HALIFAX, MONDAY, APRIL 7, 2014
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Margaret Miller
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole on Supply will now come to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Madam Chairman, I would now ask that you call the estimates for the Premier's Office.
Resolution E21 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $7,170,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Executive Council, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Premier.
HON. STEPHEN MCNEIL (The Premier): It's a great honour for me to be here today to begin estimates in this historic Chamber. I'm thrilled to be joined by Catherine Blewett, who is the Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Doug Stewart, who is with Treasury Board.
I want to say to all members of this House and anyone listening how fortunate I was when I became the Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia to have so many great public servants who work in the Premier's Office - some of them in the gallery here. They have worked extremely hard not only on behalf of this government but previous governments. They have committed their life, quite frankly, to the service to the people of this province and we are that much better off because of their commitment. No matter what happens on Election Day, they continue to provide great advice and great insight for the people of this province.
Madam Chairman, we all should continue to recognize that as we go about our daily business here in this House, and recognize that while the to and fro on the floor of this House may be between different political parties and different views on how to move the province forward, there is one constant, and that is the public service and the people who work in my office.
As well, as I have with me Deputy Minister Bernie Miller, who has come from the private sector to join us in my office of P&P. Bernie brings with him a great wealth of knowledge from the private sector and has done a tremendous job so far of helping us to continue to build and change direction for the people of this province.
I look forward to this exchange, back and forth, with the two Leaders or members of the two caucuses so we can continue to make sure we pore over the estimates so that Nova Scotians get a full picture of the direction where we're headed. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
HON. JAMIE BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, let me just begin by welcoming the Premier's officials to the House of Assembly here this afternoon, Ms. Blewett, Mr. Stewart, Mr. Miller who is new to government, and so just join in the Premier in welcoming them here. I know them all to be very capable people and certainly I expect we're going to have a good exchange this afternoon. If I just may for a moment, I do admire people that leave the private sector and go into government, and I know Mr. Miller is going to be experiencing his first time through this, so I want to say a special welcome to him only because it's his first time, along with the two.
Madam Chairman, the examination of the estimates by the Opposition is one of the most important functions that we fulfill in our parliamentary system; it is as old as time itself. Even the language that we use reflects the ancient imperative of the Opposition to examine the spending power that the government has through the estimates process. We do intend to take that job very seriously and to do it with vigour and enthusiasm, so I am pleased to hear the Premier's opening remarks about the importance of the process that we are about to undergo.
I would like to open up the examination of the Premier's estimates today first by taking a look at the directive that came from the Premier and from central government to find the one per cent savings across all government departments, a savings that, if they were found, would leave the province in a much more balanced position than the budget foresees today, Madam Chairman. For example, I know that the original idea of looking for a one per cent savings from all departments - except for Health and Wellness, and Education and Early Childhood Development - was in the Liberal Party platform, the one that they sold to Nova Scotians in the last election. Now when a government comes to office, it is the central agencies - the Premier's departments of government - that oversee its implementation, that essentially provide the direction to the other departments to find those one per cent savings. Sadly, Madam Chairman, in 14 of 17 cases, departments did not identify the one per cent savings that the Premier had spoken of.
Let me just start with the Premier's own departments and see where we are with the one per cent savings there, because they were not exempted like Health and Wellness was or like Education and Early Childhood Development was. I will start with the Office of Planning and Priorities, likely the very central agency where the direction to find one per cent would have come from and the place where one would expect leadership to be shown in saving one per cent on its own.
I'd just ask the Premier, in his Priorities and Planning budget, to note that salaries and benefits are going up by $400,000 from the forecast of the year just ended to the estimate for the budget year, the equivalent of 4.1 people. I wonder if the Premier could tell us why priorities and planning is not following its own direction on the minus one per cent?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member for the question. Indeed, at Planning and Priorities, if you look, there has been a reduction of 0.8 per cent. The Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party has already alluded to the fact that we have seen an increase, this year, of 3 per cent across all departments. Even in that, Planning and Priorities was able to reduce - including the increases that were mandated and part of some of the collective agreements, we were still able to find the 0.8 per cent.
MR. BAILLIE: I guess it's a matter of debate whether you should take the actual results for the year that has just concluded and compare those to the budget, which is the way most Nova Scotia businesses and households would look at these things, in which case we find that Planning and Priorities is increasing by almost 25 per cent over the previous year. But I do understand that in government sometimes these things are counted in a different way; 0.8 per cent is close to 1 percent and I don't want to quibble about that, so I appreciate what the Premier just said.
Nonetheless, the budget foresees the addition of 4.1 - or let's say four - people to the Planning and Priorities complement in the coming year. Let me just ask the Premier if he intends to fill those vacancies as the budget foresees and if so, will he be following the government's own fair hiring policy when he fills those positions?
THE PREMIER: I want to thank the Leader, as well, but I have to disagree with his position. There are two members who are now not in Planning and Priorities; they've been seconded. Those positions still have to be part of our budgeting process because they have the ability to come back and take their existing jobs. There are two positions where one is retired and two others that right now are vacant. We are in the process, like every department, of looking at and analysing and seeing whether or not those positions need to be. From an accounting point of view we needed to account for those positions that were in that department. It would be inappropriate for us to not count for those positions when, in actual fact, members have been seconded to other departments.
MR. BAILLIE: If I understand the Premier's answer correctly, there are two secondments that are accounted in Planning and Priorities. In a moment I will ask him to share with us where those two people are currently seconded to. He indicated there are a retirement and a vacancy that they are reviewing whether to fill.
When the Premier filled the position of Protocol Officer, he chose to ignore the government's own fair hiring policies and instead pluck a fellow Liberal from the ranks of the unemployed and just put them in the job. I would like to ask him, in the event that he does fill these positions, will he, this time, follow the government's own fair hiring policy?
THE PREMIER: Let me begin by saying how fortunate we are to be well served by the Protocol Office, as people in this House and this province would recognize. The Executive Council has continued to appoint Protocol Officers in this place. As a matter of fact, we have two of them, one at the Lieutenant Governor's residence and one here, a very highly qualified Nova Scotian who is fulfilling that mandate. As well, when it comes to looking at - I would also add that is not a member of the Civil Service and any position that we as a government put in the Civil Service will go through the fair hiring practices.
MR. BAILLIE: I guess I need to remind the Premier of his own government's fair hiring policy; it does cover Civil Service positions. It provides exemptions when the government chooses to exempt a position from the Civil Service but the position of Protocol Officer is not one of the allowed exemptions from the fair hiring policy, under the government's own rules. I will just ask the Premier if he could share with us where the two secondments are and secondly, with the other positions, when he fills them, will he be following the fair hiring policy this time?
THE PREMIER: I can't tell him where the two have been seconded to, but I'll certainly get that information for him and provide it to him and this House. As I have said all along, any positions that we are putting into the Civil Service will go through a fair hiring practice.
MR. BAILLIE: I would like to move on to the Premier's Office itself, another office that is the responsibility of the Premier. In the Premier's Office, the budget item for salaries and benefits will grow by 5 per cent. This time I will use the government's accounting which is estimate to estimate - the number of full-time employees stays the same so I would ask the Premier: Could he illuminate us on why that line item is growing by 5 per cent at a time when so many others are being told to settle for less?
THE PREMIER: I want to let the member know that we have the same number of employees in our office as was the previous office. We have entered into contractual agreements with people who work in my office; there's a provision there to look after a 3 per cent increase. They would also know that as part of that in the changeover of government, there was a portion that actually we had to pay out that dealt with some of that.
MR. BAILLIE: I'm wondering if the Premier could tell us where the NDP severance provisions, the varied severances that he made a big issue about in the Fall session of this House, are accounted for in his budget.
THE PREMIER: As I'm sure the member would know, they were paid for 2013-14 - you want to know where they're accounted for? They're accounted for in the restructuring.
MR. BAILLIE: In the Premier's own office estimates, the amount that is charged to other departments grows by 30 per cent, or $23,000. It may not seem like a lot of money, but it certainly has the effect of making it look like the Premier's Office has followed its own rules around a minus 1 per cent target estimate to estimate. I would like to ask the Premier if he could enumerate for us what's in that extra amount being charged to other departments, or is that just an accounting way of looking like you're hitting the minus 1 per cent?
THE PREMIER: I'm not sure what the Leader of the Official Opposition is referring to. We have the same number of employees, we've had a reduction. If you look at the overall services that fall under the Premier's Office, each of them have come if not close to the 1 per cent, some have exceeded that. Overall we have a 2 per cent reduction in expenses that fall under my purview, and I'm very grateful for the hard work put forward by the people who work at my offices to actually find those savings and actually continue to deliver top quality services to people in this province.
MR. BAILLIE: Let me point the Premier to his own office budget page, which is Page 20.11 in the Estimates Book. The line item in question is the amount under Gross Expenses, which are higher than last year despite his target of minus 1 per cent. It's entitled Less: Chargeable to Other Departments and the figure grows by $23,000 estimate to estimate or just enough to make it look like he's following his own rules on a minus 1 per cent.
I wonder how the government arrived at the $105,000 figure of chargeable to other departments - it looks like it was put there solely to give the appearance of meeting his own 1 per cent target.
THE PREMIER: I can actually get a complete breakdown of that particular number. I would add that number is substantially less than has been historically, if you go back over and look at the Premier's Office, but I will certainly find the breakdown of that $23,000 he's looking for.
MR. BAILLIE: I'll move on to the Executive Council Office for a moment. This is an example of an office that did not meet the minus 1 per cent target either on a forecast to estimate basis, or on an estimate to estimate basis - it is up in either case. The Executive Council Office reports to the Premier, he is the one both in his election documents and through direction to the rest of government told everyone else to come up with minus 1 per cent - why is there not a minus 1 per cent reduction in his own Executive Council Office?
THE PREMIER: We see a reduction actually in the Executive Council Office. The total has a reduction of $21,000, as well he would also see there has been a reduction in full-time staff.
MR. BAILLIE: There is an increase in the Executive Council total budget from $2285 forecast to $2299 - that is an increase, it's not a big one but it is in the opposite direction of the direction he provided to the rest of government. On an estimate to estimate basis, the reduction does not meet the 1 per cent target and my question is - I guess I'll lump them all together just for the benefit of the House - in three out of five cases the Premier's own departments did not meet the minus 1 per cent target that he provided to the rest of government, so I would like to ask the Premier, maybe in more general terms: Why is that standard not being applied overall to your own departments?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, I'm not sure where the Leader of the Official Opposition is adding up his numbers, but every department that falls under my purview, there's been a reduction. In some cases it was 0.8, 0.9, there were others - in its totality it was a 2 per cent reduction over our departments, at the same time when in some cases we had to actually fulfill a contractual obligation of 3 per cent pay raise.
The staff has done a tremendous amount of work reaching in and finding savings, and we're looking forward to continuing that good work once this budget passes. As we head into this Spring and summer and head into the Fall we'll be continuing to look for savings on behalf of the people. Absolutely, the offices that fall under the Premier have had a 2 per cent reduction and it's been a great credit to the hard-working staff in the department that I represent.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I certainly recognize the hard work that the public service of the government of Nova Scotia provides, and I can imagine that it wasn't easy to go out and look for 1 per cent savings across all departments, except for Health and Wellness and Education and Early Childhood Development, as important as it is to try to do that.
By all accounts, in the Estimates Book, 14 out of the 17 departments, not counting Health and Wellness and Education and Early Childhood Development, did not hit their 1 per cent target, so I will ask the Premier to account to this committee why his own government departments did not hit the 1 per cent target, and why the ones under his oversight that didn't hit it, didn't hit it either?
THE PREMIER: We more than met the 1 per cent, we exceeded it - about $76,000 in savings across departments, through program changes and through that whole process. He referred to the offices that fall under mine, we more than exceeded that, we had a 2 per cent reduction.
We would have had a much greater savings through the hard work of the people of this province, but as part of the federation we've committed to hosting a woman's Aboriginal meeting here which is $240,000, which is an expense that we, as a province, will incur. It's a one-time expense. I'm looking forward to that happening; I believe all Nova Scotians would believe it's a good expenditure on behalf of the people of our province that we continue to work and build on a relationship with First Nations communities - not only here, but across the country. Quite frankly, the First Nations communities in this province have been leaders in so many ways, particularly in the education file. We're seeing so many great results from that.
But let me be clear - there has been a tremendous amount of savings put forward in a very short period of time. I congratulate the ministers, I congratulate the staff, who have worked so hard on that - and we're also keeping our commitments to the people of this province. I would encourage all members of this House, if they have questions directly related to other departments, that the ministers are more than capable and willing to respond to those.
MR. BAILLIE: I'm sure those Nova Scotians who have looked through the budget and its deficit of $279 million and its 5.5 per cent increase in departmental spending will be scratching their heads trying to reconcile that to the Premier's answer that all departments found their 1 per cent reductions.
The departments that are the responsibility of the Premier include Aboriginal Affairs, Executive Council, Planning and Priorities, the Premier's Office, Intergovernmental Affairs, and then there's a grant to the Council of Atlantic Premiers. When you add the spending in the budget for all of those areas - if I've missed one, I welcome the Premier to add to the list - but the forecasted year-end spending, the year just ended, which we will call the NDP year for the sake of efficiency, was $11.899 million. The estimate for the new year, the Liberal year if I can say it that way, is $12.305 - that's an increase.
The Premier had working for him when he came into office a forecast of 84.4 full-time equivalent people and is now budgeting for 89, which is an increase. Madam Speaker, I guess what we're truly trying to do here is to examine not just the estimates but the issue of leadership and whether the Premier follows his own direction. The fact that you see an increase in the Premier's departments from forecast to estimate, and in some cases even estimate to estimate, shows that the Premier's departments didn't follow the minus 1 per cent.
And maybe that's why in 14 of the 17 cases across all of government departments, neither did they, so I would like to ask the Premier: Can he explain to the people of Nova Scotia how he can say that the departments hit their minus 1 per cent targets, and so did he, when overall departmental spending is clearly up by almost $400 million?
THE PREMIER: As I've said already a number of times in this House, there are contractual obligations that we as the government had to meet, which increased the cost associated with a 3 per cent increase across the entire public sector, so every department would be affected by that.
The 1 per cent savings that the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party is looking for was found in the departments, it was required to be found, and I'm very pleased at the work that was done on behalf of the people that fall under my purview. There was a reduction of 2 per cent, and I'm continuing to look forward. I don't want people at home to feel that that's where it stops. We're continuing to work as an organization, continue to find savings, to live within our means. We've made the decision, a very conscious decision. When we spoke to Nova Scotians in the general election they saw education as a priority, and we are making investments in public education to ensure that young Nova Scotians get the same opportunity that we had.
We also have obligations and commitments that we have made to Nova Scotians around health care. We, as a government, believe we need to strike a balance between getting ourselves back to fiscal balance and at the same time providing Nova Scotians with the services that they require. We have a reduction of almost half of the previous year's deficit - of course we'd like to be balanced today, but it was, as Nova Scotians told us time and time again not only during the election, but since the election, it would be reckless quite frankly to slash and burn - that has been suggested by some people in this House.
It would be much more prudent to ensure that we shore up and invest in those services, and that's why we're investing in Nova Scotians, ensuring more apprenticeship opportunities, providing more research grants in this province for university students to be able to stay and find and work their job here, and it's why we focused on the Graduate to Opportunity Program, because it is the job that will keep these people in this province and we'll continue to move our government back to fiscal solid ground and reach balance.
Let me be clear - my offices actually are operating at 2 per cent less, at the same time salaries have increased by 3 per cent.
MR. BAILLIE: I guess Nova Scotians didn't see the fine print in the Liberal Party platform when they thought 1 per cent actually meant the budget would go down by 1 per cent.
Madam Speaker, the Premier refers to "slash and burn" and I just want to say for the record that the reason we're pursuing this line of questioning is because the simple math of the budget shows that even if the government just held the line on spending, cut nothing, just don't spend more, Nova Scotians would have a surplus today, and in fact they would have $100 million more that could be used for real debt relief or real tax relief. But that's not the decision that the government chose to go with; they chose to increase spending by 5.5 per cent overall.
The Premier refers to the Department of Health and Wellness and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which were exempted from the minus1 per cent rule - such as it is a rule, since so few actually hit it - but even there, we see that some of the fastest increases in spending are in the administrative side, the very place where Nova Scotians want a government to look first for savings before they move on to other things.
I hear the Premier's answer about the fact that there are contract obligations that have to be met, but it's as if that suddenly dawned on the government after the election was all over, that they didn't know that there were contracts that went beyond October 8th when they made the commitment to the people of Nova Scotia that they would find 1 per cent savings across all government departments except Health and Wellness and Education and Early Childhood Development. They rightly would have assumed the Premier would apply that own standard to the departments that he himself is responsible for.
We can argue back and forth on the numbers, but the fact of the matter is that by no accounting is this government spending 1 per cent less today in those departments, or in the Premier's own departments, than they were before under the previous government.
I would like to move on, if that's all right. I do want to move to the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs, which is where the Protocol Office resides. There has been quite a bit of information come into the public domain about the hiring of a protocol officer shortly after the government was elected.
I would like to direct the Premier's attention to the email exchange, that has been publicized since this House last met, between Ms. Glennie Langille, who is the new protocol officer, and Mr. Kirby McVicar, who is the Premier's chief of staff. In fact, there is one particular email where Ms. Langille emails her resumé to Mr. McVicar in the Premier's office just two days after the government took office, and said that she was emailing the resumé, but it may not work for the purposes that the Premier's chief of staff had requested.
I'd just like to ask the Premier, what purpose was Mr. McVicar requesting Ms. Langille's resume for?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, I would suggest that's a good question for Mr. McVicar.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I said at the beginning that one of the most important responsibilities an Opposition has under our system is to examine the estimates. I'd just like to remind the Premier that one of the most important duties he has, and all ministers have, is to be the responsible minister for their department and to be able to defend the estimates, and not refer questions to someone else or to deflect responsibility to someone else.
I'd like to ask the Premier, as the responsible Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, again, if he could tell us - what purpose did Mr. McVicar, his chief of staff, have in mind when he asked Ms. Langille for her resumé two days after the government took office?
THE PREMIER: I want to remind the honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party that is not in the estimates. He's asking me about an email exchange between two people. I would suggest he ask them. I will be more than happy to defend the estimates here. I'm very proud of the fact that we've been able to find a 2 per cent savings across all of the departments that I've looked at. We've conveyed our commitments to continue to focus on education and health care, ensuring that Nova Scotians are getting an opportunity - we've made some investments in ensuring opportunities for first-time jobs in this province, and we're going to continue to move forward to provide an opportunity for young Nova Scotians to stay here, at the same time providing services to the people of this province and eventually getting our province back to balance.
MR. BAILLIE: I beg to differ obviously. The estimates for the Intergovernmental Affairs Department are on Page 20.16 of the Estimates Book, and they do indicate in these estimates that the Protocol Office is funded there. In fact, there is a whole line item, $500,000 and some directed to the Protocol Office. As you know, this was a public service position that, contrary to the fair hiring policy, was yanked out of the public service and turned into a patronage appointment with taxpayers' money - $512,000 of taxpayers' money will fund the Protocol Office in the upcoming year.
I believe the Premier, as the responsible minister, should take responsibility and not shift it off to someone else as I ask these questions. I will ask the Premier in a different way: What direction was provided by him to his chief of staff about the hiring of a new protocol officer two days or so after the government was sworn in?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, I'd be more than happy to respond to questions associated with the estimates that are in the book; I have no problem with that. Quite frankly, communication between me and any members of my staff are just that - communications between me and any members of my staff, and the same direction I would send to either of the Opposition. Is he actually now publicizing the conversations he's having with his staff or chief of - oh, he doesn't have a chief of staff, with his staff?
MR. BAILLIE: Since the government is going to spend $500,000 of taxpayers' money in the coming year on protocol, the arranging of parties and receptions and the buying of trinkets and flags and other things to keep a member of the Liberal Party employed, I believe it's appropriate that be examined in the estimates. So I will ask the Premier if he could share with this committee: Who made the decision to set aside the fair hiring policy and make an outright appointment of a protocol officer in the coming year?
THE PREMIER: I want to remind the honourable member again that the selection of a protocol officer is not a public service commission - they are not in the civil service, it is an appointment that has been made by Executive Council not only in this province, it is made by Executive Councils in other provinces. I want to remind and direct him back to the estimates, the fact that actual costs of the Protocol Office are actually going down, and it's because the replacement of the outgoing protocol officer is less, there is no commitment to the people of this province and there's no severance.
I hope the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party is not suggesting that when we welcomed the Queen here a few years ago it was inappropriate, or he is not suggesting that when we welcome the Prince here in May that we shouldn't be doing that as a province. I disagree wholeheartedly, it's our place in this federation - there are role representatives and I am absolutely thrilled to get an opportunity to welcome him here on behalf of the people of the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. BAILLIE: I find it interesting that at a time when people in Nova Scotia are being told to cut back - for example, nurses are told that no, there's not going to be more help in our wards and floors in hospitals; people in rural areas looking for mental health services; or home care are told there's not enough money to go around - the Premier chooses to answer the previous question by defending the spending that goes on for protocol purposes, but that's fine.
In the media, at the time of the appointment, the Premier said that several candidates were considered for the job of protocol officer. The fair hiring policy of his own government does require that positions like this be advertised and that multiple candidates be considered, so I would like to ask the Premier: Was the position of the protocol officer advertised anywhere so that other Nova Scotians could have a chance to apply, and how many candidates were considered, as he had told CTV that there were several candidates?
THE PREMIER: I think we've been through this many times. The answer is no, it was not advertised. As I said earlier, it's a position that the Executive Council in the Province of Nova Scotia can appoint a protocol officer. There are two positions in this province where that applies, one is the LG's and one chief protocol officer in this province, like there is in many other provinces.
As the Premier of this province, I considered other people for the position and that decision will be mine and mine alone and not the Leader of the Official Opposition's.
MR. BAILLIE: I want to be careful with the way that we word these things - the Premier may well have considered any number of people, other Liberals, who knows? But I would like to know - were there any other applicants for the job?
THE PREMIER: I want to remind the honourable member I said the job was not advertised. Typically Nova Scotians don't send in applications for jobs that haven't been advertised, so I want to remind the honourable member it was an appointment by Executive Council to make that happen and I, as the Premier of the province, had considered a number of people for this position.
I'm very pleased with the work that's been happening by Ms. Langille in providing the Protocol Office - actually the reduction in that office you're seeing show up, like all parts across this government we're seeing savings and we're going to continue to look for those savings to ensure that we can move our province back to balance, at the same time delivering the services that Nova Scotians want.
We also have an obligation as a province to take our part in the federation. The protocol officer is an important part of making sure when we have our Royal Visits and the Order of Nova Scotia - and I'm pleased to report there are more Nova Scotians being nominated for the Order of Nova Scotia this year than ever in our history, which is a great thing - we're going to continue to make sure that not only Nova Scotians recognize what's happening inside our province, but we're going to make sure that when we welcome dignitaries to this province it's done in an appropriate way.
MR. BAILLIE: I think the point the Premier is missing is that when Nova Scotians' own tax dollars are being used to fund these positions, they would like to know that they have a fair chance to apply for them and get them. When they're not advertised, of course they don't have an opportunity to compete for jobs paid for with their own tax dollars - that was one of the flaws in the way this whole thing happened.
It seems Ms. Langille knew to send her resumé in two days after the government was sworn in - for what purpose? The Premier can't answer, but the fact remains that Ms. Langille didn't wait for an ad; Ms. Langille didn't wait for someone to tell her. There is one Nova Scotian who sent in her resumé and, quite quickly, thereafter got a job without the job being posted - that is the whole problem.
The Premier said on CTV news that several candidates were considered for the job. Do any of these people who were considered even know that they were under consideration, or is this something the Premier did all by himself?
THE PREMIER: I'm not sure where the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party is going. We have appointed a protocol officer, which falls under the purview of the Executive Council. She's doing a tremendous job and the communications that I have with Nova Scotians are appropriate - when I spent my lifetime respecting the privacy of conversations. It's what I do, and before I came into politics it was the same way - I ran a business where we communicated with people and the conversations that I had were between me and them.
I appreciate the fact that I got an email communication of the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party when I went to South Africa because what he said before I left and what he said afterwards to the media in this province is quite different. My reputation and what I've said to people has stood the test and, quite frankly, I will continue to respect the privacy of all Nova Scotians who want to communicate with me directly.
MR. BAILLIE: A moment ago the Premier did not want to talk about anything that wasn't directly in the Estimates Book but, certainly, when it serves his purposes he's happy to fly miles away from the Estimates Book.
We all want to treat private conversations privately in our private lives, but the difference here is that real taxpayers' dollars are involved and responsible ministers - and that includes the Premier - need to be responsible for the way they spend taxpayers' money. Whether they are using it to pad the administrative level of government or whether they're using it to pay off their friends who didn't get hired in the general election, Madam Speaker, that's why it's important that we understand what went on here.
Having said that, I will ask the Premier: Since he considers the protocol officer something that was previously in the public service and protected by the fair hiring policy to not be a public service position but rather to be a personal appointment of the Premier's, and since we have a number of funded vacancies in several of his offices that will be filled at some point or another, I think it's important that the Premier tell us all now - what other positions currently in the public service does he believe are his own to play with?
THE PREMIER: As I have said many times in this House, there are two protocol positions in the province that are appointments of the Executive Council. The vacancies that would fall in the public service, that would fall under the respective deputy ministers, I have tremendous faith and confidence in the deputy ministers across our government, they do great work by leading a great team of men and women, and they will fill those positions.
There are many hires that go on, day in and day out, inside of government that I have no involvement in at all - it's done at the departmental level or by the deputy ministers who are responsible, who those people report to.
MR. BAILLIE: I will just ask a simple question then while we're on this topic - will the Premier commit now that all hirings done in any of his offices, and beyond, will, without exception, follow the government's own fair hiring policy from now on?
THE PREMIER: I commit to the people of the province that if there are any civil servant positions that are going to be hired for in this province they'll be done through the fair hiring practice, and they will be delivered through by the deputy ministers who are responsible for them and the minister who oversees that. If they are in my departments, it will be me, and in other departments it will be the ministers responsible for those departments.
MR. BAILLIE: I think Nova Scotians would have appreciated if that commitment was made from day one, and not a commitment made to close the barn door after the fact.
In any event, since we are on the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs, I would like to turn the Premier's attention to the function of Military Relations, which is one of the duties that he has assigned to himself and which is funded through Intergovernmental Affairs.
This is actually an important area, Military Relations obviously at the point - the position is to provide guidance, strategic advice, administrative and communications support to the Minister responsible for Military Relations. I just want to quickly point out that it was a position that was created in 2006, some eight years ago, reflecting the fact that Nova Scotia has a particularly strong relationship with our military, that some 40 per cent of Canada's military assets - the forces' bases, the naval yards and so on - are actually resident in Nova Scotia and that Nova Scotia provides a very high portion of the personnel in the Canadian Forces.
It is important to note that Nova Scotia is the first province to have an Office of Military Relations; in fact, has it for good reason because of that strong connection that Nova Scotians have with the Canadian Forces. I want to ask the Premier: Looking at the budget for Intergovernmental Affairs, how many personnel carry out this function of advising the Premier on military affairs matters?
THE PREMIER: I have, as part of that, a deputy minister, an executive director - and I've actually moved a position of the Premier's Office into the Department of Military Relations under Intergovernmental Affairs, Madam Chairman, to ensure that it is a public servant who continues to lead that and not have an opportunity for an appointment that is not solely focused on military relations.
MR. BAILLIE: Let me just make that a little more pointed, if I could. I understand there's a deputy and executive director and so on - how many people are dedicated to the military affairs function? It appears there is one advisor and I just want to know if that is, in fact, the correct number.
THE PREMIER: That is correct, three people.
MR. BAILLIE: The budget for Intergovernmental Affairs in total is a little over $3 million, and I'd like to know - what portion of that budget is directed to Military Relations?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, all of the departments that fall under Intergovernmental Affairs, the policy side - and I'm assuming this is where you are - are all developed in that particular envelope, so it wouldn't just be Military Relations, it would be a number of other things that fall under Intergovernmental Affairs.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I'm just a little confused by that answer. At a Standing Committee of this House a few weeks ago, the Deputy Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs indicated that the budget for Military Relations may well be increased in this budget year. In order to say that, there must be some amount that is dedicated to Military Relations. We know there are three people directly working in Military Relations, according to the Premier's last answer, so can the Premier give us a sense of how much of the $3 million in Intergovernmental Affairs is related to Military Relations?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, I want to thank the deputy minister for the great work that she's been doing on behalf of us, as a new portfolio. We've actually taken the portfolio, quite frankly, and the full-time person associated with it and moved it into the Department of Intergovernmental Affairs, out of the Premier's Office. I want to thank her for the great work that she's been doing on behalf of all of us.
I think if he goes back and actually reads the transcript, the deputy would have said that she hoped the budget was going to go up. I think if I went to the deputy's meeting this morning I would have heard that from every deputy across government - hoping that their budgets were going to go up. But, as he would know, we are in tough economic times and deputies are leading the way, making sure that we continue to live within our means while we provide the good services to the people of this province.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, can the Premier tell us how often he has met specifically with the advisor for Military Relations, in his capacity as minister responsible, since coming to office?
THE PREMIER: I don't know exactly how many times. It would have been one of the third or fourth conversations I initiated as being Premier. I have met with that department - I meet with the Deputy of Intergovernmental Affairs regularly; we have met with the advisor a number of times; and I have met with senior members of the military. I just had a great meeting with a veterans' group across the province who are looking for homeless vets, not only in this province, but working across the country. We've worked with them and continue to reach out to meet the members of the military, and military families as well. Of course, we would be speaking with our staff here.
I'm looking forward to getting a chance, and I haven't, to go out to a family resource centre for military families. It has been told to me, a number of times, what great work they do. With so many things going on, I haven't been able to get there, but it certainly is part of where I'll be going and continuing to look forward to build on the relationship that I have with the military community.
MR. BAILLIE: I'm wondering if the Premier can tell us, has he met with Rear Admiral Newton of the Navy, or Colonel Chinner of the Air Force, or Brigadier-General Eldaoud of the Army, since becoming the Premier and Minister responsible for Military Relations?
THE PREMIER: Yes.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I appreciate that answer. Of course, Military Relations would, by necessity, involve a pretty good connection with the federal government, which actually has the responsibility of Canada's Armed Forces. Has the Premier met with the federal Minister for National Defence or his staff, or with any of the commanding officers of the Navy, the Air Force, or the Army, and could he share with us when that was?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, no, I have not met with the federal minister. On that trip to South Africa I had an opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister about a whole host of issues related to our province, and the downloading happening from the federal government. I was pleased to be part of that and I've had a great building relationship with the regional minister, Minister MacKay, who has been, I will say, a great advocate on behalf of military families not only in this province, but across the country.
We will continue to work with him on the issues around the LMA file and continue to have conversations about how we can work together to ensure that we have capitalized on the European Free Trade deal, which is moving forward. There are some chances we can work together to ensure that our companies are ready to capitalize on that opportunity in 2017. Of course, we would talk about the military families; I know how passionate a connection it is to Minister MacKay and, of course, as the minister responsible for that.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, at the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs here in the Legislature a few weeks ago, the Premier's Deputy Minister of IGA indicated that the Premier has written a letter to the federal government on military matters. Is that the sum total of the Premier's contact with the federal government on matters related to our Canadian Forces to date?
THE PREMIER: Not at all, Madam Chairman, it was certainly our hope, quite frankly, that the federal government would see the error of their ways. We had some indication there may be some changes coming leading into the federal budget. We've obviously been reaching out and talking to them about the challenges, but it was the first time that I actually wrote a letter expressing my disappointment about what we had actually seen. It was our hope that we would have seen a reversal of that because they would have felt, quite frankly, the collective voice of Nova Scotians who were suggesting that was not the right decision, since we've reached out to them and we'll continue to do so.
I continue to work with our federal partners to ensure that they do right by military families and veterans of this province, as well as continuing to build a relationship with the federal level of government so that we can ensure that Nova Scotians get the fair share of federal dollars that are being distributed around, like the LMA, so we can continue to provide literacy programs to Nova Scotians.
We are looking at changing the health care funding, which is going to have a devastating impact on the province over a period of time, moving from the population piece more to the one that takes into effect we are an aging population with chronic disease. So, of course, I have conversations with the federal level on many different fronts and all of those are part of that.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, the Premier makes mention of health care funding and the changes to the federal formula. I'm sure we all would agree that Nova Scotians in positions of responsibility need to make sure that we are clear on the effect of those formula changes and do all we can to have the federal government recognize some of the increased expenses that small provinces like Nova Scotia have when it comes to higher incidents of chronic disease, an aging population and so on.
Of course, actions speak louder than words. That is why it is so disappointing to see the Premier go to Ottawa, or talk to Ottawa, with his hand out for more health care dollars, while the administrative budget of the Department of Health and Wellness continues to grow. It impedes our ability to make a strong case to Ottawa when so much administrative spending continues to go on and, quite frankly, gets bigger in the current budgets - one of the reasons we need to look so closely at these particular items when we're examining the estimates.
It is also true of Military Relations - it is important that the actions of the government match its words. Many Nova Scotians on both sides of the House have concerns about the changes that have been made in Ottawa to the way our veterans are serviced and to the way those men and women who serve our country receive services. That is particularly evident in Cape Breton. As a result, several members of this House, certainly several PC members, have made the trip to Ottawa to meet with the minister responsible, and other responsible officials, to drive home that point.
The Cape Breton Regional Municipality put together a trip to Ottawa and invited MLAs from all Parties to attend to make that point, and there wasn't a single Liberal MLA who went on that trip, including the Minister responsible for Military Affairs, who is the Premier himself, the person who has the strongest voice to make that point and, Madam Chairman, the reason I bring this up is that it is so important that when these things happen, we all work hard to defend Nova Scotians, whether they are veterans or currently serving in the Canadian Forces.
The Premier has written a letter, and we all appreciate that. I would like to ask him, what else has he done to stand up for our veterans and the men and women of our Canadian Forces, other than writing that one letter?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, we continued, leading into the budget process of the federal government, to talk about an issue which had been at the forefront, about the devastating impact it would have, those closures. I think everyone in this House would recognize that it would be inappropriate for a Premier to run to the newspaper or try to get on a flight, and let everyone know I'm flying to Ottawa for the purposes of doing that to build a relationship. How would any level of government feel about that kind of building a relationship?
Quite frankly, there is a federal government in place; we are a new government in Nova Scotia. I think there were some challenging relationships with the previous government. It was my responsibility to try to build that relationship and, Madam Chairman, in order to do that it doesn't mean I write a press release every time I have a conversation with a federal member or minister. Quite frankly, it would be irresponsible and it would actually take the focus off what my job is and that is to speak up for Nova Scotians and try to build that resolve with the federal government to make that change - and that is what we're going to continue to do.
I have been very pleased with the work that I've been able to do with Minister MacKay. He has been, as I've said many times, a strong advocate at the national level for the province. We've built a working relationship. I value and trust his thoughts and views about what is happening at the national level and the role that he believes we can play to help him move some of the things at the national level that he needs, and vice versa - he would help us move some of the things that we need as a province.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I think we're going to run out time shortly, I just want to check that with you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Three minutes.
MR. BAILLIE: Three minutes, okay.
Well, Madam Chairman, we've spent some time here in the last hour throwing a lot of numbers around about whether the government has hit its own minus 1 per cent target or not. The Premier is trying to make the case that his own departments are, and that other departments did. In the next little while, as we go through the estimates, I think it is important that Nova Scotians get a true accounting of how the government has done at hitting its own targets and they see, in the budget itself, that spending is up 5.5 per cent for departments as a whole. They recall the commitment that the Liberal Party made to reduce spending by 1 per cent.
They weren't told at that time that in the fine print that doesn't include the contract commitments that were in place, although those were certainly known before the election and at the time. There have been, in other times of restraint, Madam Chairman, governments who have asked departments to absorb those increases, to find a way to make the 1 per cent true on the bottom line and not just a minus 1 per cent then a plus 2 per cent and so on. The fact of the matter is that under the Premier's guidance, 14 of 17 departments did not hit the minus 1 per cent target and all Nova Scotians are going to be poorer as a result.
We have been going through the Premier's departments today and find that three out of five didn't hit the minus one per cent either, which just makes the point that when those departments in the centre of government, under the direction of the senior minister, are not able to find the savings that they ask of others it becomes very hard to expect the rest of government to follow that guidance.
We'll continue with the estimates, of course, but it's pretty clear that not only have the Premier's own departments fallen short - although I do acknowledge that in a couple of cases they came close, 0.8 per cent and so on, as opposed to minus1 per cent, but imagine that, 0.2 per cent across all of government, that is a lot of taxpayers' money, all because in some cases in the Premier's department they gave up on actually reaching all the way for the 1 per cent even though they asked that of others. Madam Chairman, Nova Scotia would be in a stronger place today if the government had been serious about the minus 1 per cent all along.
That, in fact, was the way that the Liberal Party in their platform proposed to pay for their election spending promises, by finding that 1 per cent savings. What the budget makes very clear is that the spending part is going on, but the savings part is not going on and that is why we have such a big deficit today, and why the debt is continuing to go up, and why the new government projects the debt is going to go up all four years.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Leader of the New Democratic Party.
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I'd like to welcome the staff from the Premier's Office, and it's my pleasure to have an opportunity to participate in the estimates debate and the examining of the budget, specifically the areas under the direct purview of the Premier.
I look at the budget as being completely in the purview of the Premier. I'm not going to be asking any line-by-line questions from the Department of Health and Wellness or Education and Early Childhood Development, but this is a very good opportunity to talk to the Premier and get some general sense of his views on the budget and his priorities and plans with respect to some pretty significant issues that our province has. Additionally, it gives us an opportunity to talk about some of the concrete decisions that have already been taken in the early days of a new government for whom an election campaign is not all that stale, and we still have commitments in our minds with respect to what the various electoral commitments were. So we're all very anxious and interested in how those will be carried out.
My questions will be general and specific with respect to those matters, and one of the first things I think I would like to look at - I listened very intently to the Leader of the Official Opposition with respect to his train of questioning around whether or not the government has been successful in meeting its campaign obligations with respect to the reduction of 1 per cent in the various government departments, excluding Health and Wellness and Education and Early Childhood Development. I believe that was the campaign commitment.
Although there are many aspects of the questions from the Leader of the Official Opposition that I admire and I agree with, there are things that I don't necessarily share with respect to his preoccupation with cutting government departments and services. But I have to say, Madam Chairman, that I feel a little confused when I look at the budget overall. This budget does not encourage me, I guess I would say, in that we do see quite a significant increase in spending for the province but we don't have any good sense of priorities, of a plan, of a strategy - strategic kind of investments or approaches.
It seems like a lot of small amounts of money, by and large, have been doled out to a lot of different places in an aggregate kind of way. When you add it all up it adds up to a lot, but it doesn't necessarily get you any of the big, strategic kinds of investments that we really need in terms of the hard challenges and difficulties that our province faces.
When I look at the Ivany report, I think where is the beef when I look at this budget. This is something that certainly concerns me. We'll have an opportunity throughout the next 40 hours, as the various departments come forward, to talk to various ministers, but right now we have an opportunity to talk to the Premier about this.
Madam Chairman, the Premier, in the Executive Council Office, according to the information we have on Page 20.9 in the Budget Estimates indicates that the Premier's Office currently has an estimate of 18 full-time equivalent staff. I'm wondering if the Premier could begin by telling me, and telling the members here, precisely how many staff there are. We know that FTEs aren't necessarily the number of bodies that you get in terms of staff in a department or an office. So we have an estimate of 18 FTEs; I would like to know how many people are actually employed under the direction of Executive Council and, further, I'd like to know if the Premier has an organizational chart with a listing of the various job titles for staff who are in that office, and if he would provide that to us. That's my first question.
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, I want to thank the Leader on her opening remarks. We're certainly excited and engaged and looking forward to talking about moving this province forward. The Ivany commission laid out a great strategy around how they believe we can do that, and we've begun to work on some of that and I'm looking forward to continuing to do that.
To her question - she asked 18; there are 18. I don't have a flow chart, but we can get her a sequence of those positions and the job description around them.
MS. MACDONALD: I would very much appreciate that. One of the things that I'm interested in knowing more about is the position of director of communications in the Premier's Office. I know that has been a position in the office in the past; I'm assuming it's still a position in that office. Most of us in our various political caucuses have a position of director of communications and I know there has been some controversy with respect to the appointment of the new protocol officer who previously, before the Premier became the Premier, was the director of communications in the Liberal Caucus Office and subsequently left that position, was working in a different capacity, but I think it was for the Liberal caucus, ran as a Liberal candidate - no, didn't run as a Liberal candidate? I see one of the Liberal members shaking his head that no, but I think that in fact a previous director of communications did run as a Liberal candidate.
Subsequently, after the election and not having been successful in the election, was appointed, given a contract without an open competition, to the position of chief of protocol. I am wondering why the Premier did not hire that person back into their old position as director of communications? Was there a competition for the director of communications in the Premier's Office? I recognize that is a political appointment for which there wouldn't have to be a competition, but it just strikes me that it may have been a preferable solution to hiring than taking a job out of the public sector and providing it for a failed candidate. The optics of that, we've discussed in here, they leave a concern - I think is fair to say - for Nova Scotians, particularly given that this occurred so early on after the government formed a government.
People in the province, certainly in my constituency, are hoping for a change, something that doesn't harken back to a different era in terms of patronage appointments. I know the Premier has spoken on numerous occasions about the qualifications of the individual who was appointed to the chief of protocol position; however, I have never heard the Premier explain why, when he had an opportunity to appoint a fairly significant number of people to his own staff, political staff, without any questions that would ever arise, why he didn't take that opportunity - why this was a preferred response for him?
THE PREMIER: Let me be clear, I want to thank the people who work in my office - they do a tremendous job, and I'm very pleased with the work they've done. The majority of them came with me. Some have been additions that we've added to the office. I'm excited about the work they've doing. Nova Scotians, quite frankly, have been pleased. We're continuing to communicate with them.
As you know, the chief protocol officer is a decision made by the Executive Council. We have a highly qualified person to fill that position and I'm looking forward to her continuing to move forward.
Madam Speaker, the Leader of the New Democratic Party is right - Nova Scotians did vote for change. It's one of the things you'll see in this document. There are no more pre-payments to universities, we stopped that practice two previous governments held; we've made sure that we didn't front-load payments - 13 income assistance payments in one year, we paid them in the year that they're in so that Nova Scotians know truly what we had spent in that fiscal year; we continued to meet our obligations to the people of this province and, as you know, we also said that we would keep the capital construction commitments that were made by the previous government - we felt an obligation to communities that we should do that, and we've done that.
The change that they were looking for is continuing to unfold, and Nova Scotians are continuing to be supportive of that change.
MS. MACDONALD: The Premier didn't answer my question though, and so maybe I need to go through it again.
The Estimates Book indicates that there is a complement of 18 full-time equivalents in the Premier's Office. I believe that one of those positions is the director of communications, and a variety probably of other communications jobs. The individual who was appointed to be chief of protocol without any competition in the province has worked for the Premier previously as the director of communications and as the Premier has said, had a distinguished career - a 30-year career as a broadcaster doing communications kind of work. It's not a big leap really to wonder why it is that when the Premier formed the government and had an opportunity to staff the Premier's office with a whole variety of positions - 18 full-time equivalent positions - that the individual in question could very well have been offered one of those positions, or her old job as director of communications.
Nobody has ever really asked the Premier this, as far as I know, and I certainly haven't heard him explain what his thinking was, why he didn't hire this individual into one of those positions rather than put himself into the position of being criticized, obviously, for a patronage appointment, and putting the individual - I don't know this individual very well, I've met her a couple of times, she strikes me as a lovely person - putting her in this situation of being open to public criticism and scrutiny?
All of that could have been avoided, we could have had - it wasn't like there weren't some political opportunities for someone of that experience and capacity. It's a very simple question really: Why did the Premier not use the opportunities within his own department to hire political staff? There would be other political staff in those roles and that could have been done very easily. Why is that and why did he go this other route?
THE PREMIER: I want to thank the honourable member for the question. I'm absolutely thrilled with the work that is being done on my behalf in this department. There are nine staff members in the Premier's Office. A number of them are actually civil servants. Those positions would be filled.
As I said earlier, the chief protocol officer is an appointment that's able to be made by the people of the province by the Executive Council on behalf of the people of this province. We've made that appointment. Ms. Langille is continuing to operate in that position, continuing to prepare for the Prince when he arrives. Quite frankly, she's in the position where I think she can best serve the people in this province.
MS. MACDONALD: Well, I guess we will never really know what the Premier's thinking on this is. He seems reluctant to share with us the process that he went through in terms of arriving at a decision that certainly is not a decision that we agree with. I think that the fair hiring practice policy of government should have applied to this position and there should have been a fair and open competition. The individual in question could have been gainfully employed inside the Premier's Office and on the Premier's staff, and he had ample opportunity to do that.
I want to talk about three other decisions that the Premier made as well. In our system, the deputy ministers actually work for the Premier and work for the government on behalf of the Premier. Three deputy ministers were terminated, as we know, when the government was formed - Carole Olsen from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Kevin McNamara in the Department of Health and Wellness, and Sara Jane - I can't remember her last name.
AN HON. MEMBER: Snook.
MS. MACDONALD: Snook, that's right, from the Department of Environment. I'm not going to get into the rationale. This is the prerogative of a new government that comes into power. I would like to say though that I did have the great privilege of working with Kevin McNamara as the deputy minister of Health and Wellness, and I don't know if members here had an opportunity to see the column that was written in The Globe and Mail about - not just about Kevin McNamara, but the absence of depth and seniority in deputy ministers in health departments across the country and the great disservice this does to our health care system when we lose seasoned and capable leadership in administrators. I certainly would concur with the author of that column. Mr. McNamara certainly was somebody who understood our health care system very, very well and certainly gave exceptional service to the province, so I just wanted to say this.
Since the termination of those three deputy ministers, to the best of my knowledge, they have yet to be replaced. This really is what I want to talk to the Premier about. I can't imagine a department more in need of a strong, capable deputy minister than the Department of Health and Wellness - and Education and Early Childhood Development certainly is not far behind in that regard.
Nova Scotia has been fortunate in many respects to have such a capable senior management team in our public service. After working in the capacity I worked in for four years, the capability of senior officials was not only apparent, it was wonderful to watch quite often. I feel truly privileged to have gotten to see and be around people who have dedicated, and are dedicated, to their work and to our province in this way.
Having said that, my concern is that we are now almost six months into a new government without that kind of leadership in those critical departments. I would like to ask the Premier what the status of the search is for deputy minsters, particularly the deputy ministers for Health and Wellness and Education and Early Childhood Development - why is it taking so long, and when can we expect to have these important leadership roles fulfilled? Here we are with our first budget, yet we have been - for those departments that don't have deputies, those budgets, those departmental budgets were put together, to some extent, without the leadership that is required to move things forward.
Would the Premier give us some indication of where the search is for these important senior management roles?
THE PREMIER: First of all, let me begin by expressing my great appreciation to Frank Dunn, who is Acting Deputy Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development; he is a long-time public servant doing a tremendous job on behalf of the government and on behalf of children across this province. And, as well, Frances Martin, who is the Acting Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness who, as I know the member opposite who asked the question, as the Leader of the Party would know, has been a long- time civil servant, has been working in the department, has done a tremendous job ensuring that we continue to look after the health of Nova Scotians, continue to make sure the department is moving forward. She has been very supportive of the minister and the work they've been doing.
Madam Chairman, I would tell her that the search for permanent deputies is still ongoing. There have been some interviews. There are interviews continuing as we speak and when we find the right candidate who will continue to move forward, we'll announce those.
I want to be very clear - there was some indication that the Leader did not have the confidence of the two people who were acting in the deputy ministers' positions at this point. I have all the confidence in the world in the role they've been doing on behalf of Nova Scotians and those roles as acting deputy ministers in both Health and Wellness and Education and Early Childhood Development and I am so proud to be able to continue to work with them as we continue to usher these two important files into a transition phase.
MS. MACDONALD: I just want to say to the Premier, don't be silly. I certainly would never suggest, and didn't suggest, that I have no confidence in either Mr. Dunn or Frances Martin. I don't believe I said that whatsoever.
I asked when we were going to get deputy ministers into those really important departments to provide the leadership that will be required to move departments forward. That, I think, is what I said. I know that sometimes we can get a little partisan here on this floor, but I think it's important that we don't go too far in putting words into the mouths of others when it's clearly something that was not stated.
I guess my next question would be with respect to the search that's under way. I haven't heard too much from the Premier about that search, but I'd like if he could indicate to me who's conducting the search and what process was used to get a search, a headhunting firm to go through the process of doing this - so who's conducting the search and how were they selected?
THE PREMIER: We actually put an RFP out for search firms showing the criteria of what we're looking for. Those competitions were won, they were put out, and they're continuing to go through. The actual interviewing process will be held by the deputy minister in the Premier's Office, with an external person from health care and education being part of those interviews to ensure that we give everyone at least an opportunity to interview, a fair opportunity to be hired to be the deputy minister in the province.
As you know, there's also an ongoing issue around a couple of other positions, and the same practice has been held that we put a RFP out for a search firm which in turn will go out to do the search for potential candidates and then the interview process happens.
MS. MACDONALD: Madam Chairman, again, just coming back to this briefly, I would like to know if the Premier can give us some idea of at what point we are in the search. There are a few rumours flying around that at least one search had to be restarted - I don't know if that's accurate or not - which will make the process even longer. It would be very beneficial I think for members here to know at what stage we are in the search process and whether or not we can anticipate that that process will conclude relatively soon and that we will have people in those important vacant positions relatively soon - so when do we anticipate that the search will conclude and you'll be able to announce the appointment of those new deputy ministers?
THE PREMIER: As I said earlier, we are in the interview process now and part of that is ongoing - scheduling issues, making sure that people who need to be given an opportunity to be interviewed are being interviewed - and when that process is done and someone has been hired, we'll communicate that to Nova Scotians.
I want to assure all members of this House that we will ensure, and do everything we can to ensure, that we have the person who, we believe, will be able to help direct the change that is going to be required in both these important files. We've been very excited about the people who have actually engaged us across the country. When we get the right person, we'll make sure that we communicate that to Nova Scotians.
MS. MACDONALD: Now there's another appointment that I would like to talk to the Premier about a bit and gain a bit more insight into, and that is the appointment of Laurel Broten, the individual who has been appointed - hired, I think - as a consultant to lead the review of taxation and regulatory policy for the province.
Now my understanding - and I've essentially just looked at more or less news reports around this - is that this individual also was appointed by the government and I don't think there was any competitive process, although I don't think in this case there was necessarily a requirement that there be a competitive process. It's not a regular employment post inside the Public Service or anything like that.
I find it interesting and I find it curious I guess that, first of all, we went outside in a way, although I understand that she's an individual who recently moved to Nova Scotia and was a minister in the Dalton McGuinty Liberal Government in Ontario, but I'm unclear of the qualifications and the process that the Premier and his staff may have gone through in selecting this individual over other individuals.
I guess my question is in reaching the decision to appoint Ms. Broten, did you have a short list? Where there other people who were considered - were people, tax lawyers in Nova Scotia, for example, even tax lawyers who are Liberals, on a short list who were looked at and considered to lead this particular initiative that is certainly a very important piece of work?
I think on some level we have a concern that there's a bit of a pattern developing in the way people are landing in some fairly important positions that are very well remunerated without any idea that there is a fair process in place to get us, as a former colleague of mine liked to say, "the best person for the job." That really underpins my concern, my question.
I'm wondering, was the Premier involved in this directly, himself, or staff in his office? I'm sure there would have been some involvement. What was the hiring process for Ms. Broden? Was there a short list of other candidates? Were there other people considered for the position? That's a good place to start; I'll let the Premier respond to that.
THE PREMIER: Laurel Broden actually is not an appointment. She's been hired as a consultant to do a project for the province and the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board. I have all the faith in the world in the minister to manage her own portfolio, as I do with every minister that I have appointed to be members of the Executive Council. They make decisions in their department and I would encourage the member opposite if she wants further information, that she will get an opportunity to question the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board when her estimates come up.
MS. MACDONALD: It is my intention, certainly, to do this when I have an opportunity to look at the estimates for the Department of Finance and Treasury Board, but right now I do have this opportunity with the Premier, and I would have thought, given how important taxation and regulatory policy is for the Premier and his government, that he could have shed some light on the extent to which he and his office were involved in this particular decision. But you can't get blood from a stone, so if it's a matter that he doesn't want to discuss, I guess maybe I should look elsewhere for my answers, and I will be doing that.
The next question I have for the Premier is with respect to the Liberal senators for the Province of Nova Scotia. The Premier is on the record as having defended the Senate and certainly he is also on the record in terms of his great affection for the Liberal senators from the Province of Nova Scotia to the Senate. In his public discussion about the Senate, he has talked about all of the things that the senators do on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia.
I'm wondering, we have a number of - well, we have a number of senators who - I'm not sure if they're Liberal senators anymore. I guess they're only Liberals when they're in Nova Scotia, but when they're in Ottawa they're independents or something like that because of a decision that a different Liberal Leader has taken.
My question is about what Senator Wilf Moore has been doing on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia, or Senator Jane Cordy, Senator Terry Mercer - I would very much appreciate it if the Premier could outline some of the work that the various senators are doing on behalf of the province and what the results of that work has been for our province. It would be quite useful for us to have some insight into that.
THE PREMIER: I want to thank the member opposite for her question. Before I answer that one, I want to actually tell her how important taxation and regulation is to me and that's why I have all the confidence in the world in the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board that she can actually manage her department and will continue to make sure that Nova Scotians continue to get the good fiscal management that she has brought so far to that portfolio. I have all the faith in her to manage her department. It's an interesting concept - I know that may fall on deaf ears in some cases, but I have enough confidence in my ministers that everything doesn't have to run through the Premier's Office in order for it to take place.
Finally, I do want to talk about the Senate. It is an important piece. We've all talked about the fact that in my personal view, if you look at a small province, it gives us some equalization in the second Chamber at the federal level. I believe that is an important piece. I had a chance to actually talk briefly with the Prime Minister about it. Looking at it I believe there are changes that could take place around potentially term limits, other aspects associated with it, but any changes would have to respect the fact that we, as the Province of Nova Scotia in the federation, have and continue to remain an important piece and executive piece inside of the Senate.
I want to assure the member opposite that not only are the Liberal senators in this province doing good work. When I was away, I had the great privilege of being with Senator Don Oliver who has worked so hard on behalf of Nova Scotians. He was an appointment by former Prime Minister Mulroney, I believe. He continues to make sure that Nova Scotia's interests were being represented at the national level. There have been a number of senators who continue to put forward a good case.
I just signed a letter today, Madam Chairman, going back to members of the Senate who actually are going to put forward an equalization and fiscal arrangement on the floor of the Senate, ensuring that Nova Scotia continues to be part of the federation, and have an examination because, quite frankly, they're quite worried about the changes around the health care funding, they're worried about the changes to the LMA and what will happen to the Province of Nova Scotia.
There are a whole host of other issues that the Senate continues to raise, but I want to make sure that if there are any changes to the Senate then Nova Scotians get to protect their voice in that second Chamber in this country.
MS. MACDONALD: I did have an email from Senator Jim Cowan with respect to a recent initiative that he is initiating, I guess you would say, with respect to equalization. Certainly it is a very big concern - the reduction in transfers - with particular concern around the Canada Health Transfer and what that will mean for health care funding over the next 10 years for not only Nova Scotia but for the Atlantic Region. So that's certainly something I will be following very closely and am prepared to get behind, in the interests of the people of the province.
I want to go back to my last questions though, around the appointment of Ms. Broten. The Premier indicated that her appointment was handled out of the Department of Finance and Treasury Board but I'm aware that, through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Office, an individual in your office, in the Premier's Office, Madam Chairman, was actively involved in recruiting this individual to the Tax Review Commission, an individual whose name is Jason Haughn.
I will be asking questions of the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board with respect to this, but I just thought it was important to let the Premier know if he was unaware of that, that there was an individual who was active in your office. I also understand from the FOIPOP that she wasn't the only individual that was being considered, so I don't know whether or not the Premier has any knowledge of that. I take him at his word that he doesn't and so here I am providing you with information this evening - see how we can all get along when we want to.
Madam Chairman, the other thing I'm curious about is the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Office. We know that the term of the individual who had been in that department had finished, and that person was not extended even through the process of recruiting a new person. Given the concerns that we on the Opposition benches have with respect to recruitment now more generally, I want to ask the Premier, is he or his office involved in filling that particular job in any way and, if so, in what way?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, as the member opposite would know, the contract for the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Officer had expired, it had been the second term - and typically that is what happens. There is a hiring process in place; I'm not involved in it. I can get her the details about the structure around the hiring but I'm not involved in it and, hopefully, we'll be able to report something positive to the province soon.
MS. MACDONALD: Well it's my understanding that we have a very well-thought-out policy on procurement and this process is one that offers us transparency and fairness. This isn't something that is just important to members of the Opposition, it's important to all of us in this Chamber. It is one of those things that gives people confidence in our system - not only in our government, but in our system.
We all know how confidence in our system is increasingly on very shaky ground, so any time that something untoward happens or appears to happen, our system is the victim, is the casualty in that. Over time these incidents tend to have an accumulative effect on people's belief, not only in the government of the day, but in the very system itself.
Sometimes members of the government - and I've been there - get a little annoyed when the Opposition does their job, but the Opposition is not only just doing their job to be irritating or something, it is because I think we are all legitimately concerned about the kind of atmosphere that is being built now around confidence in our system, and the erosion of that confidence in the system and the belief in the system.
We've been talking here about a number of hiring decisions and trying to understand what the bases of those decisions have been, and whether or not there is a commitment to fair hiring practices and fair procurement practices.
Now all procurement practices - I shouldn't say all procurement practices - but there are times at which the procurement policy can be waived, you can get an exemption. You can get an exception in some cases and not have to follow the procurement policy as laid out, but there has to be a compelling reason to do that, a good reason to do that. You have to be able to articulate that in a way that the members of the public will say, oh yes, that makes sense, we wouldn't do that - in this case that makes sense, we don't have to do that in this case.
My understanding is that, with respect to the appointment of Ms. Broden, the procurement policy did not apply and there was some form of an exemption granted. So I want to ask the Premier: In what circumstances does he feel it is acceptable to deviate from the policies that dictate fair hiring - for example, for the chief of protocol or tendering the procurement policy around procuring, consulting, or other services - what commitment does he have to ensuring that we, the public, can have confidence in the way that his government is approaching the procurement of services and the appointing of people into roles that are really very important to have public confidence in?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, I was not involved in the hiring of the consultant in the Department of Finance and Treasury Board - the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board was part of that. The question would best be delivered to them. We continue to allow the procurement process to happen, continue to work with Nova Scotians. As a matter of fact, we're absolutely thrilled that the government has finally stopped competing with the private sector when it comes to the procurement of paving projects in this province. We've been very encouraged by that. We see a reinvigoration in the private sector when it comes to that - very thrilled by it. So we're going to continue to follow the process, following the procurement process in the province.
If there are some issues around a decision made in the Department of Finance and Treasury Board, I encourage the member to ask that of the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board.
MS. MACDONALD: So, Madam Chairman, there was one other matter that created a bit of concern, and that was the tendering of a contract to the Premier's brother with respect to some consulting around training for vehicle compliance. Now the procurement policy requires that anyone who submits a proposal, if they perceive a conflict of interest, that they declare that conflict of interest in their submission.
I think the Premier would be aware that in the case of Seventeen Consulting, in their submission, they did not identify a conflict of interest in their submission and, subsequent to that, the procedure of the relevant department for posting the awarding of tenders did not appropriately follow their own procedures.
I know that the Premier would recognize why it is particularly important, I think, in this case not only to have the exercising of decisions with respect to the awarding of this particular contract be squeaky clean, but it has to have the perception as well. Both of those things resulted in a perception that something had not been done properly because of the failure on these two different points.
So I want to ask the Premier: How involved was his office in the communication around the awarding of that contact and whether or not anyone in the staff in the Premier's Office was advising ERDT on communications around that particular tender?
Thank you, those are my questions.
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, the first I heard of this contract being awarded to Seventeen Consulting was out of the paper. Quite frankly, I had no idea that he had actually been part of vying for a contract.
She mentioned there is some conflict because he happens to be my brother. As you would know, Madam Chairman, I have a number of them, and if they have to proclaim every time that they are related to the Premier - some of them actually work for government, and have worked for government and have had distinguished careers as public servants, and I want to tell this House how proud I am of my brother who has actually applied for this position and received that contract, and his distinguished career as a law enforcement officer in this province.
But at no time, quite frankly, did I have any involvement in that. As soon as I heard about it I asked, for the very reasons the member's asking, the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to look at it. I remember when the Conflict of Interest Commissioner looked at it, there is no conflict and moved forward.
I would agree, quite frankly. The fact that you are related to the Premier - there is a different set of standards that is put in place. Unfortunately, for my large family, it is a challenge for them because many of them interact with public services, many of them are involved in community organizations across this province that are involved with the government. But none of them called the Premier's Office looking for something; none of them go out and tell everyone that they interact with that I happen to be their brother, And I would suggest to you, since both of us have held a high-profile position, that I would say that most people would recognize that we look somewhat alike - he has little bit more grey hair than I do, but in no way did I have any influence on him awarding that tender.
I would encourage the member opposite to talk to the people who have actually reviewed those, and I would encourage her to encourage all of the applicants to lay out the applications they put in, and I would encourage her in her independent view to look at the applications and determine whether or not they made the right decision. The Conflict of Interest Commissioner made it very clear that there was no conflict of interest and that everything was done above board and we're looking forward, quite frankly, for that training to take place.
MS. MACDONALD: I'm not going to make any comment on which is the better- looking brother.
THE PREMIER: Thank you, it's neither one of us.
MS. MACDONALD: It's just very important that, and I think the Premier did say it, when you have members of your family who are interacting with the government that the process be one that is impeccable, I guess you would say, to avoid the - it's not necessarily that there is a conflict, it is the perception. So that makes it all the more important to be very rigorous, and I think the Premier understands that is the case.
I know I must be getting close to the end of my time, but I want to end my time here talking to the Premier for a few minutes. How much time do I have left? Two minutes? I don't have time to do what I want to do, so I'll get a chance in the next round.
But I want to talk to the Premier about how the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy process is actually working in his department. I have a couple of concerns and some examples I would like to give him about whether or not it's consistent with the intention of the legislation, and I will have an opportunity to bring these concerns to his attention and hear from him whether or not he is aware, and perhaps give him an opportunity to talk about what can be done, if he does share the concerns, to improve on the process. Right now, I think probably most members of this House, we watch what's going on across the country and we're aware that there is a problem, for example, with the Government of Ontario, who has been found in the past not to have handed over everything that they have when a freedom of information application comes in.
I know it's probably very cumbersome - it can be a very cumbersome process to go and get every single solitary piece of correspondence, especially in this technological age, but we'll have a chance. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
HON. JAMIE BAILLIE: It's nice to be back up, and I do just want to say hello again to the Premier's officials who are with us tonight - the deputies, Blewett and Stewart and Miller - and welcome them again to the House of Assembly. I know this can be an arduous process but, as I mentioned before, under our system one of the most important duties assigned to the Opposition is the examination of the estimates. That's what we're doing tonight and I know we'll be doing in the days ahead.
Of course, on the other side of that one of the most important duties of a minister, including the Premier, minister of his departments, is to defend the estimates; in other words, to take responsibility for the spending, the programs and the use of taxpayers' money that goes on within their areas of responsibility.
Having said that, I would like to turn to the issue of the NDP extra severance payments that were made at the end of their term of office, and the Premier may welcome the change of topic and perhaps will be more forthcoming as we go through this line of questioning, but just to review the issue and why it's relevant today - it came out shortly after the last election that one of the last actions of the previous government in the NDP Cabinet was to top up with extra money the severance provided to outgoing NDP political staff. This was done by Order in Council and Cabinet and was not publicly disclosed in a quick manner, to say the least, at the time.
What Nova Scotians did hear loud and clear was the new Premier criticizing quite vocally the actions of the previous government in topping up the severance of their own staff. The specific issue in question was the decision by the outgoing government to take the severance provisions provided by the Government of Nova Scotia under their contracts with the Premier's Office and other departments and add to it a credit in cash for time spent in previous employment with their Party's caucus office.
This is the extra severance that the Premier was very critical of at the time that it became known; in fact, if I could just take a moment and quote some of the Premier's views on this as they were recorded in Hansard here in the House of Assembly at the time. He said: They, the NDP, ". . . hid behind Cabinet secrecy to make sure they bumped up the severance packages . . ." Just before I go on, I want to say I know that the Leader of the NDP is here. Their defence at the time was that they wanted to be able to account for their staff's time spent in the caucus office in addition to the time they spent in the direct service of the Government of Nova Scotia. They will have to account to the people of Nova Scotia for that defence, just as the Premier will have to answer for his criticism of it at the time. In any event, he did say that they "hid behind Cabinet secrecy to make sure they bumped up the severance packages", and that is in Hansard.
He also said that "They bumped up severances that were already generous . . .", meaning that the severance they would get for their service with the government was plenty enough and that adding caucus office service was too generous.
In fact, Madam Chairman, the Premier said in this case, specifically referring to his defence of the new government's contract with the new Protocol Officer Ms. Langille, he said, unlike the previous government, there is no big payout at the end of the protocol officer's contract.
Well that is true in the case of the protocol officer so I'd just like to start the questioning tonight by asking the Premier - that is true with Ms. Langille's contract, there is no additional severance beyond her term of government - is that also true of the other political appointments of the Premier?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, all of the people who have been hired in my office, pertaining to severance, it is exactly the same as it would be in the Public Service of Nova Scotia, which is one month for every year of service provided to the people of the province. As the member would know, many chiefs of staff have negotiated a full year's salary of severance, and there are people who have a built-in six months average - all of those different combinations.
There is no lump sum. If somebody was terminated tomorrow, they would get exactly the same as every other civil servant in this province, which is one month for every year of service.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, through a freedom of information request, I do, in fact, have the employment contracts for the staff in the Premier's Office and they do include a severance provision, and I just want to read it for the benefit of the committee. It says that if the employee was employed at a caucus office immediately before their employment with the province under this agreement, the equivalent of one month's salary for every year of service with the province under this agreement, and every year of service with the caucus office, is their severance.
My question to the Premier: How is that different - what he is doing - from what the NDP did?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, that is exactly what I've said, that anyone who has been providing service to the people of this province on a continuing basis will receive one month's severance if their job ends. The difference, quite frankly, is there is no big payout on the other end of it; there is no lump-sum commitment on top of that same provision is the point. You either do one, Madam Chairman, as some political Parties who, given the privilege to govern this province, have chosen to do it a different way, where they have given lump sums.
In some cases if you go back, it was extended, quite frankly, to 18 months. It caps at 12 months. If you have commitment and service to the people of this province, that severance would be based on the salary of where they were all the way through.
We're actually, for the first time, Madam Chairman, treating taxpayers' money with the respect it deserves. When people get hired into the Premier's Office, they get treated just like every other civil servant - you get one month's severance for every year of service.
MR. BAILLIE: I would like to pursue this a little further because what the Premier complained about with the NDP is that they took the years of service directly with the Government of Nova Scotia and added credit for years of service with their caucus office. He was against that; he said it was extra severance, an extra bill, and so on.
Now we have the new government's exact contracts and they do the same thing - they give employees credit for the years of service with the government, and credit for years of service with the caucus office. Now whether that's enough severance or too much or too little isn't the point here, the point is that the Premier criticized the NDP for doing it and now he has the exact same provision in his staff's contact.
My question is - please illuminate us - how is this any different from what you complained about the NDP doing?
THE PREMIER: Madam Chairman, what transpired when the previous government left office, not only were they given credit for the months of service they provided, one level for one month, they were also giving a top-up to that. I don't know how much clearer we can be. What we have said is you get one month's service for every year you serve the people of this province - no top-up, no large amounts. As the member would know, there are many contracts that have been negotiated by previous governments that put in 12 months' severance regardless of how long you've been there - you know, if one term you're out, you still get 12 months. All those things have gone on by previous governments.
This is the first time, and let me be very clear about this, this is the very first time that a government has come in and actually put people in the Premier's Office on the same footing as public servants across this province - you get one month's severance for every year of service to the people of this province. And the difference is we are the first government to do that - other governments topped them up.
MR. BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, I just want to be clear on this - the Premier's criticism of the NDP was that they added extra severance for caucus office experience to the severance packages. He calls that a top-up - one month per year of service.
Now I believe what he is saying is the difference here is they are writing it into the contact in the beginning and not topping it up at the end. If that's not the case, please tell me how this provision, which provides for extra severance beyond what the old pattern was, is any different from the NDP?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Chairman, let me use an example. If the former chief of staff had been fired, or left office after three months, he would have gotten a full year's salary. If my chief of staff left, he would get a severance for every year - one month for every year he served the people of the province, which would not be a full year's salary.
The difference is the outgoing Party actually had a severance built into the contract - one year's severance, six months' severance - and then they topped it off with one month for every year they were represented, so they did it both ways. So on the way out the door they got double severance - that is the issue that we had with it.
What we've done is, like no other government - you can go back and ask for chiefs of staff, you can look at communications people, you can look at all of those contracts - never before has a government put in place and provided the political staff the same severance as we offered to the people who represent this province on a daily basis - it's one month's severance for every year you get the privilege of serving the people of the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. BAILLIE: Mr. Chairman, I just want to make this as clear as possible - the Premier is taking credit for changing the lump-sum payment for a staff member's term with the Government of Nova Scotia from a fixed amount to an amount that grows over time, month by month. Those are two ways of handling a severance for one's time with the government.
That's fine, but the thing that he complained about was the NDP decision to reach back in time to a previous employment with a caucus office and count that as well. That alone was the issue that was complained about at the time and called wrong and called an extra top-up. Yet that exact same provision to take whatever severance goes to a staff member for their time in government, in the Premier's Office or in the Executive Council Office or in a department that relates to the Premier, whatever it is, is fine, and add to that something new. That's what the NDP did - they added to that something new, which is extra severance for previous work with a caucus office.
Mr. Chairman, that's what the Premier complained about. I just want to be perfectly clear - do the contracts that the Premier signed with his own staff include that extra caucus office time, just like the NDP's do?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Chairman, let me be clear - I don't know how much more I can say. For every year of service that you provide to the people of the Province of Nova Scotia, you get one month's severance for every year, just like every other civil servant.
What we complained about was that the outgoing Party did it both ways - they gave them one month's severance for every year, plus they gave them the buy-out that was in their contact. In some cases, Mr. Chairman, that severance for everyone is capped at 12 months. Typically, whether you go by one month and you get the privilege of serving the people for 12 months, it's capped at 12 months, no matter if you're here for 15, or whatever it is. The previous practice was political staff had been guaranteed that year's severance even if they were only here for four months, or if they were only here for two months.
What the NDP did was they left that provision in place and then they added on the years of service to get them up to where they needed to be, and in some cases they took them over to 15 months, beyond the 12 months. There is a very big difference and I know it's difficult for them to look for a smoking gun they thought was hidden somewhere in the information they have, but the reality is it has been pretty forthright, straight out there. We gave them the contracts; we laid it out clearly on what you can do.
Let me be clear - everyone who works in the Premier's Office is getting one month's severance for every year they served the people of this province - no buyout, no more. I'm sure all of them are hoping they get the privilege of being here for 12 years, but the fact of the matter is the people of Nova Scotia will determine that.
MR. BAILLIE: The buyout that the Premier objected to from the NDP was in fact a payment for time they spent not in the service of the government but in the service of the NDP caucus office - now they have the exact same formula for that previous time in their contracts. This is the issue, Mr. Chairman, that one month of service for your time with the government and a month for your time with your previous employment with your Party's caucus office.
I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, but it's the same thing, in our view, as the NDP did. The only reason it is an issue - it may be fair, it may be unfair - but the reason it's an issue is because the Premier criticized them so much for it in defence of his own hiring of the protocol officer, and then we find they have at least, let's say, a similar provision in the contracts today.
So I will ask the Premier: This new severance, the one that includes government time and caucus time, is it included in all of the contracts of the political staff under his supervision?
THE PREMIER: I want to be clear, for every year that someone works on behalf of the people of the Province of Nova Scotia, and have done so, they will get a month's severance - nothing more. I know that the member would understand these contracts because many of them have had a year provision in them, whether that has lasted four years or - so they end up with full-year salary. If you're a civil servant and you work four years you get four months, not a full year.
What we put in place, quite frankly, is that every civil servant in this province gets the same thing, you get a month's severance for every year you work for the people of this province, and I want to be clear that severance will be based on the salary you earned in the year that you are into your severance, not on your final salary.
MR. BAILLIE: That is remarkably similar to the defence that the NDP used in defending what they did. They too claimed that all they were doing was giving staff credit for a month's severance for every year of work, which was not an acceptable answer to the Premier when they did it, but now he is using the same or certainly a very similar defence here today.
Mr. Chairman, moving on, the Premier's Office salaries are going up five per cent, as the estimates show, for the year that we now entering into, even though there are the same number of people in terms of FTEs in the Premier's Office. I'll ask the Premier: Included in that five per cent is there some kind of accounting or accrual or record that is being kept for the provision of severance at the end of their contracts?
THE PREMIER: Let me clear, I know it's difficult for some people to understand this, but the outgoing Party actually provided severance in two forms. Not only did they give a lump sum, but they then changed the contract to include all of the years of service. Not only did they do something untraditional, which was stop at 12 months, they actually changed the rules to take it to 15 months. What they did was provided severance to their employees in two different ways. What we have done is provide severance to the people who work for us the same way that every other civil servant who has the privilege of serving this province does. When it comes to whether or not we've accounted for that in the Premier's Office and the estimates, the answer to that would be no.
MR. BAILLIE: I think that people who are watching this will get the point that severance for political staff now, after the NDP started, hase two components: One is for their time in government in the Premier's Office, and the other is for their previous employment with their Party caucus office. What the Premier says he has changed is the first part, which is that instead of a lump sum there is now a formula. That's fine - we're not disputing that. But what he has kept is the second part that the NDP started - of reaching back in time and providing additional severance, what he had previously called a top-up, for their time in their caucus office. So I think we've established that. I asked the question if they were accounting for that extra severance and the answer is no, so we'll all make a mental addition to the budget for whatever amount that adds up to.
I'd like to move on and ask the Premier another question, which is, when we asked for the contracts of the Premier's Office staff we, in fact, were delivered 12 contracts under a freedom of information request and the Estimates Book says there are nine staff in the Premier's Office - how can he account for that difference?
THE PREMIER: I don't know the contracts that he was delivered. I want to congratulate the people who work in the office for being so forthright in putting information out. I'm more than happy to review the contracts and identify where those people are. But I want to go back - I don't want anyone at home to be confused. Previous governments have provided lump-sum payments, so if you worked for four years and got turfed out of office you got a 12-month severance in some cases. We've stopped that practice. If you work for four years for the Government of Nova Scotia, you get four months; if you work for eight years, you get eight months; if you work for 15, you're capped at 12.
What the previous government did was provide a lump sum in their contract. It's not that hard to figure out. They gave one of them 12 months, some six months. Then on top of that, they added and went back and calculated their years of service so they gave them a month's severance on top of the lump sum for every year they served, and instead of capping it at 12 months they took it to 15 months. Nova Scotians understood it very well, Mr. Chairman, very well.
MR. BAILLIE: I think we've gone back and forth on this point a number of times, so I'm going to move on in a moment. But what Nova Scotians understood was the NDP added previous time to severance after they were defeated but before the government changed, and the biggest complainer of that action was the new Premier. And yet, we find, at the most charitable, a very similar provision in the new contracts of the Premier's Office - that's really what we're talking about.
You're going to have to forgive me if in his answer he did answer this, but I had asked him to explain why there are 12 contracts in an office with nine people, and I'm sorry, I missed that part of the answer.
THE PREMIER: I said I don't know who they are. If you give me the names, I'll identify who they are.
MR. BAILLIE: Okay. You had mentioned that there were some secondments out of your office . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. Please address your questions through the Chairman.
MR. BAILLIE: Okay. Well then, what we'll do is we will provide the names and then we can find out where people are actually working at this point in time. Just give me one second.
Mr. Chairman, I know we could go - well, you know what, Mr. Chairman? In . . .
THE PREMIER: I'd like to respond.
MR. BAILLIE: I didn't ask a question yet.
THE PREMIER: The 12.
MR. BAILLIE: Oh, okay.
THE PREMIER: I know the Leader missed my response to his earlier question that he suggested there were a number of contracts he had received that didn't match up with the number that were in my office. I want to encourage him to send me the names and we'll make sure that they identify who those people are and identify where they are to make sure that he gets the information that he's looking for.
MR. BAILLIE: I do have them here, but rather than name people here in committee and take them through this process, I'll provide that directly and then ask that the Premier or his officials to provide us with the reconciliation of the twelve names to the nine that appear in the Estimates Book. I think that's a good way to do it; I think that's how we'll proceed. I'm really not interested in naming them on the floor of the House of Assembly.
I mentioned, I think twice now, that this is one of the most important things we do in Opposition, to examine the estimates, and the ones that are attached to the Premier are the ones that should be given the biggest going-over of all. It's not often we get into the exact clauses provided in staff contracts other than that it was the Premier himself who chose to make that a big issue.
I believe that we, and other Nova Scotians, were kind of in agreement that a top-up at the end of a government's term of office seemed unfair. It seemed to offend our sense of what an outgoing Party ought to do, particularly since the election date had come and gone. Although the outgoing government still had the power to do these things until the official transition date, it just seemed like it wasn't right, that whatever severance was written into employment contracts up to the date of the election should be the severance that ends up getting provided after the election is over and an anticipated change in government is about to happen. There is no dispute about that.
What is in question is whether the incoming government, having criticized the previous government for their actions, wrote similar provisions into their own. Now the Premier is vigorously trying to say they're not the same, but when you line them up side by side they look an awful lot alike. Perhaps the formula for the government service has changed and that's fine, but the reaching back into the past to provide a top-up for past service, that is the same. That's important for Nova Scotians to know because they will be judging the new government in the same way and with the same standards as they judged the previous government.
How was taxpayers' money treated? How were employees of the government treated? Do they get rights or benefits or privileges or severances beyond what is available in other places? It's important that people know if you are against something when another Party does it, then you shouldn't be following along on a similar line when a new Party comes in. That's one of the important principles that needs to be established here tonight.
I will say that we clearly have reached an impasse on this, but the contracts lined up side by side will speak for themselves, I guess. We will provide to the Premier the names of all of the people whose contracts are assigned to his office and ask that he then show us how those 12 reconcile to the nine that are in the official budget documents. At that point, I think we'll likely move on to other things, knowing that there are questions that remain unanswered, but going back and forth in this way for a prolonged length of time is probably not going to get us, or anybody, any further ahead.
Having said that, I will just sort of wrap up this section by pointing out that the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, who pay the bills for all of this at the highest rates of personal income tax and the highest sales tax, if they work for a company, that company may well pay the highest corporate tax, and in many parts of our province they pay the highest property tax, they expect all that tax money to be treated by a government as if it was their own, or even at a higher standard because it belongs to the taxpayer.
They expect that when we count it in the billions of dollars, as we do when things like the Health and Wellness budget and the Education and Early Childhood Education budget or in the size of our provincial debt, but they also expect it when we count it in the hundreds and in the thousands of dollars as we see when Premiers come in and sign contracts with their political staff, as we see when the administration budget - which might be small in the global sense, but is still important to be the first place to find savings - is examined. We see it in the hiring of political appointments outside of the public service which, after all, is still paid for with taxpayers' money; we see it in the number of people who work in the central agencies of government, whether they're Intergovernmental Affairs or Executive Council or Planning and Priorities; and we see a government that is spending all those vast sums of taxpayers' money that the people of Nova Scotia send in - and borrowing up to half a billion dollars more, $279 million on the operating deficit and then some more on capital items. And they want to know that every dollar is accounted for and that it's spent fairly and wisely.
We challenge that in the case of the Protocol Office, where Nova Scotians who pay those bills did not get a chance to apply for that job - other than one Nova Scotian who seemed to know to send a resumé in before it was even called for. They want to know that when staff come and go that the severance top-up that gets complained about isn't, in fact, the same with the new government, or similar, as with the old government. That's why we have done the job that we've done tonight. I know we have many more hours of estimates to debate, and that's exactly where we intend to go with the rest of our time.
THE PREMIER: I just want to be clear that what we were complaining about was the fact that not only did you count years of service, but there was a top-up, a lump sum, that was written into the contracts, that the contracts had been changed to accommodate both the lump sum and years of service - not only was it changed to accommodate both, it actually increased a month cap to 15 in some cases. It's very clear to Nova Scotians what had happened - what we have done is provided to our staff the same severance that would be provided to every other public servant.
MR. BAILLIE: I believe we've all had our say on this and the people of Nova Scotia will ultimately be the judge, as they should be, and we should all respect that. With those few comments, I again want to thank the Premier, first of all, for his time tonight and his officials who are all here. With that, we conclude our time in this set of estimates. I believe there will be further questions from the other Party.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Thank you, Madam Chairman. When my time was completed, I had just started to talk about the way the freedom of information and protection of privacy process works with respect to FOIPOPs. I wanted to raise a matter with the Premier with respect to this.
In our system of government, one of the other tools that has developed over a period of time is this whole process to obtain information from government to help the public understand the workings of government and to contribute to a process of more accountability, more transparency and, again, to make sure that we have a system that people can have confidence in. If people feel the system is not working properly, then it starts to erode their confidence in the system. So this is the concern I want to bring to the Premier and find out if he can help me understand how this process is working in his office.
All Opposition Parties utilize the freedom of information and protection of privacy process to obtain information to allow us to do our work. Not so long ago, we submitted a FOIPOP to the Premier's Office for all letters and emails that had been sent or received regarding the whole question of veterans' issues. This has been a contentious issue around the province and I know we're all very concerned, in all of the Party caucuses here, about the stories we hear from veterans with respect to the challenges that they face and the level of service that they either get or don't get, feel they need from our federal government.
There was a FOIPOP, as I said, to the Premier's Office asking for all correspondence with respect to veterans' issues and the issue around a veterans advocate between certain dates - which you generally do, put in the dates for which you're looking for information. Madam Chairman, we've received one record. It was an email from the Premier's press secretary, Laurel Monroe, to the Premier's chief of staff, Kirby McVicar, and his director of communications, Kyley Harris.
In our caucus office we had a letter from my colleague, the member for Sydney-Whitney Pier, to the Premier regarding the hiring of the veterans advocate on February 14th. It was not included in the information we got back, and generally it would have been; it was a piece of correspondence that would have fallen within the request and the dates.
On another occasion we submitted a request for all letters again, with respect to the Seventeen Consulting contract. One of the records we received was a redacted email sent from Laurel Monroe to Kirby McVicar on a draft statement to be issued on December 2nd; however no records were returned from Kirby McVicar indicating he had received this email.
We also submitted a FOIPOP to the Premier's Office for all letters and emails received regarding Glennie Langille, and several emails do not appear in the records of letters and emails sent or receive by Communications Director Kyley Harris. So, in other words, we got a large package of material from one person in the Premier's Office, but the other person in the Premier's Office provided no correspondence - and because they were between each other there should have been communication from both.
We know that the press secretary to the premier sent an email with the subject line and we've received this and a number of other things. So, long story short, Madam Chairman, many of the emails that we received from one entity weren't there, from a different entity, where they should have been.
We're trying to understand what exactly is going on in the Premier's Office when they receive a freedom of information application. How is it that some of the correspondence that we know is there is not part of the package that's coming? This is nothing big and earth-shattering or major, like wiping computer disks or anything like that, it's just the routine operation of the process as we understand it. We are concerned that there are things that are definitely being missed, and our paper file indicates that is the case.
THE PREMIER: I will be more than happy to ask questions and review what's happening, why the letter that came from the member for Sydney-Whitney Pier wasn't put in part of the freedom of information request. I received that letter; I responded to it.
In terms of emails and back and forth, I'm not sure why one member of my staff wouldn't have answered another member on an email, but certainly we'll look through the procedure of what's being used and try to answer those questions for her.
MS. MACDONALD: I want to thank the Premier. I know - I shouldn't say "I know" because I don't know actually, I can only imagine the volume of correspondence into the Premier's Office.
I'm going to tell a little story. A former minister of the Department of Finance has asked me not to tell this story, but I tell it all the time - and the Minister of Health and Wellness will really like this story.
Everybody has this idea that the biggest job in government, next to the Premier's job, is the Finance and Treasury Board Minister's job. When you become the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board there are a lot of people who commiserate with you, and they say oh, my gosh, it wasn't bad enough that you had to be the Minister of Health and Wellness, now you have to be the Minister of Finance, and that's such a big job. But I used to say, well, no, actually the Minister of Health and Wellness is the biggest job. Let me tell you about why that's such a big job - and this is the part that the former Minister of Finance didn't want me to say - but the Minister of Health and Wellness gets, on average, 3,000 pieces of correspondence a month and the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board gets slightly more than 300 per year. There is no comparison to those two.
So if the Minister of Health and Wellness is getting that many pieces of correspondence, I can only imagine what the Premier is getting. I know that keeping track of these things for things like freedom of information applications really requires extraordinary administration within the Premier's Office. It's in its early days for a new government, but it's really important that the process be in place and that it work and everyone has confidence in it. That's my point raising this with the Premier. I know he will certainly look into that.
I want to go back just for one moment to the previous questions I asked around Laurel Broten. I had indicated to the Premier that a member of his staff was very much involved in the hiring of Ms. Broten, and I'm wondering if the Premier could undertake to get me some information to confirm whether or not that was the case, that a member of his staff was involved - the basis on which that contract was awarded; whether or not that contract was awarded in keeping with the procurement process for the province; and if an exemption was granted from that, on what basis was the exemption granted and who made those decisions? Were those decisions that were made in the Department of Finance and Treasury Board or were those decisions that were made between his office and the Department of Finance and Treasury board?
The Premier did indicate he is very interested in and concerned about taxation and regulatory policy. I'm sure his staff is very aware of that. I'm trying to understand who exactly was involved and where the decision-making power rested on that, as I prepare for estimates in the Department of Finance and Treasury Board.
THE PREMIER: One of Jason Haughn's responsibilities would be at the Department of Finance and Treasury Board. I don't know what was in communications back and forth, but let me be very clear, the hiring of Laurel Broten was a decision made by the Department of Finance and Treasury Board. They made that decision; they will be able to respond to that.
I do want to comment, though, when the member began to talk, I was beginning to think the toughest job in this government would have to be Minister of Health and Wellness. I can only imagine the challenges that are faced in that department and, quite frankly, the kinds of communications, because as all members of this House would know, no matter what constituency you live in in this province, health concerns of those citizens are paramount and families and constituents continue to raise access to health care, the health issues that are associated with them. I know they not only communicate that directly to the local MLA, but they oftentimes communicate that directly to the Minister of Health and Wellness. I'm fortunate to have the Minister of Health and Wellness next door to my constituency. We share boundaries of constituencies, so he probably gets more than his share of not only his own constituents, but some of mine would probably go directly to him looking for the answers around health care.
As far as Ms. Broten goes, it was the Department of Finance and Treasury Board that dealt with that.
MS. MACDONALD: This pretty much brings to a conclusion any of the issues and concerns that I wanted to raise with the Premier today - with one final point, or series of points.
Again going back to the opening comments I made about where our province is with respect to some of the challenges that we face, we all are very aware of the Ivany report and all of the good information that is contained in that report. One of the things that I do get a bit concerned about is that we not get into a situation where we think the sky is falling.
The sky is not falling. I've gone around the province myself talking to people about the economic circumstances of the province and I used to get quite cross and frustrated when people would talk about how Nova Scotia was an economic basket case and how we were like Greece or how we were like Detroit, or stuff like that. None of that is accurate. If you look at the ratio of debt load to GDP - Greece had debt that was something like 165 per cent greater than the GDP; in the United States their debt is getting close to 70 per cent of the GDP; and here in Nova Scotia we are around 35, 36 per cent.
Everything is relative. You have to look at the situation. Our debt load to GDP has been on a downward trend. We need to be concerned about our debt. I'm concerned about our debt; I'm very concerned that we spend close to a billion dollars a year to service the debt, or $800 million or whatever it is now. I'm concerned that our debt will continue to grow over the next four years. That's what is laid out in this budget. That should be a concern to all of us, to each and every person here. We have a government that sat on this side of the House and railed and criticized a former government - more than one former government - for the financial situation in the province and now, essentially, we see a budget that is doing exactly the same thing. It is a little bit irritating to say the least, Madam Chairman.
However, that is not to say that our province is an economic basket case - and we should not allow that to be said. We should know the facts. We are people who should at least be informed about what the reality is and not allow ourselves to be boxed into policy positions that are predicated on a kind of hysteria that's not accurate.
That's the first thing I would say when I look at the budget and what needs to happen. We do need to control our deficits; we need to get them under control; we need to live within our means; and we need to stop contributing to the debt. This budget does not do this, and we are not headed in the right direction with respect to doing that. But, at the same time, we are not a basket case.
We have some very serious problems in front of us, Madam Chairman, and the biggest problem in front of us is our demographics - it's a demographic problem. We have an aging population (Interruption) I don't know if perhaps the minister, the Government House Leader, would like the floor?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Have you concluded your remarks?
MS. MACDONALD: No, I haven't.
We are not an economic basket case. We do have challenges though, and our biggest challenge is our demographics. I have to ask myself: What is in this budget that helps us deal with those demographic problems? The most significant thing in this budget is the elimination of the Graduate Retention Rebate. It's hard to believe that that is the most significant measure in the budget, because it will contribute to a loss of those very young, skilled people - and I know we are all hearing from them - who are very upset and very concerned about this measure.
I hope we have an opportunity, and I hope the government members have an opportunity, to learn more about that particular tax credit and to consider the measures that have been taken in this budget to eliminate that, and who we're going to impact and what that means, then, for the future of our province - whether or not this is putting us on a path that will see us have the ability to have prosperity and deal with our demographic challenges or whether, in fact, it contributes to the problems that we have.
I would respectfully say to you, Madam Chairman, that this is going to further the situation that we have with respect to the out-migration of young well-educated people from our community, people we need to stay here and for whom this particular tax credit made a significant difference in their household incomes, to help them reduce debt, to help them put down roots in Nova Scotia and to make them want to stay here.
At the beginning I said that while there's a lot of new expenditure - there's a lot of growth in expenditure in this budget - it seems to be done without a sense of priorities, without a plan and without a strategy to deal with the real challenges that this province does have. In the coming days and weeks, we will have an opportunity to articulate what our concerns are even more fully, and we will also have an opportunity to lay out some ideas for what the priorities might be otherwise than what we're seeing.
I think at this juncture we're not getting the dramatic change that we were promised, the way forward we were promised, and that will become increasingly obvious to members of our province in the coming days and months.
With those remarks, I know that my time is getting close to an end, but it hasn't ended yet and perhaps the Premier will have some closing remarks he would like to make before he leaves the Chamber. I want to thank the Premier and his staff for being here tonight and for answering our questions, and I look forward to the additional information he will provide. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I recognize the honourable Premier and, hopefully, he will take the opportunity to make some remarks in conclusion.
THE PREMIER: No, I think there are some other questions, Madam Chairman, but I do want to respond to the remarks by the Leader of the New Democratic Party - she has recognized one of the greatest challenges we face in this province, the demographic challenge, the out-migration. I think one of things I do want to share is her belief that we are not Greece; let me be clear about that. Do we have challenges? Absolutely.
I think one of the things that the Ivany commission did was it actually began to focus and give an external, independent analysis, which I give the former Premier, Premier Dexter, the credit for initiating, an independent view outside of the political circle, so when he put his directive to Nova Scotians on the Now or Never report, talking about the demographic challenges that we have, looking at the out-migration, when he talked about the fact that the private sector was not growing in this province, the Now or Never piece was to say let's not continue down the road of where we are not quite frank with Nova Scotians, telling them exactly what it is we are spending.
It is why this turnaround. There is no prepayment to universities. The two previous governments took an opportunity to prepay universities. They looked to change the financial aspects of how we deliver services to Nova Scotians. If you look at what happened to Community Services, there was an advance payment in one year that actually off-loaded that on the books, so it became very hard for Nova Scotians to be able to determine exactly where we are because of the movement around what was happening.
I am very encouraged by all of the things that we have spent in this year, that we have tabled in this budget. We've also made an investment to actually respond to what the Ivany commission was saying and that is that we have an investment in immigration. We know that we have to grow our population and we need help from the federal government. We are now putting together a Premier's panel on immigration, which will include first- generation immigrants who are driving the economy of this province, the university sector, the business sector. It will be part of how we build a plan.
We believe it is prudent for us to be able to take a plan to the federal government that we believe will work, that they can see as a path forward, instead of just going and yelling and screaming about lifting the cap, or here's the way we believe we can grow the population of the Province of Nova Scotia. We also see that looking at our university sector as a great opportunity not only to attract immigrants from around the world but to actually bring other sons and daughters of Canadians into this province to get a good education, and provide them with an opportunity to stay. It's why we've invested in research grants - you'll see an opportunity for university graduates to actually get a job in this province.
The Graduate Retention Rebate was actually a good thing for those who were here working and getting a job, but nothing to actually keep those graduates who didn't have a job. The Ivany commission talked about how we can focus on providing job prospects. We believe the best way to do that is by investing in research opportunities, using these great public institutions that we have, linking in with the private sector; the tremendous amount of research that is taking place, giving these young, bright minds an opportunity to do that research right here at home as opposed to going to Ontario or other provinces of this country where they've invested in research, they continue to capitalize on the public institutions they've had.
It's why we've increased the apprenticeship opportunities for young apprentices right here at home, changing the ratios, giving them their first job here in Nova Scotia. Many people have heard me say this - people are going down the road, shall we say, because they don't have a job, because they need an economic opportunity, an economic reason to stay. They need a job to be able to pay down some of that debt.
What the Ivany commission has said is: How do we work with the private sector to make that happen? I think you will see some of the initiatives that have been laid out in this budget very clearly point towards the private sector. I have made it clear as well, the private sector has a role and responsibility here. They just can't say we don't have any skilled workers without giving young people an opportunity to work - you can't have it both ways and they know that.
I'm very encouraged by the response I have received from the private sector and we are going to continue to build on the Ivany report across Party lines. I want to thank the Leader of the New Democratic Party for agreeing to be part of the steering committee that will oversee the implementation of the Ivany report. It will be private sector people who will be part of that and, as well, we will continue to make sure that we continue to build opportunities for Nova Scotians to continue to participate and drive the public discussion about how we move this province forward.
There are many great examples, regardless of where you live. The Leader of the New Democratic Party mentioned she had an opportunity to travel this province. When you do you become inspired by what is happening here. You look at the research in the Valley and in and around the wine industry and all of that is driven by precious, public dollars that have been invested, working with our public intuitions in the private sector to be able to drive job growth. You know, 10 years ago Nova Scotians weren't even drinking the wine, let alone ever imagining that 10 years later we would be winning international awards.
Well that happened through prudent investment by government; working with the private sector; and using, in a collaborative way, the institutions that we have to be able to drive good job opportunities through the sectors we have. I have given credit before to the Orchard Renewal program that came in under the MacDonald Government, which was actually taking the apple industry in this province that had a tremendous volume of apples, and we continued to sell them around the world as a low-price commodity - and we used to pray in the Valley every year that Mother Nature would co-operate, that we would have no late frost or no bad storms, and that we'd get enough of the product to be able to take it to market so that the farmers could feel like they actually could make a living that year.
Well through research and development, by understanding the soils, understanding the temperatures in the Valley, understanding what commodities could actually grow - out of it came the Honeycrisp program. We continue to transform that industry over the last five years in a way that they now see a positive future going forward. We've actually, in this budget, invested in continuing to revitalize the orchards across the province, not just in the Honeycrisp program but looking at the next Honeycrisp - what is the next apple that we can grow here in Nova Scotia to continue to drive that . . .
HON. LEO GLAVINE: SweeTango.
THE PREMIER: SweeTango says the member for Kings West, the Minister of Health and Wellness - will drive good opportunities for people to live and work right here in Nova Scotia.
One as of the things that the Ivany report said very clearly, it can't be all government. Government has to be part of it; government has to try to ensure that we provide the services that Nova Scotians want. They made it very clear to us they wanted an investment in public education; they wanted an investment in health care; and they want to make sure, but they also understand as that stuff changes, they want to be part of that solution of going forward. What we have said to them is that we will invest in things and make sure that we stabilize the services that we provide to you in a way that transforms and meets the needs of our population today.
It is why the educational review is ongoing. Hard to believe, Madam Chairman, that it has been 25 years - John Buchanan was the Premier the last time we had a review of the public education system in this province 25 years ago. Imagine how much has changed in that period of time - from simple communications to the needs of our students, from the way people communicate, from the way people learn, the dynamics of our classrooms, all have changed substantially.
Are we investing properly with children with special needs? All of those kinds of discussions and questions have to be asked to Nova Scotians, not just of the professionals who stand in front of our students but of parents, and of students - what was their experience like? How could they see that we could change it differently? Should we have more trades opportunities in schools? They may see that's where their opportunity is for growth and opportunity. They'll tell us that and that's part of that transformation of what will happen over the number of years in public education. I'm excited about the fact that so many Nova Scotians want to be involved in that conversation.
You know one of the things I discovered, when Reading Recovery was removed from the system and I was knocking on doors around the province, it wasn't just parents who were complaining about the removal of that program, it was grandparents, and it was caregivers who were saying that they could see a change in the young person they were looking after. They were seeing real, positive results under that program, and were really thrilled that that program is back in place. It's another option; it's another tool for school boards and teachers to be able to rely on, to make sure they're providing our children with the best opportunity to take advantage of what I believe will be opportunities out there.
I think kids in this province, quite frankly, can compete with anyone if we just have enough confidence in them and give them a system that challenges them, one that raises the bar and lets them strive for it and they will exceed any expectation that we may have of them, in a real, positive way.
The Minister of Health and Wellness has been embarking now, going around and talking to health care providers, to be able to ask them, how do we change the health care system from the administrative focus that we've had to patient focus? I've been very pleased with the work he has been doing, how he has engaged health care providers across this province. I want to assure that the Minister of Health and Wellness has heard from nurses about the issues around staffing. I am very encouraged by his response and the work he has been doing, reaching out into hospitals. He will continue to do that across this province, to ensure that we provide the proper staffing levels at institutions, not just in the Capital region but across Nova Scotia.
The minister will be looking at the call-in rate - when people are sick, who is being called in. Those are the kinds of things that we'll find answers to. But, to his credit, he believed that could be done through collaboration and hard work with health care providers and those who are delivering those services to Nova Scotians, and he will continue to do that.
I've often said I think I have the toughest job in Nova Scotia because I'm next door to, as a MLA, one of the most active MLAs in this House. I know all MLAs are active in their community but the member for Kings West seems to have the ability to continue to go no matter how hard he has worked the day before. One of the things that impressed me the most, quite frankly, is his ability to collaborate with people and continue to provide good services.
I was so fortunate that he accepted the invitation to be the Minister of Health and Wellness and deal with those 3,000 letters of correspondence he receives a month that I discovered here today. It's an encouraging thing.
If you look at this budget, one of the things that happened here is that one of the challenges has been around revenue growth. There has been a real downturn in that. All of the revenue projections are much lower than were anticipated. We believe some of the changes that we're bringing in will help make some of those changes because it's providing job opportunities, and what we have been hearing from both public and private institutions is they appreciate the fact that we want to collaborate with them and make them part of the solution that we'll certainly lead. We have no problem with leading the charge, but we need both the public and private institutions in this province to accept their role in helping move this province forward.
I want to tell you, shortly after becoming the Premier, I had the good fortune of going across departments in this province, meeting people, men and women who have worked on behalf of Nova Scotians in the public service, in every department, and how energized I was by their response. Like all members of this House, we've had the privilege to sit for various lengths of time, but in our individual constituencies when we're looking for answers for our individual constituent we often find our way to the public service, and we find someone at the other end of the phone who is responding, giving us the answer that we need to communicate back to our constituent so that, in some small way, we can make a difference in the lives of our constituents.
I've said on behalf of all of us, to many public servants, they have no idea of how many homes they find their way into by the information they distribute to us on a daily basis. They, through the way they respond, by answering the call, by giving us that information, we communicate it back to our homes and to the people we represent, and it's because of the good work they do that we've been able to respond to many Nova Scotians.
Oftentimes, regardless of where you are - I don't care who you are or who you're born to or what community you're born into, all of us need someone to lean on. For many Nova Scotians, that's family. That's someone who loves us and cares for us who stays with us in our difficult days; they respond and help pick us up.
But for a lot of Nova Scotians, that's government, that's the men and women who work on behalf of the civil service who respond to the needs of Nova Scotians. The Department of Community Services - I believe roughly 1,700 public servants who, let me tell you, no one calls their offices on a good day. They call their offices at the very difficult and worst times, but the way they respond, in a professional way - housing, the same issue is there, and they respond in a caring way and it makes a difference in the life of that Nova Scotian.
I could go through department after department on the way that people respond. But I thought it was important that we recognize, in this House, that while we've been given the privilege to sit here and to occupy a chair and do what we do as elected officials, we're going to get thrown out of here at some point, or leave on our own will. That happens; it's just the way it works. Sorry. If anyone thinks they're staying here forever, sorry, it doesn't work that way.
But the public service is the institution that needs to remain strong. It's why all of us should do everything we can to encourage people to believe in the public institutions to provide services, to want to aspire to be public servants because they can make a difference, regardless of what position you hold in the public service, in the lives of Nova Scotians and it is absolutely why I think we all need to continue to say very loudly how appreciative we are.
Oftentimes in this House, from all sides of it, sometimes the Public Service becomes the easy way out. Blame the Public Service for everything when, in actual fact, they're delivering on the public policies of the government of the day. They're working on behalf of Nova Scotians when, indeed, they come to work every day regardless of who Nova Scotians elected to be government. They get up every day and they come to work to do the very best they can on behalf of the people of Nova Scotia.
We need to send a message that we appreciate it, we want to continue to allow you to aspire, continue to find that personal growth that all of us want in our profession and our jobs and that we appreciate it and so do Nova Scotians appreciate it. I've used this phrase - when Nova Scotians say "that damn government", they're referring to all of us. They're not referring to the people who work for government, the public servants. They look at them in a way that is a positive way, and I think - and I've had the chance to say this a number of times, not only to them but to other people, and I wanted to put it on the record in this House - we are very, very fortunate.
I've had some members of my family who have made a career in public service in terms of being - they were smart enough not to run for office, I will say. They've worked on behalf of Nova Scotians in various parts and I know how much they take that job as part of their life.
I've had the privilege of working with deputies, some are here, senior members in government who live this job, who live their jobs. We call them, people call them, they get calls on the weekends, at basketball games, grocery stores - they get calls from us or from people in their departments looking for answers. They're responding to that because they take their job as seriously, as we take our job and the privilege of being elected into the House of Assembly. Madam Chairman, I know there are some members here who want to ask me a few questions regarding issues from their perspective, from their constituencies - but we are very fortunate in this province.
To the Leader of the New Democratic Party's comment, do we have challenges? Absolutely. And there are lots of them. The Ivany commission laid some of them out, but we also have great people who can actually respond to those needs. There are some of them who are in the public service and some of them are in the private sector. We'll see the private sector being reinvigorated, looking at trying to drive job growth. The response that we've been receiving from the private sector has been so encouraging that we see the opportunity continue to build revenues for the Province of Nova Scotia so we continue to provide the services that Nova Scotians expect from their government.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MR. ALLAN ROWE: Let me begin by just taking a moment or two to indicate what a privilege and an honour it is to be able to stand in this House, an example of democracy in action, an opportunity to speak before the members of this House.
I found it interesting that our Premier, just a moment or two ago, mentioned just as I was planning my first opportunity to rise and speak and ask a question, he reminded that we're all going to be turfed out of here in no time. So I thought it interesting that he would remind me of that just as I was getting ready to start. (Laughter) Thank you.
Many people in this House may know that I was a journalist for over 30 years in a previous life, and to me this is an opportunity for the people of Nova Scotia to see democracy in action. I'd like to thank the members of the Opposition for their questions throughout the evening, this evening. It's a tremendous learning experience, Madam Chairman, for myself and for all the rest of us who sit in the backbenches. Over the past few days, we've been reminded by several members on the opposite side that we are newbies and rookies, and that may be true, but many of us are learning this process and are working hard at this process to represent our constituents and to represent all Nova Scotians at every opportunity. (Applause)
So I do want to thank the members opposite and I also want to thank them, I guess, for taking a little less time perhaps than was expected and giving some of us back here the opportunity to ask some questions.
As a journalist, the thing that I am always looking for is some answers to questions that we may have, and explanations. So if I may beg the Premier's indulgence for a moment or two, I'd like perhaps, if he could, a little clarification on - a couple of weeks ago, the announcement of a new department, Internal Services. I was just wondering if the Premier will be able to perhaps enlighten the people of Nova Scotia a little more on exactly what that department would entail and perhaps some of the responsibilities involved.
THE PREMIER: Listen, first of all, I want to say I actually hate the phrase "backbench", quite honestly. I remember the very first day that I had the privilege of sitting in this House I was so far against that wall that I had to kind of manoeuvre myself because there wasn't enough room to get my legs in underneath the chair. Junior Theriault sat next to me - the member for Digby-Annapolis - and we had actually thought about asking to renovate the hall so we could at least go out into the hallway a little bit to give us a bit more room. Next to me in that chair, for a better part of the time I sat here, was the member for Timberlea-Prospect, Mr. Bill Estabrooks who, I must tell you, when I stood up for the very first time, shaking, to speak, leaned over and kept saying, just be calm, just keep talking, you've earned the right to be in this place, keep talking, and make sure the people of your constituency get your voice heard. He continued to provide encouragement to me over my period of time being in this House - and one of the most important phrases that he used to say was, it doesn't matter where you sit in this House, as long as you get a seat. (Applause)
Thank you for the question around internal government services. We have attempted to, in the process of the first four months, look at the services that we deliver to Nova Scotians - how do we best do that? I've used this phrase before - I've been a serviceman all my life and that's what I am now. I just deliver services to people as the Premier of this province, and that is the job of government - to deliver services on behalf of the people of this province. It became clear that there were services that we were providing and delivering to ourselves and then there were those services that we were actually communicating and delivering to Nova Scotians.
When you go look at internal government services, it's the procurement piece that will be brought in, and there are a couple of other pieces that will be brought in about the stuff that we do internally inside of government, which was scattered throughout different departments. We brought it to one central agency, one central department, so that we could look for efficiencies to drive savings in the long run. There has been a transition that's taking place now. We believe we will begin to see those savings in the years to come.
We also looked at the IT, the payroll pieces. All of that will end up in that intergovernmental services piece that we're going to look at. Then we looked at Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations and we realized that the municipal relations side of that was dealing with municipal governments. We added some pieces, the fire service, EMO, things that municipal governments really have much of the responsibility in partnership with the province, under one department, and then we moved the Service Nova Scotia piece, which is actually a service delivery portion, it takes in many of the services that we deliver to Nova Scotians, so we wanted to actually change that from one that is focused more on - one that will be driven from a business model, on a service delivery model.
The people who work in those departments will continue to be public servants. There will be a board associated with the Service Nova Scotia piece where it will be private sector-driven, looking for how do we deliver services in a better way, how can we streamline some of the processes that we do, and how does it impact the person on the receiving end. It's looking at it in a way that says okay, how do I make this service the most efficient I possibly can - yes, to find savings, but also to make the experience of that individual Nova Scotian a more receptive one, so that they understand that they can go and find, regardless of what it is they may be looking for when it comes to programming, the Seniors Property Tax Rebate, that form is in that department. Many of the forms that all of us in this House would use to deliver to our constituencies are in that department.
Have we tracked it well enough to know that we automatically just send it out year after year to make the experience that much easier - because the private sector would do it. Looking at making sure that some of the other ways that we do business makes sense, and one of the things that excites me most about this real change is that the public sector people who work for our province, whom I talked about earlier, are going to get an opportunity to bring their innovation now to their departments and really drive change, because they want that; they want to make things better for Nova Scotians; and they want to deliver services differently.
We believe by separating these two things into one, intergovernmental services, allows us to drive efficiencies internally, break down some of the silos that we have inside of government, and on the other side, the Service Nova Scotia piece will actually allow us to actually get more customer focus on the outside, because the men and women who work for us in those departments recognize that, at the end of the day, as long as the experience of that person who is calling is a positive one, their day has been made better.
MR. ROWE: Thanks to the Premier for the answer. Also thanks for pointing out the seating arrangements, and I'd like to take the opportunity to thank him for actually naming me as Caucus Whip, which is next to the door, which is very handy for fast exits.
Mr. Premier, you did go into some discussion with regard to the changes within the department and what may happen internally with regard to government operations, but I'd like a little more, if you could at all, on what the benefits are going to be to the average Nova Scotian who may be watching these proceedings this evening, or is going to hear about them in the days and weeks ahead - what exactly are the benefits for Nova Scotians, which is the real key to what we all want to know here?
THE PREMIER: The benefit, first of all, of the internal service piece, we'll actually be able to drive what we believe are savings internally. It'll allow us to look across our departments to be able to ensure that we're not at odds with one another in the departments. It's really tearing down those silos that all of us know exist inside of government, by department by department. So this will allow us to deliver those services, whether or not it is the procurement, building maintenance, IT sector, payroll - those things that we may be doing in individual departments now will be brought together under one roof, really, under the leadership of Minister Kousoulis.
Then, the Service Nova Scotia piece, where my greatest hope is that Nova Scotians will see a difference in the way that we actually can deliver those services to the people, one of them is, as I said earlier, if you apply for a particular program or you qualify for a particular program in one year, I think we need to become a little more proactive to ensure that you have the information if you still qualify the following year. It's amazing to me how many Nova Scotians don't realize some of the programs that we offer already for them. The Seniors Property Tax Rebate was one that continues to jump out at me, how many new people who have missed it for a couple of years in my own constituency. We've tried to communicate it from a constituency point of view, putting information out. So I think part of that is us becoming a little more proactive on that side and looking outward.
But one of the things, as I said earlier, that has been encouraging is that that will be embraced by the people who work in those departments. I don't want to speak for them, but at times there is a level of frustration when you don't get an opportunity to make the changes that you know will make a difference to the customer, to the person, to the Nova Scotians receiving that information, and they will have this opportunity to make that change.
The changes we made in Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations in having the Department of Municipal Relations really was to recognize the important role municipalities play in this province, and I want to say under leadership of Minister Furey we're now having open dialog between municipalities about the idea of actually sharing services. There is some talk about amalgamation, to his credit and to the credit of the people who work in his department - we had always talked in this House that we had to amalgamate a family of municipalities and now we're allowing an opportunity to those who are in need.
The community I live in, that I hold very dear and near to my heart, is Bridgetown. It's the town I grew up in, the school I went to, and it's where we played hockey and basketball and all those things. Even though I lived in the county, it was considered my hometown. It is recognized that stuff has changed and that they need to reach out and change their governance model at the municipal level. We didn't say that everyone around them had to do it, we just agreed, okay, we'll work with you. The minister, and his department, is working with them to make that change.
No, Bridgetown won't disappear; the boundaries will still be there. The governance model will change, and I for one don't believe what makes a community is its governance model. What makes a community is the people who live in it, people who move about every day, and I know the good people of Bridgetown will respond in such a positive way to this. We added in to that department fire service, EMO, the things that municipalities have a role in, the role that they can help make that change and deliver that.
We're very encouraged by the reception we received and the encouragement we got from municipalities for that change and we're going to continue to help work with them so that we and all of our levels of government respect each other's elected responsibilities and that we work with them to that end, which is actually making life better for their constituents which, in turn, are our constituents.
MR. ROWE: I thank the Premier to his explanation to my question. If I could I would like to change gears ever so slightly and go in a slightly different direction and that is to ask the Premier about some of his other responsibilities in his office. Earlier this evening a couple of these things were touched on, and one of the biggest things that struck my mind in the course of those questions was with regard to our military, our veterans, and our servicemen and women. Much has been heard in the news over the past weeks and months regarding our service people and the treatment that they are receiving, particularly by our federal government and the fact that it is downloading many of its constitutional responsibilities to provincial governments, unfairly perhaps, in many people's minds.
One of the things, of course, that is the responsibility of the Premier's Office is military services. I'd like to ask the Premier, if he could, to explain a little further what exactly those responsibilities are and what his priorities are with regard to military services, and relations with both military service people and with the federal government as well.
THE PREMIER: Now I know why we don't let him ask questions too often here.
Thank you, member, for the question. You know, I've had the good fortune of living in the community that I live in now for much of my life, which is adjacent to, next door to CFB Greenwood. I remember my Uncle Bruce who was a flight engineer, very kind to my family in our time of need, he and his wife Lillian were exceptional to my mother, and in turn to us as kids, when she needed support. I remember growing up and getting a chance to go to Cornwallis to play hockey - I broke my wrist in that rink if I remember correctly - and it was at a time when our role around the world was in peacekeeping. We spent much of our time going in to places to try to prevent conflict and work with groups. I know members from the RCMP, from community policing are now serving in places doing the same thing. But that has shifted in many ways, really, in the 90s through to the last decade to where we are now taking an active role in war and we've lost sons and daughters, as a country, to their belief in their fight for freedom.
I'm very proud of the fact that we are the only province in Canada that actually has a Military Relations Department. As you know, it falls under the federal government's purview, they control the administrative and regulatory fees surrounding the Armed Forces here, but as a province the military has played such an important role in building our city, quite frankly in our history, and we played such an important role in war.
Most recently, talking to a number of veterans who are wanting to recognize the role we played in the Battle of the Atlantic - in many ways, it's our story that we've yet to tell. You know, if a state in the United States had played the role we did in the Battle of the Atlantic, it would be recognized, there would be a holiday around it, it would be celebrated annually, and the men and women who were part of that would be continually recognized - but we humbly go about our business, saying thank you.
We have a vessel here that actually signifies our contribution and they are wanting to find a special way to work with the federal government, the municipality, and the province, that we build a museum to recognize the Battle of the Atlantic. We have said that we are very interested in being part of that conversation.
One of the most impressive things about that battle is that in today's combat we send our trained soldiers to battle; in those days they were our farmers and our fishermen. They were people who believed they had the calling to go and they left for a period of four or five years and then came home. When you think about that, how extraordinary that is - I don't know if I would have done it. When you really ask yourself and sit back and think of the tremendous contribution of the vets of the First and Second World Wars, they just found it within themselves, the strength - many who didn't have to volunteer, volunteered.
I think if we asked ourselves would we do that, what would our answer be? It's a difficult one and they did it at a time, quite frankly, where there weren't the kinds of communications that you have today. You know, when you left, you left. Oftentimes letters were months late, and when you lost a loved one in battle, news was long after the fact.
There is this great story - a neighbour of mine, Gordon Hogan, wrote a book, From Farm Boy to Solider. He talks about going - it was the Second World War and he was overseas, and another family in our community, the Hortons, John and Charlie, were also overseas, and they looked alike. Gordon had heard that John had been killed in battle, but when he came to the city he saw John. He went up to him he said, oh John, am I ever glad to see you, I thought you had been killed in battle. And it was Charlie, who said, I'm not John, I'm Charlie, and he was killed. They were farm boys who answered the call here.
Anything that we can do as a government to help recognize the contribution that was made by that generation of hard-working Nova Scotians and Canadians we must do, quite frankly. It's why we continue to lobby the federal government to ensure we put in place some advocacy on their behalf, someone who is working with them, putting in place through some of the other departments - that we were able to try to respond to some of the issues that they are faced with and to pick up the slack.
The challenge for us as a government is that we can't pick up every place that the federal government has divested themselves of. We can't continue to pick up the change in the health care funding, which is $23 million, another $18 million all of a sudden, and it's growing, and then continue to provide the services because the federal government has changed the way it funds it. The Labour Market Agreement, which provides funding to a lot of literacy programs, community organizations that all of us actually use in our constituency to deliver services to Nova Scotians. We can't just continue to pick up where they pull away from.
It's the same thing when it comes to the veterans' offices. We can't continue to pick up where they have - we're going to do our part, we're going to do what we can, we're going to continue to advocate on behalf of veterans and all Nova Scotians, that we get our fair share of services out of the federal government in their role to provide those, and we'll continue to do that.
I think our role in Military Relations - May 9th I think the date is when we're going to have a dinner, the True Patriot Love dinner, which I have the privilege of co-chairing along with other Atlantic Premiers here in Halifax. It will be the second time it has been here, and had a great outpouring of affection for today's military families. Much of that money is in the Military Family Resource Centre; it helps support family members of the military who have been - or families who have lost a loved one, children, some of our own sons and daughters. I actually know a couple of the families in this province who have lost a son personally. I know them in my day-to-day work. I've been in contact with them a lot. It's just a great part of what role we can all play to recognize their great, important contribution that they make to our province, to our country, and the contribution they're making globally.
I'll tell you, today I was at the Volunteer Awards ceremony, and what a privilege it was to be there; I was extremely excited to be there as the Premier. Joe Bishara, from Yarmouth County, was recognized for his work. Joe actually started the Memorial Club at Yarmouth Consolidated High School. That club actually continues to promote, to keep alive the contribution that Canadians and Nova Scotians made in the First and Second World Wars. It continued to evolve in the role and contribution we are making in today's conflicts, and when we started to lose sons and daughters of our own families, Joe's organization went out and fundraised to build a silver cross for the fathers of the fallen soldiers. Typically the mother would receive one, but that club and that organization went out and fundraised and had the silver cross made to provide to the fathers of those sons and daughters.
I had the privilege of being in one of these ceremonies a few years ago, and when you watch the reaction of family members of a lost soldier and the response and the respect that these young students provide to them, it is so heartwarming. Joe is instilling in them a love of this country, a love of this province, and a responsibility that we all have to continue to keep alive the tradition that we have in this province and in Atlantic Canada of continuing to punch way above our weight when it comes to military service.
Many, many more Atlantic Canadians, percentage-wise, join the military, serve, and that was the case in the Second World War, that we continue to recognize that and we continue to hold our place and we are thrilled to be able to help support them this year in a small way and we'll continue to do that. Collectively, it is our responsibility to make sure that we continue to value the contributions that the military service has played in building this province and is continuing to provide to us as a province.
MR. ROWE: Madam Chairman, I thank the Premier for his answer and I thank the Premier for his commitment to our military men and women.
My grandfather was actually in the First World War. He was a lieutenant, served in the First World War, and was mustard gassed in Ypres. Many people will recall, of course, Newfoundland was not part of Canada in the First World War, it was still part of the Commonwealth. He was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, but was living in Newfoundland when he enlisted. He was one of the first 500, the Blue Puttees, a very famous group of Newfoundlanders who went overseas to fight. As I say, he was a lieutenant there.
My mother was actually born while he was in the trenches, and I still have her birth notice that was sent to him while he was serving in the trenches. My mother then served as a WAAF. My father was a Newfoundlander, was in the Royal 59th, the Royal Artillery. He served in the Second World War and he met my mom in Glasgow. Her father, who had survived the First World War, was actually an air raid warden in Glasgow, so he was doing his service yet again. They met in Glasgow and the Newfoundlanders used to always go to my grandfather's house because he was so fond of the Newfoundlanders and would welcome them in.
I think it is important that we recognize our servicemen and women, and I'm glad to hear the Premier has such a commitment. It does lead me to my final question to the Premier this evening and it springs from that whole interrelationship between our province and the federal government with regard to all departments and your role as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs - could you expound just a little on how you plan to bring some changes to the relationship between the province and the federal government in your capacity there?
THE PREMIER: I thank the member for the question. Before I take that, it slipped my mind, the announcement that was recently made by the Minister of Health and Wellness to actually begin MSI coverage the very first day a military family comes to this province. It is a great recognition, on behalf of his department, that we continue to welcome military families who come to this province and ensure they can be able to take part in the services we provide as a province.
One of the things that I think is the greatest opportunity for us, and one of the things we will need going forward, is a level of co-operation from the federal government on a whole host of issues. The issue around immigration was talked about earlier, and it is important that we build a plan around immigration that not only recognizes where our greatest opportunity is to attract people to this great province, but that we need the federal government to be a willing partner in helping to lift that cap so that we can continue to bring people in and allow this province to become the diverse province it is.
I'm always struck by the Lebanese community in Nova Scotia. I had the chance to go to the Lebanese Chamber not too long ago and I was struck by the reception they provide each other when they walk in. Here are young men and women, young men hugging young men and hugging everyone and yet, you realize when you step back, they compete with each other in the business world. Yet the family is a community and they come together and they continue to grow. They have many lessons for the rest of the population and they gave a great example about how we can drive immigration in a sustainable way, from continuing to build on the communities that we have - the Lebanese community, the Greek community, communities across this province.
My family immigrated here, but a long time ago. I have had the privilege of being born here and growing up in the community I live in - so I only know the comfort of my community I was literally born in. To know what it's like to come to a different country, speaking a different language, having different foods, having different cultural experiences, how frightening that must be and, at the same time, how exciting it must be to begin a new life with your loved ones - some of your loved ones, not all of them.
Anything that we can do to continue to provide a community, because ultimatel, that is all any of us want - ultimately, we just want to be part of a community. Sometimes that's our family and sometimes it's a broader sense of houses around us, sometimes the town we live in. For new Nova Scotians, new Canadians, that family sometimes is pretty restricted and often the people leaving this province are leaving to go into parts of Canada where there is a bigger community that they can attach themselves to because it's from the same country that they immigrated from to this province. What the Lebanese community has done such a tremendous job of is embracing each other, always with the focus on the future.
Everyone knows I'm from a big family, so I find that same kind of - you celebrate everyone's successes, you support one another when you are in difficult times, and when you do something wrong you have lots of people to tell you that you did wrong - they kind of straighten you out in a hurry.
That's where, I think, the success has been in our immigration policies in the past. You go back to the 1950s when the Dutch settled here in the farming communities across much of rural Nova Scotia; many of those families are still here. But if you go back and look historically, what bound them together was that they were within a level of proximity to one another that they could at least connect with a family of Dutch descent.
They were also connected by religion. They continued to practice a religion together and if you look at many of them in local communities, many of the Dutch families belong to the same religion in that community because it was a way for them to stay connected to people who came from the same land they did, the same country they did, but they wanted to have new experiences and see new opportunities for the next generation of their children.
If you look at the agricultural sector across this province you will see, and continue to see, the Dutch family names associated with farms in Antigonish County, Annapolis County, the South Shore - all across this province. Up in Cape Breton there are a few of them. They've been connected to this province and if you look at the next generation, they're also continuing to build and grow in those respective communities. Some of them, in my view, have a greater appreciation for this province than some of us who have been here for long periods of time, because they have a comparison.
I feel very blessed to be living in the house I grew up in; I feel very blessed to be living in a little community outside of Upper Granville; and I feel very blessed to be part of a community. And that's what I believe our immigration policy needs to be focused on: How do we continue to build community in a way that we continue to attract more people to this province in a way that allows us to meet the ever-changing and growing demand we're going to need for skilled workers?
I will say this to you. One of the things that I think we need to be careful about is that we always talk about we need to have a skilled this or a skilled that. Do you know what? All we need are good people. If good people want to come and live here and work hard, they'll find their niche. Sometimes it's the next generation that we'll see being the builders around this city - or the doctors or the pharmacists or all of the other professions that we're looking for. I think we need to be careful how far down the road we go when we start pushing people into hitting certain criteria. We need to continue to make sure that we're an open, welcoming province.
Ruth Goldbloom, whom everyone knew, said the greatest immigration policy that you could have as a Nova Scotian is that each Nova Scotian should embrace a new immigrant in a way that invites them into our traditions - and share in their traditions even if we only do it once in our lives. Bring them in at Christmas time if they're alone and let them share in the experience of how you as a family celebrated, or vice versa - be part of the traditions that may come from their family's homeland, in a positive way. It goes back to making people feel welcome and part of a community.
You got me on such a great topic around immigration and I, quite frankly, see it as our answer. If we do all the other stuff right, but we don't grow the population, it's going to be really difficult for any government in this region to move forward.
One of the things that we've tried to do as a new government is work in a more collaborative way here in Atlantic Canada, to continue to provide leadership on a number of files.
The lobster fishery has been talked about in this House and we've invested $250,000 for lobster marketing. Now, I want you to think about this for a second - I want you to think about the oddity of this. For a period of time we've been buying lobster on local wharves for $3 a pound and, at the same time, we're going around the world talking about the valuable commodity it is, which it is. It's something that we've been known for and attached to but, by the same token, we need to make sure that we're treating it that way at home, that we're sending the right signal to people, that we're willing to pay ourselves.
When we pay the proper amount, any additional that we're paying, that money spins around in the local coastal communities and drives the economy. Deckhands get paid more, buy cars locally, people will be able to spend that money in the local community and continue to build economic development. But we as a region in Atlantic Canada, we as Nova Scotians, need to value that commodity here at home to continue to make sure we send the right signal around the globe, that we believe that is a valuable commodity, one that we're going to continue to promote and find markets for - at the same time recognizing sending the right message to the fishermen across this province that we appreciate what you do, that we value what you do, and that we're prepared to treat you properly and fairly for that commodity. I'm excited for the minster to continue to work and build on that relationship in and around with our neighbouring partners here, to make sure that we can continue to go forward.
One of the things that you may have heard more recently is around the European free trade deal. There are some challenges associated with the delivery of that, but it's a golden opportunity for us as a region to continue to grow and expand. One of the things that I'm hoping that the federal government will do and work with us is to provide support to ensure that we continue to train businesses and business leaders to think about exporting.
We all know who the major exporters are in this province and, quite frankly, they'll succeed despite their governments. They've figured it out; they're going. What we need to make sure is the next level of business owners in this province recognize it is possible for them to also trade. If you're trading to the U.S., why not think about trading into Europe? And, if you're not trading at all - how come? What can we do to start that conversation?
What we need to do, with the support of the federal government, is to ensure that we've very clearly laid out to those businesses what will be required as you go into Europe, as you go into Asia, how different it is to do business in those countries, on those continents, how important it is that we make sure we do the due diligence at home, and also make ourselves understand that we can actually compete. We have a great port, we have a tremendous airport, and we have great transportation infrastructure here that we can move goods and services in and out of this province. We can move goods and services not only into Europe, we can move goods and services into the rest of Canada by maximizing these great assets that we have. I've been very encouraged by that.
Today the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism met with a company that is doing work all around the world. They have an operation here they are looking to grow and they talked about our time zone, how important it was that they could actually, here, work in Europe as well as in Western Canada to make sure that they can do it in the same day and same business day. They were commenting on the fact with our university sector how we were growing and building great employees. One of the most gratifying pieces was they talked about they could start work at six o'clock in the morning and people were willing to show up at six o'clock in the morning to continue to meet markets where they were working into. That is such a positive asset that many of us don't talk about, which is our time zone and what a difference we make and what a difference that we can make to make sure that we deliver on our commitments as a partner in the great federation that we have.
One of the things that I think we need to continue to do, though, is recognize we can play an important role in the federation of Canada. Oftentimes people dismiss our role because we're a small province. But you know what? We have always played a positive role. When our country has faced difficult times, it's been Nova Scotians and Atlantic Canadians who have always stood the test of time. Whether it's in conflict, whether it's in ensuring that we look after the most vulnerable citizens in our province, whether it is that we share a value as Atlantic Canadians and as Nova Scotians that I believe are Canadian values, that when we're doing well we have a responsibility to ensure we have a social infrastructure that responds to our citizens who are not doing well.
As Nova Scotians, we've continued to always build on those public institutions that have made a difference in the lives of people who are having a difficult day. We can continue to be a strong message for the country, because I often think that we're moving away from that for a period of time where it's kind of you're on your own. That's not my view of Canada and I don't think it's the view for most Canadians. Most Canadians recognize that they, quite frankly, have difficult days and they want to make sure there's something there for them. When they're succeeding, they want to be able to contribute to an infrastructure that helps families and individual Nova Scotians and Canadians and provide them with the helping hand that they require in such a positive way.
We can continue to deliver that message. As I stand here today, we're going to find out what's happening in Quebec . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Majority Liberal Government. (Applause)
THE PREMIER: I'm just glad, whatever the name of that Party is, that it's one that has a national view. Jean Charest led that Party; he also led the federal Conservative Party. But Jean Charest believed in Canada. It was more important that he was part of a federalist Party in Quebec to make sure that we continue to keep the institution of Canada alive and well.
It's ironic that everyone around the world looks at our country as a place to be, a place that respects diversity, a place that celebrates our differences and, oftentimes, in our own country we allow that to be what divides us as opposed to what should unite us and celebrate us together.
As part of that portfolio, I'll get an opportunity to meet the new Premier - and I want you to know that it bothers me a little bit that he has been elected with a beard. (Laughter)
AN HON. MEMBER: Why did you shave yours off then? Are you growing it back?
THE PREMIER: I actually had a good start on mine this weekend, but I tell you that when I was growing it back it was coming in a lot whiter than when it left, so I've decided that I would leave that alone.
But it actually sends a good signal for the country that we have a federalist Party in Quebec, one that will be looking towards how we ensure that we have energy security in this country, that we share those energy issues around regions, we make sure that Canadians continue to capitalize on the things that connect us, as well as making sure that - I'm getting more papers here - as well as making sure that we continue to build the great federation of Canada. For all that divides us, there are many, many, many more things that unite us in such a positive way and we're going to continue to do that.
Today I spoke with Premier Ghiz about the Council of the Federation that is going to take place this summer in P.E.I., talking about the issues that we need to put on the table to ensure that as Canadian Premiers we focus on the things of national importance. It's quite interesting, my first meeting there, one of the things I thought was that each Premier would go with their own provincial agenda - and they often did, and we talked about our own particular issues. But at the end of the day, whether it was the Premier of Alberta or the Premier of Prince Edward Island, they brought it back to what was in our collective interests as the national government and the country of Canada. It was heartwarming, quite frankly, and I think very positive. I'm looking forward to meeting the new Premier of Quebec and excited about that opportunity.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E21 stand?
The resolution stands.
Resolution E18 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $3,662,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of Aboriginal Affairs, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E25 - Resolved that a sum not exceeding $3,028,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of Intergovernmental Affairs, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall the resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Madam Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report back to the House.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
We stand adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 9:55 p.m.]