|TABLE OF CONTENTS||PAGE|
|INTRODUCTIONS OF VISITORS||1297|
|TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS:|
|Report of Stakeholder Input on Community Residential Services:|
|A Discussion Paper on Unlicensed Services for Adults and|
|Moving Towards Deinstitutionalization: A Discussion Paper,|
|Hon. J. Smith||1297|
|Anl. Rept. of the Department of Community Services, Hon. J. Smith||1298|
|INTRODUCTION OF BILLS:|
|No. 19, Labour Standards Code, Mr. R. Chisholm||1298|
|NOTICES OF MOTION:|
|Res. 433, Fin.: Election Promise (No New Taxes) - Premier Resign,|
|Mr. R. Russell||1298|
|Res. 434, Lbr. - Workers (Part-Time): Protection - Urge,|
|Mr. R. Chisholm||1298|
|Res. 435, Justice - Crown Prosecutors: Collective Bargaining Denied -|
|Justify, Mr. T. Donahoe||1299|
|Res. 436, NDP MLAs - Sheet Harbour Banking Machine: Behaviour -|
|Apologize, Mr. K. Colwell||1299|
|Res. 437, URB - Gasoline: Price - Powers Restore, Mr. J. Holm||1300|
|Res. 438, Gov't. (N.S.) - People (N.S.): Consultation - Engage,|
|Mr. R. Russell||1300|
|Res. 439, Justice - Crown Prosecutors: Collective Bargaining Denied -|
|Reasons Table, Mr. J. Holm||1301|
|ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS:|
|No. 212, Justice: Crown Prosecutors - Collective Bargaining,|
|Mr. T. Donahoe||1302|
|No. 213, Human Res. - Employment Equity: Contract Compliance Prog. -|
|Status, Mr. J. Holm||1303|
|No. 214, Transport. & Pub. Wks.: Hwy. No. 104 Western Alignment -|
|Fuel Tax Exemption, Mr. G. Moody||1305|
|No. 215, Fin. - Casino (Hfx.): ITT Sheraton - Construction Plan Revision,|
|Mr. G. Moody||1307|
|No. 216, Fin. - Casino (Hfx.): ITT Sheraton -|
|Construction Contract, Mr. G. Moody||1308|
|No. 217, Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Hwys.: Passing Lanes - Policy,|
|Mr. B. Taylor||1309|
|No. 218, Fin. - PST & GST Harmonization: Memorandum of|
|Understanding - Date Signed, Mr. R. Chisholm||1310|
|No. 219, Mun. Affs. - Mun.: Agricultural Land - Tax,|
|Mr. G. Archibald||1312|
|No. 220, Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Tourism Signage: Policy - Details,|
|Mr. J. Leefe||1314|
|No. 221, Fish. - Core (Fisher): Definition - Provide,|
|Mr. A. MacLeod||1315|
|No. 222, ERA - Pictou Shipyards: Negotiations - Status,|
|Mr. D. McInnes||1316|
|No. 223, Fin. - PST & GST Harmonization: Select Comm. - Establish,|
|Mr. R. Chisholm||1316|
|ON MOTION FOR SUPPLY:|
|Mr. J. Leefe||1318|
|Mr. J. Holm||1321|
|Mr. D. Richards||1325|
|Mrs. L. O'Connor||1325|
|HOUSE RESOLVED INTO CWH ON SUPPLY AT 1:54 P.M.||1326|
|HOUSE RECONVENED AT 5:55 P.M.||1326|
|TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS:|
|Educ. - Hants East: Middle School - Proposals, Hon. R. Mann||1326|
|MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5):|
|Transport (Can.) - Marine Use Fees: Impact - Premier Abate:|
|Mr. T. Donahoe||1327|
|Hon. R. Harrison||1329|
|Hon. R. Mann||1331|
|Mr. J. Holm||1332|
|ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Fri., May 3rd at 8:00 a.m.||1334|
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I will call the House to order at this time. We usually begin with introductions and I have an introduction to make this afternoon.
In the Speaker's Gallery, directly ahead of me and accompanied by the Honourable Wayne Adams, is His Excellency Bright McBin Msaka who is the High Commissioner for the Republic of Malawi to Canada. Would you stand up, Your Excellency. (Applause)
Are there any other introductions of distinguished guests in our midst? If not, we will advance to the daily routine of business.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table the Report of Stakeholder Input on Community Residential Services: A Discussion Paper on Unlicensed Services for Adults and Moving Towards Deinstitutionalization: A Discussion Paper. That will be accompanied by, as I made a commitment in this House yesterday, an implementation plan.
MR. SPEAKER: The report is tabled.
The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table the Annual Report of the Department of Community Services for the fiscal year ended May 31, 1995.
MR. SPEAKER: The report is tabled.
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 19 - Entitled an Act to Amend Chapter 246 of the Revised Statutes of 1989. The Labour Standards Code. (Mr. Robert Chisholm)
MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be read a second time on a future day.
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister resigned her seat after breaking the Liberal promise to abolish, scrap, get rid of the GST; and
Whereas upon hearing this news yesterday Premier Savage responded that the Deputy Prime Minister had done the honourable thing; and
Whereas in the 1993 election campaign Premier Savage made his read my lips promise of no new taxes;
Therefore be it resolved that Premier Savage, having congratulated the former Deputy Prime Minister, do the honourable thing on behalf of all Nova Scotians and resign.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the number of part-time workers in Nova Scotia has been increasing significantly to the point where 1 out of 5 workers is working part time; and
Whereas part-time workers are often denied benefits and are increasingly being used as a means of cutting costs; and
Whereas the Minister of Labour, while a member of the Official Opposition, was a champion of the plight of part-time workers who repeatedly urged the Tory Government to bring forward legislation to protect part-time workers;
Therefore be it resolved that this House scorns the hypocrisy of this Liberal Government and urges the Labour Minister to take action to protect part-time workers.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Nova Scotia Provincial Government Lawyers Association has consistently acted in a reasonable and responsible manner in its legitimate request to be recognized as the bargaining agent for Crown Prosecutors; and
Whereas the Minister of Justice demonstrated the exact opposite of reason and responsibility by rejecting this request and tacitly threatening the jobs of our Crown Prosecutors, supporting his action by stating that Nova Scotia is following the bargaining status of eight other provinces; and
Whereas this same Liberal Government thought it was perfectly fine to join the BST despite the opposition of seven other provinces;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Justice stop using lame excuses to justify his actions and clearly explain why he will not permit Crown Prosecutors to have a bargaining agent.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
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 yesterday in this House, the Leader of the NDP and his single caucus member laughed and jeered about a new bank machine being installed in Sheet Harbour; and (Interruptions)
Whereas by their mocking and disgraceful attitude, these two members demonstrated to this House and to all Nova Scotians, their complete lack of understanding of what life is all about in hard-working rural Nova Scotia; and (Interruption)
Whereas the capricious and appalling antics of the NDP are an insult to the hard-working people of the Eastern Shore and will long be remembered by Nova Scotians;
Therefore be it resolved that these two members apologize to the people of Nova Scotia for their shameful behaviour and their total disregard of the importance of the vital services, such as banking machines, which help promote the economic growth of rural Nova Scotia.
Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas based upon the Liberals' projection that they will raise approximately $199 million in gasoline taxes at the flat rate of 13.5 cents per litre, there will be 1.4 billion litres of gasoline sold in Nova Scotia next year; and
Whereas gasoline prices have increased an average of 12.4 cents per litre over the last three weeks, which translates into an additional cost to Nova Scotians of approximately $182.7 million more a year that will be siphoned away to these multinational oil companies; and
Whereas at last year's average cost of 52 cents per litre, Nova Scotians would have paid an additional $61 million in BST but the figure will now rise to almost $76 million at the current gas prices;
Therefore be it resolved that the Liberal Government, which says it wants to put more money into the pockets of its citizens to spur economic growth, reject this approximately $258 million gasoline increase, by again giving the Utility and Review Board the power to regulate maximum gasoline prices and to roll back those that are unjustified.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Hants West.
Whereas the Minister of Finance stated yesterday in the House that Nova Scotians with questions on the blended sales tax can call a 1-800 line and have their questions answered personally and directly; and
Whereas if Nova Scotians concerned with the blended sales tax called 1-800-731-7707, they would get an answering machine with a promise to get back to them later; and
Whereas 1-800 lines with answering machines abound in other departments, such as Health, Education, Environment, Economic Renewal, Transportation and, of course, the Premier's Office;
Therefore be it resolved that the Liberal Government dial 1-800 CONSULT and engage in meaningful consultation with Nova Scotians, instead of hiding behind 1-800 lines.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas many public sector employees enjoy the basic right of collective bargaining, including those from essential services such as police officers, firefighters, nurses, et cetera; and
Whereas after eight years of seeking the right to bargain with the government over working conditions, the public prosecutors have been denied the right to collective bargaining by the Justice Minister and the Liberal Cabinet; and
Whereas the only reasoning which the Minister of Justice could provide to this House and to the public prosecutors for the decision of the Cabinet is that most other provinces don't, so why should we;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the Minister of Justice to table the legal reasons on which he and his Cabinet have based their decision to refuse to extend the basic democratic right of collective bargaining to the public prosecutors, which would have had the effect of enhancing the independence of the prosecution services from the government.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
Are there additional notices of motion? If not, I wish to advise the House that the Clerk has conducted a draw for the Adjournment debate at 6:00 p.m. The winner today is the honourable member for Cape Breton West. He has submitted a resolution for debate as follows:
Therefore be it resolved that the Premier do his utmost to ensure that the Nova Scotia economy is not detrimentally impacted as a result of the imposition of marine user fees, effective June 1st.
We will hear discussion of that subject at 6:00 p.m.
That would appear to conclude the daily routine. We will now advance to the Orders of the Day, Oral Questions Put By Members. The time now being 12:15 p.m., the Oral Question Period today will run until 1:15 p.m., for one hour.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Justice. Last Thursday the Nova Scotia Provincial Government Lawyers Association offered what might be called an olive branch, I suppose, to the provincial government by indicating that they would delay work action or strike action, or whatever, until Cabinet released its decision on what they hoped would be a framework agreement which had been proposed by the association. That situation didn't come to pass, Mr. Speaker, as you will be aware, by reason of the fact that the Minister of Justice has simply, as I understand it, dismissed out of hand the proposal put to the government, through him, by the government lawyers association.
The minister and I have talked about the tremendous change in circumstances faced by Crown Prosecutors in this province in the last three or four, or four or five years. I would like to ask the minister if he would, rather than simply indicating that quite a number of other provinces don't have bargaining or negotiating arrangements with their Crown Prosecutors, aside from that reason, would the Minister of Justice be prepared to offer this House any rational explanation as to why he is not prepared to work out an arrangement with the Crown Prosecutors which would result in there being a process of negotiation relative to salaries, benefits, work conditions and other matters which are of concern to the prosecutors?
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, the matter of legal collective bargaining rights for the government lawyers association, particularly the Crown Attorneys, is a matter of government policy. When it came to me, I had indicated, at the request of the association, that I would take it to Cabinet because it wasn't a decision that I could make. For a variety of reasons, including government policy and including the fact that in the country only two of the provinces have formal legal bargaining rights, the government decided not to proceed. I think that is enough reason right there. It is a matter of policy; we looked at what is happening elsewhere; we considered everything; and, on balance, we decided at this time that we would not extend the bargaining rights, as the government of the member for Halifax Citadel did not when he was on the Treasury benches for 15 years.
MR. DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, well, I hear the words used by the Minister of Justice, but I am not really persuaded, at all, that anything he said has provided anything like a justification or a rationale for failing and refusing to negotiate with the Crown Prosecutors. My understanding is that the prosecutors have put a proposition to this minister and to the government, through this minister, whereby they are not looking to be unionized. They are not looking to engage in traditional collective bargaining agreement process approved by the Labour Relations Board, and so on, but that there be a recognition of their right to negotiate, as a group, and that in the event - as may well happen and may well happen often - a difficulty or dispute arises, that there be some form of arbitration or mediation at the end of the negotiated process that would result in resolution of outstanding problems being realized.
I ask the Minister of Justice, as a matter of public policy, if he could explain what objection it is that the government has to that kind of process, as it relates to negotiating with the Crown Prosecutors?
MR. GILLIS: The indication in writing amounted to collective bargaining rights, which is essentially the matter that they asked me to bring to Cabinet and which I did bring and presented before my Cabinet colleagues. But I think all honourable members of this House should know that the Crown Attorneys, in particular, say it is not about money, it is about working conditions. The fact is, with a new Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. Pitzul, coming on last fall, he has made considerable progress in correcting the concerns they had about working conditions. For example: additional staff, better office space, different locations, changes in the head office when the lease is up, separate spokesperson for the prosecution service, a whole variety of matters that we have dealt with. They say to me that this is what they are concerned about; it is being dealt with. Mr. Pitzul has offered to involve them in more committees. He is reaching out and developing a business plan and I think we are making progress. So on the one side, they say it is about working conditions and then, it is not really collective bargaining, but we are getting two different messages and we think they should work with Mr. Pitzul. He has offered to do that and I think we should get on with it.
MR. DONAHOE: So that I clearly understand then, is the Minister of Justice saying that if there is any hope for the prosecutorial staff to effect any kind of change in their circumstances as they exist today, that they should turn to Mr. Pitzul and deal with Mr. Pitzul and he, the Minister of Justice, does not propose to have anything further to do with the matter; it is now in Mr. Pitzul's hands? Is that what the minister is saying here today?
MR. GILLIS: On the one hand, the member for Halifax Citadel talks about the importance of independence and we get resolutions in this House to that effect. Of course, independence is important. The Director of Public Prosecutions is responsible for managing and operating the prosecution service. I work closely, as my lawful deputy in that area, with Mr. Pitzul. What I am saying is, Mr. Pitzul is reaching out, is meeting with the Crown Attorneys, is developing a business plan and has made a number of changes. We have made good progress. What I am saying is, practically, what should be done is, to continue to work with Mr. Pitzul and I'll certainly work with Jerry Pitzul to improve matters for the Crowns in the province. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: I would like to direct my question through you to the Minister of Human Resources. Back in 1993, Mr. Speaker, under the Economic Justice for Women Policy of the Liberal Party during the election campaign, and also during the very first Throne Speech of this government, the Liberal Government promised that they were going to develop, ". . . a contract compliance program which ensures that private sector companies wishing to do business with the government follow generally acceptable policies on pay equity and minority employment opportunities.".
Yet, Mr. Speaker, the letter that I received from the minister's deputy, dated March 13, 1996 said that, ". . . we have been restructuring the department and realigning resources . . . That has been our first priority . . . We have not, as yet, moved to developing a policy on contract compliance which would cover outside suppliers.".
My question to the minister is quite simply this. Why is it that his government, that he is representing in this capacity, has seen the development of this commitment to women and minorities and the disabled community at such a low priority that you have not yet moved to develop that policy that was promised three years ago?
HON. JAY ABBASS: Well, there are several things that have been on the department's plate since it was formed fairly recently, in fact, only about two years ago. Suffice it to say that the various pieces of legislation that have come forward which require a fairly great amount of input on the labour relations or labour adjustment side of things from our department, combined with work that the department has had to do in updating the affirmative action policy itself has demanded such time that simply put, it will take a matter of months before the department does complete its work in the area that the member is questioning me on.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, what the minister then, I guess, is saying is that other things have had a higher priority in this government's mind than that. We are, of course, at a time when the government is contracting out more and more of its services and privatizing services greater than ever before.
I would like to ask the minister, what system of accountability currently exists to ensure that the millions of dollars that this government is spending on services and supplies from private industry, what system of accountability exists to ensure that that money isn't going to support businesses that are following policies that are discriminatory? In other words, what assurances are there to ensure that the monies are being spent in those businesses that do, in fact, provide for women, minority and the disabled community equity programs rather than going to support those businesses that do not?
MR. ABBASS: The member does understand that there is no policy vis-à-vis contract compliance in place. I did attempt to at least answer the question in the first instance. I can again say to him that within a matter of months, the policy will have been worked upon and hopefully completed.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, the minister's commitment sounds very similar to commitments that have been made by predecessors in that portfolio when I have asked questions before of this matter. Unless the government intends to withdraw its handshake, unless it intends to withdraw its commitment to women, minorities and the disabled community to actually implement a policy, I would like from this minister a very clear commitment that this is going to be seen and acted upon as a very top priority. I would like a commitment and those persons deserve a commitment as to when they can reasonably expect that this government will table and implement a policy that will ensure that these kinds of discrimination that the government said it would not tolerate from businesses doing business with the government will not, in fact, be tolerated.
MR. ABBASS: The member seems hell bent on extracting some sort of promise that a policy will be tabled tomorrow. It is interesting that if one were to examine Hansard, it has been quite some time since he has taken the trouble to ask a question in this area. (Interruption) The truth is that the government, through the department for which I am
responsible has worked very hard in cooperation with the NSGEU and others in formulating an updated version of an affirmative action policy, something that eluded the previous government ever since it brought forward the original version of an affirmative action policy. So the member opposite might wish to check with representatives of the NSGEU and perhaps he would find that they are quite elated to see that the government has moved to confirm or pass an updated version of an affirmative action policy, one that was not dealt with, not updated for quite some time, a matter of decades, since it was originally brought forward I believe in the mid-1970's. So the member opposite should give some credit where credit is due. I hope at a very early date to be able to tell him more about contract compliance and affirmative action.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question, through you, is for the Minister of Business and Consumer Services. I hope that this is under his jurisdiction because I have been a little bit confused and there has been nothing come out from government that clearly states everything that is under his ministry but I will try. The minister, I am sure, is aware that under the Highway No. 104 western alignment, the toll highway, that Tidewater and Chisholm's do not pay fuel tax. I am told that the amount of fuel tax that would be forgiven or not paid on that project would be over $2 million. I would ask the minister, if private trucks working on that project besides Tidewater and Chisholm's equipment, are those private trucks exempt from the gasoline tax as well?
HON. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the opportunity to have a question. I might say that I believe this is probably under the negotiated terms and references of the Highway No. 104 and I would pass it on to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works who is responsible. (Laughter)
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, the agreement on the tax exemption, if you will, for the Highway No. 104 project was negotiated with the Department of Finance. (Laughter) As I understand it they set up an account where certain items, a submitted list of eligible items to be exempted are submitted and pre-approved, subcontractors and their types of equipment are not, will not, be exempted from the taxation but the consumables for the project itself, which I believe would include the equipment of the main contractors would, in fact, in my understanding, be exempted. (Interruption) Probably a certain amount that would be pre-approved I believe would be, yes.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I guess I will go back to the Minister of Transportation on this one. I am told today that, of course, many of the oil companies seem to know that they are tax exempted for fuel, whoever has given that permission, I don't know. The calculation is about $2 million. Maybe it is the Minister of Finance that has done the calculation on what really the amount might be.
I wonder who is policing. In other words if the fuel is tax exempt, as I am told and I think it is, who is policing whether those vehicles are used solely for that project and do not end up moving around the province or somewhere else with tax exempt fuel? Who is policing that? Would the Minister of Finance care to answer that?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Yes, Mr. Speaker, as with all matters of taxation, the responsibility for monitoring and policing that agreement rests clearly with the Minister of Business and Consumer Services. (Laughter)
MR. DOWNE: It is almost like the front line of a football team or a rugby team, as we are going down the field, Mr. Speaker. (Interruptions)
Mr. Speaker, we have a number of compliance officers and auditing officers for which we will be undertaking any inspection of programs that are related to this issue and any other subsidy or programs for dyed fuels or subsidized fuel programs, and we will undergo to continue to do that and we will do that under this arrangement.
MR. MOODY: Well, I will go back to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. It seems that at least I can get an answer there. (Laughter) So, I will go back where I am getting at least some information.
The minister indicated that there would be a list besides fuel that would be tax exempt. The minister said that these items obviously have to be approved as they move along. I am wondering if the minister could give us any examples of the types of items that would be tax exempt on such a project, and would it include anything that might be built along that highway strip as well as the highway itself?
MR. MANN: Well, Mr. Speaker, I would stand to be corrected on this because taxation is really not the Minister of Transportation's responsibility, but having seen the other ministers who are responsible bail out, I will give it a try. (Laughter)
What actually happens in these cases, the Department of Finance is not interested in dealing with every slip of paper, with every receipt and invoice, and approving it. You can imagine in a project that is going to cost $113 million, the receipts and invoices would fill a room. So, what they do, they go out in advance of the contract; they look at the contract; and they determine a set amount of tax exemptions for the project.
Let us just say, for example, there are $4 million that would be the amount that would be exempted, or that is the tax that it would add up to. So, that way they do not have to deal with it. This is done from the experience of the department in looking at construction contracts and dealing on exemptions from other projects. So, in fact, at the end of the day, if you had every invoice, it might be $3.8 million, it might be $4.2 million. The exemption can be on the high side a little bit or on the low side. Each individual item does not come into play. In fact, that amount cannot be exceeded and that amount is what, I guess, is written down as the exemption.
So, it does not matter how much fuel is consumed, it is only what was pre-approved in that amount before the contract started.
MR. SPEAKER: On a new question, the honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I will go to the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation and I know that he is responsible, and I know that I will not be moved around this time.
The ITT Sheraton, as we know, has now filed an update which is the same plan they originally filed for the new casino. We also know that according to Mr. Fiske, the ITT Sheraton's projections are off by 60 per cent. We also know that Mr. Fiske is not happy with the proposal and that he says a casino with four restaurants, several bars and lounges, like the original concept put in by ITT Sheraton, will not work.
I wonder if the Minister responsible for the Gaming Corporation agrees with Mr. Fiske that the plan has now to be revised, and the original plan that was put in is one that will not work here in this province?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Well, Mr. Speaker, I have not had an opportunity to discuss with Mr. Fiske his reaction to the filing of the plan, certainly, to the same extent that some of the media have had. I would simply indicate that it has been our position for some time that the original plan may not make the best business sense, in terms of the bottom line profit. So we have been willing to enter discussions and conversations with Sheraton, with our partner, to deal with possible changes. We are at a position that when the time came to file the plan, they filed the original plan. We can only assume at this stage that the original plan is proceeding.
I am not convinced, nor do I think that Mr. Fiske is probably convinced, that the original plan is the best business plan. I can tell you this much, that even if we proceed with the original business plan, we will be injecting a massive amount of money into the local economy, in terms of construction. We can anticipate an increased win tax, because we take our 20 per cent right off the top. So I think there are benefits in constructing the original plan; there are benefits for the government and for the people of Nova Scotia. Our concern is that on the profit end, at the bottom line, it may not be the most sensible approach.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that the press has better access to Mr. Fiske than the minister. I would have thought it would have been the other way around. But given the fact that ITT Sheraton has not come up, according to Mr. Fiske, with a suitable plan, and he is already talking about possibly not giving an extension or only a short extension, he uses those words, he might now consider a short extension, I wonder if the minister will confirm that the government may be granting an extension on the end of this contract?
We know about the penalty clause effective September 30, 1998, if this is not completed. I wonder if the minister would indicate today whether he, given what has been said by Mr. Fiske and given that he does not think this is the best plan available because if the best plan available isn't put forward, it may end up not being successful. I wonder if the minister is considering or will be considering further delay or extension of this agreement?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, we have before us no requests for an extension. I can tell you that we would not be of a mind to grant any such requests for an extension, were they blanket requests - simply, we want to have the time period extended for another three months, six months, whatever. We would not be prepared to seriously consider that.
If our partner can come up with a solid outline of a proposal that makes sense to us and requires some additional time, then we may consider it but we have not had that request at the moment, so we are forced to operate on the assumption that it is full speed ahead with the original plan. They filed that plan, the metre is now running, they are facing construction deadlines and penalties at the end of that period. So the ball is quite clearly in their court.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister. I know that the penalties are going to be enforced and the time is running on ITT Sheraton. Given the fact that ITT Sheraton's projections are off 60 per cent, which is greater than 50 per cent, I am sure the minister is concerned. Given the fact that when they announced the construction of the new casino, the minister - and I agree there will be jobs in building whatever ends up being built, but he - also said that the City of Halifax, or now the new regional metro city, large city, would receive a property and business tax of $5.98 million, beginning in 1998.
I am asking the minister, will he ensure that not only his penalties are kept but the municipalities will, in fact, be compensated for any loss of tax revenue if the ITT Sheraton's commitment is not met, as he told the Municipality of Halifax or the City of Halifax that they would also share in these revenues and benefits from this new casino?
MR. BOUDREAU: Well, Mr. Speaker, at the time this particular project was selected by the Casino Project Committee, which process was done separate and apart from government, when it was selected we shared with the honourable members of the House, I might say at their very persistent questioning, the details of the proposal that ITT Sheraton had put forward and which had proven to be successful, which included such things as construction, timetables, construction amounts, potential revenue for municipalities on completion and so on. We can only say at this point in time ITT Sheraton appears to be prepared to proceed with that original proposal or something very close to it. If they do, then presumably that revenue will result. But more than that, at this time, we can't commit to.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I have a copy of the first amendment of the Halifax casino construction contract and I will table it. Going through the contract, and I am sure the minister has gone through it, I note on Page 3, which amends Section 5.09, pre-estimate of damages in the event of late completion, the sum of $10,000 per day for that period of time until completion, September 30th, and I see 19988. I wonder if the minister could confirm that the contract should have read 1998 and this was just sloppy drafting or some mistake in the amendment of the casino construction contract?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: I don't have the contract in front of me, but I will certainly take that question on notice and get back to the honourable member and indicate whether or not it was sloppy drafting.
MR. MOODY: I will table this. This has been signed by both groups. Will the minister confirm this error will not affect the date if the penalty clause is invoked, if that is the case? Will he have a look at that and assure us that if there is a mistake, that that won't actually affect the penalty?
MR. BOUDREAU: Of course, Mr. Speaker, we will have legal counsel look at that and bring us an opinion.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. The minister will be aware, I am sure, that his government has not been maintaining the secondary roads in this province nearly as well as the Nova Scotia taxpayers would like his government to do. In fact, many complain that our provincial highways are deteriorating and falling apart. In certain areas, the highways are in disrepair and ruin.
Now, Mr. Speaker, it seems a bit ironic that his government on some of our highways has been removing complete previous passing lanes rather than maintaining the former section. Does the minister's department have a new policy relative to passing lanes?
HON. RICHARD MANN: Not that I am aware of, Mr. Speaker. I do know from experience that passing lanes have been removed on highways for a lot longer than I have been the Minister of Transportation.
MR. TAYLOR: The other day, I think it was just Tuesday past, the minister's department ran a solid white line up between the passing lane and the middle lane from Salt Springs to Mount Thom. Mount Thom, Mr. Speaker, is a long steep stretch of highway. I am sure you realize that.
MR. SPEAKER: I come through there every week.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes, absolutely. You will certainly understand what I am talking about. Many times, commercial vehicles, specifically the loaded vehicles, will stay in the right-hand lane, which we could call a third lane, and in the middle lane, another commercial vehicle which may be loaded a little lighter or have a bigger engine, will attempt to pass. They run along beside each other and a passenger vehicle can motor up the outside or the hammer lane, as it is referred to in trucker lingo.
But, nonetheless, on Tuesday, Mr. Speaker, the minister's department ran a solid white line between the middle lane and the right-hand passing lane on the west-bound lane of Highway No. 104 western alignment. Now the question to the minister is simply this, is it the minister's intention to remove that passing lane that is on the right lane and is so very much used by the travelling public?
MR. MANN: The one on the right then would be in the middle and the one in the middle is on the left? (Laughter) And the one on the left is now the hammer lane; putting the hammer down.
Mr. Speaker, the passing lanes on highways are put there to do exactly what the member said; when you have slower moving traffic or commercial trucks travelling a little slower - going up an incline usually - there is a passing lane put in to allow other traffic to pass it. What, in fact, he is talking about now, I assume, is the Mount Thom area, is a row of highway that is now twinned. So what you have, in effect, is a continuous passing lane on twinned highways; you have one-way traffic.
If he is talking about the Mount Thom area, that is now a twinned highway. It has an east-bound road and a west-bound road. So what the department, I would assume, is doing is having the roads comply to the traffic engineering specifications and to have two lanes and not three lanes. We don't have three lane highways, if you will, in the province going in one direction on our 100-Series Highways. So they would be taking that out and having the continuous passing lane on the twinned highway.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I think the minister is going to increase the potential for accidents for passenger vehicles to rear-end commercial vehicles, because that three lane highway on Mount Thom has been in existence for a number of years and we have three lane highways, if you will, on the four lane between Halifax and Dartmouth; many places. People become used to and accustomed to those highways.
Nonetheless, my final supplementary, Mr. Speaker, will the Minister of Transportation confirm that during this, the fourth construction season of the Savage Government, that his government will be doing less than nine kilometres of repaving in the nine provincial constituencies held by the Official Opposition in this province? (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Well, that supplementary doesn't seem to arise from the original question or the first supplementary. But if the minister wishes to respond, he may. Supplementary questions are supposed to flow from the original question. (Interruptions)
MR. MANN: Now he has me in trouble with my colleagues. Mr. Speaker, no, I can't confirm that. The capital program hasn't even been finalized yet. We are still doing engineering specs on certain jobs, to see if jobs can be done. I don't know, there may have been more than nine kilometres already called, I can't answer that.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question, through you, to the Minister of Finance, and it is on the issue of the harmonization of the PST/GST. In this House, in the early part of April, we spent some time trying to urge the Minister of Finance to get out of the back rooms, and to stop these back-room negotiations with the federal government to consult with Nova Scotians and let us know what was going on. As late as April 16th and 17th, the minister was telling us here in this House that an agreement had not been reached with the federal government. Then on April 18th, it was reported in the paper on April 19th that the minister was spoken to when he was in Ottawa and he told all Nova Scotians, through the newspaper, that he had no agreement.
Yet, yesterday we received from the minister - I believe he tabled it; if not, I would be happy to table it - a Memorandum of Understanding on sales tax harmonization dated, in Halifax, April 12, 1996, by the Minister of Finance for this government, and dated the same date and signed by the Minister of Finance for the Government of Canada. I would like to ask the minister, Mr. Speaker, if he would explain why it is there is a discrepancy between what he told this House, what he told the people of Nova Scotia, and the date that he apparently signed this agreement, April 12, 1996?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I supplied a copy of that agreement yesterday to the honourable member. There is no discrepancy. I indicated, I think the first of that week, that we did not have an agreement and, in fact, when I returned from my discussions in Ottawa, I indicated to the press here that I had no agreement to announce. In fact, that was the case.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I guess I will go back, then. He just confirmed the fact that he was truthful in his statements, that there was no agreement signed with the federal government on either the 16th or the 17th or the 18th or even the 19th, yet we have a Memorandum of Understanding on sales tax harmonization with his signature dated April 12, 1996, could the minister perhaps explain then that if this agreement was not signed on the date that it states, April 12th, when did he sign it?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, the explanation is very simple. The federal government drafted the agreement, they put the date of the 12th on it and the federal minister signed it. He forwarded it to us, I presume expecting and hoping that we would sign it and return the document to them on April 12th. We didn't.
MR. CHISHOLM: I don't know, maybe I wasn't clear. When I asked the minister when he signed this agreement, maybe I wasn't clear. I will have to go back into Hansard maybe, to see if I have to take responsibility for the minister not answering that question, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to go back, in my final supplementary, Mr. Speaker, and ask the minister if he would explain why it is that we had this agreement, which we finally got our hands on -it was signed by the Minister of Finance for the Government of Canada on April 12, 1996. It says that it was signed by Bernie Boudreau, Minister of Finance, at Halifax, April 12, 1996 - and we don't know yet when, in fact, the minister affixed his signature to that, but maybe we will be able to eke that information out later on, or maybe the media will be able to later on, outside . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Is that the final supplementary? It is a legitimate question.
MR. CHISHOLM: My question to the minister. In his announcement on the 23rd, he included in the package a form of Memorandum of Understanding, which has all kinds of blanks in it . . .
MR. SPEAKER: This appears to be your fourth question.
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . and, in fact, has one clause that is different. Why, if the minister was not trying to mislead the people of Nova Scotia as to when he signed this agreement, did he not include the signed copy with his announcement on the 23rd to the people of Nova Scotia?
MR. BOUDREAU: Now, Mr. Speaker, I have tabled an agreement that had blanks in it? I am curious, I will be interested in seeing after Question Period what those blanks were.
AN HON. MEMBER: The date and your signature.
MR. BOUDREAU: The date and the signature were the blanks. Oh, well I wanted to be clear about that.
You know, Mr. Speaker, no doubt the NDP feel they are on a real hot trail here. (Interruptions) Let me try and explain it again. The federal Minister of Finance drafted a document, all typed in dates, the 12th, expecting that we would sign and return the document to him as part of an agreement. That was on Friday, the 12th. I can tell you that we did not do so. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. The municipal units around the province have been very concerned for the last few weeks about the provincial sales tax that they will be paying on the services they are purchasing. Now they have also been told they will be responsible for about $2.10 of assessment on farm land.
I am wondering, will the Minister of Municipal Affairs not agree with the municipal units and with the Opposition in this House that this government is, in fact, downloading and treating very harshly the municipal units throughout this province?
HON. SANDRA JOLLY: No, Mr. Speaker.
MR. ARCHIBALD: To the Minister of Agriculture then, the supplementary question. Farmers are experiencing costs that have been unheard of in in the past little while. Feed freight assistance is gone, the grants from the Department of Agriculture have been reduced, grain prices are at an all time high, fuel costs are escalating and, now, they are faced with paying a tax they have never paid before and that will be a tax on agricultural land throughout the province. Kings County farmers alone will be paying $1 million. Could the Minister of Agriculture indicate that he does agree that the government is, indeed, picking on rural Nova Scotia and, in particular, the farmers of this province?
HON. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, no, I don't agree with the honourable member but we need to have some clarification. Presently, we are providing a tax exemption on agricultural land throughout Nova Scotia, that is not being used, to a total of somewhere around $1.2 million. We are presently looking at meeting with the delegation from the Federation of Agriculture, along with Municipal Affairs and Housing and our department.
I don't know if the honourable member recalls but, last year, we introduced a farm registration system in Nova Scotia, something that will certainly be discussed at this upcoming meeting. Whether or not that we could certainly look very closely at the tax exemption that is being provided maybe to people who are presently registered farmers in Nova Scotia, but I do want to raise the point that there will be some discussions taking place. This is a very critical issue with the farming communities throughout Nova Scotia, especially with the municipal units, and there will be some discussions to follow very shortly.
MR. SPEAKER: Now, the honourable member for Kings North asked a question of Municipal Affairs and then of Agriculture; I think I will give him a second supplementary of Agriculture.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to you and the House, that was a second supplemental to the Minister of Agriculture; it was exactly the same topic.
MR. SPEAKER: The Chair doesn't agree. I credit you with two questions, one to Municipal Affairs and one to Agriculture, with a supplementary now in order.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I want to ask a question, again, to the Minister of Agriculture.
The minister indicates that there are going to be discussions with the Federation of Agriculture and there are going to be discussions with farmers. Now, all this is taking place after the farmers have found out they are suddenly going to be charged an extra tax and this is taking place at the time of year when farmers are busy in their fields planting and getting ready for their busiest time of year.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to know where this Minister of Agriculture can identify the millions of dollars - because it is over $2 million - where is the minister going to identify this money, farmers are supposed to find it, just pull it out of the air, and he has already cancelled feed freight assistance, he has already done away with most of the grants . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: He did not . . .
MR. ARCHIBALD: Well, there wasn't a single scrap of resistance from this minister when the federal government did cancel it. Now, will the Minister of Agriculture indicate when the department and this minister is going to start sticking up for rural Nova Scotia and the farmers of Nova Scotia?
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, sticking up for farmers we have and we will continue to do so. Regarding the feed freight assistance - just to remind the honourable member - our department has been heavily involved with the feds, with discussions with people in the industry, we have had some department staff working with the industry to identify the exact use and trying to provide them with actual statistics in order to negotiate with the feds. I did not cancel the feed freight assistance, this is a program that the federal government announced in their last federal budget. With the negotiations, the Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture was in Truro two weeks ago and made a presentation of the first instalment of $3.2 million to the executive of the Federation of Agriculture.
The member points out that we are looking at somewhere around $2 million alone in Kings County. This tax exemption, Mr. Speaker, has a value of $1.2 million total. This is throughout Nova Scotia so I can't understand where the member is getting the $2 million.
Also, Mr. Speaker, presently municipalities will have the choice to either collect this tax or to provide this benefit to farmers throughout Nova Scotia.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. A Department of Transportation spokesperson recently announced that a new tourism signage policy had been adopted by the province. I wonder if the minister can confirm that a new signage policy has, in fact, been adopted by the government and if so, when it will be unveiled?
HON. RICHARD MANN: What has been developed is the attraction sign policy. The Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Tourism branch of the Economic Renewal Agency, and I believe that the Tourist Industry Association of Nova Scotia worked on that policy together, for the placement of the blue attraction signs and a pricing policy and some guidelines regarding that. That program is underway and in effect.
The departments continue to work together on signage for secondary roads and business signs and those types of initiatives.
MR. LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, possibly the minister could make the details of that available to all members, so that we are better informed when constituents ask us questions concerning it.
The spokesperson further added that the entire cost of the signs would be borne by the private sector and that the costs would range between $2,500 and $17,500. I wonder if the minister could inform if this is a one-time cost and if there are annual fees associated with it?
MR. MANN: Mr. Speaker, it would be a one-time cost, at least for the life of the sign. It is a cost recovery, it is based on the cost to the Department of Transportation to dig the holes, do the cement, provide the steel posts and to make and install the signs.
The attraction that puts the first sign up has a significantly higher cost, they pay the full cost of that; then each subsequent sign added is a lesser cost because they are just paying for the sign, the costs of production and installation.
MR. LEEFE: The spokesperson went on to say that access to signage would be made available only to businesses which have more than 10,000 visitors annually. My question to the minister is this, are small to medium-sized businesses, which we often refer to as the growth sector in the economy, being denied opportunity to participate even if they are prepared to pay the $2,500 or more per sign?
MR. MANN: The Public Highway Act prohibits signs for businesses within 150 metres of the centre line of a controlled access highway. So on these highways where you see most of these blue attraction signs, they are not businesses, they are attractions. They are museums, they are heritage centres or those types of things. It is not for businesses, I make that quite clear. That is why the tourism association was involved in dealing with this. So businesses are not permitted to put signs up along the 100-Series Highways unless they are approximately 500 feet from the centre line.
You will note in areas, I think near the Windsor area, in the Stewiacke area, you will see signs set back in fields. That is the reason for that, the prohibition within 150 metres of the centre line.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. ALFRED MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of Fisheries. I was wondering if the Minister of Fisheries could provide us with a definition of a core fisherman.
HON. JAMES BARKHOUSE: I am pleased that the member is very concerned about this issue. This spring there have been extensive meetings held by fishermen, in consultation with DFO. The fishermen have brought forth a description of what a core fisherman would be. I don't know if Mr. Mifflin did accept their definition. It is somebody who earned 75 per cent of their income from the fishery; they also have fished for a number of consecutive years in recent past or if they had earned, I think, $25,000. There may be a few other minor items for criteria but it is a very important step in the professionalization of fishermen in Atlantic Canada. In the Gulf area, they already have a bona fide fisherman's program which has existed for the last seven or eight years.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his answer. I would like the minister, if he would, through you, to give us an idea of where we are in this province with professionalization of the fishing industry and what he understands that to be for our fishermen?
MR. BARKHOUSE: Well, the member raises a very important question. I suppose it is a situation that has evolved in the last few months and it is a position that has not been fully decided upon by the fishing industry. It has been done in consultation between the group of eight and the federal minister and they have brought recommendations from industry to the federal government and professionalization has not been fully implemented. There is talk of criteria again of how one would enter the fishery as professional fishermen and that criteria has not been fully established in my understanding. Training for professionalization has not been decided upon. This is a matter between the fishermen and the federal government and possibly there will be consultation with the provinces and a training program that may take place in the future.
MR. MACLEOD: Mr. Speaker, again back to the Minister of Fisheries, I wonder if the minister could tell us if he supports the idea that a fisherman in this province would have to have Grade 12 to become recognized as a fisher person in this province?
MR. BARKHOUSE: Absolutely not. I think that is an issue that we are working with the fishing industry in making that decision. Fishermen will have maximum input into this. Certainly fishermen who have been in the fishing industry will be grandfathered into the industry and they will be accorded the scrutiny by peer review which will be the fishing industry itself in consultation with the province and the federal government.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. I understand the Premier was in Pictou on Monday night of this week. The Pictou-New Glasgow Evening News reported that the Premier said that he hoped he would have an announcement on the Pictou Shipyards within a few days or within a week, I believe the quote said. I wonder if the Premier could bring me up-to-date and the people from Pictou as to where we are with negotiations regarding the shipyards?
HON. JOHN SAVAGE (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, we are no further ahead and no further backward, just exactly what I said.
MR. MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, as I say, when the Premier made that announcement, I felt very good and I had a few telephone calls from Pictou today wondering how close we were and whether it was outside people or whether it is local people who are being negotiated with to take over that shipyard? Perhaps the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency could respond.
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: The question is, what is the status of negotiations? I think it is fairly public. I am hearing back from the community that we are dealing with one company. We are in the final stages of negotiation with that company and hence the Premier's comment that if we are successful, an announcement would be made. We are cautiously optimistic but there are no guarantees we will be successful, but hopefully we will have an announcement shortly. It is a local company, a company of local interest.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to address my question through you to the Minister of Finance, again on the harmonization of the PST/GST known, I guess by some, as the BST. I asked the minister earlier, trying to get some sense of when in fact he signed the agreement with the federal government on the harmonization plan, and we have yet to get that answer. (Interruption) It is important to a lot of Nova Scotians what this government is doing because whether it is contractors, small business people, or consumers, people are coming to me and they are saying, what is going on here? What are the details? (Interruptions) This is going to impact us on a daily basis.
I want to ask the minister, Mr. Speaker, he also indicated to us, at the same he told us there was no agreement, that he was going to consult, in fullness, with Nova Scotians on the details of this agreement. I would like to ask the minister if he would agree, here today, to establish a select committee to consult with Nova Scotians, from one end of this province to the other, about the impact of the harmonization of the GST and the PST?
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I am not going to deal with the rhetoric; we only have a few minutes left in Question Period, so I will just ignore the rhetoric. Let me just simply indicate to the honourable member that we have already begun a process of consultation with business groups, with individuals, with the various sectors, with the municipalities, with all of these groups, first of all to determine the impact of the new harmonized tax on all sectors and, indeed, to work with them to maximize the benefit and
minimize any difficulties. We made that commitment; we are going to do it. We, in fact, are doing it; the process has started already. In the next number of months, as we move up to the implementation date of April 1, 1997, that process will continue.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, again, what the minister has planned, what he has been doing so far, is he is going to hold discussions behind closed doors with special interests, and others, who he decides will, in fact, participate in the discussion. This minister and his government want to characterize this as a $120 million tax break for Nova Scotians, but it isn't for ordinary Nova Scotians. What it is, is a $300 million tax break for business, but Nova Scotians are going to have to pay through the teeth for this kind of tax break.
I want to ask the minister today, given the concern and anxiety that Nova Scotians have about this deal because there is no information out there, will he commit to hold public, fully open discussions with Nova Scotians in order that the cloud of deception comes off this deal and we really find out what is going on?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of any group or any individuals who have approached our department seeking to discuss the impact and the details, and make suggestions and comments to the Department of Finance, that have been denied. The honourable member talks about a select group, as if we have gone out and picked certain people that we are prepared to talk to. That is not the case; we have been open. A lot of groups have come forward already - and I am sure there will be more - and thank goodness we have from now until April 1, 1997, to make sure that we have an opportunity to discuss this measure with all of them. (Applause)
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, when it comes to putting out the propaganda that this minister wants to try to shove down Nova Scotians' mouths, he doesn't wait for them to ask him a question, he just sends it out at taxpayers' expense. Why should Nova Scotians believe him when he says he is going to listen, when he can't even tell us when he signed the agreement?
MR. SPEAKER: That sounds like a rhetorical question. I want a question to the minister.
MR. CHISHOLM: My final question to the minister, Mr. Speaker, is to take a leadership and a responsible role in this whole consultation effort and to hold open, accessible forums, from one end of this province to the other, to have independent advisors and experts involved so that Nova Scotians can get the details on the true impacts of this deal and not simply have to be forced to swallow his propaganda?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, we will offer the opportunity that I have discussed in responding to his earlier questions, to any groups that are interested in discussing the impacts of this measure. (Interruption) The fact of the matter is, as much as this group over here whose only job creation plan is to add people to the public service - that is their job creation plan - just simply cannot come to terms with the fact that the private sector will create jobs as a result of this measure. (Interruptions) We quoted one of the leading economists in this province giving that opinion. He said there will be general approval of this, except for the political rhetoric of some who are trying to make short-term political advantage, (Applause) by those narrow-minded, old-fashioned politicians who mistake volume for substance. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, just before we call it, a news release that went out today announcing paving work on Erin Leah Drive, Martina Drive, Caranet Drive, Candice Cross, Brookvale Drive, Britany Drive and Brandy Drive, all in the riding of Cape Breton West.
AN HON. MEMBER: Who holds that seat? Is that yours? Whose seat is that?
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader. Pardon me, on a point of order, the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley has a point of order. Let's hear it.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The question was on secondary roads, not in subdivisions . . .
MR. SPEAKER: I don't feel that . . .
MR. TAYLOR: . . . where the difference is cost-shared.
MR. SPEAKER: . . . constitutes a point of order.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: The only thing that counts is what he wants to count.
Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Government Motions.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I move that you do now leave the Chair and the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House on Supply Unto Her Majesty.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few minutes this afternoon to discuss education in Nova Scotia, a matter which is of great interest not only to those who are in our education system and to their families but, indeed, to all Nova Scotians.
Not long ago, I caught the end of a public affairs program on CBC Television, a national program. The host, Pamela Wallin, was talking to two of the spokespersons for major investment houses in Canada. There was a bit of a lapse at the end of the program and it was clear that she had a question in the back of her mind and she brought it forward. She asked them, what do you think are the two most important investments that government can make in Canada? Both of them said, without hesitation, education and health. For if we do not have a healthy society and if we do not have a well-educated society - a society which is educated to the needs of the present and, insofar as we are able to determine, the future - then we have nothing to offer global investors, we have nothing to offer Canadian investors.
I think it is time, Mr. Speaker, that we all took a look at education in Nova Scotia in a way which has not happened now for some time. We have been, I think, well served by our public school system, by our community colleges, by our universities, by our private training institutions and by our private schools.
The winds of change clearly are blowing across this planet. Those winds of change are telling us that the way we have done it is just not good enough for the future. We, in Canada, have a peculiar kind of education system which has grown up something along the lines of a patchwork quilt, and that is an accident of history. It arises out of the fact that in 1867, when the Fathers of Confederation framed the British North America Act, they looked upon education as solely a provincial responsibility.
I don't think there is a person in this place, and probably hardly a person in Nova Scotia and, perhaps, a person across Canada, who will not, in 1996, say that we no longer can afford a patchwork quilt of educational opportunity in our public school system across Canada but, rather, that we must make a concerted effort to create a system which allows young people, whether they live in St. John's, Newfoundland, or Victoria, British Columbia, to move anywhere across this country and carry with them an education which will allow them to very easily and very quickly integrate into the new school system in which they become students. We talk about the absolute essentiality of portability of pensions, of portability of health care. Surely, we should also ensure that there is a portability of education, which is practical and meets the needs of the modern community that we call Canada.
The Canadian Ministers of Education Council has had some modest success with respect to establishing national goals and standards, but still the council has not been able to go as far as many believe it should as the spokes-organization for education in Canada, and here we are talking particularly about public school education. It is time that we set aside our provincial interests in favour of the greater national interests, for if we do not move forward in public school education with a national focus, then our individual foci will draw us down into the past rather than pull us up and catapult us into the future.
We have had some change with respect to the administration of the public school system in Nova Scotia as a result of the reduction in school boards, from 22 to 7. The Minister of Education has, from time to time, stated that he believed that this would result in cost-savings which would accrue to the classroom. One must hope that he is right, although there are some, including myself, who doubt that this, in fact, will be the case. But that is for another day to argue and the future as it unfolds will bear out who is right and who is wrong in forecasting the impacts of this reduction with respect to the availability of funds. I don't believe that there are many people in Nova Scotia who are of the view that the reduction of school boards, from 22 to 7, is going to have a significant impact on what is actually happening on a day to day basis in our schools.
Recently, on the radio, in the print media, on television and in discussions around this province, some significant attention has been paid to violence in our schools. Just last week there was a stabbing in the west end, not on the school grounds but in a commercial parking lot adjacent to the school. Some members of the House, and I am sure many Nova Scotians, heard a member of the Halifax Police Department saying that on almost every occasion where a young person uses a weapon in school, whether it is a weapon taken to school that is readily recognized, a knife for example, or something which is used on a day to day basis in school, perhaps a compass in a math set, which can very easily be turned into a very dangerous weapon, that the weapons are used not because students are offensive and want to attack somebody else but rather because they feel threatened in their school environment and they feel that the only way they can be protected is to take aggressive action if confronted by an aggressor and to respond accordingly. It is human nature, no matter what age we are, if we are put into a corner to respond in that aggressive kind of way.
So, it seems to me that one of the things we must be focusing on in our school system in Nova Scotia is how, first of all, to recognize what the source of violence is and, secondly, to determine how we can reduce, if not eradicate, the violence in and associated with our public school system. That cannot be done by the Minister of Education alone. He knows that and we know that. That cannot be done by the individual schools. It cannot be done by the schoolteacher who has those children for only a few hours a day. It must be done through a concerted and comprehensive effort, which involves the whole community. Which involves the whole community in defining violence and involves the whole community in creating a prescription to move towards the prevention of violence.
The Minister of Health and I, the other day in his budget consideration, talked a little bit about self-esteem, respect, not only self-respect but respect for others. I think this is very much an element that is lacking in our public schools with respect to those who are either prone to causing violence or who are prone to taking extraordinary action in the face of what they believe will be violent action visited upon them.
All of that, I suppose, leads me to the point where we must ensure that young people in our school system and their families, their teachers, are imbued with the kind of hope which raises self-esteem, which raises a sense of respect for others and which causes people to believe that the future is worthwhile preparing for and is worthwhile visiting and cease focusing on those events in our daily lives which may cause us to be less hopeful and therefore more prone to seeing violence visited in our schools upon our young people, and indeed upon our schoolteachers.
Mr. Speaker, I believe firmly that one of the things we must do is to establish standards in our public school system which do not reflect the needs of the past, but which rather insofar as we are able to predict them, address the needs of the future. Through the 1970's and the 1980's, much of which time I spent in the public school system in Nova Scotia, we looked upon schools as a place of learning, as a place of preparation for life, but in a very broad kind of sense, where it was believed that if we kept young people in school long enough, they would be sufficiently socialized that they then could go out into the world and find their place there.
So long as we were living in a manufacturing, industrial society - and an economy in Nova Scotia which essentially is a natural resources based economy - we could do that. These people would not necessarily leave for good, paying jobs but they nonetheless had some prospect of jobs and some prospect of a long-term future in the work place. Like it or not, I believe that that time is passed, that we must recognize that fact and we must recognize that we now live in a post-industrial society, that we live in a global information economy, which is putting tremendous stresses on the social fabric of Nova Scotia and of Canada and which must be very carefully dissected so that we can understand what kind of standards we need to create for Nova Scotia's public school system if we are to move boldly, with confidence and with hope, into the future.
That tells me that we have to move away from - and this is not a criticism of the government, it is simply an observation of from whence we have come - the kind of blended mediocrity that we have encouraged in our school system as a measure of socialization and move towards a new system which is [Page 1321]
based on excellence and which gives every person who attends the school system full opportunity to participate in that excellence. In other words, what we must do is establish new strategic directions for our school system, for our public schools, for the young people who attend them, for the educators who educate in them and for the parents who with such great hope send their children off to school every morning.
I said a moment ago, and it bears repeating, that in Nova Scotia we have been inclined to lean heavily on our traditional natural resource-based economy: the manufacturing economy, the economy of the industrial age. We are now, as I said, in a post-industrial information economy. We are in what has often been described as a jobless recovery and if we are satisfied to accept a jobless recovery then we must understand that we are condemning a very significant proportion of our population to a life without hope. It is that hopelessness which causes self-esteem to erode and which leads to violence in the schools or, indeed, in the home and in society in general.
I believe, Mr. Speaker, that it is time that we stood, as Nova Scotians, and made a significant determination to put our public school education system under significant scrutiny, not only to look at it for what it is but also to create strategic directions to determine what it should be. This means that Nova Scotians from all walks of life should be part of the scrutinizing of the system and part of the causing there to be recommendations as to where we should go in the future. That means that we have the students themselves, we have the teachers and their administrators, we have the parents, we have professional organizations like the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, the Medical Society, the Bar Society, organized labour, participating in what must be a massive, across-the-province exercise.
I believe that one of the ways that this might well be done is for there to be a Royal Commission established and charged with this responsibility. We then would have the opportunity, in a very particular kind of way, to address what I think is a serious problem in our province today and something that will continue not only to be a serious problem but a problem that has growth potential. We don't want that and I think it is time that we tackled this matter head-on and did something about it, not only for those of us who work and live here now but for those who will come to work and live here in the future. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to say a few words this afternoon. As I begin I say up-front that I don't profess to be an economist, I don't profess to have massive tools to run major computer programs and run analysis at my disposal. I simply have a very inexpensive calculator in which I have pumped in some numbers and tried to take a look at what kind of an impact the cost of the increased gasoline prices and the
harmonized BST is going to have on those prices and, more importantly, upon the monies that are going to be taken out of the pockets of Nova Scotians.
Mr. Speaker, in saying that I would welcome receiving from the government detailed analysis that will be showing that the kinds of projections I am putting forward are inaccurate because based on a glance, based on looking at the budget estimates which I am going to go through and explain how I arrived at my figures and based on what we know about the harmonized BST, Nova Scotians are in for one very rude shock.
Now yesterday I asked the Premier if he would reinstate the powers of the Utility and Review Board to evaluate, to examine and to be able to set the maximum - not the floor - price that oil companies can charge consumers. Of course, I was accused of a number of things, certainly I was accused of being ham-fisted, I was accused of a number of other things and told that, of course, the market economy is going to take care of it all. That really set my heart at ease and I am sure that all those Nova Scotians, and especially those who live in rural areas, like yourself, Mr. Speaker, who have to commute from Cape Breton to Halifax, are going to be reassured that those huge increases that you now find when you pull up to the pumps are going to be taken care of by the market economy, they are all going to be taken care of.
Now, Mr. Speaker, just take a look at a couple of points. (Interruptions) Well, I recommend that maybe the member for Colchester-Dartmouth or whatever . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. HOLM: Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, the gentleman who used to have an air base. I think that there was an oil refinery down there that shut down, Mr. Speaker, that the government could not manage to persuade this oil company, one of which has cranked up the prices so they can rip more money out of Nova Scotia. Those people who are still out of work, many of them, I am sure that they will be interested in having this member stand up and tell us why he and his colleagues support the obscene prices that those companies are now collecting.
Well, Mr. Speaker, if you just want to do some very simple calculations, as has been reported time and again, that a person who was filling up their gas tank a couple of weeks ago and paying $24 for that, now are going to find themselves facing a bill of approximately $32. If they take but one tank of gas a week, if you multiple that $8.00 increase by 52 weeks, we will find that $416 dollars more have been taken out of the pockets of those workaday Nova Scotians who this government says they are interested in protecting.
The government and the Minister of Finance a little while ago in Question Period began saying that the private sector is going to create jobs, said that this so-called harmonized process is going to be saving millions of dollars back into the economy, saving Nova Scotians hundreds of dollars so that they have more money to spend and that will create economic activity, that will create jobs, so they said. Yet, when the very real potential exists that more than twice the amount that the minister says and this government says is going to be saved by this harmonization is being taken out, they are unprepared to do anything to protect those consumers from this gouging.
Now, Mr. Speaker, let's take a look at some facts. I admit what I am putting forward are assumptions, the best that has been put forward so far because the government has not come forward with any information. Now, fact one, in 1991 the legislation was amended and the ability to regulate and to monitor gasoline and fuel oil prices in the Province of Nova Scotia was removed from the URB. They never could, as I said, and they never did regulate the minimum price, only the maximum price, so that if you had a fuel war take place, a price war take place, and companies wanted to drop their price, there was absolutely nothing that prohibited it, nothing. They just could not go above a certain level that they could not justify to the Utility and Review Board and they made money. That is a fact.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, another fact is that in this budget that the minister has tabled and that the members of the Liberal team are supporting, it is predicted that there will be a gasoline and diesel oil tax revenue of $199.4 million. That is what is being projected. We also know, at the present time, the provincial tax on gasoline is a flat tax of 13.5 cents a litre. I just worked with the figure of $199 million; I discounted the $400,000 so that I would not be going high in this. I simply took the $199 million they project to raise in revenues and I divided it by that 13.5 cents to try to come up with a ballpark figure on how many litres of gasoline and diesel oil they expect to be sold in the Province of Nova Scotia. When you do that math, it works out to over 1.4 billion litres of gasoline that obviously are being projected by this government to be sold in 1996-97.
Now, Mr. Speaker, according to Statistics Canada and those who track the prices of gasoline, the average price last year was 52 cents a litre here in Nova Scotia. When I looked again this morning, as I drove into the House, at the gas stations that I went by, 64.4 cents a litre for self-serve; the 52 cents a litre was the self-serve price as well. Of course, we know that in many parts of this province the price was much lower than 52 cents. In fact, a few weeks ago I and most others who were filling up their tanks were paying in the range of 46.9 cents a litre of gas.
Mr. Speaker, one of the major things that drove those prices down before was not the oil companies wanting to pass on great savings, it was the fact that there was a price war begun as the result of the introduction into markets by Wilsons. When they opened up, that was what had started those price drives down, not because of any actions or compassion by the oil companies who are concerned about trying to ensure that Nova Scotians get a fair price.
Well, Mr. Speaker, if you subtract 52 cents from 64.4 cents - any of us can go and look at the tanks outside and you will even see figures that are higher - you come up with a 12.4 cent increase in price in the last three weeks, minimum. If you take 12.4 cents and you put that into your calculator as I did, two or three times to check to see if they came up with the same numbers, not trusting myself, afraid that the member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour might want to challenge me on this, you multiply that amount by the number of litres that this government (Interruption) Cole Harbour-Eastern Shore. The number of litres . . .
MR. SPEAKER: It is Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. HOLM: It is Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, sorry, Mr. Speaker. It is hard to remember the riding of the member because he is not up all that often.
Mr. Speaker, when you multiply that 12.4 cents by the number of litres that the government obviously expects to sell, then that adds up to over $182 million more, in fact, close to $183 million extra, just on that basis alone. That, of course, is before the BST, the harmonized BST is imposed on those gas prices. Before that. The person I talked about before who a couple of weeks ago was able to fill up their tank on a yearly basis on the basis of the
price that was showing on the gas tanks is now going to be paying $416 a year more; that same person after that GST is applied, or the PST, harmonized into the BST, it will cost $549 more.
Anyway, Mr. Speaker, if one takes a look at the $199 million projected and if you take a look at that 8 per cent being imposed on those figures that the government was projecting at the 52 cent price average, that would have raised the Province of Nova Scotia - which is so concerned about putting money back into the pockets of taxpayers so that they have more money to spend on essentials which they are going to need to have, like children's clothing and those kinds of things, because they are also going to have to pay 15 per cent on those where they paid nothing before - at the old price over $61 million more into the coffers of the red team across the way but when you add in this price increase, that figure now jumps to over $75 million in new taxes being imposed on gasoline if those prices remain at that level. If you combine the two, the price increase on top of the BST, then Nova Scotians can expect to pay about $258 million more next year to fill up their gas tanks than last year, and this courtesy of a government that says it is concerned about the average Nova Scotian, concerned about poor Nova Scotians, concerned to ensure that Nova Scotians have more money in their envelopes so that they will be able to buy the goods and services they need to create jobs.
Now, Mr. Speaker, when I began I said that some of what I was going to say was, in fact, assumptions and that is correct. I have thrown out a lot of figures here which are the best I can come up with because the government is not providing any kinds of details. But, obviously, the ramifications are horrendous for Nova Scotians, they are extremely serious, especially for rural Nova Scotians who, if they have do any travelling, tend to purchase more gasoline products than those who live in the urban areas.
Mr. Speaker, I am not saying that here on the floor of the House we should be determining what price the gasoline and oil companies are paying. But let's not kid ourselves into believing for one minute that they are the friends of Nova Scotians. Let's not kid ourselves into believing that Ultramar, which broke its agreement with this province and shut down their refinery and cancelled those jobs, is a friend of Nova Scotia.
I was quite happy, Mr. Speaker, to cut up my Ultramar card and send it back to them. I also cut up and sent back to them the response letter that they sent to me saying why they needed to do that. I was quite happy to do that. It is not against the employees who work in those stores or those retail outlets at all, it is about that multinational that is more concerned about their bottom line than they are about the people in the Province of Nova Scotia, who they are making literally millions of dollars from.
Let's not kid ourselves, too, that the retail operators are not going to make money from this.
MR. SPEAKER: Your time is up.
MR. HOLM: So, Mr. Speaker, you are telling me that my time has expired. I again, through you, with my closing comment, urge the government to restore the power to the Utility and Review Board so that they can examine the price structure, to examine the cost, to ensure that the price Nova Scotians pay as their maximum is, in fact, a fair and decent one, not a usury charge as it appears to be at the present time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. DENNIS RICHARDS: Mr. Speaker, I am going to take only a moment or two to speak this afternoon. First of all, I want to make sure that the honourable member who used to be the Leader of the Third Party of this province knows one of the most important constituencies in this great province.
You know I think it is a shame that the former Leader wouldn't know the geography of this province. He mocked the Eastern Shore and the people of the Eastern Shore yesterday by his antics in this House. Then again today he talks about my constituency, everywhere from Colchester, which is near Truro, by the way, up in that end of the province. I am over on the eastern side, bordering the former City of Dartmouth, running down through south Woodside, into Eastern Passage, up to Cow Bay, up the Bissett Road, onto the Cole Harbour Road and taking in this south part of Colby Village.
Now, Mr. Speaker, that is the constituency that constitutes about 17,000 to 18,000 people. It is not a little forgotten area, you know, it is a very distinct part of this province, a very proud part of this province. It has a very active oil refinery; it has a very active air strip, now going private in partnership with the federal government, already having benefits to the community and to the metropolitan area in total.
Mr. Speaker, I think it is a shocking and appalling action on the part of the former Leader not to know the geography of this province and the people who are represented in this House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg.
MRS. LILA O'CONNOR: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to have this opportunity to speak on the many virtuous qualities of the VON, in light of the often negative insinuations stimulated by the members of the NDP caucus. I personally feel very deeply about the VON. As a resident of Lunenburg County, I volunteered my time years ago to be on the steering committee to bring VON into that county and, once successful, I also volunteered for the next five years to be on the VON Board of Directors. Mr. Speaker, I stress "volunteer", because in case the member isn't aware, the board of the VON across Nova Scotia and across Canada is made up of volunteers. There is not one member of the board who gets paid. A lot of times they go off and do things, to meetings, et cetera, and they don't even ask for any pay at all or anything.
So, Mr. Speaker, I have to stress that it is a non-profit, volunteer board. I agree the VON has been in Canada for almost 100 years and it has excellent service. We couldn't praise the nurses enough for what they do, what they give to the in clients. They go beyond the call of duty; they are special people. But, the VON only offers home nursing care to 75 per cent of the home care in the province; the other 25 per cent is done through the Department of Health. Some of the comments that have been made by the members there, it makes it sound like unless you are member of the VON, if you have been giving nursing care, you don't count. I think that is a disservice and a discredit to the people, to the nurses out there who are working but aren't members of the VON, also, and who are giving the same kind of care.
The VON is excellent, as well as all the nurses and we have to commend them. I want to say that because one branch of the provincial VON services has been in the spotlight lately, I have to wonder if the members of the Opposition, especially the two members of the NDP caucus, have they taken the time to talk to anyone? Did they talk to the board to see why they are doing what is happening? Do they realize that the cost that is out there and why the things that have happened, have happened? Or, do they just take what they read in the papers and are not one bit interested in talking to any of the branches? Have they talked to VON Nova Scotia? Did they take the time to talk to the 14 branches, or did they just stick to the papers? Do they know how the funding goes?
The Department of Health does not pay each branch of the VON. The Department of Health pays VON Nova Scotia and then they break down the funding to the branches. Are they aware that besides doing home health care, they also do other very important services in the community, that they assist in foot care [Page 1326]
and adult day care and they provide appropriate care for individuals who do not qualify for home care? They are a real presence in the community and they are vital to the community. I feel that the Opposition has not done them this service.
I have to ask the Leader of the NDP that while criticizing the Department of Health, did he ever take the time? Mr. Speaker, I won't be long because I realize my time is almost up, but I do want to say that the VON plays a very important role in the community, and the province, as well as the country. I think the next time that the Opposition wants to get up and be critical, they should take time to make sure that they know both sides of the story before they stand up here and criticize them and the minister.
The VON has, from 1988, the time that home cared had been initiated, done the nursing, but like I said before, the other 25 per cent of the province is done through the Department of Health. Since they are not here to listen, I take it they don't really care, but thank you anyway.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.
[1:54 p.m. The House resolved itself into a CWH on Supply with Deputy Speaker Mrs. Francene Cosman in the Chair.]
[5:55 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: The committee has met and made progress and asks leave to sit again.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please revert to the order of business, Tabling Reports, Regulations and Other Papers.
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, yesterday, during Question Period, when I was the Acting Minister of Education the member for Halifax Citadel requested information
to be tabled today with respect to the Hants East middle school. I have here the request for proposals which went out and a list of eight companies that have responded to that request for proposals and also the meeting date of the evaluation committee. I would table that for the honourable member.
MR. SPEAKER: The report is tabled.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, that concludes Government Business for today. I can advise members that we will be sitting tomorrow from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. We will be going to estimates, here and in the subcommittee, following the daily routine and debating Public Bills for Second Reading at the completion of estimates.
I move that we adjourn until 8:00 o'clock tomorrow morning.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.
The House stands adjourned until 8:00 o'clock in the morning.
The Adjournment debate draw today was won by the honourable member for Cape Breton West. I believe I have read his resolution out already.
[Therefore be it resolved that the Premier do his utmost to ensure that the Nova Scotia economy is not detrimentally impacted as a result of the imposition of marine user fees, effective June 1st.]
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel wishes to lead off the debate.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to offer a few remarks in relation to our Adjournment debate this evening: "Therefore be it resolved that the Premier do his utmost to ensure that the Nova Scotia economy is not detrimentally impacted as a result of the imposition of marine user fees, effective June 1st.".
I know that you are aware, Mr. Speaker, and I certainly am from contact with officials connected with the operation of the Port of Halifax, the Port of Yarmouth, the Port of North Sydney, in Shelburne, that if this, what I consider and many of us consider to be, ill-conceived proposal does actually proceed in the way it appears it may, we really believe that there will be seriously adverse consequences for the economy of the province by reason of increased fees for the use of the ports of the Province of Nova Scotia.
I think it is important as I begin to make it clear that while perhaps the largest numbers and the largest impact in terms of dollars and cents would be experienced here in the Halifax-Dartmouth metropolitan area - I guess that is not a correct reference any more - in the Halifax Regional Municipality area, it does, in fact, impact upon and affect other ports and other regions of the province.
I know that the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency and the Minister of Fisheries have had some contact with officials in Ottawa but notwithstanding the fact that apparently those contacts were made, it appears that the detrimental fee structure is, according to the recommendation made by the federal Parliament Fisheries Committee, in fact, going to take place and become effective June 1st.
It is interesting to note that 35 of the 42 presenters to the federal Fisheries Committee in Ottawa asked for a moratorium, Mr. Speaker, until an economic analysis could be done and the impact on all of the ports that were being assessed and under review could have been prepared. But for some reason or other, and I say, quite frankly, by reason of a lack of interest and concern about the plight of all of us in Eastern Canada, I believe that the committee just simply either paid no attention or, at best, lip service to the fact that that suggestion was made.
It really boggles the mind to think that it is possible that we have men and women making decisions of the kind to which we refer here, namely a new fee structure for the use of the ports of our country and the ports, in our case, of the Province of Nova Scotia and 35 of 42 presenters to the committee that is looking at the question ask, excuse me, do you think we could have an economic impact analysis? Could we have somebody who knows what they are doing, knows what they are looking at and has the background, the capacity and the expertise to do an analysis? Could we just hold on, have that analysis done, find out what it is and then let's have the matter go to the committee to have decisions made?
Notwithstanding the fact that those requests were made, Mr. Speaker, the economic impact analysis was not done and we now are going to face a fee structure which the people who are most intimately knowledgeable of the life and reality of the port here in Halifax, particularly, and other ports, will be, we think, very adversely affected.
I haven't been aware of very much, if any, effort by the Liberal MPs from the Province of Nova Scotia making public utterances to the effect that they are beating down the Prime Minister's door or anybody's door in Ottawa to attempt to have them have another look. I have made some inquiries, haven't yet unfortunately got the information, but for years and years historically, the taxpayers of this country, Nova Scotian taxpayers included, have spent tens of hundreds of millions of dollars, for instance, to keep the Port of Montreal ice-free in the wintertime. That is important to the economy of Montreal and the economy of the country but what has always mystified me and has concerned many people and concerns people who use the Port of Halifax, it is one of the finest harbours in the world. It is ice-free and yet Nova Scotia taxpayers' dollars are sent to ensure that Montreal is kept ice-free.
Well, there are trade-offs, or there are supposed to be, in this Confederation of ours, and I say, Mr. Speaker, that essentially what has happened here, is that we are at this point, at least, over this issue, is in my view, being controlled by a Liberal Government in Ottawa and a Liberal Government in Nova Scotia which frankly has little or no vision. It has no vision. It hasn't had the kind of vision that frankly existed when the men and women who made this country actually did those things that held us together in terms of infrastructure as a country historically.
I am not going to attempt to get into my Sir John A. Macdonald speech. That is for another day, perhaps, but Sir John A. Macdonald understood that. As I say, the men and women who created this country understood that and they understood the importance of rail links to bind this country together coast to coast. We used to have two, now we have none, and here we sit on the East Coast with one of the finest harbours in the world, and our tax dollars go off to keep another very important port in the country, ice-free in the winter while we are ice-free without a nickel being spent to keep us that way. Our port and representatives [Page 1329]
of our port and representatives of our province go to a committee which says, now there are navigational aids that are used in the Port of Halifax and the various ports across the country and we are now going to impose a way, says the Coast Guard, and a set of fees, we are going to impose fees to ensure that is all paid for. The taxpayers can no longer pay for it. Essentially that is the Grade 6 English translation of what the politicians and the bureaucrats are saying. Well, if that is the case, I say again, that the Grade 6 translation of everything else that is going on is if the taxpayers cannot afford to pay for the navigational aids, then why is it that the Nova Scotian taxpayers have to pay for the keeping of some of the harbours of this country ice-free when we could use ours here.
The Halifax Longshoremen's Association made a presentation, as you are probably aware, to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans regarding the marine fees issue. If I may quote, just quickly and briefly from the document, they said among things, that the Port of Halifax is responsible directly and indirectly for in excess of 6,000 jobs in the region. Any interference with the flow of shipping into the Port of Halifax will have a significant impact upon the economy of the region. They go on to talk about the very real fear, concern and the adverse consequences for the Port of Halifax, if the user fees imposed here are of such a nature as to make shipping here uneconomical and result in a great deal of traffic which has a more natural bent to go to New York on the basis of a preferential fee structure.
I allowed my time to get away unduly on, Mr. Speaker, which comes as no surprise to you, I am sure, but I guess I have done that tonight. I just hope that in the few remarks that I have made, I have made the point and the only point I guess I really want to make by way of this resolution is to plead with the Premier and this government to really start pounding the table. It is not good enough just simply to issue the odd press release or write the odd letter. I really do plead with the Premier, the Minister of Transportation, the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency, one of the most fundamental and integral pieces of economic infrastructure in this province is the Port of Halifax, particularly and all of our ports. I think we are going to be in trouble in Yarmouth, we have troubles with MV Bluenose and the Prince of Fundy and so on.
MR. SPEAKER: Time, please.
MR. DONAHOE: The time is gone. My plea is that the government get on the airplane, get to Ottawa and make the point to the federal government because if we kill the Port of Halifax, we kill a great deal of the economy of Nova Scotia.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency.
HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the final comments of the member opposite in terms of the importance of this to the province. It is important to the country. We are talking about the East Coast of Canada, we are talking about international competitiveness. We are talking about a port that is the second largest ice-free deep water port in the world. One of the few ports on the Eastern Seaboard of North America that will be capable of taking a larger draft vessels, the post-Panamax vessels, as they are called, which
will be sailing around various capes in order to get here with goods and transportation modes hardly imagined 10 years ago.
It is not for us, in my opinion, as a province, to be pitting the Port of Montreal against the Port of Halifax, to pit inland ports against coastal ports on the extremities of the nation. It is extremely important for us, however, to focus on the issue of what I will call fairness of government expenditure, Government of Canada expenditure.
I would just like to read into the record four principles because what we are talking about applies, not only to the Port of Halifax and the East Cost ports, but the concept of a government that is rightly so attempting to get its fiscal house in order because, fundamentally, its house is our house. As we have seen in the last few days, the first balanced budget in the 25 years of budgets that were not, of an era where we spent others' money rather than paying our own way, these are principles that make sense, not just in terms of Coast Guard fees, but in terms of the fairness of expenditure control, whether it is federal or provincial governments.
First of all under Fairness, "A user fee `shifts burden from taxpayers generally to those who benefit most directly.'". That principle of taking what is a common good and reassigning it based on user fees has to be applied fairly. As a nation or a province balances its budget, it must determine what is in the common good and, therefore, based on general revenues and what is to be a user fee. The second principle involved, Improved Management of Resources, "`Introduces a degree of market-type discipline on the demand for and supply of goods and services that benefit specific users.' Demand is conditioned by cost, supply by users' willingness to pay.'". The third principle, Appropriate Charges, "Across-the-board approaches, while simpler, would not achieve the policy's objectives". The fourth principle is, Pricing, "Prices and the method of charging are to be structured to be equitable, promote economic efficiency, and to be administered economically".
These are the four principles of the Treasury Board of Canada when it comes to expenditure control problems and solutions of applying user fees.
The Premier, the Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Fisheries, the entire shipping community of the East Coast and, fundamentally, we are talking about ports, but excuse me if we focus on the Port of Halifax, its strategic importance to Canada, to the nation, is fundamentally based on the effective following of these principles. There has been no end to the debate, the table pounding that those principles be adhered to.
It is our belief and we have stated it from day one, in the company of many from across this province that this task is probably greater than the Coast Guards to solve. We are talking about the common good of inland ports versus user fees that maintain international competitiveness of the ports on the extremities.
I would apply the lessons of fairness and simply indicate that whether it is marine services, in terms of ferry service, whether it is food inspection, whether it is fish processing, or whether it is Coast Guard fees, this province, this government is fundamentally committed to those principles, and trying to ensure that the solutions we offer as a province are not rattling tin cups and saying don't do this to us, but it is creative solutions that apply those principles of fairness. Why wouldn't we be exporting Coast Guard services from Nova Scotia with user fees that create maximum efficiencies and thus a product worth exporting, in addition to making sure that the fees are applied to the very shippers who will choose this port over others or not? I turn the rest of my time over to my colleague, the Minister of Transportation.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Transportation.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words. I will be brief on this matter. I have not made any effort to hide my disappointment at the recommendation [Page 1331]
of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on this matter. We, in fact, had, as a province, representation in Ottawa and we had asked for a moratorium on this issue. I think the majority of presenters to that committee requested a moratorium until certain things could be established and certain information could be shared. I don't attempt to hide my disappointment at that recommendation.
From the very beginning we said this process was flawed. The fact that the Coast Guard went out and identified a dollar amount and then decided to start playing around in that box to recover that much money without, in fact, any reasonable formula, without any reasonable criteria, so that any change that was made in the process, in the formula if you will, to benefit someone who is being hard done by, then had a negative impact on someone else. The total amount, the $20 million wasn't changing. If you were going to satisfy East Coast interests, you were going to upset someone in central Canada or someone on the West Coast and the heat would start from there. It became a game of shifting sand that was back and forth and had no sound basis, as far as I am concerned, to proceed.
We have asked for and we continue to ask for and we will continue to demand and, yes, pound the table - and we have had some very nasty exchanges, I can assure the member opposite, on this issue with officials in Ottawa, and I suspect we will continue to have some heated exchanges as time goes on - what we must determine in Nova Scotia are port-specific costs. What are the costs of a navigational aid, for example, in the Port of Halifax? The stakeholders in our port community have expressed in very clear terms that they will accept a fair formula, a fair policy and they will not hesitate to pay for the costs of the service they use.
At present, I believe, out of the Atlantic region, it is estimated, even by Coast Guard standards, that approximately 12 per cent of the navigational aid is in the Port of Halifax, is associated with the Port of Halifax, and yet approximately 29 per cent of the cost recovery is tied to the Port of Halifax, and I believe that is very inequitable, and as you see this applied to other ports across, I know in my own area, the Strait of Canso, you have similar problems; problems with the bulk carriers, with the station terminals and the aggregate operation and we have concerns about that. Yes, we also have pushed and will continue to push and I guess it is the understanding that we have that the icebreaking costs will, in fact, be put into this mix and that it is not finished.
We must, Mr. Speaker, as I said, find out what the true costs are, port by port, in this province. Then, by working with the industry, by working with the stakeholders, we must reduce those costs. I would be willing to fathom a guess here today that a great deal of the navigational aid for which a fee is being sought, is redundant. Given the modern equipment that is on most of the vessels that are using this port - but a lot of the navigational aid that is provided by the Coast Guard is, in fact, not being used, not being taken advantage of and, in fact, probably can be eliminated significantly - if we have a list of the aids, then we can work to reduce the costs associated with the Port of Halifax and all the other ports across the
province. That is certainly something we are going to continue to pound the table and continue to work for.
The member opposite was a member of the Treasury benches for 15 years. He knows that all the table pounding that goes on does not happen in the public eye. I am sure that on many occasions he has been part of discussions with the federal government of whatever stripe, when he was a member, and he knows that a great deal goes on behind the scenes on this.
I can assure him, and I say this sincerely, that a great deal of time has been spent on this issue and a great deal of time will continue to be spent on this issue. If we have the imposition of the marine service fees, as I expect we are going to see, it is not going to be terribly favourable to our east coast ports. We will continue to push for identification of the costs and we will continue to have them reduced.
I can tell the member sincerely that this has been discussed with the federal minister, with the senior officials in the Coast Guard and it has gone right to the Prime Minister's office. They are aware of the concerns we have, they are aware that we cannot continue to take the type of hit that this will have on our ports without jeopardizing something by way of economic activity. I can assure him we will continue to represent all the ports of Nova Scotia to the best of our abilities and with a considerable amount of table pounding.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to make a few comments this evening. I have listened as carefully as I could to the comments of all previous speakers. I think that everybody who has spoken has expressed a genuine interest and certainly a genuine concern about the impact that these marine fees potentially will have on the Port of Halifax and the other ports in our province.
I am sure that the Minister of Transportation and Public Works can do a great deal of table pounding, whether that be in front of the public, as we have witnessed on many occasions, and also behind the scenes, I am quite sure that he is very capable of doing that, but sometimes, Mr. Speaker, some of that public protesting also has a major impact on those politicians at the other level who you are trying to get through to. I am not suggesting for a moment that the minister himself is not doing some of that public pounding, but as a point was raised by the mover of the resolution, the member for Halifax Citadel, I can't remember hearing the Members of Parliament, who represent this province in the federal House of Commons, standing up and expressing their views on this matter. I cannot remember hearing them say that, Mr. Speaker. Maybe I have missed it. Maybe it is out there but I do not remember hearing the Member of Parliament for Halifax or Dartmouth or Halifax West or any other part of this province standing up and taking exception to what their government is proposing to do and which will have very significant impact upon this province.
We have, in Nova Scotia and in Atlantic Canada, been taking a lot of hits, courtesy of federal government cutbacks. The Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency talked about the four principles of fairness and he talked about how we have to recognize, of course, that the federal government, like the Government of Nova Scotia, has to get its fiscal house in order and that we have to be sure that they have proper expenditure controls and that we are not wasting, basically, money.
Mr. Speaker, sometimes I would suggest to the detriment of good planning and to the detriment of good economic planning and growth, we are cutting and we are slashing and we are looking for areas in little boxes without looking at how those little boxes are going to impact upon the larger picture. Here, in this area, we had a lot of optimism about how, with the development of the new tunnel in Sarnia, how that new tunnel was going to be speeding the rail transport so that we, as a port, could increase our business and not only the business that is coming and going but also increase the economic activity that could go on in Nova Scotia because of the ability of manufacturers, of producers, to get their products to market whether that be by rail or by water.
Here, when we are talking about trying to save a few dollars and certainly when I am saying a few dollars, Mr. Speaker, in your pocket or in my pocket, the number of dollars we are talking about would be extremely substantial but in terms of the federal picture, they are very modest dollars indeed and if we are going to be turning around and trying to cut those before we have done an analysis, before we have done an impact assessment to determine how that is going to affect the areas, to me, with the greatest respect to the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency, we are being short-sighted and the Government of Canada is being extremely short-sighted.
Certainly, I agree totally with the Minister of Transportation and Public Works when the minister is saying that we have to find out what the actual true costs are for the navigational aids and that we certainly should not be asked to pay more than our proportional share if we are to be asked to be paying for those at all. But you know, people in Nova Scotia, as others have said, are paying to assist not only the Port of Montreal and the Port of Quebec and up the whole seaway and the Great Lakes system, but so too are the people of the prairie provinces and all other areas in this country. We were built, this country was built on our having developed solid links of transportation joining us all together.
Mr. Speaker, I just can't help but think that the impact, the potential impact in a negative sense of these fees, not only in the lost container traffic, we have also heard that some tourist operators, cruise ship lines, are also talking about pulling out of this area because of the imposed fees that are going to come about, to go ahead and to do that before the government has even determined what the negative consequences are, just is naive and short-sighted in the extreme and I, for one, would love to see and love to hear if Mary Clancy, the Member of Parliament for Halifax, if Mr. Ron MacDonald from Dartmouth or Geoff Regan, Halifax West or the other MPs in Nova Scotia, I would like to know if they are standing shoulder to shoulder with the Minister of Transportation and Public Works as he is pounding on the tables in Ottawa, not only with the bureaucrats but with the Prime Minister and the other movers and shakers, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to know if they are prepared to make public statements, to put some pressure upon their federal colleagues, to start to act more responsibly towards Nova Scotia. I would like to know if the Minister of Transportation and Public Works or the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency or the Premier have asked them to become directly involved and to exert whatever influence they may have. Surely to Heavens we are all in this together. The good of this province, the health of the economy of this province and of its people, has got to be greater than the narrow partisan interests of which political Party you happen to belong to.
Mr. Speaker, I think I have just a couple of moments or seconds left. I will be wrapping up at this point. But I, too, would join with the mover of the resolution in saying to the government and government members, please try to get all of your ducks in order and
that includes your federal counterparts as well and exert whatever pressures you can possibly, both in a public and a private way, to ensure that the Port of Halifax and all Nova Scotia is not going to be affected in an adverse manner, as a result of the imposition of these particular fees. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The time allotted for the Adjournment debate has expired.
The House stands adjourned until 8:00 o'clock tomorrow morning.
[The House rose at 6:27 p.m.]