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November 25, 1999
Standing Committees
Community Services
Meeting topics: 
Community Services -- Thur., Nov. 25, 1999

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HALIFAX, THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 1999

STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY SERVICES

9:00 A.M.

CHAIRMAN

Mr. Ronald Chisholm

MR. CHAIRMAN: We will start the meeting and when they come in, we will update them. This being our first organizational meeting, I guess the role today is to elect a vice-chairman, if we so wish. As you say, we can let it go until our next meeting if we feel we don't have enough to do that. The rest of it is just organizational, where we establish a witness list and that sort of thing. You will have to bear with me. I am new at this. I haven't chaired one of these committees so it is a learning process for me as well as, I guess, most people who are on the committee with maybe the exception of Maureen and Jim. Have you been here before, Jim, on this committee?

MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: No, but I have travelled with the Community Services Committee tours which exposed me to some of it.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Maybe for the record we can introduce everybody, if they would please introduce themselves.

[The members introduced themselves.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: We have Darlene Henry, she is with the Legislative Committees Office.

MR. DEWOLFE: We have a fine gentleman over in the corner who we all know, but we were wondering what this gentleman's name is.

MR. DAVID JACKSON: I like asking the questions. I am David Jackson from the Chronicle-Herald.

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MR. DEWOLFE: Thank you, David. I couldn't remember your name.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, having done that, we will move on. Our next item on the agenda is the election of the vice-chairman.

MR. DEWOLFE: I so move Maureen.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Since I am the only one who showed up from the Opposition.

MR. RICHARD HURLBURT: When you come from a large family - you snooze, you lose. (Laughter)

MR. DEWOLFE: I move the nominations cease.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, nominations cease. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Maureen is the vice-chairman.

MR. DAVID MORSE: Actually, Mr. Chairman, I think Maureen, brings a good balance. She is here in the heart of metro, whereas, you are rural. I think it is good to have a little diversity at the top.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I also think that she has been here before. I think you were the chairman of the last committee for the last year and one-half or whatever. So I think that balances out as well.

Okay, witness list. What are the wishes of the committee?

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Can I raise an issue in terms of some continuity between the former committee and the work we were doing in this committee? Members here may or may not be aware that the Standing Committee on Community Services, after the March election, met. It was the first time that that committee had convened since 1993. So the committee had essentially not been a functioning committee of the House. After the March election, we convened and there was consensus among all members of the committee that we would start to do a review of social assistance reform in Nova Scotia because that process was well under way but it was a process that did not have broad-based public consultation or involvement.

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So, as a result, the committee agreed that we would like to do public hearings and we went across the province. We spent $40,000 or $45,000 of taxpayers' money and we have never completed a report because of the short period of time that we had. There was an interim report tabled in the Legislature. It was a very crude report and it was tabled just to indicate that work was being done but we noticed that there were inaccuracies in the report and all kinds of problems.

There is still a very large amount of material. It is all on file. All of the hearings would have been recorded. We were at the stage where the three political Parties had brought forward recommendations for improving the social assistance system and, in fact, we had reached consensus on the recommendations that had been brought forward from the Liberal Party and from the PC Party and we were in the process of dealing with the NDP recommendations when the House dissolved.

So I guess what I am putting out here for some discussion is whether or not, given that a lot of people's expectations were really raised, I mean we had approximately 160 submissions.

MRS. DARLENE HENRY (Legislative Committees Clerk): I think there were around 190.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: There were 190 submissions and I know that following this last election many people have called me to say, does this mean that there will never be a report? There is some anticipation out there that there should be a report as a result of that process. So I know that for new members this presents a bit of a dilemma, I am sure, but I thought we should at least think about that.

MR. HURLBURT: Maureen, did you do the whole province in your travels?

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Yes.

MR. HURLBURT: So you have all the information?

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: We have everything with Hansard. Then there were written submissions and there were advertisements in the newspaper. We went to 10 locations around the province. We advertised widely. There were written submissions, where people didn't come and appear before us, and here in Halifax we had to extend the number of evenings that we sat because there were so many people who wanted to submit; in fact I think we did four or five sessions in metro alone, but we went to Yarmouth, Bridgewater, Kentville, Truro, New Glasgow, Guysborough, Port Hawkesbury, Sydney, Halifax and . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: Preston?

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MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Yes, that's right.

MR. CHAIRMAN: It seems to me there were five in the Halifax area alone. So I guess what you are saying then, Maureen, is that this process hasn't been completed without the finalization of the report?

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Yes, I am saying that the election campaign in June interrupted that process. Historically, I think, work comes to an end, but I have looked at the Rules and Procedures of the House of Assembly, and in fact it does provide for us to go back and continue on that work if the committee so desires.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps for the record, as the rest of the members have now joined us, maybe they should give their names and what riding they represent, or constituency?

[Remaining members introduced themselves.]

MR. HURLBURT: Mr. Chairman, I agree with Maureen. If we spent $45,000 of taxpayers' money getting all this information, we owe it to the taxpayers to do this report up and to look at the recommendations that the previous committee had. I feel that we should go ahead and get this report finalized, and look at the recommendations.

MR. MORSE: I just wonder, Mr. Chairman, whether perhaps before we forge ahead, that maybe the working material be made available to all members, including new members such as myself. Perhaps we could look that over and then try to figure out from there just where we should go.

MR. CHAIRMAN: That can be done, I guess.

MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, it would be my thought that perhaps we should think about some witnesses for the next couple of meetings at least. This other information is something that we can deal with as we go along and as my honourable colleague said, the newer members can review what took place. I think that is what this meeting is about; it is an organizational meeting, to see where we go from here. We are nearing the Christmas period and we have to decide if we are going to have another meeting in December, and when our next meeting would be in January.

MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I am just trying for the record to clarify if there is some consensus of the committee that this report will be produced and the information will be reviewed and that this committee will put on its agenda for a future day dealing with making a final report based on the consultation that was conducted.

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MR. CHAIRMAN: Is that roughly the consensus of the meeting here, that we do that, review it?

MR. DEWOLFE: We could certainly review it and come back and discuss it, . . .

MR. DEVEAUX: Well, there is a difference, maybe it is the semantics of it, but I just need to clarify whether we are making a consensus to actually agree to sit down and make a final report or are we agreeing to discuss this and issue it later?

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: If you are looking for unanimity, Mr. Chairman, I would have to, with deference, disagree with my learned colleague to my right. The Legislature that we formally belong to, some of us around this table, was dissolved. All of its Acts, thereby, were closed; the deliberations of its committees were closed. If the argument of my learned colleague were to be pursued to a logical conclusion, those of us who served in the MacLellan Government would be asked to leave the current Cabinet to continue our deliberations and to make a final report on our conclusions.

That's just not the way the system works. If you lose an election, or an election is held and a new government is elected, then it is a clean slate, a new agenda. This committee certainly has the right to do any research it wishes, to consult with any past findings, but it certainly is not in the position, this new committee, to make a final report on behalf of a committee of a Legislature that has been dissolved.

MR. DEVEAUX: You can though take the information that was obtained through the consultation process and produce its own report.

MR. MACEWAN: It can do anything it wishes to, but it can't continue the deliberations of a former committee of a House that doesn't exist any more.

MR. DEVEAUX: I think what I am trying to get understanding of is whether or not this committee is committed to reviewing the information produced by the consultation of the former Legislature and attempting to make recommendations with regard to the consultation. I understand my friend from Cape Breton Nova's comments and I appreciate them. I am just trying to see if we can salvage something from the $45,000 that was spent doing a consultation, hopefully, in an attempt to put forward some recommendations with regard to Community Services in this province. I am not sure why there should be any concern.

MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I think it would be prudent to take the information that was submitted to the former committee. It is perhaps an excellent way of immersing the new members as to what has gone on. Once we are a little bit more up to speed, then we should come back and revisit this question.

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MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I certainly agree. That is what I suggested in the first place, that we have time to review this and then we come back and we discuss it as a committee. We can review our mandate, what we are here for, and proceed from there.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Darlene, I guess through the office, will see that we get all the material that is available to be able to make a decision at a later date.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Darlene will know how best to handle that, because it is pages and pages and pages of transcripts. Perhaps one per caucus or something like that. I have everything so I would say for the sake of printing and Xeroxing and saving the trees, you don't need to provide us. I can make everything available to Kevin.

MR. DEWOLFE: It would be my understanding that most of that material would be in our caucuses at any rate. So, I think we can deal with it at the caucus level, to review, for the most part.

MR. MORSE: I am just led to understand that perhaps we can access this through the Internet, so if all the members of the committee have access, that might be one avenue.

AN HON. MEMBER: All the material is on the Internet?

MR. MORSE: Sorry, Hansard.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess for the information of the members who were late coming in, Maureen MacDonald of the NDP caucus has been elected as the Vice-Chairman for this committee.

Witnesses, are another issue, we have to establish a witness list. Jim, you had mentioned something about gearing up a witness list that we should be looking at. Have you any more thoughts on that?

MR. DEWOLFE: I think that we should open it up to the floor, Mr. Chairman, and decide in what direction we would like to go. Perhaps witnesses will fall in place once we decide where we are going and what we are hoping to achieve.

MR. CHAIRMAN: The floor is open for any suggestions or observations. Maybe Maureen or someone who was on this committee before and has an idea of where we should be going.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: What we did previously was each of the caucuses submitted ideas in advance and then we reviewed them. We more or less agreed what the priorities would be because there were more issues than just the social assistance issue

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submitted, but we agreed that that would be the priority and, because of the public hearings, we more or less focused on that one.

I think that, in fact, the mandate was altered because Community Services didn't even appear in the mandate of this committee. It is quite broad, as you can see, the number of areas. Health alone, for example, is quite a large area.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, is there anything else?

MR. DEVEAUX: Is anyone else willing to make a suggestion as to certain witnesses?

MR. DEWOLFE: I would suggest someone representing autism. Would that be in our mandate? There appears to be a lot of social problems and so on associated with families who have children with autism, and it is certainly a topic that was brought to my attention at my constituency office from time to time.

MR. DEVEAUX: I think that is a very good point. Now some of the issues around autism that were brought were respite care and stuff like that, and I wonder if it could even be a little broader along that line, dealing with the need for respite care in this province. Everyone understands what I mean by that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Yes.

MR. MORSE: When you talk about respite care, I doubt there is a single person around this table or in this room who has not had some relative, whether it is because of the onset of Alzheimer's or autism or hyperactive children . . .

MR. DEVEAUX: One of the things I would be interested in having this committee discuss, and see whether they are interested in having some witnesses come forward is with regard to disabled persons and employment equity, which would come under the Human Rights Commission, and Health, presumably. There has been a whole process within the government attempting to, in theory they agreed to promote the employment of people with disabilities as a means of bringing inclusion into the community and I guess I am not really sure how successful it has been. I would be curious about trying to see maybe some witnesses from the Human Resources Department or someone who could tell us how successful that has been.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: There are a couple of things I think we could also throw on the list. I do like the idea of looking at families who have children with special needs. I don't know if we could broaden it, if we would see that as being helpful beyond autism, autism certainly being one of the important issues and the other being children that have attention deficit disorder, ADD. It is a big issue for a lot of parents and teachers and

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people in Community Services, Education, and Health, I think, trying to figure out to provide specialized programs, I would certainly be in support of that.

Yesterday we had the release of the report on child poverty in Canada, and an update on the situation with respect to child poverty in Nova Scotia. I think the authors of the Nova Scotia report would be worthwhile talking to because not only have they done some statistical analysis of what the situation is, they actually have outlined an agenda for addressing the problem, and I believe it has been costed as well, so it has some of the financial features. That might be very useful for us to know about.

Another issue that we might look at that is very timely, I think, is gasoline pricing, which comes under Business and Consumer Services. Nova Scotians have just been hit again with another gasoline increase. This is, I think, a complicated issue, and it is one that as legislators we probably should have a better handle on as we are dealing with our constituents and dealing with this issue in the Legislature.

Just sort of a personal interest I have is, within Business and Consumer Services, there is a recovery program for recovering outstanding overpayments, fees and fines and what have you. I know that I have had calls in my constituency from people who really don't have much of an ability to pay and this program is functioning in a way, I think, that makes most credit and collection agencies pale in comparison. So I would like to understand more about the approach of this program and perhaps bring in the director of this program to talk about what their approach is and why they are using a particular approach.

MR. MORSE: This is a provincial program?

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Yes, it is.

MR. DEVEAUX: If I could just add one as well, under Municipal Affairs, Mr. Chairman, with regard to the service exchange agreement that was negotiated, trying to get some understanding of municipalities, quite frankly, it is my understanding that the province was eventually going to take over 100 per cent of the funding of social services but, at least in HRM, I think it is still $20 million a year that is put into it by the municipality. I am trying to get some sense from the municipalities, maybe the UNSM, or some of the individual municipalities, as to how they feel about the service exchange and how it is working - I think it is in its second or third year now - just to get a sense of where that is going.

MR. MORSE: I can see that the list is rapidly evolving. It may not have a real narrow focus which would, I suppose, be consistent with a rather broad mandate. My gracious, if it is not specifically legislated to another committee, it appears to fall under this one. My concern here is that the topics that have been brought up so far, if we were to pursue them all, we might end up being jacks of all trades and masters of none. I would kind of hope that the work of this committee might be to try to narrow in on some of the more critical ones, and

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that is not diminishing the importance of any of the suggestions. If we could perhaps maybe look at making a greater list and then come back and narrow in on a few because if we were to go with this entire list as it stands here today, I am afraid we would be somewhere into a time after the next election, presumably four years hence.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I agree. So I guess maybe the best way for us to proceed is to make up our list, then sit down and prioritize where we want to go and how we want to handle it. Is that agreeable to everybody? Okay, we do have, as you say, David, quite a list and it will probably grow more. Is there anything else that anybody wishes to add to that list for now? If not are there any other issues that we should be dealing with at this meeting? As I said, this is just - and I should not say just but it is - an organizational meeting to get us started and get us on the right track. I don't imagine the next meeting would be until January sometime; the holiday is coming and I guess that is probably the wish of the committee.

MR. HURLBURT: Mr. Chairman, just a point, I would like to know when the other caucuses have their caucus meetings so that we could work these committee meetings around - I am over 200 miles away and to drive in for a special meeting, it is ridiculous in my mind. I am not making light of this committee, but if we could put all of our committees our caucus meetings are every Wednesday and I don't know when the other two Parties (Interruptions)

Wednesdays, well, if we could work it around . . .

MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, I think Darlene has a handle on this and there are quite a few committees. So everything is sort of organized and well structured at her level.

Certainly Public Accounts is on Wednesdays and some of the other committees. Would you like to comment that?

[9:30 a.m.]

MRS. HENRY: Yes, Thursday was the day that we picked for this. Last time we had a hard time getting dates and everything worked out, so we finally settled on Thursdays and it seemed to work quite well. I was hoping that we could stay at this level, because on Tuesdays we have to juggle about three or four committees on that day, and Wednesday is Public Accounts, always, plus your caucus meetings, so Thursdays I am juggling this committee and Veterans Affairs. In my opinion, it basically has to stay on Thursdays.

MR. DEVEAUX: That allows people to come up Wednesday and stay over for one evening. It is easier, rather than having to be up here half the week.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess 9:00 a.m. is our best time probably to have that. It takes a couple of hours and then we can still get back to our constituencies, or wherever we are going at a reasonable time. That is satisfactory then, Thursday it will continue to be? Agreed?

Agreed. What else do we have, any other issues anybody wants to bring up?

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That is it. Is it all agreed? It is agreed.

What about the next meeting, January?

MRS. HENRY: It could be January at the call of the Chair. It is always at the call of the Chair.

MR. CHAIRMAN: January.

[The meeting adjourned at 9:32 a.m.]