Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Mr. Graham Steele (Chairman)
Mr. James DeWolfe (Vice-Chairman)
Mr. Mark Parent
Mr. Gary Hines
Ms. Maureen MacDonald
Mr. David Wilson (Sackville-Cobequid)
Mr. Daniel Graham
Mr. David Wilson (Glace Bay)
Ms. Diana Whalen
[Ms. Maureen MacDonald was replaced by Mr. Jerry Pye]
Ms. Mora Stevens
Legislative Committee Coordinator
Mr. Roy Salmon
Auditor General of Nova Scotia
Ms. Elaine Morash
Assistant Auditor General
Office of Health Promotion
Ms. Cheryl Doiron
Chief Executive Officer (Deputy Minister)
Mr. Scott Logan
Assistant Deputy Minister
Mr. Brian Wilbur
Director of Addiction Services
Mr. John Larocque
Coordinator of Problem Gambling Services
Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation
Ms. Anne Jackman
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to call to order this meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. We're pleased to have with us this morning witnesses from the Office of Health Promotion and the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation. To introduce the witnesses, I would like to recognize Cheryl Doiron, the Deputy Minister of Health, and Chief Executive Officer by virtue of that office, of the Office of Health Promotion, and Ms. Doiron, if I could ask you to introduce the people who are with you today.
MS. CHERYL DOIRON: Mr. Chairman, I'm very pleased today to introduce first of all on my far right, Anne Jackman, who is the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation. Sitting next to Anne is John LeRocque who is the Coordinator of our Problem Gambling Services. Beside me to my right is Brian Wilbur who is the Director of Addiction Services and to my left is Scott Logan who is the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Office of Health Promotion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I would now like to ask the members to introduce themselves, starting with the member for Dartmouth North.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you and I'm Graham Steele, the MLA for Halifax Fairview and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. One of the witnesses has asked to be sworn this morning and so I'm going to do that now.
Do you swear the evidence you give today will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.
MR. JOHN LAROCQUE: I do, sir.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have advised the witnesses that they have 15 minutes between them for the opening presentation and they will share that time between themselves as they see fit, that is between the Office of Health Promotion and the Gaming Foundation. I would now like to recognize Ms. Doiron to give the first opening presentation on behalf of the Office of Health Promotion.
MS. DOIRON: Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, and I have discussed this so, hopefully, we will not run over the time and I will give some comments and then she will give a few comments as well. I would like to start out by saying that I am happy to come before you to discuss the progress that we as a province have made in facing the health issues associated with gambling. I have with me, as you have met, several members of the Office of Health Promotion as well as the Executive Director of our Gaming Foundation.
Nova Scotia Health Promotion is concerned with improving the health of Nova Scotians. We were created because there is ample evidence to support the fact that concrete and focused approaches to prevention will contribute best to health and wellness for Nova Scotians in the future and we were created with a vision - the vision that we can make changes to the way we live today in order to make our future better. Our mandate is to create and support the policies and environments that will help Nova Scotians make healthy choices in their lives - to eat better, become more physically active, be less susceptible to injury and disease, and reduce the risk of becoming addicted to tobacco, alcohol or gaming.
To address the addictions focus of our work in an overall sense, there are eight Addiction Services Offices in the district health authorities. There are an additional 30 satellite offices in smaller communities. Each of these offices have staff who are trained to counsel people who have whatever type of addiction and to help them to get the treatment they need. More than 360 staff in the districts are available to provide treatment to people with addictions and their families. For people who have addictions and are in crisis and for those without social supports, there are residential facilities for short-term treatment.
To address the addiction of gambling specifically, there are five full-time problem gambling specialists in the province who provide a range of individual and group outpatient
or community-based counselling throughout the province. In addition, the problem gambling line counsellors provide toll-free ongoing telephone assessment, counselling, advice, support, information to problem gamblers, their families, friends and employers. They also mail out gambling related materials and information as requested.
It's interesting to note that since we began widely advertising the services of the problem gambling helpline, through radio and TV ads this past January, calls to the helpline have increased dramatically. There were 514 calls in March of this year, compared to 321 calls in March of last year, and that is a 60 per cent increase. The fact is that right now we need more resources dedicated to people addicted to gambling. The good news is that the strategy announced last week gives us funding to enhance our services and create new ones. We can now expand our resources to encompass a more comprehensive continuum of services that will have a positive impact on problem gamblers and their families.
The strategy will allow us to address problem gambling more effectively, help existing problem gamblers get better and reduce the number of new problem gamblers. The long-term goal is to reduce the prevalence of problem gambling in this province, even though we currently have the lowest incident rate in the country for problem gambling, but that's not good enough and we intend to do better.
It is known that the lives of at least 10 people are directly affected to some degree by each person addicted to gambling. People who have a gambling problem are at great risk of losing their family members, their money, their homes and they lose their communities. So, too, do the people who are closest to them. They also can lose, not just the gambler himself or herself, to the addiction but they could also lose their money, their homes and their communities.
In terms of society at large, gambling is a relatively new social issue. We have 20 years of research to understand the effects of tobacco. We have a solid body of literature on the impact of problem drinking, and we know what we must do to prevent more injuries in our province, but much of the research on problem gambling is simply not yet underway, and what has been completed, has to a large extent actually been done here in Nova Scotia. I applaud our staff, some of whom are sitting here with me today, others are in the gallery, for their ground-breaking research that has in many instances been the first of its kind in the world, particularly around VLTs.
Shortly after the gaming strategy was announced last Wednesday, the Premier's office received an e-mail from the Deputy Director of California's Problem Gambling Program. It said that they have reviewed Nova Scotia's problem gambling prevalence study and were so impressed that they have modified their research objectives to capture similar information. I'm very proud that this province has chosen to be a leader in struggling with this issue. It is not an easy issue to deal with particularly for a province such as Nova Scotia that is not as financially robust as some other places.
The strategy was guided by a multi-departmental steering committee consisting of the Department of Environment and Labour, Department of Finance, Department of Health, Office of Health Promotion, and the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and Treasury and Policy Board. I felt very honoured and enthused to be sitting at that table. Together we have cut a new path with our gaming strategy. It is a path that I am confident will be of great assistance and relief to problem gamblers, their families, their friends and their communities.
The perspective that we in the Office of Health Promotion brought to the table was our expertise in prevention and treatment. In those terms the strategy does the following: it adds an extra $3 million for prevention and treatment, specifically for problem gambling; it increases problem gambling treatment resources based on the needs to be determined by district health authorities; it brings real world testing to determine the best model for treatment for our province; it establishes and will establish a long-term comprehensive problem gambling strategy; and it enhances the existing treatment and prevention programs and creates new ones, such as early intervention programs.
Because of the new strategy, Nova Scotia will now spend the highest percentage of gambling revenues on prevention and treatment in Canada. We will become second in Canada in the amount of money allocated per capita for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling among men and women 19 years of age and older. We will be second in Canada in the amount of money allocated per capita for prevention and treatment of problem gambling for all ages.
We have made social responsibility the first consideration in all decisions to be made in this province around gambling. This is thanks in large part to our public and our partners who have brought this issue forward with such clarity and to our staff who have done the research that helps us to understand the problem better.
But, our work is not done. We have made a commitment to continuously monitor, assess and adjust our programs to make sure our goals of reducing the number of problem gamblers and preventing others from developing a problem are met.
As I close, I would like to add that if anyone has a problem with gambling, or knows of someone who does, help is available right now and we advise people to feel free to call the problem gambling helpline at 1-888-347-8888. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Ms. Jackman, on behalf of the Gaming Foundation, I invite you to use up to the five minutes or so that are remaining for your opening statement.
MS. ANNE JACKMAN: Thank you and good morning. I'm delighted to have an opportunity to come here this morning and answer your questions and provide some
information to you about the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation.
In the brief time that's remaining for the opening statement this morning, I'll just try to sketch out for you an overview of who we are, what we do, what our mandate is and some of the types of projects that we've been involved with.
The Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation is an arm's-length organization. It provides short-term funding to groups who are creating programs and conducting research that help address problem gambling in Nova Scotia. The foundation itself is run by a community-based volunteer board and that board is supported by an executive director and an assistant. The four member board reflects the regional diversity of the province with members coming from Sydney, Yarmouth, Antigonish and Halifax Regional Municipality.
The foundation - as I'm sure many of you are aware - is funded by VLT retailers' commissions so we receive 1 per cent of VLT profits and that funding is matched by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. For the last fiscal year, that amounted to almost $1 million for the foundation.
The foundation's mandate is to provide funding to community-based projects that support education, prevention, intervention, treatment or research into problem gambling and its effects. The foundation has also provided operational funding to organizations that deliver services to people who are affected by all addictions and not just problem gambling.
So, within that very large mandate, what types of projects does the foundation support? The research and community initiatives which are funded by the foundation are quite diverse and they range from academic peer review research at Dalhousie University to the work of grass roots organizations, such as the Western Area Women's Coalition, which is looking at problem gambling among women from a feminist perspective.
The foundation has funded theatre groups for young people to raise awareness of problem gambling through Mulgrave Road Theatre Company in Guysborough. It has funded special training initiatives for addiction services staff throughout the province. It has paid for radio and TV ads through the Office of Health Promotion, supported a counselling program for couples where one partner is a problem gambler. Most recently, it has funded a two year project with Eskasoni Mental Health and Social Work Services. This is for a unique case management program for high risk youth in the First Nations community of Eskasoni.
Interestingly, even among the materials which have been provided to you this morning, the Gaming Foundation's support of research initiatives is obvious. The foundation funded both the GPI Atlantic literature review as well as the 2003 prevalence study, which was conducted by focal research. In fact, since its inception in 1998, the foundation has awarded more than $4.4 million in grants. Of this amount, it's interesting to note, $1.5 million has been awarded in the last fiscal year.
In addition to this, the foundation is also involved with two inter-provincial collaborative projects. These are larger research initiatives where organizations from various provinces across the country are working together rather than trying to go it alone in their own respective jurisdictions. The two projects with which the foundation is presently involved - both financially and as steering committee members - are, first of all, the Adolescent Problem Gambling Index, which is seeking to - among other things - develop and validate a measure to assess adolescent problem gambling across the country. Secondly is the socio-economic impact of gambling committee. This group is working towards the development of a preferred methodology to assess the socio-economic impact of gambling and is also examining how a cost-benefit analysis can be used to make informed decisions relating to gambling regulation. These are some of the types of initiatives which the foundation funds.
Is that my time, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have one minute left so you may want to bring yourself to a conclusion. If there are other things you wish to bring to the committee's attention, you are certainly welcome to circulate a written document.
MS. JACKMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I had prepared some further comments about the Memorandum of Agreement, but I expect I will be able to deal with that through questions from the committee members. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We now turn to the question and answer portion of the proceedings. The first 20 minutes will go to the NDP caucus.
The member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank all the presenters and the witnesses for coming here today in front of the Public Accounts Committee. This is definitely an important issue for our committee and I know it's an important issue for all Nova Scotians dealing with responsible gaming and especially the addiction to gaming here in the province. There has been a lot of media attention over the last several months - especially dealing with VLTs. The NDP believes that government needs to address the issue of responsible gaming here in Nova Scotia.
The important thing is to make an informed, educated decision on the gaming strategy here in the province. I think by ensuring that, then we're providing the best information to the residents of Nova Scotia, especially those who choose to use the gaming industry here in the province. I think the most important thing we have to do is go to the people directly involved in addiction services, in gaming strategies in the country. I know we have several
witnesses here today who are directors of addiction services - Mr. Wilbur and the coordinator of problem gambling, Mr. LaRocque. With all due respect to the deputy minister and assistant deputy minister, I think some of my questions will pertain to these two gentlemen.
I'd like to start with Mr. Wilbur, the Director of Addiction Services here in the province. A lot of the questions I get through my office especially pertain to wait times. Emergency wait times is a big issue here in the province for emergency rooms, wait times for mental health assessments. When it comes to addiction services, people with gambling problems, I understand that there is a 24-hour telephone service that you can access. How easy is it to get access to a one-on-one counsellor when it comes to someone who finds themselves addicted to gambling in Nova Scotia?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilbur.
MR. BRIAN WILBUR: Thank you for your question. First of all, I'd like to say that the problem gambling helpline provides professional counsellors right off the bat and that is the first contact for a lot of people to talk to a counsellor over the phone. A lot of the problem gamblers prefer some anonymity when they do come forward.
As far as meeting up and having a direct interview with a counsellor, we have a very good system across the province with very quick accessibility. We have standards in place which allow people who want a face-to-face interview to usually, within a couple of days, start the interview process.
We also offer group processes where people can come in and join in a group of other people involved in those issues as well.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): So, if an individual found themselves - I know in my area, at the Cobequid Community Health Centre, there is an area you can go to access addiction services. You're saying the wait would be the average of a couple of days if I wanted to get in to see a counsellor about my gambling problem?
MR. WILBUR: You may have to move from that particular office to another office in the area with several other satellite offices. There's also a group which operates over on the grounds at the N.S. Hospital by Addiction Services, where people can walk into a group without an appointment and begin the process in that group.
MR. DAVID WILSON(Sackville-Cobequid): But the one-on-one counselling, would it be a couple of days, is that average?
MR. WILBUR: That would be the average across the province. It may be a little bit different from one office to the other and I can't give you a figure as to exactly how long it is in that particular office, but there are several other satellite offices, for example, there's
one in Spryfield, there's one downtown here and clients can have access to a range of facilities.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Do you track which regions of the province seem to have more people trying to access counsellors in order for you to maybe increase an area or increase time allotted to have some interaction with those individuals?
MR. WILBUR: That's going to be one of the key elements in the new strategy, to look at where the gaps are, what are the resources that districts require? I have a meeting set up tomorrow to work with the district health authorities to begin to actually look at where there are gaps in services as well as where are additional resources to be placed.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Okay, one of the things also that I deal with a lot in my office is trying to cut through red tape, when it comes to government and especially individuals accessing government programs. So my next few questions will be for Mr. LaRocque, Coordinator of Problem Gambling Services in the province.
As the coordinator for problem gambling in Nova Scotia, have you been able to complete the work you thought necessary without obstacles when it comes to treatment, prevention and research in gambling in Nova Scotia?
MR. LAROCQUE: We've been substantially limited for many years by virtue of the fact that we receive the same million dollars now from the casino that we received in 1995. During that time frame, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation's revenue increased by 44 per cent, so in my view, there was a substantial imbalance that made it extremely difficult for us to provide the services that I believe are required for problem gamblers and their families, but the infusion of the new $3 million per year, as we understand it, is tremendously welcome to me and to my colleagues, not only Brian Wilbur, my colleagues within the office at Addiction Services, but right across the province and we think that will greatly improve, but that has been, not just a substantial problem, a major problem.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I would concur with you if your budget hasn't increased in over a decade, ten years, it's a long time to try to continue the work, especially when it comes to addressing the gambling problems, especially addictions here in the province. I understand that you had some input with this launching of a better balance at Nova Scotia's first gaming strategy here in April of this year. When it comes to this strategy, what's your opinion? Is this the right direction that the government should be going? And how do you feel about the strategy the government chose to bring forward to Nova Scotians?
MR. LAROCQUE: I should preface my comments by indicating that my colleagues don't necessarily agree with my perspective, but that shouldn't mitigate my opportunity to speak frankly and honestly to the committee.
I think that it's possible to make a substantial amount of progress with this strategy. In the letters from the minister on Page 2, it's indicated that the cornerstone of the strategy is treatment and prevention. I think that sounds very respectable and reasonable and impressive to individuals who are not too familiar with problem gambling in Nova Scotia and in other jurisdictions.
In October 2004, we had an international conference here in Halifax, in our own backyard. The conclusion of the experts who were present during that conference, and who are world-renowned individuals, indicated that models that are based strictly or primarily on treatment and prevention without a major commitment to consumer protection will fail. So what we have here, in my honest opinion, is a stool with perhaps two and one-half legs; I say two and one-half legs because there are measures that are identified here that will help to address consumer protection in terms of trying to make the machine safer, in terms of attempts to reduce access. At but the conclusion of that conference, and I was surprised that there's no reference to an international conference that we sponsored here, the major conclusion was that the newest and greatest myths related to problem gambling is the myth that you can even begin to associate responsible gaming with any form of continuous electronic gambling, including VLTs.
So I think that this is hopeful. It's a move in the appropriate direction, but if I had had an opportunity to comment on this before it was distributed - because I did have opportunities to review documents and so on - I certainly would have suggested substantially more attention to consumer protection in order to be consistent with the findings of a group of international experts.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): So what are you saying - did you have input, did you give your input, or was it not well received by those in charge?
MR. LAROCQUE: I had input in terms of analyzing some very thick documents that we received from the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. As Mr. Wilbur, I'm sure, will acknowledge, some of these documents were presented to us in very short order. Our surmise was that some of these documents had been worked on for months, but we were given, I was given, in some instances two or three days, having to work evenings and weekends in order to present an adequate response to those documents and I never did have an opportunity to comment or see the final document. That's a concern to me because we have many talented people in the Office of Health Promotion, very, very capable people, but those of us who know something about problem gambling and have been in the field for quite a long time were not included in the front-line negotiation process to determine what would be in this final document.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): It concerns you and it definitely concerns us that the coordinator of Problem Gambling Services never saw a final copy before it being released to the public. So maybe if you could give us three things that you could see
that would improve this strategy, what would you say those three things would be?
MR. LAROCQUE: Substantially more focus on consumer protection strategies, including a commitment to proceed with legislation that would ensure that the VLTs particularly and that any type of electronic gaming, continuous electronic gambling products are made safe. For example, it seems reasonable in the same way that if I purchase an automobile, I'm entitled to know what the warranty will be on that automobile. I'm not going to drive out, after spending $30,000 on an automobile and not know what the warranty is. By the same token, I think it's only logical and I think ethical for all players of VLTs and slot machines in casinos to know exactly what the odds are for each and every game that is being played.
Some of my colleagues and I have tried for a long time to persuade the powers that be to help us move in that direction. I've had discussions with people from the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation about that. Recently they revealed that the odds of winning on a VLT at the top cash prize is one in 270,000. I believe, based on some observations I've made with some people who are technologically knowledgeable, that the odds on some of these games are much, much worse than that in terms of the players' potential to win and I have ample documentation to support that if ever that were requested.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): In your opinion, why do you feel some of these things that you're mentioning and some of the things you brought forward and your colleagues have brought forward aren't in this strategy that the province came out with?
MR. LAROCQUE: I think that those who came to the final determination as to what would be in the document would have to answer that question. So in terms of recent determinations about these issues, I don't know, but I do know that for years I and others, including Mr. Wilbur, fought - and I would have to say fought - for example, to have the stop buttons removed from the VLTs almost for a decade because, to put it very frankly, they're designed to cheat people out of their money and manipulate people. So it has taken almost a decade of persuasion to have people move in that direction and that may be due in part to the fact that Quebec and other provinces have decided to move in that direction.
The argument that was presented to me initially for not doing that was that these were entertainment features. Any expert in the field under oath would have to admit that those features and most other features on the VLTs are specifically designed to manipulate people and to take as much of their money as possible as quickly as possible.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): You have mentioned the fast stop buttons and gaming features, so are you aware of any plans for the province that they may bring in more forms of electronic gaming to the province?
MR. LAROCQUE: No, I know that there was an intention before Mr. Wilbur and I and others started to object to the dangers of continuous electronic gaming, there were intentions to bring in multi-game keno, electronic keno, which is potentially just as dangerous if not more dangerous than VLTs. I became extremely alarmed about that because the experience in other jurisdictions suggests that that could lead to an additional six or seven suicides per year if that type of technology were added to the VLTs. So I think I would have to be honest and say that the rather aggressive campaign that we mounted against that, plus the results from our 2003 prevalence study, helped to persuade those who were considering doing this to change their plans.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): You mentioned this prevalence study, what did this study pertain to?
MR. LAROCQUE: The study was designed based on what's called the CPGI, the Canadian Problem Gambling Index which is an index to measure prevalence that has been accepted right across the country and it was designed to identify the numbers of individuals who classify at different levels of risk of gambling - ranging from those who are not in trouble to those who are at risk, to those who are problem gamblers and who require immediate intervention.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): And do those numbers show up in government paperwork and government policies and so on?
MR. LAROCQUE: Yes, they did.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): And did you have any input on where this strategy was going when it pertained to the number of people in certain classes of gaming and their addiction to gaming?
MR. LAROCQUE: We did have some, but to be honest, attempts were made to mitigate the impact of some of those findings by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, and that was a bit of an ethical and moral struggle for Mr. Robert Graham, myself and Mr. Wilbur because we felt that any attempt to interfere with validated research results to diminish the potential negative public reaction was totally unsatisfactory and inappropriate.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): You're making some serious allegations to this committee, you're saying that there was involvement with other levels in, is it the Gaming Corporation, or in the department, to try to what, not bring forward those numbers?
MR. LAROCQUE: Correct. To mitigate the impact of those numbers. As a matter of fact, we have in our files a letter from Ms. Mullally to, I think, Mr. Graham, my colleague, a very respectful letter, but it was sent on behalf of the board requesting that we modify one
of the categories in the results of our prevalence study findings that we indicate that we change the designation of people at risk to the designation of low risk. We were astounded by that request, even though it was very politely presented and we were so surprised by it. It came initially as a verbal request and Mr. Graham, Mr. Wilbur and I decided that it would be a good idea to ask Ms. Mullally to put that in writing, because we were fearful that we would end up being on the wrong side of history if at a later time it were revealed that this attempt to mitigate the results of that study were made public.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We'll move on now to the Liberal caucus for the next 20 minutes.
The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. DANIEL GRAHAM: Mr. Chairman, I thank the witnesses for coming here before our committee this morning. There's a limited time for us to deal with an issue that's quite expansive. The limited nature of these meetings only gives us about 30 minutes, per caucus, to ask questions of the various witnesses. There are many things that we indicated an interest in and asking about the memorandum of agreement with respect to the Gaming Corporation, we may be able to get to that. I know that the government in these recent announcements is now presenting a $3 million response in some respects addressing questions of treatment. I'm not sure if that money, in fact, is going to the Gaming Corporation; however, we can deal with that if we ultimately get to that point.
I would like to follow up on some of the questions that were just going to Mr. LaRocque a few moments ago, and in the short time that we have Mr. LaRocque, I note not just your comments today. Today you said that you as the provincial gambling addictions expert didn't comment on the last document, the ultimate document, that was presented to Nova Scotians earlier this month. Is that correct?
MR. LAROCQUE: That is correct.
MR. GRAHAM: And I heard you also say that you believe that the Gaming Corporation has in the past attempted to interfere with the results of the prevalence study or provide some interference with respect to how those are interpreted. Is that correct?
MR. LAROCQUE: If what I've described is perceived by any reasonable and logical objective individual as interference, then I would say definitively.
MR. GRAHAM: And just to be clear, that interference you describe as trying to influence the way in which problem gamblers are categorized. Is that correct?
MR. LAROCQUE: Correct.
MR. GRAHAM: You have also indicated with respect to the issue of you being consulted, I note in January of this year a published report through the CBC that you have indicated that: It is alarming but not surprising that much of the information we provided - I assume that means the Office of Health Promotion - and the extent of problem gambling in Nova Scotia has been left out of the paper. At that time I understand you were commenting on the New Directions paper which was the foundation document that was intended to go forward for this April final announcement, is that correct?
MR. LAROCQUE: That's absolutely correct. That document was supposed to be a full-fledged corroborative enterprise between the Office of Health Promotion and the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. We - Mr. Wilbur and I - began working sincerely and in earnest with the expectation that would occur. Very shortly into the process it became apparent that much of the information that we wished to include in that document to ensure that the stakeholders and the people of Nova Scotia would know something about the nature and extent of problem gambling and that they would have an opportunity to have some knowledge with which to make recommendations about the future of gaming in Nova Scotia, that was the intent - to involve the public and to involve stakeholders and to ensure that they had an opportunity to know something, to contribute, but much of our material, particularly related to continuous electronic gambling, was absolutely removed from that paper. There was an agreement, Ms. Mullally assured me personally and assured a colleague of mine personally on the telephone, Ms. Carolyn Davidson, that the decision would rest on whether the ADM of Communications Nova Scotia, Ms. Laura Lee Langley, would agree that what I was writing for that would be appropriate. Ms. Langley responded rather quickly indicating that she supported the information. That information never made the paper and I was informed that Ms. Mullally sent a written rebuke to Ms. Laura Lee Langley for interfering with the process.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Doiron has indicated she would like to add something.
MS. DOIRON: If I may, I just wanted to speak to one point of fact and just to basically clarify, as I mentioned in my opening comments, that the entire exercise of the development of the strategy, including the development of the discussion paper and the input opportunities that occurred throughout the province, was a government-wide approach and exercise. It was not a partnership simply between the Gaming Corporation and the Office of Health Promotion. In fact, the steering table was a table of deputies from the multiple departments that were identified earlier in my comments. So I just want to make it clear from the beginning that this is not a two-party issue and that it really did cut across a number of departments and it's a government-wide strategy.
MR. GRAHAM: With the greatest respect, Ms. Doiron, it's apparent to some, or at least the suspicions are that some departments had greater sway than others, in particular the Department of Finance, and Treasury and Policy Board which really controls the dollars with respect to this matter. I appreciate that many departments, including Finance, have a role to
play in this, but with respect to the point that was just being made, I believe Mr. Logan supported in an interview essentially some of the comments that were made by Mr. LaRocque that the Office of Health Promotion felt that the "New Directions" document didn't fully contain warnings or cautions about the dangers of problem gambling in the first instance.
Now, Mr. LaRocque, you've also made - back in 2002,2003 there was some discussion about bill acceptors. I would like to touch on bill acceptors a little later on, but I would like to also go to a source that's perhaps less connected to you and that's GPI Atlantic and they have provided some comments. In a public release back on October 27th of last year with respect to government documents, they raise the question of whether or not government documents reflect a sincere effort to give Nova Scotians a clear picture of what the nature of addictions are and I would like to quote from this. It's an October 27th document.
It says: The recent advertisements on Responsible Gaming Awareness Week were not nearly as effective as they could have been because they made no mention of problem gambling costs. Instead, the ads pictured smiling, successful people and were full of reference to the entertainment, fun, play and enjoyment of gambling as a game. Without mention of costs, the ads could even lure people into gambling rather than discouraging them. It goes on, it's inconceivable to have government ads on smoking awareness that ignore costs, but that's exactly what the gambling awareness ads do. They say nothing about problem gambling costs like the high rates of job loss, bankruptcy, divorce, poor health, suicide, et cetera. Can you comment on that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LaRocque.
MR. LAROCQUE: Yes, I'd be very pleased to comment on that because that was a very sore point with Mr. Graham and myself who were invited to participate in developing those themes for the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation Responsible Gaming Awareness Week process. We arrived at the first meeting - I prefer not to name names, but the executive in charge of that program essentially told us that the themes were already decided and the materials were already being developed. I immediately objected to the theme, which was a theme of everyone needs a game plan. Not only individuals who have decided to engage in gaming activities, everyone needs a game plan.
We had agreed over the first two years with the very competent person who was in that role before, Beth MacGillivray, that there would be no use of that type of terminology in Responsible Gaming Awareness Week materials. No reference to games or fun and things of that nature because it was contraindicated if one is attempting to talk about responsible gaming rather than promoting gambling.
I strenuously objected to that. I was told there would be no change. Other members of the committee were very distressed by it; two or three of them approached Mr. Graham and said they were intent on resigning from that committee. In a subsequent meeting, the committee was informed that research had been conducted and those materials were very favourably received by the participants in focus groups. I was subsequently informed by another executive of the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation that those results were completely fabricated and that the research group that was commissioned to do the research was instructed to leave out all negative comments from the final report.
Additionally, a very good colleague of mine, a highly credible individual with international credentials, attended those focus groups and confirmed to me that those materials were completely panned by the focus group participants.
MR. GRAHAM: Did they end up in the materials?
MR. LAROCQUE: They ended up in the materials. I - even before that happened, when I thought the themes were outrageous, that they would promote gambling - wrote some very strongly worded letters to Mr. Wilbur and to Mr. Logan. Mr. Wilbur supported me and I appreciated his support very much, indicating that we must not have our logo on these materials because they were essentially designed, I thought, to promote gambling.
MR. GRAHAM: I'm familiar with those brochures. Ultimately, the Responsible Gaming Awareness Week brochures didn't carry the logo of the Office of Health Promotion.
MR. LAROCQUE: That's correct. The key question is, how much money was spent by the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation to distribute materials province-wide - very polished materials, perhaps hundreds of thousands of copies - based on erroneous research information from participants who totally panned the materials. Subsequently, I was offended to receive a copy of a letter from Ms. Mullally to our deputy minister lauding the incredible success of Responsible Gaming Awareness Week when the basic theme of Responsible Gaming Awareness Week was really based on what I can only refer to as a scam.
MR. GRAHAM: I'm going to try to take this in order, Mr. LaRocque. First, in the order of chronology, there were concerns raised a number of years ago about bill acceptors and your advice being ignored with respect to bill acceptors being in these machines.
Then there was the possibility of an interference, you're suggesting, in the categorization of problem gamblers by the Gaming Corporation.
Thirdly, there was the "New Directions" document that the Office of Health Promotion felt didn't accurately describe the problems of gambling.
Fourthly, you're saying that with respect to the Responsible Gaming Awareness
Week materials, it appears to have been the result of fabricated or inaccurate results from a study that was done that led to materials being printed.
Lastly, you also suggested that you, in fact, were not consulted with respect to the final documents that were laid out to Nova Scotians.
Those all, I would suggest, are the suggestions of serious problems. What Nova Scotians want is confidence that they are getting accurate information about the nature of problem gambling in Nova Scotia. They also want to ensure that senior people in government - particularly Cabinet and the Premier - are receiving accurate information about the nature of the problem. Are you able to comment on whether or not you believe that Nova Scotians and/or senior members of government are receiving accurate information before decisions are being made?
MR. LAROCQUE: I find it difficult to believe the Premier is receiving accurate information about a number of issues, but one in particular is the one myth that criminals will crawl out of the sewer and take over the VLT industry. The reality is - I have this information from the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation and I've spoken with the RCMP who were involved in addressing that issue at the time - those machines were not illegal. Those machines were of uncertain legal status. The RCMP knew exactly where they were. There were - not prohibitions - factors that prevented them from laying charges. Not because they were having to dig in people's basements and behind Joe's garage to find the VLTs, but because the law was unclear.
I wrote to the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation recently and asked who was providing the Premier with information that criminals would immediately take this over. The reality is that some of these people at the time were entrepreneurs running these things. We didn't know that the machines were that dangerous. Some of the people who are being impugned - in my view - or it's being implied that they're involved in criminality, are now working with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation to improve their technology to make it safer.
MR. GRAHAM: With respect to the illegal machines issue - I'd like to shift more toward the prospect of this new gaming strategy being unfolded in the Province of Nova Scotia - you've indicated that the grey machines had an "uncertain legal status". Have you been advised with respect to the effectiveness of outlawing machines that didn't have uncertain legal status, that in fact were simply outlawed?
MR. LAROCQUE: My understanding from the RCMP officer with whom I spoke, who works in the Department of Health, and from discussions I've had with others across the province, including our commissions, is that there were very few, if any, illegal hidden VLTs. People knew where they were. In a small place like Nova Scotia, when Mabel sees that her husband isn't home at 3:00 a.m. and starts looking around and she goes to see her
neighbour who said, I saw Joe heading down to Will's garage and there are about 15 cars down there, there's something going on, I don't know what. Maybe Mabel will say, I'll take my rolling pin and go down there and take a look.
I think in little communities such as we have - I worked with a very competent detective in Toronto when I worked with the Addiction Research Foundation - anyone who couldn't find a bank of 15 VLTs in some of our little communities, especially if we were to say you will get a $10,000 reward if you identify these VLTs and the people who are the so-called criminals who will get a $100,000 fine or a year in jail, I don't think that the criminal activity would last very long. When I read the section in here, which I totally disagree with based on the assessment of banning VLTs, it's smoke and mirrors.
MR. GRAHAM: I would like to touch on what exists in the current plan and I would concede just for the full context of this that there have been some long overdue measures with respect to treatment and the identification slowing down these machines, which are obviously a step in the right direction. I will have comments in the next round and questions with respect to their availability and the number, but I would like to touch on bill acceptors, Mr. Wilbur.
Back in January 2004 you were quoted publicly as expressing real concerns about whether or not bill acceptors should remain in these machines. Bill acceptors, of course, are those products that change bills into coins so that you can use these machines and they're physically on the machines. You said that those were going to increase addictions. The latest plan the government has come forward with doesn't address the problem of bill acceptors. Does that concern you?
MR. WILBUR: The value of removing bill acceptors is it gives an opportunity to interrupt playing and that's a key element for problem gamblers, to have some reason to interrupt their play. Whatever ways that we can establish to interrupt that continuous type of play becomes an important element in addressing problem gambling and that is something which, when we saw the bill acceptors come in, the revenues did increase, but we really need to look at what would happen if we started to remove those. Would they be an effective way of interrupting that play?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time for one more question, Mr. Graham.
MR. GRAHAM: I just want to follow up on that. Certainly, Mr. LaRocque, we know that the number of VLTs that the government enjoys a benefit from has not increased from the 3,234 off-reserve when the moratorium went in place. Yet the data suggests that the problem gambler, the consumption has gone from $800 per month to $1,200 per month. Clearly something has happened. Ms. Mullally has suggested this is about novelty. Mr. LaRocque has specifically suggested that this - and I think you have - is probably related to speeding up the machines and introducing bill acceptors. Wouldn't it have been best in this
latest plan for the government to remove the bill acceptors?
MR. WILBUR: I think that is something which the Gaming Corporation could respond to better than I could.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, Ms. Doiron would like to add something.
MS. DOIRON: I just want to say that there are a whole variety of initiatives that could be taken or could have been taken, that part of the discernment around how to take some of the first steps forward received considerable discussion and part of the rationale behind some of the combination of things that have been done is to say, first of all, that there needs to be a combination of activities and strategies in order for this to have some real merit and follow a benefit similar to the tobacco strategy that really bases itself on a combination of approaches.
At the same time we were very aware coming down to the final decisions on how we would move forward that while we have maybe some evidence of an anecdotal or experience type, while there is some work that has started to be carried out in research on specific initiatives and actions that can be taken, that we also wanted to make sure that we could provide an environment where we took some first steps and didn't complicate it beyond our means in terms of being able to identify particular kinds of strategies, modalities, options and variables that we could go back and start to design into work that will also fall under the strategy relative to research to be followed up.
So I think it's important to kind of say that while you could make a list of everything that anybody thinks could be done to reduce danger or improve the situation that there was considerable thought that went into saying, let's take a number of strategies and a number of different arenas and let's take that as through the first progression, try to test what we've done, try to continue to examine the other options and make adjustments as we need to as we go down the road because this a beginning, not an end strategy.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We'll move on now to the Progressive Conservative caucus for the next round of 20 minutes.
The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome back, Ms. Doiron, and welcome, ladies and gentlemen.
Ms. Doiron, I'm going to just start off with a quote. That quote being: But we can't just wipe out VLTs completely, because history has shown that doesn't solve our problem.
Those words were spoken by former Liberal Finance Minister Don Downe on Bill No. 17, and those words were taken out of Hansard of 1998. Yet there are those today who would argue that we should go farther. Perhaps add VLTs and casinos to racetracks, to create racinos. There are those who would suggest that we should completely ban VLTs altogether and yet there are those who, depending on perhaps what day it is or the time of the day or the week, would suggest racinos, a complete ban or perhaps both.
Now I believe that we have a comprehensive gaming strategy, from what I can see, that I believe is second to none in Canada. Based on its release, the first gaming strategy that was recently released, what do you see, what do you envision as the future for gaming in Nova Scotia, Ms. Doiron?
MS. DOIRON: Wow, big question, thank you. First of all I think I want to say that we do not have definitive, clear, evidence-based, research-supported evidence to suggest 100 per cent support one way or the other. I think we need to hear all of the input. I think we have to respect the competence, the backgrounds and the experience that everybody brings to the issues, and I think we want to go down a road into the future to minimize, to mitigate any of the dangers in terms of putting people in the position to be at risk of becoming problem gamblers.
What I think we've done in the work that has progressed so far with this strategy, is try to take a number of the elements that will help us to both better understand the issues, to be able to continue to redesign the strategy in the future to be more effective, and to also take some specific direct actions relative to things that will occur under the mandate of the Gaming Corporation, which is more theirs to speak to, but also under our role of prevention and treatment.
I think the combination of what we have done has started us down a very right road and when I say that I am meaning that I believe that we are collectively now together and certainly if you bring it back to the two principals that keep coming up, the Gaming Corporation and the Office of Health Promotion, my sense is that during this process, there has been a tremendous development of sharing of information and gelling of the sense of dedication to the purpose of reducing danger to the public.
I think that over that time with the benefit of the tremendous information that can be brought by our experts such as John and Brian and others, as well as all the other input we've had, I think it has helped us to start to create a different climate. I think we've developed much further in the culture of kind of jointly pursuing what we think will be the right kind of future and while we've gone through that, we may be experiencing or have experienced some tensions but my view is that having come out the other end of that, that we're now jointly in a much better position to move into a future that is going to be a more constructive type of future for gaming in this province.
We hope, and what we envision I think from the Office of Health Promotion perspective, is that we will be in a position now to start to develop some real benchmarks in terms of where we are and what we want to achieve and we will be doing that in concert with the steering table that's multi-jurisdictional from across our province in a very immediate sense.
So we should soon be in a position to say based on the information we have available one of the most important pieces of information, being the prevalent study that was coordinated by our own staff and our own province, is to say we will work from that base and we will develop benchmarks and time frames that will help us to understand if the strategies are actually leading to the diminishing of the number of problems and the prevalence of problem gamblers or those at risk. The strategy should play out starting from young children recognizing that the VLTs are a very high profile issue at the moment, but also recognizing that, as John stated, continuous electronic gambling has a variety of forms and we need to be very judicious or careful with how we proceed down any roads that would allow that to occur. In fact, we should not allow it to occur.
We also want to make sure that we are getting in at a young age to children who have the opportunity through the Internet to develop play habits even if they are not associated with money at this point in time. So there are many arenas and various avenues that I think we need to be tracking and trying to understand better. Our objective and our belief is that we will actually move forward in this province to have less prevalence of problem gamblers and a less prevalence of gamblers at risk and we will do everything behind those who are having continuing problems to mitigate the difficult positions that they're in. So while I think we have to do that across government departments, it's not enough anymore for us to walk away from the Office of Health Promotion perspective and say, fine, we'll now go off and do our job. We have to stay at the table together around this and when I say that, obviously I mean the Gaming Corporation but I also mean other departments.
You've heard the confusing, I think, information that has come forward that would lead us at this point to say we need to go forward now as well and understand the whole issue of what enforcement could bring. Do we understand it well enough? Do we have the opportunity and the information to kind of really understand what could happen from a legal perspective? So I guess the answer is that we are confident that we have the collective decision of government. The intention is there. I feel supported as a deputy of government to say that I believe the government is wanting to improve the situation. This is not window dressing, these are real initiatives and we will improve the situation for gambling in this province.
MR. DEWOLFE: You're absolutely correct, Ms. Doiron, that the government does want to improve the situation and at least we're being consistent with that and unlike the calls for a ban from Opposition members, namely the Liberals, I find it confusing because of the inconsistency of this issue. In 1998, for instance, as I previously mentioned, Don
Downe, the then Finance Minister, opposed the ban. Yet in 2003 my honourable colleague, Mr. Graham, was supportive of the ban. In 2004 the Liberal Leader Francis MacKenzie was opposed to bans in support of expansion of VLTs into racinos and yet again in 2005 Mr. Francis MacKenzie was supportive of the ban.
They've changed their minds and views on VLT bans at least three times in the last five years and I find this rather unsettling and confusing. Campaigns for a ban, I realize and I know where my colleague is coming from, are well intentioned. There's no question they are well-intentioned but not perhaps fully thought out and they don't and can't address the legitimate and proven fear that a full ban would lead to a flood of illegal machines in our province as they did in other areas. With the greatest respect to Mr. LaRocque's comments and I believe that any time there's illegal activity taking place, it opens the door for the criminal element to move in, and I would hate and be very concerned that Nova Scotia would set the stage for that possibility to happen. Ms. Doiron, I want to pass in a few moments to my colleague, but perhaps you could briefly answer that concern that I have that illegal machines would indeed flow back into the province. We had considerable numbers of those in the past.
MS. DOIRON: It would seem to me that the changing of positions by anybody or any group, the variation on the information that we receive from other jurisdictions as to their experience, being quite different in some cases, and the lack of a definitive body of evidence to really make a final conclusion in that does position all of us at a point when you have to make a choice or a decision to say, given what we have before us right now, what do we think is the best decision we can make at least for the moment? And that's the position that we found ourselves in at the government steering table trying to put this together and consequently I think we chose at this point not to go all the way to banning the machines.
I think that if anybody goes back and looks at all opinions, all expressions of concern, all positions that people have taken, that kind of question is still on the table. So with the big picture of looking at all the issues and all the initiatives to say, well, if we start down this path and essentially take at least a first major step of taking about 30 per cent of the machines out, then maybe we can continue to do some work to understand that issue better, and if that means that leads us to a different position or a different choice in the future, then hopefully it will be better supported and clearer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Logan, you've indicated you'd like to add something?
MR. SCOTT LOGAN: Yes, if I may. I guess the contextual piece I'd like to add is that we don't know a lot about gambling, relative to many other issues that we've had to deal with, whether it's tobacco, et cetera, the research is not as definitive and that is one of the major challenges that we've had in this whole process.
So one of the things we have to do first and foremost is to get more information and to have the evidence to make informed decisions that will lead to better policy in the future. With that more information, and relative to the question of the future, it's my feeling that with that information we, as the Office of Health Promotion, the Department of Health and other social policy-oriented departments of government, will be in a position to offer decision makers better information to make better decisions and it's not to suggest that the
right decisions haven't been made or not, that is not our purview as in terms of bureaucrats, but admittedly we have not been able to be definitive on various issues, so what's had to occur is that a mix of opinions, as Deputy Minister Doiron has indicated, have represented the perspectives across government to try to come up with the best possible strategy.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you, Mr. Logan, I want to ensure that my colleague has a few moments to ask his questions.
MR. LOGAN: I'm sorry.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We'll turn the floor over then to the honourable member for Kings North.
MR. MARK PARENT: Thank you very much, and thank you for coming on this very important issue. My position has been fairly well-known on it. It's an issue that I've been concerned about even before coming into government, when a friend of mine who was an addictions counsellor basically with alcohol addiction, found himself totally overwhelmed with people coming with gambling problems, and came to me and educated me about these VLT machines and what they were doing, because that was the main source of gambling addiction.
I also have a philosophical concern that we can't really discuss here but I want to get on the table that across Canada this whole dependence upon gambling revenues has created in the mindset of people that one can get rich quick without doing any work, and that I think undermines the fabric of society of people being willing to work for a living, an honest day's pay for an honest day's work. I think that's a philosophical question that's extremely important. It's beyond the purview of us to discuss here and it touches on this whole concept that you don't have to work, you just have to get lucky and I think gambling feeds into that.
I want to ask Ms. Jackman a very quick question because I don't have much time. One of the frustrations I've had, Ms. Jackman, with the Gaming Foundation, and maybe I misunderstand your mandate, but I have a group in my area, the Crosbie Centre, that is very interested in doing work in gambling addiction and have applied to your foundation, but have been turned down. I'm wondering, is that not your mandate to fund preventive programs or is your mandate mainly to fund studies on gambling? Maybe I misunderstand your mandate.
MS. JACKMAN: Certainly the mandate of the foundation is to fund community-based projects that support not only research but education, prevention, remedial intervention. So certainly we have in the past funded recovery houses throughout the
province. I'm not sure it's appropriate to comment on a particular application that was brought before the foundation, but it is not outside the mandate of the foundation to fund those types of houses.
MR. PARENT: And what proportion of your budget have you spent on those sorts of programs?
MS. JACKMAN: In the last fiscal year more than $0.5 million has been spent on operational funding.
MR. PARENT: Out of a budget of?
MS. JACKMAN: A yearly budget of $1 million.
MR. PARENT: And how much money beyond that do you have in the foundation?
MS. JACKMAN: Currently the foundation has a fund balance of $3.6 million. However, you have to bear in mind that there are also grants payable in the amount of $760,000. So when I say grants payable, those are contractual obligations that the foundation has, for example, for multi-year programs that we only fund one year at a time, but we have a contractual obligation.
MR. PARENT: So approximately $3 million that you're sitting on?
MS. JACKMAN: Yes, exactly, $2.9 million in cash surplus.
MR. PARENT: Why not spend that money?
MS. JACKMAN: At this stage the foundation is unable to spend that money in light of a memorandum of agreement that was signed between the Office of Health Promotion and the Gaming Foundation in December 2004. One of the things that the memorandum of agreement does is it sets up a special trust fund for the surplus to be invested under the direction of the foundation through the Department of Finance and the mechanism that has been established under the memorandum of agreement is that interest which accrues from that trust fund will go directly to community health boards throughout the province for community-based projects.
MR. PARENT: Mr. LaRocque, I'm sorry I'm being so quick, but I don't have much time. As the expert in gambling addictions in the province, one of the problems that I continually face when I'm talking about this problem is people say, well, they can understand how someone can be addicted to something you ingest, like alcohol, tobacco, but they can't get their minds around - they think it's just weak wills of people who can't resist playing these machines and my friend who was an addictions counsellor tells me that that's not true,
that actually he calls the VLTs crack cocaine - he didn't get that terminology from himself - and he says these are highly addictive. Can you help us understand how people can be addicted to something that they don't ingest?
MR. LAROCQUE: Yes. These machines are really based on very powerful behavioural techniques that were invented by people like Skinner and Pavlov a long, long time ago. If you look on the Internet, you will see that there are a lot of linkages made between gambling as it occurs now and experiments that were done by Skinner many, many years ago. In the 1920s Skinner actually said - and there's a tape of this - I can make a problem gambler out of a monkey and these are very powerful techniques that are used, the illusion of skill. There's the creation of what's called dissociative experiences that happen very similarly with people who have mental health problems where they lose focus. These machines have been systematically designed for 25 years to mesmerize people, to prevent them from focusing on what they would normally think about and to make them lose complete track of time.
The bottom line is these machines have been proven definitively by the most prominent scientists in the world as being inherently addictive. Mark Dickerson, the pre-eminent scientist in the field in the world who recently retired, recently indicated that pathology has nothing to do with addiction to these machines, that anyone who plays, approximately 20 per cent of individuals who would play these machines irrespective of education or anything else, will become problem VLT gamblers. The only reason we have more people in the so-called lower socio-economic classes addicted to these machines is because they're more inclined to access them in bars and so on and so forth.
These machines are inherently designed and have been over 25 years by psychologists designed to dupe people, to take their money and to make them believe that they can win through reinforcement techniques with which I'm very familiar. Any competent psychologist or person who knows a lot about these techniques could take anyone in this room and within a week turn that individual into a babbling individual who would be willing to admit to anything and say just about anything through deprivation of lights or a combination of bells and whistles. This is exactly the same technology that's been bastardized and turned on its ear so that a great deal of money can be made very quickly in what I view to be a highly deceptive manner.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. We'll move on to the next round of questioning, back to the NDP caucus. This round will be 10 minutes.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First I want to say that I'm delighted to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, to be able to ask questions of the minister, the deputy minister, the assistant deputy minister and members of the department.
First of all, I want to say that I take exception to the assistant deputy minister's comment with respect to gambling is relatively new to Nova Scotia. It is not. It's the form of gambling that is relatively new and that is the video lottery terminals. Other forms of gambling, such as bingo, ticket draws, casino nights, have all been forms of entertainment for many, many years - certainly during my period of time.
The problem and the concern that I have is with respect to the information that I've heard today. I, as an elected representative, come to this Legislative Assembly and hope to get from government accurate information through documents and reports, information that will direct me on how best to do my job and how best to serve the citizens of this Province of Nova Scotia. When I hear comments coming from the Coordinator of Problem Gambling Services, Mr. John LaRocque, with respect to how there had been the lack of inputting information into reports that particularly is salient to Nova Scotians who have addiction problems.
Based on the premise that we have some 35,000 Nova Scotians with potential addictions to gambling in this province and some 7,000 of them with problem gambling and some 7,000 with severe problem gambling - in fact, we also know that there are many Nova Scotians who commit suicide as a result of this. So rather than extend my preamble, my question to the Deputy Minister of Health Promotion, Ms. Doiron, is, how do you collaborate the information that was provided to us today from Mr. John LaRocque with respect to the information in the report that was unveiled on Wednesday last?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Doiron.
MS. DOIRON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is a complex question, but I'm going to do my best to take it through a brief tracing of the process that we went through. I think at the front end of that process, there was a lot of tension that was experienced between how some of the front end of the work should be brought together.
I know that during the period when John and Brian and others were feeling that perhaps their information was not being fully received or represented, that concern was certainly raised to both the assistant deputy and to myself. I think as part of that, the follow-up to that - part of which maybe our staff would have been involved in, but part of which was happening as well at some of the senior levels between myself and others - was to kind of go and try to deal with and talk through some of those issues.
Our hope and our ambition at the beginning of this was that all of the information would be brought forward in a manner that allowed the best outcomes to be achieved. While the front end of the process, I think, did provide some challenges, it also provided us - particularly with the passion as well as the experience of good information that our staff bring to us - the issue platform that we needed to go forward and talk this stuff through with the Gaming Corporation, other senior government officials and make sure that what was
happening as we continued through the process, was going to allow all of that input to at least be heard to get appropriate reflection and to become part of the consideration in terms of the outcomes that we would arrive at.
So I would acknowledge at this point . . .
MR. PYE: Excuse me for interjecting. I only have 10 minutes and I want to ask some other questions, if you don't mind. I do need to say to you that there were ample opportunities for the Office of Health Promotion to have an accompanying report if they felt this report was not the appropriate report that should be unveiled to Nova Scotians.
MS. DOIRON: I think it's not a matter of that. I think the front-end issues and questions and concerns were worked through so that the report at the outcome actually is a report that we can all fully support.
From the point of view of the formal positions of the departments at the deputy level and obviously, the information that we recommended to the Cabinet which they ultimately supported. So, at the end of the day, while we may have had some tensions as we went through the process, I think the outcome did give the consideration to issues that we wanted to see.
MR. PYE: Thank you. I just want you to know from my vantage point it looks like there was a collaboration between the Office of Health Promotion and that of the Gaming Corporation with respect to developing a strategy that would best meet the corporation's needs. Excuse me for saying that, but that's the impression I received here today.
I guess the other concern that I have is around financial counselling. I know there's been talk that the corporation will develop a financial counselling strategy or program. My concern is that this should be an arm's-length program, it should be away from the corporation, there should be not only the aspect of the counselling services, but because the individual Nova Scotians with gambling addiction problems have dropped so low that they're at the bottom now and they need help. There should also be seed money set aside in there to provide them and help them develop their status back in the community. I guess my question to you is, do you agree that the financial counselling services should be at arm's-length from the corporation?
MS. DOIRON: I think that's a reasonable position to put on the table. What I do know is that we will be staying together as a steering table of a high level to unfold the strategy and to assess it. Consequently, as we move forward with these kinds of initiatives, there will be the collective number of departments at the table who are part of putting this strategy together in the first place. My expectation is as we do that, we will be able to talk together about what the options are to proceed with that and should we make any adaptation. In my view, your opinion is a solid opinion to discuss.
MR. PYE: Thank you. My next question through you, Mr. Chairman, is to Mr. LaRocque. We do know that gambling in the Province of Nova Scotia has become a very serious issue. Many Nova Scotians have grave concerns, particularly around video lottery terminals. Do you think that it is appropriate to allow Nova Scotians to have their say and input on different forms of gambling - all forms of gambling - that exist in this province and how do you see us going about it? And another question accompanying that would be, is a plebiscite, both province-wide and community-wide, an acceptable way to go?
MR. LAROCQUE: We pride ourselves on living in a democratic society. We prohibit Sunday shopping in this province because we believe that somehow it intrudes on our values and impinges on the sensibilities of people who have religious beliefs and such and I can respect that. If we're going to have a plebiscite on something like that, I'm not aware that too many people have died as a direct result of Sunday shopping, but I do know that many people are dying as a result of VLTs and my view is that if the people of this province can speak freely on the issue of Sunday shopping, that they darn well should have an opportunity to make pronouncements on that issue and we already know through our studies that the majority of Nova Scotians are willing to pay higher taxes, through the focus groups we've conducted, if the VLTs were removed because we live in a compassionate society with compassionate people.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, but I don't believe you answered my question. I asked you if you believed that Nova Scotians should have input with respect to the forms of gambling in this province and how that input should take place?
MR. LAROCQUE: Oh, absolutely, I think they should and I think the input could either take place through a plebiscite, an overall plebiscite or by providing municipalities with the opportunity to make determinations based on how they perceive the level of damage and the challenges that they face at the local level.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll now move on to the Liberal caucus for the next 10 minutes.
The member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. GRAHAM: Mr. Chairman, I would like to pick up on a couple of responses that were given in the previous round. Ms. Doiron, you indicated that this a corroborative exercise involving several departments. A concern might be raised for anyone who goes back into the archives of the development of this plan and notes that on the day that it was announced and reported in the newspaper that it wasn't announced as a corroborative exercise involving several different departments.
In fact, quoting from the papers of August 12, 2004: The Nova Scotia Gaming
Corporation, the agency responsible for promoting gambling in the province, is paying $50,000 for the review. It's co-sponsored by the Office of Health Promotion. No mention of other parties being involved and, obviously, rough waters were hit in the days and months after that. The paper was released, or the lengthy letter describing this process as a sham by the addiction directors across the province was tabled in this Legislature. There were other comments that were suggesting that it was a problem from the Office of Health Promotion and some might be forgiven for feeling as if the involvement of these other parties was really more a token and that the real central brains of this needed to be the people with the expertise - the Office of Health Promotion and the Gaming Corporation - but I would like to pick up on another comment that you made with respect to the bill acceptors which I find baffling as we move forward.
You've indicated appropriately that if we are to move forward with actions that should be done based on scientific evidence and not on anecdotal evidence, I'm referring to January 2004, a report again in the newspapers where Mr. Wilbur, to your right, and Mr. LaRocque, to his right, are expressing concerns about two things; one, the speed of the machines and, secondly, the bill acceptors. Now, when this issue was raised at an earlier time, the response from the minister responsible was along the lines of we don't have conclusive evidence and we need conclusive evidence and I hear language to that effect in what you're saying today. Somehow we seem to have gotten to the conclusive evidence with respect to speeding up machines because the urging that Mr. Wilbur and Mr. LaRocque put forward about slowing the machines was accepted by this government in this last measure.
Now, Mr. LaRocque in this January 10, 2004, The Daily News article says: Scientists predicted bill acceptors in VLTs could increase gambling revenues between 20 per cent and 30 per cent. That, frankly, sounds pretty specific. It doesn't sound anecdotal. Your experts have given you advice and to this day it doesn't appear to have been accepted by this government. Why?
MS. DOIRON: There are I think statements that have been made over time that zero in on a multitude of issues that are potentially problem issues whether it's the stop buttons, the bill acceptors, the speed of the machines, and you could go on with the list. As I said earlier, all of those issues were on the table when we were considering the strategy and there was some discussion and debate about should we simply accept all of them and implement all of those changes as the front and the first step for a whole variety of considerations, one of which was our ability to test what we're doing. Even though, yes, their suggestion through many avenues relative to the impacts, the potential percentage of impact and things of that nature, I think what we're saying is that while we respect that and we have listened to that, that there's also some choice that has to be made about how many initiatives you take as a first step forward. So we did not choose to go with every single potential approach in the first step.
MR. GRAHAM: Why would you not go forward with an approach that helps people,
that reduces problem gambling? Why would you not take steps that have been recommended by your experts to clearly reduce the consumption on these machines? It's just unfathomable that was a step that wouldn't have been considered.
MS. DOIRON: We have considered many steps. We have taken and chosen to take some steps that are going to, I think, have a dramatic impact. We will want to test that to kind of understand it better. We also are looking at this within the context of the whole picture about how this will play out across all of government and in terms of the ability to work this system through, as well, for those people in business who are dependent on some of these revenues, to try to phase some of that activity so that the reduction against the dependence for income is not only relevant to the government itself, but it's certainly relevant to those individuals who are making revenue in their businesses in regard to this. We want to make sure that we continue down this path to take the strategies that are going to best protect and serve the public and we're trying to do that in a way that is measured and also respects the other people who have become involved in this whole arena.
MR. GRAHAM: With the greatest respect, Ms. Doiron, your non-answer to the question with respect to bill acceptors I would suggest reveals an institutional bias or a bias against fixing the problem. Against saying, we can fix this problem, let's find everything at our disposal, all of our means to do that and we will do it. That would include removing ATM machines from these locations as well and I would suggest taints over to your comments with respect to other jurisdictions and what happened with respect to bans that may have happened in South Carolina. All of what the government is presently pitching to the people of Nova Scotia needs to be seen in the light of the testimony that Mr. LaRocque has put before this committee that suggests that there is an institutional bias against trying to help people and the response with respect to bill acceptors paints it the same way and the comments with respect to the number of machines which I would like to touch on is another reflection of not wanting to fix the problem and acting like an addict.
MS. DOIRON: I think that any individual, any Party, any group, any organization can have an opinion that goes to the extreme sense of actually taking all actions, up to and including the actual removal of all VLTs. I think we've discussed the fact that there are lots of things to consider around those kinds of positions. If it's your opinion that is inappropriate in terms of the work that has been carried forward to this step, then I respect that, but I also think that there are other reasons to consider the whole picture and to look at the fact that there can be degrees along the introduction of these kinds of strategies.
I need to say one more thing if I may. To pick out one element such as a bill acceptor is isolating something and trying to drive a whole strategy around one issue, which is certainly not the context in which this strategy has been put together.
MR. GRAHAM: The context I would suggest is in some respects a disguise and this isn't an extreme position, it is one that is intended to serve and protect. The first duty of a
government is to serve and protect and if you can find the reasons, you can find mechanisms to protect people then surely we should be trying to do that. The strategy that has been put forward doesn't take VLTs, doesn't stop any location that presently offers problem gamblers no option. In other words, all available locations, all contact points for problem gamblers are still going to be alive and well. Machines that weren't as busy before will simply be busier. If they were operating at 75 per cent capacity before, it will be at 100 per cent and we'll still have the same problem.
Mr. LaRocque, I'm wondering if you could comment on whether or not the reduction in the number of VLTs is necessarily going to lead to an improvement or if the capacity is low, whether this may result in the same number of problem gamblers that we presently have?
MR. LAROCQUE: It depends on the very issue that you mentioned. The only way to do this in a rational, ethical way is to take a look at the overall usage of these machines, the percentage of time that these machines are utilized over the duration of time that they operate. If the machines were being utilized 75 per cent of the time, and I hate VLTs personally, not because I'm opposed to gambling, but I go around to a lot of these places because I need to know what's going on and there are many instances when 25 per cent, 30 per cent of the machines are not being utilized.
So when we still have exactly the same number of venues where people can go, if the utilization was overall 75 per cent, then exactly as you say, it's going to move up to 100 per cent and it could make a little bit of difference, or no difference at all. I don't know how they calculate it, because I wasn't told, the $40 million that the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation expects to lose, but if they just took an average of what they make on those VLTs and multiplied that money by the 800 VLTs that are going to be removed, that's not going to make any difference at all if the utilization moves from 75 per cent to 100 per cent and then it appears that there has been no consideration whatsoever given to the predictable reality that those who are not able to play the VLTs in certain areas where Native bands and VLTs are available to them 23 hours a day, they're simply going to move over to those communities and continue to play the VLTs.
So I think that an important question would be exactly how the so-called loss and revenue will be calculated. I was told a few years ago when we started working on the "New Directions" paper, it was written right in the paper that the VLT market was mature and that no more money could be made. When I saw that, I was stunned, Mr. Wilbur was stunned, and we said that doesn't make any sense. Now we find out that notwithstanding those kinds of predictions there will be an extra $20 million beyond what had been predicted coming from the VLTs, partially by virtue of the fact that the gamblers who would gamble in the non-Native areas were simply moving to the Native VLTs that operate for a much longer time.
I really wish that I had had an opportunity that those of us who know something about problem gambling - and I respect greatly, you know, the expertise of those who worked on this because in their own fields they're top-notch, but they took away from the bottom-line negotiating process on the front lines all of the individuals, and there are very few of us who have studied this and who know something about problem gambling, and that is not a way to come up with a strategy that is likely to work.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll move on now to the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The honourable member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.
MR. GARY HINES: I would like to applaud you on the efforts that you have taken to date in your strategy and the strategy you put before the province. I think that it's a step in the right direction and my constituents are, in fact, telling me that. Also a wise man by the name of John Diefenbaker once said that if someone has a comment to make or a suggestion, regardless of their lot in life, you should listen, you may learn something. So sometimes when I see a formula done by total professional opinion, then sometimes I think something is missing.
My constituents give me the opinion that common Nova Scotians may have on this issue. One of the big issues and the question I get asked all the time is, why are we creating special favour for the Native community? I know I'm taking a risk at going into an area that many fail to tread. However, I would appeal to this committee - and I want it to be on record - I would appeal to the leaders of the Native community to have a social conscience and in terms of negotiating with the province, use their social conscience. They have a problem within the reserves, probably greater than in general Nova Scotia.
That being said, my question is, where does the province stand, what are the contractual agreements that we have to look at renegotiating? Presently, I think the stance that Bernd Christmas and others have taken regarding this for the Native community is that they're willing to prostitute themselves at the expense of having a social conscience. I think that's totally wrong and I want to be on the record as having said that. I want to know where we stand contractually with the Native community.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Doiron.
MS. DOIRON: Thank you. There has been a recognition that the contact with the First Nations has started. In fact, with regard to this topic in some manner of earnest, the dialogue with the First Nations chiefs in this province and their organizations actually started up about August 2004.
We do know there are special contracts, there are special issues that are relative to their communities. Our experience so far through the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, the Gaming Corporation, the Department of Health and the Office of Health Promotion has been that there is a collective concern among the leaders of our First Nations groups that suggests we do need to now work with them within the larger strategy, but over and above that because of the special nature of how things evolve on the reservations.
A lot of that work has started and that will continue. We will make that dialogue specific to gambling and try to understand how we can, as a province working with First Nations and the federal government or whomever else needs to be involved, assist those communities to get to where they want to go, which is to actually deal in a real way with some of the major issues that have arisen around gambling and reserves.
Having said that, starting this week, we - meaning the Aboriginal Affairs Office as well as the Department of Health - are doing a round through this province to meet with all of the 13 First Nations communities to talk about the bigger health issue as well. Arising out of the FMM agreement is the requirement to have a health blueprint for First Nations across the country. We're working on that now from the context of Nova Scotia and part of that picture will also have to include the health issues that arise from gambling. That work is underway. There will be those consultations taking place very actively at the reservations over the next month or month and a half.
We also are in a position right now, for your information, in working toward that health blueprint which should incorporate issues relative to addictions, specifically gambling. We have been asked to release our nursing policy adviser, who is also partly Mi'kmaq, to the federal government. She will be the one who will be leading the coordination of the health blueprint across Canada. We're feeling very comfortable that we will have Nova Scotia's position very well understood and very forward in that.
Coming back to gambling, dialogues have started that are specific with the reservations. They will continue and we will try to understand that in the context of both the general strategy and what may be necessary beyond that to address issues specific to their communities.
MR. HINES: I appreciate that and I agree with you and I would at no time want to indicate that I don't realize the Natives recognize concerns, but I think their concerns are more than just health concerns. I think when they ask you to come to the table with your cheque book or there will be no resolution here, that poses a serious problem and Nova Scotians realize that. I'm going to pass now back to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. PARENT: How much time, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Five minutes.
MR. PARENT: In terms of the slowing down of the machines and the removal of the stop button - everyone agrees that the stop button removal is a wonderful step forward. The slowing down of the machines is a good step forward too, everyone's agreed on that. Not having played these machines, what effect will that have on the machine, the slowing down?
I guess the question is, what's the maximum bet you can place on the machine before they are slowed down and after they are slowed down?
MS. DOIRON: I'm going to refer that question to Brian to get into the specific numbers about limits and so on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilbur.
MR. WILBUR: I cannot give you a figure as to what is the maximum bet. I, as well, have not played a machine. However, the key element here is the study that was done at Dalhousie and they did a very good study looking at slowing down the machines and they found that in slowing down the machines it had a greater impact on the problem gambler, but it did not have much of an impact on the recreational gambler, and so by slowing down the machine the impact would be on the problem gambler, which is who we really want to address.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Doiron.
MS. DOIRON: Just to add to Mr. Wilbur's response. All of the approaches that are taken to try to contain this issue around problem gambling and particularly as they relate to the machines, each and every one of those where we would be attempting to measure, so we don't necessarily have an expectation of total outcome at this point. We' re hoping that it will kind of relieve the pressure, protect players from losing as much money, but at the same time while we appreciate the comments that John has made, some machines are not occupied 100 per cent of the time. What will that mean? We know that if people can't gamble as fast, we don't know what they will do is actually increase their betting, but we will be able to measure all of that and by doing that then we'll be able to come back in and say, okay, do we need to make other adjustments to this? Do we now go on to kind of removing other parts or modalities of this equipment and that's part of what we'll be doing with the follow-up around this.
MR. PARENT: A question about the card management tool. I had a gambler come to me who had gone to the various places where these machines were, with a letter for them to ban him from using them, to exclude him from using them, and all but one bar and tavern owner agreed that they would do that for him and one establishment even took his picture and said if he comes in here for this that's fine, but if he comes in here to play the machines you stop him. He came to me and said, why doesn't the province mandate that if I have an
exclusion letter that I give to a bar or tavern owner that they have to honour it? I guess we're doing a similar thing with the card management tool in regard to that, but that was the question he asked me. I'm just wondering, they're really similar efforts to try to do the same thing, but can you explain the card management system just a bit further and how it would help in this regard?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Doiron.
MS. DOIRON: Thank you. I believe this will be very helpful because the problem gambler, or somebody who has concerns about becoming a problem gambler, then starts to come back to controlling their own behaviour. So they can make the choice about the limits that are placed on the card. They can decide on whether they can play on certain days or dates. They can decide on the amount of dollars that they can put at risk and be cut off after that. They can decide that they should not be able to play at all. So there are a whole lot of options, I think, there for the problem gambler to consider.
For example, if in fact an individual gets paid every Friday and if they make a decision to say I don't want to be able to gamble on Fridays or Saturdays, giving them time and opportunity to do something around spending their money on other things - paying bills or buying food, whatever it might be - then they will have that ability to be able to make those decisions and to do that while they're away from the machines, hopefully to do that in concert with others such as their families and so on. That card system is going to be piloted. It's not yet in place, but the approach to piloting it has been under development, so I would anticipate that should be available to gamblers in the very near future.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. This brings to an end the question and answer portion of our proceedings this morning. I'd now like to invite our guests, the Gaming Foundation and the Office of Health Promotion to make any brief concluding remarks that they wish to make of no more than five minutes together. I'd like to invite Ms. Jackman to make any concluding comments she wishes to make now.
MS. JACKMAN: Mr. Chairman, I feel a bit neglected down in the corner here this morning. Thank you, John. I guess I would only say that I would be happy to come back at another time if you want to discuss further about the details of the MOA. We have an annual report coming out in the next couple of days which I will send a copy to all the members and if you visit our Web site, you will be able to get updates, but I think the best I can say is I'll come back if you would like me to.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I do regret that this typically happens when we have four or five witnesses, that there's always one or two who end up saying nothing or very little, and I know the committee will appreciate your offer to come back where there might be more of a focus specifically on the Gaming Foundation. Ms. Doiron, any concluding comments you wish to make?
MS. DOIRON: I guess I would like to say that, first of all, I appreciate that you invited us to come before you today. As we all know, this is a very difficult, complex, challenging and emotional subject. I think that some of the comments and some of the challenges that members here today have presented to us are also good food for thought for us as we continue down the road with the development of this strategy and our understanding of the impacts that some of the changes we've proposed are going to make.
We don't believe that this is a 100 per cent approach. We think that it is a combination of approaches that hopefully can have some good outcomes which we want to determine and measure. We do want, as well, to ensure that as we go further down the road with the development of the strategy that everybody is heard and continues to be heard. That doesn't mean that everybody will be satisfied that we've taken decisions along the way or that the government chooses to take our recommendations along the way that will be 100 per cent satisfactory to all the different opinions that will come forward and continue, I'm sure, to be there. But I think what we can say is that we are now kind of jointly on a track into a future, into a culture that is going to try to bring an improved situation from a values and ethical, a financial and a health perspective to this whole arena and we have not collectively been there before.
So regardless of opinions and regardless of whether we're doing everything and all that we should at any one point in time, we have made light years of progress, in my opinion, and I think I can say that on behalf of the Office of Health Promotion. So I want to thank everybody who has had anything to do with that, including members, Opposition Party members, the public, my staff who, as you can see, are dedicated and passionate about this. Everything has culminated here to set us off in a direction that is a better direction for the future, so I thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for that. The committee has before it the recommendations of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedures. If there's going to be any discussion on this, then we should take a brief recess to excuse our guests. So what I want to ask is whether indeed there's any need for discussion or whether we can simply have a motion without any debate to approve the subcommittee report. Are there any questions or comments on the subcommittee report? Could I have a motion to approve the report from Mr. Wilson? Yes, Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: I would like to speak to it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: In that case let's take a three-minute recess, not one second more, to excuse our guests.
[10:58 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:00 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I'd like to call the meeting back to order so we can deal with the recommendations of the subcommittee. The members of the committee have the report in front of them. Mr. DeWolfe indicated that he wished to speak to the subcommittee report.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you. With regard to the files of Snair's Bakery being turned over to the committee, we looked at the subcommittee level, we did investigate various scenarios. I just want to go on the record as saying we do support a compromise position of asking the FOIPOP officer to review the files before the committee sees the material. For example, the committee wouldn't necessarily ever see 100 per cent of the files that the FOIPOP officer believes the portions of the files would violate the FOIPOP policy if they were released to the public.
Having said that, I would agree to Mr. Danny Graham's non-partisan solution that he had initially put forward. That would be, under Mr. Graham's plan, that the committee would only see a portion of the files which the FOIPOP officer approves for release. That being, Nova Scotia Business Inc. would turn the files over to the FOIPOP officer who in turn would pass them on to the committee. I have a comfort zone with that, that I . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: May I interrupt you for just a second, Mr. DeWolfe? I just want to point out that is not, in fact, the proposal that's before us. You're indicating a comfort zone of something that's not being recommended to the committee.
I also want to point out that it's not the Snair's files that we're looking for. It's the one eight-page document to which Mr. Lund referred to as evidence. The proposal that's before this committee is that that document be turned over to the committee, at which point we would seek the advice of Mr. Fardy. Your comments were based on a mistaken assumption, I think, of what exactly was discussed by the subcommittee yesterday.
MR. DEWOLFE: That's not the case, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Graham.
MR. GRAHAM: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. DeWolfe approached me briefly during today's discussion to raise this issue. He indicated that he would be comfortable returning to the initial proposal that I put before us yesterday in committee. My response is that obviously it was my first preference, but I have two comments. I feel bound by the agreement that we made during the discussions yesterday which will in effect, I think, bring us to the same result, that we will have Mr. Fardy review the document and I've indicated rather clearly that I intend to be substantially guided by the practice, wisdom and expertise of the FOIPOP experts. So I think we're going to end up with the same document, a document that looks the same. You had some concerns about whether or not that surrenders some of our authority. That's fine and as a result, you've recommended that we're not
instructed by him, but that we're guided by him. I can live with that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you. Mr. DeWolfe, I don't want to repeat the discussions in the subcommittee yesterday, but you're free to have the floor. I just don't want to repeat the same things that were said in the subcommittee because you will remember we had a fairly extensive discussion about it yesterday. Go ahead, Mr. DeWolfe.
MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I won't elaborate on the position that we took yesterday. I will say that I fully understand this committee has the power, has a great deal of power, but I fear that there could be some abuse of the power. I will gladly take direction from the FOIPOP officer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. What I would suggest you do, Mr. DeWolfe, is if you wish to record your disagreement with that, that you vote against that particular recommendation. Then it will be clear to everyone what your view is and anyone who may agree with you. So let's deal with them one at a time.
The first item, the first paragraph is on the recommended agenda items. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The second item, dealing with certain documents requested by the committee and the procedure with which we'll handle them. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. I do note the negative votes of the Progressive Conservative caucus just for the record.
The third item is a formality. In order to send three people to the conference we need the approval of the Speaker. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Are there any other items requiring the attention of the full committee before we adjourn? If not, a motion to adjourn.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): I so move.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
This meeting of the Public Accounts Committee is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 11:06 a.m.]