legislatively defined deals between the government and the taxpayers of Nova Scotia and private interests. We have to examine how public dollars are being spent and were spent. When you talk about the 30 per cent, it is interesting, I think, to note and something that would be appropriate for the Public Accounts Committee to examine, especially since it was a concern raised by the Auditor General, that the 30 per cent equity of the supposed costs of $100 million are exactly what is left in the kitty of the SHIP agreement after $26 million was siphoned off.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, you really are straying a fair distance and I would like you to bring yourself back to the discussion on the amendment.
MR. CHISHOLM: What I am trying to do is to indicate the different aspects of the financial rationale for this bill being before us today and the things that the Public Accounts Committee should, in fact, examine on behalf of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. If the taxpayers had more than 30 per cent equity to participate with, if in fact the taxpayers had 50 per cent to ante up, which was the original, I understand, size of that pot to build that road, then would we need to engage in this kind of a process where people travelling to and from New Brunswick along that highway would all have to drop three bucks in every time?
AN HON. MEMBER: Or more.
MR. CHISHOLM: Or more, given trucks would have to do that. If the government is so intent on making this a user pay deal, what about the idea of borrowing the money ourselves and setting up the tolls for the public interest? Managed and operated by the public. So we use the revenues from those tolls to pay down that capital debt. Is that more expensive in the long run than it is privately, when you tie into all the aspects of the private, the fact that it costs more to borrow, the fact that there needs to be a profit component built in and so on and so forth, the whole question of liability and who is responsible? What if the corporation goes bankrupt? What if at some point you have a government that says, the tolls are getting too high? Sometime over the next 32 years, you have a government that says that the tolls are getting too high. People cannot afford it and four-wheel drives and trucks with any capacity are driving off the road and driving around through the woods in order to avoid the toll. So the corporation is getting insufficient revenues and all of a sudden it declares itself bankrupt, at year 17. What happens then? What is going to happen then? The province has said in here that they are not going to be responsible for any debts.
AN HON. MEMBER: Then we'll send it to Public Accounts.
MR. CHISHOLM: Well, maybe. The member for Timberlea-Prospect suggests that maybe then we will send it to Public Accounts. We have had too much experience in this province, Madam Speaker, and you know this as well as I do, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, that too many issues have come before Public Accounts well after the damage had been done. Were we to be more directly involved in some of this decision-making, because government has a responsibility to govern, we all understand that but at the same time when it comes to the technical aspects of legislation like this that is going to have such an impact I would suggest on how public services are going to be delivered and how public infrastructure is going to be developed in this province. It is something that we need to not only take account of all the expertise that is here in this House but we need to take into consideration all of the agents of this House, the Auditor General being one. The best vehicle to do that, I would suggest, is by the Public Accounts Committee.
Again, and I don't think and it was suggested earlier that this shouldn't take a great deal of time. I know myself that I would certainly be prepared as a member of that committee to devote some considerable concentrated time to deal with this issue. The government we know has a report pulled together by Arthur Andersen that looked at all the different financial ramifications of this particular deal and if they are not prepared to reveal that document publicly then maybe we can come to some kind of an agreement to, although I don't even like to suggest it, but maybe some materials can be presented to the Public Accounts Committee in camera, I don't know. But, I think that the government and the Minister of Transportation have some of that information available to us.
I don't think, although it might be interesting, for us to send a delegation from the Public Accounts Committee to view and to research some of the financing aspects of public/private partnerships in other jurisdictions because I believe, in the harbour in Boston they are looking at a public/private partnership there if they haven't already set it up in order to clean up that harbour as much as we have talked off and on about doing it. There are many other examples about how the jurisdictions in the public sector have said we don't have enough money in order to do this. We don't want this capital construction to show up on our books so we are going to involve ourselves in this creative initiative.
In Ontario, Madam Speaker, as you and other members are no doubt aware, the government of the day made a decision to build, to construct a new highway called the 407 which would span the greater Toronto area, which would take ideally commercial traffic, truck traffic, in particular away from basically Highway No. 401 which has developed very much into a main street of the greater Toronto area.
MADAM SPEAKER: I don't think the Spadina Expressway is relevant to the amendment. I would like to caution you to come back on the amendment.
MR. CHISHOLM: Not meaning to stray very far but what I am suggesting is that there are experiences with these kind of deals and we could learn. Maybe the government has apprised itself of that kind of information and the Public Accounts Committee could have a representation and that would be part of it from the Minister of Transportation and his officials in order to examine that kind of consideration. There has been a matter raised about this deal that the corporation is exempt from the Provincial Finance Act which has the effect of protecting it from perhaps the involvement of the Auditor General. In other words, it has been suggested by some who have taken a look at this legislation and in some discussion with the Auditor General's Office that the way the bill is now constructed the Auditor General will not have the authority to examine the operations of this corporation.
Now is that a good thing to happen, in terms of what is effectively a Crown Corporation established by legislation that will be operating on the basis initially of 30 per cent equity from the province, but also with the authority of the province to generate revenue, to borrow on the basis of its own credit, to issue bonds and debentures. I mean, this corporation is going to be dealing with some big bucks and many of those dollars are going to be public dollars. As well, they are going to have complete and utter and unaffected authority to take further monies from the public by those tolls.
Is it appropriate, Madam Speaker? I think it is a question that we all have to ask ourselves and a question that could appropriately be examined by the Public Accounts Committee. Is it that that Crown Corporation or that corporation be allowed to be untouchable from the Auditor General, that agent of ours, of members of this House, who is responsible for maintaining the proper accountability and accounting of policies and programs and spending within the public sector.
That causes me some considerable concern. Where is the accountability? Where is the opportunity for us to have input, us in terms of the Legislature, to have input in that. Seventy per cent of the dollars may be financed by private interests but 30 per cent are still public dollars. We are giving that corporation the authority to generate a whole lot more money. I believe it is going to be a serious problem for us if we were to allow this corporation to go by without that kind of accountability, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker, there has been a whole host of questions raised. In fact earlier, you will recall perhaps that when I rose to seek clarification of the nature of this debate, I sort of used as an example - every time I do this I always catch myself - you know, I talked about the subject matter of the bill and I said, you know, in other words we can talk about this clause but we can't talk about that clause. I said it would not be appropriate for me to talk about regulations. But then I take a closer look at the regulations clause, Clause 19(1)(c), and there is a part in there that I think the Public Accounts Committee should take a look at, and that is that "The Governor in Council may make regulations respecting the financing . . .", and then it goes on to say other things, ". . . design, construction, operation and maintenance of the Western Alignment;".
So in other words, all of the considerations we have talked about, you know, you have a contract between the private interests and the government, you have the establishment of this corporation, you have 30 per cent equity by the government, you have the agreement set up in terms of how the tolls are going to be set and how they can raise money. Then you have the Governor in Council can change that, can alter that in a way that is determined appropriate for that particular day, on the whole question of financing.
Well, you know, that is I think part of the difficulty that many of us have with this whole concept, is that it is meant and the government is entering into it with the purpose of doing something that it says it does not have the money to do. It doesn't want to borrow the money, it doesn't want to have that debt on its books. Some of us would suggest that in fact all that is being done here is that there is a smaller portion of debt going to be on the books than if it were 100 per cent financed by public dollars. Then the remainder of the debt is going to be out here but yet the taxpayers, by the taxpayers I mean the users of that highway, are going end up paying it anyway. The question is, in the long run, are they going to end up paying more money under this strategy than they would if the government were to either participate in a greater equity position as I mentioned earlier or if it was going to be a complete public project, as has been the case over so many years.
One of the arguments that has been made against the government doing it is that the government can't do it as fast, the government can't do it as efficiently. They talk about the costing agreements or the pricing agreements or whatever with the different subcontractors on highway deals and so on. You may remember that the Auditor General in his 1994 report mentioned the problem with those kinds of deals.
Just because there are problems in terms of the way that a particular department has managed its affairs in the past, it doesn't mean that the department under new management has to operate the same way. Surely, with some leadership this government has the opportunity now, it is trying to do things differently, it doesn't have to keep making the same mistakes (Interruption) or make worse mistakes in terms of handling the taxpayers' dollar and getting the best value for those dollars.
I am beginning to lose some of my optimism that the public sector can do it cheaply. I do that because it often seems like it doesn't matter which administration is in charge of those public dollars. There seems to be an inability to try to do it differently or to succeed in doing it differently. Instead, they end up taking responsibility completely away from the public sector and letting someone else do it.
It is like, we can't figure out how to change things and make our division, our department work better so what we are going to do is give it to somebody else. I think what is crazy about that is that you and I both know, there is a list of corporations just in the past five years that have gone bankrupt, that have left creditors holding the bag representing millions of dollars. There is a list of successful corporations, one year making millions of dollars in profits, and next year were bankrupt. There is a list as long as all of our arms put together.
So just because it is the private sector doesn't mean it is going to be better, it is going to be more effective and more efficient, more cost-effective and more value. I think it all comes down to management and it all comes down to administration. I still believe and it is being shown in more and more jurisdictions where matters have been privatized that it is costing more than it would if it was done publicly.
In many jurisdictions now, there are public departments or divisions who are competing directly with the private sector and being able to do it cheaper. I am still troubled by this idea that if the Government of Nova Scotia can borrow money at 3 percentage points less than a private interest, how can it be cheaper? How can it be cheaper? How it will be paid for will be different but is that in our best interests? I think the jury is out on that, even though this kind of financing is happening more and more for public services and the delivery of public infrastructure in more jurisdictions in North America and around the world, but that doesn't mean that we should do it.
It is like the question of uranium mining and development. Just because they are doing it in Saskatchewan, it doesn't mean we should do it here. There are questions of the fact that the whole geology of Saskatchewan and the grade of ore and so on is different there than it is here, so it is impossible to make those comparisons. It is like comparing the efficacy and the value of having casinos in Halifax compared with Windsor. You can't compare a population of 300,000 with 3 million or 6 million people. It is bizarre really, Madam Speaker and, in many ways, comes down to the question of faith. It comes down to a question of ideology, I think, and it comes down to a question of this administration, as with many administrations - these people are not unique by any stretch of the imagination - that are faced with a common dialogue on these debt and deficit issues that says, as the public sector, we have to get out of it.
We have to get out of taking responsibility for delivering these services or building this infrastructure. Let the private sector do it. Now who is saying that? Well, I would say that the loudest exponents are the ideologues on this question and private sector interests. Madam Speaker, that makes sense to me. The economy in this country is only so large and if private sector interests can look at the federal government and see $14 billion worth of public services, then they are going to try and get that, I would suggest to you. It is a lot easier to do that than go out and try to develop your own with a limited population of 22 million and so on. It is the old idea of creating your own market. So those proponents are participating in that debate which some have suggested has become accepted by everybody. Well, it is not accepted by everybody, that this is the way to go and that is why I think it is extremely appropriate that we refer the matter to the Public Accounts Committee for consideration.
We are concerned here with the expenditure of public dollars. We are participating in a particular process for the first time and we must make sure that we do it - if we are going to do it, you know, I am not sure it is the right way to go, I have examined, for example, what they have done in Ontario, I had the opportunity to meet with the officials and the different department heads that were putting this together, so I have some understanding and I have read the literature - I am concerned about the way it is being done but I still have not been convinced that there is actual value there in the long run for taxpayers.
Now, maybe we can be persuaded and I would suggest to you, having worked with the Auditor General now for two years, I have the utmost respect for him and his senior officials that we, on the committee, have had the opportunity to deal with. I think he brings an important perspective to the table, expertise and understanding and experience. We can also, at the same time, bring forward people who can explain to us that question I raised earlier that I had so much concern about, that this corporation would be issuing its own bonds and debentures at the same time they are basically setting their own levels of revenue in very close consultation with the Minister of Transportation and Communications.
Now if this turns out to be, after examination, a good deal, if it turns out that the taxpayer is getting value, with the concept 30 per cent equity, private sector doing the borrowing and handling it over 32 years, if it is determined that is good value for the taxpayer as opposed to us borrowing now and paying for the work, then I think it is important that we examine this legislation to ensure that it is properly constructed, to do what it is intended to do and to prevent the things that may come up. We would know that, we would know what those potential pitfalls are, if we had the opportunity to examine them, Madam Speaker.
Then, of course, we are doing what we are supposed to do, we are carrying out our responsibilities, I would suggest, in a constructive manner, that the government is carrying forward on an issue where all the facts are out on the table and the Legislature, through a committee, has examined it and presents in a report back to this House the results and recommendations for changes, to deal with the concerns and the problems. In other words, it may be appropriate that the Auditor General should have the authority to examine the operations of this corporation any time he chooses, as he does now with Crown Corporations and agencies and departments, in order to protect the public interest.
It may be appropriate, Madam Speaker, that toll rates not be established by the corporation and the minister but by the Utility and Review Board, who now sets the tolls on the bridges, sets the power rates, sets the rates MT&T and cable and so on and so forth. I mean explain to me, if you will and maybe somebody can at the Public Accounts Committee, why the increases in tolls for this highway are not subject to review by the Utility and Review Board, as any other rates affecting the public of Nova Scotia are today. I don't understand why this corporation is exempt from that and I don't think that is in the best interests of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.
I would suggest to you that were the Public Accounts Committee to have an opportunity to review this, that we might, in fact, make that recommendation back to the minister responsible, back to this House and that at that point, with all that information collected, with that examination having been concluded, we would be able to finish, examine the principle and we could then deal with changes, in terms of legal questions, in terms of drafting nuances, in terms of other questions, in terms of liability of the proponents in the government and the taxpayers and so on, hear submissions from the residents of Cumberland who are now talking about seceding to New Brunswick, we can have that examination at the Law Amendments Committee. People who are making their presentations would understand that this issue has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee and that our recommendations have been made to this House on the fiscal merits of this question, complete with recommendations on how it should be constructed to properly protect the interests of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia.
I hope that my contribution to this debate has been helpful. I think that this is not a novel idea in terms of the way public sector projects are being financed around the world but as I said before, the jury is still out on whether or not taxpayers are getting real value from them. It is the first time that the Province of Nova Scotia has entered into this kind of a deal, but it won't be the last, we have heard that from the Premier, we have heard that from the Minister of Finance and others.
As the Minister of Education has said to me before, let's make sure if we are going to do it, that we do it right the first time and that once we have the learning curve established then the next time we do it, it will be a little easier and the next time it will be even easier and so on. All that this particular amendment provides is the opportunity to ensure that a standing committee of this Legislature, with the authority to review matters that affect the public Treasury and responsibility and accountability questions for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, receive some scrutiny and some examination and that we make a report back to this Legislature. I am sure that this government, the minister who presented this bill, yes, the minister who presented it also, the Minister of Finance and the sponsor of the bill the Minister of Transportation want it to work right.
The concern that some of us have is that there is a little too much faith here, not enough answers to the real questions that are posed in terms of how taxpayers dollars are going to be best spent and that is our job, not just the Public Accounts Committee but for all of us. I hope that my comments have again, been helpful, have some merit, I think so otherwise I wouldn't have said them.
MADAM SPEAKER: And I wouldn't have let you keep on speaking if they hadn't had some merit.
MR. CHISHOLM: Having said that I would indicate that I will be supporting the amendment as presented by the member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley as I would encourage all members of the committee to do. I think the Public Accounts Committee could take a reasonable amount of time to do this, maybe a month, maybe two months maybe three, I don't know, some reasonable length of time in order to examine this question and make a report back to the Legislature. But, I think a little bit of time spent now may save us a lot of headaches in the future and may save taxpayers a lot of money over that 32 year period. So, I am indicating that I will be supporting this amendment and I would urge all members of the committee to do likewise.
MADAM SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the amendment to Bill No. 10, an Act to Provide for the Financing, Construction and Operation of the Western Alignment of Highway 104. My understanding of the amendment, it is to refer the bill to the Public Accounts Committee of the House for further study.
In an attempt to try and define the parameters of the debate, I attempted to do a little bit of research into what, in fact, the Public Accounts Committee was all about and what, in fact, are the terms of reference for the Public Accounts Committee. I may require, Madam Speaker, some assistance in this. In an attempt to define the magnitude of the debate, I went to the Province of Nova Scotia Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly, dated January 1995. On looking up the list of committees of the House, there is a list of nine committees.
MADAM SPEAKER: I really hope that the honourable member does not plan to read into the record what the function of the committee is. It really is not necessary for the purpose of the debate on the amendment.
DR. HAMM: Well, I wonder, with the indulgence of the Speaker, if I could complete some thoughts before she is willing to make a ruling as to the relevance of where we are with this? Certainly, the terminology in the amendment is very clear and precise. However, once you get beyond the wording of the amendment, things become rather less clear and rather less precise.
Now, if you look in the January 1995 Province of Nova Scotia Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly, you come to the list of committees. Among others, there is a listing of the Public Accounts Committee, committees with which all of us are familiar, including Law Amendments, which was meeting earlier today, Internal Affairs, Private and Local Bills, Economic Development, Human Resources, Community Services, Resources and Veterans Affairs.
MADAM SPEAKER: That is a very interesting listing, but it has nothing to do with the amendment, honourable member.
DR. HAMM: Well, I think, Madam Speaker, the purpose of my search was really to find out the terms of reference of the Public Accounts Committee, the committee to which this bill is going to be referred. I think a full understanding of what that committee is all about would be required before one could determine the propriety of the amendment.
Now, a further search of the Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly, Page 56, "Chairman of Public Accounts Committee (3) The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee shall be the member chosen at the commencement of the first Session of each Assembly by the Opposition House Leader from among such Members of the Committee as are Members of the Official Opposition.". Certainly the incumbent in that chair at this time is the honourable John Leefe, the member for Queens.
AN HON. MEMBER: A very capable member.
DR. HAMM: He is, as you know, an excellent parliamentarian and a very capable chairman.
However, having searched to that point, as to the propriety and the wisdom of the amendment, a further search of the book does not reveal any terms of reference for the committee. That suggests to me that it opens considerably the magnitude of material that may be relevant to the debate. Since one is not obviously confined to any terms of reference which apply to this particular committee and I, for one, have never had an opportunity to attend a meeting of that committee and I have only in very general terms any idea of the type of examination to which this committee would subject this particular piece of legislation.
I was hoping with my opening remarks by indicating to the Speaker that without a very concise list indicating the terms of reference of this committee, that the Chair might be predisposed to allow a certain amount of discretion, in terms of the debate.
Now having established that, in fact, we are now debating an amendment which is to a committee for which in our rules there does not appear to be any terms of reference, would, to me, open up considerably the information that may be relevant to the propriety of the referral. But perhaps starting where it would be obvious to start, it would suggest . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I think the propriety of the referral has already been ruled upon and it has been ruled appropriate to refer it to this committee. So you are struggling quite gloriously to get around this point but I really think you should try and talk on the amendment.
DR. HAMM: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I do feel, having heard your words, a certain urgency to get on with the job. So having established the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee, as contained in our rules, I would like then to go back and look at the elements of the bill which, in fact, would benefit from a referral of this nature. That a referral is appropriate, I think, is demonstrated, underlined by the amount of concern that has been raised, particularly in the areas of the province most affected by a toll road. I think the amount of concern that these people have demonstrated certainly adds considerable weight to the amendment.
It is obvious that this is just not a piece of legislation with which everyone is completely satisfied. The fact of the matter is that we are, in fact, plowing new ground in the province with this piece of legislation. The new ground, of course, is the introduction of toll roads. It is very interesting, Madam Speaker, there is an interesting saying that we have in the country, certainly up in northern Nova Scotia and I am sure that people use this saying all over the province. The saying is, you can't straighten the furrow behind the plow. In other words, once you have made a mistake, you have to live with the mistake. So in other words, the best thing is plow a straight furrow from the very beginning.
Madam Speaker, I am quite sure that the introduction of that little local saying into the debate, perhaps, is starting to give you some idea as to why this amendment is on the floor. Obviously members of the Opposition, members of the New Democratic Party, the people of Cumberland County, the elected municipal officials in the Town of Amherst all feel very strongly that this legislation is a mistake.
AN HON. MEMBER: Don't forget the Atlantic Provinces Truckers Association.
DR. HAMM: When you are thinking of people who might feel that this is a mistake, one cannot help but think as well of the Atlantic Truckers Association who are viewing this particular piece of legislation with some degree of skepticism.
Madam Speaker, if there is perhaps a piece of information that would indicate just how seriously some people view this and how far-reaching they feel the implications of a toll road are for the people of the Amherst area, I would quote Councillor Ruth Allen, . . .
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, those opinions aren't really relevant to the debate right now on why you feel this should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee. So I would like you to bring yourself back to the debate on the amendment.
DR. HAMM: Perhaps, Madam Speaker, one of the obvious terms of reference for the Public Accounts Committee, if they were to have terms of reference, would be that they would be looking at some of the financial implications and financial results of whatever it is that is being brought before them. That would seem to be perhaps, since they are an accounts committee, that they would do some accounting.
So the economic effect of a toll road obviously is viewed by many public people in the Amherst area as being very significant. I just wanted to indicate for the information of the House what some of the elected officials in that area are saying. I think this is a very strong statement. I'll not try to interpret it for the House, I will just simply read it into the record and the House can make its own determination as to whether or not they think this is a serious matter.
MADAM SPEAKER: Honourable member, I will caution you again that I don't think your reference to reading a newspaper clipping is relevant to this debate.
DR. HAMM: Well, I will take your advice, Madam Speaker. Would it be possible then to table the information?
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member would entertain a short question. I was most interested in my friend's comments. He used the colloquialism that it is difficult to straighten out the furrow after the plow has gone by. I have been involved with the Public Accounts Committee since I have come into the House and I understand the purpose of the Public Accounts Committee is to have government, its agencies and commissions to account for the monies that have been spent to show that the monies have correctly been spent and that we have a good bang for the buck, so to speak, and that there has been a proper accounting thereof. That is the purpose of the Public Accounts Committee after the monies have been spent to account for them, public accounting.
Now in this case, the amendment is to refer it to the Public Accounts Committee in the first instance, as opposed to the Economic Development Committee which, according to the rules, is empowered with dealing with matters of highways. Having said that, to quote another colloquialism, does the member perhaps not think he is putting the cart before the horse with this amendment?
MADAM SPEAKER: Is there a further intervention on the point of order? (Interruption)
MR. CARRUTHERS: It was not a point of order, it was a question.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: I want to rise on a point of order, if I may.
MADAM SPEAKER: It wasn't a point of order, it was a question of the honourable speaker who had the floor.
MR. ARCHIBALD: No, I want to get a point of order.
MADAM SPEAKER: You are making a point of order? Thank you.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Thank you. If the member for Hants East wants me to answer a question about farming and plowing furrows, I can do that too. The point of order that I would like to make is with regard to the information relayed to you, Madam Speaker, about the Public Accounts Committee and the very narrow viewpoint that that member seems to feel the Public Accounts Committee is responsible for. As you know, the Public Accounts Committee is evolving and I know that the Public Accounts Committee, (Interruption) has been trying to broaden its scope and its sphere of influence.
If you can tell me why the Public Accounts Committee should not be charged with the responsibility of overseeing the expenditure of millions of Nova Scotia taxpayers' dollars, what is wrong with the MLAs, the duly elected representatives of the people, taking an active role in making sure that the Department of Transportation gets the best value for the dollar possible? That is the point of order and if that member is arguing against the Public Accounts Committee having any meaningful role in the expenditure of funds within the province, then that member should not be sitting on the Public Accounts Committee.
MR. JOHN HOLM: On a point of order, just to say to the member for Kings North who raised his previous point of order, that it is not just the Department of Transportation that we have to be investigating to make sure it is getting the best bang for its bucks. (Interruption) But, it is to ensure that the people of Nova Scotia and the users of the public highways are the ones and that is why it is so crucially important that the Public Accounts Committee investigate it, not just for the Department of Transportation's dollars, Madam Speaker, but they are only going to be paying a small portion and the vast majority of the funds will be coming from the users of the system who are going to be hit by this second tax system, hidden tax and that is why it is so important to have the Public Accounts Committee examine it.
MADAM SPEAKER: I would like to rule on the point of order so we could get back to the speaker on the floor.
Would you like to respond to the point of order? The honourable member for Hants East has the floor.
MR. CARRUTHERS: Madam Speaker, the point of order was raised to discuss the question I had asked. Surely I can respond to the point of order that is raised about me. There is nothing that either one of these two members said that remotely resembles a point of order.
MADAM SPEAKER: I would like to rule on the first point of order before we move onto another point of order. I don't believe it is a point of order, having ruled so.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. I just want to point out, as the author of this amendment, the intention was to have the subject matter of Bill No. 10, and it is very explicit, it is in plain English what the amendment says. We wanted it - the financing, the construction and operation - and it does state it very clearly that, we want it referred to the Public Accounts Committee for study, for examination. I just wanted to clarify that because there seems to be some misunderstanding in the House.
MADAM SPEAKER: Yes, I think it is because it is late in the day and I would entertain a motion to adjourn the debate on the amendment. Is the Minister of Supply and Services moving the adjournment of the debate on the amendment?
HON. GERALD O'MALLEY: Of the debate.
MADAM SPEAKER: Would all those in favour please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried to adjourn the debate.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. ALLISTER SURETTE: Madam Speaker, I would like to inform all members of the House that we will meet between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Monday. In the Chamber, following the daily routine, we will go to the Committee of the Whole House on Supply. We will begin with the Minister of Natural Resources and if time permits, followed by the Minister of Housing and Consumer Affairs. Following the Committee of the Whole House on Supply, the four hours, we will do Public Bills for Second Reading and in particular, Bill No. 10. At the same time in the Red Room following the daily routine, we will begin with the Sub-committee on Supply. We will start with the Minister of Finance, followed by the Minister of Supply and Services. At 7:00 p.m., the Law Amendments Committee will meet in the Red Room.
I move that we now adjourn until 2:00 p.m. Monday.
MADAM SPEAKER: The motion is that we adjourn. It is in order.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Madam Speaker, I was told by the Government House Leader that Economic Renewal and Tourism would be inserted between Municipal Affairs and the Premier because it is now the Nova Scotia Economic Renewal Agency. Where is it going now? In other words, it should fall after Municipal Affairs. I know Finance is important, but so is Economic Renewal.
MADAM SPEAKER: I think the motion to adjourn was in order and was carried, but if we could clarify your question with the Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. SURETTE: Madam Speaker, the Economic Renewal Agency falls under the Nova Scotia Economic Renewal Agency, so that would be following the M's. So we have to revert back to where we were, following Environment, which would be Finance, Fisheries, Justice. We will begin with Finance and we could clear the matter up on Monday when the House Leader returns.
MADAM SPEAKER: The House stands adjourned until Monday at 2:00 p.m.
[The House rose at 4:01 p.m.]
QUESTION NO. 21
By: Mr. Terence Donahoe (Leader of the Opposition)
To: Hon. William Gillis (Minister of Justice)
(1) I want to know, as does I. Charlton of Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, why the Justice Minister of Nova Scotia has not taken the lead shown by his fellow provincial Attorneys General, such as those of Alberta and Saskatchewan, in their decision not to enforce the gun registration scheme in their provinces, in the face of growing opposition to this federal legislation by a growing number of rural Canadians?
QUESTION NO. 22
By: Mr. George Moody (Kings West)
To: Hon. James Smith (Minister of Community Services)
(1) I want to know, as does Mr. and Mrs. R. Davidson of New Minas, what is the level of income at which a person would not be permitted to apply for a provincial medical card? What is this government doing for those in legitimate need who are on the income borderline and are still denied their application for a provincial medical card?
Note: Both Mr. Davidson and Mrs. Davidson are receiving Canada disability pension. She receives $542 per month and he receives $648. Because of their disabilities they often have more than $400 per month of drug prescription expense. In applying for a provincial medical card they were denied on the basis that their income was too great, approximately $25 over the limit.
QUESTION NO. 23
By: Mr. George Moody (Kings West)
To: Hon. Ronald Stewart (Minister of Health)
(1) I want to know, as does Mrs. M. Fisher of New Minas, Nova Scotia, if the minister will be pursuing legislation to prohibit smoking in public places?
QUESTION NO. 24
By: Mr. George Moody (Kings West)
To: Hon. Ronald Stewart (Minister of Health)
(1) I want to know, as does Ms. L.S. Draper of Canning, Nova Scotia, why denturists in Nova Scotia are not permitted to make removable partial dentures when their colleagues in nearly every other province in Canada are permitted, by the by-laws for dentists, to do so. Can the minister explain why this legislation is not being enacted?