HALIFAX, MONDAY, MAY 9, 2005
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. James DeWolfe
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Deputy House Leader.
MR. WILLIAM DOOKS: Mr. Chairman, at this time I would like to call the estimates of the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, do you want to make any comments from last week's questions before we commence?
The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I think we have tabled the information that was requested.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable member, there will just be a few minutes to get your time remaining but I will let you know. Please begin.
The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to switch a little bit today to take a look at the Youth Secretariat. It is a critic role that I've picked up recently and I feel there are some areas that do need to be questioned and investigated a little bit further.
First of all, I am wondering what the budget is for the Youth Secretariat for 2005-06. It is not a clear line there so I was wondering if you could provide that information, Mr. Minister.
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, you had asked me earlier if I had any advance statement I wished to make and I said no, but I do want to introduce the members of the House to Michael Sweeney who is the Senior Executive Director of Public Schools. The deputy minister, who had been here for the other two days, there was a principals' meeting going on and he is giving the keynote speech down there. I think it started at one o'clock or something like that so, anyway, Mr. Sweeney is an experienced educator who has been working in the department for quite some number of years and I am delighted to have him on my left.
The Youth Secretariat - and I am pleased that you chose to ask a question on this, I don't think there were any asked last year - we see that as a very important part of our mandate, one that perhaps is not as well known as some of the other things and indeed, there is a line item for that and I will refer you to Page 5.8. If you look under Skills and Learning, Youth Secretariat, the estimate this year is $239,300.
MR. GLAVINE: You alluded, Mr. Minister, to seeing an important role for the Youth Secretariat. I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on the mandate and perhaps even more important, the vision for this particular department. It is certainly one that I feel should have a very active and visible element to it. I'm just wondering if you could make a few comments about mandate and vision, please.
MR. MUIR: There is a youth services division, Mr. Chairman, in the department and the youth services division, which is the Youth Secretariat, has a number of responsibilities, but I guess we could summarize them by saying that it is responsible for supporting interdepartmental and intergovernmental collaboration on youth issues and that would be, for example, if there were matters of youth that would involve a number of departments, we would have a key role in providing the medium for that exchange. We do conduct research and policy development on youth issues. It also collects and disseminates, I guess you could say, general information about youth so that we would have it here.
For example, one of the current initiatives that we have is working with the skills division on youth employability, what types of things should we be doing to ensure that they will be better prepared to enter the job market. I will also say that, of course, another group that was interested in this was the Office of Health Promotion and we do have some exchange with them. For example, as the honourable member will know, there are teen health centres in a number of schools and of course they are funded under the Department of Health and through the Office of Health Promotion, but the types of services that they should provide.
We also encourage and promote youth engagement in a variety of things, whether it is in matters on education - well, I guess particularly in education - and we encourage non-governmental youth-serving organizations. In other words, for example, I guess you would say non-governmental organizations which our department and other departments are strong supporters of would be 4-H clubs, the 4-H movement. The honourable member, as a matter
of fact, I think he was down at Government House last year when we did the air cadet awards. Anyway, as a result of that particular initiative, we talked about the ability for students to get a credit in high school for activities that they are doing in organizations such as the air cadets or 4-H or Navy cadets or . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Duke of Edinburgh.
MR. MUIR: I'm sorry, it was the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, thank you, you were there. We made that announcement then. We also have a provincial student education council and a Youth Advisory Council. Another particular project we needed some advice on, that we've gone to the students for help, is this whole issue of bullying, what steps we, as a department, or somebody else's department or as government, how can we work with school people, with the officials in the school system as well as students, to try to get a better handle on this whole issue of bullying. The Youth Secretariat, we really believe, does provide a lot of valuable advice to a number of things that we do in the department.
MR. GLAVINE: Just a quick snapper, I guess there, Mr. Minister. What are the number of employees who are in the secretariat currently?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, my memory says three but I would not put that out as being absolutely correct. We will get that information and provide it to you. (Interruption) I have just been informed my memory is correct.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for that. One of the areas that I see, I guess, perhaps as a little bit of a vision piece for the secretariat would be to - I guess again, just recently coming out of the schools and the classroom, I know the kinds of things that went on at West Kings District High School, through the work of Mr. Bob Ripley, in Political Science and a whole, year-long effort to acquaint students with government and with the political process. I'm wondering, what role do you see for the secretariat in trying to overcome youth voter apathy and move it to the other direction where it would have greater engagement, do you see a role for the Youth Secretariat there?
MR. MUIR: That is somewhat of an awkward question. The honourable member will very much appreciate it is very difficult and the question of the appropriateness of a government agency really having anything to do with Party politics. Notwithstanding that, I understand the honourable member's question very fully. There are a number of teachers, such as Mr. Ripley, around the province who have done a very good job in schools.
I can remember some number of years ago when I was teaching, just to give the opposite viewpoint of that, I thought I would, as a teacher, be helpful and start a club for young Progressive Conservatives in the school. I didn't look for exclusivity by any means
but if you had to choose a club to work with, you might as well choose the best. Quite seriously though, when I went to the school's principal with this idea I was told absolutely no political clubs in the school, regardless of the Party. However, as the honourable member knows, the Department of Education is the chief sponsor really of the Model Parliament which takes place annually. It will take place the end of this month.
I know that I participated last year and I know my predecessor, the honourable member for Antigonish, participated when he was the Minister of Education. I know that the member for Kings North has been there and I believe, if I'm not mistaken, the member for Halifax Clayton Park may have been there last year at the Model Parliament. Yes, she's nodding her head. So we do provide that and that seems to be gaining strength each year, not on a Party line. Clearly, like you, I think our young people should be better engaged in the political process and there should be some means of encouraging them to do that.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you for those responses around the Youth Secretariat, certainly one of the areas I have a strong interest in. One of the local school board questions that has been brought to my attention is around the regional exam that was given to Grade 10 math students in the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board. It has caused a lot of angst and a lot of concern in that many took the initiation of the exam in the system as being more around assessment, versus part of the evaluation process for the year.
This is where a number of parents have sent documentation to myself and the Education Critic, the honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park, around the impact that this has had on the Grade 10 marks and whether or not this is receiving the full endorsement of the Department of Education. Therefore, I would like to hear what the minister has to say about whether he sees this as being part of an evaluation for that school board, and possibly others, since math is an area that is getting great scrutiny. I would like to hear some comments on that from the minister.
MR. MUIR: As the honourable member knows, that was an initiative of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, although there was some consultation with the Department of Education staff in terms, I'm told, of the preparation of the assessment tool, to get some advice to see if the particular test did match the curriculum. It was not something that was initiated by the department, it was strictly an initiative of the school board. I'm told they have made this 30 per cent of the term mark and I'm getting some indication they did that.
We've had some communication from parents about this, particularly in reference to the fact that some students stood very well on it. Some of the comments that flowed from it - and to be quite frank, I think most of the correspondence went into the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board and, indeed, I'm told that is going to be a topic of discussion at the board meeting - not this month's meeting but next month's meeting. It's a tough one, a couple of comments that I received from some people, and justifiably, everybody is
concerned when they think that their students are not doing as well as they should be or that they think that a mark does not reflect their knowledge.
If somebody didn't do very well on that standard math test, unless there was some compelling evidence to write and say I'm really disappointed in that mark because that means he or she can't get into honours math the next year, doesn't really seem to me to be a particularly strong argument. If they are weak - and, of course, we know that I said this last year and I've said it again, in my opinion and I think for those who know first-hand in the system, we have too many students enrolling in honours courses with the consequence that sometimes the courses can't be honours courses because too many of the people in those courses really don't have the background and experience to do that well in them. It's a tough issue.
I can remember standing here about this time last year and we discovered there were schools - we go up now into the Grade 12 math, just jump it up - that had over 50 per cent of their senior students taking honours math. Now I know the honourable member is a former school administrator and he would agree with me that you ended up with 50 per cent of your students in honours math and it was a course that was designed to take 15 to 20 per cent of the students and you could understand why some students didn't do as well in that course, at least mark-wise, as people would like. Simply because one is in an honours course doesn't mean that they're doing honours level work.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much, I appreciate having another opportunity to ask some more questions. I think I'll pick up with the idea of the standardized tests just because you're on that at the moment. I would like to get a better sense of why the department is proceeding the way they are right now with the kind of standardized testing we're doing ourselves. My first question is pretty basic, I'm wondering why the decision was made to have our own Nova Scotia test, rather than going with national tests that exist already, that we can get a measure of how the students are doing. Why would we decide that we're going to invest specifically in developing and delivering our own tests?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, it's a very good question again. We do national tests and we also participate in some international assessments. These things don't come annually as part of it, but we wanted to make sure that what we were measuring the students on was what they were being taught and because the curriculum across the country is really a provincial decision, although I have to perhaps change my answer a little bit because we do have the Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation where we have the same chemistry course, the same physics course, and presumably the same math, language arts, but really, in particular we were testing in the earlier grades and we wanted to make sure that what was being tested was really a direct reflection of what students were supposed to learn in Nova Scotia.
MS. WHALEN: I would like to probe a little bit on the cost of these tests that are done and I know there have been some different questions about how much do you pay the markers and how much do you pay this and that, but could you give us the total cost to design the tests, to circulate them, mark them, return the answers, the whole cycle that's involved with standardized testing for all the ones that are currently done, which I gather there are a number of them and you might want to itemize them. In fact, I think there are three at the Grade 12 level, perhaps four, chemistry as well - chemistry, physics, math and English - but could you tell me, how much for all of those, please?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I can give a broad number of $1.3 million. That's the budget of our evaluation section. We can provide an additional breakdown if the honourable member would like to see it which would deal with those other questions. It might take us a little time to generate it, but the $1.3 million, you're happy with that, fine.
MS. WHALEN: I think in your answer, probably the most salient point was that it's not done annually if you look at national testing or international testing in order for us to use that as a measure of our improvement, but the concern I have right now is to do really with incorporating those standardized test results into the student's final marks. I think that the member for Kings West alluded to it in saying that there was some - we have received quite a lengthy letter complaining about the one in the Cumberland area and how it related between the Grade 10s who were in semester and some who were in the full year, and whether or not it was fair.
I think that all of us are anxious to see accountability and measurement which is very important, as sort of a cornerstone of what you're doing, but incorporating the marks in exams where the students are so unfamiliar with writing these kind of exams and making it, you know, a factor that will determine where they can go in future, whether or not they can pursue those courses going from Grade 10 to Grade 11 and staying in the advanced stream or whether or not they can achieve their dreams in university because 30 per cent of their final mark has now been affected by an exam that they had very little preparation for.
I will just use the example of, you know, friends and even family who are known to me who have not had exams all the way through junior high school, they were eliminated. They've had no experience of what it takes to sit and prepare and go through an exam cycle. I know there are a number of other teachers in the House today and I'm sure they would understand what I'm saying. It was a good thing when they had periodic exams or tests that were school-wide so that the kids got used to it, but they're not learning the basic skill of sitting for an exam. They don't get accustomed to it, the anxiety that comes from these exams is very tremendous for some of the students.
I had the opportunity of sitting down with a Grade 12 math teacher who had been teaching for almost 30 years and he came in to see me specifically because he was so distressed about the impact on the students. He gave me specific examples of students who
over the years had been ones he would not have predicted could do his course, who had come in and said we've turned over a new leaf, we're going to work really hard, and they were able to finish and graduate. They went on to university and he could itemize where they had gone, the successful outcomes for these students, but he said given this province-wide exam, he knows that those students would never have made it in his class and in today's environment if we're going to put so much on the standardized tests and other students who were very bright, he said he would have students in Grade 12, boys and girls, in his office in tears because they were so worried about not being able to make their scholarships and so on.
I mean it was very compelling for me. He also provided me with a lot of links to research that's being done, much of it in the United States, that shows that when we put a huge emphasis on standardized testing, what happens in schools is they allow a larger attrition of students. They're quite happy to let the students who are not going to get good marks fall by the wayside, or leave their school, or go to another program because, guess what, they're pulling the school's outcomes down and they become undesirable for the school. I'm sure that the minister has seen some of those tests that show that a lot of the success in some American states has been as a result of allowing a lot more students to drop out of school and leave school because they don't match up to these high standards that the schools want to reflect.
So my question goes back to why we need to include those marks in that final outcome. Is it necessary in doing our accountability and our testing to insist that that becomes a major part or component of their final mark and perhaps you want to talk about standardized testing, I would allow you some time to do that too, if you like.
MR. MUIR: The whole issue of standardized testing is one that has been debated as long as I've been in the business which is quite some number of years now, not quite as many as my colleague, the member for Inverness, but some length of time. I can remember, Mr. Chairman, as you would, because I think you're about 10 years older than I am, so you certainly would have written provincial examinations and we all did that and, you know, the idea of the standardized external exam is something that many of us in this House can remember. I'm not so sure about the honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park - she's saying no, so she's a lot younger than you are - but it's not something that is new.
Those provincial exams, you know, they went back a long time. As a matter of fact, when I wrote provincial exams, they were in Grade 11 and Grade 12, but I think at one time they used to have provincial exams that went back to earlier grades than that, Grade 8 and Grade 9. There used to be testing right across the province and one of the reasons for that was, when we go back on the history of this, the province set the standards of what should be learned in school. By and large in those days what was examined or asked of students was
very much textbook based and we aren't quite there today, you know, we certainly don't have the heavy reliance on textbooks.
The other thing was that, to get back into those standardized tests, there was also the problem of access to high schools, you know, the idea of being able to write these or going to school was not that easy and, quite frankly, you didn't have to go to school to write provincial examinations. What you had to do was pay whatever costs, the administration fee, and you could write the test. I, for one, and I'm sure others, can remember that there were a number of people who lived in some of the more remote rural areas where getting to school was not really easy and, therefore, these tests not only provided a measure of how well the student performed, but also enabled the student to complete education even if they didn't have access to regular school days, and that wasn't all that long ago.
The other thing about it is that when we went away from these tests, there were a couple of major reasons, or three. I guess one was that just about everybody had access to schools back in the early 1950s and whatnot, the expansion of school populations and the old rural high schools, and you go around and some of them are still in existence today. For example, the school in Tatamagouche, the school in Middleton, the school in Middle Musquodoboit, Brookfield, you know, they're still around. These schools were built, the old county academies, sort of became, I guess, normally town schools because most of them are located in towns.
So, anyway, the other part of that was that teachers became better prepared and once teachers became better prepared and the level of teacher education had improved in the background of teacher education, they then felt because of the expense of the provincial exams, the Department of Education was in a position to do away with the old provincial exams. That not only happened in Nova Scotia, that happened sort of right across the country.
What was missing in that when that decision was made is that with schools and teachers, you were very much relying on them to determine the course of education or the outcomes in education which they do simply by being in the classroom. But it became more of a challenge when teachers taught very well and students learned very well, but what was taught and what was learned in some cases did not match what was expected. You can understand that.
In Nova Scotia - certainly this started before I arrived here - with the external examinations in physics and chemistry, they were trying to bring an academic dimension to schools that had not - in the early days, a lot more of what went on in the public schools was intended to be for the general education of the individual. It was recognized then that you provided two things: education so people could get along in life and go out and get a job and do all of those things; and secondly, there was an element of high school - particularly the senior matriculation - where it was to prepare students for higher education, that was a by-
product. But now when you listen to people talk and the letters that we receive, the focus is not so much in the general education of the individual anymore, but it's on how well we are preparing our students to go off and succeed in university or community college or a private trade school. You understand that.
As a consequence of that, people began to look and they said, well, when our students here in Nova Scotia - I'm going to the university level now - go to Queens, they have to take a qualifying year in mathematics, in chemistry and in physics or whatever it is. Does that mean that we're not asking our students in Nova Scotia to learn at a standard that other Canadian jurisdictions are asking their students? Well, perplexing question. If you look at the program of studies you say, yes, this program of studies is going on but it should be the same, but if the students aren't achieving the same - I'm sorry, have I gone on long enough?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, minister, the honourable member would like to ask some more questions.
MS. WHALEN: That was slightly, unduly long. I really wanted to know more the theory of standardized testing, not education from start to finish. Nevertheless, I appreciate your view on it and I'm sure I'll get the transcript and read it carefully.
I did have some other questions though, but I think we're not done with standardized testing as you can be well sure. I don't think those marks necessarily should be following the students unless we start a program to prepare students from an earlier age to get accustomed to taking tests and knowing what it's about.
I would like you - with a short answer if you could - to let me know if there are any rules that say students cannot be failed as they move through school or perhaps how many times they can be failed as they move through school. I hear this from parents a lot and I don't know if it's an urban myth or what the truth is in terms of government policies. So could you let us know what policy is used to guide the teachers?
MR. MUIR: Quite frankly, there is no rule. What policies would be in place would be those likely developed by the system and moved on into the individual school.
MS. WHALEN: If a parent or a teacher is telling me that you cannot fail a child, that they will move through and they will graduate, is that wrong? If they're still attending school, do they continue to move through and will we have graduates that really aren't functionally literate or aren't able to proceed to higher education but they've still graduated - can that happen?
MR. MUIR: I guess the unfortunate answer to that is, yes. However, I would like to qualify it. Normally when we think, at least in my experience, of students being moved through a grade structure - that's what we have - that does stop once you get into the high
school level. I taught at the high school level overall for nine years and I can tell you that we were no different than anybody else. Come the end of the year and you were sitting down and looking at students and saying, well, we know that student wants to do y and they've made 48 in this exam, and if they get the extra two points they can go on and do it, then in most cases they would receive it. I can tell you I don't remember any case where a person would be pushed through the system just like that - certainly not at the high school level.
Right now we know there are students who graduate by design - at least they are able to get a high school leaving certificate because they have graduated and we have some students who would need extra support, as you would know, who are able to go across the stage.
MS. WHALEN: I only have a couple of minutes left. I wanted to ask about the siting of schools, when we have new schools that are announced, it seems it's often - I have until 2:27 p.m., that gives me a few extra minutes and that's good because I think we may need a few minutes to talk about site selection. You have a number of new schools being built and a number of years ago I was involved in the school steering team for Halifax West and also for Park West School so I have some experience with that. I'm wondering about the plan for siting schools and the guidelines that are in place to ensure that's done with the best interests of the community in mind and the community is brought on board with the location. I'm sure you're aware of a number of different schools and I think the issue is often, where is it going to be sited?
If I look back to the siting of schools in Halifax - which I was more familiar with - there was a lot of controversy around the Beechville-Timberlea school which was put where there were no homes. You remember that? There was some self-interest perhaps on the developer's side because there's now a huge community around that school. It's now a thriving community as a result of the school being sited there. There is self-interest and sometimes gain to be had by siting schools. It often is not to the benefit of the existing community that's large and may want the school closer to them. I'm wondering if you could go through a little bit on the guidelines and what assurances communities have that this will be done fairly and objectively? Again, I've received some letters just in the last little while concerning that and there are questions raised.
MR. MUIR: I think the honourable member must have had a good weekend, or not a good weekend, when you want to talk about school site selection. I can tell you that the school boards set up a committee which involves parents and other community people as well as school officials. The site selection is done by a local group. The department does give the group guidelines within which to operate.
To be quite frank, I think it's done pretty objectively, they came in with three sites. Now there were some exceptions - and I won't get into that - I think, when the P3 schools were built where it might not have been quite as objective, but that's neither here nor there. I know in my experience - my 20 months or whatever it is - in this office, I would think the process has been pretty fair. The difficulty comes where the fairest process doesn't always provide the answer that people want.
MS. WHALEN: I wonder if you could table the guidelines that are in place that should be followed in each case, so that we could have those for the House, if that's possible? I would just like to ask a few questions (Interruptions) Is that a yes? I would like it tabled, yes.
MR. MUIR: Yes, we'll make that available.
MS. WHALEN: That was just in case it got lost in the shuffle of things, I thought we had better clarify that. In the guidelines I wondered if there was anything that calls for any kind of public meetings so there could be public endorsement of the sites that are selected, whether it has been narrowed down to three and then a final selection is made, so whether or not there's a requirement for a public meeting? Secondly, whether or not that site selection committee is actually making the final selection or are they recommending three sites and then it would be up to TPW, or the Department of Education, or the school board that would make the final determination?
MR. MUIR: There are guidelines for the site selection committee under which it operates. I'm going to say I don't think there is a requirement for a full public meeting but obviously, consultation is expected. The committee recommends three sites and they would be submitted to the Department of Education who, in turn, would submit them to the Department of Transportation and Public Works. All of these sites obviously have to go through environmental assessment.
We have switched sites on a couple of occasions since I have been in the office. For example, the number one site, I think it was in Barrington, it just didn't work out, we couldn't get the land and there was some other physical thing to do with the land which just didn't bring it up, although that was the number one site. But we were able to come up with another site and, indeed, that school is probably three-quarters of the way through construction.
MS. WHALEN: In one of the examples of school selection which I read about - it was the Eastern Shore school - the question was raised about the regional plan and whether or not in the site selection any consideration had been given to the HRM's regional plan, which does talk specifically about creating clusters and hubs within the HRM; in other words, focusing and putting our institutions and facilities in these regional hubs so you don't have everything spread out the way it is and perhaps you are able to cut down on travel,
pollution and those sort of things. I think the site that has been chosen for the Eastern Shore is somewhat away from Musquodoboit Harbour so I'm wondering if you could relate to whether or not they had looked at that, whether or not it has been considered how this relates to the regional plan and some of the goals that we're looking at in terms of growth?
MR. MUIR: I'm sure the site selection committee would take into consideration suggestions from the municipal government, they do have the authority. I want to speak on the Robert Jamieson site. As the honourable member would know, I guess you are going to find probably any time a school is sited, there are some people who don't like the site and in that case, there are a couple of people at Robert Jamieson who don't like the site, I guess, for whatever reason. I can tell you that a great majority of the people are extremely happy with the site and, indeed, as a result of that for some reason or another, this misinformation ended up in the ChronicleHerald and the reporter didn't do a very good job, to be quite frank. Indeed, it was the only time in my career as a Cabinet Minister where I have asked the newspaper for an apology. I felt we had been maligned, not maliciously by the reporter, but certainly by the person who gave the reporter the information.
MS. WHALEN: Again, Mr. Minister, I wasn't aware of the article in the ChronicleHerald so I haven't read that, but I'm glad you corrected it if it was wrong. I had a copy of a letter sent to you February 7th specifically about the school on the Eastern Shore and it raised some concern about how that site was selected. I'm wondering if there is any provision to review this sort of thing. It's all sort of a done deal, but how do you review it when there are pockets of discontent? There may be big pockets, we don't know how many people might be unhappy. Is there a provision for the school board or the Department of Education to be public and hold a meeting to explain the advantages of one site over another, just so you can lay to rest these kinds of concerns? Is there an appeal process or public consultation process at this time?
MR. MUIR: If I remember, I think it's the third time I said that, I'm going back to a letter that came in from down in that area. The person who wrote that letter, I believe, was also the person who may have provided the misinformation to the ChronicleHerald. We did respond to that letter and did indicate that the process that was followed was, indeed, an appropriate process.
MS. WHALEN: Can I just determine again if there's any appeal process for a community that wants to have more transparency in what was done and how it's done? Is there a mechanism to provide that transparency to a community that has questions?
MR. MUIR: The process is transparent. There is community representation on the site selection committee. They are required to be responsible for having public input, of one way or the other, during their decision-making process. To be quite frank, is there an appeal process? Just let me give you an example. When Transportation and Public Works reviews these sites, water, sewer, access, safety, road access and if it's in a swamp, there are all of
these things. The appeal process would come, I guess, if there was something the matter with the site. Simply because somebody doesn't like what that committee has come up with, can they then call a public meeting to dispute it? There is no provision for that because, to be quite frank, I expect we would be having public meetings in every school selection.
MS. WHALEN: I would just like to make the point that, of course, the siting of the school is extremely important to communities and we've seen that over many years throughout the province, because schools are an essential feature and facility for the community to use. I have a couple of questions, I know we're pretty short on time, the supplementary funding question in HRM just refuses to go away, as you well know. It is a continuing source of division within our council, within our school board to the degree that we have three separate books essentially kept, three levels of service that are provided through the schools as a result of the funds available, whether you live in Halifax, Dartmouth or the county and Bedford area. The school board is anxious to try to resolve that somehow over time.
A request went out inviting each Party to send a representative to sit on a supplementary funding committee that would sit with the school board and council of representation, to try to come up with a solution. My understanding is that the government chose not to have a representative on that committee and I wonder if the minister could speak to that and indicate why he would not want his government to have a say in trying to resolve a long-standing difficulty with school funding and services in HRM?
MR. MUIR: The issue of supplementary funding in HRM has been around for quite some number of years. Really the accountability is between the school board and HRM, but the way that this arose is that before the Education Act was revised in 1995-96, there was the ability to levy an area rate and, for example, I know Bedford used to have an area rate out in that area. This used to be a common thing. When there was more local financing of the schools the area rate was a pretty common thing.
Under the Municipal Government Act in 1996, at the request of HRM, there was reference to the supplemental funding simply because it was and it still is the practice about supplemental funding. They've been disputing this for a number of years, but the issue of accountability is really between the school board and HRM. Yes, the school board had asked us to sit on the committee, it's not a matter for the government, this supplemental funding. This is not something that the government has dictated and indeed the government put the provision for supplemental funding in the revised MGA at the request of HRM and the school board. Really what the school board is trying to do is, if you get the government sitting at the table, you know what the end result is going to be.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I want to take a few minutes on behalf of our caucus to ask some questions of the minister in Supply and then after myself, the member for Dartmouth East, the member for Hants East and the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley. Though I'd love to spend an hour talking about supplementary funding and exactly which school boards of the three thought it was a good idea to solidify in that change, I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, I would be remiss if I didn't take an opportunity to talk about an issue that's near and dear to my riding which is a fifth high school for the Dartmouth area.
I'll start, Mr. Chairman, just laying a bit of the background for the record, and the minister, I don't know if he has much of a chance to come out my way as a riding, but I think it's important to note that Eastern Passage, as a community, is larger than Truro, has over 12,000 residents, has 600 students that it's busing every day out of the community which is, by far, the largest community without a high school in Nova Scotia. It is the largest number of students that have to be bused out of their community for high school; 600 is a very large number. On top of that, that's a 45 minute bus ride every day.
I have people in my riding that say to me on a regular basis how much are we paying to bus these kids out, when two-thirds of them, if not more, could easily be accommodated in our community? I think it's very difficult, I can say as the representative, to have to keep explaining to the people of the community - by the time the next census comes along it will be 13,000 - as to what rationale there is to that number of students having to leave their community, frankly, because of poor political decisions made in site selections a few years back, when they decided to put two high schools in Cole Harbour - literally less than a kilometre apart.
I know the minister can't fix that problem, but he does have another problem which is in the Dartmouth area - and I think it's important to note this. In the Dartmouth area, and I've been studying this, if you look at the number of students per family of schools, with four schools, you have somewhere in the range of 4,000 to 4,300 students per family of schools in the Dartmouth area. Now, if you look at the old City of Halifax, that's going to change when you combine the two schools, St. Pat's and QEH, but still the number won't be as high as 4,300. And in the Bedford-Sackville area and I think including my friend for Timberlea-Prospect that number is still I think not even that high. So if you actually built a fifth high school in the Dartmouth area, you would actually still have, as number of students per family of schools more than you would in the Halifax area, or at least at the same amount.
So, there is room for a fifth high school in the Dartmouth area and with my limited time I wanted to impress that upon the minister. I think the other part of this is - and I know that within the Department of Education there's a mindset that demographically the number of children entering schools is going down - Generation X, not as many of them. They're not having kids therefore there are fewer children entering school, but I want to point out as well, new developments in the Dartmouth area both in the Lawrencetown area, in the Lake Echo
area, Russell Lake, which is a whole new housing development being built between Portland Estates and Woodside. It's a whole new development being built in the next four or five years. You have new developments at MicMac being built. You have Portland Estates that's still growing. Of course, Eastern Passage as well. There's still growth and I can tell the minister that in my community of Eastern Passage, the schools are still such that the number of children entering Primary has not gone down, even though demographically it should have.
So clearly there is still growth. There's still development occurring. The numbers are there that warrant this and I want to give the minister an opportunity to respond to why he doesn't think a fifth high school is required in the Dartmouth area.
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I should say that when I learned that the honourable member was going to be on his feet today asking questions on the Education budget, I called the department this morning and said that the honourable member has been an advocate for a new school in Eastern Passage for as long as I can remember and I expect that he will ask questions on that today and indeed I'm not surprised that he did.
The Halifax Regional School Board has submitted a request to build a high school in Eastern Passage, I'm told, and that request will be part of a school capital construction committee report to the minister where it's going to be on that. Now, having said that, I want to say that, because the honourable member knows that the request for a new high school in Eastern Passage wasn't on the capital list prior to 2004, and as desirable as it is, from your point of view and I really appreciate what you're saying, I mean I have students who go to school in Truro who are bused 45 minutes or an hour one way too, but we have to do some juggling out there to do it because you know that what happens is the minute a new high school goes in Eastern Passage, 600 students come out of Cole Harbour and the incumbent thing with that. So all I can really do, it's no degree of comfort, but I'm told that the board is now advancing and it will be dealt with in due process.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I guess I want to ask the minister, my understanding was in January, a list was submitted from the school board rating a new high school for Eastern Passage-Woodside area as number three on their priority list. Can the minister confirm that, yes or no?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I can't. I haven't seen anything or any report from that committee yet.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, well I'm not talking about the report from the capital construction committee. I'm talking about the list that was submitted from the school board itself. Your department, the minister's department specifically asked for a list of
priorities in December. The school board responded in January with a list of its priorities and my understanding is that this school was number three on that list. I'm not talking about the capital construction committee that he has. I'm talking about the list that was submitted by the school board. Can you confirm if it was number three on that list?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I haven't seen that list. I can't confirm it. I know, I've just been advised that the list from the Halifax Regional School Board is in the department now and would go to the School Capital Construction Committee, but I haven't seen it. I don't know what it is.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, can the minister tell us whether that list as it stood, submitted by the school board is the list that went to capital committee, or were any schools removed from the list temporarily or permanently as projects that are no longer on the list?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, when the list comes in from the Halifax Regional School Board or any other school board, the list is passed unedited to the School Capital Construction Committee. Once it goes in the department it goes really directly to that group. There's no modification or editing being done to the list prior.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I thank you, because my discussion with some people, and I'm not going to name names, in the department was that there have been some alterations to the list as to the schools that would be considered and that this high school potentially is not on the list at the moment and I'm trying to verify that point as to whether it has been temporarily suspended from the list pending, I don't know what, but I'm trying to verify. That's something I heard from staff of the Department of Education. I'm hoping the minister, as the person in charge in that department, is going to be able to clarify that for me.
MR. MUIR: I expect, Mr. Chairman, that really you've seen that information from the board, but I've just been advised from staff there's no real problem to table it if that's what you want to see.
MR. DEVEAUX: And I assume that will be tabled today?
MR. MUIR: We will attempt to have that tabled today.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, there was a facility review done by Dr. Morrison, I think it was co-sponsored by your department and the Halifax Regional School Board, to deal with a long-term list of capital projects in the Fall of last year. I'm wondering if the minister can also commit to tabling that report as well.
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, they've confirmed what I thought, that was a report for the Halifax Regional School Board and it was not a departmental report nor a partnership with the department.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, the department didn't help pay for that and, therefore, you didn't get a copy, okay. I will go through the board. I guess the other question is, and we see this from time to time, we see where there are major renovation projects identified as renovations and then at the same time there are capital projects and sometimes they're played off against each other, not to name specific locations, but it has happened where we see renovations potentially occurring at a certain school that has some age to it and instead of investing the $8 million or $9 million to renovate it, it's somehow parlayed or rolled into construction of a new one.
In the Dartmouth area, does the minister have any understanding of any plans of taking renovation money already proposed, or earmarked for certain existing high schools, and rolling that into a newer high school?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, we don't plan that in advance, but indeed that does happen from time to time. I can tell you, for example, it happened, it seems to me, in my community when the new junior high was built because they lost the use of the gym and the decision at that time was that there was a trade-off of some type in terms of scheduling for an elementary school that they moved the junior high. Yes, there are cases where for one reason or another there's money that has been allocated for renovations that if you look down the road it's going to solve two problems if you add a little bit more, and the other thing is that, you know, the department has sort of round numbers when they say, well, if you're going to build an elementary school, it's going to cost x and if you're going to build a junior high, it's going to cost x. If the renovations and repair would approach that number, then obviously the issue is revisited and the question of whether it should be new construction as opposed to renovations is raised.
MR. DEVEAUX: I appreciate the minister's general comment about this, but specifically at the moment is there anything in the works resulting in renovation money currently earmarked for high school being transferred into the construction of a new high school, is anything like that in the works at the moment in Dartmouth?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I don't know of any, but we will also be awaiting the report of the School Capital Construction Committee. I just don't know of any now.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, can the minister tell us when he expects to (a) have the report on his desk and (b) when he will be announcing the final list?
MR. MUIR: I've been advised, Mr. Chairman, that I will not likely see that report until September.
MR. DEVEAUX: Given some of the concerns raised in the media about a high school in Dartmouth and maybe some that haven't been raised about others, can the minister tell us today whether or not his department is in the process or will in the near future be reviewing the physical structure of any high schools in the Dartmouth area?
MR. MUIR: Clearly, Mr. Chairman, the issue of Dartmouth High was in the media and indeed raised on the floor of this House. I have not seen the list from the Halifax Regional School Board so I don't know, but my guess is that if the honourable member, I think he has seen it and I haven't - no, he's saying no - that we'll spend $160 million in renovations over the next six years and about $3 million a year in operating capital projects, a significant amount of money, but we'll just have to see about Dartmouth High, you know, the reports that I've received in the media have been that a minor renovation/repair is not going to be the solution to that school. So I would expect that the board's plans will be articulated in that capital construction list.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I guess I'm trying to clarify, I understand what the minister is saying about a specific high school. My question isn't whether or not the renovation list is going to recommend certain things, my question is, is his department now, or will they within the next six months, be doing any studies of any high schools in the Dartmouth area, that includes Auburn and Cole Harbour, to determine their physical capability and their physical structure? Are there any plans for reviewing any of those high schools as to their physical state by your department?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, the physical assessment of schools is done by the school boards and their personnel and we receive their recommendations.
Just with your permission, Mr. Chairman, I believe it was the honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park who asked about the school site selection process and I would be prepared to table that now.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, is the minister saying that his department is not funding, well, I take it he's saying they're not funding any of these reviews right now and can he tell me whether his department is aware of whether or not the Halifax Regional School Board is doing any physical structural reviews of any of the high schools in the next six months?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I don't know of any specific project that the Halifax Regional School Board is undertaking with reference to high schools in Dartmouth, but I can tell the honourable member, and indeed all members, that school boards have staff whose responsibility would include being very much aware of the physical conditions and needs assessments of any individual school that would be under its jurisdiction unless it was a P3 school problem.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
MS. JOAN MASSEY: Mr. Chairman, I hope you'll excuse me, I'm probably going to be asking some of the same questions in regard to what you just heard from the honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage but, as you know, I have asked recently in here through a resolution, questions revolving around Prince Andrew High School, which is in my constituency and which is already on the Halifax Regional School Board's recent list from last Fall for alterations and renovations to the tune of over $8 million.
This school has been there for around 41 years, and right now is acting as a community centre for Dartmouth East. Dartmouth East is, I believe, the only community left from the old cities that does not have its own community centre. So what has happened lately is I have heard rumours of movement within either the Halifax Regional School Board or the Department of Education of extending the period of time that was going to be allotted to have that work done, for additions and alterations, instead of starting in 2007, not starting until 2009.
When I hear talk about one of the proposed new schools that the board just put through to your department in a school board report, under new capital projects, and this was listed as number three on that list, and it's the new Eastern Passage/Woodside area high school, when I hear rumours that that is now not on that list and whether or not - I don't know if it's your department that has taken it off or the Halifax Regional School Board, but if there are talks behind the scene of removing that proposed new high school, and then when I hear that perhaps the $8 million for Prince Andrew High School, well, let's push that off further and further into the future, let's not spend that because perhaps we might be able to roll that over into some money to build a new high school. I have nothing against building a new high school. If that's what's needed, then that's what we're going to have to do, I guess, but I want to see the information on that.
What concerns me and what's going to concern the parents of Dartmouth East and some other ridings, because some of the high school students who go to PA don't just live in Dartmouth East, when they hear publicly that there's time being added onto the amount of time when we're supposed to be getting these additions and alterations done, and then that perhaps this other recommended high school is now off the list, and maybe in exchange for taking that off the list, we're going to now look at Prince Andrew High School again maybe with a high-powered microscope.
Communities deserve to know what's going on at the Department of Education and in their own school board. I have asked - I've probably been asking this question since this report came out December 2004 - questions like are we going to be starting the work in 2007, are we going to start in 2009? Then just last week I hear, oh well, we've taken the proposed
new high school off the request list, from Halifax Regional School Board, for new capital projects.
So you can understand how I'm a little bit concerned, and I don't know, in my mind I can certainly see different scenarios that might crop up here. In fact I talked to one of my school board members, I just happened to run into her on Friday at a function that the board was putting on that I attended, and had mentioned some of this to her. Of course she apparently has no idea of what's going on and had offered me up some other scenarios of what this might mean to Prince Andrew High School and the students who go there.
I'm not as good at asking questions as perhaps my honourable colleague who's next to me is, because he's a lawyer. (Interruptions) I'm not going to try to beat around the bush. I guess I'm just going to come out and ask you, is there anything this department is doing behind the scenes, is your real plan, well, let's put off spending this $8 million so that we can roll that into the cost of a new high school somewhere nearby, and we're going to take out PA and move these students to another high school? Is that in the cards somewhere within your department?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, this is not something that the department would embark upon. What I can tell the honourable member is that the current worksheet that I have indicates that there is an $8.85 million commitment for Prince Andrew High School, beginning in 2007. Now, I haven't heard any talk of changes to that priority, but that would be something that, if you're talking to school board people, you're talking to the right people. They would be the ones who would be providing suggestions to us.
MS. MASSEY: Mr. Chairman, well, I don't know. I agree the school board members should know what's going on, but sometimes, like us, we're sitting here on a daily basis and sometimes we're not always up to par on what's going on with the government sitting on the other side. Unfortunately we're not always the first to know, and I'm sure, in a lot of cases, school boards aren't the first to know, either.
What concerns me here is when I look at that last list that was sent in, and it says that Dr. Morrison created a long-term facilities plan and that that new high school was part of that plan, and that was the third-highest priority within the Halifax Regional School Board, as early as December 2004, and now that's not on there, even though you're saying, previously, that study was done not through your department but through the Halifax Regional School Board. Then when I hear, well, look out, because we're sending somebody else in or another team into Prince Andrew High School to do another engineering study, I'm just concerned. Why are they really going in there, and what are they trying to find? Are they looking for some reason to put off spending that $8.5 million, or whatever it is?
Prince Andrew High School, as I said, has been around a long time. We need that school there. It has taken a lot of wear and tear; it has taken a lot of abuse. The Department of Education has neglected its role and responsibilities to people in this province, because they have not kept their schools in a healthy state that would make these schools a healthy and happy place for students to go. The teachers, the staff, I commend them. The people at the school board, they try their hardest to make these facilities work. When I was a school board member, I had to threaten, one Summer, to go in with my own bucket of bleach and water to help clean these schools, because you just get to that point. Staff were trying the hardest they could to bring these facilities up to par so that they're a nice place for students to go to.
But when there's no money given to them to paint, to replace windows, to upgrade the ventilation systems, to replace lights, a roof, inside work - this school needs its chemistry labs replaced. I don't know if you're aware, but it was only very recently that they had the HVAC system upgraded at PA. That room has now been renovated, and it's a great facility in Dartmouth East to go and see plays and such. In fact, that was an investment of over $200,000.
So when you look around at the Halifax Regional School Board alone, and the last recollection I have is they're in the hole $20 million on deferred maintenance. I'm not talking big additions and alterations, I'm just talking about deferred maintenance. Our kids are in and out of these buildings on a daily basis, and they do take the wear and tear, teenagers, kids, whoever. We have to start looking at these facilities and start investing some money in them, because I'm afraid that what's happening across this province is we are ignoring them, and they've been left in disrepair. The next thing you know you've got a roof leaking, you've got mould coming in the walls, and then you've got mould and all the health problems related to that.
It's not fair to our students. It's my responsibility here as an MLA to try to look out for students. The only reason I'm here today is because I was an activist in my community, fighting for an elementary school in my area, because our bus was going to be taken away
from them. I had no intention of ever being in here. This was not my life plan, but if I'm here, I'm going to fight for these schools. I just am very concerned that there's something afoot in your department, and something smells fishy to me. So I am just very concerned that you need to look seriously at this and if you're looking at doing something, come out and tell the people of Dartmouth East what your plan is. At least be up front about it. I think that's the fair way to do it.
I don't feel good about going out in my community and stirring up - I don't want to be seen as going out and making a commotion, getting parents riled up and what have you, if there's nothing there. If there's no problem, fine. If we need to look at building a new high school then that's what we need to look at doing. We cannot take high schools out of areas
that they are already existing in because we don't have community recreation facilities that we should have, especially not in Dartmouth East.
I know your department is putting off doing these additions and alterations until 2009 because I have not gotten an answer back telling me no, that's not true. So I'm going to stand by that and say no, it's been put off. Again, I'll hold you to your word if you can tell me here today and you have staff with you, that there is no plan afoot to put the brakes on spending that $8 million, so that you can roll it into another high school somewhere else?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, as I had indicated in response to the previous question from the member for Dartmouth East, the document that I have indicates that there is still $8.85 million committed to the renovation and repair of the Dartmouth High School beginning in 2007 - I'm sorry, Prince Andrew, let me go back, I shouldn't make that mistake not with those two schools. By the way, I like Prince Andrew, I remember we were out there for an announcement and it's a nice place. Anyway, if there is any alteration to that schedule, and I don't know of any, it would come from the school board, not from us. What we have is what is there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for that clarification.
MS. MASSEY: Mr. Chairman, thank you for that answer and we'll just wait and see what happens.
On deferred maintenance, I would like to just go back to that for a minute and I don't know how much time I have, I'll just finish up here in a minute or two and then I'm going to pass it along to another member. I can't stress enough that the department cannot continue to put off these deferred maintenance issues and it's so important that we look after these facilities. These are where our children and our youth go to school and not to mention the teachers and the support staff who are in these buildings too. This is something that I don't think the province, I don't think your department knows what the total number is for deferred maintenance and maybe I'll ask you, maybe you do know. Can you tell me, what's the total amount outstanding on issues that need to be fixed in our schools, windows and such and what have you, on the deferred maintenance list in the whole province?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, what I can tell the honourable member to begin with is that in the 2005-06 fiscal year, the government has committed $90.5 million of capital to go into school construction and that would include some major renovations. In addition, of course, there is the other regular money which flows through the operating budget. Clearly, the deferred maintenance issue in the public schools alters every time a new school is opened. In other words, presumably that number should be going down. I'm advised that some years ago, prior to this government embarking upon its rather ambitious school construction project, that it was around $0.5 billion.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I think my colleague for Dartmouth East had kind of attempted to ease me into this by letting you know that it was going to be me, but circumstances didn't allow it. Well I'm glad to have a few minutes and I guess it's very few. I'm sharing my time again.
I guess there are a couple of issues in Hants East that I have some concerns about. Last year I asked the minister about the adult high school in Elmsdale, and I haven't heard very much in a negative way about that adult high school. It sounds as though at least there's no indication that there's a problem there with it and the board, or if the board has been looking at closing that facility. So I'm just wondering if the minister, if anything has come across his desk and his views because all my comments of last year, I think, still apply. We see that as a valuable component and the educational infrastructure not just in Hants East because it draws from a broader area, but I'd like to know if the minister has anything that indicates there's a concern about funding or the longevity of that facility?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for endorsing adult education because I know that he, like me and others on this side of the House, really understand how important these adult high schools are to some people who have not, for one reason or another, completed their high school. Now we of course support programs under the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning. But the idea of that facility - and I believe that facility in Elmsdale is in a school that was abandoned for the new elementary school - that would be a decision made by the board and I haven't heard that they intend to change that decision but again you'd be really better off to go to your local school board member. He would have better knowledge of that than me.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate that and you raise a good point. I guess the fact that nothing has come to you or to your deputy would indicate that things are probably okay, because I know when I raised it last year, definitely the deputy was aware of the issue and I'm not hearing anything. I guess I'm taking this opportunity to be a spokesman in support of it. I think the province, if it's not feeling it already, it's soon going to feel it, and that's a skill shortage on the vocational side. I would like to see some flexibility for vocational training outside of the community college system, I guess, is the only place I can see to go because obviously when the vocational schools disappeared they were taken over as the community college system and I think there is a body of students who probably are not going to qualify to get into those programs and even though it has been well documented, there aren't enough seats at it is.
I'd like to make that recommendation and probably I could say something the minister has heard of before, but I know that when I was still in the classroom at that time there were young men and women who were in the vocational system who actually came back to the school when it turned over to the community college and within two or three months they were gone. I think they went out into the workforce with no skills, and I see that as very serious. I have friends in the construction trade in a variety of areas and they are saying when they are on a job, the youngest person they see is 40 years old so there is going to be a problem there.
Recently on our board, they went to the semestering system and that was in part the reason I raised the issue of the adult education because some of those students who went to the adult school would have done so because they couldn't get a credit. With the semestering system now, they can go back for one term and get two courses or they will probably have to take four so that, I thought, may have impacted the adult school a bit but anyway, if you could just keep my concerns, I would like to know on the question of vocational training, if you had any thoughts in that direction, or your department.
MR. MUIR: The honourable member for Hants East has raised a topic that has been of great concern to our department but more importantly it is of great concern to those people who are looking for tradespeople in the province. There is no question that just about every segment of our working population, the average age of whether it is a teacher or a bricklayer or a mechanic, whatever it is, gets on and we have to try to fill that void because, to be quite frank, the economic future of our province depends on an adequate supply of tradespeople or educated people who can learn a trade to attract more industry.
We have the Skills and Learning Branch and with your permission, Madam Chairman, I just want to talk a little bit about it. In the trades, and this is the Apprenticeship Training Division, there are 54 designated trades and nine compulsory certified trades. In other words, if they are compulsory, then you can't practice unless you have a ticket. We have a little less than 4,350 active apprentices and there are 875 who are what we will call new registrants. The average age of these new apprentices is 27.3 so going back to your question, that gap, they don't seem to be going into the apprenticeship thing directly out of high school. They are going out and doing something else and going back into it but that, of course, a lot of the apprenticeship is done through the community college and if you take a look at the average age in community college, a first year student compared to a first year university student, you will find that is significantly higher.
There are about 3,400 employer participants. We issued last year about 650 qualification certificates, about 540 interprovincial red seals were issued and there were about 1,950 certificates in these compulsory trades. The tickets have to be renewed on a regular basis and there are about 1,950 of those certificates renewed.
In the skill development and workplace education, we have 49 employers and companies, 101 programs and about 1,100 participants. A key portion of our efforts in this regard, and we talked about the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning, getting to the GED, we held 50 group testing sessions last year. There were more than 1,360 individuals who wrote their GEDs and there were 707 equivalency certificates issued so you can see that there is a fair bit of progress being made. We are recognizing this.
In the adult learning, I have just a little bit more information for you on that one, we have 180 adult learning programs across the province under the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning, and as you know, some of them are held in community colleges, some of them in basements of libraries and 4,750 enrolments. There were 430 people who got high school graduation diplomas and since 2001, there have been more than 1,000 people who have graduated from the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning.
Now we were concerned that this 2002 program, which we have talked about in here on a couple of occasions, is designed to recognize that gap, or to fill that gap that you and I both know exists. What it will do is take people who don't seem to be all that interested in going on and pursuing a very strong academic career, in other words perhaps going on to university, but instead they are more interested in sort of more practical things.
So what we are doing is trying to set up a partnership with the community college which will involve placements in the community so they can not only enhance their job readiness skills from sort of a classroom perspective but also get some practical work on the job. We used to call it distributive education at one time and I think actually Hants East was involved in that many years ago and that's going on but the more important thing to this is more and more trades are becoming designated. If you are going to be a lead hand then you have to have a ticket, then people, as a result of participating in this 2002 program, will basically, if they succeed and do it properly, be guaranteed a seat in the community college which would perhaps lead them into an apprenticeship program.
I just want to tell you a little bit about the boat building program which we announced about a month ago in conjunction with the Nova Scotia Boat Builders Association. We had, certainly in the last two or three years, we had a number of representations from people in the boat building industry and some of you have been fortunate enough, like I have been, to visit some of these boat yards and as everybody knows, Nova Scotia's reputation in boat building, we build some of not only the finest fishing or working boats, we build some of the finest recreational boats and our market is not so much in Canada as it is down in the States.
Anyway, the industry came to us and said that we really need a program for boat builders in conjunction with the Nova Scotia Boat Builders Association and our branch of skills and learning. The best course was in New Zealand and we were able to form a partnership with the boat building industry or whoever governs that in New Zealand with our own Boat Builders Association and our Skills and Learning Branch with the community
college and we are now setting up an apprenticeship program, really, for people to go into the boat building trades and hopefully that will be very good - well it will be very good - particularly for some of our coastal communities. The Nova Scotia reputation, and this was something I really didn't understand until I started meeting with those folks, we have really just an outstanding reputation in boat building across North America which is really just great.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley.
MS. MARILYN MORE: Madam Chairman, before I start on several questions about the public school system as it impacts on my constituency, I did want to ask another question and that is the status of the NSCAD decision in terms of its third location.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, the issue of the additional site for NSCAD certainly has been in the news the last two or three months. The board has reviewed two sites, one in Dartmouth and one down on the Halifax waterfront. This is a decision that is going to be made by the board in the best interest of hopefully the students, the college and the community.
The way that came about is there are a couple of buildings where they are operational now. One is the Morses Tea Building, as everybody knows, and the lease is expired on that. Then there was the other building and it needs major renovation and repair and to update their program, they can't do it in that building. So if they are going to continue and to grow, then they have to switch sites. I think the current facilities have one more year on them and I think it would be in Fall 2006 that they would have to move facilities, so that will be a decision made by the board. I don't know if they made a final decision.
I have received a letter from the board indicating at least their preliminary decision but I would prefer that you not ask me to table that letter because it may be privileged information.
MS. MORE: As the minister is no doubt aware, the Board of Governors for NSCAD has as its main responsibility the best interests of the students and that university. Certainly, the location of the third campus is going to have an impact on the surrounding community that it locates in. The province, through the Waterfront Development Corporation, and also through the regional plan through the HRM, is looking to downtown Dartmouth in a significant way in terms of future plans. I would just like to say on the floor of the Legislature, in Committee of the Whole House on Supply, that NSCAD coming to Dartmouth Cove would be a huge catalyst for the transformation of the downtown Dartmouth area. I just feel that there is some provincial interest in this decision and I would like to be
sure that the minister and the department, in whatever relationship they have with NSCAD in terms of making this decision, are aware that there are a lot of people watching this decision making very carefully and we just want to make the best investment of public dollars possible, to keep this broader interest of the community in mind.
I would like to move on to my public school questions. I find it interesting, I actually was the first woman elected to a school board in Nova Scotia over 25 years ago. I served on the Dartmouth School Board for 10 years and it amazes me how many of the current issues and crises are the very same ones that we were dealing with then. (Interruption) I'm not sure they're recycled, they've just never gone away. I actually find that a bit discouraging.
One of those issues is supplementary funding and I happened to attend, with my colleague for Halifax Citadel, last Wednesday, a meeting of the Halifax Regional School Board discussing the motion on supplementary funding. I shook my head in amazement to think that well over 25 years later, we're still discussing the same issue and it has not been resolved. I'm just wondering, is there any leadership role that the Department of Education and the minister can take to solve this issue once and for all?
MR. MUIR: The issue of supplemental funding is really a matter between HRM and the regional school board. I know that one of your colleagues did mention that earlier today. If you remember back - and I'm sure you do - to 1996, when the Municipal Government Act was passed at the request of the HRM and the ability for the continuation of supplemental funding was put in that Act. There was a provision for, I guess, exit - if you want to call it - on a 10 per cent reduction. It's the only area in the province that has supplemental funding and I know through that supplemental funding there are some very fine projects being funded, things that enrich students.
We're always willing to support solutions that the two parties can come to. Just let me rephrase that, I understand right now there is probably a price tag to that which we cannot deal with, it's something that for as long as I've known about the Halifax School Board and then later the HRM School Board, clearly this has been a debate and I expect it will continue. Once you get beyond the debate and people whose students benefit from that supplemental funding, they do good things with it, it's not wasted money. One of the things that is a little bit difficult, of course, is that the distribution of the supplemental funds does vary from situation to situation, there is some uneveness about it.
MS. MORE: Well, I'll disagree with the minister on one thing and that is sort of the root cause of all of this. I know it's chronic underfunding by the provincial government, especially to the school board serving one-third of the population of this province. Even in my day on the school board, part of the necessity for supplementary funding was to cover the increased special education costs because so many families with children with disabilities and special needs actually moved to the metro area to be close to the health services. So
proportionately, the boards in this area had more increased costs to cover the inclusion of those children in the school system.
I have very little time left and I want to mention a couple of other things. I just want to echo my concern that it has been mentioned by several of my colleagues about the deferred maintenance. I have a lot of concern about air quality in our public school system. I'm not sure and I will ask the minister this, are there any requirements to have regular testing of air quality in public schools?
MR. MUIR: Clearly, with any new construction one of the standards to be incorporated would relate to air quality. If the honourable member is concerned about air quality on specific issues, she probably should make them known to whoever looks after that in the HRM. Schools and school boards normally test air quality with some degree of regularity if they think there could be a problem. There are not guidelines that I'm aware of that come from the Department of Education which tell school boards you must test air quality in schools on any particular, regular basis. I think if there is any reason to suspect a concern, I would be very surprised if the school board didn't do regular testing.
MS. MORE: I'd like to suggest that a constituency in an older part of a municipality like mine doesn't have many new schools. One of the schools, South Woodside, is across the street from a propane transfer station, across the street from an oil refinery, it has exhaust coming onto the school grounds from a dry cleaning establishment and recently we've discovered that the ground underneath part of the playground is full of toxins from that same dry cleaners. Not surprisingly, the students in that school have a higher than average rate of asthma and goodness knows what else. I think the Department of Education has a responsibility to set some standards for air quality testing and other health and safety factors and to ensure that there's a consistent standard across this province.
My last question is about fundraising. I understand, after I raised the issue at the Public Accounts Committee several months ago, that the department did raise the issue of my figure of $50 million fundraising done around this province by parents, teachers and students. I'm just wondering, are the findings of the report or those discussions public information and is there any way of getting access to that?
MR. MUIR: I was checking with staff but quite frankly, I know part of that was listed in one of the daily newspapers and I didn't realize that there were parts of it that were not public, I believe it was the Halifax Regional School Board because it seemed to me that's where I first saw the information, I think it was the Daily News that had it. Certainly, there is no reason why we can't make that public, or at least table it in the House.
MS. MORE: I'd be very interested in getting that information. I'm also interested to know if the department's going to do anything in terms of developing provincial guidelines as to the appropriateness of certain fundraising for students, parents, teachers, and if there
has been any sort of study of the impact of this extent of fundraising on the actual school curriculum and student's access to that curriculum.
MR. MUIR: We said, I guess last week, that certainly we don't expect students to pay for curriculum items, that's not the case, but access to public school is, by legislation, free and will certainly continue to be so.
Clearly, there has been fundraising in schools for as long as I can remember and I expect it will continue on. Our guidelines would be, for example, some of the health and safety initiatives that I think you're going to see fewer students selling candy than you used to see before. As a matter of fact, I was in an elementary school in my community of Truro, Douglas Street Elementary, not that long ago on a Friday afternoon where they had normally sold chocolate bars to raise money, that's a P to Grade 5 school I guess and they took the candy sales away from it, and they had a Read-a-Thon, and if I remember correctly there were 1,200 odd hours of extra reading compiled by the students. They went out and got pledges for all this reading they were doing and they raised $4,400. This was an initiative by the parents.
In terms of fundraising, I think there are certain things that aren't appropriate but really schools would make that decision. They have a variety of ways, they have fun fairs, they sell citrus fruit, they have variety concerts, they do a variety of things and most school sports teams are responsible for raising a portion of their budget and they do it in a variety of ways. I wish I could remember one of the things we did when I was involved in the fundraising for the school's band in Truro. There were a number of people involved in it and no student was denied the right to make a trip, whether there was certain group fundraising and then there was a provision for pocket money for students. They would go out and every student was given the same opportunity to raise this pocket money. If they didn't need that source of revenue they didn't take it but it was there to make sure every student had an equal access to the pocket money for this particular activity.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. DANIEL GRAHAM: I have a series of questions, many of them will be focused on the region that I'm in, I represent the Halifax region and then there will be some more general questions that I was hoping to be able to touch on a little bit last year. I'm going to provide to you a document, and I know it's with the Page and I'll provide it to the chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We will just have a few minutes break while we wait for the Minister of Education to come back.
MR. GRAHAM: The minister's officials are here and the documents that I've just tabled, they may want to just do a quick check to see whether the figures are accurate figures so that we use them as a basis, on a go-forward basis. Madam Chairman, my question for the
minister is whether or not, with the document I have tabled before him, he considers that to be an accurate reflection of the funding per student in each of the school boards across Nova Scotia?
MR. MUIR: I don't know the source of that document, if perhaps the honourable member could give it to me. If it's a department document then I would say yes, if it is not, then we'd have to check the figures.
MR. GRAHAM: I guess we'll have to be general. I'm not sufficiently certain that they are department documents because I didn't download them personally and I'm not prepared to actually verify them but this would be for the 2004-05 year as I understand it. I'm most interested in the discrepancy between the Halifax Regional School Board and the others and I'm wondering whether or not the minister can confirm that this looks generally as it would look for the Halifax Regional School Board in relation to the rest of the province.
MR. MUIR: I can't verify that because I don't know the source of the information but I do know that because of their critical mass and the size of their schools that basically this would be the same situation in every province. The largest school boards, because of the efficiencies that come from critical mass and more students, on a per-student basis the funding is less.
MR. GRAHAM: Mr. Minister, I accept that and I would presume that it's always the case that the most urban area on a per-student basis in most of the provinces and Nova Scotia would have lower funding than the school boards in more rural areas, transportation is obviously an issue. Really, the question comes down to whether the balance has been properly struck and that's the overriding question that I have. These figures are available through the Halifax Regional School Board and I'm not sure whether they came directly from the Department of Education or whether they were provided from some other source. I would indicate to you that this is the result of calculations done at the Halifax Regional School Board and I'll indicate to the minister what my calculations of these numbers suggest.
Dealing with the third column that is before you, it suggests that on a per student basis, in Halifax, students received $5,409. The average, if you include Halifax, is $5,852. Now, Mr. Minister, unless I'm punching my calculator inaccurately, you will see that there are some documents just below that that suggest - and I will provide the interpretation for you - when you take out the $5,409 and you add up the remaining six school boards and divide by six to determine what the average is for the school boards in the other parts of Nova Scotia - and I appreciate that this isn't a weighted average - the average, just using these raw numbers is $6,365 for the rest of Nova Scotia. Now that would suggest that the funding for the other school boards is, on average, approaching 20 per cent higher than it is in the Halifax region.
If there is a figure that you have that suggests that it is something different, then I would welcome that. If the figure is, instead of what I'm going to propose to be a figure in the high teens, in other words, the per student funding in school boards outside of Halifax is higher than the Halifax area by a percentage approaching 20 per cent and that raises the question of whether or not we are striking the right balance and whether or not in this region we have been shortchanged and whether or not Mr. Hogg had his hands tied behind his back and whether or not when the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley and I witnessed another display of the Halifax Regional School Board and Halifax Regional Council going at it at the school board the other night, whether or not, as was said by Councillor Uteck, the real culprit wasn't in the room, the real culprit is the province because the province chronically underfunds the Halifax Regional School Board. The same issue that was raised by the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley.
So my question for the minister is whether or not he believes the Hogg Report was intended to address the chronic underfunding of the Halifax Regional School Board.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, I'm not so sure I would agree with the adverbs that the honourable member is using. He is talking about chronic underfunding and I'm not so sure that is the case. I wanted to begin my reply, the financial analysis that was done of the school boards by Mr. Hogg would indicate that Halifax has about 35.4 per cent of the total grants and their population is about the same so the percentage of the money which is flowing to public education is very close to what their population is.
However, in response to that, as the honourable member knows, department and school board officials have had some feeling, for some years, that probably the way the money flowed to the school boards in Nova Scotia should be revisited. With that in mind, the department engaged a former Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr. Bill Hogg, to take a look and to offer an opinion and make a suggestion how money should flow to the school boards in Nova Scotia. If the honourable member will remember, I think according to the Hogg formula, he would see that Halifax would get 1 per cent more or something like that so his opinion is that it would not be drastic. That's why we hired Mr. Hogg and we received that report. We are taking the report and going back now to the school boards to get some advice from them as to whether they think the information that Mr. Hogg has presented is, indeed, accurate.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, my question for the minister is whether or not he can indicate specifically. He said that the HRSB received 35.4 per cent of the total funding and they have about that same percentage of the total student population, could he be specific about what that number is and provide a source for that? I know he was referring to some documents, perhaps even table that document so that we could get a photocopy of it.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, I'm going to have to check that statement. I'm looking at the Hogg Report so I don't see any sense in tabling that. You want a copy of it but that's what I was looking at. The number to which I referred was a different number than I was looking at so I'm going to have to go take a look at that. I thought, actually, it was a little higher, the number to which I referred was a little higher. Anyway, I will take a look at it, yes.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, the concern that I have is this really is the foundation for many of my questions. I'm going to suggest that this a highly relevant issue. The minister has suggested that 35.4 per cent is the funding that is received by HRSB and that 35.4 per cent is the percentage of students who are in HRSB. What I'm going to suggest is that in fact it's about 40 per cent of the student population. (Interruption) I hear the minister suggesting his agreement with this last assertion, after I finish my question, perhaps he will have an opportunity to answer.
Madam Chairman, in a budget that runs almost $1 billion, those percentage differences are very significant. Here, once again, we find ourselves in a situation where the funding that has been provided is really left to be crumbs in a province - and I appreciate that the budget for the Halifax region over the last year has increased by 5.8 per cent and overall the provincial total increase is about 5.5 per cent. This has meant $17.7 new dollars coming to the Halifax Regional School Board. The question obviously is whether or not that is enough, given the increases that have happened in other places.
The minister has referred to the Hogg Report and I note with some interest, I'm happy to table it if necessary, that back on April 30, 2004, when the Hogg Report was being proposed and when there was once again a perennial problem with respect to the funding of schools in the Halifax region, this government put up its hand and said don't worry, we are going to fix it because we put a process in place that is going to make this work and I will read from the top line of the Department of Education's press release dated April 30, 2004, "A new school board funding formula will be developed this year and implemented starting in 2005-06. A transition plan for the new formula will also be developed this year."
So when the Halifax Regional School Board and Halifax Regional Council had their big fight last year and there were threats of cutting off music, arts and cuts happening to special education, the response of this department was to say don't worry, be happy. In a year's time it's all going to be okay because Mr. Hogg, the former Finance Deputy Minister is going to provide a report for the Legislature that is meaningful.
The Hogg Report has returned, Madam Chairman, and it's obvious that even if the Hogg Report was fully implemented, it wouldn't address the overall problems and that's because of one fundamental flaw that existed in the Hogg Report mandate and that was that adequacy of funding for the school boards and for education in Nova Scotia was not part of the mandate. Adequacy is at the heart of the problem in Nova Scotia. To ask Mr. Hogg to
come forward with a report in a province that ranks 10th out of 10 in education funding is to tie his hands behind his back. So what happens? We come back again this year with the same problem because Mr. Hogg had to work with the puny envelope that is provided by this Department of Education.
My question for the minister is why did you tie the hands of Mr. Hogg and not release them so that he could examine the issue of the total adequacy of funding in the province that funds students 10th out of 10 of all provinces in Canada?
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, I want to tell you that one thing that the honourable member hasn't been able to internalize in his period of time in government is that just because you spend a lot of money doesn't necessarily make things better. I want to tell you that in the international comparison of student performance in Nova Scotia, we rank above a lot of countries. We also rank above a number of our provincial and territorial colleagues. You aren't going to have quality education without money but, on the other hand, money does not guarantee quality. I wish the honourable member would recognize that and start talking about the positive things that we do in education and how well our students do.
Anyway, to be quite frank, the issue of whether there is enough money for education, Madam Chairman, no there is not enough money for education because there is not enough money for community services and there is not enough money for roads and there is not enough money for health, there is not enough money for health promotion and there's not enough money for natural resources nor for fisheries and agriculture or anything else. With those few comments, which I know the honourable member for Dartmouth North supports, that to ask Mr. Hogg to go out and say is there enough money for education or for health or for any other service (Interruption) Like roads, absolutely, the answer is clearly no. We would all like to have that other $4 million that my colleague in Transportation and Public Works likes. We would like to have that additional $8 billion that people say we need in health. We would like to have that $20 billion that we would like to have in education. Mr. Hogg was given the appropriate mandate.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, he wasn't given the appropriate mandate because we live in a province that spends less on public education than any province in the country and you can't ask somebody to go out there and do a job when you can't ask them to at least address the issue of how big the envelope is. It feels like a bit of a replay from last year when we spoke to the minister about this and he said I was too much of a naysayer when it came to the status of education.
Madam Chairman, I want it to be clear that I applaud the hard work of the people in the education system in this Province of Nova Scotia and the students who work hard to try to make do with so little. For this minister to continue to stand behind the thin veneer of
"money doesn't solve all problems", frankly, provides a window into what must have happened once again when education was supposed to be the big priority, a strong priority. I accept that this government has increased funding to education above the rate of the consumer price index in this particular budget. One might expect it when there is a $0.5 billion windfall that comes to the government in new revenue in relation to last year.
Let's remember that last year, when we were facing a stiffer crunch with respect to education funding, what we found was that this minister and his government said we are going to protect health and we are going to protect education. What happened with respect to education is that the increase last year was about 2 per cent and almost all of that went into wages. So in terms of enhancing the quality of education in this province, for the minister to stand here and ask for me to be a cheerleader for this government is completely ridiculous, given the steps that haven't been taken over the last period of time.
Now the minister is going to stand up and rave about all the new improvements, I expect, that have been brought forward by his government. My focus is on the Halifax region and whether or not this was an opportunity to redress a long-standing problem because when Mr. Hogg came down, even with the small amounts, Madam Chairman, that would have come from the Hogg Report, given that the mandate was tied, what happened was that the minister said, well we are going to implement a part of Hogg but for those school boards that were to receive an increase, they are only going to get a 50 per cent increase. So the promise from April 30, 2004, in the Department of Education's news release didn't get fulfilled this particular year. It relates, again, back to the Hogg Report.
My question relates to how long the government decided to delay before it even went forward with the Hogg Report. My question specifically for the minister is, when did he first receive a copy of the Hogg Report in its substantially finished form?
MR. MUIR: The report came into the department on December 31st and I would have seen it probably a week or so later.
MR. GRAHAM: My question, Madam Chairman, is, why did it take months before the government decided to take action or inaction on something that had been sitting on the minister's desk since December 31st?
MR. MUIR: One of the things that we wanted to do was to see that school boards had an opportunity to take a look at what Mr. Hogg had recommended and to reflect upon it in some detail. They had seen some general parameters back in October or November, whenever it was, but they didn't see the financial analysis. What was contained in that final document was a financial analysis which we wanted to make sure that school boards had a chance to sift through and to analyze because, to be quite frank, we see this as being a very significant report and we aren't interested in going back and redoing this annually.
What I wanted to table for the honourable member, and I'm going to read just a bit from this, Madam Chairman, and this is from the Truro Daily News on May 5th. I happened to see it this morning before I came down.
"For only the second time since amalgamation the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board's teaching staff is not shrinking.
The board agreed in principle last night to accept senior staff's recommended teaching complement . . . an increase of 25 from last year.
In all but one other year in the board's nine-year existence, the teacher staffing allotment has decreased.
The board was able to maintain the current level of teachers, despite a declining student enrollment, due to an $8.6-million increase in provincial funding to $153.4 million.
Superintendent Gary Miller said without the increase in provincial funding the board would have lost 40 positions."
Madam Chairman, I table that because the honourable member may wish to be a naysayer but the people who are receiving the additional funding from the government this year in the public school sector recognize that it has been a very positive development.
MR. GRAHAM: This undoubtedly, Madam Chairman, would be a popular move in Truro where the minister's home riding is and where this seems to be cited from. I come from a constituency in Halifax where the students are receiving funding at a rate almost 20 per cent less than in those other places, on average. The concerns that are being brought to the doorsteps by my constituents are suggesting that this government really isn't interested in supporting the Halifax region and is focused entirely on some other areas when it comes to school funding. This was the window to provide new funding to a region that has been chronically underfunded.
In the words of Councillor Uteck, after the squabble again broke out between the Halifax Regional School Board and the Halifax Regional Council, she said, and I'm quoting from a report May 5th, same date as he just mentioned: There is one culprit that nobody wants to identify and it's the province. We're the lowest funded board in the country. It's my hope the board will turn on its master, the province, and get parents out and get upset about the state of education.
I can say, Madam Chairman, to the minister, the parents are upset, the families are upset in the Halifax region with respect to this chronic underfunding that continues to persist
and once again they are left fighting over funds, over crumbs.
The minister has spoken about the issue of supplementary funding which came up and the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley was at the school board meeting, as I mentioned, the other night. He is aware that supplementary funding is a $20 million envelope and there is no question that the issue of the imbalance between one part of the Halifax Regional School Board and other parts needs to be sorted out at some point down the road but in order to have that happen, it requires provincial leadership.
Setting that aside for a moment, what we have is a $20 million fund that appears to be shrunk, which puts at risk arts, music, many other enhancements that are supposed to be in place but it goes beyond that because, Madam Chairman, the supplementary fund of $20 million doesn't go into those enhancements. Instead, it goes to top up the inadequacies that exist in the funding for this particular school board. Instead, most of the money from supplementary funding goes into teaching positions instead of enhancement. It goes particularly into the very important subject of special education. Most of the supplementary funding, including the number of full-time equivalents in this particular year, goes to core funding issues. My question for the minister is whether or not he ever foresees a time when the supplementary funding pool, whatever it is and however it's balanced, truly is able to go just to enhancements instead of to core funding because the province can't provide adequate funding to this particular region?
MR. MUIR: As I say, the issue of supplemental funding, that's a matter between HRM and the school board but I just want to tell you that I've been advised that if you were to take specialist positions on sort of a ratio around the province, that Halifax would be 48 positions richer. So to say that that supplemental funding may not be playing a role in that, I'm surprised to hear him say that.
MR. GRAHAM: It is that, Madam Chairman, because the taxpayers in Halifax pay the extra toll because this particular province doesn't provide the kind of support that is needed in special education. All of the research, the minister would know, as an educator, suggests that because the facilities that support children with special needs are mostly in the Capital Region, a disproportionate number of the families who need special education are in the Halifax region as a result which takes me to a related subject and it's the one of English as a second language.
Now, presently, if I understand the facts correctly, there are 11.5 ESL teachers in the Halifax region. The minister has $100,000, as I understand it, for ESL. The Office of Immigration has $250,000 for ESL. After having promised, when the Hogg Report was rejected, when the new funding formula was put in place, the minister promised that he was going to provide adequate funding through the Office of Immigration. Will he concede that the funding envelope that's available, even if everything was spent in Halifax from both his office and from the Immigration Office, wouldn't pay for the cost of ESL as it presently exists?
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, the money which has been available from the Department of Education and the Office of Immigration, of course, is over an eight-month period and if you multiply by that by 12 over eight, it comes out to roughly $525,000. In addition to that, in responding to a question the other day, one of the reasons, perhaps, that Halifax would have 11 teachers as opposed to eight or something like that, I'm not entirely sure, is because of the large number of international students who would come into the system and for which the board received special funding. The money which accompanies those international students, as student exchange, is put into a separate account and how the board would distribute that back for ESL, I can tell you that, I'm pretty sure that it's not accounted for in their ESL expenditure.
In addition, if we are operating on the premise that these 11 ESL teachers are dealing with students who are taking ESL, period, then, of course, you would have to take the number of students with whom they deal and allocate the per student funding to them as well. When you are trying to determine the amount of money that would be available for ESL, it's probably a little bit more complex than simply looking at that line item.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, the problem is even worse in the constituency of the Minister of Finance where they don't have as substantial a portion of the supplementary funding provided to the Bedford area. So what you end up with is an area with high immigration but no funding available through supplementary funding to ensure that those families - and Bedford, as the minister, I expect, would appreciate, is an area where immigrant families would have a significant interest in settling in - they have virtually no support. The 11.5 positions that I have mentioned are for areas outside the Bedford area, almost exclusively.
So my question, again, for the minister, even accepting your figure of $525,000 annualized dollars, even accepting that every nickel of that went to Halifax, surely knowing what the numbers are in Halifax currently and what the underfunding is, you would agree that $525,000 is not a big enough envelope to even start to address this issue.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, as I said to the honourable member, when you are counting up money that is available for ESL, you have to look beyond the line item in the budget and whether or not there are ESL teachers out in the Bedford schools, I don't know. I would be surprised, if there was sufficient need out there, that the board would not provide that service. That doesn't seem to me to be consistent with my understanding of how the Halifax Regional School Board operates.
The collective thing, is there enough money, and I had answered that some time ago, I thought, take any portion of education and you can always say that there is not enough money. I was reading a little book of quotes last night, the 1,000 or 2,000 best things ever
said and one of the quotes was that if you rob Peter to pay Paul, I can tell you that Paul is not going to complain.
MR. GRAHAM: I'm not sure whether that proverb sort of makes it through my thick brain in the circumstances, Madam Chairman, but perhaps the minister will have an opportunity to bring more wisdom and an answer to the following question. I'm aware of these figures and I'm open-ended with respect to the answer to this but it's apparent from the questions and answers that have been asked so far that it's appropriate to ask this; last year, funding for education increased by 2 per cent and total revenue in last year's budget, I think, increased by a little bit more than that. This year, funding for education in this budget increased by about 5.5 per cent and I'm wondering whether or not revenue and expenditures are greater globally for this government this year, the increase, than that 5.5 per cent?
MR. MUIR: I suggest that he may wish to refer that question to my colleague, the Minister of Finance.
MR. GRAHAM: The frustration that flows from this, Madam Chairman, is that this government, last year, spoke about protecting education and the protection of education meant that you barely kept pace with inflation and this year we have an increase of $500 billion in revenue spent in a variety of different directions for this province and it was said to be an education budget. It was put on the front page of certainly the provincial newspaper, The ChronicleHerald, that there was this education budget coming down the pipe but we found that the increases for education weren't as great as the increases for health and I'm just wondering whether or not the increases in education, at 5.5 per cent, are greater than or on par with the overall averages in the increased spending in this budget.
MR. MUIR: I want to go back, Madam Chairman, to tell the honourable member that the information about the public school education budget was extremely well received by our education partners. He asked me the question about the overall provincial budget and the increase in the Health budget and the increase in the Education budget. Indeed, this was advertised as an education budget and if you go out and ask any of the partners, they will tell you, yes, indeed, it was an education budget and we are very proud of that.
One of the things that the honourable member does know is that we have a 5.9 per cent overall increase in the Education budget and 5 per cent in public education yet the numbers of students in public education is going down so we have a declining population yet an increasing budget. He would also know that the funding that school boards receive is based on September 30, 2004, yet the population for whom the bulk of that spending is intended will be the students who are there in September 2005. As you know, the population is going down.
Madam Chairman, we are proud and our partners are very happy. They would like to have more, we would like to be able to give more but the effort that the government has put forth to enhance public education has been very well received by our partners.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, I just had the image of Oliver Twist in the orphanage scene at the start of that movie where people who have been fed just gruel for a long period of time go up and ask for more and are expected to be thankful for what they receive in the circumstances. I won't compare the minister, in fairness to him, to Mr. Bumble but nonetheless, I think there is something to be said about the fact that this government has fed the Nova Scotia school boards so lightly, and its partners so lightly that as soon as they receive anything they are thankful to get whatever they have received.
What is noteworthy is that, and I'm citing here from Page 17 of the Nova Scotia Regional School Board's funding formula framework, the Hogg Report, and on Page 17, I just provide, in response to one of the things that the minister has said about declining enrolment, that again it's the Halifax region that has seen the smallest decline in enrolment of all of the school boards. Secondly, if I could refer him to Page 46 of the Hogg Report, when you take the aggregate, this is what I understand to be the class sizes, the class sizes in the Halifax region appear to be - particularly at the junior high school and senior high school level - higher than they are in the other parts of the province. So it's just another indication, Madam Chairman, that there appears to be a discrepancy in terms of the funding. This government seems to be deaf to the concerns that come up, certainly to the members of the Official Opposition and in my constituency where they hear complaints from constituents on a regular basis that the funding for constituencies on the Opposition side of the benches are lower, not universally, I accept, but certainly in the metro area they are lower than they are in other regions of the province.
I would offer one other comment before I go to a new line of questioning and that is that if the funding increase in education is 5.9 per cent and the increased amount of the overall budget is in the range of $500 million new dollars, it strikes me that the increase in the overall spending in this particular budget is close to 10 per cent. It may be in the range of 8 per cent or 9 per cent, so for an Education budget, the increase in education didn't even keep up to the average for the increase of the total budget which, I guess, reflects some of the sentiment and the minister's penchant for continuing to sort of cheerlead the status quo. It's on the status quo that I would like to touch.
Scholastic achievement. The minister indicated that we actually rank above other provinces in some areas. Today's Parent magazine did a consolidation of the test scores that are the national test scores, the SAIPs, the minister would be familiar with those. They are the standard by which provinces are ranked and just a few years ago, the last consolidation that happened ranked Nova Scotia students, disappointingly, 10th out of 10. Now the minister has indicated that we are doing, in some areas, better than other provinces. Can he indicate
to this House whether, on a consolidation of the current SAIP tests, we are no longer 10th or whether he will concede that perhaps we are still 10th out of 10 provinces.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, I have been advised that the SAIP scores, they don't do rankings, there is a Canadian average, and you are either above or below.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, I would like for the minister to perhaps provide documented support for that, that there is not an overall ranking because certainly the SAIPs were doing rankings until a year or so ago and I'm wondering if he could indicate whether or not this is a recent development where they don't rank provinces because they had been doing this for some period of time.
MR. MUIR: We will try to get that information for the honourable member. I don't have the SAIP results or information on SAIP with me.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, if I could just turn back to one final issue with respect to the Halifax Regional School Board and it may relate to other school boards. The funding envelope for heating was increased by 10 cents per litre in this last budget. I'm wondering whether or not the minister can confirm, is it a 10 cent increase on a specific cost per litre of fuel for the schools in the Halifax region?
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, there is a rather complex formula that the department goes through when it's allocating increases in operational budgets for fuel but it is roughly about 10 cents per litre.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, 10 cents a litre above what? What had it been before?
MR. MUIR: Again, we don't have that information with us, Madam Chairman, but the additional money that has been allocated for energy costs for next year is about $2.6 million.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, I'm wondering whether or not the minister could provide to this House a copy of whatever information is available. Obviously, if the department is saying that they are increasing fuel amounts by 10 cents, the department must know 10 cents above what figure and I'm wondering whether or not the minister would provide an undertaking to the House to provide us with an indication of what that amount is.
MR. MUIR: Certainly, Madam Chairman. We will do that.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, I would like to turn to the general subject of special education. Before I do, I would again reference the reports that have been prepared back in June, I'm trying to think of the year. I think it was June 2002, the report with the acronym - I'm sure the member for Timberlea-Prospect would remember the acronym - of the SEIRC Report. The SEIRC Report was put before the Department of Education. It took a long period of time before there was any response to the SEIRC Report. It called for an immediate injection of approximately, I believe it was $20 million, if my memory serves me correct. It also provided for that to be sustained funding as an increase in the base across the province and it also indicated that there was a need to provide enhancements overall, right across the board.
I also take note of the indication in the Today's Parent Magazine that, again, consolidated the difference between support for special education in this province compared to other provinces and it indicated that not only are we 10th out of 10 with respect to general funding, but at that time we were 10th out of 10 with respect to the funding that we provide to special education. I am wondering whether or not the Premier - sorry, the minister - can confirm that we are still 10th out of 10 or have we begun to climb the ladder in funding for special education?
MR. MUIR: I appreciate the promotion given to me from the honourable member. I also notice that he referred to you as Your Honour a little bit earlier, too, so maybe we both got a promotion. I'm not trying to sound crass, Madam Chairman, but we don't rely on our information in the Department of Education from Today's Parent magazine.
MR. GRAHAM: Madam Chairman, there is a concern that I've heard among a number of parents who are close to the special education system. It relates to a philosophical question of processing students through the education system. I think most of us have come to understand that integration, generally speaking, is a positive thing but in order for integration to work properly, as all members of the House would agree, it needs to be properly resourced. For many students, this becomes an exceptional challenge because the intensity of the learning experience needs to be such that the classroom isn't always a perfect situation and, more to my point, going through the public education system in 13 years or even in 14 years or in 15 years even, is not sufficiently supportive as a broad mechanism, as a community social question, forcing students through a conveyor belt when, in many circumstances, they are actually not learning as fast and even in 14 years or in 15 years, they are still learning but they are not quite there. They get dropped off a cliff and that's the way it feels for many families.
I'm wondering whether or not the minister, as a general question, is prepared to entertain a discussion about whether or not there would be, in his mind, ample room for broadening the period within which somebody goes through the public education system to ensure that those people who don't learn as fast as others and who are continuing to learn at Grade 12, aren't finding themselves with a "here's your coat what's your hurry" signal from the public education system.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chairman, the point that the honourable member makes is something that has been debated regularly for some years and I expect will continue to be debated. The debate between the full integration and the separate classes, I can give you an example. I know some people who used to teach what we would call "special education" classes, particularly those for young people who were mature and were trying to get life skills to go out so that they could succeed and find a place in their society. I would say, to a person, the teachers who were responsible for those young people, all said that there was a mistake made with this full integration.
On the other hand, there are people out there who have just about the diametrically opposed opinion and say that the only real way to appropriately deal with young people who have severe special needs is to put them in a classroom with their peers, age-mates and things like this. I don't know, Madam Chairman, whether we are ever going to get agreement on that. I just know that, when I began everything was really the former. There was segregation. The case which kicked off the integration thing here in Halifax was a young gentleman by the name of Luke Elwood and he was out in Halifax County and the school system wished to make a decision about Mr. Elwood. The parents did not agree with that and actually they were going to go to court to straighten that out but there was sort of, as the honourable member as a lawyer would understand, the resolution came on the steps of the courthouse on the way into court. Our system in Nova Scotia has been changed dramatically ever since. One of the organizations that was very strongly involved in this was the Association for Community Living.
However, getting back to special education, and you did mention the SEIRC Report and we are acting on all 34 recommendations of that report. We give the school boards targetted funding for special education of which a minimum of $48 million must go to support students with special needs. School boards also use some of their non-targetted provincial funding for special education. Last year, we put an additional $2.5 million in to increase professional support services to help students with special needs and that means that more students are getting more access to resource teachers, speech/language pathologists, school psychologists, more assistive technology and more programming options.
In this year's budget, in the 2005-06, there was a direct increase of over $3.5 million into core professional services, reading recovery, professional development for reading recovery, assistive technology, assistance for boards to deal with children who have autism and also autism services within the Department of Education. In addition to that, Madam
Chairman, is the over $1.6 million which is going into schools for smaller class sizes. So the additional dollars that are going into what we will call, I guess you could say special education services, is about $5.2 million.
MR. GRAHAM: Just one final urging before I turn it over to the member for Richmond who has a question to ask. One is that if down the road, Mr. Minister, we start to call things an education budget, I urge you to ensure that at least the funding for education is above the average for the budget increases overall.
Secondly, specifically - I know the Minister of Community Services is here - on the last question that we just dealt with, there needs to be better support for those people who have gone through the education system and are trying to transition into community services. There's nothing for many of these people in special education. Those are my questions. Thank you, Mr. Minister, for your answers and to your officials as well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader in the House of the Liberal Party.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Minister, you're aware that parents, students and teachers in the Strait Regional School Board are extremely concerned with the announcement of the Hogg Report which would see a significant amount of cuts to funding in the Strait Regional School Board, which has the lowest student population and the greatest geographic area. Your colleagues have indicated there will be no cuts in funding for this fiscal year. There are absolutely no assurances given for the future. The board has already predicted up to 75 teachers would have to be cut if the Hogg Report is adopted in full. What assurances can the minister give today to parents, teachers and students in the Strait Regional School Board for the coming fiscal years that your government will continue to appropriately fund that school board in light of the challenges it faces?
MR. MUIR: Although I do appreciate the honourable member talking about Strait Regional School Board, I want to tell you this province is concerned about all school boards.
This is why we are going back to the boards and asking them to reflect upon the recommendations that Mr. Hogg has made. I believe we've gone on record before and we have said that no board will be disadvantaged this year or in the future because of the recommendations of Mr. Hogg.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: That's quite an assurance from the minister. Let me understand correctly. What you are saying is that the current funding the Strait Regional School Board receives as we speak will continue in years ahead, as far as you're concerned and that they will not be faced with any cuts in their funding due to the Hogg Report or any other changes being implemented by your department. Is that what I can take from the minister's statement?
MR. MUIR: Mr. Chairman, let me rephrase that for the honourable member. I would guess that if the Strait school board didn't have any students or their numbers catastrophically disappeared, then obviously there may be the need for less money. But what I did say, and I'll say it again, is that there will be no board disadvantaged because of any recommendation that Mr. Hogg has made that may or may not be accepted by this government.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Let me just this finish by saying, what you are saying is the Hogg Report would recommend significant cuts to the Strait. You are saying that even though the Hogg Report's adopted, you would not allow those cuts recommended by his report?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. The time allotted for the Liberal Party has expired. The minister has time to respond and perhaps at the same time, the minister would like to make some closing remarks.
MR. MUIR: Let me go back with the agreement of the Official Opposition. The Hogg Report has not been adopted. The process right now is that Mr. Hogg, along with the department officials, will be going back out to meet with school boards. As the honourable member may know, we've already had a team down in the Strait to talk about the discrepancies about what Mr. Hogg had written about and the opinion of the officials in the Strait. We think we understand perhaps why there is a difference. But I will repeat what I said, no board will be disadvantaged because of any recommendation that comes from Mr. Hogg's report.
Whether that talks about relative dollars or absolute dollars, I can't comment on that. To be quite frank, it's like anything else if you want to know the truth. You bring people up, you don't beat people down.
I do have some closing remarks if people want to hear them. I do appreciate the opportunity to say a few words. I would sincerely like to thank the members opposite for their questions and their interest in the quality of education that is being provided for students province-wide, regardless of the level.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we value and appreciate the importance of accountability and we do want to be accountable as a government. We also want to be accountable as a department for the quality of education that we provide for our students, just as the system is accountable for how it allocates taxpayers' dollars on education.
This year's estimates debate did give us the opportunity to highlight some of the positive steps that we've taken, along with teachers, parents, school boards and others to improve education for our students. I want to tell you, notwithstanding the comments made by certain members of the Opposition, we are very proud and excited about the 2005-06 budget for education. It is an education budget and it represents an increase of over $71.7 million over last year's budget. That's about a 6 per cent funding increase. It's probably the largest increase in education funding that has ever been made by a government.
I see the honourable member for Richmond - I did explain the difference to that the other day. We're talking about this government's contribution, it does not include the money that comes from residential property taxes. When the honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park did raise that issue, it included the two of them. Understandable, but we did go back and check that, Mr. Chairman.
I also want to remind the members opposite in addition to $71.7 million already mentioned, we can't forget about the $12.3 million that's available to universities this year through the memorandum of understanding. What it means is there's an additional spending of about $84 million in education. Indeed, this government is making education a Nova Scotia priority.
Much of the funding is going to support the new initiatives with the goal of helping more students succeed and to reach their full potential. Our primary focus continues to be on helping students improve their reading, writing and math skills in the public schools. There will be more books and professional development, smaller class sizes and more support for students with special needs. Students will benefit from an additional $1 million in new books. We're also working with schools, communities and other partners to introduce the first provincial breakfast program.
Libraries are an important part of a student's educational experience and we know they need more support. Because of that, school boards will receive more funding this year to help rebuild and refresh their library collections and to hire library technicians to better support students as well.
Our commitment to ensuring students learn and our teachers teach in a safe, healthy learning environment will continue. We will continue to build new schools and to make additions and alterations to existing in schools, adhering to the priorities identified by school boards. We will continue to work with our partners in post-secondary education. Our commitment to the Nova Scotia Community College growth plan continues.
We will also move forward with our skills agenda. This year's Education budget will open the door to many exciting and rewarding new opportunities for students. It's a budget that will help more students reach their full potential, a budget that will see the start of a brand new education plan to support student learning in the years to come.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the staff of the Department of Education who have assisted me during this year's debate. We, of course, have had Deputy Minister Cochrane here for the first two or three days. We now have Mr. Sweeney here and we have Mr. Youden here. We have folks up there in the balcony like Ben McIntyre and Chris Beckett, who is my EA, but as importantly - I know that certain members know and some of you don't know that the proceedings in this Chamber are being televised - we have a number of staff back at the Department of Education who monitor these things and do provide the information when I don't have it at my fingertips. For those of you who have had to watch television for the past 11 hours, I thank you very much for your contribution as well. (Laughter)
To the communications staff, Bill Turpin is usually up there and he's not there now. Also, just before I close, Mr. Chairman, and I mean this most sincerely, I want to say a very special thank you to the thousands of people in this province who work in our education system, including the teachers, the school boards, community college, school advisory councils, crossing guards, you name it. We have a remarkable group of people who work in our education system.
I also want to say, our education system is very good. I'm not saying that it can't be improved because anything can be improved, but when people criticize our educators and our system as being second rate, it basically makes my blood boil because I know we have a very fine education system and I wish that certain members on the Opposition bench would stand up and more frequently acknowledge that so these people will feel good about what they are doing and we can move forward.
To the parents, I want to thank them for keeping informed and being involved in the support of their child's learning or as parents supporting people who are going into higher education or the men and women who have partners and whatnot who are in higher education. Education really is a group enterprise, although we tend to think of it, as everybody is on their own. I have every confidence that we are heading into the best year for education in the history of this province and I thank everybody who is going to be a part of it. Thank you very much.
Resolution E4 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $206,711,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of Assistance to Universities, Department of Education, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E3 stand?
Resolution E3 stands.
Shall Resolution E4 carry?
Resolution E4 is carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Minister of Community Services.
Resolution E2 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $716,174,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Community Services, pursuant to the Estimate and the business plan of the Nova Scotia Housing Development Corporation be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. DAVID MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to introduce my two staff who are here to assist me today: George Hudson, who is the Senior Director of Finance and Administration; and new here in the Chamber but not new to the department is Bonnie LeFrank, who is actually filling some pretty big shoes. I would just like to mention that previously I think Clem Hennebury was here for 32 years and I can tell you that Bonnie will do a great job carrying on the quiet competence that Clem brought to this Chamber and his excellent way of coming up with answers to some of your very specific questions.
Anyway, today I am pleased to present an overview of the important work of the Department of Community Services and our work to help support vulnerable people in our province. There are approximately 1,000 dedicated Community Services staff spread over roughly 50 sites across the province. Our staff represent a diverse mix of skills and expertise and are key to our ability to meet the needs of the people we serve. If you think about some of the challenges that we face in Community Services, the empathy and the caring of our staff is absolutely crucial in helping people, sometimes, through difficult circumstances.
These talented individuals not only deliver services but they play an important role in identifying needs and improving services for their clients. It's a case of constant improvement. We appreciate your input and we certainly appreciate their input as we move forward. We deliver our services in partnership with community agencies and other service providers across the province, something that is probably a little unique to the Department of Community Services because our services are not all delivered by civil servants. We have arrangements with non-profit organizations and, in fact, some commercial organizations to help actually provide the services in addition to civil servants.
We are fortunate to have this network of partners and all Nova Scotians can take comfort in knowing that community-based organizations are a vibrant part of this province's social safety net because, in fact, we all have a responsibility for providing for those of our neighbours who may be in need at any given point in time. Many of these organizations are
run by dedicated volunteers, often people who are the heart and soul of their communities. Our programs support children and families, persons with disabilities, seniors and individuals working to enhance their self-sufficiency. Many of these programs are vital to the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. We, after all, do define ourselves by how we treat those who are most vulnerable in our community.
There are four main program areas in the Department of Community Services: Services for Persons with Disabilities, formerly known as Community Supports for Adults, a name change which I think is perhaps more descriptive of what is actually done in that area; Employment Support and Income Assistance for those who need financial assistance and assistance perhaps in pursuing a career; Family and Children's Services; and Housing Services.
Last year we expanded work to improve these programs and this year we will continue to support these activities and will introduce new initiatives to enhance services for Nova Scotians in key program areas. To support these activities and program growth in 2005-06, we will see a $22 million increase in net program spending and a much larger increase in gross program spending.
I am especially pleased to say that we are making improvements to our programs in consultation with our partners and the people we serve. I would add that we look forward to your comments to further directing us because in past estimates, I will tell you, that your questioning has made a difference in the way that we have gone forward in our many programs.
As one example, last year we conducted a large-scale consultation process regarding community supports for people with disabilities. The feedback we received shaped new and enhanced programs that are being made available this year. Implementation is supported with $1 million in new funding last year and another $1 million in new funding this year. We are also working closely with representatives of the child care sector to make improvements and enhancements to Nova Scotia's child care system. We began this process late last year when a working group of child care representatives and department staff was established to review subsidy rates.
I'm pleased to say that earlier this year we implemented their recommendations by introducing increased subsidies that reflect the higher cost of caring for younger children. Our work has now evolved to developing a broader plan for child care in Nova Scotia, in anticipation of perhaps more child care funding, following a commitment in the 2005-06 federal budget. The province has been making improvements to its child care system since launching the Early Childhood Development Initiative with the federal government in 2001 and since then new federal dollars have been added to provincial investments to increase the
number of subsidized child care seats, provide higher subsidies for low-income families, increase the salaries of early childhood educators, and help children with special needs participate in child care, all I think we would agree are laudable goals and ones that we hope we can build on.
For the last several months I have been in discussions with my provincial and federal counterparts regarding a new national agreement on child care. These discussions have resulted in proposals that would see $20.4 million federal dollars added to child care in Nova Scotia this year alone. Although this funding will not address all our child care issues, it represents an opportunity to greatly expand our current supports to families and I'm sure that throughout the estimates there may be some interest on where we are with those negotiations to conclude the bilateral agreement. I look forward to further discussions with my colleagues and the eventual signing of this agreement.
On the affordable housing front, this has also been a priority initiative for our department since signing the first phase of the federal-provincial Affordable Housing Agreement. The Affordable Housing Program continues to grow, providing new housing options for low- to moderate-income Nova Scotians, and again with the focus on low income as our greatest priority. To date, the federal and provincial governments have announced more than $19 million to create close to 400 new or renovated affordable housing units.
The second phase of the agreement signed in early 2005 will now result in a total cumulative investment of $56 million by 2008. Our second call for affordable housing proposals received a very positive response and I guess what I would say, Mr. Chairman, is that it is starting to catch on. People realize there's an opportunity out there to create more affordable housing for their communities and we are very pleased that they are now taking advantage of this opportunity. We are now in the process of reviewing these responses in consultation with community representatives.
Community Services also provides many other housing supports to low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters in Nova Scotia. These services include repair programs, rent subsidies, property tax rebates for seniors to help them stay in their home, and public housing. Last December we were pleased to direct additional equalization funding to improving public housing maintenance and in housing repair programs for seniors and low-income Nova Scotians. I appreciated the tremendous effort that was put forward by staff to help us shape these programs and put in the extra time that would be required to implement them - never with a complaint. In fact, I would say that it's a great reflection on the staff of the Department of Community Services and our sister organizations with the enthusiasm with which they received this additional $11 million in special infrastructure funding. We will continue to focus on housing supports throughout the coming year.
With regard to services for people with disabilities, earlier I mentioned our successful and productive consultation on residential supports for people with disabilities. This year additional funding is being added to continue implementation of new options for adults with disabilities, starting with the Direct Family Support Program launched in January 2005, which will help adults with disabilities remain at home with their families if that is the best option for them. This program complements the children's in-home support program by enabling support to continue after an individual reaches the age of 19, a seamless transition if again that is what is in the best interests of the family.
The second program is supported apartments which encourage independent living. This program is successfully in place in some areas of the province, those areas that had it when it was delivered under the municipalities' programs, but with the upload, this will now be an opportunity to further develop and offer it in more areas right across the province so that all people with disabilities who are best suited for the supported apartment model will now have that opportunity to enjoy them as we roll it out throughout the year. The Alternate Family Support Program is also expanding and will support families that welcome a person with a disability into their homes and to become part of their family.
The introduction of these programs has been an important step in improving services for people with disabilities and reflects the inputs of the many consumers, families, caregivers, advocates and staff who participated in the consultation process and it was great to have the agreement amongst all those groups that these particular programs should go forward post-haste, which was done.
With regard to employment support and income assistance, enhancements continue to be made in the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program. For the second year in a row, we're increasing the amount of assistance. Starting October 1st, people receiving income assistance will see a $6 per month increase in their personal allowance. This is the second year in a row we've increased it after a great many years where it was left frozen. The shelter component for single employable adults is also being increased to help address gaps in their ability to find affordable housing. Renters will receive an additional $50 per month - that is the single renters - while people in a boarding situation will receive an additional $25 per month, again effective October 1st.
The number of people receiving income assistance continues to decrease as more people move towards self-sufficiency - a very good development for everybody involved, not only the clients, but clearly the community as they are then able to make their contribution to making their community and this province a better place to live. Last year alone more than 10,000 people participated in an employment support program. We are aware, however, that many of those who continue to receive assistance face barriers that prevent them from participating in the workforce.
For that reason we are reviewing our employment support services and how they are delivered to help ensure that appropriate and responsive services are available to meet the changing needs of our clients. This is a fundamental difference in where we are going with the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program as opposed to the collection of municipal and provincial programs that were there before. We are investing significantly in our clients to try to empower them to move forward and obtain a career and make a more meaningful contribution to their communities - a good investment.
Mr. Chairman, these are just a few highlights of the work being done to strengthen Nova Scotia's social safety net. I look forward to the members' questions and comments and welcome the opportunity to share information once again on our programs and services. With those very brief opening comments, I turn it over to you, sir.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley.
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, this budget actually reminds me of a children's story. Many of you may be familiar with it, it's the Emperor Has No Clothes. I find it interesting that while the real nature, I think, of the budget and the department is sort of camouflaged in what has been presented, I think my colleagues and I will be able to uncover its weaknesses and show it for what it really is.
Something that has happened within the last year, from the department, I think sort of symbolizes the change in thinking that may be happening there. It's interesting, because my first year in the Legislature, I remember reviewing, about a year ago, the Department of Community Services annual accountability report. I notice that this year it's called the Business Plan, and I think that's a very significant change. In last year's report, there were significant accountability measures in there, so one could actually see what the department was progressing towards. This year, those accountability measures are really missing. I think it's part of what I'm going to call a bit of a cover-up in terms of what's really driving this particular budget.
It's interesting to see, also, that in the Business Plan, there's reference to developing a social policy framework for the government. I think our Party has been instrumental in pointing out, over the last number of years, that there hasn't been such a framework and principles. I'm sure that may account, in some respects, for a sort of piecemeal, inconsistent and, to my way of thinking, unfair approach that has been evolving under this government, especially through this department. I was amazed to see that the start they're going to take on developing the social policy framework is actually to do some preliminary research, and that's the only accomplishment towards that particular goal. So while developing it sometime long in the future is a worthy goal, it does not excuse the imbalance that's becoming more obvious. That's the focus on saving money or denying citizens of this province their right to programs and services over serving the most needy and most vulnerable of our citizens.
Now I've mentioned this before in the House. There are a number of different things that the department is doing. They are delaying, they're downloading, they're underfunding, they're limiting access, they're reviewing, they're freezing, they're confusing, they're adding procedural loopholes, so that the people being served by the department are resorting to frustration and fear and despair, and are beginning to feel like they're second-class citizens. I have to say that I'm getting very frustrated, just as my colleagues who have been advocates on behalf of people with disabilities and people with special needs over the last number of years. So I'm looking for some answers and some action from the minister and his colleagues.
The first thing I want to talk about is the fact that often we look at people being served by Community Services as sort of fictional characters, but these are real people. They're real people who are hurting, who have needs, and who are looking towards government to help them out of sometimes very difficult and impossible situations. But more importantly, they are citizens of this province, and they have the same right to programs and services as big corporations, as people who are donors to political Parties. They should not be considered second-class citizens.
When I look at the impacts of this particular budget - and I just want to review some of the cuts - this budget reflects, I'm not going to get into the housing ones, but they reflect cuts to the Community Services appeals section; frozen income assistance child care rates; child welfare and residential services cut by $66,000; maintenance of children cut by almost $4.5 million; transition houses operational funding, frozen at 2004-05 levels, although there was a one-time increase earlier this Winter; return-to-work initiatives frozen at 2003-04 levels; the Nova Scotia child benefits line has been reduced by $2 million; and the Employment Support and Income Assistance intake staff has been cut by the equivalent of 18 full-time positions. Someone else from my caucus is going to talk about the housing cuts.
What I want to start off with is a suggestion of the impacts of these services, the cuts and freezes to these services on Nova Scotians. I talked earlier about these aren't just sort of fictional people who live out there that don't matter, these are our brothers, our cousins, our neighbour's daughter, these are people in our communities. Fifty-three per cent of people receiving income assistance have disabilities. So we're talking about people, a majority of whom have disabilities, with multiple needs. The majority of people receiving income assistance in this province have - get this, now - not one, not two but six to 12 barriers. These include things like low literacy rates, low marketable skills, lack of access to child care and mental health issues, any one of which would be very significant. The majority of people receiving social assistance have six to 12 of those barriers.
Also, this budget impacts unfairly on women and minorities. Women are 52 per cent of our population, and we know that they make up about half of the paid workforce, yet 70 per cent of them have part-time jobs, 60 per cent of them work in occupations receiving low wages. In our province, women do the majority of unpaid caregiving, whether child or elder care. They're the majority of our volunteers, and they also put most of the time in on housework. There's a gender wage gap. The earning power of women in our province, while crucial to the financial stability of their families, still remains low. A woman earns 72 cents for every $1 that a man makes in a similar job. These figures come from the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. They have done some research to show that women have to have the equivalent of a certificate or diploma at a post-secondary education level in order to make the same amount of money that a young man graduating from high school makes.
These are all proven facts. So any budget that cuts programs and services or does not provide adequate programs and services to women and children is an unfair budget. That's the point I want to start off with. I'm sure the minister is anxious for my first question.
I'm very concerned about the lack of operational increases in women's services in Nova Scotia. I notice that in your department's administration budget, almost every line that relates to operating costs has increased. So, for example, Senior Management operating costs have gone up 5 per cent over the past two years; Policy and Information Management operating costs have increased 20 per cent in two years; Corporate Services Unit - now this has actually gone down, but there's a new line called Program and Operations Support and that has actually increased slightly over last year. So my question to the minister is, if your department recognizes that it needs increased operating costs for its own administration and program services, why don't you budget for increased operating costs for the non-government organizations and the individuals served by your department who are struggling to make ends meet?
MR. MORSE: I'd say somewhere in there was probably at least a couple of dozen questions. I will try to go through them. First of all, I appreciate the member's concern that we've gone to a business plan instead of an accountability report. Actually, I think I can help the honourable member in that regard. Every department comes out with a business plan and the accountability report addresses how we've met those targets that are incorporated in the business plan. We have both - we have a business plan and an accountability report and I suspect that has been the case for some time.
With regard to the suggestions we're denying services for people, I have a little trouble understanding where that's coming from. We're expanding our Affordable Housing Program and continue to do so and have publicly committed to fully implementing the federal-provincial Affordable Housing Program. We were the first Atlantic Province to sign the first phase, we were the first Atlantic Province to sign the second phase. We're committed to carrying that out, so that to me would seem like an enhancement of services or an expansion of services.
With regard to services for people with disabilities, as part of the Community Supports for Adults Renewal Project, one of the things that was pointed out in this is that there were not enough services for people who were higher functioning, they had a disability, but it was not a significant impediment to their functioning and that's why we came out with the Direct Family Support Program. That's why we came out with the Supervised Apartment Program and that's why we've come out with the Alternative Family Support Program. That is all about rounding out the continuum of services which perhaps were not all there previously. Again, I would suggest, it is an enhancement of service and I have to question the premise of the statement that we're denying services.
In terms of employment support and income assistance, I go on the record as saying this before, and the member is absolutely right when she says those who remain as our clientele for employment support and income assistance do have multiple barriers to employment. It requires more investments in them to help them get to a stage where they're able to make those really necessary changes that will allow them to pursue a career. I know that with the creation of the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program, there is now a balanced approach. A couple of years ago we invested about $16 million in our clients and this past year I think it would be closer to $17 million. That's just from my perusal before starting the estimates.
You make mention of funding for child welfare services. That actually is a very positive development because while the number of children in the care of the minister, being cared for by our district offices and child welfare agencies, is going down, the cases continue to become more challenging, but we are working to try to get a province-wide coordination through the government process and we're doing very well in terms of working with the various child welfare agencies. I can tell you when you sit around the table with the presidents and the executive directors, you learn from them. It has been a very positive experience.
In fact, in the legislative committee you chair, you had the chairman of the presidents' committee in, along with some other very distinguished members of the child welfare sector, and they made some extremely positive comments about the working relationship between them and the department; in fact, them and me as minister. If you need a refresher on that, I do have those Hansard notes in my desk and I could provide them, but I'm sure you would remember the positive statements made by the chairman, Jack Coffin, and the other people who came just a couple of months ago to your committee.
With regard to the suggestion there have been cuts in the department, again, I'm afraid I have to challenge the whole premise of that statement. Last year, with a $28 million increase from estimate to estimate, we actually had the second largest increase of any department in government and this year, at $22 million - that's net, the gross is a much larger increase - that is the third largest increase.
You mentioned you felt there were certain cuts and you went into some detail on them, and what I would encourage the honourable member to do is to get up and ask them one at a time so we can properly address her concerns. I think that Nova Scotians will find in many cases they're not cuts, they're significant enhancements to the services provided by the department.
The member also expressed concern about things that pertained to the gender of the clients that we serve. I would say the services we provide are non-discriminatory. If you meet the criterion as being in need of those services, then we provide the services. We do not discriminate based on gender.
The member mentioned concerns that some of the operating lines were increasing at the rate of 5 per cent and she was concerned that others had not increased accordingly. I would suggest that with the agreement (Interruptions)With some of the specific references she made to my office and other parts of the department operating at a head office, she would be aware there was an agreement for a 2.9 per cent increase which was not shown in last year's estimates, but is incorporated in this year's estimates along with an additional 2.9 per cent. That just basically goes from the template that was worked out in our labour negotiations. It is now being shown in the Department of Community Services instead of the contingency account that's held in Finance.
That addresses some of the member's concerns and if she wants to be more specific I'd be pleased to try to answer those questions.
MS. MORE: I shake my head. I don't want to spend all of my first hour rebutting back and forth about facts, but you did raise the issue of housing. I'd like to suggest that any progress in housing is too little, too slowly. I wonder why your department's actually playing around with the housing budget.
Two years ago only half of what was budgeted was spent. Last year it was overspent by $15 million, or 54 per cent. So I'm wondering, are you using the housing budget as your balancing fund for the department rather than creating a proactive plan for affordable, safe, adequate social housing?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for her question. Last year was a good year for the Department of Community Services. A lot of things went well. A good year for the Department of Community Services is a good year for our clients because it means things have gone well for them.
We were able to come in under our estimates in a number of areas and as the member has pointed out, we were very interested in trying to enhance housing services. In that regard, early on, before the $11 million strategic infrastructure announcement in November, we came up with an extra $2 million that went into the Senior Citizens' Assistance Program,
that's to help them with their emergency home repairs, and the Public Housing Emergency Repair Program, which is for families to help them with emergency repairs, so we're talking about people below a certain income level, basically low-income people who otherwise might not be able to continue to stay in those homes.
As an MLA, when you do your constituency work, you would know there's nothing quite so gratifying as being able to help a family stay in their home when they have no way of knowing how they're ever going to raise the money to fix their roof or address their dry well - it could be any number of problems. So there was $2 million that went in there; $1 million was put in to enhance the maintenance in the seven regional housing authorities and then subsequent to that, with the announcement of the $11 million strategic infrastructure monies that came from the federal government restoring our equalization monies to where they were a couple of years ago, they had cut $128 million and then they put $132 million back in.
Consistent with the Premier's commitment, $11 million was provided to the Department of Community Services to enhance our programs and, in fact, about two-thirds of that went into affordable housing. There was an additional $4 million that went into the housing authorities, half of which was for interior maintenance - that's $2 million - $1 million was for exterior maintenance and there was $1 million that was used to enhance their access to emergency generators and elevators, something that we are hearing back from them, and we were also advised by the senior citizens' task force as they were going around meeting with seniors across the province that these were things that were being looked for by seniors.
In addition to that, we added yet another $2.7 million to emergency housing repairs - and, again, I've already gone over that, that's SCAP and PHERP - and at the end of the year the government put an extra $4 million into what I refer to as the Nova Scotia Housing Development Corporation's rainy day account, also known as the deferred federal contribution account, and while it's called the deferred federal contribution account, the money comes from the province. So that perhaps addresses some of your questions about where the extra money came from for affordable housing. It was wonderful to be in a position to start to address the waiting lists for some of these programs and to, in many cases, eliminate them.
MS. MORE: I guess my question wasn't so much about where that money was spent, but why such an inconsistent track record in terms of money invested into affordable housing in this province, and it appears to me that there's no plan that the government is sticking to, that it's just used as a balancing factor. Certainly my caseload does not reflect the fact that there's more affordable housing in the metro area. The largest demand on my office time is for people who are looking for non-profit housing or trying to get into housing that's
managed by one of the housing authorities. There seems to be a long record of people living in the housing authority-managed properties, you know, the repairs, renovations, the health and safety factors, all kinds of things are at risk because they aren't getting enough money to be able to maintain those properties.
I'm astounded, quite frankly, to hear the minister say that last year was a good year for the Department of Community Services and for our clients because it certainly wasn't a good year for many of the programs. I remember sitting down with some of your middle management people and talking about the wait list for people with disabilities. It used to be the Community Supports for Adults Program and, as you're aware, there are very strict eligibility criteria for people to get accepted into that program.
In the metro area there were, during the Winter, 100 people - now these are the most needy people in the metro area - on that wait list and when I asked why it was so long, I was told that they are not entitled to the services and programs for people with disabilities, that it's only as resources allow. So these people who were in desperate need of either accommodations, assistance, or day programs, were on a waiting list because there were not the resources allocated to meet the demand. So I'm really surprised to find out the minister says it was a very good year.
I've heard of a number of situations where children in the permanent care of the minister were moved from their location, against the advice of the medical professionals in this province, in order to put them into cheaper accommodations and when organizations or individuals intervened on their behalf, they were quite frankly intimidated by department personnel to stay out of the matter. So these are not symptoms or examples of a department that either is putting enough resources where they're most needed or is taking their social responsibility the way they should and are mandated to under the Act.
So I ask the minister, can he reassure me today that there is no directive or understanding among senior officials in his department that is creating this climate of decision making based on saving money rather than serving people?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for giving me the opportunity to reassure her and Nova Scotians as to what's going on in the three areas that she has just spoken of. The first one was her concerns with the commitment to housing programs and I think if the member would look at Page 4.4 on the Community Services estimates, one would see that the estimate for 2003-04 - and I'm going to round this off to the nearest millions - was $137 million. In 2004-05 the estimate was $145 million and in 2005-06 the estimate is $150 million. So if you're concerned about the actual services that we are providing to our tenants and the people who are dependent on those programs, I would suggest that there have been significant increases each and every year and it is going nowhere but up.
As to where the monies come from to finance those programs, I concur that we are always looking for opportunities to further enhance them and will continue to do so as the opportunities arise, but as the Minister of Education indicated in his closing remarks, there's not a government department where we would not like to be able to do more and that is not likely to change whether it be Health, Education, Community Services, roads, we would all like to be able to do more, but I am encouraged that we've been able to consistently deliver large increases in the housing programs section.
With regard to direct family support, you made reference to concerns about waiting lists and, in fact, in my previous answer I addressed that specifically, pointing out that the greatest pressure (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. There's a lot of noise in the Chamber right now. If people have conversations, could they please take it outside.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, with regard to the waiting lists for the services for people with disabilities, in my previous answer I spoke of the need for the Direct Family Support Program, the Supervised Apartment Program, and the Alternative Family Support Program. Those were areas where there was agreement not only within the department, but with all the people who took part in this process to come up with this plan and strategy, and we're acting on it. Where there was agreement, we've taken action and, in fact, that is shrinking the waiting lists.
We think that it's a very good investment in that area. That's why there was a $1 million increase in new money in our budget last year and there's another $1 million increase this year, again for the very purpose that the member was so passionate about, and that is reducing the waiting lists and we are making progress. We feel that we are putting people in more appropriate settings than perhaps what they were before because before there was not the continuum of services that was necessary to address their individual circumstances or at least not to the extent that it should have been.
So I think that's a very positive development and I would suggest that there are fewer people waiting today than there were before and that this time next year there will be fewer again, but one is too many and we will endeavour to try to accommodate everybody as best we can.
With regard to your specific suggestions that certain professionals have made suggestions that we've been making decisions that are not in the best interests of children in the care of the minister - which at this point in time is me, and I hope will continue to be so for a time - I take these concerns very seriously. I have a little over 1,000 children in the permanent care and custody of the minister and another 1,000 who are in some other arrangement, and others that we help through our district offices in our Family and Children's Services child welfare agencies across the province.
If you have specific details of a particular case I would certainly encourage you to table them and we will certainly look at them. We help thousands of children in the run of a year, families and children, they're all important to me, they're all important to my department, and they're important to this government. If you have specific details of cases we would invite you to please table them so that we can take the appropriate steps to review your concerns.
MS. MORE: I not only have details, I was actually personally involved in one. I can understand that without whistle-blower protection in this province, I don't think a lot of these details are going to come to the minister's attention. People and organizations are being intimidated by this sort of big brother financial control that the department has over the finances, either in terms of people being on staff or the non-government organizations that deliver some of these mandated services. But there definitely is a strong trend that more and more decision making being made by the regional administrators and coming out of the head office is being driven by the bottom line, rather than the social responsibility side of things.
As someone said to me, it appears as though the bean counters are in control of the department, rather than people coming from a social-work training background. This is becoming more evident and I think it's something the minister needs to look into. I know that the people of this province are not going to be satisfied with the standards that are being created under this new atmosphere of intimidation and money-driven decision making.
I want to get back to the operating increases before I leave that topic. Certainly the budget indicates that for the administrative side of the department there seems to be operating cost increases, anywhere from 5 per cent to 20 per cent on each of the lines . Yet, I understand only about a 1 per cent increase - for example, the Family and Children's Services Program, that program was underspent two years ago by 3 per cent; last year it's projected to be underspent by 6 per cent. At the same time, the minister is hearing from transition houses, women's centres, foster parents, all kinds of people providing non-government support that the department has mandated to serve, and they're getting very little recognition of their increased costs of operation.
I'm just wondering how can the minister explain this double standard in terms of providing actual increased costs for his own department infrastructure, but not recognizing that the community groups that he speaks so well of and other individuals like foster parents in the community, are not getting the recognition?
MR. MORSE: Again, there are a few topics that the honourable member spoke of and all are worthy of a response. She is alluding to concerns about a particular case or cases, saying people are concerned about coming forward with that. Well, honourable member, that may be so, but the indication I'm getting here, and in fact from your colleagues and other colleagues in the Chamber, is that people seem comfortable coming to me, and I'd invite you to come to me if you have a concern. I feel that you have done that before and I try to address
your concerns. Any member should feel comfortable coming to me and I really feel that my staff within not only the head office, but in the regions, and the various organizations that we partner with to deliver services are wonderful, caring people.
As I meet with the advocacy groups, certainly the response I'm getting back from people who are devoting their lives to helping some of the most vulnerable Nova Scotians, there are very positive comments about things they see happening in the department. So I would invite you to bring this information forward, but I'm certainly not getting that out there from the community.
Also you were questioning about shifts within the department. There was the creation of a new section in the department which was to focus on operations and it has drawn from some of the existing departments, there was not an increase but it was a reorganization. That does make it harder to compare from one year to the next some of those programs. I would just say there was not an increase in the size of the department to accommodate this and we feel it has been a positive development.
You also made reference to the money under the Family and Children's Services section. There has been really excellent work that has gone on in that area and again, I made reference to the committee that you chair, that you got the comments back from Mr. Jack Coffin, and some of the other staff from the Children's Aid Societies, who came in here and spoke of the relationship with the government. Through that there have been some very positive developments in terms of cutting out waste. One good example that we are working on is when it comes to residential placement.
The way it's set up in the province now, the Children's Aid Society may well own the youth residential facilities and they fund them. They may fund those beds for 100 per cent occupancy but they may be half empty. In the next county, perhaps there's a different Children's Aid Society and they are looking for beds, it just doesn't make sense that we not use those beds that are available. If the fit is right we want to make sure that they have the opportunity to use those facilities and that clearly, there's no benefit to having wasted resources. By working with the presidents, the executive directors and their boards, we're moving forward to a resolution in that area.
Governance has been a challenging issue here, it is a very sensitive issue because a lot of the people who are involved in these agencies are often the heart of a community and it's nice to have them working positively towards this as, again, was clearly evident by the testimony that was given to you during your legislative committee meeting with the chairman and some of the key people in that sector. I would suggest it's a reflection on good things happening.
There are fewer children, we are taking better care of them and we're going to also continue to move in that direction with improvements with your assistance, in areas of adoption, which is absolutely the best possible outcome for children if they are, in fact, in the permanent care and custody of the minister. It is also cheaper, from the point of view of the department, if children are in loving and caring homes than in residential settings. So a good outcome for the children, a good outcome for the adoptive parents, but it also frees up resources within the department to invest in other areas which are more pressing.
MS. MORE: I'm somewhat amused. I have to admit that about 95 per cent of the presentations that we get at the Standing Committee on Community Services are raising concerns about the department, but it's interesting that the minister zeroes in on the one or two individuals who may have had something positive to say. I want to get back to another issue. Can you tell me whether the freeze on small options and group homes is continuing with the department in terms of placements for people with disabilities?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for her question. Without going into expanding the one area of the continuum we clearly earmarked, once again, additional monies. The funds are in the budget to address the current demands out there in the system to make sure that we fund them fully and there is some provision for slightly more. The main focus is to get the other end of the continuum, which really has not been properly developed to this point in time until the announcement of these three programs in place. When that is in place we will have a better idea of where our clients should be so that we can best serve them and then we can make decisions on whether we need more small options homes or other facilities for people with disabilities.
MS. MORE: Well, to all intents and purposes then, the freeze is still on. I find it interesting - and this is typical of the renewals that happened in the department - that the renewals sort of put the responsibility back on the community and the family. So I'm not surprised that you're putting a little bit of money in there for in-home supports for families that are going to keep their members with disabilities after age 18 at home, and yet keep the freeze on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We've reached the moment of interruption.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report considerable progress.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee rose at 5:37 p.m.]