MR. JAMES MUIR (Chairman): Welcome everybody and the observers as well. Thank you for your interest. The agenda is rather specific today. We would welcome back Ron L'Esperance who is the Deputy Minister of the Department of Community Services. He was here on July 10th along with Barb Burley who is there in the centre. Welcome again, Barb. Where Cathy Shaw is now sitting, it was Peter Barteaux at that time, but Peter is not there. (Laughter)
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order. Before we begin the meeting today, I have a point of order that I would like to present to you or to your successor, the Chairman, for ruling. It relates to the Rules and Forms of the House of Assembly at Page 57, the Constitution of the Community Services Committee. It states, Rule 13(d), "the Community Services Committee is established for the purpose of considering matters normally assigned to or within the purview of the Departments and Ministers of Business and Consumer Services and of Municipal Affairs and matters relating to the Human Rights Commission and the Nova Scotia Sport and Recreation Commission;".
My point of order, sir, is that the Department of Community Services does not come within those terms of reference and I would appreciate it if you could rule, or if on reference to legal counsel, it could be explained how it is that this committee, which by the Rules of the House is not empowered to examine matters relating to the Department of Community Services, is, in fact, able to examine witnesses such as those appearing before us here this afternoon. I submit that it is contrary to the Rules of the House. I would like to table my evidence in this regard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. MacEwan. I will take that matter under advisement and refer it to the Speaker of the House for his interpretation.
MR. MACEWAN: Very well. A very good ruling.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The meeting is in two parts this afternoon. The first section, for about an hour, is to continue our conversation with the representatives of the Department of Community Services and the second part, we will hear specific matters by the McNeils. The last time the Department of Community Services was with us on July 10th, they presented an outline of how the department is now functioning and some of the matters which are under consideration but today the format will be we will have the opportunity to pose questions to these people. We have roughly about 55 minutes. What I would prefer is that people sort of ask questions individually and when everybody has had a chance, I have a couple of questions I would like to ask and if they aren't asked by that time, then I will put them forward. Mr. Pye.
MR. JERRY PYE: Just one question, Mr. Chairman, before we start. As earlier indicated by MLA MacEwan, are we going to get a ruling prior to hearing the witnesses this afternoon?
MR. CHAIRMAN: That will not be possible.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just one matter before we go ahead, I think probably in the interest of our visitors, particularly, I would ask the people on the committee to introduce themselves. We will start with Lawrence Montgomery.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are being joined by Yvonne Atwell. Okay, the floor is open. Is there any statement that you want to make, Ron, Barb or Cathy, before we get into the questions?
MR. RON L'ESPERANCE: Mr. Chairman, we certainly appreciate the opportunity to come back. We covered a lot of material, I appreciate that, during our last presentation. I was struck as I was reading through the Hansard record last night, and it is always rather frightening to read your own comments, particularly largely 37 pages of them but that notwithstanding, I think Mr. Pye summed it up quite nicely on Page 34 when you will recall we had a number of discussions at the meeting last time and some of them related to particular issues that were of concern to MLAs in their individual constituencies. Mr. Pye rightly pointed out that in many cases when we meet off-line with MLAs on those particular issues, that is fine, but there are also a number of rather wider systems issues that I think MLAs want to rightfully know about the social assistance restructuring initiative and so I think this is an opportunity today to do that. We welcome the opportunity.
I want to introduce my colleagues. Cathy Shaw is our Communications Director and Cathy is specifically here today because of her involvement with the consultation process and that sort of thing. Barb Burley is the Acting Administrator for the Income and Employment Support Division in which most of these programs reside. Mr. Barteaux is on vacation today, otherwise, he would be here with us. We will endeavour to answer all the questions of the members to the best of our ability. If there are specific issues that we cannot answer, we will undertake to get back either to the committee or individual members on those questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ron. Who wants to begin? Laurie.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: I am just wondering, it seems to me that one of the major things we should be looking at in this committee is prevention. I am just wondering, what kinds of things are in place or what the department has in mind relative to preventing people from getting into circumstances where they need social assistance? I think this goes back to my first day attending this committee when I was concerned about the opportunities for single mothers, as an example, having the opportunity to go back and be re-educated and that type of thing. So I am just wondering if you would care to comment on that sort of approach.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Let me answer the question this way, Mr. Montgomery. We think of prevention in a couple of different ways. On the child welfare side and in terms of our interventions with families and children, one of the things that we are really trying to increase our support of is early intervention services to prevent families and children from moving into crisis. On the social assistance side, prevention takes on a bit of a different kind of perspective. Arguably, the best prevention is a vibrant economy and good jobs and people who can fit into those jobs. Our work on the social policy side works very closely and tracks very closely with the economic development front.
One of the things that we are attempting to do both through our interim arrangements of managing the system, and certainly an area that we want to get advice and input from others on in respect to new legislation and so forth is, once people get on social assistance, how to best support them to move forward to get off the system, to achieve their career objectives, to be able to become self-sufficient to the greatest extent possible. That is not always possible for everybody. There are people who require long-term assistance. There are people who clearly need greater support than others. We look at prevention from a variety of perspectives.
On the social assistance side, one of the key things is that you have to have your staff resources appropriately deployed. You have to have your intake system appropriately structured so that you early identify people who have potential to move into employment so that you provide the right support services at the right time and that those services are coordinated with the variety of community agencies and partners that we have. We kind of
all work together to prevent people from being in long-term dependency, from requiring social assistance for a long period of time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. White.
MR. RAYMOND WHITE: Mr. Chairman, prior to the establishment of a single-tier service, clients were used to dealing directly with their councils and their Community Services Committee for Special Needs. How is the transition happening, how is it taking place now with the new system in place to deal with special needs?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Well, Ray, I'm glad you asked that question actually because at the last meeting, one of the enhancements that we had noted is that with the new system and under provincial guidance and stewardship, there is a uniform special needs policy. We have a long-standing historical partnership with the municipalities and, by and large, they have done a good job with the management of the municipal social service system over the years.
One of the problems, one of the glitches, one of the difficulties for our clients has been lack of access to a standardized approach on special needs. Special needs tend to be considered, in our business, as a supplementary benefit and by that I mean they go beyond the basic needs of individuals. As a supplementary benefit, the municipalities, depending on the situation of their budget at the time, would often try to balance their expenditures - and legitimately, the municipalities, as well as the provincial government, always have fiscal challenges before them - on these special needs accounts from time to time, again, depending on the degree of pressure and, again, depending entirely on the municipality. So, now with the new system, we have a standardized policy for special needs. That policy has been well publicized. The dimensions are well-known and people have, I think it is fair to say, better access, better services in a more consistent application of the policy now than was certainly the case under municipal stewardship.
Having said that, and I think the Hansard record will bear that out, that I had raised the issue at the last meeting that there are some risk factors associated with this for the department. Clearly, the municipalities, the municipal councils, had a bit of a more hands-on approach in terms of their treatment in dealing with clients, and that was both good and bad on some occasions. We are watching special needs expenditures, obviously, where we have to be mindful of our budget and that is an area where there is the potential for costs to go up, to fluctuate, to create pressure on the budget. So, we are watching that but, generally speaking, it is a much improved system, it is a better system, people have better access to special needs, the policy is consistent, and consistently applied.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Balser.
MR. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Chairman, my question is specifically around programs that have been put in place to address the working poor. By working poor, I mean people who have full-time employment, but at a rate of remuneration that does not provide an adequate level of income to attain a certain standard of living. What programs do you have in place that address that growing section of society?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Mr. Balser, I noted your interest in that during the proceedings of the House. I believe that you had raised a question of our minister at the time. This is one of the areas where I would say that there is a vigorous national debate on this issue of how best to support the working poor, how best to support people who are in low income earning situations.
I think it is important, in answering this question to look at the context of the current labour market. I mean if you look at the areas where employment growth is occurring, it is often in areas where there are low wages. It is often in areas where there is not a lot of benefits involved. It is often in areas, it is not uncommon to have people making their entry into the labour market in an involuntary part-time situation so that in point of fact they do not have a choice around how they enter the labour market.
So you have got a situation where you have to look very carefully at how you support the people who are working, who are in the low wage market. The federal government and the provinces have been engaged in a debate over the last number of years culminating this year in the introduction of the National Child Benefit Program. One of the objectives of the National Child Benefit Program is to support people who are working in a slightly different way. When you compare the net return of individuals who are on social assistance versus individuals who are working poor, oftentimes there are specific advantages that accrue to people on social assistance vis-a-vis their counterparts on the working poor side and it may be measures including things like the access to Pharmacare, access to items of special need and so forth.
So in some ways, and I think this is a part of the National Child Benefit Program that is not well understood, that is largely misinterpreted, that has been ascribed as being a kind of an assault on social assistance clients in some ways but in many respects some parts of that are an attempt to better support people in low wage situations to begin to try to level the playing field to some extent for people and to move forward. Obviously, there are other areas, there is no one fix, Mr. Balser, on this particular issue.
On the other hand, I think it is instructive for us to look at those issues from the point of view of how we help people make the transition from social assistance to the world of work. There is no question, people fully understand that they are not going to leave the comfort and security of social assistance to enter a volatile labour market if, in fact, they are going to be less well off. Clearly there are things that we could be doing, and we hope to get
some good feedback through the consultation process on this particular issue, and that is how do we better support people in making the transition from assistance to the world of work.
Some of the ways in which we can do that is through the provision of transition benefits, by extending Pharmacare for a period of time when people are moving into the labour market, and there are a number of other proposals that we would certainly like to consider vis-a-vis moving to a new system, providing transition benefits. So to sum up the answer, I guess I would say a couple of things. On the big picture policy front I think there is some fair degree of attention being paid to this issue nationally and I think it is instructive for us from the point of view of how we redesign the system subsequent to, or to get new legislation, how do we redesign our system so that we can better support people for making the transition to work.
Most of our clients want to work. Most of them do not want to be on social assistance. Many of them find themselves ghettoized in jobs that are not very rewarding. Many of them are looking for ways to make that transition and at the present time there are, I think we would all acknowledge, some barriers in our current system around that. We have tried to harmonize some of those things in the first stages that we talked about at the last meeting, the administrative disentanglement of the municipal system and bringing in under provincial stewardship. We have not done it all. We have costed. We have looked at the issue of providing extended Pharmacare benefits to people because if you have got a sick child, an asthmatic child, and you have to make the choice between providing drug coverage and going to a job where you are getting minimum wage and you have no drug coverage, I think it is pretty clear how the person is going to make that choice.
So I think it is an area where there is some good social policy work. It is a process where we could be doing good social policy and it would have an economic benefit as well because if we can support people in employment with a reduced social assistance expenditure, then everybody wins. The person has a leg up in the labour market. We all know that it is far easier to get a job if you are employed than to come in from the outside and they would have a leg up in the labour market and at the same time the cost to government would be reduced on a cost-per-case basis.
So there is a compelling argument to really enjoin that issue of how to best deal with the working poor and bring it into the focus during the consultation process around what kind of policy constructs do we need to appropriately address the whole transition benefits issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Dexter.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: One question at a time?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, whatever, if you wish to follow up. There did not seem to be a great rush of questions when we began.
MR. DEXTER: I have a couple of questions but I wanted to start by following up on the question asked by Mr. Balser. It is a matter of considerable concern because it would appear to me, and I would just like to hear what you have to say about this, as we continue to keep minimum wage rates down and as we allow the transition of many large employers from full-time work to part-time work, essentially this department ends up subsidizing the employers to maintain the workforce. Is that not, in fact, what we are doing?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: You are getting into a realm of economics here - we have a very focused mission. We have a mission to deliver social benefits to people throughout the province. I understand your line of questioning. I understand where you are going with it but in point of fact I think when you look comparatively at the minimum wage Statutes in Canada, given the fiscal capacities of the regions from whence they come, they are all relatively in the same ballpark.
We acknowledge very clearly and vigorously the issue that the labour market has profound implications on the possibilities that exist, the prospects that exist for our clients. There is no question about that. I would not argue that. I do not want to comment on the amount of the minimum wage Statute, those are complicated calculations. When you begin to look through a system, at what are the individual impacts of the movement of a minimum wage Statute, that has implications not only for social expenditures. It has implications on the investment side. It has implications on the trade side. It has implications ultimately for the government's revenue generating abilities because if there is not an investment climate that is appropriate, that is viewed to be appropriate and competitive across the country, you know. So it is a very complex question. I am not avoiding answering it but I cannot comment on . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can we move on then to your second question?
MR. DEXTER: Well, it is just that at some point in time economics becomes social policy.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Absolutely.
MR. DEXTER: And you cannot just kind of run away from the fact that these things have such profound implications, especially the move to part-time work, because we are maintaining a part-time workforce out there which they do not make a sufficient enough income to support their families. If they are not making that and we are allowing that to happen by allowing benefits to be eroded, by allowing employers to maintain a part-time work force, which benefits them but ultimately hurts our community, then at some point in time we have to deal with that in a way that is realistic and I guess that was my question. It does not seem like that is what we are doing, in fact, quite the opposite. It seems like we are deciding at this point not to attack those issues, and you are saying it is not my department.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: At the risk of being somewhat, and with great respect, I mean we have got a lot of issues and a lot of difficult challenges on our plate. We work very closely corporately with the other departments of government on labour market matters. The minister is signatory to the Labour Market Agreement for the province. We are working on the economic policy agenda with the appropriate departments and it is not that we are not interested in this issue, Mr. Dexter. It is an issue where we, of necessity, have to focus on the issues at the front of our radar screen, and this is one that is out there swirling.
I don't discount your comments, clearly, and I have already acknowledged in my earlier comments that the labour market has a profound impact. In fact, in response to Mr. Balser's point, the fact that we have an increasing number of people who are having difficulty making ends meet, we have an increasing number of people in the social mix who require two incomes in order to have a reasonable standard of living for themselves and their families, they are all issues that are extremely important and necessarily get entwined in the debate around where we are going. Again, I don't mean to discount your question, because I respect where it is coming from. I understand your point.
MR. DEXTER: I will move on to my second question which is much more focused. It comes out of my background as a litigation lawyer over the years. Periodically I would represent people who were social assistance recipients who had been badly injured in motor vehicle accidents. They would receive awards for pain and suffering, which is essentially for either disfigurement or a disability which they suffered as a result of that horrendous accident. I have always wondered about this, in the sense of how right they were, and periodically we would try to follow up on it, but when they would receive that award, that would be then used to move them off of social assistance. Is that right?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Again, it is a little difficult to generalize here. There are certainly situations where, for example, if an individual applies for Canada Pension Plan Benefits Disability, they apply at the time they sign a release that says that any retroactive payments will be assigned to the province to the extent of the province's provision of assistance from that date forward, kind of thing. Similarly in cases where there is litigation pending, the kind of situation that you talk about where there is a car accident and somebody is grievously injured and they are attempting to get recovery for that. There is usually a similar kind of arrangement in place, an assignment of benefits arrangement to offset the costs. Many of those awards have in fact living costs built into them but you would know better than I.
MR. DEXTER: I am being very clear on that, we are not talking about anything that includes an income recovery, because income recovery, everybody could understand. If you recovered income that you would have otherwise earned, then that ought to make up part of whatever calculation is being made for the purposes of social assistance benefits. What I am specifically concerned over, we are talking about people who receive a lump sum payment for pain and suffering because they have lost a limb or they have suffered some tragic
disfigurement, and all of those carry some other consequences with them. But that damage award then is used in the assessment of their monthly income to move them off of benefits.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: There are a number of situations that present themselves. The specific policy around that particular issue, Mr. Dexter, I am not precisely sure, to be perfectly frank with you, what the policy states. Generally the policy, if you look at the Family Benefits Program for example, there is a clear definition in the Statute on what consists of what is called unearned income. I would think that those types of awards, I don't have the policy in front of me, and I would have to check, but I believe that those types of awards in fact constitute and are defined in the Statute as unearned income.
I think the issue that you are raising is an interesting one, because as I look around the room and my colleague, Mary Rothman who is here today, and Mary and I have long had discussions around the issue of trust funds for people who are mentally challenged, those being set up and being there to provide for extraordinary situations for those individuals. There are various policy issues that spring off the points you are raising.
I guess my point would be here, one of the things that we, in our discussion paper - and, incidentally, we brought copies along if people have not had a chance to see them yet - we are dealing with nine or 10 key policy issues on which we want input. There are obviously a whole plethora of policy issues.
I would rate the policy issue that you are talking about as being one that is kind of not quite in the mainstream in terms that these are issues that usually deal with particular individual circumstances, having to do with people who have gone through litigation, having to do with certain segments of the population, persons with a mental challenge or a mental disability who may have trust funds. They are, nonetheless, worthy policy issues so I would hope that organizations like the NSACL and others in their response to the discussion paper would, in fact, be putting forward recommendations around these particular issues.
I understand your point on this but if you would like, we can certainly make the information available to the committee, precisely what the policy treatment of that issue is. We will make note of that and provide further information.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Atwell.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: Mr. Chairman, I am just looking at the mission statement: "The mission of the Department of Community Services is to ensure that the basic needs of Nova Scotians are met, to protect children and adults at risk, and to support people in moving toward self-sufficiency.".
Then I look at A Case for Change, the discussion paper. I will not read the whole article but it says here that this must be achieved. Short-term employment and health must be achieved within a broader social policy context which include a safety net of income support and services to promote health and well-being.
I am just wondering if your department has sat down and figured how they could achieve that with a single person living on $369 a month, somebody who is looking for employment, willing to work and within the amount of money that you need to look for work in terms of transportation, clothing, nutritious meals, that sort of thing. Has anybody worked out a budget, how somebody could support themselves on $369 a month, after you take out your rent of $225?
MR. MACEWAN: Where do you get $369? They get $353 where I am and they get $153 if they are living with their Mom or Dad.
MS. ATWELL: Well, this is probably the new rate. This is what I am reading in front of me. Is this the old rate? Okay, $369.
MR. MACEWAN: Higher rates in Halifax than in Cape Breton, I guess.
MS. ATWELL: So, there you go.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Thank you, Ms. Atwell. Certainly, the issue linking your primary question around the department's mission and the excerpt you read from the paper, you know, one of the areas where we are hoping people will comment is, certainly, on the issue of rates and adequacy of rates. Your question certainly gets to the heart of adequacy of rates.
As you know, we have interim arrangements in terms of rates. We have a harmonized rate in the short-term system. The province did not invent those rates. Those are rates that have been harmonized from the existing municipal system. Where we could, we have enhanced those rates. We have chosen to enhance the rates and we will be spending, we estimate, an additional $10 million this year on rate enhancements in the short-term system. Where we did enhance the rates, we either took the existing rates - and in the single area, this is what we did. We took the existing range of rates - that existed prior to amalgamation on the basis of the provincial average. Where we did enhance them was for families and families with children.
In addition, the rate that you raised, the $369, one also has to consider the fact that there is an additional top-up available to people under certain circumstances of up to $175 which, in fact, then brings up the rate to actually exceed what had existed before. I think the question you are raising is one that it is always a struggle, quite frankly, in terms of looking at the whole issue of rates and adequacy of rates.
One of the things that the federal government, with the provinces, is attempting to do is to come up with a better instrument for measuring the impacts, the inputs and the results of poverty. Some of the current measures and the comparators that are used across the country, if you look at the LICOs, the low income cut-offs and so forth, they are standardized to certain population mixes across the country and they do not always reflect, realistically, the cost of living in particular parts of the country and so forth.
So, I think you are putting your finger on a key issue around the issue of adequacy of rates and I fully expect that people will be commenting on that during their consultation process. I believe I am correct in saying that 55 per cent of the people in metro get the top-up. So, to use the rate $369 as all-encompassing for singles is not quite accurate. In fact, 55 per cent of the people in metro who are singles, who would ordinarily have gotten the total $369 rate, actually get the $175 on top of that.
MS. ATWELL: I think on here it says 35 per cent, but can you tell me what the top-up rate is?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: It is $175, Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: How is that calculated? Is it calculated on need? Who determines who gets it?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: The top-up relates to clients living in certain kinds of situations: if you are a person with a disability; if you are a person fleeing an abusive situation; if you are 55 years of age or older. So, the $175 is a measure of the extra costs associated with meeting the needs of people in that situation.
MS. ATWELL: I guess my other question is, the people who are eligible for the top-up are individuals who basically are not looking for employment, or have difficulty finding employment I should say, persons with disabilities, somebody fleeing an abusive situation, chronic illness, 55-plus?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: No. The purpose of the top-up is not to offset. It has no relationship whatsoever to employability. It is simply there to recognize situations that make people inherently more vulnerable. So, if you are fleeing an abusive situation, or if you are a person with a disability. We recognize that people with disabilities often have increased costs. If they are physically disabled, they may have to live in an area that carries a premium, they may have to live in a particular type of building that may carry a premium in terms of the rent, that sort of thing. It bears no relationship policy-wise to employability.
MS. ATWELL: I just have one more question. I see also in your key programs, you talk about Community Outreach Services, Family and Children's Services, a number of support services for adults. I look at the women's centres across the province that are really
struggling and if they do not get adequate funding, some of them will probably have to close their doors by the end of March next year.
I guess I want to know how do these services fit into the community support services for adults under social services? The women's centres are multiple centres. They do a lot of things: they do employment; they have their support centres; they do a lot of different things, especially those areas like Bridgewater and Lawrencetown. So, how does that fit into the all-over program in terms of adequate funding for those centres? Right now, they are totally underfunded.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: I have some good news to report on the women's centres issue and then what I will do is I will clarify where they fit in the organization and how they work. As you will know, the minister committed to increasing funding to the women's centres and we have done that in the current year. The first stage of that increase is to harmonize all of the centres throughout the province to the same level. In addition, we have engaged in a discussion with the women's centres and particularly the umbrella organization, Women's Centres Connect. I personally met with the women's centres' executive directors a couple of months ago and we have a further meeting set for some time in October. We will be providing some additional short-term funding ourselves, Economic Development and Tourism and Women's Centres Connect are working to develop a kind of strategic plan, and vision for this sector that will in fact help sort out the issues for these centres in the future.
I think it is important to point out here that a lot of these programs get developed under federal aegis, and we have a number of these programs throughout the province, the federal government provides initial core funding, services get up and running. There is no provincial contribution at the initial stages, and then there is a withdrawal of federal funding, and the province has to evaluate the merit of a particular centre or particular program. We have a lot of challenges in that particular area.
Our whole strategy with the women's centres, and we had, I think, some very frank discussion with the executive directors. We had also met with the five centres that provide men's treatment in the province, and had some very frank discussions with them as well, around the issue of how best can those services be focused in the community, what are some of the things that they are noticing that we need to be mindful of from the point of view of policy development. One of the things the women's centres' executive directors told me personally was the fact that they are noticing that there are more and more women who are showing up at their doors in crisis, their workload is increasing. We need to know more about that. We need to be able to factor those issues into our own policy development.
Another objective, which I think relates to this particular issue, is we are doing quite a bit of work, and hope to be in a position to comment on it a little bit more explicitly in the next short while, on the whole issue of reinventing our relationship with the third sector, with the non-profit sector, with the community sector. I think that is an area where, if you look at
it, we had talked about at the last meeting, Jeremy Rifkin's book, The Future of Work, and if you look at some of the trends coming across the country, some of the areas of growth in terms of economic activity, and if you look at social investment meeting economic activity, you look at things like developing responses to aging in place, to providing home care services, to provide where are the job opportunities in the social sector. A lot of those are mitigated and driven by and leavened by, in fact, the kinds of policy changes that we need to make. It is a rather long way around your question, but we are working.
In terms of the women's centres specifically, we are going to be providing them with some additional money relatively soon. We are working with that sector on developing a strategic plan.
MS. ATWELL: Do you know how much they will be getting, and how soon they will be getting it?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I don't mean to cut you off, but we will come back to that one. I think if he knew that, he probably would have said it maybe, would be my guess. Jerry.
MR. PYE: I will be somewhat brief anyway. I am going to be waiting for the public consultation hearings to get the feedback from those stakeholders and individuals whom in fact will be providing us with what their agenda is with respect to welfare reform in the Province of Nova Scotia. I just want to ask two questions, if I can.
One is with respect to public consultation. I think your department deliberately set out not to involve all citizens of Nova Scotia in the public consultation process. If in fact we go back to our first discussion in your office with respect to a Green Paper Report that you gave me where Tony Blair is restructuring the welfare system in England. We go back and we look at what his comments were, that he would leave no stone untouched, the committee would travel from one part of England to the other making sure that every citizen had an opportunity to speak with respect to welfare reform in England.
I would hope that the same practice would have been carried out in Nova Scotia, and that in fact the Community Services Committee would not have had to mandate itself to do this, that in fact your social services department would have in fact instituted such a committee to go out throughout Nova Scotia, reflecting that there has been no changes since 1961. I think that that is a fallacy, I think that there will be an awful lot of people who will be left out from participating in welfare reform in Nova Scotia, some of the very people who may very well be affected. I want a brief comment with respect to why the department chose this particular route.
Secondly, Mr. Chairman, although this is not related to the welfare reform issue, it is related to when Mr. L'Esperance, the Deputy Minister, first came as a witness before the Community Services Committee. We talked about the outstanding appeals and that, in fact, there would be an address to those particular appeals. When individuals are disentitled by family benefits or income assistance benefits in Nova Scotia, they are expected to make an appeal within 30 days, yet the very department does not respond within 30 days to these individuals, leaving them out in the cold, leaving them there without any money, because they receive no assistance while some of these appeals are taking place. In fact, many of these people, when their appeal is heard and the award has been benefited to those particular individuals, which we call clients, I prefer them as persons, when in fact this does happen, none of it is retroactive. It is current with the particular date on which the appeal process has been awarded. I am just wondering if you can address those two particular issues for me, please.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: In terms of the consultation process, I first want to draw a distinction between what England is doing and what Nova Scotia is doing. I think I outlined at the last meeting of this group that we had the benefit, a national deputies' group, of hearing from a British scholar on the reforms that are being contemplated and undertaken in the U.K. It is important to put on the record that that is a national initiative, it is not a provincial initiative. It is very broad in scope. It incorporates social services, it incorporates labour market policy, it incorporates education, and it incorporates housing and long-term care. If you will, it is the entire waterfront in terms of social policy and it is a national-scale consultation.
When you then come down to the level of a province moving toward a reform of its social service system, one of the things that we had done in advance of preparing a consultation strategy for Nova Scotia, we did some very careful benchmarking with the rest of the country in terms of any and most of the provinces, some of them indeed are in second and third generation welfare reform initiatives now across the country, beginning really at the time of the recession in the early 1980's. If you look at our consultation process provincially in Nova Scotia, alongside any other consultation process across the country, they are roughly comparable. They vary by degrees depending on which particular province you look at.
I do want to put on the record, the fact that we had done some careful benchmarking with the other jurisdictions across the country. I did, Jerry, want to draw that distinction between what is happening in England and what is happening in Nova Scotia, and review it from the point of view of the relative comparisons.
On the issues of the appeals matter, we had had some fairly detailed discussions about that at the last meeting. I believe you were asking questions about it, and I reflected on those again last night as I was going through the Hansard record. We have acknowledged that appeals is an area where we want to make some improvements, unquestionably. The issue of people receiving no assistance in the interim, while you may have cases where that has
happened, that is not my understanding. If you are appealing your family benefits entitlement, most of those people are in receipt of income assistance up to the period when their appeal is heard. There is the inference in your statement that people are going hungry in the interim, if you know of cases like that, where that is happening, then I would ask that you bring them to the department's attention because that is not the intent of the appeal process. We have acknowledged . . .
MR. PYE: Can I just interject . . .
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Yes, absolutely.
MR. PYE: Just briefly, it also has an impact upon the Pharmacare cards that they may receive because they may have been on Canada Pension disability with income supplemented as well because their income does not reach that level and as a result of overpayments and so on may be disentitled to that so, therefore, lose those benefits as well. I will bring those to you at a future date as a matter of fact. Thank you very much for that information.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: There are nine minutes left, Mr. Chairman, so I will have to get straight to it, I guess. Rates for single persons, are those board rates?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: The rates that are presented in the earlier presentation, Mr. MacEwan, are all-in rates. They include personal use allowance, shelter and so forth. So they are, if you will, all-in rates.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, I have never heard of all-in rates before but I have heard of board rates and I ask you again, sir, are those rates quoted board rates?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: No.
MR. MACEWAN: They are not?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: They are not.
MR. MACEWAN: Would you then give us the current board rates?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could you clarify what you mean when you say board rates?
MR. MACEWAN: I mean the rate paid by the Department of Community Services to a client that they classify as being under the board rate. Mr. L'Esperance knows what I mean.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: The board rate generally refers to an individual who would be either living in their own family home and boarding, or living with another individual and boarding, and I do not have those rates right off the top of my head, Mr. MacEwan. We can supply those to the committee without difficulty.
MR. MACEWAN: Do $353 per month and $153 per month sound correct for those who are living not at home and at home?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: It sounds like the right ballpark, yes.
MR. MACEWAN: All right. So you pay the same rate right across the province? You do not have separate rates for Halifax and for Cape Breton?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: You understand there are two levels of the program. There is the Family Benefits Program which is the . . .
MR. MACEWAN: I know all that, Mr. L'Esperance, and you know I know that. Could you please answer my question, sir?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: The point I was getting to is there is a short-term rate that is consistent across the province and there is a long-term rate which is the family benefits rate which is consistent across the province.
MR. MACEWAN: All right, so the short-term and the long-term rates, the IA and the FB, are right across the board?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Consistent.
MR. MACEWAN: Pay the same in Sydney as you do in Halifax?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: It is pretty much, yes.
MR. MACEWAN: I wish I could get some of these rates for my constituents. Anyway, you want to talk about IA and FB. Could you tell me what the current ceilings are in earned income for both categories?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: On the FB Program a person . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Before the 75 per cent kicks in?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Yes. With the Family Benefits Program a person who has dependants can earn up to $200 a month without affecting their benefits and then it is charged back at the rate of 75 per cent.
MR. MACEWAN: I know that.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: For a single dependant it is $100.
MR. MACEWAN: Right.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: The difference between, and this is an area where we have to harmonize the practice under a new system. In fact, we have identified incentives as being a key area and it is an area on which we want broad-based input. In the old family benefits system $200 is applied against gross wages so that, you know, you do not look at the net wage, you look at the gross wage. In the IA system the incentive provisions are $100 for a person with dependants and $50 for a person without dependants but they are applied against the net wage so that when you begin to look at the differences around, they are roughly proximate if you are factoring the gross and the net situation.
MR. MACEWAN: Do you know when those numbers were last reviewed? When were they last changed, sir?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: The family benefits actual earned income exemption guidelines have not been changed for a long time. There have been some additional improvements made, things like, for example, under that program an individual moving into employment can keep the first month's earnings without it being charged back against their benefits. There have been a variety of other minor changes of that nature but the actual ceilings on the FB side have not been changed. The ceilings on the IA side are pretty much, again, the harmonized practice. Some municipalities provided no incentive provision so if you earned money in municipality x, it was charged back dollar for dollar. Others supplied incentives. So when we again on the short-term side took over the system, we harmonized those to $50 and $100.
MR. MACEWAN: What you have just stated is correct. I will wrap up with this, Mr. Chairman, I know there are others who want to - I think we should have much more time for doing this. I have only just begun but my time is at hand.
I have been in this House for 28 years. I go back to the times when your department was called the Department of Public Welfare, if you can remember that.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Yes, sir.
MR. MACEWAN: That $200 a month then was the same as it is today. Now, sir, I suggest it is time that figure was reviewed and I would ask if you could undertake to this committee to do so?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Absolutely and that is part of the issue that is covered in the discussion paper around incentives. I could not agree with you more. I think it is very important that people reflect on this as part of a continuum of benefits that you would roughly refer to under the rubric of incentives. It is not only earned income exemption. It is how part-time employment is treated. It is how transition benefits are dealt with from people who may need a Pharmacare card in order to continue to go to work if there are no - so it is a broad range of things and I would quite agree with you that the incentive provisions really have to be carefully and significantly looked at and we have invited that through the consultation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Just one final question at the Chair's prerogative because it is an issue which I said I would raise and because I am not sitting there I did not get a chance to ask it.
There has been some considerable confusion about this child tax benefit credit as it has been administered, the clawback, who is it getting clawed back for and when is the rebate going to come and to whom the rebate is going to go and what percentage of the clawback is the rebate going to be and is there a $16,000 ceiling. Could you just maybe try to clarify that, Mr. L'Esperance? I have gotten a lot of different answers.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: I will do my best but I have to tell you, Mr. Chairman, that this is something that I think it is not going to be easy to do justice to in four minutes. At any rate, to try to address your question, the federal government and the provinces agreed to implement the National Child Benefit Program. The federal government agreed to increase in the first tranche by $850 million the amount of money going nationally into what was then called the Canada Child Tax Benefit, CCTB. The provinces agreed that those funds, that supplementary money, would be charged back against social assistance entitlement and in the provinces those monies would gross up into a reinvestment fund that would in turn be used to invest in initiatives and programs and situations that would help mitigate the consequences of child poverty and the second objective was to support people in maintaining employment or in going to work.
In Nova Scotia we have followed the national approach generally in that most provinces have gone to a type of Child Benefit Program and the series of initiatives designed to support families and children from the point of view of child care, early intervention, and that type of thing. The way it works practically, which is probably what your question is, is that the supplement that came into effect on July 1st, the federal supplement payment that people would have received on their child tax benefit payment, that portion of the new supplement is charged back against the social assistance entitlement and those monies accrue into a reinvestment fund.
The commitment of the provinces was that no client on social assistance would be less well off in terms of absolute financial return, pre- and post-implementation of the provision to charge back the supplement. All of the provinces are doing this with the exception of
Newfoundland and New Brunswick which took a slightly different approach. New Brunswick, as you know, because of their special case to the federal government was around their rates of assistance. They were the lowest in the country and they asked for exclusion on the first tranche of this to offset that factor.
Newfoundland's situation - Ms. Atwell raised the issue of $369 for a single person in Nova Scotia. In Newfoundland, on a monthly basis, it is $89 per month. They have some special circumstances in respect to their rate structure as well.
What we have done in Nova Scotia is we have set the new Nova Scotia Child Benefit initiative at an income ceiling of net $16,000 income, that amount that is captured on line 231 of your income tax return. All people under that cut-off, arguably, the people who are receiving the least income in the province will receive the Nova Scotia Child Benefit. The amount of that is $250 for the first child; $168 for the second and $136 for the third and subsequent children. That will click in later in the fall and all of this has been communicated carefully to the clients.
We are mindful of the fact, very clearly, that this was an issue for the people that we sent assistance cheques to. We had a comprehensive communication strategy with our clients. We sent numerous messages to them. We established and staffed with four staff a 1-800 number at the time that the first charge-back was made in July. We had roughly 2,000 calls in total on an assistance caseload of roughly 46,000 to 47,000 people across the province, so roughly 2,000 people called back and asked questions regarding the process.
We are now in the final stages of working with Revenue Canada on building the technology interfaces that are required in order to deliver the . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: If I may, because we have to wrap up, just to clarify, even the people who are receiving community assistance or social assistance, if their net income is less than $16,000, they are going to get that. I had heard they were. That is what I told people and then somebody said, no, they weren't.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Absolutely.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You called your department; you did not always get a consistent answer. There did not seem to be uniform understanding as to how it was going to work.
The other thing you had mentioned, specific numbers. Ron, what percentage of what was clawed back, what does that $175 represent?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: For a single person with one child, the amount of the federal supplement would have been around $50 per month. The amount of the Nova Scotia Child Benefit will be around, I think, $24 to $25 per month.
Roughly, if you look at it in straight-line comparison, there is a factor of about, roughly, one-half, but I think it is important to put on the table that none of the other provinces are giving money back to the social assistance clients. In fact . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Not even Saskatchewan or British Columbia?
MR. L'ESPERANCE: No.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, I want to thank you folks very much. We are out of time, roughly about an hour. Undoubtedly, we may wish to ask you to make yourselves available at a future time. I think, perhaps, as Mr. MacEwan said, the questioning was just getting going and we had to stop. Anyway, thanks Ron, Barb and Cathy, for coming in. We appreciate it.
MR. L'ESPERANCE: Thank you, Mr. Chair, members.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will take about a five minute recess.
[2:05 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[2:11 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: In advance of our next sector, Mr. White has a procedural question or point that he would like to raise.
MR. WHITE: Mr. Chairman, filling in on the committee, I read over the minutes of the last meeting and there was some indication in those minutes that there was a request for either legal presence or legal advice dealing with the nature. Not fully understanding the topic, I am asking you now, in the position of Chairman, has the regular Chairman received any legal advice or do you have any advice to pass on to us as committee members before we hear any type of presentation on the topic?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, the Chair communicated with the Legislative Counsel and at her request and my request, Mr. Hebb is with us today to guide us through any rough spots that might occur. I guess the point in matter, as I understand it, is there is nothing before the courts so effectively there is really not a whole lot of - do you want to comment on that, Gordon?
MR. GORDON HEBB: Well, actually, whether something is before the courts or not is not something which would exclude this committee from discussing that. In fact, there are very few restrictions, really, on the committee. The only thing, when you get into some of those things that the committee has to consider is whether the committee should meet in camera and/or should preclude any publishing of a transcript of the proceedings, depending on the nature of the matter and any requests the witnesses may make.
MR. CHAIRMAN: As I say, one of the issues to come up last time, Ray, was the fact that core to the procedural issue was what they are going to refer to is the process used by the Department of Community Services to investigate allegations of child abuse and what not and if there was a name of a child entered into the record, would that be a problem?
MR. WHITE: So it is my understanding, Mr. Chairman, what we are talking about is the procedure of the department in general and not a specific case. Is that correct?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, that is correct.
MR. WHITE: So the background information that has been provided is based on a broader scope than a single case?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. Now I haven't looked at what came today but that was the agreement. Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: The first thing is, is this session in camera?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, it is public.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Well, then, I have to ask this question. The fact that Mrs. McNeil and Martin McNeil are here, anything that we talk about then, could be perceived as relating specifically to a particular case?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will ask Mr. Hebb to comment on that, Laurie.
MR. HEBB: Could you repeat that for me?
MR. MONTGOMERY: Well, what I am saying is that it could be perceived that what is talked about here at this meeting, since Mrs. McNeil and Martin McNeil are here, that anything that we talk about would relate to this particular case.
MR. HEBB: Yes.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Personally, I don't think that is proper.
MR. HEBB: Certainly, the witness can request that the proceedings not be published, can request that they be in camera. It is ultimately up to you whether you want to do that and what the authorities really say. It ultimately just comes down to your common good sense. Certainly anything that you say or the witnesses say here is absolutely protected. The press in reporting it is not quite as protected.
MR. MONTGOMERY: This is what I mean. This could very well be perceived . . .
MR. HEBB: They take a greater risk in reporting it, but there is a qualified . . .
MR. MONTGOMERY: Well, I don't think we want to throw out misconceptions to the media or anyone else. I think it should be specific.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm sorry, I don't understand your point, Laurie.
MR. MONTGOMERY: My point is that this could be related to this particular case. That is my point. I don't think that is proper. I don't think this committee should be getting into that kind of a situation, personally. It is not something that I personally want to be involved in, that's for sure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I can understand MLA Montgomery's concern. I think if I can get clarity here, is that by virtue of what the media may report can specifically identify that particular case or that particular individual? I have no objections with Mr. Montgomery making a motion that we deal with this issue in camera. If that is the case, and you make a motion to that effect, I would certainly support it. I think that we should ask the witnesses if they would prefer that this be an in camera session or if they are prepared to allow it to be in the public domain.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess, Helen and Martin, you have heard Mr. Pye's suggestion. What is your wish?
MR. MARTIN MCNEIL: My preference would be an in camera meeting for a number of reasons.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, if Mr. Montgomery will second it, then I would so move that we proceed with the witnesses through an in camera process.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have heard the motion from Mr. Pye that the meeting now go in camera to hear what the McNeils have to say. Any discussions? It was seconded by Mr. Montgomery. That would mean all observers must leave.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
I think we had better do a little recorded vote here or something. I heard only one voice.
MR. MACEWAN: Is it necessary to vote?
MR. PYE: It is not necessary if, in fact, no one said Nay, then we take it as . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will take it as is. Thank you very much.
MR. HEBB: The next question is do you . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Exclude the press?
MR. HEBB: Well, no, the press goes if it is in camera.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Oh, the Hansard.
MR. HEBB: It is whether Hansard records it or not. It is a separate decision.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, Mr. Hebb has just raised another issue is that if we are in camera now, does Hansard record it?
MR. MACEWAN: I would think not.
MR. HEBB: It is up to you. Obviously, there is no point in recording it if you are going to . . .
MR. PYE: That is right. I would so . . .
MR. HEBB: Unless you want it for your own individual use.
MR. PYE: . . . make an agreement again, Mr. Chairman, that it is not necessary, and I would so move, that Hansard make recordings of this particular witness session.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Not make recordings, you mean?
MR. PYE: Yes.
MR. MACEWAN: All right, but before the microphones are shut down and the crew goes home for the day, we will be reconvening at the end of this, won't we, for other business?
MR. CHAIRMAN: There is no other business other than future . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Future schedules?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Future agenda, yes.
MR. MACEWAN: So that should be recorded.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, that is correct.
[2:30 p.m. The committee met in camera and in accordance with an earlier decision, the proceedings were not recorded.]
[3:08 p.m. The committee resumed in public.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will now continue with the public session again. I would like to deal with three items. One is, has the schedule been finalized for the road show?
MS. MORA STEVENS: Actually, if I may, I got word this morning from the Speaker concerning the road show. It has been approved, but the budget unfortunately is only $45,000.
MR. CHAIRMAN: What had we predicted?
MR. PYE: That is impossible. Excuse me, Mr. Chairman. There is no bloody way that we can possibly carry on, if in fact Nova Scotians are to participate in welfare reform in this province, then there is absolutely no way that we can carry on welfare reform in the Province of Nova Scotia on $45,000. As a matter of fact, $100,000 is significantly less than what is required to carry on a province-wide position on welfare reform. I want you to know that and I want each and every member of this committee to understand that.
Gordon's article alone, with respect to the working poor and social assistance would in fact cover a myriad of clients coming before the committee to talk to about it. It is incredible. It is outrageous. It is real, it is not real at all. We are not living in the real world in 1998 when something like that comes across this committee desk.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That is 45 per cent, I guess, of what we had projected, right?
MR. PYE: That is 55 per cent, as a matter of fact, of the budget that has been cut.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: There is no commitment from government to do this. In my opinion, it is a done deal, so they really don't want consultation from the public to begin with. With this discussion paper, that is all they are going to do, that little bit of consultation. There is no commitment from this Liberal Government to do anything about welfare reform. It is to keep people where they are, poor, and to throw a little bit of patchwork.
I am appalled at the fact that the budget was cut. The budget was too small to begin with. You had to fight to do that. But on $45,000, it is nearly impossible. It means they don't want to do it. I think that is a real issue, Jerry.
MR. PYE: I would so move, Mr. Chairman, that this committee send back to the Speaker's House its note of dissatisfaction with respect to the monetary commitment to carrying on this particular welfare reform review committee's process throughout the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. DEXTER: Can I ask a question? I am not sure, perhaps Mr. MacEwan, with his expertise in this instance can assist us with this, but I am wondering about how a request for this affects other things that are funded out of the Speaker's Office?
MS. STEVENS: I can actually answer that, if you don't mind, Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: I don't at all. You go ahead, Mora.
MS. STEVENS: Going before the Internal Economy Board yesterday was also the budget for the Workers' Compensation Board Committee which was also slashed, partly, in order to fund this, or to make sure there was funding for this so we have worked our budget there.
The Speaker's budget - and you can correct me at any time if I am wrong, Mr. MacEwan - is set from the estimates and that is the approved amount. Once they come up to that amount and the amount for other committees, it all depends on what the other committees are doing and if we can sort of leech into their budgets, but once that money is gone, it is gone, unless there is a special warrant issued for extra funding.
MR. DEXTER: I think you have answered my question on that. Is it not the case that you could use this allocation to take you up to the end of this budget year and then re-budget in the next year? I mean, what time-frame do you need to have this take place?
MR. PYE: A time-frame has to be done within a very short time-span. We have already indicated - and it is not possible for the budget . . .
MR. DEXTER: It cannot be done in six months?
MR. PYE: No, it cannot. As a matter of fact, it has to take the maximum of three months in order to scan this province with respect to committee hearings.
MS. ATWELL: I have a question for you. What was the allotted budget based on? I mean, there have been no committees for the last five years, or very few of them, so what was that budget based on?
MS. STEVENS: We have always had nine standing committees. It is a typical road show, as we call it. The last show that we went through was for the National Unity hearings and we held hearings throughout the province. Because of the new procedures that we have been using, it has been based on a budget of around $100,000 to have committee hearings with hotels, expenses and all of these things, with communications. I mean, advertising alone is a minimum of $35,000 and we still get complaints and receive complaints that not enough people know about it. It is just a matter of figures that we have based things on that we have used, tried and true. We had one in 1993 go around and that cost about $75,000 so it has gone up from 1993 to 1998 by about $100,000. That is . . .
MS. ATWELL: I was just wondering why the budget is so small.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I have got a motion for the floor. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: It has been moved that this committee go back to the Speaker's Office and ask them to try, effectively, to come up with some more money.
MR. PYE: Well, that is in effect what I said but that is not what I said in the motion.
MR. MACEWAN: I would like to speak on the motion, if I could.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay.
MR. MACEWAN: Well, Mr. Chairman, the first thing I want to say is that I personally and absolutely have nothing to do with this. I did not go over to the Speaker or lobby members of the government. I did not mention it to a soul, so help me.
The second thing I want to say is this, that I believe in the rule of law and I hope we all believe in the rule of law. We passed a law in the House and the law was called the Appropriations Act. It contained a detailed budget, item by item, that was passed by the House, a majority vote. I grant you it was not passed unanimously but it was passed and it is the law of the land.
Now, that budget contains a number of components. One of the components is the Standing Committee on Community Services. The budget for that committee is $5,000. I told that to the last committee meeting that was held and if you wanted to try to get any money above and beyond what you were given by the budget, the only avenue to go is to go to the Internal Economy Board. The Speaker is chairman of it but the Speaker is not the board.
The board is laid down by the Public Service Act, and do you want to hear the rest of the lecture, you know about the board. That is the statutory authority to which you appeal for additional money. It is a charge against the general budget of the province and if this committee spends nine times more than it was budgeted for and the next committee does the same, and the next committee does the same and so on and so forth, the next thing you know the budget is going to be way out of whack and we are going to go into deficit instead of the balanced budget that everybody supposedly insists on, or else the government cannot survive if it does not balance the budget.
Well, this is what is involved in trying to keep the budget balanced. The Internal Economy Board made a decision. They did grant nine times as much money as this committee had been provided with but that is what their decision was. Now, I am a former chairman of that board. This is how I know about that. I chaired it for three and one-half years and I can tell you that the board, having made its decision, is most unlikely to reconvene and vary that figure but you have the right to request it. It is certainly within your rights.
MR. WHITE: On a point of information, it was mentioned that the present government was not supportive of the committee and so on but keep in mind the government has a minority representation on that board and there is equal representation from all Parties who make that decision and give direction to the Speaker.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have heard the motion by Mr. Pye. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
I believe it is carried.
The next item is the agenda for the next meeting. Do you wish to continue . . .
MR. PYE: Can we leave that to your discretion, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, do you wish to continue? There seemed to be some interest in having the deputy minister continue. Were you happy with the time that you spent with him or would you like another crack?
MS. ATWELL: It doesn't matter. You don't get any answers. I don't care whether he comes back or not, really I don't.
MR. PYE: I think if we are to have the deputy minister come before the committee as a witness, then I think that if this is going to be a common practice, then we ought to define segments of the Department of Community Services we can specifically zero in on and have specific discussions with each of those particular departments that fall under the umbrella of the Department of Community Services. That would be one way for us as committee members having a better understanding of the entire structure of Community Services in Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Anybody in particular you would like to visit with at the next meeting? Well, one of the items that is of interest to me is the alternative homes, the small options homes for seniors and for . . .
MR. PYE: That is an excellent point. Also I think that there is a very serious problem with secure treatment centres in Nova Scotia. In fact, Jamie, you have issues in the Truro area. I think that that is the single most important issue that should come before and how we are dealing with that. That is a very significant issue in Nova Scotia.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, let's deal with those two issues next time, Mora.
MS. STEVENS: So it is the alternatives and small options homes for seniors?
MR. CHAIRMAN: And for young people.
MS. STEVENS: And young people and youth.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Youth and also if I say seniors, for adults, I guess, is it not, not necessarily seniors and, secondly, that secure treatment facility. The date of the next meeting? We typically meet when, Mora?
MS. STEVENS: Thursday afternoon is the typical day for this committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Now, presumably, I think September 17th is when we are supposed to be in Sydney, or something like that. Have you got those dates in front of you?
MS. STEVENS: If I may, the first two dates - I do not have the whole calendar in front of me - are September 16th and 17th, but with the new budget - now, I have not had a chance to speak to the Chair. She left after her meeting with the Speaker and I know there is a letter on the way from the Speaker to myself to be distributed to committee members. If this road show is going to go on, we are going to have to look at if it is going to be a smaller event. We would be looking at, instead of going to hotels, going to community centres and fire halls, which would provide free or less money access, and a lot of the meetings I noticed are places where members can drive. That $45,000 also includes members' expenses. I spoke to Maggie Marwah who is the communications person who would be assigned to us. She is looking at redoing an estimate for the advertisements because that estimate, the first one was
a standard campaign which was at least $35,000. We just couldn't continue for a meeting on September 16th with all these questions outstanding, and I cannot reach the Chair until this coming Monday.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps we will allow you to work that out with the Chair. I was thinking in terms of communication, one of the things that could be done is conceivably the cheques go out every something or other, and maybe there should be an insert or something in those. We have the Women's Centres Connect, and then the Community Advocates Network, for example, I mean I am just picking those off the top of my head, they obviously would generate some publicity for us.
MR. PYE: I think that town halls, fire departments' facilities, all those facilities that are available out there, like Kinsmen's, Lions, and so on, they are available. I think that is consistent with what the advocacy groups have stated with respect that they felt that it was a more comfortable setting for people to come, and I have no difficulty with that. What I do have difficulty with is going on a travelling road show not knowing what our actual budget is and not knowing where those monies are going to be expended and how we are going to make sure that the optimum number of people, who are directly or indirectly affected by welfare reform in Nova Scotia have an opportunity to have their say.
MR. DEXTER: If I may, I think you have to assume that the budget is $45,000. (Interruptions) You can't do anything but that. Even though you have made a motion, the motion is going before the Speaker, I think it would be dangerous if not foolish to assume that you are going to get anything more than that.
MS. STEVENS: I cannot approve anything more. Once it hits $45,000, that is it. (Interruptions)
MR. MACEWAN: This covers the VLT thing too, doesn't it?
MS. STEVENS: No, I think VLT is separate, and I have not received the whole letter from the Speaker to know what was allocated from that meeting.
MR. PYE: We as a committee do not know the impact of where the $45,000 is going to be allocated before we take the road show, and that is significantly important.
MS. STEVENS: If I may, the committee might decide, once I speak with the Chair, to do sort of a subcommittee, one person from each Party, and we could sit down with the communications person and sort of decide, unless you want a full committee meeting, and that would have to be next week, if you are going to keep this timetable. We need to have time to get ads together. This is seriously going to affect its lookout, because with all of the hearings that were on Schedule 4, it is impossible to do for $45,000.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, we better make up our mind.
MR. PYE: I think, Mr. Chairman, that you are right. I think the message should be sent off to the Chair, acting Chair I should say, there has to be a memo sent off to the Chair with respect to what has happened, and have the Chair make a response.
MS. STEVENS: She has been briefed by the Speaker on it, but I wasn't in on that meeting this morning. As I said, a letter is coming forth that will be distributed to the committee. She will be in contact with me on Monday. My only suggestion would be Thursday morning, between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., which would be before Conservative caucus, if members are available. That would be the only time really. That would be Thursday, September 3rd. Just because of the importance of the meeting, if the road show . . .
MR. MACEWAN: It is important. I think it should be the whole committee, at least those members (Interruptions)
MS. STEVENS: Some committees go for subcommittees, others want the whole committee. It would have to be from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. We could go earlier, if the committee wants an hour and one-half, which might be advisable.
MR. PYE: It doesn't matter, as long as we are notified.
MR. CHAIRMAN: At 8:30 a.m.
MS. STEVENS: Okay, 8:30 a.m. I will make sure the notice is sent out, 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., Thursday, September 3rd. Next Thursday, a week from today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any other items to bring before the committee? I want to thank you for hearing the McNeil story. But notwithstanding the particulars of that, I can say that I have had that type of thing come to my office about two or three times already. If it is putting up some sort of a flag in terms of our protocol, then maybe indeed it is something we should simply take under advisement, and maybe in due course . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Well, from time to time this committee is going to be reporting to the House. The question comes up, what can we do about this or about that? The only thing that we can do is incorporate something into a report and table it in the House. Now, you know, if when we are at that stage, members have strong feelings on this and want to make some recommendation or other, if it passes a majority vote, then it will be inserted into the report.
I might say too while I have the floor, Mr. Chairman, that there is nothing to prevent this committee from issuing a series of reports if we so wish. It does not have to be all at one time. We do not have to wait until the spring or until some other time. If we want to have an interim report this fall, we can do that. So, for what it is worth.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you and thank you, Mr. Hebb, for coming back in from vacation to join us. We will see you next Thursday.
[The committee adjourned at 3:26 p.m.]