MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Honourable members, the Committee on Supply will now reconvene. We will continue with the estimates of the Minister of Health.
The honourable Minister of Health.
HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to move the estimates of the Department of Health as have been presented to the House.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E12 stand?
Resolution E12 stands.
On behalf of the committee members, and as the chairman of the committee, we want to thank the honourable Minister of Health and his staff, and we want to thank all honourable members for their helpful interventions. That concludes the debates on the estimates of the Department of Health.
The honourable Acting Government House Leader.
MR. WILLIAM DOOKS: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I invite the honourable Minister of Education to introduce her staff to members of the committee, and invite her to make some opening comments.
The honourable Minister of Education.
Resolution E6 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $858,832,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Education, pursuant to the Estimate.
HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I would like to introduce Ken Moors from our Finance Branch, sitting behind me, and Deputy Minister Dennis Cochrane will be joining us shortly. I will make my opening statement first.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the budget of the Department of Education. Much, perhaps most, of what has been said about this budget in recent days is negative. There is a great deal of positive, and I am glad to take the opportunity today to set the record straight on a number of issues; there are some basic points that have to be made.
Despite all of Nova Scotia's financial pressures, which pose a significant burden for each and every Nova Scotian, we have increased the dollars spent on education this year; that was no small feat. The Department of Education's budget overall is $1.075 billion. We have increased the overall budget $4.5 million from the 1999-2000 budget. While an increase of .04 per cent from the 1999-2000 budget seems small, it shows our commitment to education at a time when spending on most areas of government has had to be reduced. This was not an easy thing to accomplish, but we have done it.
I am very well aware that this budget does not meet all the demands on the education system. I recognize the demands are significant, and I do understand people feel the pressures of these demands at all levels. There are pressures on students who attend classes in our public schools, colleges, universities, and community education centres; there are pressures on teachers and professors, as well as support staff who make those services available; and there are pressures as well on the staff and administration right up to the level of my office, Mr. Chairman.
I acknowledge the stress, and I would like to thank all those who are doing their best to make our education system the best it can be, but unfortunately we all have to face the reality of our situation. Governments in the past have left us with no choice but to contain spending now. Because of the sheer size of our budgets, government and its funded partners will not be able to continue doing everything they have done in the past in the same way. There is no doubt that some very difficult decisions were made in this budget but, frankly, with the province's debt increasing by more than $1,000 a minute, or $1.4 million every day, we had no choice; that is $900 million a year that we spend to service the debt. Imagine what that money could do in our classrooms or our hospitals.
When salary implications form the bulk of the two biggest departmental budgets, Education and Health, it is hard to make headway on a financially suffocating debt without unfortunately having to cut out jobs. Our government has tried, to the greatest extent
possible, to protect the priorities of Nova Scotians, given the province's fiscal crisis. One of those priorities is, and should be, education, and for that reason we have maintained education spending overall.
To do this, we have tried to reduce spending where it is reasonable and possible. We have targetted functions that we consider less important, such as administration. We have tried to maintain or increase spending on areas that are critical to lifelong learning, such as literacy. While we are spending the same or more on most areas of education, the fact is that how we spend this money has to change; some budget categories do not have enough extra to meet every need they have. We believe the changes we propose are manageable and where there are shortfalls, we will manage those as well. Yes, we are asking to reduce staff in all areas and, yes, this will have an impact on service. What we are hoping to do is work with our partners on options that will ease the pressures.
Having made these general comments, I would like to outline some of the initiatives we have underway. Mr. Chairman, it is a priority for this government to promote a culture of lifelong learning, and that is why we have made such a concerted effort to protect education funding when at all possible. The ability to read and read well is key to a child's success throughout the school years. This budget will begin to help make this happen.
Literacy is something everyone must be concerned with in this day and age. This is the information age; literacy is crucial now, and is likely to be more so in the future. We also know how important it is to have families involved in promoting literacy. What parents do with children before they go to school is important. They should be reading to them, nurturing them, and playing with them to get them ready. But we also know that what parents do while kids are in school is equally important. Parents are a child's first teacher, but they are also the most influential teacher throughout the child's life. Kids spend a lot of time as they grow up outside the classroom. They learn outside the classroom, too. Kids are spending all this time in front of a television or computer screen; they are not learning as they should be, either content or life skills.
The good news is that we have a good foundation for literacy development in Nova Scotia and we hope to build on that. We have community partners, other levels of government and the business community, committed to developing and promoting literacy. This level of support is unprecedented. The literacy community across the province tries to engage parents with young children to develop literacy skills in the early years. Teachers work at this in the classroom every day.
We have committed to providing more training and support for teachers of our youngest students; we have committed $1.5 million for supports to early literacy initiatives this year; we will provide more support for training reading recovery teachers; and we are
also proposing an active young reader's program for Grade 1 to Grade 3, to highlight good teaching techniques and provide resources for young students as they start out in school. We also want to take a look at why some students are graduating from high school without sufficiently high literacy levels. It is a complex problem, but with a little focus I hope we can develop some practical solutions. We are doing the groundwork for a testing program that will assess the literacy abilities of young teenagers while they are still in school.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, adult literacy programs, such as workplace literacy, can capture some people who did not have the benefit of a lot of education early in their lives. Maybe times have changed and they need to retrain, but first, they need to pick up their literacy skills. We have to recognize that as a fact and, hopefully, work with individuals in their communities to do something about it. We have put money in the budget for the development phase of the adult basic education initiative that would allow a consistent upgrading program to be offered across the province, and also would be able to get the same accreditation across the province so they can pursue a step-by-step approach to improving their literacy and seeking further education and employment.
We have also provided a modest increase in the amount of money for public libraries that are part-way through a plan to find new ways to reach out to Nova Scotians; regional libraries, so key in this literacy continuum, will see an increase of $250,000. Mr. Chairman, literacy is the foundation. With a coordinated approach, working with our many partners, we can make sure that that foundation is rock-solid in this province.
In an ideal world, we would like to increase all areas of the Education budget, including public school funding, however, the massive size of our obligations make large increases difficult. We did everything we could to maintain spending in this area, and overall we have done that. We have maintained increases in spending in many areas.
We are continuing with our commitment to build schools in Nova Scotia; we have money to cover the leases for the 30 new P3 schools coming onstream in 2000-01. Renovation and construction funding will increase from $19.4 million to $27.1 million and funding for buses remains the same at $4.6 million. We are also honouring our commitment to improve computer resources in schools, and funding will continue for the IEI project which has been responsible for installation and program support for more than 5,500 computers to schools.
Mr. Chairman, we are also making a concerted effort to alleviate some costly pressures on the school system. As one example, we will be slowing down implementation of dozens of curriculum items that cost school boards a lot of money in both resources and teacher development time. We have to focus on our curriculum priorities. There is a high-quality curriculum in place in key areas such as language arts, mathematics, and sciences. This slowdown in curriculum development and implementation will reduce costs to the education system. The development and implementation of curriculum is expensive and we can only do
so much at one time. Teachers and boards have told us there have been too many changes all at once. This responds to those concerns; the curriculum changes will not affect the ability of high school graduates to leave the system and go on to further education or jobs.
It is true, Mr. Chairman, we are also asking school boards to reduce the services they provide; this includes reducing the number of administrators in regional board management and reducing the total number of teachers. We are also asking school boards to make reasonable reductions in the total number of teachers in the system. We agree with Nova Scotians that a strong teacher force is absolutely necessary. We cannot afford to see too many teachers leave the system but, again, we feel the changes we are asking for are manageable. The fact is we are talking of a reduction in the public school budget that totals 2.5 per cent.
We know that the number of students is dropping. Over the past four years student enrolments dropped by 3.5 per cent while teacher numbers went up by about the same percentage. Enrolments are projected to drop by 6.5 per cent more over the next five years; in some regions they are already dropping. While class size has been an issue, we know that average class sizes right now are somewhere around 25. The reductions we propose are manageable. If you look at the differences from school to school, the reduction will change class size by no more than one student on average. We know that there should be no dramatic increase in class size at any level. With a 2.5 per cent decrease in budgets for schools, there is no logic to anyone saying classes will jump by 50 per cent.
We have asked that school boards work with us to try to minimize increases in class sizes in elementary schools. What that means is that if class sizes are to go up slightly, elementary classes should see less of an increase. If an elementary class goes from 25 to 28 students, it can be very significant; if a high school class goes from 25 to 28, it is usually not as significant. Ideally, we want to keep classes small at all levels, but this is what I mean when I say that these changes can be manageable if we all cooperate.
We also know, Mr. Chairman, that there is some room to manage. Almost 4,000 high school classes have fewer than 20 students, and more than 1,800 of those classes have fewer than 15 students. We are hoping that school boards will consider these things seriously, rework their numbers and see what is possible. We are planning, as you know, to sit down again with school boards and work through the numbers. What we would rather see is school boards take a look at administration and find savings in areas that have the least effect on classroom priorities.
Mr. Chairman, we have done everything possible to meet extreme demands in the area of higher education. Funding has been reduced in recent years mainly because of federal funding cutbacks. In our budget we are trying to address the severe needs of universities, which is why, overall, grants to higher education will increase in this year's budget. Total operating grants to universities will increase by $4 million, from $192.4 million to $196.4 million; this year capital grants will remain constant at $4.8 million.
These capital grants will include funding for the completion of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences building at Dalhousie University, and for the most pressing capital needs of the province's other universities. This funding is in acknowledgement and recognition of the role of universities in supporting Nova Scotia's innovation, research and development infrastructures. Universities play a key role in Nova Scotia's economy in job creation in communities across the province and in creating a culture of learning. The reality is that they have been held back in recent years by too many cuts, and it was our view that this could not continue.
The Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education recommended a funding target for universities and we decided to move in that direction; however, we recognize we provided only one-half the target recommended and that there will be more work to do in the future. One of our main considerations was the need to keep tuition increases down. Students have told us that tuition increases have been unacceptably high in recent years and indeed they have, Mr. Chairman. This budget's funding for Nova Scotia universities will allow them to maintain academic services to students and keep tuition increases to a minimum.
We have made no secret of the fact that we will also be looking for universities to find administrative savings in the coming year, as we have done at all other levels of the education system. Université Sainte-Anne and the Collège de l'Acadie will be expected to start sharing administrative services in 2000-01 to achieve a reduction of $500,000. This will allow for more efficient delivery of post-secondary training and education programs for Acadian and francophone Nova Scotians. The Department of Education also anticipates administrative savings of $500,000 through the restructuring of the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education.
We have also made an effort to maintain student access at the Nova Scotia Community College. The NSCC is an engine for economic growth. They are the key to the lifelong learning continuum. At the moment, students have to be turned away from programs that could give them much-needed learning and employment opportunities and we know that needs to change. The operating grants for the Nova Scotia Community College will increase $2.5 million to cover increasing costs and position the college to meet student demand for its programs. At the same time we will be asking some institutions to consider how to change the way they operate, both to save money and improve services.
We believe, as all governments believe, that money should be directed, wherever possible, to services for students as close as possible to the classroom. That is why at all levels we are looking for reductions in administration. The budget for the department's operations is being reduced by 21 per cent and we will be looking for further savings throughout the year. This is a major reduction in program delivery support and administration. Mr. Chairman, I wish we did not have to make these reductions. Ideally, a status quo budget should allow business to continue as usual. However, we all know that is simply not possible.
I would now entertain questions on the estimates, Mr. Chairman, if the deputy minister could come in.
MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: On a point of order, I just wanted to see these men change places before we started questioning. I don't want the minister to get whiplash from having to turn around.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that helpful intervention. I see the staff members are moving to the front benches. Perhaps the honourable minister would introduce her helpful staff to her right and to her left, please.
MISS PURVES: Yes, certainly. To my right is Dennis Cochrane, the Deputy Minister of Education. To my left is Ken Moors from our Finance Division within the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Welcome.
The honourable member for Clare.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to welcome the new Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Cochrane, and Mr. Ken Moors who is accompanying the minister this morning.
Mr. Chairman, the cuts that this government have made to the Education budget have been devastating to the public education system in Nova Scotia. I certainly would not call this Education budget an investment in the future of students. The impact of these cuts will have a devastating effect in our classroom in the short term. These cuts to education may certainly lead to a permanent erosion of our education system in the long term. While the minister was doing her introductory comments, we kept hearing students outside chanting, "save our schools". We saw them yesterday, and I am sure not just here at Province House protesting, we saw them all over the province.
Here, this morning, we are joined by a number of students in the galleries - I certainly would like to acknowledge their presence, at this time - who are here to follow the debates on the budget of Education. Maybe, Mr. Chairman, I could ask them to rise and the House will provide them with our usual warm welcome. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Welcome to the gallery, visitors.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, my first question to the minister is, could she inform this committee why there was no representation from the public education sector on the fiscal review task force?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I was not involved in the process of selection of the composition of the Voluntary Planning task force. There certainly was representation from the education sector, but directly from the public education sector, there was not. I don't know the answer to that question.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, maybe the minister could go back to her department, or go back to the Cabinet, or to the Premier's office, and ask the very same question. How come there was no one from the education sector represented on this fiscal review task force? I am sure everyone would like to know, especially in face of the budget cuts that her department is being faced with at the given time.
My next question to the minister is, Mr. Chairman, when I start looking through the budget of the department, my first question is, why was Primary to Grade 12 the only sector in education that did not receive a funding increase? Maybe the minister could enlighten us on that.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we looked at all the sectors of education and we did spend a lot of time going through various scenarios of what would happen here, there, or elsewhere, if we made a 5 per cent, a 10 per cent, what could we eliminate, and so on. We spent months and months going through the Education budget. In the end, we felt that given the huge amount of the Education budget that goes to public education relative to the other sectors, and rightly so, that in a time of declining student enrolment, unless we looked there and were able to come up with something reasonable, we would not be able to achieve the overall reductions our government has to achieve in order to eliminate the deficit.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, my next question is, what consultation took place with the public education sector prior to the tabling of this budget, Madam Minister?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, aside from the visits to school boards and conversations with members as well as individual teachers and groups of teachers, officials sat down with members of the Education Funding Formula Review Work Group - I wish it had a pronounceable acronym, but it does not - starting in December and at that time officials from the department brought up the subject of how to achieve savings. The members of that group were not enthusiastic about the idea of achieving savings within their budgets and, I am told, almost walked at that time. There was at least one further meeting after Christmas after which the work of the group was temporarily suspended until after the budget when we felt all the work they were doing was perhaps more usefully devoted to real numbers than some of the scenarios we were having to go through at the time in order to achieve some savings.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I just want a clarification from the minister. Is she saying that the funding review group continued to meet? My understanding is that this group stopped meeting some time in late fall, October or November. Did I hear the minister say that
this group kept meeting in December and in future there were some other meetings that took place in January? Could she confirm to the committee, yes or no, if this committee kept on meeting?
MISS PURVES: Yes, there were two meetings in December and a further meeting in January, after which, as I say, the meetings were temporarily suspended until the group could be working with real numbers.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, the practice in the past, especially working with the funding review group, we had representatives from all the school boards working along with officials from the Department of Education to work together and make recommendations to the minister, especially when you are trying to put an Education budget together. I find it kind of strange here, the fact that there were a number of meetings and then all of a sudden these meetings stopped. She indicated the department officials were looking at several possible scenarios in her department. Who actually recommended these cuts to the Education budget to the minister. Who made these recommendations?
MISS PURVES: First, Mr. Chairman, I have to restate that we were not in a process, as a whole, in the government of doing budgets, this time at least, the way they were done in the past. We were in the middle of a program review, a very complex one, of all government departments. We had several different committees examining the programs and the funding of different departments. We were going through scenarios of budget cuts of 30 per cent, 15 per cent, then it was 15 per cent and 5 per cent and 15 per cent and 10 per cent, and there were a number of options that we all looked at for various departments. Because everything was under scrutiny, it would have been counter-productive and wasteful of the time for the funding review work group to meet when, as I say, the targets were not absolutely accurate because we were examining all possible options. The reductions that were eventually made to the Education budget - not overall, but within the envelope - were a product of many weeks and days of politics, of trying to weigh the priorities of all government departments against the major priorities of the government which were and are education and health.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I agree. There were many weeks and days of politics being played in that department, because my information is that there were some senior executive directors in that department who were not even aware that whoever was on this committee trying to look at possible cuts within the department were even aware of. I am just curious. Where the minister indicated they were looking at possible scenarios of a 30 per cent cut, of a 15 per cent cut, again, I am sort of confused here, who was actually on this committee? Was it officials from within the Department of Education? Was it someone from outside the Department of Education, who told this minister she was going to get a cut in her department? Could the minister indicate to this committee, who actually made these recommendations in her budget?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there were many committees. One of the committees was a committee of department officials who were meeting constantly, many long hours, going through various scenarios. There were also Cabinet committees looking at the budgets and targets of all departments. Since I am the Minister of Education, I take responsibility for the Education budget if that is what the honourable member is getting at.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, was the deputy minister a member of this departmental official committee that was looking at reducing the overall government spending? Was the deputy minister on that official committee?
MISS PURVES: I am sorry, Mr. Chairman, if the honourable member could repeat the question.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, the minister made reference that there was a departmental official committee that looked at reducing the overall government spending. My question to her, representing the Department of Education on this committee, was it the Deputy Minister of Education?
MISS PURVES: Yes, Mr. Chairman, on the committee inside the department, the acting deputy was, at the time, definitely on that committee. On the Cabinet committee, no, the acting deputy and the deputy made presentations to the committee, but he was on the committee.
MR. GAUDET: I am just curious, in that inside committee within the Department of Education that made recommendations to the Cabinet committee, did the Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. Cochrane, make these recommendations to be cut that are before the House that we are debating? I am just trying to find out who actually made these recommendations of these cuts to government.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the acting deputy and the deputy both made a number of recommendations of ways the department could go; if cuts had to be made, this is how they should be done. It was my final decision about which scenarios, mine and the Cabinet's, would be accepted. There were different scenarios of what we could do, and together we narrowed reductions down as much as we possibly could within the constraints we were working on.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, we will come back to that on a future day. I want to move on to what the cuts are in public education in Nova Scotia from this budget. Last Tuesday, we heard there was going to be a $27.3 million cut: $20 million cut in teacher losses; $1.3 million cut to standardize the PD calendar, that is the professional development calendar for teachers; $2.4 million cut to board administration in their reduction; and a $3.6
million additional reduction in order to meet their target. That is a $27.3 million cut to public education. Now, speaking with some of the school boards across this province, and speaking with the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, and they have certainly tried to indicate to the officials and the minister that they needed an additional $26 million this year just to maintain the system. We have a new teachers' contract, we have a pre-existing deficit, we have higher fuel costs to meet. So, overall, the school boards need an additional $26 million. But, unfortunately, this was not in the cards. That money was not delivered to them. Could the minister confirm that the real cuts to public education in Nova Scotia is $53.3 million? Yes or no.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member wants a yes or no answer, so the answer is no.
MR. GAUDET: With that answer, Madam Minister, maybe you could clarify to this committee, when I look at these cuts, both cuts, government negotiated a new contract for teachers, but yet failed to provide the school boards with the funding they needed, so now the word back to the school boards is, find this increase within the existing budget. So, finding the funding within the existing budget, Mr. Chairman, if there is no new money, then they have to cut something else in order to provide teachers and support staff with their increases. Will the minister agree to that one? Yes or no.
MISS PURVES: No, Mr. Chairman. The money for the teachers' increases was provided to the school boards.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, the minister is saying that new funding school boards needed in order to provide teachers and support staff with their increases and their salaries, that money was provided. I fail to see where in the budget that money is listed. Maybe the minister could indicate to this committee where that money is listed, please.
MISS PURVES: Yes, Mr. Chairman, it is in formula funding on Page 7.11 of the Supplementary Detail.
MR. GAUDET: The Southwest Regional School Board indicated they need an additional $700,000 in order to meet higher fuel costs. When I looked at the overall costs to all of the school boards across this province, I didn't see anywhere in this department where the Minister of Education is providing them with some additional funding in order to meet these higher fuel costs. Maybe I have missed it, maybe the minister could point out to the committee where that funding is within her budget.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I would like to emphasize that in the department, we consider ourselves lucky and fortunate that the overall spending envelope was maintained. Yes, school boards have to pay more for heating oil; so do hospitals, so do all citizens across
Nova Scotia. We are not in a position to be able to provide additional money for all the pressures in this system or the other systems in government.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, it is interesting hearing from the minister that there is no new additional funding to provide school boards with. It is kind of strange. On one side, you would like to be able to work with your partners in education, with the school boards. We have seen the funding review group where the school boards are actually working, or in the past they have been working, with department officials in order to try to meet the budget cuts or especially to meet the new budget, either expenses or cuts. What I find strange is now we are hearing the Minister of Education saying she wants to sit down with the school boards. She is prepared to sit down with the school boards to try to work at this - especially with the crisis we have in education today - try to sit down with them in order to arrive at solutions. Yet, this past Monday, we had the school boards come to Halifax, they sat down, on Monday, they walked out. Then they were invited again for a free lunch (Interruption) The last supper my colleague here says. Well, we know that certainly did not bring the results the minister was expecting.
So this week, Mr. Chairman, we have been seeing students, staff, parents, communities throughout Nova Scotia, basically protesting the cuts that this government is making to public education. Again, yesterday during Question Period, we heard the Premier, we heard the Minister of Education, indicating that she is going to invite them once again to try to come up with some solutions to these problems. Lo and behold, early in the week, after this first attempt failed, we heard the minister indicating she had no new money to offer. I am just curious - and I am sure there are lots of people out there who are curious - to know what these meetings are going to result in. The minister has nothing else to offer, but yet she is willing to sit down and try to come up with some solutions. I am just curious what the minister will have to offer at these meetings. Could the minister indicate to this committee this morning, what her intention is?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I believe I said the other day, and I repeat, that whatever I may or may not have to offer in terms of assistance, in terms of shifting some monies around within the education envelope, possibly, not big amounts, whatever that will be, will be discussed first in the meetings and not in this Chamber.
MR. GAUDET: I am just curious in finding out from the minister what kind of shifting around there is going to be. Is it money taken away from the classroom to pay for higher fuel costs? Is it money taken out of the classroom to pay for higher teaching wages? Is it money taken out of the classroom to meet some deficits from these boards? I guess I am curious in finding out from the minister if at these upcoming meetings with the school boards, if it is her intention to dictate to the school boards of this province where the funding needed is going to come from? Is she interested in taking more money out of the classroom in order to meet these budget targets?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I have said repeatedly and again now, what we are interested in are efficiencies in administration, efficiencies that can perhaps be attained if not province wide, between regions. We are interested in looking at administration first and the classroom last, certainly not the other way around as the honourable member is suggesting.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, does the minister realize that even with a 10 per cent cut in administration, larger class sizes and loss of programs will be seriously affected?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I would like to see what a 10 per cent reduction in administration, and by that I include salaries, I include non-classroom administration, I would be very interested in seeing what that looks like. I would be very interested in seeing a sincere attempt to look at everything differently in order to cut some of those costs. That is what I would be interested in.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, we know what these cuts are going to do. Last Tuesday, we heard the Minister of Finance in the delivery of his Budget Speech say here on Page 15, "Mr. Speaker, there should be no teacher layoffs as a result of this budget." Great statement, but we know otherwise. That was pure baloney. Does it sound like a lie? No, we were told by the Speaker of this House that is not parliamentary language. But, either the Minister of Finance misled the people of Nova Scotia, misled the students that are here in the Gallery, or misled a lot of people across this province. I will tell you what, the school boards have indicated there will be teacher lay-offs, and we have been hearing, especially yesterday, some young teachers are now being handed their pink slips. This minister indicated, I believe it was on March 29th, that there would be no teacher lay-offs. Then we later found out they are now looking at making a $20 million cut in the public education budget.
What is even more interesting is this $20 million cut that the minister has indicated, this minister is looking at making a saving of 12 months in 8 months. So they divided $20 million by $50,000 which is the average salary a teacher makes, and they came up with the famous number of 400 teachers. Well, school boards are telling us differently, Mr. Chairman. There are not just 400 teachers going to be laid off. The Annapolis Valley Regional School Board is talking about laying off 140 teachers. The Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial is talking about laying off 16 teachers. I know from their meeting this past Tuesday here in Dartmouth - there is another meeting scheduled next Tuesday - that number will certainly be a lot higher, because they are not going to be laying off teachers that are making $50,000 a year, they are going to be laying off new teachers that are in the system either on casual, part-time or term contract, and that number will certainly increase.
We have the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board talking about laying off 150 teachers; the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board laying off 70 teachers, the Halifax Regional School Board laying off 264 teachers. We have the Strait Regional School Board talking about laying off 80 teachers. In total, we are now talking about 760 teachers. Mr. Chairman, that Minister of Education knows fairly well that 760 teachers is not even
close to meeting the target that the school boards across this province will have to lay off in order to meet a $53.3 million cut in public education.
I want to go to the estimates, Supplementary Detail, Page 7.3. I want to go to the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education. I will come back to public education later. Mr. Chairman, the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education, in 1999-2000 had a budget of $941,000. In the current budget, we have seen a $500,000 cut. Madam Minister, could you indicate to the committee, first of all, how this cut will affect the work of the council, please.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize the Minister of Education, would the honourable member for Clare be tabling that article he quoted from, please?
MR. GAUDET: Absolutely, Mr. Chairman.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we will provide the infrastructure within the department, and the council of appointees will continue to operate, but there will be a reduction of seven FTEs in the staff area.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I had lots of difficulty in hearing the minister. Could I ask the minister to please repeat her answer as far as what anticipated cuts (Interruption) the noise outside. We are surrounded by noise today. Could the minister indicate to the committee technically what these cuts are going to be that the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education will have to meet.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the council itself will continue to meet and provide advice to the minister. The council itself costs roughly $35,000 a year to operate. There will be a loss of positions in the staff of the council to effect that saving.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, maybe the minister could indicate to us how many positions will be lost at the council or working for the council in supporting the council in their work? How many positions will be lost?
MISS PURVES: Seven positions will be lost. This is unfortunate, but we have to do something, i.e. cut administration, that is precisely what I am talking about the school board looking at.
MR. GAUDET: I am just curious in finding out, Madam Minister, have these individuals been notified that they will be let go?
MISS PURVES: I believe the individuals do know, but I can get back to you on that if you would like.
MR. GAUDET: Moving to Page 7.4, I see that the budget has been eliminated for Educational Industry Marketing. Why has this program been cut?
MISS PURVES: This program will be moving over to the Department of Economic Development.
MR. GAUDET: Page 7.5, I am looking under Policy. I note an increase of approximately $60,000 for Administration under the Policy section. Can you tell me why you are increasing administration costs in this section while at the same time, you are telling school boards that they must cut their administration costs?
MISS PURVES: I am sorry, I am not quite sure I heard correctly because there is a decrease in that budget.
MR. GAUDET: Under Administration I see a $60,000 cut under the Policy section. Is that the fact? A $60,000 cut?
MISS PURVES: I am looking from estimate to estimate and I see a $20,000 cut.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I apologize. The minister is right, she was looking under the Estimate and I was looking under forecast. There is roughly a $20,000 cut.
On the same page, I note a decrease. I am looking at the Provincial Library. I see a decrease of roughly $1.5 million to the Nova Scotia Provincial Library budget - $1.499 million to $1.230 million so we are looking at roughly a cut of $260,000. How can this minister and this government say that they are committed to lifelong learning when you are cutting funds from the Provincial Library?
MISS PURVES: Because we are cutting funds because we have to, does not mean we don't care about libraries or lifelong learning. We are eliminating a couple of projects here. We are eliminating about $278,000 in the budget for this year and I believe there is going to be a position there as well, but we don't believe these are going to affect services to the public in any major way.
MR. GAUDET: Maybe the minister could indicate to us how this $278,000 cut is going to be spread out across the province? Are all the libraries going to be affected or is it strictly the ones here in Halifax? I guess I am just curious in finding out how that cut will be spread out across the system.
MISS PURVES: This is one service at the library; one project that while worthwhile, the other libraries can do well without and will not affect services to the public.
MR. GAUDET: The minister talks about one service. Maybe I misunderstood, maybe she could indicate what specific service will be cut from the libraries.
MISS PURVES: It is a professional literature awareness program to do with providing tables of content information to librarians.
MR. GAUDET: The minister also indicated there would be one position cut. Could she elaborate who this individual is?
MISS PURVES: Yes, it is a public information officer position.
MR. GAUDET: On that same page, further down on Page 7.5, under the Programs section I notice, Madam Minister, you have cut the English Program Services from $3.5 million to $2.5 million, so there is roughly a decrease of close to $1 million. My question is, how do you expect the quality of education to improve in Nova Scotia when you are making a cut of over or close to $1 million to program services?
MISS PURVES: This is the area that has come up previously. This is the curriculum development area where about $1 million or so will be cut from curriculum development.
MR. GAUDET: The minister indicated that this was the area where the cuts are going to take place within the curriculum division. I am just wondering, Madam Minister, could you indicate to this committee how many people will be losing their jobs from this cut within English Program Services?
MISS PURVES: There will be about 5.6 FTEs.
MR. GAUDET: The minister indicated there were going to be 5.6 FTEs cut and we are yet looking at a cut of roughly $1 million. I can't imagine these individuals were being paid close to $200,000, so my question to the minister, what else is being cut, removed from the English Program Services? We have roughly 5.6 FTEs, there must be something else that is going to be taken out from the English program services.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there are several secondments in there, as well as $470,000 in the junior high project; and $90,000 to do with the senior high project; those projects are being downsized but not eliminated.
MR. GAUDET: Did I understand there was a $90,000 cut in a seniors' program?
MISS PURVES: Senior high project.
MR. GAUDET: Under that same heading, I am going further down to the African Canadian Services. Why is this section being cut by over $140,000?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there is a reduction there of one position. It is roughly $345,000 adjustment. Some operating expenses and a few discretionary programs.
MR. GAUDET: Further down, I am looking at Student Services. Student Services is cut from $1,000,070 to $873,000, a cut of close to $200,000. Could the minister indicate why that cut is being made?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes that is roughly $140,000 in professional development support.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable member for Clare, you have just over 10 minutes left.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, could the minister inform this committee exactly what kinds of services her department provides students in Nova Scotia, under this heading, Student Services, for $873,000?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, a lot of this is resource guides. I would be happy to provide a detailed list for the member if he would like that. In general, it is an area that develops, for example, codes of conduct, race relations policy, professional development services in various areas for teachers at various levels, special education PD and so on. There is quite a number of services in there in different areas.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I certainly appreciate the minister's cooperation in providing us with further details on what type of services are being provided to students under that budget heading.
Turning to Page 7.6, unfortunately with only 10 minutes remaining, I am not going to embark on Acadian and French Language Services. I will return on a future day to go into further detail on this budget heading. Just down from there, looking at Training and Financial Assistance, I see there is a decrease of roughly $800,000 in Rehabilitation Training. Could the minister indicate why there is that $800,000 cut?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, again from estimate to estimate there is no cut.
MR. GAUDET: Maybe the minister could indicate to the committee what exactly is the difference. When I look at the estimate under 1999-2000, I see a clause or sub-heading of Estimates and then I see another one on Forecasts. For Rehabilitation Training, I see under Estimate $1.9 million, and I see under Forecast $2.7 million. Could the minister indicate to this House what the difference or distinction between the estimate and the forecast is, please?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, it is just that on that particular item, we have gone over budget in the past year.
MR. GAUDET: So, I guess the obvious question is, does the minister intend again to over-budget in the given year?
MISS PURVES: I am sorry, I didn't hear the question.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, as I indicated, I am just curious. Is it the intention of your department to again over-budget the actual spending that will be spent under this budget item?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, no that is not our intention.
MR. GAUDET: So, the minister indicates it is not the intention of the department to again overspend. I am just curious in finding out, could the minister indicate to the committee what sorts of controls does she have in order to make sure the actual spending does not get overspent in this area, please?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, senior managers have discretion and control. If something should happen in services, to the handicapped for example, to bring this area up, then we would have to bring another area down, but it is not our intention to go over budget. There are situations, as the former minister knows, where you may have to spend what you did not estimate, but we have to find that somewhere else in the area.
MR. GAUDET: Further down, I am moving to Adult Learning and Innovation. It shows a cut of roughly $300,000, I guess so much for lifelong learning. Could the minister indicate why this cut, and exactly where this cut will take place?
MISS PURVES: Yes, Mr. Chairman, in that there will be no impact there on lifelong learning, this was the final year of a program called NS Links. It is over and, therefore, the budget has been reduced.
MR. GAUDET: I don't really understand. If we are going to make roughly a $200,000 cut, $300,000 cut, and there are not going to be any effects, I am just curious in finding out. With the current cut that is being proposed here at the same time we are providing adult learning innovation with roughly close to $5 million, we are looking at close to a $300,000 cut, and there is not going to be any effect? We are talking about the minister indicating there will be some type of program that will be cut. Maybe the minister could clarify what she meant by the $300,000 cut, please?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there was a federal-provincial project called NS Links, in its final year. We were not able to continue this program. We expect the reductions to have a minimal effect on our overall adult learning initiative. We are beginning, as you know, a new adult literacy initiative.
MR. GAUDET: Further down on that same page, there is Student Assistance. I see the money that has been budgeted for student assistance has gone from $24 million to $14 million, a cut close to $9.5 million to $10 million. Does this mean there will be $9.5 million less in student loans during the next fiscal year?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the Student Assistance will remain roughly the same from $16 million to $14 million, but Student Assistance will not be reduced. All applications for Nova Scotia student loans will continue as usual. What will be reduced, after next year, is loan remission, but the loan remission that we have committed for the past year will still be paid next year. The students who have already applied before April 1st of this year will receive the loan remission in the next year.
MR. GAUDET: Maybe just a clarification from the minister if she will, please. Do I understand that students have already applied under the loan remission program this year or last year in order to be provided with that funding?
MISS PURVES: If a student applied for a student loan before April 1st of this year, that student would still be eligible for loan remission next year.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable member for Clare, you have 30 seconds remaining.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for her cooperation this morning. With only a few seconds, I will take my seat. As I have pointed out, there is still lots to be debated and many areas in which we need to try to find answers from this minister. With those few comments, I will take my chair and yield the floor to my colleague.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I would like to welcome the deputy minister and the other gentleman from the department. We have very little time before Question Period, so I would like to welcome and speak in the time that I have to the students who are here in the gallery really, to sort of explain a little bit of the process we are using here.
A lot of the members' places are empty, and that is because we are not in the full process of having debates about legislation and what have you; we are in what is called the Committee of the Whole where we are looking at the budget that has been introduced in the province that has caused so much problem for people of Nova Scotia.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I think there is a rule that states that a member cannot rise in their seat to address the gallery.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, I think that is right. The member for Halifax Needham should address her comments to the House and to the Minister of Education.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Perhaps what I can do is explain to the minister a bit about this process, because some of the basic assumptions that the department and the minister have been operating on need to be challenged a bit, because these assumptions I think are erroneous, and we need to lay this out. In the past few days when the Education budget has been discussed, there has been a great emphasis placed on talking about the deficit and the debt in the Province of Nova Scotia.
This is a tune that Nova Scotians and Canadians have heard for a long time. This tune started with Brian Mulroney and the federal Tory Party a number of years ago when they took power; they made the deficit and the debt their number one issue. They set about dramatically reorganizing government at a federal level, and that had a profound impact on people in this country. There is no region that it had a more profound impact on than the Atlantic Region. This preoccupation with the debt and the deficit was a preoccupation then that was adopted by the Jean Chretien Government and Paul Martin, the pretender to the throne. It was the preoccupation of John Savage when he was the Premier of this province, and now it is the central preoccupation of John Hamm, as our Premier.
One of the things that is the same about all of these men and their preoccupation with the debt and deficit is that they didn't campaign on making the debt and the deficit their number-one preoccupation in government when they went out to the people and they asked people to elect them. What they did in elections was they went out to the people and said they were really concerned about health care and education and public services; if you elect us, we will protect and invest in public services. We are the Party and the people you can trust to provide for you, the citizens of this country or this province, the kind of programs you value and you contribute to through taxation and other means. That is what they said. Then, people trusted them, they elected them and what did they do? They broke faith with the public. They broke their promises and they attacked those very public services they said they would protect if elected.
It is a real shame, Mr. Chairman, because this pattern makes us all look very bad. It creates this perception that politicians are dishonest; they can't be trusted. They will say one thing to get elected, they will do another thing once they are elected, and it is a real shame because it doesn't have to be this way. I think that when we look at the Education budget and we listen to the consistent beating of the drum that it is the debt and the deficit that is the problem, we need to ask, is that the case?
Mr. Chairman, it is true we have a fiscal problem in this province. This is a problem that has built up over 23 years of ineptitude when Liberal and Tory Governments have been in power and they have fundamentally mismanaged our province and our economy, but we are not in a crisis. We need to go back and we need to try to understand precisely how we got into the situation that we are in.
This government has targetted program spending as the root of our fiscal problems. They like to say that government is too big in Nova Scotia, that we spend too much, there is too much fat, there are programs that are not necessary, but if you examine the facts, Mr. Chairman, this isn't the case at all. Nova Scotia on a per capita basis has consistently spent the lowest or second lowest amount of money of all the provinces throughout the 1990's and before. So program expenditures on public services like health care, education and community services are not at the root of our fiscal problem.
We do not have Cadillac public services in this province. We never did. Our levels of program spending have traditionally been well below most other provinces. We are, along with our neighbouring provinces in the Atlantic Region, in a situation where we have consistently been at the bottom of the per capita spending on programs, on essential services, and we have gone through a period of devastating cuts to those essential services throughout the 1990's and there is very little fat left in the system.
The biggest reason for our weak financial position has been weak economic growth over the past decade and the relatively greater cost to us, as a province, for federal cuts in transfers and spending. By targetting program spending this government is going in the wrong direction and it is making the same mistakes again because these cuts will have a negative impact on the tax revenue growth of our province as we lose important public sector jobs that are not a drain on our economy; that, in fact, contribute tremendously financially to our economy as well as in terms of the important public services that are provided.
It is important for us to recognize here today that there is essentially one thing driving the direction that the Premier and his Cabinet are taking this province in; there is one thing driving it and that is a political agenda to balance the budget in three years because that is what they promised, Mr. Chairman.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Is there a question here somewhere for the minister?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I hear the member for Lunenburg West ask if there is a question. I don't believe it is Question Period.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. It is my understanding that during the estimates debate there is no need for a question to be put. Someone can take their whole hour, if they want, specifically making a statement and the Minister of Education could take the whole hour responding to a question as I have seen other members do in the past two years. So if
it is the member for Halifax Needham's choice to take this time and make a statement, that is her prerogative and the other members should respect that.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I believe the honourable member for Lunenburg West is fully aware of the Rules of the House, having been here for quite some time himself. At any rate, what this Education budget is about is not about education, it is about a cynical political agenda that is being played out at the expense of our young people. That needs to be said and that needs to be said over and over again until this government finds itself embarrassed and ashamed of what it is doing to the education system - that we all need to be concerned about - for their own cynical political interests because as much as we have any kind of a fiscal problem, it is a fiscal problem that needs to be solved in a way that we don't do irreparable damage to our education system and to the young people who are in that system today and this is not the approach that is being taken here.
What we have is a gallop to try to deal with the debt and deficit within this artificial period of time that has been self-imposed by the government so that at the end of two or three years they can say they have solved the deficit and introduce a tax break which incidentally could further harm education and other important public sector services in this province. That does not seem to be of any concern to the honourable members on the other side of the House, no matter how much they bleat and moan about how bad they feel about the pain that they are inflicting on young people in this province. So I think that we need to point out very clearly here that we will not play along with this charade and we will point out at every opportunity what the implication of this political agenda is for young people in this province.
Mr. Chairman, there has been evidence in every fiscal report from the Minister of Finance, every quarterly report, that revenues in the Province of Nova Scotia, in fact, are growing. We have a relatively robust economy. This government has consistently underestimated the true state of the province's revenues, the money that we are taking in, generating to pay for public services. Why are they doing that? Why are they cutting education and saying they have no money and at the same time they are consistently underestimating how much money is being generated in our local economy that is money to pay for education. I say shame on you for doing this. Shame on you. There is absolutely no reason why Primary to Grade 12 education in this province is being cut at a time when we have one of the most robust economies that we have ever had in this province. This is not the way to go whatsoever and you will do untold damage to education in this province at the expense of our young people. So we need to spend some time dealing with this apparent contradiction between the picture you tend to paint about our economic situation and the reality.
I will have a very detailed series of questions for the minister when we resume and I am looking forward to dealing with a line-by-line account of the Department of Education expenditures.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply is recessed until 1:00 p.m.
[12:00 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:05 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I want to start with asking some questions about the work that went into this Education budget. We had a fiscal task force, conducted by Voluntary Planning. When their report was released, they made no mention of Primary to Grade 12 education, although that task force spent a fair amount of time talking about lifelong learning, it was the central theme of what they had to say. At the time that I read that report, and members of my caucus read that report, we found that curious.
We found it very curious that there was no mention of Primary to Grade 12. There was mention of community college, which we don't disagree with whatsoever, it is very important. There was mention made of university education and adult learning; very important, we don't disagree with that. But it was curious that there wasn't any discussion about the importance of Primary to Grade 12. If there was any reference whatsoever to Primary to Grade 12, it came in a section where there was some discussion about the Public Service and not replacing teachers who retired, but reducing public sector employment through attrition.
My question to the minister - I have a few questions - is whether or not any officials from the Department of Education met with members of the Voluntary Planning task force in the preparation of their report or, following their report, whether any discussions occurred with them? Was there any analysis provided to Voluntary Planning with respect to what the impact of not replacing teachers might have been? Did they do any analysis, to your knowledge, to support their thinking that classroom teachers should not be replaced? To what extent did this Voluntary Planning task force influence the Education budget that we are seeing in front of this House today?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I would like to repeat, as I did earlier, that the Voluntary Planning task force was not an effort of just the Department of Education, as the honourable member is aware. But yes, there was at least one representation from a department official. I believe the Acting Deputy Minister, Doug Nauss, made a fairly lengthy presentation to the task force.
In the task force's report, as I recall, its discussion of attrition in the Public Service, as a way of avoiding lay-offs, applied to not just teachers but across the Civil Service and the Public Service. As I understood this, the task force felt that natural attrition, if taken and if
people weren't replaced as they went along, would go a long way towards preventing lay-offs. I am not aware of any specific analysis the task force may have done on teachers.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I appreciate the point that the minister is making about this process being one across all government departments, and I appreciate the point that the central concern - I think is what she is saying - is how to avoid laying off public sector workers as a way to deal with the deficit. That really wasn't my question. I am as concerned with avoiding lay-offs in the public sector as any other member in this House, or at least on this side of the House. It doesn't seem to be a big consideration actually for people on the other side of the House. We would like to avoid a scenario of losing people who are employees of government, providing important public services, but even more important is to avoid losing the public services they provide. That is a different question.
The question is, specifically when you look at the Education budget, what analysis was done, if any, in terms of the Voluntary Planning fiscal task force around the impact of losing teachers through attrition, the impact on education? What analysis do we have? Was that not a consideration whatsoever? Here you have a document that says lifelong learning is the key to Nova Scotia becoming a have province. It is the key. It is not only the key, but there is actually consensus in this province about this point. It is indisputable as an area that people in Nova Scotia can agree on across political Parties, rural, urban, all of the different vantage points that often leave us in conflict. This was a point of consensus.
Yet, we don't have that consensus reflected in the budget. We have increased conflict and division in our society as a result of the budget. I am wondering, was there any analysis done at all, with respect to this question, when you had consensus about the importance of lifelong learning and then you had this notion that you could take teachers out of our system through attrition?
I guess the other question is, what assumptions were they working on in terms of attrition? What information did they have with respect to the fact that there was going to be attrition? We look at the numbers, attrition doesn't appear to be there. There are 88 teachers eligible for retirement this year. It isn't exactly a large number of teachers; it certainly isn't the 400 that are reflected in the Minister of Finance's budget.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I wonder if the member opposite would just clarify, does she mean analysis done by the task force or analysis done by the department?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I mean analysis done by the department. Someone from the department met with the task force, and if the minister, as a member of Cabinet, participated in this process - and it is a process of the Voluntary Planning task force - looking for information and seeking some advice and information that was available, it would seem to me that this might be the kind of information that would be important to provide. It also seems to me that following the release of the task force's report, with this item in it - the only
item in it around Primary to Grade 12 - it wouldn't seem to be an unreasonable expectation that the department might then examine what that means.
What analysis did your department have with respect to the potential for teacher retirement, this year and in subsequent years? Can that analysis be tabled?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I am not aware of any one piece of analysis that covers it all, but I will endeavour to table what I can. I know the department has access to retirement figures. As far as attrition, we go by the average per year. With a teaching force of roughly 10,000, it would be about 1.5 per cent, so you would estimate that on average it is 150 people per year. That is based on historic patterns. As for the actual retirements in any given year, I don't have that information with me, but I will endeavour to produce what the department was working with.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Am I correct - what you are saying is that historically, based on what has been happening in Nova Scotia over a period of time, on average it is 150 teachers a year that retire? Yes? No?
MISS PURVES: By attrition, I didn't mean retire. I meant teachers who resign or move out of the province or move somewhere else or get employment elsewhere or whatever, not retirement per se. Sorry.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: In addition to that, what information does the department have with respect to retirements?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the department has access to a database from the pension plan and also a teacher supply report.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: What information would this particular database have indicated, with respect to how many teachers we are looking at, around retirement, for example for this year?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, from the information that my department used, it indicated that 88 teachers would be eligible to retire this year, 88 would not necessarily take retirement because not all people due to retire choose to retire, but 88 would be eligible. Then we used the normal figure of 150 - 88 plus 150 - and then estimated the number of people, roughly, who might take one of the retirement options we planned to offer. That is how we arrived at the figure.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I am trying to understand how the 400 teachers figure, that number in the budget that has been tabled, is so far off the number of teachers that school boards are now indicating are in jeopardy of being lost from the system. Even the minister's own numbers don't add up to 400, they don't even come close. They come to 230
or 238. What we are looking at here is 88 teachers eligible to retire, but not necessarily retiring, an historical pattern of approximately 150 teachers leaving the system through attrition, and other options that appeared nowhere in the budget as part of the budget process. Yet, we had this idea that 400 teachers could be taken out of the system quite easily. This is really extraordinary, Mr. Chairman, and it is a point we will return to again and again as this process unfolds.
I have some questions about the whole program review, and I want to start by asking the minister if she would tell me how many programs are under her department and what she means by a program? I want to know how a program is defined, how many programs there are, and I would like a list of those programs. Then I would like them broken down into those three little categories that government was looking at in terms of how many of those programs were core programs. How many of those programs are programs that wouldn't be created today if they didn't already exist, and how many are sort of at the intermediary stage? I would appreciate that information.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I believe about 90 programs in the Department of Education were reviewed. The member opposite will appreciate that some programs are small, and some are big. Grants to school boards may have been a program and comprised the majority of the budget. I am not sure about the list. I believe the list of programs is being handled in Priorities and Planning, and at some point will be made available, so I am unable to give a definitive answer to that question right now, but I will try to find out.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I am not sure I understand why that information is not available right now, because this program review has already gone on. It has theoretically been done. The programs have been reviewed. They have been categorized, and a budget based on that review and that analysis has been prepared. So now we are in the process of trying to ferret out what analysis was done and the implications of the budget for these various programs. That is what we do at this point in time. We ask for information, and we are provided with information. It is not serving the interests of education or people in Nova Scotia, I would suggest, when members of the Opposition are unable to get from government information that they have, that they relied on to reach decisions in their department, that we now want to have a chance to see what kind of analysis was done, whether all the questions that needed to be considered were considered, and what the actual impact is going to be.
I would certainly appreciate having that information made available before this process of examining the Education budget concludes. It would seem to me to be only a fair and proper thing to do, Mr. Chairman, to make that information available in this process.
Now, a great deal has been made about the minister's own department, and about reducing administration within that department. I would like to start by asking the minister, what proportion of your own department budget represents administrative costs? I would like
to know what percentage of the total Department of Education spending from head office is for administrative costs, and I would also like to know in absolute terms what that cost is?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, total administration, $4.8 million in head office.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: What proportion of Department of Education spending does that represent?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we have to use a calculator to figure that out, but it is being done. The answer is .04 per cent. I would like to point out, that is a reduction from last year of about $1.7 million.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I didn't catch that last bit. It is a reduction of 1.1 per cent? Would the minister break out for me where the reduction in 1.1 per cent came from? Where were those changes realized in your department's budget?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I am sorry I didn't speak loudly enough, it was $1.7 million, not $1.1 million. We have $88,000 in administration, $499,000 from the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education. There are two areas, Labour Market Development which moved over to Economic Development at $404,000, Administration in the Policy Section, $63,000; Administration in Programs, $157,000; Acadian and French Language Services, $184,000; Administration in Training and Financial Assistance, $18,000; and in our Finance branch. No? Okay. That actually was not a reduction. In Facilities Planning for P3 projects and so on, there was a reduction of $587,000 for a total of $1,798,099. I am sorry, in Policy for various reasons it was not a decrease of $63,000, it was an increase of $63,000.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Well, I hardly think that moving the Labour Market Development Secretariat, for example, to Economic Development could be looked upon as a reduction of expenditure on administration. That money is still going to be spent, but it is going to be spent in a different department. A reduction for the Nova Scotia Council on Higher Education hardly is a reduction of administration inside the Department of Education. It is really a reduction for that particular council and the work that they do. It is a little misleading to indicate it, if it is showing up in the minister's figures with respect to the reduction of administrative costs.
Now, I know a great deal has been made by backbenchers over on the government side of the House with respect to school boards and the amount of fat that members and the Premier himself - actually I heard him yesterday, say that school boards still have a fair amount to cut in their own administrations. I have looked at some of the school board budgets and the amount of money they are spending in administration seems to be extremely frugal, quite low, in relation to what I know about organizations and how much money they spend on administration as a proportion of their total spending. So these claims that are being
made are, not only curious and puzzling, but on some level I find them shocking, and a bit of an attack on school boards who have tried very hard to bring their administrative costs down.
I am wondering if the minister could tell me why, when some audits have been done in the very recent past of some of the school boards, and in those audits, the cost drivers in school boards that have been identified tend to be in direct program areas, like special needs children and these kinds of things, yet no mention has been made in any of those audits of fat in administration, in the school boards? Are those audits wrong? Did they miss something when they did this? What information does the minister have that there is fat in administration in school boards, when auditors, who went in and examined the books of school boards and had the full cooperation of school boards in that process, were unable to identify these areas? What has the minister been able to identify that auditors haven't been able to identify?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, audited financial statements show what is there. When I talked about reducing administration, did I ever imply any kind of mismanagement or any problems that auditors might find. What I am suggesting, though, is that organizations by their nature like and need to exist and expand. In my own department, every program, every person, everything is absolutely vital and cannot be touched. Organizations are like that. What I am doing is asking school boards to look at their own organization, how many offices they have, how much travel, how many personnel, and to try to look at it with an open mind and to find ways to save on administration, the same way we have tried in the department.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: So, in other words, there is nothing more than a hunch or a wish or a desire to find savings in the school boards, which isn't an awful lot to go on, because those are the very people who are telling us that they have done as much as they can in the past seven years of relentless and ongoing assault on education funding in many respects.
I would like to ask the minister if she could tell me, how many fewer teachers do we have in our Primary to Grade 12 school system today than we had, let's say, seven or eight years ago?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the number of teachers is about 300 more than it was then.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Now, I think there is a need to sort of get to this particular point in a way that we are clear that we are talking about the same situation. I have looked at some interesting information about education funding in Nova Scotia over a period of time, specifically the Statistics Canada data that shows what has been happening, the trajectory of funding in Nova Scotia over a number of years now, seven or eight years. In 1993, our total public school expenditures in Nova Scotia were the third lowest in the
country. Four years later, we had $180 million less to school boards than we had in 1993-94. We were the second lowest expenditure in the country. Now with this budget, we will have the dubious distinction of having the lowest provincial government funding per capita in our Primary to Grade 12. Although in the last few years, we have been putting funds back into the school system, we have been trying to reinvest, we are still short by about $800 million.
The framework document from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a better way of putting the Nova Scotia deficit in perspective, indicates that in Nova Scotia, in spite of the reinvestment in the education system that we saw under the former government, we were still down approximately, let's see, 800 teachers in our classrooms, which is really an astonishing number of teachers to have lost in our school system in a very short period of time.
Now this situation, I think, will really only exacerbate what has, for most Nova Scotians been a truly devastating experience. I think it explains a lot about why we see so many young people coming to the Legislature and being out on Granville Street and being out all across the province. We see the students here at the Legislature today, but they are the tip of the iceberg as far as I know. I understand there are students out in Cape Breton and throughout rural mainland, and all the way to Yarmouth. This is because the people, they don't have the databases and they don't have the sophisticated analytical skills of policy analysts who work in our government. What they have is their own day-to-day experience, and their own day-to-day experience has demonstrated to them that their class sizes have gotten larger, that it is harder to get attention from the teachers when they need assistance, that teachers are often dealing with many serious issues in the classroom and they know what the impact of more reductions of teachers will be for them. So, I think this is certainly an explanation for why we are seeing what we are seeing, the loss of teachers and the loss of support staff in the system makes such a huge amount of difference in the quality of education and that experience young people have in the classroom every day.
I want to ask the minister quickly, in the time I have left, which I think is rapidly running out, about the different scenarios that were presented to her that she had to choose from when she made the choice to go the route we are going. She indicated earlier that she had a number of recommendations to look at. I would like to know if she could tell us what were the various scenarios that were presented and were there any scenarios presented to you that would have, had you at least maintained the level of funding in your department, where it was for this year?
MISS PURVES: The two major scenarios we looked at at the middle of the budget process, for certain departments, such as Health, Education and Social Services, we were asked to look at scenarios of 15 per cent cuts in year one and 5 per cent in year two, and also look at a 10 and 10 scenario over two years. Other departments were asked to look for higher savings than those priority areas.
The 15 per cent cut that we looked at after going through every option, and we had to go, of course, to the teaching force because of the amount of money that represents in the budget, and that would have seen a loss of 2,800 teachers in the system, that is after trimming everywhere else. That was obviously an absolutely unpalatable scenario, and in the end we went for a scenario we believed was achievable and voluntary and would have a minimum impact on the system.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Needham has approximately two minutes left.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I think that it is true that all organizations need to change and all organizations need to reflect the context in which they are situated. The context in which education in Nova Scotia is situated right now is a context of a highly competitive environment, and it is one where the only people who are going to survive in this competitive environment are people who are well educated, people who have had the best of life in terms of the opportunities that are presented to them to meet their full potential. What this budget has done is abandoned what Nova Scotians value most in terms of equalizing opportunity. Education is the great equalizer, we have heard that so many times. People in this province basically believe it. People in African-Nova Scotian communities, for example, fight every day for greater educational opportunities so that the historic disadvantage that they have experienced can be overcome by their children. Also, there are studies that document that single parents go without food themselves in order to send their children to school adequately prepared.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has expired.
The honourable member for Lunenburg West on an introduction.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: It is my pleasure to introduce in the west gallery two students who are here from Queen Elizabeth High School, Jessica Inkpen and Simon Leither. They have other friends who are with them. Before I ask them to stand to receive the welcome of the House, there is a letter they had written to the honourable Minister of Education. Madam Minister, if you wouldn't mind, I would like to read this into the session here today.
This is to the honourable Minister of Education, Jane Purves: I would like to formally apologize on behalf of the organizers of yesterday's peaceful demonstration. We are disgusted by today's destructiveness and immature tactics and hope that it has not been counter-productive. We also hope that our petition will be recognized and that cuts to education will be carefully reconsidered. It is sincerely signed by Jessica and others. So I would like to read that into the minutes and I would like to ask them to now please rise and ask members of the House to give them a warm welcome. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.
MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, the minister has talked about 400 teaching jobs that will be reduced through attrition, not through lay-offs. She knows the position of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, where they say there will be 744 teachers who will be laid off and another 1,100 board staff, from janitors to special-needs helpers who will lose their jobs. I want to say of those teachers, there are others besides the regular teachers. They predict there will be 30 resource teachers who will be laid off, which will completely wipe out the resource program. Is the minister prepared to acknowledge that? Does she believe that will take place?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we have asked the school boards to look at the numbers that we are looking at, to reduce teaching staff through attrition, retirement and voluntary retirement options. We have asked for a total reduction of school boards across the province of roughly $19 million. We would like to sit down and discuss these options and figures with the superintendents and the chief financial officers in detail, to look at how our reductions can be accomplished. I would not want anyone to think that I disbelieve school boards. What I want is for us to get back to the table, for them not to leave meetings and to look at what can be done to make reductions that we believe have to be made.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, I want to ask the minister, it is not only these 30 resource teachers, which have become very important for students who need that additional help, but we have in Cape Breton, in my riding, a very high incidence of HIV, the minister knows that. The minister knows, as well, the important role that CAYAC has played, and the predecessor government's interest in developing CAYAC to a further degree. To do that we need the approval and the cooperation not only of Education but Community Services, Health and Justice. I am quite alarmed today to hear, and the minister didn't confirm or deny, that the learning centres in Sydney Mines and in Sydney will be closing. When I was a Member of Parliament I pushed very hard for the learning centre in Sydney Mines because it has a tremendous potential if properly utilized.
I want to get the minister's acknowledgement of the damage these cuts will do to the programs of CAYAC and to what we hope we would achieve in areas served by the learning centres.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the reason I was not more specific on the learning centres is because I was not aware of those centres being cut or not. I would like to say that the CAYAC initiative has not been cut; it still exists. I am sure all previous governments understand the importance of trying to get communication between government departments so that problems with not just children, but in this case children, are addressed and that we don't have teachers making 95 phone calls to community services that don't get returned or to the Health Department, or vice versa, and nothing being done with some of these children
who need help. It is my understanding that is part of the aim of the CAYAC initiative and we have not cut that.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, it is not a question of the minister's understanding of CAYAC or support of CAYAC, it is a question of what these cuts and cuts to other departments are going to do to the intentions and the aims and the momentum of CAYAC. That is my concern. I have to tell the minister it is an area of something I truly believe in, this is of great concern to me.
When the minister said she wasn't aware of the learning centres, I presume she wasn't aware they were going to close, but that she knew of the existence of the learning centres, is that correct?
I also want to mention that the chairperson of the board of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board also said that the reading recovery teachers would be the first to go because union contracts say lay-offs must start at the bottom of the seniority list. Well, the minister has talked about literacy programs and the need to foster literacy training, and there has been money in the budget put forward for that and I completely support that. In all seriousness, I am very concerned that regardless of what the literacy program is going to be, if you don't have the people, the teachers and the reading resource teachers, you are not going to be able to have a literacy program. I wonder how the minister can explain this contradiction.
MISS PURVES: The school boards obviously have to protect what is most important. Right now the boards are saying they are going to be forced to lay off many teachers. We don't agree with that assumption and that is one of the things we want to talk about. Reading recovery is probably the most effective program that has been developed so far to help young people at risk learn to read in Grade 1, before they have gone too many years and keep getting put back. We put more money in our budget this year for teacher training for reading recovery. It is not our intention to cut reading recovery programs, it is our intention to enhance them. Again, we do not believe, estimate and anticipate the kinds of lay-offs that the boards are talking about.
MR. MACLELLAN: Yes, but as I mentioned to the minister, the boards are saying that because the reading recovery teachers are lowest on the seniority lists, they are going to be the first to go. So, the training that has been given to these reading recovery teachers is going to go for naught, that what the minister is going to have to do is try to entice some of the regular teachers who are laid off, who are not going to have jobs, to become reading recovery teachers and train them from the beginning. Is that what she intends to do? Is that what the government has planned in this direction?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, our plan is to reduce the teaching force through retirement and attrition. Our plan is not for lay-offs. Since our plan is not for lay-offs, the issue of seniority would not arise.
MR. MACLELLAN: The minister is going to have to face reality that there are going to be lay-offs. She may think she can have a wonderful ski vacation in Saskatchewan and she may take her skis and her boots and her poles to Saskatchewan but at some point before she gets to where she is going and suits-up to go down the hill, she has to acknowledge there is no hill in Saskatchewan. I would say that before she gets too far in Saskatchewan, she has to realize there are going to be lay-offs and acknowledge those lay-offs and deal with how in the name of Heaven she is going to present programs, and how she is going to get beyond these lay-offs if she is not going to give more funding. It is not going to do any good to anybody to just say there are not going to be lay-offs when she knows there are going to be.
Regarding the meeting next week, she has said she doesn't want to answer a hypothetical question, but I would say that between her and the deputy, they have to have some idea of what they plan to do. There has to be something they want to achieve. Now there are not that many different scenarios that can result; either the superintendents agree to what the department wants, or the government agrees to what the superintendents and the boards want, or there is some line at which the government is not going to accept. If the government doesn't get the boards to agree with what they want them to agree, what is she going to do? There has to be something, people have to know. The indecision is very devastating.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, what we will be talking about next week is how to achieve a reduction of roughly $19 million across the system, how we can achieve a reduction of 400 teachers across the system without having any teacher lay-offs or lay-offs that affect the classroom. Overall, without getting into the nitty-gritty of each budget, that is what we want to discuss.
MR. MACLELLAN: I would ask the minister, now if the school boards say, no, it is not $19 million, it is $27.3 million, plus the increase of $26 million that we felt we had to get this year just to keep things the way they were, making a total of $53.3 million, and we can't do what you say because it is not possible to do what you say, we would like to help you, but it is just not there, we can't do it, where can the common denominator be struck so that the meeting can end with some kind of consensus as to where both parties are going. I sincerely would like the minister to help me answer that.
MISS PURVES: I think there are options in there for reduced administration, there are some options that the department still wishes to discuss with the boards that are administrative, but that aren't people, necessarily. Unfortunately, because of the results of last
week's meeting, and perhaps some of that was our fault, because the superintendents walked out of the meeting we were not able to discuss some of these numbers. There are items like P3 leaseback arrangements, there are a number of items in the school board's budget that we feel we can discuss and there may be some movement on, but aside from that I really don't want to go into detail. There are areas where there may be very fruitful discussion.
MR. MACLELLAN: It is awfully difficult to understand that the government really has the right figures and I say that quite sincerely and having been there I worry that there has to be a real search of the government's own information and they have to try to find this common denominator. It is absolutely vital. If you can't, we have a major crisis on our hands in Nova Scotia.
Things that are said seem to change and I will just give you one example. I consider the book, The Course Ahead, as a budget document, because it is an advance budget document, and on Page 19 of that document, it says, "For too long, the upkeep of our schools has been neglected to the detriment of teachers and students alike."
Well, what we are seeing from the government cuts is a cut to maintenance. I will give you one example; the Barrington Consolidated School. Here is a letter from the principal to the member for Shelburne. One of the things that is stated calls for other impacts on the school system classroom. One of the items is a custodial staff reduction of 10 per cent. I am hearing this from other boards, other jurisdictions, that maintenance and custodial staff are being reduced across the province. That flies in the face of what the government stated in their document, The Course Ahead. How does the minister reconcile those two points, those two views?
MISS PURVES: There are some reasons why that may be the case but I would like to get back to the honourable member on that. The maintenance in particular areas is not something I have the answer to right now and I would like to get back to him with the information on that.
MR. MACLELLAN: I just want to stress to the minister and to her officials the importance of maintaining the maintenance of these schools. We don't want to be in the position we have been in the last couple of years with mould and bacteria in our schools. It is short-term savings but it costs the province a lot in the long run. I would strongly urge the minister and her officials to follow this up to make sure there is proper funding for maintenance.
Also, with respect to this letter, it also talks about possible impacts on P3 new school process and that is the new Forest Ridge Academy. They talk about other effects that are going to take place, other problems. One is the reduction of the technology budget by approximately $50,000 in that school. Another one is the elimination of the computer software budget of $7,600 required to meet provincial guidelines for integration of
technology in the curriculum. It goes on to say, and I find this really alarming, that 63 computers will be without any software programs when the school opens in September 2000. How can the minister allow the information technology program in this school to be absolutely devastated by this kind of shortfall?
MISS PURVES: I do know that our provincial funding for the IEI, the computers in schools program, has gone up by $6.6 million this year. Again, I can't answer right now about the particular situation in a particular school, I would have to get that information from the school board in order to present it to this committee, but I will endeavour to find the answer to that question.
MR. MACLELLAN: I want to say to the minister that what I see taking shape here is a complete gutting of information technology instruction in the schools. I find that very sad, we are not keeping faith with the children, the young people, if we don't get them ready to a certain extent for the technology and the careers of tomorrow. As I mentioned, one is the 63 computers that will be without any software programs when the school opens in September at Forest Ridge Academy. The fact that there is going to be an elimination of a professional development training budget in technology, and the fact that today, as I mentioned, 10 teachers were laid off at Prince Andrew High School, all under the age of 40, leaving less than five teachers at Prince Andrew under the age of 40.
I want to ask the minister, with the lay-offs, all our young teachers, a whole generation of teachers disappearing, who is going to provide the information technology instruction in our school system that is so greatly needed?
MISS PURVES: The department's plan does not include lay-offs of teachers. There will be many young teachers, middle-aged teachers and even some older teachers who can teach the students how to use the technology. I must say quite a lot of the time it is actually the students who teach the teachers how to use it, but that being said, there will be many, many young teachers in our schools.
MR. MACLELLAN: Well, that is rather cavalier, if I may say so. It was our intention,
the former government, to have one computer for every five students in our school system by the year 2005. We went to great pains to work with Acadia to set up their Bachelor of Education program so computer technology could be taught by teachers. Now, these young teachers are not going to get jobs. It is just so counter-productive. I just see us going backwards, quite frankly. I would say to the minister, this is archaic, and it is breach of faith with our young people.
I want to mention a couple of other things in the document, The Course Ahead. On Page 20, it says, "We will be assisting universities with their capital commitments for this year, while we encourage them to reposition their long term planning to alumni and private
sector support." Is she, in fact, saying that there is not going to be any funding for capital expenditures to universities after this year?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, as the honourable Leader of the Liberal Party has said, there is $4.8 million this year. I can't say next year, the year after, for absolute certainty, but I do know that universities all across Canada - and it is worse here in Atlantic Canada - are facing a huge capital deficit, the like of which we have no hope of doing anything other than chipping away at. There is no point in saying anything else. Unless the federal government helps with some of this infrastructure in post-secondary education, for the next few years there is only a very small amount that the provincial government, with all its other pressures, can do for the universities.
In terms of building infrastructure, as I know the honourable member knows, there are lots of new schools being built, but there are many, many old schools that need to be replaced, need to be renovated, that are in desperate shape. Essentially, some students are in plastic bags for want of a better word, and that is where what capital money the province has, has to go. It has to go to the younger children. This is a big problem the universities face. To be completely honest, Mr. Chairman, right at the moment, we can help them a little, but we can't help them a lot.
MR. MACLELLAN: I respect the minister's frankness. This is what I want to know. I didn't quite understand, though, whether there is going to be some funding for capital improvements to universities in the future, or are the funds for capital improvements to universities ceasing this year, and after this year, there is not going to be any funding, and it is all going to be applied to the regular school system?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we have not made a final determination on that. It is possible that after this year, for the next year or two, there will be little or no capital funding available to the universities. I can't predict what next year's budget or the budget the year after will show. I do know that the universities have access to other money. The public schools, except in the French system do not, and that is where our priority has to be.
MR. MACLELLAN: I just want to go on to that point about the universities having other avenues. Say on Page 20 as well in The Course Ahead, it talks about, " . . . to develop a plan to minimize administrative overlap and management costs so we can focus attention on building strategic centres of excellence across the university system." I want to know from the minister what is meant by that?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we would encourage the universities, particularly in the metro area - not so much outside metro, but in the area - to continue their efforts to share administration where possible. Over the past number of years, they have done a fair bit of work in letting students transfer courses, for example, between or among universities that wasn't the case before. There may be more areas. That is something we have to talk to the
universities about. I am sure, as the honourable member knows, it is difficult because university presidents swear to uphold and protect their universities, and don't like giving away territory to other universities. But we are in a situation here in Nova Scotia where we have to do something to keep a critical mass of good university programs in order to compete with all the research money and for students and for professors from the rest of the country. Perhaps there is some room for some other collaborations among the universities in Halifax.
What we don't mean by that is a forced amalgamation or telling the universities how to run their business or making them spend years writing position papers for the government about things they have no intention of doing and wasting valuable time when they should be with their students. We would like to see more shared services, and they have moved somewhat that way. We would like to see more of that. That is what the statement means.
MR. MACLELLAN: I want to thank the minister for that information. Is she, in fact, saying that the plan to minimize administrative overlap and management costs is going to be purely voluntary, that there is not going to be any forcing of universities to move in that direction? Is it going to be completely voluntary?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we haven't started that process yet in any detail. I saw it more as a continuation of processes that were already underway. I can't predict how the process will go in the end, but the aim is not to have anything happen that is not voluntary.
MR. MACLELLAN: I want to say to the minister if she wants to continue with the processes as has been done in the last two years, then she will keep it completely voluntary. We were adamant that we were not going to force universities to do this. We found they will cooperate if they trust government. If they feel that government is sincere, they will work with government. It takes a while to get that trust. I would really caution the minister not to do anything to think that there is going to be a heavy hand somewhere down the line that is going to force them to do it, because they are going to get their backs up, and they are not going to cooperate at all. I say that trying to be helpful. Believe me.
The other thing I would say is that if there is any hint of any kind of amalgamation that would take away the identity of any of the universities, there is going to be a problem from the universities. One of the reasons is very reasonable, and that is the alumni. Alumni give money to the universities because they are proud of the identification they have with those universities. If there is an amalgamation and a change of name of the universities, that alumni funding will not be forthcoming because the pride and the identification will no longer be there. Where the minister says she hopes to get funding from other sources for capital expenditures, I would say, please, don't interfere in the alumni's pride and identification with their alma maters because it will be counter-productive.
I want to go on to The Course Ahead, on Page 47, it says, "In light of the KPMG report on public-private partnerships, the department will implement necessary changes to accomplish new school construction and major renovations within the framework of a future and revised delivery model." What does that mean? I am no clearer on reading it and I have read it five times.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I was just offered the bureaucratic translation. What it means, I believe, is that we are going to have new rules for school construction. The KPMG report, I should explain for background, was actually done for the Department of Finance even though the Department of Education was involved in the process and the method of financing of schools will in future be more the responsibility of the Finance Department as opposed to the Education Department, but we are going to have new rules for school building. We have not yet decided whether it will be P3 or what precisely the involvement of the private sector will be although the private sector involvement has been very valuable, particularly in the design. There is some very innovative design in these new schools and perhaps would not have been produced by our own people. It means that we are going to have some new rules and that we are going ahead with building schools by some method; whether or not it is P3, we have not decided.
MR. MACLELLAN: The minister has acknowledged the need for 17 new schools. When can we get the answer from the minister as to when those new schools are going to be started, be they private or public construction? The minister acknowledges, and I agree with her, the need for these new schools and I think that there is a lot of trepidation in the minds of children, teachers and parents about their children staying in the schools that they presently learn in while they await these 17 new schools. When can the minister say we will get an answer as to the fate of these 17 schools?
MISS PURVES: I am not sure that I could put a date in there, but we are hoping to have a decision on this by the end of April or mid-May because we would like to take advantage of the spring construction season. We don't want that to disappear on us before we have made a decision.
MR. MACLELLAN: That was the point I was going to make, that we are approaching the peak construction season and if we lose that season, we set the whole process back. So I would hope that we will have a decision very soon. I am also concerned about a reply that the minister made to my colleague, the member for Clare, regarding African-Canadian Services being cut by $145,000. You said that these were a few discretionary programs and some administration that resulted in these cuts. I wonder if the minister could clarify that for me, please?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there are some programs reduced and there is also one curriculum development, a full-time FTE position included in that $345,000, but that is an area that was underspent last year. That position was actually unfilled, while it is an FTE, it is not a real person and that is the bulk of those cuts.
MR. MACLELLAN: I just want to say to the minister that I would ask her to rethink that, if she would, because the need there is tremendous. I think that we are making some progress and we are doing what the government says they want to do in dealing with people who are troubled with the system now, to be able to make this system more friendly to them, and to have them utilize the education system better. If that position was not filled, it is not because it should not be and I would ask the minister to reconsider that and will she do that for me, please?
MISS PURVES: Yes, Mr. Chairman, any small change - well, small in terms of the total budget which is big - can obviously be reconsidered. We would have to make a change somewhere else to accommodate that, but certainly I would reconsider that.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, I now would like to turn over the questions to the member for Cape Breton West.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, earlier today I received this information leaflet. I believe all members of the House may have received it. It was supplied by the Nova Scotia School Boards Association and according to the School Boards Association, they claim it is accurate as of April 20, 2000 at 11:00 a.m. So I would ask if the minister has received that latest piece of information and, if not, I could probably send a copy over. In any event, it indicates that there will be a total of 1,018 job losses with respect to the seven school boards across the province. Is the minister aware of that and what is her analysis of it?
MISS PURVES: I did receive the package, Mr. Chairman, but being in estimates and Question Period, I had no time to read it. So I really cannot comment on it until I have had a chance to look at it.
MR. MACKINNON: That is fair, Mr. Chairman. Earlier today the honourable minister indicated during Question Period, if my memory serves me correctly, that it would be best if the school boards brought some constructive proposals to the table to help resolve some of the impasse rather than walking out. My question with regard to the Halifax Regional School Board is, has the Halifax Regional School Board made any submission to the Department of Education on a restructuring or any type of a realignment of administration, programs or financing, to be able to address some of the problems that they have?
MISS PURVES: I would just like to clarify that. Would this be a restructuring of their own board or a restructuring in the department?
MR. MACKINNON: In their own board.
MISS PURVES: In their own board, I am not aware of any such document, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, perhaps I will table the document then. It is entitled, The Budget must Create the Capacity for Excellence; subtitle, What does $1 Million Buy? I will send a copy of that over to the minister. It was a presentation that was made by the Halifax Regional School Board to the Halifax Regional Municipality some time ago. I was rather intrigued by it because there seems to be quite a realignment of administrative and various compartmental responsibilities, with a focus towards increasing the funding that would go directly to children.
Perhaps if the minister would like to take it on notice and review it, that would be fine with me. I would have to add, as well, I would be a bit surprised if somebody in the department wouldn't have this document, who would have been able to provide an analysis to the minister. I am certainly not here to try to ambush or surprise the minister unfairly, but I would suspect a document like this would provide some rather fruitful discussion on how to better manage finances and ensure that more money was being directed towards the classroom.
MISS PURVES: I thank the honourable member for the report. I will review it. It may be that someone in my department has seen it, but certainly I haven't seen it before.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for that undertaking. Perhaps, while she is doing that, would she be kind enough to find out if it has been received by the department, when it was received, who received it, and who may or may not have done an analysis on it to date?
MISS PURVES: Certainly, we could undertake to provide that information to the honourable member.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I am just looking at another sheet here - it is coming in as fast for me as it is for the minister - apparently, this presentation was made to the Halifax Regional Municipality on May 18, 1999 so it may have been within the department for the best part of a year, even before the transition from one administration to the next. I will table that one as well, I will photocopy this memo. At the outset it says, "Ms. Stella Campbell, chairman of the board, introduced the new superintendent of schools, David
Reid, who gave a brief review of the restructuring that has taken place on the school board." I believe the rest is self-explanatory, what I have provided to the minister.
I would like to go back and visit the issue of supplementary funding. To be honest, I am not sure what the entire issue of supplementary funding is; I have an idea in my mind. You have the core funding, which is the absolute mandatory from the province, and supplementary which comes from the municipal units, in terms of funding to the school boards for certain issues. Perhaps the minister could clarify what exactly supplementary funding entails, and what is the cost-shared arrangement between the province and the municipalities on that issue?
MISS PURVES: There is an issue of provincial funding and municipal funding for public education. All municipalities provide a municipal share of the funding for public education. The supplementary funding that the honourable member refers to exists only in the former Cities of Halifax and Dartmouth, it is not throughout the whole Halifax Regional Municipality. The reason that the issue comes up, a lot of the time, is because since the amalgamation of the HRM, there are some children in Halifax-Dartmouth who have the benefit of this supplementary funding, while other children don't. This is an ongoing battle between the former Cities of Halifax and Dartmouth and the rest of the municipality, about whether or not taxpayers in the former county should also be paying for supplementary funding.
That is totally separate from the issue of municipal and provincial contributions to public education. The way it works in every municipality, including the HRM, is that the province supplies roughly 83 per cent of funding for public education and the municipalities provide about 17 per cent, at a certain rate. I don't know if you want more detail on that or not.
MR. MACKINNON: On the issue of supplementary funding in the two former municipal units, the capital City of Halifax and the City of Dartmouth, is there a set rate between the two parties?
MISS PURVES: The tax rate for supplementary funding in the former Cities of Halifax and Dartmouth is strictly a municipal issue. It is money that the municipality supplies to the school board for programs in Halifax and Dartmouth, that is in addition to the provincial-municipal arrangement that every other municipality has. The supplementary funding is extra, beyond the provincial-municipal formula.
MR. MACKINNON: Has the Department of Education received any representation from the Halifax Regional Municipality and/or the Halifax Regional School Board on this particular issue, as to how this funding arrangement should continue?
MISS PURVES: To the best of my personal knowledge, I have not discussed the issue of supplementary funding with anyone from the HRM. I did briefly discuss it with the chairman of the Halifax Regional School Board, but it was really just chatting, wishing that it could be extended to the rest of the municipality so that it wasn't just children in Halifax and Dartmouth who were benefiting from this supplementary funding. As I said, this is strictly an HRM matter. It is municipal funding, and the province does not direct how it is spent. That is an issue strictly between the school board and the HRM.
MR. MACKINNON: My general understanding is, in terms of maintenance and capital construction maintenance, that would be included as part of their operating budget for the year, for the school boards. The capital would be a direct issue with the province. Am I correct on that, it is exclusive?
Has there been any submission from the Halifax Regional Municipality, that they take over the entire issue of property services that are generally maintained by the Halifax Regional School Board, any of the schools or educational facilities with the Halifax Regional School Board?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there may have been such a submission to the school board. I am not aware of any such submission to my own department. I will certainly check to see if there was, but I am not aware of it.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I raise that issue because it has been raised at the Halifax Regional Municipality on a number of occasions. In fact - according to their municipal version of Hansard - the member for Preston suggested that the Act should be amended so that the municipality takes over the entire issue of property services. That had received lengthy consideration during their budget deliberations for supplementary funding. Perhaps if the minister would give an undertaking that if there has been any representation to the Department of Education or to the Province in general she will supply that correspondence, or whatever she may be able to provide. It certainly may have been a representation, in fairness, that was presented before the present Conservative Administration took over.
MISS PURVES: Certainly, I will undertake to provide that information. I would also like to say I would be delighted if HRM were to take over the maintenance of the schools, this would save a fair bit of money.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that is why I am so surprised that the honourable member for Preston, when he was a councillor for the HRM, would even make such a suggestion. He seemed quite adamant about that position as well. That position was also supported by his colleague, who was a councillor at that time; Councillor Barnet also took that same position. I am intrigued because it is a major issue on funding, that could make quite a difference in what the minister's budget bottom line would be. If there have been some
official representations, I would suspect that some correspondence or some calculation of some sort would have been provided.
I would like to shift the focus just slightly. With regards to . . .
MR. BARRY BARNET: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. The member referred to some documents, apparently something I had said during council. If he could table that, I would appreciate having a look at it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Will the member be tabling that?
MR. MACKINNON: Absolutely. Actually, it is a public document. It is in the archives at the Halifax Regional Municipality. It is dated April 20, 1998, Committee of the Whole. It is there, and if the member doesn't have a copy of his own records, I will certainly be sure to have it tabled for the honourable member. Bear with me, at least until I am finished reading from it because it is the only copy I have. I will make many copies for the honourable member just in case amnesia is a problem with some of these issues. I am quite intrigued by some of the things that have been said by these members when they were sitting on the Halifax Regional Municipality, because it is surprising what the honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank said about the provincial responsibility on the cost of education.
Mr. Chairman, I am not going to get into the details of it right now because I don't want to completely ruin his weekend. I will just table the document and provide the honourable member an opportunity to review this, and see if perhaps it would be a nice little Easter present for him. The position he is taking today with regard to the Halifax Regional School Board, in terms of efficiencies, management, and the municipal council, and all these other entities across the province is quite different than the position he had taken in this particular document. I don't want to ruin his Easter because I know the Easter bunny wants to be good to him.
I do want to continue to shift my focus. We will save the rabbit tracks for the Easter bunny and the honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank. The concern I have is that, according to the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, the loss of $3 million in funding - Mr. Chairman, I have just been provided more information on the honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank. It gets better by the minute. I will table this document as well, it is dated January 22nd. I would like to refer to the records of this Halifax Regional Municipality council meeting, Committee of the Whole. It says that Councillor Barnet went on to express his sympathy with the school board's financial problems, pointing out that because of the restrictions inherent in its relationship with both HRM and the province, the board has no way of controlling its own destiny. He went on to suggest that in his opinion there were only two solutions to this situation, one being to encourage the province to live up to its previous commitment of the 90/10 formula for Education, which I understand is now 83/17, and on the other hand, the councillor suggested a change in the legislation that would
permit the board to establish and collect taxes for Education purposes might also be beneficial."
AN HON. MEMBER: Who said that?
MR. MACKINNON: That is the honourable member for Sackville-Beaver Bank, when he was a member of the Halifax Regional Municipality. What is so good about this is there is more. You wouldn't believe what is in the archives. It is amazing.
MR. CHAIRMAN : The member's time has expired. He can bring that up at the next opportunity he has.
The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I would like to start by asking the minister a question about French immersion. Today, we have some students and parents visiting us whose particular concern is about French Immersion Programs. While French immersion programs are partially funded through the federal government, we also make financial contributions. I would like to ask the minister if our funding is being maintained for French Immersion Programs in Nova Scotia? If not, what will be taken away from French immersion programming, and what will the impact of that be on French Immersion Programs throughout Nova Scotia?
MISS PURVES: The quick answer to that question is yes, funds for French immersion, as for other programs, will be decreasing in the coming year.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: How much will French immersion funding be decreased in the coming year, in terms of the provincial contribution? How will that be distributed across the province? What information does the minister have on the impact that is going to have? This is truly of concern to a lot of people. We live in an increasingly competitive society; we live in one where there is a high rate of mobility across this country and outside of this country. Many Nova Scotians have seen the importance of having their children schooled in a second language. Increasingly you can go to other countries, European countries, where young people, as a part of their regular curriculum, have the opportunity to study Spanish and French and German; they are studying Japanese; they are studying Cantonese; they are studying all kinds of languages. Here we are, in a country with a national policy of bilingualism and we are not maintaining funding for French immersion. That is truly a terrible situation to put our young people in.
What will be the impact of a decrease in French immersion funding, given that the minister has stood in this House and talked about this government's commitment to the younger grades? Does that mean that students who have been enrolled in French immersion, who want to continue on with their education through junior high and senior high and French
Immersion Programs, are now going to be faced with a lack of opportunity to continue what they have already probably invested fairly heavily in? Is that what this will mean?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the reduction in funds for French immersion at the department level is similar to reductions in other areas dealing with curriculum development. We tried to be relatively even-handed, even though we didn't want to cut anything. We do not expect a huge impact at the local school level, although in general, grants to school boards are reduced because of the reduction that we are looking for in the teaching force. I will pledge to provide a more detailed analysis of the impact in this change in support for French second language programs.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, as we talk about the Education budget, we find out there are more and more insidious little program cuts hidden in this budget that will have a dramatic impact on young people today and on their futures as well. I am truly saddened that French immersion will be decreased as a result of this budget.
I have, in my district, and I am sure that other people do as well, any number of young people who have been able to take advantage of very fine French Immersion Programs in the schools. From those experiences, there are quite a number of young people who go on to very interesting experiences, maybe with Cadets. They get involved in things where they have the opportunity to meet children from other provinces. They go to theatre camps and science schools, and things like this where they have an opportunity to meet with students from the Province of Quebec or franco-Manitobans, or students from New Brunswick. I have certainly known a number of young people who have talked to me after those particular experiences they have in the summer or on their March breaks, that are such a big part of their education that can be directly attributed to their enrolment in a French Immersion Program.
In many respects it is very sad when programs such as French Immersion Programs become casualties of cutbacks. These aren't frills; as I said, these are a feature of a high-quality education system. Throughout the Western democracies, you will find, in school curricula, language courses and language arts programs. It is very well recognized, particularly in an increasingly global society, that having a second and even a third language is such an important feature of a well-rounded educational foundation. We are cutting the legs right out from under our students if we place language education, and particularly French language education in this country, in jeopardy. That is certainly a very sad situation, to see this happening.
I would like to take some time to actually go to the Supplement to the Public Accounts from last year and ask the minister some specific questions about some various programs. I would like to start with Pages 52 and 53, the Grants portion of her department's expenditure. I would like to ask the minister if she could tell me, on specific lines - and I will take her through some of the specific lines - what a particular organization did with respect to money from the department, in terms of programming, and what they can expect this year;
whether or not they will be receiving the same amount of funding this year, or whether there will be reduction in the amount of program money they will receive?
I would like to begin with Ark Industries. I believe that Ark Industries is a program for persons with developmental disabilities, and last year they received a very small amount of program money from the Department of Education. Could the minister tell me what program they fall under, and whether or not they will receive this grant again this year, or whether there will be a reduction in their grant?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, this is part of an EDA agreement, which I believe still exists, so I would have no reason to anticipate this grant would not exist because it is part of a federal-provincial agreement.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Can you tell me what the Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation does, and whether or not the grant they received last year will be maintained this year, or will it be reduced?
MISS PURVES: The Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation produces joint curricula for all the Atlantic Provinces. Staff work together on programs such as French, math, and other initiatives for the Atlantic Provinces. That will be ongoing this year.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I would like to ask about the Atlantic Provinces Special Education Authority. Last year they received close to $9 million. Could you tell us whether or not that grant is being maintained, or whether it will be reduced?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, this grant, actually this year, will be reduced by $500,000. We believe this is well within the ability of the organization to absorb. It is quite a well-founded, stable organization.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, the next item I would like to ask about is the Education program for Black students. The Supplement to the Public Accounts indicates that last year they received approximately $750,000, a little bit more than that. Can you tell me whether or not that program is being maintained, or is it being reduced? If it is being reduced, by how much?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, that is something I am going to have to check on. I am not sure if that comes through CACE or the African-Canadian section of our department or if it is a separate item. I will get back to you on that. It is not something that I recall looking at while going over the budget this year.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, how about the Black Educators' Association? It indicates here that they received approximately $750,000 last year. I would like to know whether or not their grant is being maintained or reduced? If it is being reduced, by how much?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, actually these Public Accounts are from two years ago. We are maintaining funding to the Black Educators' Association from last year, $617,000; this year will be $617,000. Both those years are down from the previous year, to some degree, but we are still maintaining funding for the organization.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I am wondering if the minister could tell me about the Canada Study Grant, approximately $1 million, and whether or not that is being maintained or reduced?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I actually don't know what that is. I am assuming it is some kind of a top-up to the Canada Student Loan, but I will have to get back to the committee on that.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Could the minister tell me if the grant to Canadian Parents for French, of $61,000, is being maintained or reduced?
MISS PURVES: Yes, that program is being maintained.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Can you tell me - I will deal with the universities when we have time to talk further about universities, including the Collège de l'Acadie - about the Council on African Canadian Education? Is this grant of $224,000 being maintained, or will they be taking a reduction?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there will be slight reduction for CACE. At the moment, I can't supply the details because the group has not yet decided how it wants to take its reduction. Some of the reductions that parts of the department are going through, they are decided by that part of the department itself. It is up to them to decide which area they would prefer not to continue. I will supply that information as soon as I have it.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I would like to ask about the Guysborough County Adult Learning Association. They received a grant of $38,000 last year. Could you tell me whether or not that grant will be reduced or maintained?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, again, in the CLI programs, there were some slight reductions. I am not sure if this particular program was affected, but we can get back to the committee on that.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I would like to talk for a minute about the CLI program - I take that to be the Community Living Initiatives. These are very small organizations that have very limited ability to raise money in the private sector, through charitable means. They are heavily reliant on government to provide support. They do really very important work. I think it is important that we try to understand what slight decreases mean for these important organizations. We have now spent a week or so talking about the slight increases to Primary to Grade 12, which turned out not to be so slight at all, that, in fact, have thrown the education system into a crisis. To be able to quantify, in some ways, what we mean by slight increases in organizations that are working with adults with learning difficulties, learning challenges, I think, is very important.
If the minister can tell me, in dollar terms, what we are talking about, perhaps percentages - if they are taking a 5 per cent reduction in their budget, or a 10 per cent reduction in their budget, or a 2 per cent reduction in their budget - what does she mean by slight?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I will supply that information. I don't actually know if this particular grant is something that was applied for or whether it was given, whether it was regular. I don't have the details of that particular program with me right now, but I can certainly provide the details, that would be a very easy thing to do and I will do so.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Let's move to the Halifax Immigrant Learning Centre. They received $71,500. Will this be maintained, or will this be reduced?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we will still be supporting MISA. There will be a reduction. Last year, actually, we gave them $13,500, and this year it will be $12,000, but we will still be supporting MISA.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: MISA is an organization that happens to be in my constituency, and it is an organization that does a tremendous amount of work with a very small amount of resources quite often. We have seen, not a large jump in immigration in Nova Scotia, but there has been some increase in immigration over what historically are the lowest rates of immigration in the country. There is no reason to believe that those trends actually won't accelerate in some way, that we will have more and more immigrants coming, new Canadians coming to Nova Scotia, newcomers. I know from talking to people at MISA and talking to people in the school system as well, it is really important to have supportive programs that will assist people with the challenges they will face in leaving familiar territory, familiar communities and coming to communities where the culture may be different, the climate is certainly often different, the language is different, relationships are different. Certainly legal regimes are different. I think as a society, as a community, we have a responsibility. We feel very proud about our province.
We have Pier 21 that is a monument to the number of new Canadians that historically have come to this country, and we are learning more all the time about our history, which sometimes isn't a history we should be proud of with respect to our immigration traditions, and our behaviours during waves of immigration. Nevertheless, immigration is an ongoing issue, and one we need to recognize as a community. Part of doing that is investing in the programs that ease people into our culture, that make them feel welcome, that give them the ability to enjoy all the benefits and opportunities that are here for Nova Scotians. I would really encourage the department not to reduce programs for immigrants. If anything, we need to look at ways to accentuate the important work of organizations like MISA.
I would like to ask about HRDA Enterprises. Is HRDA one of the organizations that will no longer fall under the Department of Education? Will it be moved to the Department of Economic Development, or will it remain in the Department of Education? Last year, I see they received $100,000 as a grant, and they also do very important work with people who have had difficulty developing their skills and their capacity to get into the labour market. This organization also happens to be in my riding, so I am quite interested in knowing what the situation is with respect to HRDA's grant.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, again this is a detail in our adult education and training section that I don't have, but I will get back to the member on that matter.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I would like to turn to something that maybe the minister may have more information on, and that is the literacy learning grants. I think the minister, herself, has commented publicly about literacy and her concerns about the level of literacy or problems of illiteracy in our province. Again, literacy programming at the community level is often demonstrated to be the most effective way to deal with literacy problems. People require additional assistance. Last year, literacy learning grants were allocated $1.3 million, and I am wondering, this year, what is the allocation for literacy learning grants? Has it been maintained, or has it been reduced?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, all these questions about this particular area of adult education, we should be receiving a list very shortly. We are still supporting literacy grants, however, I don't know how those are going to integrate into a new adult education initiative in literacy that the section is developing. So, I cannot say whether those grants from two years ago have gone up or down for this year, but I will be able to provide the information.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I look forward to having that information brought forward and an opportunity to talk about how adult learning and adult literacy programming will take place in Nova Scotia. As I have said earlier in this House, I represent a riding where, unfortunately, through no fault of their own, lots of young people are early school-leavers. After they are out of school for a period of time and have so much difficulty getting into the labour force, they often want to return to school. They find themselves in very difficult
situations because their level of literacy is a barrier to getting into many technical training programs and other kinds of programs.
We look around for literacy programs for them, especially when they come to my office, as the MLA, and they just don't find them there. So what is developed by the department and the amount of resources that are allocated for this is very important. I think it needs to be said that this is an area where volunteers can play a role, but they can't be the only providers. You need a balance between people who will provide the security and the steady framework that you will get from a group of employees who have a cadre of volunteers to work with. So I will welcome an opportunity to talk about that further.
I want to ask the minister, I am looking at this next line item, the Loan Remission Program, and since this budget has been brought in, we have been so shocked by the implications of the budget for Grade Primary to Grade 12. We have almost been put off the broader focus of education in some ways. There are so many places to focus. I want to say that we have not talked about the Loan Remission Program and the cancellation of the Loan Remission Program. The only thing I can say to the minister about this is, what in the world were you thinking when you cancelled the Loan Remission Program for students? Students in Nova Scotia are faced with the highest tuition fees in the country. What are we going to offer students if we have taken away this very important program that clearly many students relied on? What are we going to replace it with? Why did you make that decision to get rid of the Loan Remission Program?
MISS PURVES: As I have said and we all have said, our plan to try to get Nova Scotia back on its feet involves some very difficult decisions. In the case of the Loan Remission Program, while the honourable member is right, it was a valuable program and actually, for next year, still will be, it was one of the few areas we had in the department of discretionary spending that wasn't contractual in nature and with the advent of the millennium scholarships from the federal government which will be in their first full year next year, even though they aren't a precise replacement - I should explain that for anyone who applied for a student loan before April 1st of this year, they will still be eligible for their loan remission for next year, so we are not breaking any commitments to a student who has already applied for student aid.
During the coming year, new applications for student aid, those students would not be eligible for loan remission. Most of them would, however, be eligible for millennium scholarships. Even though they are not quite the same thing, it is an avenue for students that wasn't available before and we feel that many students will take advantage of that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable member, the time has expired. I apologize. There was some miscalculation with the Question Period as to what time the four hours were up. The four hours allotted for Committee of the Whole House on Supply has been completed for today.
The motion is to adjourn and to meet on another day.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
[3:30 p.m. The committee rose.]