MR. CHAIRMAN: I will call the Subcommittee on Supply to order.
The honourable member for Richmond, you have 53 minutes remaining.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, going back to Springhill, you said they meet twice a month, it is a municipal facility. You indicated they did not need the one year notice. You are going to have to explain that argument again because it made no sense to me yesterday and I am hoping it might make a bit more sense today. Obviously this was revenue coming into the municipality which will no longer be coming into the municipality, so how can you indicate there is no loss here?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: I would like to thank you, Mr. Samson, for an opportunity to clarify this issue. In point of fact, there were consultations between UNSM officials and I am pleased to report that the UNSM agrees with the government that these are private contractual matters and they are not covered by that provision. In point of fact, I am quoting now, "I am able to confirm that these officials express the view that the items listed on Page 4", which is the court closure, "were private matters between the Department of Justice and individual municipalities involved and consequently were not relevant to Section 519 of the Municipal Government Act."
MR. CHAIRMAN: I trust that copies will be made.
MR. BAKER: I will be glad to provide a copy.
MR. SAMSON: Now, the Tatamagouche facility. I wonder if you could give me the breakdown of costs involved with that?
MR. BAKER: Yes, I would be glad to. With respect to Tatamagouche, the saving for travel and meals would be $2,716; the saving for prisoner transportation would be $259; sheriff's staff expense would be $828; the rent would be $5,000. That totals $8,803. The cost- avoidance issues are $119,860.
MR. SAMSON: Who do you rent from in Tatamagouche?
MR. BAKER: The fire hall in Tatamagouche.
MR. SAMSON: What discussions took place between your department and the Tatamagouche Fire Hall to see if they were prepared to make the necessary improvements to continue court facilities in Tatamagouche?
MR. BAKER: There were no discussions but, in point of fact, that is the reason for the extension we have granted to allow issues of this kind to be brought forward by the community so that we can look at the plan.
MR. SAMSON: Would you not admit that it is as a direct result of pressure from your own backbenchers that you have now been forced to do an about-face and give this mysterious, all of a sudden, extension and deadline to communities, realizing that your department was wrong in not undertaking any consultations with these stakeholders?
MR. BAKER: No. The short answer, of course, would be no. What has happened here is that we have been responsive to communities who have indicated they wanted an opportunity to put forth a plan if they choose to do so. I can assure any member, no matter which side of the House he or she sits on, that I will review that plan to see if it is doable. Quite clearly, we have to be able to control the cost of court facilities in this province. I can assure you, Mr. Samson, that I am absolutely determined that we do so. That is not done out of a desire I can tell you to penalize any community. It is done out of a sincere desire to make sure that there are resources to maintain the courthouses that are left. However many we have left, we have to maintain them adequately and I recall vividly the criticism that was levelled by some as a result of the maintenance of courthouses. Quite clearly, we have to make a choice: we can have a large number of very poorly maintained courthouses or we can have a smaller number of better maintained courthouses.
MR. SAMSON: Well, Mr. Minister, you leave me no choice in your comments but to take a little sidetrack here. I am wondering if you could explain to me in light of - and I guess especially I see here members who represent these areas - Springhill, where you are saving $6,000; Tatamagouche, $8,800. I am wondering if you could explain to me the increase in your personnel Office of the Minister and Deputy Minister, how do you explain
that increase and then how do you justify that increase in light of this hit to these rural communities for nickel and dime rental amounts? I wonder if you could indicate the total increase in your budget for your office staff?
MR. BAKER: Again, Mr. Samson, I am very pleased you asked the question. In point of fact, the cost of running the minister's offices and so forth, if one takes out the Shelburne situation, it went down by $130,000.
MR. SAMSON: Well, last year the estimate shows me $3.241 million and this year it shows $3.808 million. I was never really good in math, but I fail to see a decrease in those numbers. How do you explain this what appears to be about a $500,000 increase?
MR. BAKER: The change is a very simple one. We have allocated a one-time cost of the review by Justice Fred Kaufman to the minister's office. That simply creates the illusion of increased costs at the minister's and deputy minister's office when in fact there is a decrease in our expenditures to that kind of administration.
MR. SAMSON: How much are you paying Justice Kaufman for this review?
MR. BAKER: This year, the total over two years was $950,000, as I think was previously announced. The amount allocated for this year is $697,000.
MR. SAMSON: So, therefore your statement is that the Kaufman review plus the $130,000 reduction shows the amount that you have in your office right now?
MR. BAKER: Yes, that is right. If you look at the increase and the total in the estimate was $566,900. If you subtract the difference between the $697,000 going to Mr. Kaufman, you will get the difference of the actual decrease in the cost of running the office of the minister and deputy.
MR. SAMSON: There has been absolutely no increase in the staffing of your office?
MR. BAKER: No.
MR. SAMSON: In Tatamagouche, could you indicate if there are prisoners that are held in that community?
MR. BAKER: I am sorry?
MR. SAMSON: In Tatamagouche, where are the prisoners located at? Are they held in that community? You are saying you are saving $259,000 in prisoner transfer.
MR. BAKER: That would be the cost of prisoner transport from Truro to Tatamagouche.
MR. SAMSON: Are there any prisoners being held in Tatamagouche? Is there any holding facility in Tatamagouche?
MR. BAKER: None that I am aware of, no.
MR. SAMSON: None in the RCMP barracks or anything?
MR. BAKER: Those aren't holding cells. The RCMP barracks is not a holding facility. The RCMP barracks is a lock-up.
MR. SAMSON: Have you accounted what the cost would be of transferring those people from Tatamagouche to Truro to appear in court rather than what it would have cost for them just to appear in Tatamagouche for court?
MR. BAKER: What happens with prisoners, as soon as they are in the lock-up, the first thing that most police forces try to do is to have them remanded - because they are generally picked up on weekends and evenings and so forth - to provincial custody because as soon as they do that, they come off the municipal nickel and they go on our nickel. The system encourages municipalities - and they are very good at that - at taking them out of the lock-up as quickly as possible and moving them into provincial custody.
MR. SAMSON: So, they don't go directly from lock-up to court for a hearing the next morning after being charged?
MR. BAKER: I won't say anything is impossible, but most generally, people are not picked up at 8:00 a.m. for court appearances at 9:00 a.m. They tend to be picked up on Friday evening and held until Monday morning. Tatamagouche only sits, I think, once or twice a month, two days a month. The chances of having somebody in custody in a lock-up in Tatamagouche for perhaps a week or two is pretty unlikely. All the facilities, not talking about Tatamagouche in particular, all of these facilities are facilities are used sporadically.
MR. SAMSON: Now, what do you mean by sporadically? They are two days a month, but that is a standard?
MR. BAKER: Yes, that is what I am saying, but they are matters in those courthouses, unlike a courthouse where the judge sits every day of the week, where you get a different dynamic in that kind of a court facility.
MR. SAMSON: But still, I am sure the minister will agree that the people of Tatamagouche and the law enforcement and everything have come to know exactly when court is going to sit in Tatamagouche on a regular basis. Okay, so that is not sporadic; sporadic is there is no schedule, there is no familiarity or anything. I don't think that is what the minister is trying to say here, is it?
MR. BAKER: No, in most of these facilities there is a long period between one court date and the next court date. Because, I consider two weeks a long time.
MR. SAMSON: Well, if they sit twice a month, that is every two weeks.
MR. BAKER: That's right.
MR. SAMSON: If the Tatamagouche Fire Hall decides to invest the $119,000 that you have marked as cost-avoidance, will you maintain court facilities in Tatamagouche?
MR. BAKER: I will consider it, yes.
MR. SAMSON: Well, you have lost your argument here. You are saying that you are going from small court facilities that are not properly staffed and manned to more efficient court facilities and now you are saying that if they fix it, we will still keep these small court facilities. Of these 10, if all come back and say, well, we will improve our facilities, will you keep those 10 courthouses open? Those 10 satellite courts open?
MR. BAKER: What I have indicated is that we are prepared to look at the costs involved, both the capital costs and the operating costs and we are prepared to deal with each one on its own merit. Part of the equation is the operating cost and the other part is the capital cost. Looking at court facilities, I am required to look at both the operating cost, which in some facilities is very small, and the capital cost. Clearly if communities are prepared to defray a large portion of the capital cost, I am prepared to revisit it.
There are still a lot of satellite court facilities that will be left in Nova Scotia as a result of these changes, so it is not simply because something is a satellite court facility that it is being closed. It is because we have, for example, multiple court facilities in the county. I know one that you would be very well aware of which would be Richmond County. In Richmond County we have two court facilities, Arichat and St. Peter's. There is a situation where the Richmond County business can be handled at one court facility as cost-effectively as at two facilities. Shelburne is another. However, if the Municipality of the District of Richmond wants to address some cost issues, I am prepared to look at that.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, one of the messages that we as an Opposition have tried to give you and your government is that a lot of this pain that you are now encountering could have been avoided had you just spoken to people or even asked them what they thought
of this. Could you explain to the members of this committee, especially your own members who are losing courts in their communities, why didn't you just ask before the budget if they were ready to make the necessary changes so we could have avoided all of this? Why make this step and then say okay, well, now we will talk? Now that we have decided we are cutting it and giving you a date, now we will talk about whether you guys want to help us or not. Why in God's name would you not just have opened discussions before this, and at least gotten a feel for whether these communities were interested in making these changes or not? How can you justify that in this day and age of not going out before hand and saying, here is our problem, how can we work this out, and rather instead, bring in a budget and bring down a deadline and then try to negotiate from there?
MR. BAKER: I guess I don't see any significant difference between the two approaches. We have made it quite clear to all communities, and I would include in that the community you represent that if that community has a plan that they would like to present to the Department of Justice, then I am very interested in looking at that plan. Nothing has happened in any of those communities that has been prejudiced by the budget. I am prepared to look at that. What we have done is, we have given a road map to where we are going and we have allowed people to make their own decision about whether or not they feel it is cost effective for them to do something. I really see no difference if I went two weeks before the budget was announced and said I am planning to do this two weeks from now, or if I come out after the budget and say we are planning to do this now.
We have certainly not been trying to conceal this from people. In point of fact, I think it is fair to say that my department was one of the first departments to volunteer as much information as we could on Budget Day about the court closures and correctional facilities. So we are certainly not trying to hide anything or keep it from communities. Communities do have deadlines to work with because governments have deadlines to work with.
MR. SAMSON: The minister knows full well that in their budget and in the documents, there was no direct mention of the closure of correctional facilities. The minister knows that very well, and he knows that is not correct when he says that was stated in this House or made public. You had one of your staff go out with a memo to these facilities. It was not mentioned by the Minister of Finance, nor was it in any of the bulletins released by your department on that day to members of this House, so I completely disagree with that statement.
I will go now . . .
MR. BAKER: Just to finish up on that and respond to the member's comment, I want to make it clear that I remember on the day of the budget, answering questions in this House in the lobby from people who knew as a result of information produced by the government that there were going to be courts and also correctional facilities affected. So I guess I disagree. Quite clearly, there was never an attempt at all to conceal that information. In point
of fact, the information I think on both those issues has been public from the very day of the budget. If the member means was it in the Budget Address? No it was not in the Budget Address. Clearly it was not.
MR. SAMSON: No, I will leave it to our overall bosses, Nova Scotians, to make their final judgement on that issue.
MR. BAKER: Sure.
MR. SAMSON: Sheet Harbour, the savings incurred there.
MR. BAKER: In Sheet Harbour, we are looking at, again I will give you the breakdown. It is for travel and meal expenses, $5,080; prisoner transportation is $1,743; sheriff's staff expenses are $245; and rent is $5,400. It totals by the way $12,468. We sit in the Lion's Club in Sheet Harbour. The cost-avoidance in that facility is $81,860.
MR. SAMSON: What is the nearest facility to Sheet Harbour?
MR. BAKER: New Glasgow.
MR. SAMSON: What distance is that from Sheet Harbour?
MR. BAKER: I am sorry I don't have that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is approximately an hour's drive.
MR. BAKER: 55 minutes is the number staff has given me. So we are pretty close to an hour at 55 minutes.
MR. SAMSON: An hour to get to court. Ingonish.
MR. BAKER: Ingonish, yes. The nearest facility, of course, is Sydney. The travel and meal expenses is $4,233; prisoner transportation is $1,685; sheriff's staff expenses $350; and rent is $4,600 for a total amount of $10,868. That is in a fire hall, and the cost-avoidance is $116,860.
MR. SAMSON: How often does that court sit?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for your information and for clarification, perhaps you could clarify, but the Sheet Harbour building is a municipally-owned property which is leased to the Lion's Club. Just for your record.
MR. BAKER: Okay, thank you.
MR. SAMSON: How often does the court sit in Ingonish?
MR. BAKER: Ingonish, the Provincial Court sits there twice per month, and in the summer, July and August, Family Court sits once a month. I guess the judge is looking for nice weather.
MR. SAMSON: How do you explain the extremely high travel and meal costs for this facility?
MR. BAKER: For Ingonish?
MR. SAMSON: Yes.
MR. BAKER: I assume it has to do with the distance from Sydney where the Justice centre is to Ingonish.
MR. SAMSON: So Sydney is where these people will have to go to court now rather than Ingonish.
MR. BAKER: I am not sure if this is where, they will probably go to Baddeck.
MR. SAMSON: St. Peter's.
MR. BAKER: St. Peter's. The nearest Justice centre would be Port Hawkesbury, but those cases would likely be rescheduled into Arichat.
MR. SAMSON: And the costs?
MR. BAKER: The costs would be for meals and travel, $1,581; prisoner transportation, $324; sheriff's staff expenses, $84; and rent is $3,000, for a total savings of $4,989. The estimated capital improvements are $116,860, and it is in the Lion's Club.
MR. SAMSON: How often does that sit?
MR. BAKER: St. Peter's Provincial Court sits once a month.
MR. SAMSON: So you are saving under $5,000 for that facility?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: Uh-huh. Middleton.
MR. BAKER: Middleton.
MR. SAMSON: Isn't this the facility you said wouldn't close? Or is that just the registry office and Probate Court.
MR. BAKER: No, I think the honourable member is confusing Annapolis Royal with Middleton.
MR. SAMSON: Okay.
MR. BAKER: In Middleton, it is a private sector landlord sitting in the former egg grading station in Middleton and the nearest Justice centre is in Kentville; however, to give you an illustration of why that doesn't help you very much, the cases will actually be re-scheduled, not to King's County, but to the other court facility in Annapolis County which is Annapolis Royal. This is a Family Court only and the Family Court meets there three to four times a month.
MR. SAMSON: And the costs?
MR. BAKER: The costs of travel and meals are $3,818; prisoner transportation is $1,011; sheriff's staff expense is $252. We have two components to the cost of this facility - one is equipment, $720 annually and the second is rent, $26,700 annually for a total . . .
MR. SAMSON: $26,000?
MR. BAKER: Yes, $26,700, for a total saving of $32,501. The cost-avoidance at that facility is $23,000. It is a very expensive facility to run for a Family Court with no one there, no staff there on a regular basis, being used some months three times.
MR. SAMSON: Okay. Most of the other facilities - and I think of my Lion's Club in St. Peter's which is a very nice facility - you are saying it would cost $116,000 to bring it up to standard, yet your egg grading station would only cost $23,000?
MR. BAKER: Yes. That is because a huge amount of capital money was already put into that facility years ago.
MR. SAMSON: By?
MR. BAKER: By the landlord.
MR. SAMSON: By the landlord. Okay. Comeauville.
MR. BAKER: That, of course, the nearest Justice centre is the Digby Justice centre.
MR. SAMSON: How far away is that?
MR. BAKER: One-half hour seems to be the calculation.
MR. SAMSON: The costs?
MR. BAKER: The costs again, travel and meals, $4,462; prisoner transportation, $1,437; sheriff's staff expenses, $308; equipment, $800; and rent, $10,000.
MR. SAMSON: Who owns that facility?
MR. BAKER: The municipality. The total cost-avoidance is $17,007 and the cost-avoidance is $71,000. In Comeauville, the Provincial Court meets once a month, Youth Court once a month.
MR. SAMSON: Barrington.
MR. BAKER: Barrington is a municipally-owned facility. The nearest Justice centre would be Yarmouth, however, these cases would be re-scheduled to Shelburne which would be within the county. The cost is travel and meals, $4,572; prisoner transportation, $900; sheriff's staff expenses, $616; equipment, $800; and rent, $12,229 for a total of $19,117. The cost-avoidance there is $151,860.
MR. SAMSON: Sherbrooke.
MR. BAKER: Sherbrooke. I don't know if you were interested in getting the times they met a month in that facility?
MR. SAMSON: No, that's fine.
MR. BAKER: Okay. Sherbrooke. The nearest Justice centre would be Antigonish. The travel and meal expenses, $1,879; prisoner transportation is $518; sheriff's staff expense is $84; equipment is $360; and rent is $5,400 for a total saving of $8,241. It is owned by the municipality and the cost-avoidance is $76,860.
MR. SAMSON: How often does that facility meet?
MR. BAKER: Provincial Court meets once a month. Mr. Chairman, how are we dealing with time in the other room?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have until 3:23 p.m. Mr. Samson has had 53 minutes of his questions so we will have his time concluded before . . .
MR. BAKER: That's fine.
MR. SAMSON: What is the overall total savings? Not in the capital costs, but just in your travel, prisoner, staff and rent of these 10 facilities.
MR. BAKER: The total for all of the operational costs is $184,867.
MR. SAMSON: How much of this money do you actually expect to save?
MR. BAKER: Once we stop sitting of course, the savings would be complete.
MR. SAMSON: They would be complete.
MR. BAKER: Yes, in the sense that the rent, the prisoner transportation and those kinds of things would cease to those institutions.
MR. SAMSON: I am curious. As Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, have you have any discussions with the native community in light of some of these changes? Especially at my court facility in St. Peter's which is very near to the Chapel Island Reserve. You indicated that would probably go to Arichat. I had assumed that would move to Port Hawkesbury rather than Arichat. There are no trials taking place in Richmond County right now as we speak, so I am curious. What discussions took place with the native community before you made your decision to shut down these 10 satellite courts?
MR. BAKER: None that I know of and I can tell you that since we have made the decision, I haven't heard any complaints from those communities at all.
MR. SAMSON: But you had no discussions with them?
MR. BAKER: Yes, but I had no complaints from them either.
MR. SAMSON: To say we didn't discuss because no one complained, one would hope government is a bit more responsible than that. As Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, that is like saying we shouldn't have talked about Donald Marshall until someone started to complain. I would hope the minister is not that simplistic in his duties of that portfolio.
MR. BAKER: No and I don't want to make light of this, but I think it is fair to say that Justice facilities - and I am sure that wasn't the honourable member's intention - but, I would hope that members of the aboriginal community in Nova Scotia would ideally be no heavier users of our facilities than other Nova Scotian populations.
MR. SAMSON: No, not at all and the reason I was asking that was the minister is very well aware that the native community has been very proactive in trying to have members of their community judged by members of their own community. I am sure the minister has heard of Native Circles and other such initiatives and I know that was one of the things to try
to make sure that any offenders from their communities had the opportunity to be heard in or near their community. In no way was I trying to say that they are heavier users of our court system, but it was a legitimate concern and I just want to know if the minister, considering that he is responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, would have thought to at least raise the issue and he has clearly told me that it was something that he didn't feel was relevant to raise, so you have answered my question.
The Guysborough jail, as you well know, I have raised this matter in the House, your colleague is here who represents that area. By this time you should have received a letter from the municipal council indicating their displeasure with your comments in the House referring to their facility as a bed and breakfast. I asked you in the House if you would apologize to that community and to the municipal council, and you said no in the House. In all fairness, I will put that question to you again as to whether you are now prepared to publicly retract your statements and correct your defamatory reference to that community and to their facility?
MR. BAKER: The answer remains no because it wasn't intended in a defamatory way, was not intended in a derogatory way towards either the municipality or towards the workers. We have in that facility what can best be described as a homey environment where you have six beds and 7-odd staff members - it is not a facility that has historically housed prisoners who represented any significant risk to the community. It was being used to house special types of prisoners, and I am sure on the odd occasion, people from that community. It wasn't intended in a derogatory way, it wasn't intended in a defamatory way and that is why I didn't feel it was necessary to apologize. It was not designed to be pejorative, it was simply descriptive.
MR. SAMSON: Who owns that facility?
MR. BAKER: The municipality.
MR. SAMSON: Technically it was to be used as a Justice facility, a correctional facility I should say, was what you were leasing it to be used for.
MR. BAKER: Part of the building is the municipal council chambers.
MR. SAMSON: That's right, but the part you were paying for was used as a correctional facility?
MR. BAKER: It is a lock-up area, yes.
MR. SAMSON: So, it is owned by the municipality?
MR. BAKER: Absolutely.
MR. SAMSON: And you feel no need after having called their facility, meant for correctional purposes, a bed and breakfast, a direct reflection on the municipality because they own that? You feel absolutely no inclination to apologize for that remark? If it was your facility, I would understand. It is not even your facility, it is the municipality's facility and I don't know what you are going to do next - go down and call my municipal chambers a circus place? Really, Mr. Minister - the fact one of your own colleagues represents that area and the municipality specifically asked you - you know if they are trying to get people to go into that facility for other purposes with you having provincially said it is a bed and breakfast, I don't understand how you can sit here and say that in no way should you retract those comments or apologize.
I guess the question is, have you responded to the letter from the municipality?
MR. BAKER: I can't honestly recall the answer to that, but I guess that, first of all, it is not like the municipality is going to run an alternate jail of their own. I think it is fair to say that we in the Government of Nova Scotia have a monopoly in corrections which I would be glad to get out of if municipalities want to start to operate correctional facilities again. I don't see a huge line-up so, the municipality, for whatever they choose to use for that space, it will not be for a correctional centre. All I was indicating was that in this day and age, for the reasons I indicated earlier in the committee, is that corrections has changed. The days when - and I can tell you that about my own correctional centre in Lunenburg - there used to be a day when the jailer, the jailer's wife worked as the cook in the facility, they hired a couple of local guys to help out in the jail and that those jails were a very friendly, homey environment. The missis would do the washing and all those kinds of things and the reality is, corrections has changed. The kind of facilities that are situated in Guysborough are facilities that are designed for a bygone era.
We are not going to be housing people who are accused of very serious crimes, murderers and other people awaiting trials for serious offences, in facilities such as Guysborough. That is not a criticism of Guysborough or of Lunenburg or of any other facility in this province. It is a statement of the reality that I have to recognize which is the reality that the kind of people we are holding has changed. The Guysborough facility and the Lunenburg facility, those kind of correctional facilities, were designed when, for example, a very significant portion of the correctional population was being housed as a result of intermittent sentences ordered by the courts. The number of intermittent sentences that are being ordered by the courts when I started practising law was very high. Today it is almost non-existent as a result of conditional sentencing. We have to recognize that and move on. I assure you it was never intended as anything pejorative towards any correctional facility. The workers who work in those facilities are fine workers and I very much hope that they will be able to work in corrections in other areas of the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have 15 minutes left in your time.
MR. SAMSON: Fifteen minutes? It is 3:00 p.m.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have 15 minutes left in your time.
MR. SAMSON: Home invasions. You, in your blue book, you indicated that you would be seeking stiffer sentences and you would be undertaking different things to punish those who undertake home invasions. Shortly after the election, you admitted the fact that Nova Scotia had the stiffest sentences out of any province and that your present staff and public prosecution led this country in getting the stiffest sentences available. Basically, every possible thing that could be done on a matter of sentencing these individuals had been done that was possible as a province. Will the minister now admit that it is true that even before he entered office or that his government entered office, that this province was the toughest province that there was in dealing with home invasions and when he indicated that they would seek stiffer sentences, the fact was, this was already taking place and had been in place for quite some time?
MR. BAKER: I would agree with the honourable member that the Government of Nova Scotia and the Public Prosecution Service both before and after July 27th has been able to obtain the most significant punishment for home invasion type crimes in the country. I don't believe I ever suggested that was something to the contrary, I believe that we can continue to receive even stiffer sentences for those kinds of crimes.
MR. SAMSON: I think basically, I am not saying you said it, your blue book makes it quite clear that your Party believes that the current practises were substandard in this province and that you mysteriously could do something better. I think the blue book clearly states that and I have raised that with the minister before. Other than your home video on how to tell seniors to lock their doors and windows, could you indicate to this committee on the issue of the offenders themselves, what you have done in your time in office to seek stiffer sentences or any form of punishment for the offenders, not the seniors?
MR. BAKER: Yes, I can tell you that Nova Scotia was one of the provinces that - probably the province - that led the initiative with the federal Attorney General to convince the Government of Canada to bring in legislation which would consequently mandate stiffer sentences for - a definition of home invasion as a crime - people who commit those kinds of acts.
We have had a three-pronged approach. We have clearly had the public education approach, we have clearly issued a directive as Attorney General directing and making a part of every Crown Attorney's job in this province to seek stiff sentences on home invasion cases. Thirdly, we have pressured the federal government, and I believe successfully, to consider
bringing in stiffer penalties for home invasion. So, there is a three-pronged approach that we have used to deal with this problem.
MR. SAMSON: Well, you have already admitted that your Crown Attorneys were already seeking the stiffest sentences, therefore what else have you done as a province? You, yourself have pushed the feds, but that is not what you said in your blue book. You said that you, as a government, would seek stiffer sentences. I haven't seen any bills coming before this House or anything saying you wish to amend the law in any way, therefore, what have you done as a province to change what you have admitted was already taking place? The Crown Attorneys, that is not an argument, that was already being done, you have admitted that. So, what have you done provincially in the view of this offence to live up to your commitment in your blue book?
MR. BAKER: Well, I guess I will repeat myself again, but what I have done as Attorney General, I have issued a directive to the Public Prosecution Service, directing the Public Prosecution Service as part of their responsibilities to seek stiff sentences for home invasion type crime. That is a directive, that is within my power. Also within my power is obviously to deal with the education issue and also within my power has been to pressure the federal government. Clearly, Nova Scotia has control over the administration of justice. We do not have the ability to legislate with respect to criminal law. I know you know that, Mr. Samson, and I am sure that Mr. Epstein is keenly aware of the criminal law powers of Nova Scotia, and what they aren't. As all other provinces, the criminal law power vests in the federal government.
MR. SAMSON: It is unfortunate the rest of Nova Scotia wasn't aware of that when they read your blue book, because they would have realized these empty promises could not be fulfilled. Prior to this directive you sent out to the Public Prosecution Service, is it your statement today that this was some sort of revelation for the Public Prosecution Service and oh, oops, we didn't know we were supposed to do this. Thank God we have the new Tory Minister to tell us we were supposed to do this? And I am being facetious here minister.
MR. BAKER: I got that part.
MR. SAMSON: In case you hadn't picked up on it, because I have a problem with you taking credit for putting out a directive for something which was already being done and which was already in place, and to say that the previous government was not as hard as they could be on these types of crimes. I take great offense to that. I believe it is misleading. I don't accept you calling that an accomplishment, something which was already being done. Will the minister admit that the Public Prosecution Service prior to July 29th was already under the direction to seek the stiffest sentences for home invasions?
MR. BAKER: I would agree with you, Mr. Samson, that prior to the election the Province of Nova Scotia had, as I understand it, received the stiffest sentence for home-invasion type crime in the country. Now, my understanding is that no Attorney General prior to my doing so had made it a directive as I had done. So I guess part of your question was right, part of it was wrong. I guess the final comment I would also make with respect to the matter would be that I have never said anything to the contrary of what I have just said here today.
MR. SAMSON: Again, we will let our overall superiors, Nova Scotians, be the judge of when the minister stands up and addresses that he sent out this big directive to the PPS to deal with home invasions. Clearly Nova Scotians aren't fools. The idea was to try to make them believe you are doing something to address this issue as you said in your blue book. Clearly today I believe you have answered the point that this was already being done and in fact, while you said you would try to change the law, we now know, and Nova Scotians know, that you had absolutely no power to do that.
Mr. Minister, where is the new Director of the Public Prosecution Service?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that the search firm, which is the same search firm that had been engaged by the previous administration, is completing the short list of candidates, and that I am hoping to complete the selection in the not-too-distant future of a review panel, because I intend to follow the process followed by the previous administration in having an arm's length review process to review the candidates, do the interviews, and those kinds of things.
MR. SAMSON: When did the search firm, which you have indicated was under our administration, when were they first solicited, and when did they begin their work?
MR. BAKER: They began their work the day it became obvious that the previous candidate wasn't coming.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, no. When did they begin looking off the bat even before the previous candidate? When did that process start?
MR. BAKER: I am not trying to be evasive. I just don't understand your question. What date are you talking about?
MR. SAMSON: When this search firm was first contracted by the previous administration to search for a new Director of the Public Prosecution Service, when did they begin that process?
MR. BAKER: I have no idea.
MR. SAMSON: Is it safe to say, it is going on about two years?
MR. BAKER: It could be. As I said I wasn't in government at the time, so I don't know when they engaged them.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, well your deputy hasn't changed.
MR. BAKER: I didn't think it was terribly relevant, whenever they started the process. It is not a criticism, it was just a . . .
MR. SAMSON: I will quickly get to where I am going.
MR. BAKER: Yes, okay.
MR. SAMSON: They identified a candidate through your process which includes a short-list review panel. I would assume that they interviewed more than one person on that short list.
MR. BAKER: There were three people as I understand it.
MR. SAMSON: There were three people. What happened to the one candidate who declined, was he one of those three?
MR. BAKER: There was only one candidate that, after interviews, the committee was prepared to recommend for appointment.
MR. SAMSON: I am just curious, because the fact is that obviously there has been quite a bit of work done on this, prior to selecting the one candidate who unfortunately refused. Therefore, I am a bit puzzled as to why it appears they are starting again from scratch, and this whole process is going through again which is obviously a lengthy process. I have a hard time seeing why that is happening, considering the amount of work which had already been done to identify what you have claimed to be three individuals.
MR. BAKER: I am sorry. Could you run that by me again? I have just lost the question. In the statement, I have lost the question.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, basically, why are they starting from scratch? You obviously had two other candidates identified through the original process. Why are we going through all of this over again, when you already had two other names there that had already been identified.
MR. BAKER: I guess the real reason is because a very long period of time had elapsed for reasons that in hindsight are unfortunate. A long period of time had elapsed, and I felt it was appropriate to see, in light of the fact that a long time had gone by, who was out there, qualified and interested - obviously qualifications are the most important issue - in being a Director of the Public Prosecution Service of Nova Scotia. I think it is fair to say that being Director of the Public Prosecution Service of Nova Scotia is no easy job.
MR. SAMSON: No, and in no way am I trying to indicate that. The question was, why was it taking so long, why hadn't they just gone back to the process with those other two people identified.
MR. BAKER: I guess . . .
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, you have indicated some goals for your department. Who is working on that right now to achieve the goals set out in The Course Ahead? Do you have a special team put together or anything to work on those goals you have identified? For example, one was the Johns legislation. You have listed a few other examples. Is there a special team working on that in your department?
MR. BAKER: The Johns legislation is in front of the House of course.
MR. SAMSON: That is right, but there is other legislation proposed. You have indicated numerous changes that you plan on making.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: I am curious, who in your department is working on these initiatives.
MR. BAKER: The various responsibilities, I believe, are delegated to various staff members. Just on moment. The senior management team of the department has taken The Course Ahead and is working on implementing it.
MR. SAMSON: Obviously I would say that what you set out would be part of a corporate plan. What involvement does the Priorities and Planning division have in the implementation of these different goals that you have established for your department?
MR. BAKER: I guess it is fair to say it is the responsibility of Cabinet, in particular, as a whole, and Priorities and Planning is a committee of Cabinet, to form the overall direction for government. After that, I, as minister, and the senior staff in the department are responsible to make sure that the corporate decision of government is carried out. I have every confidence in the senior management team at the Department of Justice that they will carry out the direction of Cabinet.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have one minute left in your time, sir.
MR. SAMSON: That is fine. I will come back to him after.
MR. BAKER: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Since the Liberal member wishes to forfeit the last of his time, I will now pass the floor to the honourable member for the NDP. We have a couple of minutes. Perhaps it may be wise just to adjourn right now and then have a complete hour. We now stand in recess.
[3:15 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[3:30 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Subcommittee of Supply is called to order. The time is now passed to the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto. You have one hour beginning now.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: When we left off yesterday, Mr. Minister, we were discussing corrections and the consequences of the proposal to close a number of the correctional institutions. What I wondered is can you let me know whether the discussions that are going on between the department and the NSGEU will involve members of your senior staff? The concern of the union, as I am sure you are aware, is that people with decision-making power are not actually at the table. What they are wondering is whether Mr. Honsberger for example and Don Nelson from Human Resources are likely to be participating in those talks.
MR. BAKER: I guess the simple way of putting it would be that I understand Fred Honsberger, who is the Executive Director of the division, and Rick Parsons, who is the Director of Operations, are both there. Clearly, they are briefed on the situation. I think they have the capability of making decisions, and I can assure you that if I need to be reached for any consultation or the deputy needs to be reached for any consultation, we can be reached at pretty much any time in case some issue that came up at the table required it. Oftentimes the president of a company isn't at the negotiating table. That doesn't mean the negotiators are not empowered to move the issue forward. Clearly, I think it is fair to say that our people at the table are empowered to move things forward. We are anxious to move things forward. If it helps allay the concerns of members of the NSGEU, we are anxious to move things forward as quickly as possible, and if we - we meaning myself or the deputy - need to be consulted, we are available at any time to be consulted with respect to issues at the table.
MR. EPSTEIN: You are saying Mr. Honsberger has been a participant in these talks?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that Mr. Honsberger is available. I don't think he has met at this point, but if the need is felt, we can arrange for him to be available at any time if need be. If that is the concern.
MR. EPSTEIN: It is the concern. As I understanding it, having talked now with the union, I have no idea of the content of what is being talked about at the table. That is not my concern. My concern is the process.
MR. BAKER: Of course.
MR. EPSTEIN: The complaint that I am trying to relate to you is they feel that real decision-makers are not at the table. The two people they have identified to me, and I am passing it on to you, are Fred Honsberger from your department and Don Nelson from Human Resources. They feel that the absence of these people from the table means that these are not real negotiations, that they are conversations that are passing the time of day, but are not effective means of reaching agreement.
MR. BAKER: I hear your statement and I appreciate that. I will certainly pass on the concern. I think it is more, frankly, a concern that is without merit, but that doesn't change the fact there is a perception on one side of the table, that that is the case. I will certainly pass that on to Mr. Honsberger and see if he can make himself available more frequently. I can assure you though that we assume the NSGEU representatives at the table are empowered to be there and likewise the correctional workers can assume that the people who are there are empowered to be there. I don't think we need to have Joan Jessome and me in the room before they can make progress. I think we both have the ability to delegate authority in the appropriate circumstances. I guess that is what I am suggesting is happening here.
MR. EPSTEIN: I am sure we can agree there is a certain subtlety and complexity to any set of negotiations, labour negotiations certainly foremost amongst them. All I am trying to do, Mr. Minister, is offer you an opportunity to make good on the promise that meaningful negotiations would take place within a short period of time.
MR. BAKER: And I guess I am committed to that. I have taken your suggestion, and we will take that very seriously, because I want meaningful discussions to occur. If this is felt to be an impediment, then I will make arrangements to have that corrected so that everyone can be satisfied that meaningful discussions are going on. I want nothing more than to try to make, as I said earlier, the difficult situation of these workers as least difficult as possible.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, thank you. I think this is all I have on corrections. Can I move to another topic which is the Public Prosecution Service?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Did I follow correctly the exchange you had with the member for Richmond that is that you have now generated another short list? Is that the current state of play?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that the Human Resources Department, which is the lead agency that has been in discussion with the search committee, has generated another list of candidates, and frankly I haven't even seen the list yet, but I understand it has been generated. The list will be sent to me, and at that point in time, we will form a committee, similar to the committee that was used in the past to review and interview candidates off that list. We are anxious to move the process along. That is the current state of play. I might be honest in saying that the past history of Directors of Public Prosecutions in Nova Scotia seems to make it difficult to attract as many candidates as you might think would otherwise apply.
MR. EPSTEIN: That is really what I was wondering is what is the problem? Clearly, a reasonable number of dollars seems to be on the table to attract, I would have thought, a good quality Director of Public Prosecutions and yet there is the whole history of a number of people occupying that position and then leaving after a relatively short period of time. Now we also see a couple of years of attempts to try to find a director and no success. There is a series of cases that have generated controversy around the Public Prosecution Service, so I guess what I wonder is whether at this point the reputation of the service is such that good candidates are finding that it is an unattractive position, or is there something else?
MR. BAKER: I can't get in people's heads. I think it is fair to say Nova Scotia's rather lively political environment may not be as conducive to attracting some people from out of province as we might hope. I think the Public Prosecution Service in Nova Scotia has made huge strides and is an extremely professional service. I think, however, when you are talking about finding candidates, there are many candidates in the private sector - I am talking very senior criminal law practitioners in Nova Scotia and other places in the country - who would probably find the money, as good as it is, less than they could make in their chosen field in the private sector. So we are talking about other people in government, and while, by Nova Scotian standards, our salary is high, I think you would find that - and I have looked at some of the other national standards for this position - others are higher. It is a situation where we are in a competitive market, so you are not going to be able to lure on money, I can assure you, someone to leave a service in another province to come to Nova Scotia. I am talking about a senior person. Clearly what we want to do is we want to make sure we have somebody with extensive criminal law experience, whether that is in the private sector or in another Public Prosecution Service elsewhere in the country to do that.
We have been, I think, very fortunate in that we have made the great strides we have in Nova Scotia. I think the Kaufman Report and a number of other reports have helped remove some of the misconceptions that surrounded it. I think it is fair to say that our problems in the prosecution service in Nova Scotia are not completely unique. If you look at
the Guy Paul Morin situation in Ontario, I don't think that is exactly what I would describe as a success story. There have been problems in other prosecution services, but it is simply a situation where we have a very good Acting Director of Public Prosecutions and we are looking for a permanent person, but we are going to get the right person. I am simply not going to take anyone just for the sake of taking someone. I have indicated before I am anxious to resolve this problem, but I am not anxious enough to do that at the expense of getting the wrong person, because it is very important that we get the right person.
MR. EPSTEIN: Is it part of the requirements or expectations of the position that the director will be someone who would go to court, or is it considered that the position is an administrative and planning and supervisory position that would involve giving direction to the other staff?
MR. BAKER: The existing Statute requires first of all that the person chosen must become a member of the Nova Scotia Bar Society if they are not.
MR. EPSTEIN: I know that.
MR. BAKER: That poses a certain difficulty for certain people if you have been out of the active practice of law for some period of time. It may not be all that simple to, know civil procedure, particular if you are from another province, so that you have to know civil procedure in Nova Scotia to be able to become the Director of Public Prosecutions unless the Bar Society grants an exemption which is certainly not automatic. We have that particular challenge.
I think it is unique, and I want to try to deal with your question. The Director of Public Prosecutions has two unique responsibilities. The first is to be a good administrator, a good boss. But that Director of Public Prosecutions also must be able to have the respect and criminal law knowledge of other Crown Attorneys because, I think it is fair to say, that the Public Prosecution Service is unique or close to unique in government in that very senior managers in the Public Prosecution Service end up regularly in court which you may not see in a typical administrative hierarchy. So, for example, the people who are the Chief of the Appeals Branch of the Public Prosecution Service, the head of the Halifax region or whatever, very well may end up in court prosecuting cases. That means there is an institutional history of being able to gain the respect of your peers, not only as an administrator, but also as a lawyer. So there are two components to that.
MR. EPSTEIN: I don't want to be even remotely misunderstood as suggesting that the process has to be rushed. I do want you to find the right person or a very good person or whatever the right category is in the end. Yet at the same time, it is worrisome that the position remains unfilled for a long, long period of time. When I spoke earlier about the reputation of the PPS, I didn't necessarily mean that the problems that the service has encountered necessarily were its own fault. It seems to me this is a difficult area to sort out.
Even given the Kaufman Report, it is still difficult, I think, to sort out exactly what is going on.
I do want to flag for you something that emerged from the latest report that was publicly released, that is the Beveridge and Duncan Report that came out just a week or so ago. The passage I have in mind I will read to you. It is from Page 22 of their report. It says as follows: the PPS suffers from a systemic problem in having few staff members with the experience or training to handle a prosecution such as Westray. This stems from the PPS' hiring system and lack of training. Staff tends to be maintained at the level that current case loads demand. There is rarely extra personnel available to meet extraordinary demands. The more senior litigators of the service have moved into management positions, and to the extent they are able to take on casework are stretched too thinly. That is the end of the passage.
Although what the Beveridge and Duncan Report was looking at was essentially a time a little earlier on, the passage I read to you is written in the present tense. It seems to be observations about the PPS now. What I am concerned about is that what they are saying is that should another very complicated major case, be it Westray or almost any other complicated fact or circumstance come along to generate a piece of litigation that might go on for a number of years, it seems that the authors of this report are expressing a worry that the PPS just might not be up to it for a variety of reasons. What I wonder is whether you can help me with this. Is this a fair reflection? Has something happened? If not, are we hiring now senior staff who have the background and expertise in complicated litigation in order to add to our depth in the PPS? If not yet, will we be along with the new director? What I am looking for is some commentary from you as to how you plan to try to deal with this.
MR. BAKER: I guess there are a couple of things. First of all, we in 1998, which may or may not have been known to the writers of the report, appointed a Chief Crown Attorney for Special Prosecutions. That was a position I don't believe had existed formerly, and it was designed to provide the leadership, if you want to call it that, in that area of major prosecutions.
MR. EPSTEIN: Is this Mr. Chisholm?
MR. BAKER: Yes. Unfortunately before, I think that special prosecutions with - orphan isn't the right word - but we wanted to make sure that we had an individual who is obviously charged with the responsibility for this area. It is quite obvious to everybody, whether it is the Westray or any other, Operation Hope obviously is an example of another, very significant prosecution effort may or may not be called upon depending on what the RCMP do. But clearly, you don't wait - the idea is management - you don't wait for the problem to become a problem. You manage the problem before it becomes a problem, and quite clearly, the responsibility of the Chief Crown Attorney for Special Prosecutions is to have the resources as cases quickly or slowly move through they system to make sure that when it becomes a major case, that we can handle it. So that is the first thing we have done.
The second thing is that the Public Prosecution Service is making every effort to dedicate funds to training, to dedicate resources to training, and will continue to do so. There are some protocols that were suggested in the report, which is the reason of course we are doing a report, which we intend to implement, to allow the Public Prosecution Service to reflect on these. Examples would be to rotate people through the special prosecutions unit because what you want to do is create a greater degree of expertise in the system, among Crown Attorneys, the ability to handle big cases, difficult cases, areas of the law. There are areas of the law such as DNA and areas like that. I know as minister routinely I see travel requests for people going to courses to get training in specialized areas of the law so that we have the in-house ability as much as reasonably possible to handle those kinds of cases.
MR. EPSTEIN: This was one of the recommendations that actually didn't seem to me all that convincing. The idea of rotating people through the central office or to gain some expertise seemed to have some merit but didn't seem to get at the heart of it. It seems to me that surely what we need here is to bring on board several additional people who have expertise because of their practice, maybe not the most senior people. You are already having difficulty hiring a director. What we need, though, are several other people with Mr. Chisholm's years of experience to kind of be part of that blend.
My first years as a lawyer were in Ottawa with the Federal Department of Justice. The department had no problem recruiting good law graduates to come in and look upon a career there as an attractive place to be, and it just doesn't seem to me that is necessarily the reputation or place that a career in the provincial government's legal services seems to enjoy, including the PPS. I worry about that, and what I worry about is that if we end up, as inevitably we will - every province will - with another complicated set piece of litigation. We may not have the depth to be able to deal with it. I agree with you that you have to start planning for it in advance. I think that is right. So I hope that we are going to be able to do some hiring this year.
That gets me back to your budget. There is a small reduction. It is really not very big, but it is there. It just seems to me that the money isn't being put into developing the expertise that we know we are going to need.
MR. BAKER: I will make two observations. One is clearly we have limited resources, and the Public Prosecution Service is like other areas of government, other essential areas of government I think it is fair to say, like health care or education of a much more recent discussion, all have challenges. I think it is fair to flag another issue which is the issue of salaries. It is a challenge, and I don't know about now, but I can remember when I graduated from law school, which is nigh on 20 years ago next month. The federal Department of Justice would pay a heck of a lot more to starting lawyers then the provincial Department of Justice. I think that is fair to say and that would apply to Public Prosecution Service as well. So it is fair to say that many people who are looking at a career, bright young minds like Mr. Epstein, may look at the money to be paid by the federal Department of Justice, and they may
look at the money to be paid by the provincial Department of Justice or the Public Prosecution Service and they make the choice which makes the most economic sense for them. I can tell you that is a concern of mine, but it is a concern for which the solution is very difficult.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well we seem to have strayed into negotiations again. How are they going with the PPS?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that Human Resources and the Crown Attorneys Association are still in discussions. I am hopeful for those discussions because they have a very wide implication for government and legal services in government. The reason we created that mechanism was so that we could get that agenda moving because of all the difficult problems everyone is aware of with salaries in the Public Prosecution Service. I will also flag that it is not just the Public Prosecution Service. Many people work for the Legal Services division of the Department of Justice because they like the work and because they are dedicated to public service. Many people are not there because of the economics of that. That is a sad fact, but I can tell you that is a problem, a challenge we find in government, in the professional sector in particular, not just in Justice but in other areas of government where relative to the private sector, our salaries have lagged behind.
MR. EPSTEIN: I am certainly not going to try to press for any more details. I just wish you well in the negotiations. I hope you get on with them. I hope we hear details soon.
MR. BAKER: So do I.
MR. EPSTEIN: On a small related point I suppose I should go on record as saying that I have never been in it for the money, and when I joined the federal Department of Justice, they weren't paying such wonderful salaries.
MR. BAKER: My sympathies.
MR. EPSTEIN: Although I hit it just at the right time. I think about one year after I was there, I got a 50 per cent increase in my salary not, particularly I think because I was doing such wonderful work, but that was time when they happened to actually bring their salaries up to a scale that became more competitive. They responded to competitive pressures because they were finding, and this was maybe 1975, that they were not able to compete particularly in Ontario - and I was Ottawa - with the private law firms. They simply felt they had to make those adjustments.
MR. BAKER: So you understand what I am talking about very well.
MR. EPSTEIN: Oh, yes and how. I certainly do. I wonder if we could just check something here. When I look at one of the budget documents known as a list of cost recovery measures that was released by the Minister of Finance, there is a list of additional revenue generators that is essentially either changes in fees or projections as to increased revenues. A couple that seemed to apply to your department are a projection of increased revenues from summary offence tickets and sheriffs and probate fees. Probably you are familiar with these.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: So what I wonder is whether this is the full list of projected fee increases associated with your department?
MR. BAKER: Just one moment. My understanding is that the rough breakout of the numbers is as follows: $1.5 million would be the amount generated by the increase from $50 to $100 of the summary offence ticket, court cost component. The second component, $475,000, is the increase in sheriffs' fees, foreclosure generally paid by mortgage companies and banks at the time of a foreclosure sale. The next item is $500,000 which is an increase in the fees for probate court fees. The final component is $200,000 which is the creation of a user fee - a fee rather, not a user fee but a fee - for people who default on maintenance enforcement provisions.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay. I am sorry. I missed the enforcement. Okay got it.
MR. BAKER: That totals $2.675 million.
MR. EPSTEIN: What I am also concerned about are some programs that might either be lost or reduced inside your general jurisdiction, and I am wondering first if we could discuss the Nova Scotia Legal Aid plan. I wonder if you can explain the position of legal aid with some reductions, that is to say, what kinds of adjustments you expect to flow from the changes in their funding?
MR. BAKER: There is no change in their funding at all. My numbers are, the Estimate for 1999-2000 was $11,207,000, the Estimate for 2000-01 is $11,207,000. That is the grant.
MR. EPSTEIN: I don't have my book open in front of me, but I had a note to myself that there was a small reduction in the money going to legal aid, so you are expecting no change?
MR. BAKER: In fact, I think it is fair to say that we made a very conscious decision with respect to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission, not to reduce the amount of funding to legal aid in recognition of the important work that legal aid does, so there is no reduction at all.
MR. EPSTEIN: You could say the only reduction is the inflationary reduction then.
MR. BAKER: I guess there is an inflationary reduction in all those kinds of things. I guess it is fair to say that the increases are containable compared to other programs. This is a program that has maintained its funding level. That, by the way, is not just for staff component, it is also for the certificate component because, obviously with legal aid, there is still a number of conflict issues which arise in the course of their work, so their certificate budget has been maintained as a part of that grant.
MR. EPSTEIN: Have they indicated whether they are going to have to make any staffing changes?
MR. BAKER: They don't anticipate any staffing changes at all.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, good. Workload changes?
MR. BAKER: I guess there might be workload changes. They are very dependent on their client base, I think it is fair to say.
MR. EPSTEIN: And the other way around, the client base is very dependant on them.
MR. BAKER: Yes. They are like a hospital. They take the number of patients who show up at their door in the emergency department, and they have to manage that. To some extent, legal aid works on the same basis.
MR. EPSTEIN: What about Dalhousie Legal Aid?
MR. BAKER: The Legal Aid Commission has budgeted a reduction of one-half of the grant that goes from Nova Scotia Legal Aid to Dalhousie Legal Aid. That would be $118,000 reduction, so I assume that part of how they are going to deal with some of their inflationary pressures is to reduce their funding to Dalhousie Legal Aid. That is not a government decision, that is a legal aid decision.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, and at this point do you have any information as to what the consequences are for the likelihood of the continued service of Dalhousie Legal Aid?
MR. BAKER: I can tell you that I have met with the Dean of Dalhousie Law School and other representatives of Dalhousie Legal Aid. They are obviously very concerned about what effect that would have. I understand they are working on a business plan for the provincial government. My understanding is that this particular cut would not force them to cease operations. My advice is that they are going to be making a presentation tomorrow to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission. The Dalhousie Law School would be making the presentation. So it is fair to say, in answer to your question, that the Legal Aid Commission, I understand, has budgeted an $118,000 reduction, but there are still discussions underway between Dalhousie Legal Aid and Nova Scotia Legal Aid as to whether or not that will be the case.
MR. EPSTEIN: I have to say it is my understanding it is far from clear what the future of the Dalhousie Legal Aid program is at this point. I think that is still up in the air and isn't so obvious, but I suppose that is something we will learn a little bit more about soon. I think there is a real worry that it might have to close.
MR. BAKER: As you may be aware, I am a graduate of that program. I will say that my approach to the law school at the time of going forward was to make a business case. That was the appropriate way for the legal aid portion of the funding, to demonstrate the value of the legal aid service they are providing. Quite clearly, the Dean and other members of the faculty and board of directors feel they can offer a very valuable cost-effective legal aid service to residents of metro, and I encourage them to make their case to the Legal Aid Commission. I believe the concern that has been expressed to me is that if the Legal Aid Commission were to withdraw all its funding, the Dean has told me she feels they could not operate. The reduction is hard for them to deal with, it is the elimination of funding which would cause them to close, according to her.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, I guess we will learn more about this as we go on. Can I ask you about another area of your responsibilities? It wasn't something you spoke to and it was WCAT. Don't you have administrative responsibilities for that?
MR. BAKER: I sure do.
MR. EPSTEIN: I thought so. I don't think it was included in your opening statement and so . . .
MR. BAKER: I guess with the truly judicial bodies, with URB and WCAT, I didn't do that. If you have questions, I will be glad to answer them.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, I do. What is the current state of play with the backlog?
MR. BAKER: The starting number when the legislation came in force was 2,403 cases and the number for the end of April will be 450, actual number will be 450. There will be 450 cases left in the backlog at the end of April.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, this seems like a very encouraging set of numbers. Are we to understand, first, that the projection is that the backlog will be taken care of within the statutorily prescribed limit? Second, does this include all of the outstanding older cases?
MR. BAKER: The backlog cases, as referred to in the Statute, were 2,403 cases. That, I understand, is the total number of cases which was, I think, consistent with the numbers that we both recall from the House where they were fluctuating between 2,200 and 2,500, so that is consistent with the numbers that I saw at the time; and 450 is the present number. That is an incredible accomplishment in getting rid of almost 2,000 cases in that period of time. That is from April 1999, basically a year, and that is a very impressive reduction and it is projected that, all things considered, it should be completed before the end of the 15 or 18 month period.
MR. EPSTEIN: This is very good to hear. It is also the case that some of the rulings are proceeding to court and it may be that there will be court rulings that might add to the burdens of WCAT. I am wondering whether you can let me know whether any of the reduction in the backlog is the result of any kind of generic rulings or whether each case was dealt with separately? I will start with that one.
MR. BAKER: Every case is dealt with separately. When a ruling is made, there may be some precedent value as there are in cases in civil courts. My understanding is every person's case is heard individually.
MR. EPSTEIN: The issues that I think are proceeding to court have to do with both chronic pain and with environmental sensitivities. I am wondering where we would be in terms of caseload and the time limits of the Statute if there were rulings from the court that sent any of these matters back to WCAT?
MR. BAKER: Clearly, I suppose it is up to the courts to determine whether or not those cases would be remitted back. As I understand it, if they are remitted back and obviously that is up to the Court of Appeal to decide, that would not fall within the parameters of the backlog because those cases have been adjudicated by WCAT within the period of time required by Statute. Clearly, WCAT would need to deal with those cases if they are remitted back by the courts as any inferior tribunal would need to deal with those cases if they are remitted back.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, I think the worry wasn't so much whether we might or might not be technically in violation of the Statute. I am quite happy that we might not be technically in violation of it. What I am worried about is whether we are going to find ourselves in a backlog situation again.
MR. BAKER: Well, I think we are talking 200 cases of chronic pain. It is hard to say with respect to the chemical sensitivity area because that is an area where there are cases coming forward all the time. While there are certainly black clouds on the horizon, I think the overall picture is a positive picture of one where the staffing levels have been adequate to maintain the commissioners. We have maintained a body of commissioners and we have continued the appointments beyond October 15th by a small amount for a significant amount of commissioners so we can deal with things, if there is a mopping-up operation for lack of a better way of putting it. The overall goal, if we could just talk about that for a moment, is at the end of the day we are going to have a complement of commissioners at the WCAT able to continually deal with cases as they come forward in a prompt manner. What we want to do, of course, is to mop up the backlog that is created and then continue to keep that backlog eliminated.
I think we have better statistics today than we ever had. The management systems at WCAT have improved tremendously as a result of staff who have made a great deal of effort in that regard. We have a better management of our cases now at WCAT, we have a better idea of the profile. We know better statistics on what is coming forward and I think we are in a position, not to make everybody happy because in an area of adjudication you will never make everybody happy, but to do what the Statute was originally intended to do, to give prompt, impartial opinions in a reasonable period of time.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, this is all to the good, I hope it works out as planned. I guess we will find out.
MR. BAKER: I do too.
MR. EPSTEIN: There are other departments to be heard from and I am not going to continue with any questioning myself, but I do want to finish up by offering you a word of congratulations with respect to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Officer. You recall that during debate in the House I had occasion to suggest that offering an extension of the term to the existing review officer would be a good idea. I am glad to see you acted on this, so I think that was exactly the right thing to do and well done.
MR. BAKER: Just by way of comment, since you brought it up, I know there were suspicions at the time that there was some greater agenda at work with Mr. Fardy expressed by some members and as actions have shown, there was never dissatisfaction with Mr. Fardy's work. It was a simple question that we hadn't asked Mr. Fardy until the Statute passed, whether he was interested in the job. When it passed, we did and he was and so there is a
happy ending to the story. (Interruption) Well you had to pass the Statute first. It seems important that you do it that way around. Thank you very much, Mr. Epstein.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes your time. You had 15 minutes left, but thank you for your brevity. I will now ask the Liberal caucus if they have any more questions of this minister. If you do, your questions may begin. It is now 4:16 p.m.
The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Minister, I just want to go back on an item. You provided us with a memorandum here which is from Brian Stonehouse. I understood it was from the UNSM, clearly it is not. It says there was a meeting with UNSM officials on Friday, April 28th and that these officials expressed the view that the items listed on Page 4 of the letter were private matters between Department of Justice and the individual municipalities involved and consequently were not relevant to Section F (19). Are you aware of who was there on behalf of UNSM?
MR. BAKER: I am advised, with the caveat to not take it as the gospel, so to speak, that it was Ron Simpson and the usual people from UNSM were there, usual meaning the executive committee. While we are here, in the next couple of minutes, we will attempt to get the answer for you in fact.
MR. SAMSON: So, is it still the understanding that out of the 10 satellite courts, there is only Barrington, Clare and Springhill that were run by a municipality?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: There are only those three?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, one of the other issues I wanted to raise with you is, when your government made the decision to move the new correctional centre from Bedford to Burnside, you indicated it would be cost neutral, I believe were your exact words.
MR. BAKER: That was my hope at the time, yes.
MR. SAMSON: We have obtained some information since that time in light of the construction going on. Is it still your assertion that the move from Bedford to Burnside is cost neutral to the taxpayers of Nova Scotia?
MR. BAKER: I am pleased to advise that the original estimate for the cost, plus or minus 5 per cent, we intend to be within that envelope.
MR. SAMSON: At what stage of the construction are you at now?
MR. BAKER: We are 15 per cent completed.
MR. SAMSON: So you say you will stay within, was it 1 per cent to 5 per cent of the original cost?
MR. BAKER: Apparently, the original Cabinet authorization, granted by your administration, was a figure plus or minus 5 per cent. We intend to be within that envelope of funding.
MR. SAMSON: So, at this point in time, 15 per cent into it, you don't see any cost overruns that is going to bring you over that?
MR. BAKER: No, the department is not aware of any reason for them to believe there would be.
MR. SAMSON: There was some concern that there would have to be an interchange constructed at this new facility, raising an additional expense with the Department of Transportation and I know there was a concern in Burnside as this was creating a new set of lights along that. Could you indicate whether that actually, in fact, took place? Or whether it will have to take place or not?
MR. BAKER: I am advised that it is not necessary that occur, there is no reason to do that.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, your Premier has indicated that there would be 70 programs cut from government that were offered to the public. Unfortunately, it is not indicated which 70 those are. Could you indicate to me, out of all of the portfolios you are responsible for, excluding Environment, whether there are any programs which have been cut?
MR. BAKER: I am sure there are. I know the question you are asking, I am just trying to see if we can find the answer. Perhaps we can move on past that question, if you have another question, we will try to get the information for you in a second. I know time is a sensitivity when you are in estimates. If you have another question, we could move on and come back.
MR. SAMSON: I see you have just signed another agreement with the Crown Attorneys and I understand that your human resources sector is negotiating a possible salary increase. I am curious, in the budget you have presented to us today if you have budgeted for possible pay raises for Crown Attorneys or if you have even prepared for that case?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that there is a central fund which has been budgeted for that includes cost or pay increases.
MR. SAMSON: You have budgeted for that in your budget?
MR. BAKER: It is not included in the Department of Justice budget, it is included in, I believe, Finance or Human Resources or another department. It is not included in the budget for the Department of Justice, as I understand it, there is a central amount that has been allowed for those things.
MR. SAMSON: So there is some money allotted in Finance for any possible increases to the Crown Attorney's salary?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: You are not aware of what that figure is, are you?
MR. BAKER: No.
MR. SAMSON: I am just curious, I know my colleague raised it with you and I will raise it quickly - is it correct to say that you have cut $300,000 of funding to Nova Scotia Legal Aid?
MR. BAKER: That is incorrect. We have not cut anything to Nova Scotia Legal Aid.
MR. SAMSON: Well, in the estimates, in the line item it does show a decrease in the amount of money going to legal aid. Can you explain that decrease?
MR. BAKER: I think I understand where you and Mr. Epstein would have gotten that impression. Estimate to estimate, there is no change. The forecast for this year was increased because of an overexpenditure of $250,000 for the Cesar Lalo defence, and there was a special addition to legal aid grant to cover Mr. Lalo's defence.
MR. SAMSON: So that was a one time cost?
MR. BAKER: That is a one time cost for that particular case.
MR. SAMSON: Do you have that program information?
MR. BAKER: Yes we do. It got buried under that last question. Programs that would be eliminated would be obviously the Bedford court, the correctional centres of course of which we are all aware.
MR. SAMSON: How many correctional centres is it? I am hearing different numbers, four, then I am hearing five. What is the specific number?
MR. BAKER: I know the correctional centres that are being closed are Lunenburg, Kings, Colchester, and Guysborough plus obviously the replacement/closure - however you would like to characterize it - of Sackville by Burnside.
MR. SAMSON: That's it?
MR. BAKER: There are no more.
MR. SAMSON: No, I just want to clarify that.
MR. BAKER: I understand that there has been some confusion on that issue. It is not foreseen at the time there would be any further reduction in the number of correctional institutions.
MR. SAMSON: I am just curious, how much money have you allotted for improvements to the Antigonish court facility and the Yarmouth court facility? You have clearly indicated that both of these facilities are in need of upgrading.
MR. BAKER: Antigonish and Yarmouth have not been, I believe, allocated any funding for this year, those correctional centres - you said court facilities, but they are correctional centres. There is not anticipated to be any improvements done to those correctional facilities this year.
MR. SAMSON: So you are going to maintain them in their current state for this year?
MR. BAKER: Their current state. Obviously, as improvements or replacements would occur - depending if it was an improvement, if it was a renovation, you would have to move prisoners out while the renovation was ongoing. So for example, if you took Antigonish as an example and renovated that correctional centre, you would obviously move the prisoners out of the correctional centre while renovations are going on, and we would then use the capacity that is elsewhere in the system to hold those prisoners until the facility was finished. If it was a replacement, of course, it is easier because you just simply wait until the facility is constructed.
MR. SAMSON: I am just curious, in asking my question about Guysborough, you made the comment which kind of caught me by surprise, you said that it is, I think your exact words were that they were special inmates that were kept at Guysborough, I think that is the words you used. What did you mean by the word special? What is the difference between one inmate and the next?
MR. BAKER: Special in the sense that it was basically reserved for low-security local inmates and people who have special security concerns. For example you may have someone who might be a member of the clergy who had committed inappropriate acts and might be subject to some danger in another institution and for security reasons would be placed there. You understand what I am talking about.
MR. SAMSON: Good answer for a very touchy subject. I just wanted to clear that up. I wasn't sure what you meant by that, but that certainly clarifies it. Thank you.
Program cuts. Bedford court, correctional centres?
MR. BAKER: The Atlantic Police Academy, that would be the payment by the Province of Nova Scotia to the running of that institution.
MR. SAMSON: And you are no longer paying that?
MR. BAKER: We are no longer paying.
MR. SAMSON: So we get to train officers in P.E.I. for free?
MR. BAKER: It is a program like any other university program. The Province of P.E.I. does whatever they do with the Atlantic Police Academy the same way as Acadia University in Nova Scotia and it is a student training program. You get student loans and go to school like any other program. Before that we had actually funded part of the cost.
MR. SAMSON: So you funded part of the cost so these students who are attending that facility basically it was almost a bursary. Was it in a bursary form or was payment directly made to the institution?
MR. BAKER: Payment to the institution.
MR. SAMSON: What do they have to say about this?
MR. BAKER: Four years ago, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and P.E.I. all gave notice that they were getting out of the business of subsidizing the Atlantic Police Academy. I think P.E.I. has reconsidered their situation for their own reasons, but that is up to P.E.I. I think the reasons are quite understandable given that it is located in P.E.I.
MR. SAMSON: As the minister well knows there were some investigations or some options being looked at for Nova Scotia to offer its own training program. What is the status of that?
MR. BAKER: There was a pilot project held; 33 cadets graduated, 30 of those cadets have received placement. As a part of the settlement with the litigation with the Province of P.E.I. and the APA, we have agreed to not train any officers until April 2001. At that point in time, Nova Scotia, in partnership with whomever, could, under the terms of the agreement, begin training police officers.
MR. SAMSON: Okay. What else?
MR. BAKER: Okay, we have the Bedford court, Atlantic Police Academy, correctional centres, and we have the Framework for Action Against Family Violence.
MR. SAMSON: How much was that?
MR. BAKER: That was $188,000 which is the Department of Justice component of the funding. It was also co-funded by the Department of Community Services.
MR. SAMSON: Have they maintained their funding.
MR. BAKER: No, they did not.
MR. SAMSON: So the program itself has been eliminated.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: How much was the total from Justice again?
MR. BAKER: It was $188,000.
MR. SAMSON: How much was coming from Community Services?
MR. BAKER: I don't know.
MR. SAMSON: Has there been anything put in place to replace this program?
MR. BAKER: This is the program where there were two studies done of the program. Both studies - one internal, one external - indicated that the program was the subject of significant duplication in effort, and both studies recommended that program funding cease.
MR. SAMSON: Okay. What else?
MR. BAKER: The final one is the Immigration Project, and that was not so much that we got out of the business but that the federal funds that were providing that program dried up. I think it was 100 per cent federally funded. It was a two-year project, 100 per cent federally funded. When the federal funding dried up, the program dried up.
MR. SAMSON: So that is it for program cuts?
MR. BAKER: That is it.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Minister, on Page 74 of The Course Ahead that your government has published, under Goal 2 you have indicated that you are going to "Prepare legislation that will require parents to make restitution to victims where the lack of proper parental supervision has caused a young person to commit a crime.".
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: Where in God's name did you come up with this idea?
MR. BAKER: This is the issue that has legislation already in place in Manitoba; in Ontario they have brought in legislation in this area, which I am not sure whether it has been passed yet or not, but I know they have brought it in. We are planning to bring in legislation in that spirit, but we are waiting to see what comes out of the other two provinces' legislation in an effort to make sure we get the very best of the legislation in both those areas.
MR. SAMSON: This wasn't in your blue book was it?
MR. BAKER: Yes it is. It is in the book, yes. I don't have the page reference, but I know it is in the book.
MR. SAMSON: So basically you are piggybacking on Manitoba and Ontario.
MR. BAKER: Well, it was in our blue book obviously before Ontario brought in legislation (Interruption) Yes, Ontario copied our idea.
MR. SAMSON: But not before Manitoba?
MR. BAKER: No, Manitoba had it first.
MR. SAMSON: So one could argue you are copying Manitoba?
MR. BAKER: We could. Some unkind person could argue that. Knowing that you would never do anything unkind, I am sure you would never say such a thing.
MR. SAMSON: It is also Manitoba which introduced this johns legislation which you have copied and introduced here in Nova Scotia.
MR. BAKER: Manitoba has johns legislation, yes.
MR. SAMSON: Okay. Almost word for word as Manitoba, that is right. Mr. Minister, needless to say, you are a lawyer yourself, the legal questions it raises, the moral questions, social questions, what possible parameters are you going to put around such legislation? Who is going to determine what is proper supervision by a parent and what is not proper supervision? How in God's name are you going to establish that standard, and who is going to decide what that standard is?
MR. BAKER: Again I am commenting on legislation, the drafting of which is not yet complete, so as you can appreciate, it is hard to talk in terms of exactitude in those kinds of things. Having said that, I think it is fair to say that what we want to do is to create a Statute which encourages parents - the vast majority of Nova Scotia parents being responsible people - to do that, and which, in situations where the conduct is clearly deficient, makes those people accountable for the loss that their failure to attempt to exercise control has caused.
MR. SAMSON: What is insufficient conduct?
MR. BAKER: I guess we are talking about standards of negligence, gross negligence, those kinds of ideas. To use a good example, if you knew your child had a propensity to light fires, and you put a box of matches in your child's room, I think in that circumstance, maybe a thinking parent would not do that.
MR. SAMSON: That is already covered under negligence laws. Normal torts and laws of negligence would cover that situation already. That is not a new situation.
MR. BAKER: The idea is to allow these cases to be litigated, not in the Supreme Court, but in the Small Claims Court, because as we both know, in fact, to litigate these cases in Supreme Court is oftentimes very costly. My understanding is that legislation in both Manitoba and Ontario provides for these cases being litigated in the Small Claims Courts.
MR. SAMSON: You do realize Small Claims Court has a cap of $10,000 in damages?
MR. BAKER: I recognize that quite well, yes.
MR. SAMSON: So if you burn something down, unless it is something awfully small, $10,000 is not very practical. I am going back to the example of leaving the matches in the kid's bedroom. I am assuming you would mean that if he has a propensity to put things on fire, he is going to burn stuff. How practical is it to put in Small Claims Court with a $10,000 cap?
MR. BAKER: I think for example if he went over and lit your garden shed on fire, I think you would be able to get recourse in that situation appropriately. The difficulty is today, these kinds of general damages, because in many cases you will be talking about general damages, are unrecoverable in Small Claims Court.
MR. SAMSON: But you do realize, when you are dealing with Small Claims Court, your adjudicators in Small Claims Court are lawyers. They are not members of the judiciary. They do not have the same standard or are expected to hold the same standard as Supreme Court Judges or Provincial Court Judges. That is the whole purpose. I am not even sure if Small Claims Courts judges are required to give written decisions, yet you are now going to allow Small Claim Court adjudicators to make moral decisions as to whether that parent was negligent or not. In fact, is Small Claims Court permitted to hear cases of negligence?
MR. BAKER: Yes, but not for general damages. I think the limit is $100 in the existing Small Claims Court legislation. So for example, if you have a slip and fall and hurt your back at Sobeys, you can sue the Sobeys store in Small Claims Court, but their limit I believe is $100 for general damages which for a slip and fall . . .
MR. SAMSON: So therefore you are not going to Small Claims Court with your slip and fall case are you?
MR. BAKER: No, you are not.
MR. SAMSON: And if someone burns something down or one is seeking general damages, which is usually quite common, then you are not going to Small Claims Court either.
MR. BAKER: Except if legislation were drafted that would give them concurrent jurisdiction with the Supreme Court.
MR. SAMSON: So as part of this you are also considering allowing Small Claims Court adjudicators to grant general damages in excess of this $100 cap, in fact as you have said under the same jurisdiction as what is permitted in the Supreme Court.
MR. BAKER: It is certainly one of the possibilities in cases involving this section of this provision.
MR. SAMSON: I am curious, Mr. Minister, what discussion have you had with the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society or other legal education or public legal education to discuss this very proposal to get feedback on them from these radical changes to the Small Claims Court structure in what you are proposing here? What discussion have you had with those bodies?
MR. BAKER: Well, I guess it is fair to say that I don't feel that any organization, including the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society has a veto power on the ability of government to bring forward social legislation. I think it is fair to say that we have a very fine Small Claims Court system in this province, and that frankly lawyers don't get smart instantly just because you make them judges. If you are good lawyer, a competent lawyer, you can be an adjudicator in Small Claims Court. You can sit on any number of agencies. Routinely, lawyers who aren't judges have the abilities whether as arbitrators in cases to adjudicate in cases where there may be tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars at issue. We have today traffic courts if that is what you want to call them where people who are lawyers, JPs, hear traffic cases and adjudicate those cases cost-effectively and, I hope, competently. So I guess what I am saying is that whether you are a Small Claims Court adjudicator or a Supreme Court Justice, I would hope that you are competent in law.
MR. SAMSON: Is it your statement today that adjudicators in Small Claims Court are held to the same standard as a Supreme Court Judge? I hope the answer is no.
MR. BAKER: If the question you are asking is if I expect them both to be competent, the answer is yes.
MR. SAMSON: No, no. There is no question about competency. To be a member of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society you have to be competent or you can't be a member.
MR. BAKER: I would hope so too. (Interruptions)
MR. SAMSON: I am sure that the minister - and I see he is stretching it here - knows very well as Minister of Justice the requirements to be an adjudicator in Small Claims Court, as set out by your department, do not match the requirements of being a Supreme Court Judge. I think that as a minimum the minister should be able to admit that.
MR. BAKER: Yes, there is a difference, one is 5 years at the Bar, one is 10 years at the bar. The statutory difference between the two bodies as I recollect from reading both is that to be a federally appointed judge you need to have 10 years at the Bar, to be a Small Claims Court adjudicator you need 5 years at the Bar.
MR. SAMSON: In practice, how many years do you need to be a judge?
MR. BAKER: In practice, 15 to 20 years.
MR. SAMSON: That is right, and that is not the case for an adjudicator.
MR. BAKER: Not all adjudicator have 15 to 20 years.
MR. SAMSON: Again, I wasn't proposing that the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society Public Legal Education introduced this legislation, but I think the minister would be negligent if he did not at least bounce this type of legislation off those two bodies to get input from them as to what they think could be the shortfalls or possible improvements to that. Again I ask the minister, have you even raised this issue with either of those two bodies for input or consultation?
MR. BAKER: First of all, I don't think Public Legal Education is in their area of mandate but I haven't raised it with the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society.
MR. SAMSON: Outside of your department or P&P, there has been no discussion of this issue to get input or consultation?
MR. BAKER: The drafting of legislation hasn't been completed yet, so it is a bit premature. I think we are going down the road a considerable distance before we have gotten to it. I would assume that the earliest the legislation would be introduced would be in the fall session, the earliest.
MR. SAMSON: That is it, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Lunenburg West.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minister, distinguished members of respective departments, I am going to ask you some questions with regard to Aboriginal Affairs.
MR. BAKER: I was kind of disappointed I hadn't gotten any questions on Aboriginal Affairs.
MR. DOWNE: I didn't want to ruin your day, I wanted to make it for you. While the staff is changing chairs here, I want to say that when I first read in The Course Ahead, about the restructuring, and that they restructured Aboriginal Affairs right out of the system, one of the departments that was reported to be disbanded or gone. I was happy to see that it was merely a mistake.
MR. BAKER: The rumours of their death have been greatly exaggerated.
MR. DOWNE: Exactly. Mr. Minister, checking over your budget numbers in regard to the Public Service vote, I see that Salaries and Benefits are actually increasing quite dramatically. Can you give me a breakdown of exactly what the $843,000 as the Estimate for 2000-01 will be used for, and, how many employees would that be?
MR. BAKER: I don't know if the honourable member has had a chance to see my comments going into Supply yesterday, but I will arrange to provide him with a copy of those as well. We have increased from 3 to 12 FTEs in the two fiscal years. I am not sure exactly what the question was, Mr. Downe.
MR. DOWNE: You said you are going to increase FTEs by three?
MR. BAKER: No, it is from 3 to 12. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs will be fully staffed with 12 FTEs as of now.
MR. DOWNE: FTEs, full-time equivalents . . .
MR. BAKER: That is right, government jargon, you might have two people filling one job, and as we both know that is the reason they talk in these mysterious FTEs.
MR. DOWNE: I would assume that the ramping up of the staff requirement, as you refer to full-time equivalents, whether it is going to be 9 or 19, depending on whether it is a full-time job, is predicated on dealing with the issue of title. Is that accurate?
MR. BAKER: In government, clearly there has been a major evolution since the Marshall case in Nova Scotia and in other jurisdictions as well, where we have identified that we are going to be dealing with issues of, potentially and hopefully, land title. As I indicated in my opening remarks, our hope is that we are going to be able to reach a framework agreement with the Mi'kmaq this year, which would set out the parameters for future discussions which would include, obviously, the issue of land title as one of the possible areas for discussion.
MR. DOWNE: The framework agreement, I think, has been ongoing for quite some time, trying to find some vehicle. Can you tell me the points of the framework agreement that the province feels are absolutely imperative to maintain?
MR. BAKER: I guess it is fair to say that those are a subject of discussion between the Mi'kmaq and the federal government. Obviously land title is one of those issues that would need to be discussed, and the issue of trying to reach a conclusion to the problem of land title claims in the province. We are determined to try to have, as much as we can, an agreement with the Mi'kmaq to try to end the constant litigation, bickering and court cases.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, can you tell me what the provincial government's position is relative to the issue of title?
MR. BAKER: Our position at the present time is that Aboriginal title does not exist in Nova Scotia; obviously the Mi'kmaq don't agree with us.
MR. DOWNE: If you are going into a framework agreement with the understanding that title does not exist in the Province of Nova Scotia, how are you planning on getting a framework process going forward on the issue of title? If it doesn't exist, where do you stand on that? I don't understand.
MR. BAKER: The concept is to ensure that we have discussions with the Mi'kmaq about all of the outstanding issues. We have issues dealing with the resource issues, for example, hunting, fishing, those kinds of issues; we have issues dealing with land title, and the land base that communities have. The federal government, frankly, has very large resources to bring to bear on this issue. The history in many other provinces, to be honest, has been that the federal government, if it is determined to do so, has the ability to settle these issues. We can litigate them to death, and we can spend all our time in the Supreme Court of Canada, or we can try to negotiate. Our first choice is to negotiate.
MR. DOWNE: Are you telling me that the province is prepared to sit down and negotiate issues of title, prior to any Supreme Court decision?
MR. BAKER: I guess it is fair to say that our administration is that we need to get a negotiated agreement, and we are prepared to sit down at the table to do so. I do believe that the best resolution of these issues is by negotiation, and we are determined to make every attempt to do that. The federal government, I think, can be a partner with both the provincial government and the Mi'kmaq in doing that. I think the position of the administration was somewhat similar to the position we are taking on this subject. I will let you speak better on what the position of the previous administration was.
MR. DOWNE: I am anxious to know. In the noise here it is hard to hear, and I have a hearing impairment anyway. If you could speak up just a little bit.
MR. BAKER: I will try. I am a little bit hard of hearing too. We have the dialogue of the deaf here.
MR. DOWNE: It would be a lot of fun yelling at each other, we wouldn't know what is being said. Anyway, just so that I clearly understand, the province does not accept title and does not recognize title . . .
MR. BAKER: Does not recognize, no.
MR. DOWNE: And you are going to a framework agreement whereby you are prepared to negotiate with the First Nations on issues surrounding the concept of title, such as resource allocations, land allocations, mineral allocations, and/or whatever other allocations that are out there. You are prepared to sit down to negotiate with the First Nations on those specific areas? Yes or no.
MR. BAKER: We are prepared to sit down with the Mi'kmaq and discuss all issues of mutual concern.
MR. DOWNE: So, you are not going to answer the question?
MR. BAKER: I think I have answered the question.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, you are a lawyer, you are bright, you have bright lawyers around you to keep you on the straight and narrow, I am sure they do a very good job.
MR. BAKER: They try.
MR. DOWNE: It is just a very simple question here. Are you prepared to sit down with the First Nations peoples to deal with the issues surrounding acknowledgement of the issue of title, the specific issues relative to resource allocations?
MR. BAKER: I think it is fair to say to the honourable member that as we are both keenly aware, the Mi'kmaq have at least publicly asserted title to vast areas of Nova Scotia. Unequivocally, we do not agree with that. I think that is consistent with the stand that you took when you were minister and which, frankly, I agree with.
However, what we are prepared to do for the Mi'kmaq, and for the purposes of trying to resolve these issues once and for all, is to attempt to make sure that we are prepared to sit down at the table and see what we can do to bring redress to their grievances.
I think what is important to remember is that, for example, one of the issues that many communities are concerned about is their land base. I am sure you would have been aware of that as a former minister, you know the amount of land, some communities are literally growing out of the space they have. There may very well be federal dollars there that would allow them to purchase land to augment their land base. That would be a very good thing to allow those communities to have a land base. We are prepared to sit down.
We also have, for example, a fishing issue. There is a whole myriad of issues - the food fishery, the hunting issue which is very problematic with the moose hunting, those kinds of things we are prepared to sit down at the table and discuss. At that point, we will see
where the discussions lead. I am not trying to be evasive. Certainly we are not weakening our discussion position by acknowledging in any way, shape or form, the existence of title.
MR. DOWNE: The Netakalump is part of the rights relative to hunting. Do you agree with those principles?
MR. BAKER: I am sorry, I didn't hear again. My hearing is the problem now.
MR. DOWNE: The Netakalump do you support the principles behind that with First Nations peoples?
MR. BAKER: I guess that is a good example of an issue that needs to be negotiated. I understand this is an issue between the native community between the native council and the chiefs about who is a Mi'kmaq. Our feeling is that is one of the things that has to be - who is a Mi'kmaq is a very fundamental question and it is one of the questions that has to be dealt with at the negotiating table.
MR. DOWNE: I have been told I only have 20 minutes so I will just leave that for a little bit, I might go back to that. (Interruption)
You are on thin ice and you are a big man so I will just leave it at that. Can you tell me how we are doing with the tripartite forum? It was brought in under the Savage Administration, can you tell me the status of the eight or nine different activities that are going on? Secondly, what is the budget allocation for the tripartite forum?
MR. BAKER: All three parties, and that includes the Mi'kmaq, have agreed that the tripartite forum, as we go forward with the framework agreement, that we will not duplicate in the tripartite forum discussions that are already taking place at the bigger table. For example, if we negotiate a framework agreement and begin discussions on a broad range of issues, there is agreement that those issues would not be dealt with at the tripartite forum in order to avoid duplication. For example, if there was a social issue, you wouldn't end up talking about the same social issue in one room and in another room talking about the same social issue because that just leads to confusion and duplication.
The issue that has been most prevalent about the tripartite forum is that it is quite clear that the Supreme Court of Canada has set down a duty on the provincial Crown and Crowns generally to have discussions with aboriginal communities and unfortunately, the tripartite forum as presently constituted is inappropriate for that because it is a blanket agreement that all the discussions in there, that even the existence of those discussions would be a secret. So, what you have is a situation where the Province of Nova Scotia cannot live up to its legal obligation to discuss matters by discussing them in the tripartite forum. With some issues, that's no problem, but with other issues, that is a very significant problem, particularly in the
resource sector because in the Marshall Case, for example, the Crown has a duty to deal with discussions and that is one of the problems.
MR. DOWNE: There are some areas there that are concerning, if you discuss certain issues at the forum, you can't use them as admissible evidence in court and things of that nature.
All that aside, let's just talk about the issue of compliance building. Part of the forum was there to build economic opportunity. What are you doing about building economic opportunity right now?
MR. BAKER: I guess there are a number of different components. First of all, I have met with Mr. Nault and Mr. Nault and I have discussed the fact that he is very interested in putting economic development money into Nova Scotia Aboriginal communities. I, like Mr. Nault, am very interested in him putting money in Nova Scotia Aboriginal communities and he has indicated that he will be taking part in discussions with provincial officials on some areas where we feel there could be some opportunities.
Secondly, there is a national discussion on the way at the moment with respect to development for Aboriginal communities. In addition to that, the tripartite forum still does have a discussion table that deals with economic development issues which is still ongoing.
MR. DOWNE: The issue of youth. I thought some of the economic development initiatives that were there are actually trying to partner like what we did with the gypsum operation where we actually tried to bring together alliances between private sector and First Nations people. The gobbledegook you just talked about didn't make any sense to me but, specifically, First Nation people are looking for jobs. They are looking for opportunity on the reserves. I am asking specifically, what initiatives have you undertaken with regard to trying to build compliance opportunities for those as well as for the youth on the reserves?
MR. BAKER: I think a very tangible example is that we are very close to having a deal with respect to Stora in northern Nova Scotia that will allow the Mi'kmaq to participate in that forestry sector and we are very close to the communities, the Indian communities in northern Nova Scotia having an agreement to do that. That is an example.
We are also very close to getting the Aboriginal communities in Nova Scotia back at the table to determine a province-wide interim logging agreement - I won't say similar to New Brunswick - of a kind which would allow them to participate in the logging industry in Nova Scotia. We have sent out the invitations now, two or three times, and as a result of communications a couple of days ago, I understand that the Mi'kmaq are prepared to come
and discuss, as a result of the invitations that have been sent by the provincial government, and begin to deal with a more comprehensive logging access agreement.
So those are tangible things we are doing to improve economic development and I spoke with one of the chiefs in Cape Breton just a week ago now and I told him in very clear and definitive terms that I wanted to move forward issues of that kind like logging and get a resolution because I thought that opportunities were being missed. I think it is, frankly, as a result of advice they are getting from some other counsel that has been very one sided and litigious and I think that if there is a good result of what has come out of the New Brunswick experience, it is because it has encouraged people of the value of getting back to the table.
MR. DOWNE: You have done everything else that Premier Lord has done so I thought for sure you would have covered that part of it as well.
MR. BAKER: I won't rise to the bait. I think it is important that you don't always rise to the bait - it makes you too easy to catch.
MR. DOWNE: It seems to me that some of those initiatives were done under a previous administration on the forestry side.
Mr. Minister, while all this activity is going on, as I understand it, the First Nations people are preparing cases for the Supreme Court of Canada on the whole issue of title. My question back to you is, how many staff do you have specifically doing research on the issue of title and are you going to be ready to go to court in the event that is the direction we end up having to go? Nobody wants to go there, but if we have to go, can you assure the Province of Nova Scotia that you will be absolutely ready to deal with this issue at the Supreme Court level and that you will have your act together and be ready to wind this issue of title?
MR. BAKER: I think this is one area where I feel very comfortable that we are in fairly good shape. There are five people on an Aboriginal project team which is in addition to the 12 people that I spoke of earlier. They are working on all of the research and preparation issues that would be necessary if we had to litigate a case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
MR. DOWNE: That is a compliment to your staff, by the way because I know that they have been working very aggressively for some time trying to ramp up . . .
MR. BAKER: It is one of the real areas where we are focusing because while I do not want to speak in a litigious way because that is not the way I operate, if people choose to litigate with the Province of Nova Scotia and we can't reach an agreement - and I want to underline the fact that our first priority is to reach agreements - we have the capability of defending our interests. I guess the main thing to remember is that this Aboriginal project
office will also support our negotiation because the best kind of negotiation you can get into is a negotiation where you are fully apprised of the strength or weakness of your position.
As a lawyer I found over the years that when I was comfortable with the strength and weakness of my particular case, I was in the best position to negotiate a good deal, and I mean a good deal in the broadest sense of the word, a fair deal. It is when you don't have all the facts, you don't have the information, that you tend to do a bad job. So this will support not only litigation but negotiation.
MR. DOWNE: You know, it is interesting. This one is going to be a real wild card in regard to the Supreme Court of Canada's decisions because I don't think, in all due respect, that you are a QC lawyer and all that kind of stuff, I really don't know if we can predetermine a Supreme Court of Canada's decision with regard to title in the Province of Nova Scotia. I compliment what you are doing in regard to making sure that we are ready, if in fact we have to go that route and hopefully, we don't.
MR. BAKER: Exactly. I think we share that view.
MR. DOWNE: We share that view. Now, I want to go back to capacity. One of the issues of capacity building in economic development is the issue of VLTs. Can you tell me how many VLTs there are on the reserves in Nova Scotia?
MR. BAKER: Our revenues were about $15 million and I can give you the numbers in a moment - approximately 300. I can indicate to you that I think that from the point of view of capacity building, the changes that have been implemented in the Eskasoni gaming agreement will encourage capacity building. Ultimately, I think that all of the information that has become public is going to encourage those communities to build capacity and build the set of values and controls that are necessary to manage better the funds that are going to be available to them.
MR. DOWNE: You say our take is $15 million. You mean the First Nations people?
MR. BAKER: The First Nations take is $15 million.
MR. DOWNE: That is down a little bit over last year? No? It's about the same? It's up?
MR. BAKER: Up.
MR. DOWNE: Can you tell me how much it is up?
MR. BAKER: I can undertake to provide that to you because that is a number that we would have available.
MR. DOWNE: Would it be appropriate, Mr. Minister, to be able to be provided with the audited statements from all the reserves with regard to the VLT activity and what they have done with the funding?
MR. BAKER: We will be provided those statements on or before July 15th and I see no reason why you wouldn't be entitled to receive those. I can undertake to provide those to you.
MR. DOWNE: There for a while there was some discussion by the now Premier, then Leader of the Third Party, about the issue of reducing the number of VLTs in the Province of Nova Scotia and there was some discussion about First Nations. Can you tell me what the government's position is relative to the number of VLTs on the reserves? Is there a current formula?
MR. BAKER: I believe there is a current arrangement with the First Nations people.
MR. DOWNE: Based on?
MR. BAKER: Based on a contract with the First Nations people that was negotiated by the previous administration.
MR. DOWNE: What was the formula?
MR. BAKER: So many per community and then there was an ability to transfer so many from one community to another community. The reason that there isn't the maximum take-up is because some communities don't take up their capacity for machines.
MR. DOWNE: Yes, and so those total cap numbers would be allocated where they could help build economic development?
MR. BAKER: According to the contract, yes, but I just want to make it clear that those machines are not all transferable. My recollection of the largest number of machines in the province is located at Millbrook. That community cannot receive all the machines from all over the province, they are at their maximum.
MR. DOWNE: Oh, no, I understand. The casino might not like that.
Mr. Minister, I have got four minutes left so I am going to try to get to some short snappers.
With regard to the VLT machines, the province will live up to the commitment that is currently there and they have no indications or . . .
MR. BAKER: No.
MR. DOWNE: With regard to the inspection of those VLT machines, is that currently done by the Alcohol and Gaming Corporation or in all reserves is it done by the Gaming Corporation on their reserves?
MR. BAKER: The gaming agreement provides for the gaming on-reserve to be conducted in the same way it is conducted off-reserve and the same inspection rules would exist with respect to on-reserve and off-reserve.
MR. DOWNE: Yes, and any upgrading of machines would be given as much priority in regard to the newer machines and the older machines and things of that nature?
MR. BAKER: My belief is that they should be treated the same as all other people who have got machines.
MR. DOWNE: It is really quite an honour to sit down at the table with a tripartite forum and the 13 chiefs and their respected groups. There is another body called the off-reserve groups and can you tell me what is the provincial government's position relative to the off-reserve First Nations people?
MR. BAKER: I guess it is fair to say that of all the issues in Aboriginal Affairs, not the least frustrating is the difficult problem posed by the fact that the off-reserve leadership and the on-reserve leadership cannot agree on anything. I say that, cannot agree, it is a very difficult problem, but although we will certainly discuss issues with the native council, it is fundamentally an issue between Mi'kmaq people and not an issue with government and I must say with all due respect to everyone involved in this problem that there are some very unreasonable stands being taken by some people, but I don't think it is the duty of government to decide these issues.
MR. DOWNE: No, but there is a role for government for leadership and I am sure that you have the capability of doing that and it is going to be a challenge but, you know, that is why you are paid the big bucks, to make things happen. There was a report that was supposed to come back from a national perspective from Chief Fontaine and Chief Daniels. Daniels is from the off . . .
MR. BAKER: Yes, I have met them.
MR. DOWNE: You have met the both of them?
MR. BAKER: Yes. So, yes, I know why you are smiling now.
MR. DOWNE: My question to you is, have they reported back in regard to how they want to coordinate activities so that when we deal from governance to governance, or nations to nations, provinces to First Nations people, how we are going to comply or deal with that issue?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is they have not reached a conclusion to those discussions. The longer answer is that we are working with the federal government - the PCO, the Privy Council Office, and DIAN - to try to get them talking with a single voice and that is no small achievement.
MR. DOWNE: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. Our time is up. I thank you for your time.
MR. BAKER: Thank you very much for the questions on this issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has concluded for the Liberal caucus and there is no one from the NDP caucus asking me for the questions before this minister leaves the table. Could I have one of my members to come to the table, please, to maintain the quorum for the votes on the resolutions. I would now ask the honourable Minister of Justice to make any closing remarks.
MR. BAKER: I would like to thank the honourable members for their questions and with respect to the information that has been requested, we will make every effort to provide that information promptly to the members who requested it and with that, brevity being a virtue sometimes, particularly when you are closing as opposed to opening, I would ask that the question be put.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E15 stand?
Resolution E15 stands.
Resolution E20 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $2,100,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Executive Council in regard to Aboriginal Affairs, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E21 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $235,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the FOIPOP Review Office, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E23 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,609,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Human Rights Commission, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E26 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $4,982,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Authority, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E28 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $266,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Police Commission, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E29 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $870,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Securities Commission, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E31 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $2,099,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E34 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $10,864,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Public Prosecution Service, pursuant to the Estimate.
[The motions are carried.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes the Minister of Justice's time. I will call now the estimates of the Department of Labour.
I now welcome the minister to make some opening comments to committee as well as introduce his staff who are present with him.
Resolution E16 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $8,689,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect to the Department of Labour, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Labour.
HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I want to introduce the staff with me this afternoon. The senior policy adviser for the Department of Labour is John Patterson. Beside John is the Deputy Minister, Kevin McNamara. The finance folks who are with me are Joyce MacDonald, Director of Financial Services; the Budget Coordinator, Jackie Ross. From the Workers' Compensation Board, Brad Fraser is with us this afternoon.
Mr. Chairman, I want to say that I am very pleased to be able to bring forward the estimates of the Department of Labour and we do so in this room where the Premier recently announced major changes with respect to the structure of government. The Department of
Labour will be merged with the Department of the Environment as well as other regulatory bodies in a new department. I know that that will create some changes, but perhaps it is an opportunity for us to look briefly at some of the history of the Department of Labour.
I can say, Mr. Chairman, the object of the entire process is to make doing business with government easier and simpler and to bring together the similar functions with respect to regulatory affairs. The Department of Labour has been in existence since March 31, 1932. I don't intend to do a year-by-year report on the accomplishments of that time, but there were some notable changes that perhaps could be mentioned.
The first minister was the Honourable Gordon Harrington and 27 individuals held the post of Minister of Labour and there are three current members in the Legislature, the member who is with us today, the member for Cape Breton West, as well as, I saw the member for Cape Breton South here briefly, he is a former minister and, of course, the member for Hants West has twice been Minister of Labour. So there is a considerable body of experience in the House with respect to that portfolio and I am sure that as we proceed through the estimates, the member for Cape Breton West will show that many of the things in the briefing books have not changed that much over the years or over the time since he was there. The annual report for the first year of operation of the department is interesting to note. It includes reports of the Minimum Wage Board, the Employment Services Office and the supervisor of Unemployment Relief. Things have changed since those times, since those bodies no longer exist. However, they were in existence at that time.
The department, of course, over the years has been designed additional tasks and in 1981 the department's name was changed and they were given additional responsibilities. In that year it became known as the Department of Labour and Manpower. This remained in place until November 1985 when the Manpower section was transferred to the Vocational and Technical Training portion of the Department of Education to form the new Department of Human Resources, Development and Training. On January 6, 1986, the Department of Labour and Manpower assumed additional responsibilities for occupational health and safety matters when the new Occupational Health and Safety Act was proclaimed. On June 25th of that year the department's name was changed again back to the Department of Labour. In addition to this, the Department of Labour is also responsible for industrial relations, labour standards, fire prevention and protection, labour research, public safety and pay equity.
Mr. Chairman, we have a very busy and a competent staff who are dedicated to their duties as servants of the public and when we speak of civil servants and government, most individuals automatically think of this body and the people we oversee. We are certainly part of the government process, but we are not standing alone. We have, for example, municipal councils, school boards, whose decisions impact on Nova Scotians each and every day. Their spending and money management has a direct impact on how we operate.
All too often this is overlooked and I guess it is human nature to take a narrow focus when dealing with an issue or issues. Sometimes it helps to step back and examine the bigger picture. It can be very revealing at times. One of the boards I am responsible for is the Workers' Compensation Board and recently I had the privilege to table their annual report. We have from time to time heard critics of the Workers' Compensation Board express their views and certainly everyone is entitled to their opinion and the right to express it. However, it is important to be fair when levelling criticism. The WCB provides excellent financial protection for both the employee and the employer. They offer a no-fault insurance plan that offers good protection. It also protects the employer from being sued which is quite a feature in the day and age in which we are currently living. Another unique and positive feature is the benefits offered; 75 per cent of the individual's salary is tax free.
Mr. Chairman, it is my belief the private sector cannot compete with the WCB. We have a number of fee increases coming into effect this year and I want to emphasize that these increases are based on cost recovery. Ideally, there would be no increases, but it is important that we generate sufficient revenue to offset program costs. We also want to become more consistent with other jurisdictions, five of whom have annual renewal requirements. In our Public Safety Division we have a four year renewal process. Under the existing process it is difficult to maintain a current record of where these individuals are employed or living. Over a four year period we find that many of these individuals move and no longer live at the registered address.
Also, Mr. Chairman, in the sense of fairness, with the increased fees, paying them annually will create less financial hardship than the large lump sum every four years. The fee structure for propane and natural gas was changed last October. The first invoices were sent out in January and payments collected before April 1, 2000. The changes included a billing system that reflected the size of the activity, the costs incurred by the government, and extraordinary work carried out by the Fuel Safety Division.
Again, Mr. Chairman, we are talking about cost recovery. The bulk storage of propane is no longer billed annually at a flat fee, but is simplified and made more realistic by charging a minimum fee and a charge for amount stored. It also brings us in line with other provinces.
Mr. Chairman, the clients we serve are very satisfied with the service they receive. No one likes to see an increase in fees, but through consultation with these people we have found that they understand why we have to have cost recovery. Let me cite this example: our Public Safety Division is an authorized inspection agency referred to as AIA. There are six establishments in Nova Scotia that are members and draw on this service. Inspections by AIA inspectors allow them to compete internationally, however, in order for my inspectors in that division to retain their AIA standing, we must pay a registration fee of U.S. $10,000 every three years. The increase of fees in this sector reflect the recovery of that money, something they and we find fair and reasonable.
I want to speak on electrical permits. Increased activity in the underground economy caused the electrical contractors to request a regulatory system. Through this, we are decreasing the required inspection impact on companies that are constant in carrying out their work properly. The licenses obtained in a cost-recovery manner will allow a tracking and information system. This will decrease the regulatory impact on these companies while providing for an ability to regulate non-compliant companies. Presently New Brunswick contractors come to the province with no required licence. Nova Scotia contractors doing business in New Brunswick are required to have a New Brunswick licence. This puts us on an uneven footing, as the majority of other provinces have similar legislation.
Another budget initiative is moving the cost recovery for the Workers' Advisers Program to the Workers' Compensation Board. Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada not to recover from the Workers' Compensation Board the cost of legal services provided to workers appealing decisions to the WCB. Similarly, Nova Scotia is the only province to pay one-third the cost of arbitration conducted under the Trade Union Act and the Corrections Act. We are eliminating the cost-sharing.
Our vision is to develop a diversified culture that supports a respectful relationship between employers and employees, and their right to a healthy and safe workplace. Safety in the workplace makes for productive employees, profitable businesses, community prosperity, and ultimately an improved economy. The Department of Labour envisions a proactive and preventative culture in which Nova Scotians put safety first, in their homes, workplaces, buildings, and places of amusement and recreation. We support companies like Sable Offshore and Nova Scotia Power that provide training to have a workforce that practices safety in all their activities, work, social and home.
Mr. Chairman, we support the development of national and international standards, so our businesses are able to compete worldwide. The department supports innovation and the development of effective alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. Our people will be well trained and have access to the resources they need to ensure timely, objective, client-focused service to the people of Nova Scotia. That is our vision.
Our mission is to promote and protect employment rights and the safety of people and property. This is guided by our core values, as we are guided by the principles of integrity, objectivity, fairness and respect for our clients and staff. We are committed to using consultative and innovative approaches, focusing on shared responsibility and providing quality services to our clients.
We have a staff of 188 operating in 10 offices throughout Nova Scotia dedicated to these principles. The Department of Labour provides service and assistance to over 415,000 people now employed in the province. The need for knowledgeable, specialized expertise in the rights and responsibilities in the workplace has never been stronger. The department's website has been receiving over 100,000 - that is right, over 100,000 - hits per month. In
addition to that, the number of telephone contacts continues to increase. Our goals, when dealing with our clients, are simple, fair and straight-forward: promote safe and healthy workplaces and work practices; promote fair wage compensation, employment standards and effective labour management relations; continuously improve the service we deliver and improve public and staff satisfaction with the work of the department; and promote fairness for injured workers.
As I indicated previously, we have more people working in Nova Scotia and a greater demand is being placed on our staff. This past fiscal year, 1999-2000, was one of the busiest years in recent memory. The work included completing over 270 collective bargaining conciliations and grievance mediation, including many public sector groups, nursing homes, fire, police and essential service providers; establishing a new minimum wage rate for businesses and employers that will set the increases for the next three years, and provide over-time equity for the province's paramedics; introducing new regulations under the Electrical Code and for fuel safety that modernize and streamline regulatory matters, and pave the way for communications and natural gas installations in Nova Scotia markets; expanding the occupational health and safety inspection and enforcement capacity to reflect the growing Nova Scotia workforce; starting to implement the new government's agenda and incorporate it into the department's business plan.
Mr. Chairman, it is a busy agenda and I would be remiss if I did not single out the dedicated staff who work tirelessly to achieve our goals and fulfil our mission. As you know, I have another portfolio and make my permanent office at the Department of Housing and Municipal Affairs. As a result, I find myself going to the Department of Labour early in the morning and late in the day. Some mornings I arrive before 7:00 a.m., and I just want to tell the members I am not the first one there. Many of our employees start their day very early and they go well beyond normal quitting time. That is a common practice not the exception. I think it is important that their dedication and personal sacrifices are read into the record.
Mr. Chairman, as we begin a new fiscal year, the indications are that we will be even busier. Our economy is growing, and with each job created our responsibilities increase. In addition to dealing with a vibrant Nova Scotia economy, we face the challenge of forging a new and dynamic department as we bring together the Department of Labour, the Department of the Environment and a number of regulatory bodies. I look forward to these challenges, and I look forward to standing here next year to report the results to you and all members of the Assembly. Thank you for your attention.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I believe the questioning will now go to the Opposition caucuses, the Liberal Party.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West, you have one hour.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable minister for his opening remarks. They were very insightful and certainly reflective of many of the opportunities and initiatives and experiences that I saw yield some positive results at the end of the day in the short time that I was there, 16 months or so. Indeed, the minister, I must say, is very fortunate to have the high-quality level of expertise at his disposal; it certainly makes his job a little easier. But that doesn't prevent me from asking a few insightful questions that hopefully will help to improve on the process even more.
I am just going to pick them as I wrote them down, as the minister was speaking. I would be remiss if I didn't focus on the Fire Marshal's Office. As the minister well knows, over the last number of weeks I made reference to the Fire Marshal's Office and the issue of safety in the classrooms and the fact that the Fire Marshal's Office has that requirement by regulation that the maximum - I believe it is called - occupant load for a classroom is 20 square feet, or as written literally is 1.85 square metres per person in the classroom. In a number of circumstances I have raised concern that there are classrooms in excess of that. I do realize that the Fire Marshal's Office contacted the Halifax Regional Fire Service to do an on-site inspection on that, and the initial results I am receiving back from that is that the Regional Fire Service in the Halifax Regional Municipality wasn't aware of this.
Perhaps the minister could update me on that particular issue, and perhaps guide me if in fact there are some exemptions to that particular rule or other avenues to deal with a particular problem of this nature. In fairness to the minister, if he doesn't have it right at his disposal, I could pass a copy of the regulation on to him. It is a regulation I received from the Fire Marhsal's Office directly.
MR. MACISAAC: The reference to the 20 square feet per student in the room is correct. What this does, of course, is it allows the designer to provide for adequate facilities such as washrooms and exits. The fire code, of course, is used as a measure for the overcrowding. When he asks that question, I am reminded of where I spent 18 years, in a room at the regional high school in Antigonish. I can tell you that I was in a room which was designed as a work area for teachers, which was much smaller than the normal classroom. When I had as many as 34 students in that room, there wasn't a great deal of room to move around, but I can certainly say that in that time-frame and in that experience, every year the fire department visited the school and did an inspection, and we had our fire drills and everything.
I know that with respect to the Fire Marshal's Office, they do respond to these situations when they are asked and will continue to do so. I don't know if there are specifics that the member wants me to get into with respect to this or not?
MR. MACKINNON: I am cognizant, like the minister, that in the past I am sure there were lots of instances over the last 25 or 30 years where the fire code wasn't adhered to. In fact, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if during that period of time that those regulations weren't in effect, period, but some general consideration given to the issue of fire safety, with the number of exits and windows that you could exit through, and fire alarm systems. I know when consolidation first came in in the Cape Breton region, every corner you turned there was always a fire extinguisher on the wall. I am sure the thought processes may have been slightly different than they are today.
In a sense of fairness and in recognition that these are the regulations now, at least from this day forward, is it fair to assume that these regulations will be adhered to, and in cases where classroom structures exist in excess of that capacity because of design parameters and terms of reference that cautionary measures will be taken to deal with that inequity?
MR. MACISAAC: I want to just go back. I am sure the Office of the Fire Marshal, as it did when I was wearing another hat - which was that of a classroom teacher - will in fact ensure that steps are taken to ensure that regulations are looked after, that the proper inspections are taking place, and when concerns are raised, his office will be responding to those concerns. Whether it is the Fire Marshal himself or a municipal fire inspection service, that activity will be tended to, and every effort will be made to ensure that the regulations are followed.
MR. MACKINNON: I recall when I was sitting as Minister of Labour, one of the first initiatives that I undertook to ensure that the issue of fire safety was undertaken was to request the Fire Marshal, in his capacity, to consult with all the various school districts across the province and find out if in fact they were living up to their legal obligations to ensure at least one fire drill per month, I believe was the requirement and still is, and it is surprising how many schools, within various school districts, were not adhering to that requirement; it wasn't until I took the initiative to do that.
We all have busy schedules and it is human nature, there are only so many things you can do in the run of day, but this is an issue, obviously, that has developed, perhaps because of the issue of the cutbacks in Education, perhaps in combination with the fact that the Minister of Education indicated classroom sizes of upwards of 40 or 50, which I don't believe she really meant in the sense of jamming students into a class irrespective of the ability to hold it or not, but rather large size classrooms do create a health problem if they exceed the regulations. That is my concern.
Will the minister give some assurance to the committee that the Fire Marshal will undertake to ensure that the regulations, where applicable, will be complied with, to the best of his ability? It is not a police state where you can start shopping around at every school in every jurisdiction to monitor that, but certainly there are processes; a friendly notice going out to the school CEOs or whatever the process is and just reminding them of what the
regulations are. What happened last year, what we did, was send a notice out at the commencement of the school year advising the school authorities of what their obligations were to ensure that students were given the proper training for a quick exit in case of a fire.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the short answer is yes, I can assure the honourable member that the Office of the Fire Marshal will continue to do their job as they have. I am sure that the request that he made in the past was accepted. I can also say that in my experience in quite a few years in the classroom, I can pretty much assure the honourable member that any experience I ever had, there have been the required number of fire drills and activity relative to fire prevention throughout my career. The fire drills, for instance, weren't always necessarily held on an even basis throughout the year, there tended to be larger numbers of fire drills on hot afternoons in September and May as opposed to other times, but the 12 were usually gotten in in the run of a year, and certainly there was a big effort made in September of every year to ensure that fire drills were held early and often enough that all students were familiar with the location of the exits.
Certainly with respect to the issue of safety within rooms, a factor that is perhaps as important as the size of the room, is the issue of exits from rooms and the location of the exits and the capacity of people to use those exits. That is a factor, of course, that is taken into account by the Office of the Fire Marshal and by the various fire departments throughout the province as they encourage people to be aware of fire safety, especially during Fire Prevention Week, which provides a great focus on this issue and enables schools to bring to focus the need for safety and the need for awareness and the need for efficient evacuation of buildings. That, of course, is the key, that evacuation occur as automatically as possible, with as little disruption. For instance, there is always a great emphasis placed on silence with respect to evacuation, so that people could be communicated with very easily and effectively if need be.
I can say to the honourable member that, indeed, the Office of the Fire Marshal will continue to be very vigilant with respect to the issue of safety in our schools.
MR. MACKINNON: Perhaps if the minister would be kind enough to take it as notice to give us some type of written confirmation that the Fire Marshal, at some point in the near future, has addressed both these issues with the various school districts across the province, that would be fine.
MR. MACISAAC: I can certainly undertake to do that. I can say that it is my understanding that it is a matter of course to have good solid communication between education officials and the Office of the Fire Marshal.
MR. MACKINNON: Before I forget, I believe I did address this with the minister, in terms of the fee increases based on cost recoveries. I believe just shortly after the budget was tabled, I misread that particular section, I thought it was with regard to WCAT and it
was actually the Workers' Advisers Program, and I think the minister took note of that. We will come back to that a little later.
With regard to the safety regulations as it pertains to electrical switching, Section 125(3) of the Act, in layman's terms we are essentially dealing with the instruction of Nova Scotia Power to its employees to send linemen out alone to do certain types of inspections, whether it be an emergency call or just a general inspection or some type of a service call. The regulations are written such now that the particular employee linemen - I believe there are approximately 200 or 208 in the province all told - are required to go out and do this type of work alone. In other words, they are caught in a situation where they have to climb up a pole, get themselves secured, and if they are dealing with some type of a dangerous situation, connecting a switch that has kicked off or whatever, if they are alone and something goes wrong, they are in a very precarious state, a life-threatening situation.
There was a time when this particular issue was addressed, by the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council, which made a recommendation to have these regulations changed so as to address this inequity for linemen. Would the minister be kind enough to apprise the committee as what the status is of that particular recommendation? When could the linemen expect some type of protection on this particular issue? They really feel strongly about the fact that they shouldn't be going out in dangerous situations alone.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I noted with interest your description as to how the linemen would approach the job. It is my understanding that if proper procedures were being followed, before there was ever an ascent of the pole by the lineman that very careful consideration would have been taken. There are very clear procedures for them to follow before they ever begin to address the pole itself. If as a result of that activity and of the planning that is to go into the work that is being done, the person who was going to do the work felt that there was any concern with respect to doing the work, they, in fact, should at that point call for assistance, before they ever begin doing the work. Those are the procedures that are set down. If that is being followed, then it becomes a question as to whether there needs to be any significant change with respect to how this work is done.
The procedures are clearly in place now that are to be followed. Those procedures require the people involved in the work to go ahead and make an assessment, and if they believe that assistance is required, they are supposed to seek that assistance before they ever begin doing the work.
MR. MACKINNON: I guess the difficulty with that is when you are out there alone, you are on the ground and you are trying to assess the situation 25 or 30 or x number of feet above you, you say, okay, everything is fine and safe, and then you move along. The next thing you know you are in grave difficulty, and it is too late then. The employer can come afterwards and argue, you didn't properly assess it. My understanding is that the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council, both the employer and the employee representatives on
that council unanimously agreed to the idea of having a second person when switching on any voltage over 750. I am just curious as to why the department, the minister and the government decided against accepting the recommendation of the advisory council.
MR. MACISAAC: The current situation with respect to the Occupational Health and Safety Committee, with respect to the company is that the most recent regulations would require the committee to develop a code of practice with respect to these situations. That, I believe, is currently being worked on, and that code of practice is being developed. If the solution can be found in that manner, then that is felt to be the preferred option with respect to this.
One of the things I want to make very clear is that if workers at any time feel that they are not in a position to respond to concerns that they have, the department will react very quickly to any concerns of that nature that are expressed by workers, but if we can develop a code of practice that is understood by everyone, we feel that perhaps there is a solution that could be or obtained in that way.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the problem with that response, that policy position, is that a code of conduct, a code of practice, is not enforceable in a court of law. That is point number one. Point number two is if people have difficulty with what that the minister is advising them to do to bring it to his department. The advisory council brought that concern to the department in a unanimous voice and that unanimous voice is not being listened to. So I guess I would have to ask, what is the next step that they would have to go to in order to bring that concern to a realization that it is a major concern? If you have your entire advisory council, both labour and management, asking for this - I could see if it was not unanimous and there was a dissenting voice for one particular reason, whether it be from a labour or management perspective, you know, that would signal some concern to ensure that all the stakeholders are in unison, but here we have the entire council, the entire Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council, advising to proceed with this and the government is refusing to do it. So what would the rationale be for not proceeding if everybody is in concert, in support of it?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, there are situations where perhaps other views are taken into consideration and if I could just go back to the comment about the enforceability of activities, the code of practice, once established and once it is developed and has been established and put in place, any violation of that code of practice is, in fact, enforceable under the terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that is partly correct, but the fact of the matter in terms of recourse and redress before a court of law, I don't believe, I stand to be corrected, I would almost have to have a legal opinion on this, but I don't believe that that is strong enough an issue to seek redress in any court of law.
MR. MACISAAC: I guess we will have to beg to differ on this because it is our understanding that it is enforceable and it does have the effect of law.
MR. MACKINNON: The minister has indicated that there is possibly another opinion to this other than the unanimous voice of the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council. Would the minister be kind enough to indicate who is objecting to this particular proposed regulation?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, when we dealt with this issue, we, in fact, sought information from other jurisdictions as to how the matter is dealt with elsewhere. We did receive representation from the company and we did look elsewhere and we found that the standard that is in place is the standard which is currently being worked towards and if that could form the basis of the solution, it was our view that perhaps that would be a suitable solution to this problem and if the code of practice that was put into effect is one which everybody bought into, then it would be a suitable solution.
MR. MACKINNON: Through you, Mr. Chairman, am I to understand from the minister's comments that the company, Nova Scotia Power Incorporated, objected to this proposed regulation, that was proposed and unanimously agreed to by the advisory council?
MR. MACISAAC: The basis of their presentation was that this matter had been dealt with in other jurisdictions in a different manner than was proposed by the regulation. It also pointed out that there is the capacity to be able to develop a code of practice that could be put in place. There is also the existence of their own codes or their own recommended practices with respect to doing jobs and those were all factors that were taken into consideration. If the solution can be found that would be outside of the recommended regulation, then that was perhaps a solution that could be pursued with respect to it. So that, in essence, is the approach that was made.
MR. MACKINNON: Rather than get into a protracted roundabout discussion, I guess the bottom line is, did Nova Scotia Power Incorporated agree with the recommendation that was put forth by the advisory council?
MR. MACISAAC: No, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MACKINNON: No, they opposed this particular regulation?
MR. MACISAAC: They were not in agreement with it.
MR. MACKINNON: I understand as well that there was considerable concern raised by the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council that the red tape commissioner that is now being utilized by the minister and his department are in many aspects, or I should not say many, in some aspects, on some issues, are bypassing the advisory council and they have raised this concern with the minister some time ago. In fact, I am given to understand that possibly the entire council may resign en masse if the advisory panel - which as all members know, they have a considerable wide spectrum of expertise from both labour and management across the province and, many of whom the minister himself has appointed - feel that the integrity of their committee is called into question.
MR. MACISAAC: I thank the honourable member for raising that issue because it is an issue with the advisory council has expressed some concern. I met, as a matter of fact, with the co-chairmen of that council this morning at their request and went over with them a lot of the concerns that they had. There were a couple of things that I was able to point out to the advisory council; number one, that about 95 per cent of the regulations that they brought forward were, in fact, implemented and they went into effect yesterday; that has taken place.
There were five regulations which have a certain degree of controversy surrounding them and it was felt that it would be appropriate for those regulations to be brought forward to the public for further discussion. I can tell the honourable member, Mr. Chairman, through you that the reference to the red tape commission is a reference that is intended to provide a vehicle whereby people who have concerns with respect to the regulations can come forward and address those concerns.
The important thing about any regulation is compliance, that that regulation be complied with, and in order to ensure that that happens, people must be not just familiar with the regulation, but they need to buy into it. It needs to become part of the culture of how they do their work and we felt that it was appropriate for people to have an opportunity to express themselves with respect to this. We had a very good discussion this morning with respect to the matter of education and - this is where there was perhaps some misunderstanding - part of the difficulty is that there are people who are very busy with their day-to-day activity and their day-to-day work who don't always have the time to spend familiarizing themselves with regulations of any kind, not just Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, but they become very busy and they sometimes wind up in a situation where they feel that all of this is happening all of a sudden.
It is not true that it is happening all of a sudden. It has been ongoing for quite some period of time, but they just wind up waking up to it because they have been preoccupied earning a living, preoccupied with working, preoccupied with getting the bills paid and trying to make sure there is enough operating cash to keep going to the next stage of their business. Then all of a sudden the reality of the regulation hits them in the face and they react negatively instead of reacting in a way that would enable compliance to be the first reaction. So there are people whose attention we need to get. We need to provide them with an opportunity to
express their views or have someone express views on their behalf and that is the object of the red tape commission. It is to provide an opportunity to do that. It is a commission that is going to look at all government regulation, not just occupational health and safety. It is going to travel throughout the province. So there will be an opportunity for people to address the concerns that they have with respect to the regulations that were delayed.
I want to point out, Mr. Chairman, that the operative word with respect to the regulation is the delay in terms of their consideration. So, yes, we have had discussions with the advisory council and they felt that some references that were made to small businesses not having representation at the table could have been interpreted as a criticism of their activities. There was no such intention. There was simply an acceptance of the reality that there are people who have yet to buy into the process. Compliance is the most important aspect of this and we want to ensure that they are able to buy in.
Another concern I could point out to the committee, Mr. Chairman, that was expressed is the composition of the advisory council. They feel that proper representation has not been achieved as a result of previous appointments that have been made to the advisory council. I had to point out to them that the appointments with which I have had some influence have been very minimal, but I did point out to them that I stuck by the integrity of the advisory council because I ensured that a member of the advisory council who has made great contributions to that council in the past was, in fact, nominated and despite a setback did, in fact, get reappointed to the advisory council. That is a pretty strong indication on my part that I am prepared to protect the integrity of the advisory council.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I would be remiss if I did not comment on that one because at no point in time did I ever question the integrity of the actual performance of the individual member the minister refers to, but rather his . . .
MR. MACISAAC: I did not name him.
MR. MACKINNON: You did not have to. I think there was only one person in question, but it was the fact that the individual took it upon himself to go to the media and chastise the activities of the high quality of expertise that was provided within the department and, in fact, question the integrity of the ministry itself in a desperate attempt to politicize it without consultation of his colleagues or the co-chairman at that particular point in time. So it was not a question of his professional credentials and what he could offer to the committee, but rather the way he compromised the integrity of the process for political purposes. Perhaps if it is because he is a very avid supporter of the socialist cause and used that position to advance it, but it did not do him much good in my books. Let's fast-forward because I do agree with the minister that there are a lot of positive accomplishments with this particular advisory panel.
I want to focus on the red tape commission that the minister refers to. Have there been people appointed to this and, if so, could the minister advise the committee here who, in fact, are the members of this red tape commission?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, at this stage I am not able to be helpful to the honourable member in that regard because it is not a responsibility of mine. It is my understanding that it is something that is forthcoming soon, but . . .
MR. MACKINNON: So we don't have a red tape commission?
MR. MACISAAC: It has not been put in place to the best of my knowledge. I understand that the decision is imminent.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, so we don't have a red tape commission in place. So I want to go back then to Nova Scotia Power. Nova Scotia Power would have had ample opportunity to voice its concern through the employer representation on the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Council. Did it, in fact, do that or did it choose to go directly to the minister's office, to the Department of Labour?
MR. MACISAAC: It is my understanding, Mr. Chairman, that both the IBEW and NSPI made representation to the advisory council.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, given the fact that Nova Scotia Power made representation to the advisory council, obviously it would be similar to the representation made to the department - if it did - and that would have been against the regulation. The advisory council advised it unanimously to proceed. Why wouldn't the government, the minister, the Department of Labour take the advice of the council, which was unanimous? Obviously, the council gave serious consideration to Nova Scotia Power's representation. What was it in Nova Scotia Power's representation that would compel the government to ignore that process, if that is the process they used themselves?
MR. MACISAAC: It took into consideration the practices in other jurisdictions with respect to this issue. It took into consideration the fact that there are situations where it is appropriate for two people to be doing the work, other situations where it is appropriate for one person to do the work. It felt that it would be appropriate to enable a code of practice to be put into place through the Occupational Health and Safety Committee of the company involved which would enable them to distinguish between the two situations; that is, the one where it is appropriate for a single person to do the work involved and other situations where it is appropriate for two to do the work involved. That would provide a more appropriate solution to the situation.
MR. MACKINNON: I guess I am a little perplexed. On March 28th of this year, a letter was sent from the minister's office to the advisory council. I am going to fast-forward down to the fourth paragraph: "In the intervening period . . ." that is with regard to the regulations that we were referring to, " . . . the five areas will be forwarded to the red tape commissioner for review and consideration. The commissioner will receive comments from all stakeholders and the advisory council will be identified to the commissioner as a major stakeholder in these regulations."
Obviously, there were other concerns, like confined spaces and so on. How can such a representation be made to the council about sending this concern on to the red tape commissioner if we don't have one?
MR. MACISAAC: When the red tape commission is in place, I already have the letter composed that I would send to it and as soon as it is in place, I will make the reference.
MR. MACKINNON: Is there an anticipated timetable as to when this red tape commissioner will be in place?
MR. MACISAAC: I would like to be able to provide a precise answer, but the best I can do is say, as I indicated previously, I believe that the announcement with respect to that is imminent.
MR. MACKINNON: So there is no red tape commissioner presently?
MR. MACISAAC: To the best of my knowledge, there is none in existence today. There will be in the very near future.
MR. MACKINNON: Was there ever one?
MR. MACISAAC: Not at the time that that document was written, no. That document was written with the understanding that there would in fact be a red tape commission in place in time to be able to do what is suggested within the document.
MR. MACKINNON: Although the letter doesn't state that. It says it will be forwarded to the red tape commissioner for review and consideration, so my understanding would be that it would be . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I could ask the honourable member, is that letter going to be filed for reference?
MR. MACKINNON: Well, yes. The minister has it and he has referred to it as well, but I will table what I have, that is not a problem. I am going to need it first for some additional information on that.
With regard to electrical permits, my understanding, and here is where part of my concern comes from, the minister made reference to electrical permits, Nova Scotia Power, not in all cases is . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I want it photocopied.
MR. MACKINNON: I am making reference to it. The minister knows what reference. I will just have to hold for a minute. I will switch to another topic.
The issue that Nova Scotia Power is having electrical inspections done by non-licensed inspectors. That is where part of my concern comes from. Is the minister aware that Nova Scotia Power has inspections done for meter hook-ups by inspectors who are not licensed?
MR. MACISAAC: I have to take that as notice and come back to that.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, I will just leave that on notice then we will fast-forward and maybe come back to it at a future time.
Perhaps we can switch over to an issue with regard to the labour rates, construction. I believe at the time when I was minister there was concern about standardizing the industrial rates for different sectors. At that particular point in time we were waiting for the federal government to make a decision on what rates would be established. Has that process been completed? If so, how is the government going to respond in terms of establishing rates in the future?
MR. MACISAAC: It is not our intention to establish rates as are established by the federal government. As the honourable member knows, the federal government has three different rates in existence within the province and it is not our intention to go there.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you. With regard to fees, the minister indicated there would be an increase in the propane and gas fees. Could you give us a better indication of what the rate is now and what the future rate is going to be and what it reflects?
MR. MACISAAC: I can give you a sampling and then if there are some in particular that you are interested in, we could go there. We look at the propane fuel, which was approved by Cabinet on October 27th of last year. For instance, bulk storage changed from a flat rate to a minimum fee plus the charge for storage capacity so the flat rate ranged anywhere from $75 to $200, that was the previous fee. Currently there is a $100 fee plus $0.04 U.S. W.G. - that is U.S. water gallon - on top of that. Installation and repair of propane systems, the previous fee was $35 to $75, that has gone to a new fee of $100.
If we could move down, installation or alteration of a propane dispenser, the previous fee was $15, that has gone to $50. Something like special inspections, of $20 an hour for a maximum of $100, that has gone to $60 an hour for that particular one.
MR. MACKINNON: I could take it on notice and whatever you could provide on the rates.
MR. MACISAAC: We could make available . . .
MR. MACKINNON: That is fine. I appreciate the minister being diligent in trying to help me on that, but I guess I just wanted to kind of get a sense of what was the total revenue we were able to generate last year and what do you anticipate for this year over and above, just even round figures or approximate would be fine?
MR. MACISAAC: Sure, I would be happy to provide that especially since it is right in front of me.
MR. MACKINNON: That sometimes helps.
MR. MACISAAC: Licensing, stationary power engineers, we anticipate generating a revenue of $200,000, in that area; the propane fuel, $66,000; electrical permits, $100,000; the Workers' Advisers Program, $1.8 million.
MR. MACKINNON: That is total of what we are going to generate for this year?
MR. MACISAAC: No, I am sorry. The figures I was giving you would relate to the increase.
MR. MACKINNON: That is just the increase?
MR. MACISAAC: Yes, and as I indicated, I would be quite happy to provide you with a summary.
MR. MACKINNON: That is great, thank you. Just on that issue with propane inspections and so on, I hate like heck to have to bring one particular company to mind, I don't want to get into particulars, but I will generalize and kind of give the minister the heads up. There is one particular company that does recycling of these propane gas cylinders. It is located in Sydport Industrial Park and perhaps if the minister would take note of that, there are a number of concerns that have been raised about this particular company in the past, particularly with regard to having workers work in unsafe working conditions.
This company has been investigated several times and it is a rather unique situation. Perhaps you may want to speak with your local staff on it. I did not want to raise it, but it is something that is not going away because I know of one former employee who claims that he now has cancer because of the working conditions there. Just to give you an example, if you are not familiar with what the generics of the terminology, like when they purge the tanks a lot of the gas they have to let off and it is not done in a very safe context. So I will just leave that with the minister. It will not take very much for the minister to find out the dynamics of what I am referring to.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can appreciate the member's reluctance to perhaps get into the name of the company, but we could perhaps expedite our response if he wanted to give it to us privately.
MR. MACKINNON: Sure, that will be great because it is something that has been ongoing for almost two years now and it is just not going away. Also I wanted to, because I know my time is getting shorter, just specifically with regard to the Devco miners who have received radiation exposure, I understand that at least one of those coal miners received word from the Workers' Compensation Board today that they will not (Interruption) Pardon?
MR. MACISAAC: Received it today?
MR. MACKINNON: Today. I received a call . . .
MR. MACISAAC: You are more up-to-date than I am.
MR. MACKINNON: . . . that they would not receive compensation for this radiation exposure because of the lack of determination on cause and effect. I raise this not because I want to get into any one of the particular cases, but the fact that the initial expert who did the evaluation on it - and I tabled a letter with the minister during Question Period one day - was more or less the actual proactive participant within the process whereas my understanding is that the Workers' Compensation Board wanted to get a second opinion which was based on certain terms of reference that would be in generalities that, okay, well, if you received exposure at such and such a level, this is what you could expect to have or if you received exposure at a different level, this is what you could expect to have. It kind of muddied the waters so to speak.
That is my interpretation of it at this point, I could be wrong, and we have a very delicate situation where we have upwards of 40 coal miners - you know, it would be mathematically impossible to see such a cluster of individuals all working in the same environment receive radiation exposure and not have that type of cause and effect relationship and then try to make the argument that it is from some other source or environment. I realize the minister cannot interfere with certain activities and processes and the terms of reference of which the Workers' Advisers Program and the Workers' Compensation Board and the
appeals process, but it is something that has a major negative impact on a large body of workers and if the minister could make note of that. I realize my time is getting really short so perhaps if . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Two minutes.
MR. MACISAAC: I have taken note of that.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, that is fine because I like the avenue of least resistance on these rather sensitive and complex ones and if there is a way to help resolve it without leading to a lot of unnecessary cost and agony for the various stakeholders, I am certainly supportive of it.
Another issue I have is with regard to public safety. Obviously, one of my pet peeves is with regard to elevators and I know the argument could certainly be made that, you know, one's elevator may or may not go to the top, but there are approximately . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Mechanically speaking?
MR. MACKINNON: Mechanically. There are approximately 2,300 elevators in the province and they are supposed to be inspected on an annual basis. I notice in quite a few locations around the capital city here and even in industrial Cape Breton, a lot of the elevators still don't have their permits up to date. In fact, I think as of Sunday when I was uptown, in the same building that the minister resides in, the elevator still isn't. The last time it was inspected was December, 1998. Are we up to date on the inspection service there and how safe are we?
MR. MACISAAC: How much time do I have to respond? (Interruption) One minute, so I will try to get it all in. It is correct to say that we were behind somewhat on the inspection. We are short of inspectors. We hired a new inspector yesterday. We anticipate being able to have more in place in the very near future. It is recognized as a priority item with respect to the department and the department is working diligently in order to ensure that we are able to do that. The honourable member probably recognizes that the difficulty we have is in terms of being competitive with the private sector in terms of payment.
MR. MACKINNON: Exactly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for debate has expired.
We now stand adjourned.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 6:38 p.m.]