MR. CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon, the Committee on Supply will now convene. This afternoon we will be debating the estimates of the Minister of Education.
The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, here we are back on the Education budget, which I think everyone has recognized is a total debacle. I certainly don't have a background in economics, but when I need some economic analysis of the finances of the provinces, with all due respect to the honourable member for Halifax Bedford Basin, I like to go beyond a pie chart. To be helpful to that honourable member, I would like to recommend some reading for her, because there is some excellent written material. There are some pictures, mind you they are graphs, and there are a few tables, so there are some numbers, and there is text. I don't know if that is within the realm of what the honourable member would find useful in trying to understand the financial situation in the province.
The finances of this province are of major importance to a lot of people. We all recognize that it is a complicated situation and reducing it to a pie chart, which is really a sort of graphic representation of what is a much more complicated picture, I think it does our understanding of what is occurring here in this province no service whatsoever. If we are going to look at the true state of the province's finances and situate spending in education in that context, then we need to look at other provinces. For example, we need to look at education spending as a percentage of our Gross National Product; we need to look at our debt and deficit in the same way; we need to look at the history of the debt and deficit, where it has actually come from, how it has evolved over the years; and we need to look at our projections around revenues.
These are all very important and complicated pieces of getting a grip on the debt and deficit in this province, and education spending in relation to that. This is something that cannot be simplistically approached by talking about some little pie chart that represents what a very complicated picture is here in the Province of Nova Scotia.
We have been on the floor here for six hours, or more than six hours. We have been here for a number of hours looking at the Education budget. It has truly been a process of frustration I think, for members of the Opposition, because it is like being in quicksand. You can't get a handle on the numbers that the department and the minister have given us in the budget. One moment we are told 400 teachers will be lost and we are assured there won't be lay-offs, and the boards are telling us a different story. The deputy minister has now said that the initial figures that we were given are not the 400 that we saw in the budget. Really, what kind of a budget is this?
It is a budget that is being made up; it is evolving as we go along; it is shifting as people ask the tough questions and try to analyze the implications. I think the right thing to do with this Education budget would be to take it off the table and to start over with a much more honest process, one that starts from the people who have the information in the first place, the people who are in the school boards. But I don't think that is going to happen anytime soon, given what we have heard here today and yesterday and before this.
Today we had a situation where some amendments are being made to the Education Act. These amendments, no doubt, will have some implications in terms of not only the delivery of education programs, but they will have implications in terms of the funding of education in Nova Scotia. In the face of legislative change that is actively under way, as the budget is actively under way, it seems to be putting the cart in front of the horse to try to deliver an Education budget. A budget is the manifestation of the policy agenda of the government. It is how they intend to spend the public's money providing public services, and it is the fundamental expression of where a government intends to take its citizens in the province, in terms of public services.
I haven't been here very long, in this Legislature, but I can't imagine that what we have witnessed has ever occurred before. I have to say, Mr. Chairman, and you would know because you were here yourself, when the former government introduced a budget on which their government fell, and we all understood that budget had some huge flaws, some very huge flaws. (Interruptions) The honourable member for Richmond over there would like to get in on the debate, and I am sure he will have an opportunity later on if he wants to get in on the debate, but right now, to the best of my knowledge, I have the floor. This idea that you can't say anything about the former government, there is a lot to be said about the former government and their budget.
Let me stick on this point, this Education budget. We have seen other budgets, but nothing like this. As bad as the budget of the former government was, on which they fell, this has to be the worst debacle that has been witnessed by people in Nova Scotia, in terms of a government and a department that have mathematical errors in their budget, miscalculations that have resulted in anxiety for people, and policy changes every day, to the extent that legislation has to be changed, a fundamental piece of legislation has to be changed to accommodate a budget. I have never heard of this before, in the middle of a process where a government is attempting to get its budget through, it has to amend a fundamental piece of its legislation. I would be happy to know of other circumstances, but I know of none.
Mr. Chairman, what does that say? What does that say about the capacity of this government to govern this province in a fair and reasonable and sensible way, in a way that people will have confidence in this government? It doesn't say very much. What it indicates is not only do they not know very much about education, but it also indicates that they don't know a heck of a lot about budget making, about communicating and about consulting. This does not bode well, not only in the field of education, but it certainly has, I think, quite serious and negative repercussions for other areas as well.
In the past two weeks, we have had many members of the public come and plead with this government to withdraw this budget, to do what it was that they promised Nova Scotians in the election: to be fair, to be balanced, to invest in education, to protect the present and the future for Nova Scotians. Really, that is in fact what people were promised by this government not so long ago, but this faith has been broken, the trust of Nova Scotians has been broken by this government.
Mr. Chairman, there is a lot that can be said about how flawed this process has been, and a lot can be said about how damaging this budget will be for education if it goes forward. With that, I think that we have no choice but to introduce a motion.
So, Mr. Chairman, I would like to introduce a motion that says:
Whereas the minister has presented fundamentally flawed spending expenditures, including a funding formula that has been withdrawn for repairs; and
Whereas the minister has lost the confidence of parents, teachers, and students; and
Whereas $37,054 represents the minister's salary, less $1.00;
I would move that the resolution be amended by reducing the net current account expenditures provided for the office of the minister by the amount of $37,054.
Mr. Chairman, I would move that resolution. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. That notice of motion does not have any notice to it, number one. Number two, if the motion is put, the honourable member recognizes that it closes the debate on the estimates of the honourable Minister of Education.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I was thinking about the misguided comments of the honourable Government House Leader. The motion was not a notice of motion, it was a motion. The motion is to reduce the budget for the Department of Education by an amount equal to the minister's ministerial salary. Motions are in order at any time, and that motion that is before this House, we did seek advice on it before that motion was introduced. We did speak to the Clerk, who felt that the motion was in order.
Mr. Chairman, I would call for a vote on the motion.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, the motion is in order if it is not a notice of motion; however if the motion is voted on I would suggest that we consult with the Clerk, because I believe that closes the debate on the estimates of the Minister of Education.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. I think the honourable Government House Leader is mixing something up here. We are not calling for a vote on the estimates of the Minister of Education, what we are calling for is an amendment to her estimates. We are asking the House to amend those estimates, as I see it, by an amount of money equal to her salary. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I have been advised, and you are quite correct, we did have previous counsel, the motion is in fact in order.
MR. DAVID MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would ask for a recorded vote.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there two members requesting a recorded vote?
MR. TIMOTHY OLIVE: Mr. Chairman, I would also request a recorded vote.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have a request for a recorded vote.
Ring the bells for 10 minutes. Call in the members. (Interruptions)
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, we will require considerable time, because we have members down at Government House at the present time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I appreciate that, honourable member, but initially we will ring them for 10 minutes, and then we will check with the Whips to see whether or not we have a quorum. (Interruptions)
[The Division bells were rung.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think it is quite obvious that the Whips wouldn't be satisfied, but I think it is obligatory to ask, are the Whips satisfied?
AN HON. MEMBER: No, our Whips are not satisfied.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, it only requires one not to be satisfied. We will continue ringing the bells until 5:04 p.m.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, this is not a point of order, just a question. What is the procedure?
AN HON. MEMBER: It is an informal one.
MR. DOWNE: It is a wanna-be point of order, Mr. Chairman. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Chairman has ruled that the honourable member can make a point of order.
MR. DOWNE: We had agreed about 9 minutes ago that we would ring bells for 10 minutes. We are just coming to the 10th minute, and you asked the question about the Whips just as people were coming in. The Whips said no. Then, after agreeing that 10 minutes was a reasonable period of time, you have now gone for a period of 35 minutes.
AN HON. MEMBER: So what is your point?
MR. DOWNE: My point is why are we going 35 or 40 minutes after 10 minutes, when we are already within minutes ready to go?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would certainly rule that is not a point of order. The honourable member knows full well that the bells can ring up to an hour, so we will go the maximum allowable amount. The Chair has made that ruling.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The motion before us is: "that the resolution be amended by reducing the net current account expenditures provided for the office of the minister by the amount of $37,054." (Interruptions)
Order, please. I have been advised by counsel, whereas the hour has expired that the House has convened, and . . .
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Chairman, the point for clarification. As you are starting your speech, Mr. Chairman, the bells are actually still ringing. The bells need to be shut off before we can get back into the business of the House.
MR. CHAIRMAN: An absolutely good point, but an hour has expired and the Chair is not required to check with the Whips once the hour has expired. The motion before us is: "that the resolution before us be amended by reducing the net current account expenditures provided for the office of the minister" - and it is the Minister of Education - "by the amount $37,054."
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. MacAskill Mr. Christie
Dr. Smith Mr. Baker
Mr. MacLellan Mr. Russell
Mr. Downe Dr. Hamm
Mr. Manning MacDonald Mr. LeBlanc
Mr. Holm Mr. Muir
Mr. Robert Chisholm Miss Purves
Ms. O'Connell Mr. Parent
Ms. Maureen MacDonald Ms. McGrath
Mr. Corbett Mr. Ronald Chisholm
Mr. Epstein Mr. Olive
Mr. Estabrooks Mr. Rodney MacDonald
Mr. Deveaux Mr. MacIsaac
Mr. Dexter Mr. DeWolfe
Mr. Gaudet Mr. Taylor
Mr. MacKinnon Mr. Langille
Mr. Samson Mr. Morse
Mr. Boudreau Mr. Hendsbee
Mr. Wilson Mrs. Baillie
Mr. Pye Mr. Carey
Mr. John MacDonell Mr. Morash
THE CLERK: For, 21, Against 25.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is defeated.
The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Okay, I take it the minister is ready to go? We might as well recess until she is ready.
AN HON. MEMBER: Recess, Mr. Chair.
ANOTHER HON. MEMBER: Ring the bells. (Interruptions)
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, on a point of personal privilege. The minister is not ready for her estimates, she doesn't have her staff here with her . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: She is not here.
MR. MACKINNON: . . . I would expect that the time is going to be added on eventually at the other end for estimates.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, there is nothing that says that staff have to be here with the minister.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Well, she is not here.
MR. RUSSELL: The minister is right there. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable member for Richmond has the floor.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Minister, I am going to go back right away to a statement on April 13th I believe. I asked you a question regarding the cuts to French language education, mainly College de l'Acadie and the CPRP. You told me on that day - your exact words were - even with the cuts in administration, we are still spending more money on French education per student than we are on English students.
On Tuesday, during estimates, you admitted that statement was false. You knew it was false because you knew that the money spent on French language education is on a 50-50 basis; in fact you said some cases are 100 per cent paid by the federal government. You knew this when you made that statement. My question is, why did you intentionally make a statement which you knew to be false?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I was referring to the amount of money spent on French students, and the intent of my remark was to show that money is being spent on French students; that we as a province care about French education. If my remarks were interpreted to mean all provincial money, then I regret that my remarks were interpreted that way.
MR. SAMSON: Well, I am going to read to you exactly what you said Madam Minister, because I still hold that, when you made this statement, you made it intentionally. I am going to read it for you and I want you to explain to me and explain to Nova Scotians how they should not take this as an intentional attempt by you to make a statement which is incorrect. You said at Page 3917 of Hansard: "I would like to say that in spite of cuts to administration, this government continues to spend far more per student on French and Acadians in this province than they do on English."
Now, Madam Minister, could you please explain to me how this should not be taken that this was an intentional statement by you that you knew was false when you made it?
MISS PURVES: The Department of Education obtains the money from the federal government, which we allocate and spend along with money of our own.
MR. SAMSON: That just goes to show the arrogance, and what she really feels about the Acadian community and the French community, because when she made that statement she knew that she was not being truthful to this House. She knew that the meaning of making that statement was to say, hey, you are getting enough money as it is, with the French and Acadians, and you shouldn't be complaining, you get more than the English. Madam Minister, it was disgraceful for you to make such a remark when you knew it was not true. It was meant to try to create divisions between the French community and the English community and, whether you will admit it today or not, it is clear to Nova Scotians that the Minister of
Education (Interruption) well, the member for Kings North, he is so big on ethics, I don't know how he can sit here seeing what his Minister of Education is doing, and sit there and applaud her tactics.
The record speaks for itself, Madam Minister, you knew your statement was incorrect. You spend less, this province spends less on French education than it does on English education, and that is a fact. For you to have made that statement is just incredible.
Madam Minister, the other question is, you indicated yesterday with CPRP, with the decision to close that, there was absolutely no consultation which took place with the Conseil scolaire Acadien provincial or with anyone outside of your department. You made that statement the other day. My understanding is that in your budget, it says that there is $3 million coming from the federal government for French language programs, yet you have marked down that the province is only contributing $2 million. As you know in most cases, this is a 50-50 arrangement. I was asked to pose the question to you by members involved with the Acadian language programming and French language programming as to why the provincial government was contributing $1 million less than the federal government, because the fear is that additional $1 million will be lost if you are not matching them 50-50. Therefore, I would ask you to explain the discrepancy in terms.
MISS PURVES: Some of the money we get is 50-50 money; other money that we get is not 50-50, it is infrastructure per student money. There are very complicated formulae in here to do with federal-provincial monies and there are a number of ways in which the grants are distributed and spent. I am not entirely clear to what the honourable member is referring to specifically. If he could point out the page and perhaps repeat the question.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Minister, I thought you would know your budget a bit better than that. I wouldn't have to point out the . . .
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Oh, come on.
MR. SAMSON: The House Leader for the Tories says, oh, come on. I think we have proven here, what has come out is that this minister has absolutely no idea what is in her budget and that is what she has been spreading to school boards. When you ask her about a $3 million item and she says, I don't know what you are talking about, well I think that tells this House right here how much this minister knows about her own department.
We spoke about the cuts to CPRP of $200,000. What discussions have you had with your colleagues in Ottawa to try to see if they would be willing to provide more funding to your department to make up for that $200,000 hit and what efforts have been taken to see that the offices at the Centre la Picasse would not be closed.
MISS PURVES: The money we apply for from the federal government for French language education, the bulk of it we are able to distribute where we choose in that envelope of French language education, so moving money for French language education, the per student money, from one area to another as long as it is used for French language education is perfectly acceptable.
MR. SAMSON: Then what efforts did you undertake as minister to try to find this $200,000 shortfall to the CPRP in order to protect those offices from closing?
MISS PURVES: As I explained the other day, all areas of administration in our department have taken a hit; some areas have taken less of a hit than others. French language education did take a hit, I explained that. I did not try to hide that. What I did say is that some of the money from CPRP will be moved elsewhere, it will still be used to educate French students in the province.
MR. SAMSON: Well, it appears quite clear from the minister's answer that there have been no efforts to try to make up that shortfall in CPRP by trying to find the money somewhere else. She has decided it was a cut and that was it, and there have been no attempts to make up that money.
You indicated that there is a $500,000 cut to the Collège de l'Acadie in administration and working with the Université Sainte-Anne to achieve this saving. The point that was raised with me was the fact that there is no cut taking place in administration at the Université Sainte-Anne, so how can you say that it is a balanced approach when you cut $500,000 specifically from the Collège de l'Acadie and now they have to go cap in hand to Université Sainte-Anne asking them to take on the additional burden of administration services for the collège? I am curious, how do you rationalize this as being an equitable cut when Université Sainte-Anne has nothing to gain by taking on the burden of administration of the Collège de l'Acadie? How do you rationalize that for the board of the Collège de l'Acadie, as to how they should approach this?
MISS PURVES: We have met with people from the collège and the Université Sainte-Anne and we have asked them to discuss ways in which they can share resources in the post-secondary area, and the response has been reasonably favourable.
MR. SAMSON: That is an interesting statement. In fact, you said also on Tuesday that when you met with the board - to use their words - they were happy to make $500,000 in savings. Could you indicate when you met with them and who was at that meeting?
MISS PURVES: The exact date, I don't recall. It was within the last six weeks and I met with the whole board at their premises in Dartmouth.
MR. SAMSON: Is it still the minister's statement that at that meeting the board indicated that they would be happy to oblige her in making $500,000 in cuts to their administration?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the board was very willing to be cooperative and share with the Université Sainte-Anne in order to help the government achieve its goals.
MR. SAMSON: Does the minister feel that the cuts that have taken place in college and university funding - a $500,000 hit to Collège de l'Acadie, a $2 million increase to Nova Scotia Community College - is a fair and equitable cut to both of these systems?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I have just been informed by the deputy that we have actually negotiated some new money for seats at the Collège de l'Acadie. I would also like to point out that the money for salary increases that we supply to the community college is simply enough to keep the college going, that what we asked of the Collège de l'Acadie is quite reasonable in the face of the difference, they have 200 students, the community college has 7,000. We are trying to keep all the systems in the education system going. We have tried to be fair and balanced, and we will continue to try to be that way.
MR. SAMSON: That is an interesting comment. Could you tell me what the total enrolment for the Collège de l'Acadie is this year compared to last year?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, what I have with me is an average, over the past three years, of 200 full-time students, at the collège, and 80 part-time students.
MR. SAMSON: These cuts to administration, could you tell me how many staff there are, and how many campuses the Collège de l'Acadie has?
MISS PURVES: Does the honourable member mean at the community college?
MR. SAMSON: The Collège de l'Acadie.
MISS PURVES: We don't micro-manage the collège, they are not on our payroll, so no, I can't supply that figure to the honourable member.
MR. SAMSON: I am pleased to oblige the minister by providing her with the numbers for her own department myself. There are 50 staff, operating 7 campuses throughout Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in the Collège de l'Acadie. You have asked them to cut $500,000 out of an administrative staff of 50 who cover 7 campuses, it has over 200 full-time students and 80 part-time students. I will check those numbers again because I am quite surprised at those numbers, I don't believe they are fully accurate but I will verify those quite quickly, in a few minutes.
I wonder if you could tell me, Madam Minister, how many staff and how many campuses are involved with the Nova Scotia Community College system?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there are a little over 1,000 staff in total, about 560 full-time faculty at the community college, and 13 campuses across Nova Scotia.
MR. SAMSON: You have 1,000 staff in 13 campuses, and they get $2 million extra, following an increase last year. The Collège de l'Acadie has 50 staff, over 7 campuses, just a smaller amount than the English system, how can the minister possibly rationalize cutting $500,000 from the French college system and giving $2 million to the English system as fair and equitable to the French community?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, what we have asked the collège to do, and the Université Sainte-Anne to do, is cooperate in the sharing of administrative services. Again, I don't necessarily like to do this but I feel that I have to say that the funding is good and high for the students of the collège. For provincial funding, we roughly spend, per student at the collège, about $11,000 per student. That is provincial money, not federal money. For students at the NSCC, they have more critical mass, it is true, it is a little over $7,000 per student. I would like to make the point again, we are not cheating or trying to cheat French language students in this province.
MR. SAMSON: I am curious if the minister could tell me - a typical classroom at Collège de l'Acadie, the teachers themselves who teach these courses - I am wondering if the minister is aware of how this teaching takes place amongst the seven campuses? Could she tell this House? She says they are spending more money and therefore they should have better service. I am wondering if the minister could tell me if she is aware of how the teaching takes place in the Collège de l'Acadie under this great extra funding she talks about?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, again, the honourable member is twisting my words. I did not say they had a better education, what I said is that we are spending money on them, and we will continue to spend money on them, and we care about them. I have attended a few classes or demonstrations at the Collège de l'Acadie, and a great deal of their teaching is done through quite sophisticated video conferencing. It is extremely interesting and sophisticated, and probably a system that could be of great benefit in many of our schools as well.
MR. SAMSON: I am pleased to hear that the minister is at least aware of that much. That is a fact, Madam Minister, you have one teacher who teaches a course to seven campuses. In my area, and several other areas, you have displaced fishery workers, you have people who are taking upgrading who never completed their high school education, and this is a great challenge for them. Yet, they don't have the benefits of the English system where they can go and talk to the professor after the class is done and have a little chat, privately, about any problems they might be having. They don't have that luxury, because the person
sitting in Petit-de-Grat might be taught by someone down in Meteghan. You don't reach out and touch someone out in Meteghan from Petit-de-Grat.
Yet, you indicated that you are paying more in the system for the students. Would the minister not agree that the teacher-to-student ratio at the Collège de l'Acadie, as compared to the English system, is horribly out of balance? Yes, it is a sophisticated system and we will probably see that in our schools someday, as our kids move into the system. We know that the Collège de l'Acadie and the Nova Scotia Community College often cater to people who are taking retraining and have been out of the system, and this is a great disadvantage to them, not having this one on one. Does the minister have the ratio of student-to-teacher between the Collège de l'Acadie and the Nova Scotia Community College?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, using the figures I have just quoted, with 50 faculty at the Collège de l'Acadie per 200 students and 80 part-time students, it is quite a high ratio. At the community college on the English side, we have more than 7,300 students and 560 staff with a much lower ratio. I excluded the 10,000 part-time at the community college. So I would say that these student-teacher ratios are quite high at the Collège de l'Acadie and in spite of the physical distance between them, I have seen these classes operate and there is a great deal of opportunity for interaction, even if it isn't actually physical interaction.
MR. SAMSON: That is enough on that. I think it speaks for itself, you know, the fact that the minister having admitted all of this. There has been an increase every year, I think she will agree, in the enrolment at the Collège de l'Acadie. In fact, when they built the new campus in Petit-de-Grat, six months later they had to put an expansion on it because of the increase in enrolment. Yet while their enrolment is increasing, they lose $500,000 and the Nova Scotia Community College gets another $2 million this year. So I will leave it to the constituents throughout this province who rely on that to determine how committed this minister is to French language in the college system.
Madam Minister, will you verify that your budget is cutting $2.7 million out of the Conseil scolaire acadien provinciale?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the figure I have here is a little over $629,000 being cut from the Conseil scolaire which works out to 2.6 per cent. The average in all the school boards is about 2.4 per cent, but the Strait is higher, up around 4 per cent. So the cut being asked of the Conseil is, percentage-wise, in line with the other ones for about $629,000.
MR. SAMSON: Well, that certainly conflicts with the numbers I have. I have a $2.7 million cut of a $25 million budget, adding up to about a 17 per cent cut. So does the minister still hold that my figures provided to me by the CSAP are incorrect?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, comparing equal to equal, what we have here is a cut of $629,000.
MR. SAMSON: Where are these cuts taking place?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I don't have the individual sheets here for all the boards, but they were asked to make reductions in the same areas as all the other boards, in teacher replacements, in standardized professional development and so on. In the single-tier bargaining and other areas that we want to move in, they were asked to make generally the same kinds of percentage cuts as others.
MR. SAMSON: Will the minister verify that as part of your budget, you have downloaded to the CSAP the P3 cost for two schools, École Beaubassin and École Bois-Joli of $561,000 yearly?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, no, I would not agree with the assertion of the member opposite. There is some confusion here in the boards. We have not downloaded the costs of the P3 schools. That is not something we can do under the Education Act. School buildings are a responsibility of the province. What we have done is charged the school boards a maintenance fee for the maintenance of the new schools, the same as they provide maintenance for the other schools under their care and that charge for all boards is about $4.00 a square foot. We use that to pay the maintenance on the schools for which the boards are responsible. So any so-called downloading is simply maintenance charges as they would be paying for other schools.
MR. SAMSON: Will the minister confirm that that figure is $561,000 a year?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I don't have that figure with me. I don't have the individual sheets for the school boards as they are not directly a part of the estimates. I don't have those figures with me so I cannot confirm that exact number.
MR. SAMSON: The minister has talked about administration and cuts to administration. I am wondering if she could tell me how many administrative positions there are in the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial and also if she could indicate how many students fall under their jurisdiction?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the employees of the Conseil scolaire and the other school boards are not employees of the Department of Education. They are not directly contained in the estimates. The Conseil hires its own administrators so it is not a line item I would have for this discussion. There are about 4,169 students under the tutelage of the Conseil.
MR. SAMSON: Well, Madam Minister, I will give you those numbers. I am always happy to help out our good minister here with stuff which I believe she should know but, obviously, she does not. There are 12 administrative positions at the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial. There are 21 schools. There are 350 staff and you have just indicated there are 4,000 students. I am curious, in administrative positions out of those 12 which covers the CSAP throughout the entire province, where does the minister suggest that they cut in administrative savings out of those 12 positions?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we have asked all the boards to look at their administrative costs first. The boards have agreed to do that with us. Administrative costs are not just people. Administrative costs are many other things besides. That is something that the Conseil along with the other boards is willing to try to do.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Minister, 12 administrative positions for 4,000 students, 350 staff and 21 schools. Well, I hope the minister can tell the CSAP where she feels they should cut out of those 12 positions for such an important program and only time will tell.
There is one point I want to get to and this will be about the Strait Regional Board also. You have continually said that only 400 positions are going to be lost through retirement, and that there won't be any losses of positions more than those 400. You also indicated you have cut 30 per cent or one-third, I should say, in your administrative savings. Out of that one-third that you have made in your administrative savings in your Department of Education, could you indicate how many people will be returning to the classrooms throughout this province?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, this year there will be 66 positions cut, 13 secondments. At this point, I do not know of that number how many will be returning to other positions.
MR. SAMSON: How many of those 66 plus the other term ones I think you mentioned, how many of them are eligible to return to the classroom?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, 13 are eligible to return to other jobs. I am not certain how many out of the whole total are entitled to return to the classroom. I believe there are five on the French language side who would be entitled to return to other jobs.
MR. SAMSON: Of these 66 positions plus these terms, how many of them have an education degree and are members of the bargaining unit with the Nova Scotia Teachers Union?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I am sorry, this would be just a guess, but I would say about 10.
MR. SAMSON: When these people return to the classroom, could the minister please indicate whether there will be new positions added or will people currently in the system be bumped out with these people returning from administrative positions back into the classroom?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, for those on secondments who are returning to other jobs, whether it be the classroom or some other job, they would bump people in the term positions that were filled while they were away on secondment. That is how the system works.
MR. SAMSON: Well, Madam Minister, it took me a little bit to get here, but we got it out of you. After saying that, how can you stand in this House and say there would be only 400 positions, there would be no more than 400 when you have just admitted that your cuts to administration are going to bring people back into the system who are going to bump out existing people. How can you say there will be only 400 when you just admitted today that number is incorrect and you know that number is incorrect?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, first of all I would like to clarify the 400 figure is the figure we are aiming for in voluntary attrition and voluntary retirements. The way the collective agreement works, I don't have to explain to the honourable member how the collective agreement works. Secondments will bump term positions. Term positions that end are term positions that end. They are not lay-offs.
MR. SAMSON: To see the Minister of Education use such a play on words with these people, with their well-being and with the education of children is really sickening. If someone comes in and bumps them out, they are laid-off. You can call it the end of a term, the end of probation, the end of whatever you want to call it. It is a lay-off, whether you like it or not, minister, they get a pink slip, just like everybody else.
So knowing that, how could you continue to use that 400 figure when you knew right off the bat that your one-third cut in administration was going to mean that more people would be bumped out. There would be an end. People would be taken out of these term positions and probationary positions because of your move. How can you stand here and tell Nova Scotians there would only be 400 when you knew when you made this budget, it would be higher than 400?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I am hardly the expert at twisting words around here. I would like simply to repeat that is how the collective agreement works. Everyone knows that is how the collective agreement works. Terms positions that expire are not lay-offs. They do not get pink slips. Term positions are used for any number of things including maternity leave and so on. Those term positions are term, and the people in them know they are term.
MR. SAMSON: Will the minister admit that because of her budget and because of her government's actions that these term positions are being terminated? Yes or no.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, a term is a term. There are terms that end. They ended last year, the year before, next year, the year after, that is the way the system works. Term positions are going to end when people return from maternity leave, when secondments end under normal circumstances which they do. This is a normal way of life.
MR. SAMSON: Well, your budget is not the normal way of life. Will the minister admit that these cuts to administration are going to cause more of these term and probationary positions to be cut as a result of her budget which would not have taken place in the natural course, that there are going to be more of these because of your budget?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, a term is a term is a term.
MR. SAMSON: Well, minister, I am getting pretty sick and tired of you. Anyway I will keep going on this. (Interruptions) I think Nova Scotians are getting sick and tired because the fact is, and the deputy minister can laugh. He might think it is funny. Well, Nova Scotians don't think it is funny. It might be funny in New Brunswick, but it is not funny here. Under what you are doing, your own colleague, the Minister of Tourism would be out of a job because of your budget, because he will be bumped from his own position. So how can you say this budget is not having this impact on people?
How can you laugh when your own colleague is sitting behind, look him in the face and laugh when he finds out that he is out of a job? How does the minister explain her saying there will only be 400 when she knows very well that her budget is going to put an end to these term positions and probationary? Even further than that, the person who has been in administration for 10 years, Madam Minister, his or her replacement was not on a term contract. Yet they are going to be bumped because of seniority. So not only term contracts are going to be bumped. In some cases, full-time teachers will be bumped because of this. Will the minister admit today that not only term and probationary but the potential is there and the reality is there, that full-time members of the bargaining unit will be bumped out because of these administration changes that you are making?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I repeat, it is a collective agreement issue. This is the way it works. Secondments are filled by term people. These term people likely have somewhere else to go. It is the way it works. Term positions end. They ended before this budget came along. They will end after. It is the way the system works.
MR. SAMSON: Will the minister confirm that under her budget no full-time members of the bargaining unit, who are not on term and not on probationary contracts, that none of them will be laid off as a result of her budget and the cuts to administration? Will the minister make that commitment today?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, should an administrative cut apply to a member of the bargaining unit in an administrative position, that person would have bumping rights to other term positions. So I will repeat what I have said all along that what we are looking for is a maximum of 400 teachers out of the system through attrition, retirement and voluntary retirement.
MR. SAMSON: The minister, obviously, will not give that commitment because it is clear she realizes that she will not be able to make that commitment because of the reality of what will happen. Your colleague, the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank, yesterday, in reply to a resolution made the statement - and I said it yesterday, I will say it again, more than likely it is either someone from your department or Finance who wrote it for him - that over the past number of years, while enrolment has gone down throughout this province overall, the number of teachers throughout this province has increased. Do you stick to that statement made by your colleague, the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank or will you indicate today that what he said was incorrect?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the student population has been going down a little over 3 per cent, about 3.5 per cent. The teacher numbers have gone up about 3.2 per cent.
MR. SAMSON: That is what your member said yesterday. He said that was throughout the entire province. Could the minister indicate what increase has taken place in the Strait Regional School Board over the past four years, what increase has taken place in teacher positions?
MISS PURVES: I had that information here. I can find it in a minute, Mr. Chairman.
MR. SAMSON: I will give you a minute to look through it because, hopefully, your colleague, the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank, is listening when you give the answer. Madam Minister, one of the points I was raising, your new retirement plan that you are offering, these incentives and that, to get people out of the system, this was raised with me and I thought I would bring it to your attention. Could you please indicate if the retirement plan that you brought to the boards and that you are proposing to get these 400 positions, could you please indicate whether it is a carbon copy of what was brought in by Bernard Lord in New Brunswick?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I cannot confirm any such thing. I have not seen a plan given by or represented by Mr. Lord. I cannot make any comparison whatsoever, I am not familiar with that New Brunswick plan.
MR. SAMSON: I am wondering if the minister has those numbers for the Strait Regional School Board now, if she could indicate to this House what the increase in teacher positions has been in the Strait Regional School Board over the last four years?
MISS PURVES: I am sorry, Mr. Chairman, we don't have that information. We just have Strait numbers and not comparisons. I think we could probably get that information.
MR. SAMSON: Well, you know, once again, I am more than happy to provide that information to the minister. In fact, if she turned around at any point since the election and maybe talked to the Minister of Tourism on this issue, he would have probably been able to give her a bit of information or even her colleague, the Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs, would have probably been able to help her out also. The fact is that in the last four years the Strait Regional School Board has reduced teacher positions 25 per year for a total cut of 100 teaching positions in the last four years.
The member for Sackville-Beaver Bank gets up and tells people throughout this province that teacher numbers have gone up everywhere in this province. That is not true. That is what he said. He said they have gone up throughout the province. I challenged him then and now have proven that what he said was wrong. The question is whether he said it intentionally knowing it was wrong or not. Only time will tell. Will the minister agree that in the last four years there have been 100 teaching positions eliminated in the Strait Regional School Board?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, what my colleague, the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank, was talking about was student numbers as a whole in the province, not everywhere in the province, as the member opposite has twisted his words to say. The Strait Regional School Board has one of the biggest drops in enrolment in students in the province. It is one of the more difficult problems that they have. I am aware of that and I would suggest that the drop in teacher numbers corresponds to the huge decline in enrolment in that area.
MR. SAMSON: The minister has not said if she agrees that 100 positions have been eliminated. We realize there has been an enrolment problem there. They have cut 100 positions already, Madam Minister. With the new P3 schools it was already realized there would be a reduction in staff because of the amalgamation of certain schools. How can the minister justify, knowing that 100 positions have already been cut by the Strait Regional School Board, they have done their homework, they have taken the tough medicine, how does the minister justify that on a percentage basis the Strait Regional School Board has taken the highest hit of any school board throughout this province?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the reductions were based on per student funding and the Strait Regional School Board, as I said in my previous two answers, has had the sharpest decline in student population in the province.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, it has been indicated to me that the Strait Regional School Board will have to cut 57 full-time positions to achieve what the minister has requested in this $20 million saving. Currently only five people are eligible for retirement in that board. The Strait Regional School Board, in open defiance to this minister and her
dictatorial ways, had said it will not make these cuts and will not even prepare a budget. What does the minister intend to do in light of the defiance of the Strait Regional School Board?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, as it turns out, in not issuing lay-off notices, the Strait Regional School Board is complying with an amendment to the Education Act that I introduced today. (Interruptions)
MR. SAMSON: Madam Minister, they made me lose what I was going to say. The CSAP, as you know, has launched a lawsuit against the department for failure to proceed with the construction of École Pomquet and École Petit-de-Grat. Could the minister please verify that your government is still committed to building those two schools and that they are still on the priority list? Could you also indicate what your intentions are in light of the lawsuit that you are faced with?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the two schools are on the priority list of 17 and they will be built. I have no comment on the lawsuit.
MR. SAMSON: Is the minister and her department going to defend itself against the lawsuit?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we are awaiting advice from our lawyers on how to handle the lawsuit.
MR. SAMSON: Back on this early retirement package, could the minister please confirm with this House whether her deputy minister or any of her staff have had communication with the Education Department in New Brunswick in formulating this retirement package that it is offering?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I would presume that my staff has contact with Education Departments across the country.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We have arrived at the moment of interruption. The committee will recess until 6:30 p.m. and reconvene at that time to continue the estimates of the Department of Education.
[6:00 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee on Supply will now reconvene.
The honourable member for Richmond. You have eight minutes left.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Madam Minister, just before we ended, I asked you a broad question. I am going to be more specific. You have your deputy minister sitting next to you. As you know, as minister you are responsible for the actions of all your staff, including your deputy minister. I am wondering if you could ask your deputy, right now, and confirm for this House - I have been informed that your deputy minister openly admitted that your retirement plan, which is being offered right now, in his words, was a carbon copy of the plan in New Brunswick. Could you please confirm for this House right now, as minister, whether this statement was made or inferred by your deputy minister, yes or no?
HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the answer is no. I would also like to inform the member opposite that the retirement options in New Brunswick do not even apply to teachers.
MR. SAMSON: Smart answer, we will see in the next few days who will have the last laugh on that one. Madam Minister, one of the problems in the Strait Regional School Board, for example, as you know, French immersion is a relatively new program in many areas. These probationary and term people you speak of, who are just going to mysteriously disappear, and your budget has nothing to do with their disappearance, the Strait Regional School Board is saying that we will no longer be able to offer French immersion in many schools because when we take out our probationary and our term teachers, we will have no one left who can speak French, to teach French immersion. That is a reality.
I am wondering what the minister plans to do to maintain French immersion programming, if she is going to allow these term and probationary contracts to expire, when the people trained to do this are those very people? How does she plan on keeping French immersion, for example, in the Strait area, when these term and probationary positions are cut?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier, term positions are term positions; probationary positions are contract positions. These positions will not be cut as a result of our budget. French immersion will be offered by the Strait Regional School Board, as it is offered by other school boards.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I am trying to keep my patience here, as much as I can. Madam Minister, how can you possibly stand in this House and say, French immersion is going to be offered when you have no teachers left who can speak French, when these term and probationary contracts expire? Who is going to teach French immersion if you have no one who can teach the program? How do you plan on keeping that program when there is no one there qualified to teach it? Explain that to this House, and explain that to the Strait Regional School Board.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there will be teachers who speak French who are able to teach French immersion in the Strait Regional School Board, as in other school boards.
MR. SAMSON: How is the minister going to do this? What is your plan? Tell us here what your plan is, because your false promises and empty platitudes are not sitting well with anyone in this House or anyone in this province. What is your concrete plan to guarantee that French immersion will be maintained by the Strait Regional School Board in the face of all these cuts? What is your plan, other than these mere platitudes that you are giving to this House?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the plan is to reduce a maximum of 400 positions province-wide. The plan is not to fire 10 per cent of the teachers, all the French immersion teachers, all the arts teachers, and all the other things that the boards have been saying will be necessary.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Minister, you well know that French immersion is a relatively new program in this province. Most of those teachers are young teachers who are in the English boards, who are on probationary contracts or term contracts. The people with a high level of seniority, in most cases, especially in the Strait Regional School Board, are not French, they cannot speak French and are not trained to teach in French. Therefore, how do you plan on keeping programs, when the very people trained to do this, their terms and contracts are going to expire, whether it be by your budget or whether it be through natural reasons that this happens? How can you say you are going to maintain a program, if you have no one in the system qualified to teach those programs?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the retirements, attrition, and take-up on the voluntary options will largely come from the older workforce. There will be plenty of young teachers in the system.
MR. SAMSON: You are taking 400 out. You are not replacing them. Where are these young people going to enter the system? This is absolute foolishness. I am starting to think I am in Walt Disney World, or this is a circus. How can you say there is going to be new people entering the system, out of these 400, when you have said they are not being replaced? How does the minister explain that? For God's sake try to be honest with Nova Scotians and say something that makes sense.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the member opposite may well be in Walt Disney World. I can only repeat that it is a maximum of 400 that we are looking to take out of a workforce of over 10,000. This does not mean there will be no young teachers, probationary teachers or term teachers in the system.
MR. SAMSON: Madam Minister, what is your back-up plan should you not be able to achieve this 400 figure based on the proposal you have put forward? I don't want to hear you say, well, we are confident or we hope. One would hope that at least this minister, in preparing her budget, has a back-up plan if what she has offered right now does not achieve the 400 figure which she has established through her department and the Department of
Finance. What do you plan on doing if you don't achieve that 400 figure with the proposal, this early retirement and other options, which you have currently put forward? What is the next step?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, if we do not achieve the 400, the next step we take will be discussed with the school boards, before it is discussed in the House.
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, that is not very comforting to the people of this province. The 400 positions you are taking out, are you hiring new people to replace those 400 positions?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, should it happen that, for example, 800 teachers applied for any of these retirements, then 400 would be replaced and 400 would not. I have said that we are aiming for a net reduction of 400 teaching positions. If we are aiming for a reduction, we obviously won't replace them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I will be sharing this hour with my colleague, the member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour and maybe one or more others. Basically I have two fairly quick questions that I wanted to ask the minister on behalf of the parents who were here from the Whycocomagh area the other day.
The first one is whether the minister could tell us when construction on the Primary to Grade 8, I believe, school will begin? The other one is why the minister thinks it is acceptable that students from that area, who are going to be bused to Mabou, to the P to 12 school in that area or the Grades 9 to 12 - I understand they have received school bus schedules and travelling time schedules. They tell me that these schedules are very difficult to decipher, but even when there is optimal road conditions, the travelling time for students from some parts of their area is going to be substantial, 1 hour and 30 minutes one way easily, three hours to four hours, during storms and tricky road conditions. So I guess this is a concern to them and I can certainly understand why it would be a concern to them. I grew up in Antigonish County and I have spent my share of time on school buses travelling to schools. It is not a pleasant way to have to travel in these school buses, and when you are thinking about spending anything more than an hour, I would think would be really pushing it. I would like to know about both of those questions on behalf of those parents.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I cannot give a date for the Whycocomagh school any more than I can give an exact date for the other 16 schools on that priority list, but I can say that those decisions will be coming very soon and they have to come very soon. The way the Strait Regional Board decided on building its new schools was not ideal for many communities in the area, as I am sure the honourable member knows. Parents in Inverness, Judique, and some other communities, particularly Inverness, feel somewhat threatened by
that Mabou school, but the Mabou school is a reality and we cannot afford to build schools that we don't think have a hope of being filled. So that is one of the reasons why the decisions of the board and their site selection for schools was confirmed by me.
When I was in Whycocomagh, I certainly understood the feelings of the parents and the community. I have received hundreds, probably more than 1,000 letters, e-mail and faxes from the concerned parents of Whycocomagh. I understand their situation. That is why I am hoping that the new P - Grade 8 school, with its environmental focus, will go some way toward alleviating their feelings of alienation, which they do feel from the previous government and from this government. I regret the long bus rides by some students. I do not feel they are intolerable, neither do I feel they are ideal, particularly when some of the roads are not the best, to say the very least, leading from Whycocomagh to that school in Mabou. I can only hope my honourable friend, the Minister of Tourism and Culture and member for the area, will be able to convince the Transportation Minister to do something about that road.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I have a few questions that I wanted to ask the minister. I am sure that the minister is about as sick and tired of the tiresome indignation of the member of the Liberal caucus who spoke before I did, as I am. I find it, I guess, tiresome is the only word.
I wanted to ask a few questions around the Cole Harbour District High School, which is in my district. As you may know, there was an external review done of Cole Harbour District High School. It was carried out under the auspices, commonly known as the Blye Frank Report. I wonder, Madam Minister, if you have had an opportunity to read that report?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the answer to that is no, I have not read that report.
MR. DEXTER: The minister may know that this report evolved out of a certain incident that took place at Cole Harbour District High School. I want to say this up front. It is truly a fine school with, I think, some of the most dedicated staff that I have certainly had an opportunity to get to know since I have been in this position, but clearly it is an institution that is under, and has been under, a great deal of stress. One of the things I had asked during Question Period, and I wanted to pursue, was the whole question of how you deal with a school that I think is fundamentally in a different category than other schools, they are teaching the same subjects, they have maybe even the same number of students, they have the same mission in terms of the goals of education, but they just are clearly and fundamentally in a different situation.
I think the minister's answer during Question Period was that there was consideration given to this kind of situation, and I wanted to know what examination was done of the specific situation of Cole Harbour District High School?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I am not precisely sure to what the honourable member refers, but I will admit that I am not familiar with any detailed examination of Cole Harbour District High School's situation. I am familiar with Cole Harbour District High School through news reports and through dealings in my previous life with some situations at Cole Harbour District High School, but I am not familiar with any detailed examination of Cole Harbour District High School. If I may ask a question, I would like to ask the honourable member if this is something the department did, the school board did, and I will attempt to make myself familiar with any report to which he refers.
MR. DEXTER: The external review was carried out by the Halifax Regional School Board and it took place in May through August of 1997. My recollection is there are some 75 recommendations on various areas, including staffing, communications, community involvement and many other aspects of situating that high school in its communities, because it really services a number of different communities. I don't think it is a secret that that is part of the problem, is meshing those communities together so that they operate in an environment of mutual respect for each other, and to help integrate those students to understand the communities that they all come from.
I appreciate that the minister is being forthright with me and telling me that she has not seen this. So I want to perhaps give you a little information about Cole Harbour District High School. My understanding is they lost two teachers last year. They lost them because of the budget constraints that were happening with the school board. They were scheduled to lose an additional three teachers this year, again as a result of the budget considerations of the school board before this budget came down. In addition to that, they are also looking at growing over the next couple of years by another 100 students, so you have an institution which is already under stress.
One of the things that has been pointed out about Cole Harbour District High School is when they did their study they realized that literacy numeracy rates were not as advanced as they should have been in that school, and indeed as in other schools, and that they required extra help to identify those students earlier on so they could be provided with the remedial attention that they would need in order to be able to be productive. Yet what is happening is the number of teachers is going down. Even if there is just 400, 400 is a lot. I don't care how you parcel it out, I mean the enrolment rates in the Halifax Regional Board are not going down. They may be going down across the province, but they are not going down here. So what is going to happen is, whatever teachers come out of the system in Halifax, it is going to have a direct effect on classroom size in those institutions.
So when you look at Cole Harbour District High School and you say, well, we have all these factors working together, we have the so-called normal reductions in teachers through the school board cuts, and then we have an increasing number of students, we have an institution that is already under stress, it becomes a major concern for all the communities that are involved. It becomes a major concern, I believe, for the school board members who represent those districts. It becomes a major concern for me as the member who represents that district, for the Member of Parliament and, I am sure for all the people, and there are many of you here, who have children of parents who live in your ridings but come to Cole Harbour District High School. They are not just from my riding. The member for Preston, I believe the member for Eastern Shore, all have children who will come to Cole Harbour District High School.
Madam Minister, what I am trying to do here is to say to you that if you haven't done an examination of Cole Harbour District High School and its needs specifically, that you ought to, and the department ought to, and I want to tell you in this forum, so it is also a warning that if things do not go well in that situation, the responsibility for that lies very clearly with your department. It is not like it is the kind of thing where you can say, well, we didn't know, because not only did we know and not only have we seen the evidence of it, and I think part of what you have said is that I have only known it through media reports, is very telling.
Unfortunately, a lot of the really great things that they do at Cole Harbour District High School never get reported. I think that is a terrible shame. They have a tremendously productive staff there. They are presently working on putting together a community radio station there that is going to involve the students and allow them to practice some of what they learn in their journalism courses. It has brought in many of the other communities. A very hardworking staff. The Cava Chronicle is a great school newspaper. They do a lot of very good work.
I am afraid that all of that, all of the really great work they do will all be for naught if the only thing that anybody ever knows about them is that they made the national news three or four nights in a row because there were racially-divisive disputes. That is not what I want, I don't think that is what anybody in this room wants. I say to you, at this point in the estimates, make sure that when you are going back to fine tune this, and I am sure you will after you have had your meetings with the superintendents, that you give Cole Harbour District High School some special consideration, so that we, as elected people, are not in the position of having to respond to difficulties at that high school after they occur.
Mr. Chairman, that is what I wanted to talk about with respect to Cole Harbour District High School. I feel better now that I have had an opportunity to explain it to the minister. I hope she takes note of it. I am not going to ask her for a reply at this time, unless she wants to reply. Did you want to?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the department has regional education officers that act as a liaison between the school boards and the department. They act as advisors to both. Certainly, I can commit here to having the regional education officer take a special look at the situation at Cole Harbour District High School. I will do that. I would also like to say that in my previous life I was also aware of what went on the front page and what went on the back page, and there were a lot of good news stories about what was going on at Cole Harbour District High School that were actually in the papers but never made the front pages. I am also aware of those. I repeat that commitment to have the regional educational officer take a look at that school very soon.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I certainly appreciate that. I know, knowing the staff and the students at Cole Harbour District High School, they will appreciate it as well. There is another very specific thing that I wanted to address with the minister. I am not sure whether the department receives copies of all of the studies that the various school boards do with respect to particular schools. I understand there has been a study done with respect to air quality at Alderney School, it is not located in my district, in fact it is located in Dartmouth South. I happen to know about this because my son attends that particular school. If there is a study and if the department has it, I would like to get an undertaking from the minister to get a copy of that study.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we don't get copies of all studies done by school boards, but in many cases, particularly where there is an environmental concern or an air quality concern, the department often goes in and does a special examination of a school, improves the system, provides extra funding, and so on and so forth. I will undertake to provide a copy of that report.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to hear that as well. I can tell you that my understanding is that CO2 levels in that school are very high. I guess I have heard more through the grapevine than anything else, they believe that those are exceeding levels that would be considered to be tolerable, that indeed there is an oil smell in the school. The particular thing about that, the other side of it, is that it is a community school, and I think some parents and certainly some staff are concerned that if it is a problem, is there going to be the money there to fix it. If we are faced with these kinds of decisions, parents and students and teachers are concerned that they could actually end up closing the school as opposed to trying to fix the problem. That is the other part. I don't know if you know if there has been any plan put forward in this regard, but if the minister has any information on that I would certainly like to hear it at this time.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I don't have any information on that right now. I will undertake to get the information. I would like to add that when it comes to safety problems, air quality problems, problems that are hazardous to students health, the department has a clear obligation to remediate the problem.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I wanted to ask another question which has come to my attention. I think it is really clear that our schools have become the focal point for much of the activity that takes place in our communities. I think parents have decided to rally to the defence of their schools. They have taken it upon themselves to say, this is the line which we draw and we are not prepared to allow you to go any further beyond this. The minister mentioned the question of safety with respect to school children. I know I mentioned this to the minister before in our last budget estimates, but I have an elementary school in my district, where the trek for the students is arguably longer than 2.5 kilometres from the school to their homes. Now, the way the school board measures it, is you have to use the pathways system. I took it upon myself, and I know the Department of Education has a copy of a report I had done by the RCMP in Cole Harbour, and I had them have a look at it. They said, the pathways these kids have to travel on are actually the most dangerous part of their journey because in many cases they go through woods, they are enclosed, if somebody was going to do something to a young child, that is likely the place for it to happen. Secondly, if a child has an accident going through the pathways, you can't get emergency vehicles in there to do the kind of assisting that would be required. The paths are not cleared in the winter. They are very difficult to travel on. Generally, sending kids through the pathways in the winter is not a very good idea.
That was the crux of the police investigation. So that was at 2.4 kilometres, the maximum they can make you walk, at least that was the guideline they were using. I understand from the school board now, that because the Education Act only requires them to bus at 3.6 kilometres, they are now costing and trying to find out how much money they can save if they only go to what it is they are required to give. That means that elementary school children will now be expected to walk, instead of 2.4 kilometres at the outer end, could conceivably be asked to walk 3.6 kilometres. I understand high school students can make that kind of a trek, but I do not understand it with five and six year olds. I don't know if the minister has heard this before, but it is part of what the school board is considering as a way to save some money. I think it is a grave safety concern. I think you will find when parents figure it out, because they won't figure it out until next year, it is going to be another thing they are going to be extremely upset about.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I have heard reports that boards were looking into that as a way of saving money, and I would have to investigate further. It was my understanding, and perhaps I am wrong, that it was 3.6 kilometres, in general, but 2.4 kilometres for elementary students. But, I may be wrong on that. I will take a look at that, because obviously there is a great deal, especially in the metro area, of courtesy busing that goes on now, whereby children are picked up and dropped off much closer to the school than the 2.4 kilometres. That is likely an area where boards would look in order to try to make some kind of saving, even though that is their responsibility, the transportation of students
within their area, it is still a concern to us, overall, where there is a real safety consideration. I will take a look at that.
MR. DEXTER: Last year during the Estimates for the Department of Housing & Municipal Affairs, I managed to invite the Minister of Housing & Municipal Affairs out to my riding to have a look at a senior citizens complex there and to see some of the difficulties those seniors were having with respect to lifts in their buildings. I would like to take this opportunity to invite the Minister of Education to come to my riding at any time and to take the walk with me with those elementary school students who go up across the Forest Hills Parkway and up Auburn Drive up to Hirandale, and to get some look at what it really physically takes, especially to walk up because it is uphill at that point. I realize the minister has lots to do but I am going to extend the invitation, I am not expecting her to commit to doing it. I am just saying, any time you have a spare half-hour to spend you are certainly welcome in my constituency to take that walk with me. I can tell you, when you actually walk it and you think of five, six, seven year old children having to make that trek, it really puts things in perspective, and it is not until you actually do it and put it in perspective that you understand why it is that the parents of these students are so concerned.
I am going to table for the minister a letter which I received, and I believe she may have received it as well. It comes from a Mr. Jim Cruddas who works as a teacher at Harbour View School in Dartmouth. Harbour View School is not in my riding, it is located in Dartmouth North, but Mr. Cruddas is a constituent of mine as also happens through some fluke, but also with the passage of years, he also happens to be a person I spent one year in high school with, many, many years ago. So I know him slightly better than some of the other letter writers who have written to me. He makes a very good point about Harbourview School. He says that, I have taught classes that depend heavily on our special services, psychologists, resource teachers, speech therapists and teacher assistants, to name a few. All areas that have suffered major cutbacks in the last several years. The upcoming year will certainly prove to be the worst unless something is done. Look into the future of these children and see what will happen if the necessities of their learning are continually attacked, diminished, reduced, and eliminated. Give them a strong, positive, and healthy learning environment. Stop the cutbacks. Sincerely, James Cruddas
Now, Mr. Cruddas is concerned because of what he sees as the possibility of the loss of both resource teachers and those who provide special services. I would add to that the classroom assistants, those people who do very valuable work in our schools who are necessarily recognized for the special contribution they make. I was here in the Chamber the other night when the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank told us, and I thought in a very heartfelt way, about a problem he had as a kid. He talked about having dyslexia and having the benefit of a teacher who cared about a student enough to actually take him aside and to help him. It was part of the success he had in his lifetime. These are the kinds of things that are demonstrations of having that kind of relationship, or the ability to have that kind of relationship with a teacher, in a school, with an individual from a particular discipline.
Having heard him say that, I also want to share a little something, and that is this: I have a nine year old son who has a special need. It is not a visible one, you can't see it. It is not the kind of thing you would pick him out of a crowd about but, nonetheless, he is an individual who needs a special kind of assistance. I worry every day that what he is not going to get is going to result in some kind of a problem for him down the road that we are not going to be able to accommodate as he reaches his teens, as he moves through the system. If there is one area where young people need to continue to be supported, it is in that special assistance category. It is in the resource teachers, in the assistants in classrooms for teachers where integration has already taken place. I remember talking to teachers last year and them telling me, in my classroom I have to do recreation planning, I have to do child protection work, I have to do social work, I have to provide mental health services, I have to do all of this as a teacher and then, after I get finished providing all of these other services, I then have to try and deliver an education.
These people are dedicated and work very hard, but the task is becoming too onerous in my view and teachers and parents are becoming frustrated and ultimately, children are not receiving the kind of service that they need to lead productive lives.
I want to ask the minister this very important question. As a result of this budget, can you tell us whether or not the schools will suffer a loss of resource teachers, school psychologists, the special kinds of supports that are in place to help children, like my son and like the sons and daughters of many other people in this province?
MISS PURVES: In this budget, we have maintained the funding of about $41.5 million for special needs children. Maintaining funding may be as good as we can do, but it is probably not good enough. It is a growing area, there are a lot of children whose needs may not have even been identified 10, 20 years ago and certainly not 40 years ago when I went to school and they do need these people. We are providing the same funding to the school boards as we did last year and it is our aim to keep these supports in place. I do not foresee with the same funding that there should be a problem in this area, but that being said, I think that even the funding that we have now is not where we would aim to be in an ideal world. Teachers have a lot of paperwork to do, that might be another thing we have to look at, how much paperwork teachers actually have to do instead of teaching.
I agree with everything that the member opposite said. It was a very moving commentary. I understand what he is talking about, I have a nephew with a similar kind of unidentifiable problem and in point of fact, the school system was unable to help my nephew so I do understand where he is coming from. All I can say is we are aware of it, maintain funding and aim to do better in the future.
MR. DEXTER: I appreciate the minister's comments, but I think my colleague from Dartmouth North makes a good point when he says, for the children, the future is today. The tools that we provide them with are the ones that they will take with them for the rest of their lives.
I have here a letter that was sent to Dr. Hamm from a young woman in my constituency. I think it is useful to go through the process of trying to get these on the record so that the minister knows how the students feel about what is happening. This particular one comes from Kelly MacDonald. She is an 11 year old young woman in Grade 6 at George Bissett Elementary School. She says, I am a member of many of the programs in the school such as instrumental band, art, drama, reading circle. Next year I am enrolled for French immersion. According to the school board analysis, these activities and more may be cut. I won't go through it all, but she says, For me, the two most important things are to have an education and an excellent health care system. By doing what you propose, both are being put in jeopardy. I don't recall any point during your campaign for Premier you pointing any of this out. Speaking with experience going into junior high school, it's a scary thought, making new friends, losing old ones. The only thing you really have are these activities that you're used to. By cutting these, going to school becomes even scarier.
This is a directive of an 11 year old child, but she makes a very good point and that is that these activities that are engaged in, whether they are art or drama or band, these are socializing activities that are part of how we create citizens. They learn many things in what I have unfortunately heard referred to as frills or as unnecessary courses in school. I don't believe that and what she is asking and I guess my question is, are these programs going to be protected in the face of this budget?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I recognize that all these programs add to the life of the school and I understand what the member opposite says about making people citizens, that school is not just what you learn in the classroom, but it is what goes on in the halls, after school, weekends and many other activities that the students participate in. I can't say what programs will end up being cut as a result of reductions that we have to make, but certainly all programs that make life in school worthwhile for students outside the classroom cannot become a victim of budget cuts. A lot of these programs aren't even necessarily the result of a great deal of money; some money and a great deal of commitment by teachers volunteering their time. This does take place and I can't foresee that all such programs will be cut, but I couldn't stand here and guarantee that every such program would be maintained because that is an impossibility in the whole system for me to be able to make that promise.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I am going to be sharing my time with the member for Sackville-Cobequid. I do have one last question and it has to do with a notice that I received from the Humber Park School News and at the bottom it just talks about Graham Creighton Junior High School. The minister was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the study that was done with respect to Graham Creighton Junior High School. I guess, just because
I would like to get it on the record is, I would like to know whether or not in fact the money is in the budget to proceed with the renovation and reconstruction of that school?
MISS PURVES: There is a certain protocol in place with the school boards of which I am sure the member is aware. I am not aware of getting a request from the Halifax Regional School Board to renovate or replace Graham Creighton Junior High School at the moment. They are doing a review of all the schools in the HRM right now and it is up to the school board to make a priority list, but that school, it is fairly obvious, has to be repaired or replaced. As soon as we get a recommendation from the school board, we will have to proceed from there. There are a great many people in the community who don't want the school replaced, they want to keep the school because of its historic connection to their community, but I would have to wait for a recommendation from the school board before proceeding.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: First question, very much of a local question in dealing with A.J. Smeltzer Junior High School. I understand that they have had to stop doing the work on the school and actually put the business out to tender because it hadn't been done in the first place. I am wondering if the minister could update us and tell us when that school will be fit for occupancy or are they going to be facing split shifts again next year?
MISS PURVES: I should have had an update on A.J. Smeltzer waiting for the member opposite. I don't have an update, I will provide him with one at the soonest opportunity.
MR. HOLM: I am sure the minister has a very capable deputy sitting beside her, I wonder if the minister could offer or agree to provide that update tomorrow morning?
MISS PURVES: Yes, I can undertake to provide that tomorrow morning.
MR. HOLM: I saw the minister nodding her head in agreement but I had to stay down, Mr. Chairman, so that she would have the opportunity to get up and put the nod on the record as an affirmative because, unfortunately, Hansard doesn't read nods.
Mr. Chairman, there are a few other things. I wonder if the minister or the government has a vision about education. What is your vision of education? I am afraid I get mixed messages. I want to touch on a few things, if I can, and try not to get into a rant. I have to get a few things off my chest.
Mr. Chairman, I, outside the doors of this House, heard the Premier talking about how his education didn't suffer from being in a large class of over 35 when he was in high school. I don't mean to be disrespectful when I say this but that was before Elvis was King. I want
to ask the Minister of Education this question; does she think that the pressures and the demands upon our young people and our education system have changed significantly from the days before Elvis was King?
MISS PURVES: Indeed, I do think the pressures on young people have changed significantly since the days when Elvis was King, since the days I went to school, since probably even 10 years ago. It is not the same world; we have different expectations of children, it is a much tougher world. The classes have a greater variety of students in them; they are expected to learn a great deal more in a variety of areas than most of us when we went to school. The outside world is much closer, communications makes things much faster and it is my true belief that in school, home, everything, life is much more difficult for young people today than in the days when Elvis was King.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Chairman, the minister is very astute, we agree on something. I said before actually Elvis was King, which would have been, if I am being fairly accurate, when the Premier would have been in high school, roughly about the same time I would have been entering elementary school.
Back in those days, if a child had a severe or even a modest learning disability, chances are that child was not in high school. If a child had a severe physical disability or a mental disability, they were not in school. If a child had a behavioural problem, they were not in school - they were out. I hate to use this expression but those with certain kinds of disabilities were locked away. These children are now integrated into the classrooms, where they should be, Mr. Chairman. But when they are there, they require special services.
Mr. Chairman, even when I was in high school, drugs were not an issue in high schools. Yes, there was the liquid variety that was in senior high school. The drinking age was 21 so it was not as prevalent in the younger people in high school. The other kinds of pressures on our young people today and the social pressures, many of which are financial, were not there. We are living in a very different world. That is why I get so upset when I hear somebody like the Premier trying to justify the very large classes and saying it didn't hurt his education, when you are talking about the days before Elvis was King and the pressures and the demands in the system were much less.
I will tell you another true story, Mr. Chairman, the kind of thing that I am extremely grateful to my parents about. I have said this on the floor of the House; when I was in Grade 3, and this is true and this may not be the politically correct term to describe it, but my parents were told that I was an educatable retardate and that I would never get beyond Grade 6, a fact. Fortunately for me, my parents didn't believe that. They were well-educated people, skilled professionals, my mother as a teacher, couldn't get through to me. That is a fact. I went to a specialist in Grade 3 and I went for most of a year on Saturdays to a psychologist, who taught me how to read.
Mr. Chairman, I wore glasses and I had 20/20 vision but there was a problem I had, called a learning disability. My parents were astute enough to identify or to know that I had more intelligence and although they did not have much money, somehow managed to get me that training. When I left school to come to this House, I was teaching Grade 7.
I remember, however, another student in my Grade 3 class who dropped out of school in Grade 3 at age 16. That is a fact. He came back to the school yard driving the dump truck, blaring his horn, showing that now he is out of school and he has a job. The world has changed since those days before Elvis was King. We have many more children in our school systems who have those kinds of learning disabilities. We have shut down the training centres in Truro and across this province. We have integrated those children into the public school system.
The financial resources have not come with them. Yes, there is some limited money for a period of three years but after those three years ran out, the children didn't; the needs didn't and those children deserve and need the services. When those few children receive the heavy expenditures, that means that so many other children with learning disabilities as well, can't get helped.
Now the government is talking about cutting some money, increasing class sizes. We have all these pressures and they are not only in high school. Talk to an elementary teacher, if you haven't done so already, and talk about the social problems that exist in there and the learning disabilities and the large classes. You try, as a dedicated professional, committed to helping these children, to sit there and you know that you can't do it and that you are failing these children, not out of any fault of your own but because the government isn't providing you with the amount of resources.
Are these children objects? Are they nuts or widgets that you just cast aside because they don't fit the mould? What is the cost to us and to a society when those children become behavioural problems - as I might add, Mr. Chairman, in Grade 3 before I was helped, I had another use for my hands, it wasn't writing and I was learning that skill. When we do not help these children we develop frustrations that lead to behavioural problems, and that leads to problems in the justice system; we are failing. Those professionals who are committed and trying, as the Minister of Health, who used to teach those professionals when he was Principal of the Teachers College, knows they are committed. To turn around and to say, oh, we are only going to take 400 or 600, or whatever the number is, out of the system, what is the cost in social terms and what is the cost in financial terms that the short-sighted nickel and diming of this government is going to have in the long term? Because it has a major financial implication, if you want to be so cold-hearted that you are going to forget about the human beings who are involved. That is reality.
It is a lot more expensive to keep somebody in a penal institution than it is to educate that child in the first place, and if the minister doesn't know it, I am sure her deputy does, that it is far less expensive, financially, forgetting about the social costs, to address and identify the problems in the early years and to solve them then. That is reality. It has been proven over and over again. At a time when the social pressures and all the other pressures are increasing, the government is pulling back money.
It is not the money, it is resources. We hear an awful lot about the teachers who are being cut. How many resource persons are going to be eliminated across this province? How many teachers' aides, who do very valuable work, are going to be eliminated? How many more sick buildings are we going to create, and maybe if you go the P3 route or whatever route you are going to go, are going to have to be built because the structures are going to deteriorate because so many of the caretakers are going to be let go?
Are you going to be expecting volunteers to be answering the telephones in the school? Sounds like a simple thing, maybe, but you know those people who answer those telephones have extreme responsibilities and one of them is often to deal with strictly confidential information. The Minister of Health would know that. The Minister of Labour would know that, as a former educator. The Minister of Economic Development would know that, and certainly the member for Kings North would understand and appreciate the importance of maintaining confidentiality.
Mr. Chairman, all of these things. When the backbench members are being asked to vote on these things, these are things that you, in reality, are being expected to vote on. As important as it is, it is not only the number of teachers, it is also the other members of the education community who provide very valuable services. It has to do with our most important resource, our children, and the most valued members of our society, I am sure to all of us, our children.
I understand the Murray Coolicans and the others of this world who are only looking at the accountants' view, the ones who are saying, cut more, we want more and more profits. I understand where they are coming from, but I don't understand a government that claims that it is being balanced only looking at the ledger sheet, without looking at the human elements. Behind each and every one of these decisions there are real people, and the most important people in that scenario are the children.
You can't, as Bill Carr - I think it was - was suggesting in his editorial the other day, and maybe this is what the government is proposing, they will set up a call centre, possibly in the Premier's riding, dial 1-800-teacher and get your information. I know there are some who haven't got two clues about education, haven't got two clues about the importance of that one-on-one and the interaction that goes on, who would say, you don't need to have
teachers in classrooms, just put a TV monitor up there, big screen, and you can have somebody standing, who is away, lecturing to them, and all you need to have are your security guards to maintain order in the classroom. It doesn't work that way, not if you are going to have a true learning experience. Putting all the computers in the world in front of a student isn't going to make that student a creative thinker or problem solver and do those other things either. If you think it is, go talk to somebody who is experienced in that field. It doesn't do it.
I would like to know, Mr. Chairman - and you are telling me that my time is getting short - how the minister can look in the mirror and honestly answer to herself, and to others, that the children of this province are being put first by this budget and by this Education budget. I would like to know how you can honestly say those children are being put first. I would honestly like to know what this vision is, supposedly, for the children's education, that this government is going to be advancing other than as it would appear; the fittest survive and the others you just chuck aside and we will deal with them at some time in the future. Honestly, I don't mean to be unkind to the minister but that is the perception that is coming across. I would like to know how she can address those issues?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Minister of Education has one minute for the NDP caucus.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I agree with everything the member for Sackville-Cobequid said. He is very passionate on behalf of children and students. He has a great understanding of that world. It is a world he comes from, he pays attention to. All I can say is that we have tried to maintain education as a priority by maintaining funding, by trying to take out of the system what we believe the system can handle, by trying to be flexible in how we replace people, by not allowing huge classes, by looking after these people.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Clare.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I would like to continue where I left off last time. Madam Minister, last time we were talking about federal funding that the province receives from Heritage Canada in order to support French education in Nova Scotia. I think during the discussion yesterday, the minister indicated that her department's officials were still negotiating with the federal government, with Heritage Canada, for funding for French education in Nova Scotia. Am I correct that those negotiations are still under way?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the applications with Heritage Canada occur on an annual basis, so those are proceeding. I am informed we recently got another $500,000 for the Collège de l'Acadie. We will be working more with Intergovernmental Affairs than we have in the past because we are told there is possibly funding that we have not been accessing traditionally, that we could be accessing for French education in the province, both first and second language. That is something we are going to be doing but I have nothing else to report beyond that right at the moment.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, maybe the minister could clarify, are her department's officials still negotiating with the federal government for funding for French education in Nova Scotia or are those negotiations completed?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I haven't been able to get my point across. Federal funding for various programs that benefit the French community and French education, both first and second language, many of these agreements with Heritage Canada are negotiated every year. It is not funding that just arrives on the doorstep every year, it is programs that have to be applied for every year and therefore it is something the department does every year.
MR. GAUDET: I know that the department's officials have been negotiating with the federal government, and that is an ongoing procedure, I guess, within the department. I guess what I was leading to, Madam Minister, would it be possible for you to provide us with a copy of the department's proposal? I understand there is a special agreement but, apart from that, there are also special projects that are being negotiated. What I am curious in finding out, would it be possible to get a copy of these special projects that have been submitted to the federal government?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I can certainly undertake to provide those if the officials feel it won't jeopardize negotiations. When they are completed, we certainly can. We will take a look at that and if it won't harm negotiations, I will provide them.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, just for clarification, I certainly don't want to jeopardize these negotiations in any possible way. I am just curious to find out what special projects have been submitted by the province to Heritage Canada for funding.
My last question on federal funding, before I move to another topic, once all the federal funding has been approved, could the minister provide the committee with a list of where exactly this federal funding has been spent in Nova Scotia?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, we can undertake to provide that, yes.
MR. GAUDET: I thank the minister for her cooperation.
I want to go to Page 7.13 of the Supplementary Detail to the Estimates, under the section for Community College Grants. I want to go to the Collège de l'Acadie. My honourable colleague, the member for Richmond, has already brought this to the attention of the minister, the fact that community colleges in Nova Scotia have received an additional $2 million, at the same time the budget for Collège de l'Acadie has been reduced by $500,000. The minister just indicated that the Collège de l'Acadie had received an additional $500,000. Before I continue, maybe she could clarify if the college did receive that additional money.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, this $500,000 that has just been approved by Heritage Canada is for programs at the collège. What we have asked them to do is share administration with the Université Sainte-Anne, which is not quite the same thing. We are saying there is money for programs that has been negotiated from the federal government.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I understand from the minister that this new funding that has been received by the Collège de l'Acadie is for funding for programs. At the same time, we are still looking at a $500,000 cut, from provincial funding to the College de l'Acadie.
I am just curious if the minister has indicated to the board of directors any guidelines, any directions, where she wants the Collège de l'Acadie to cut $500,000? Has there been any direction provided to the board of directors of the Collège de l'Acadie where this department will authorize this $500,000 cut, or is it left to the board of directors to decide where this $500,000 cut will take place?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the collège department officials met with the collège and Université Sainte-Anne representatives on Budget Day and asked them first, to work together to come up with a plan. That is where we should go first, to ask them to come up with a plan and if they cannot, then perhaps we can provide direction, but our first step was to ask them to try to manage this among themselves.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, my honourable colleague, the member for Richmond, indicated earlier today to this committee that currently there are seven centres with the Collège de l'Acadie, including the one in P.E.I. I am just wondering if part of the list that the collège will submit to the minister where these cuts will be coming from, and if on that list they will be making recommendations to close one of the seven centres, will the Minister of Education approve the closure of one of these centres, or if there is more than one, will she approve the closure of these centres?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I would not want to prejudge what the collège might recommend in this area. I don't know what they will recommend. If what they recommend I would tend to approve if the college were reasonably certain this was the right move, it is their prerogative, it is their collège, it is, in a way, an arm but it is their decision to make, but that is not the aim. The aim is to try to have the collège and the Université Sainte-Anne perhaps make use of each other's resources to a point where they could achieve savings perhaps without cutting anything. I am fairly certain that with some of the distance learning resources possessed by the collège that some of these might be quite useful to the université and that something the université has might be quite useful to the collège. That is our first aim, to achieve efficiencies that might not result in much cutting of anything.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, the reason I was asking this question is, I know when the budget came down that now the school boards are faced with a $53.3 million cut. Last week, the Southwest Regional School Board made a list of recommendations in order to meet their $7.8 million cut. In order to meet those cuts, they had prepared a list of possible school closures but, unfortunately, because of the Education Act, communities need to be advised at least one year prior to the closure.
Unfortunately, the Southwest Regional School Board had to back off. I know that a request did go to the minister to get special permission in order to carry out those closures. (Interruption) Which one did I want to close? I know from this list, there were three schools that were on that list to be closed from the Municipality of Clare. I was pleased to hear at the board meeting this past Tuesday in Hebbville, Lunenburg County, that the Southwest Regional School Board finally withdrew their list of potential school closures for this coming year. At the same time we had the Minister of Education, today, Mr. Chairman, bring a new amendment to the Education Act. I was looking through that bill to find out if that amendment had been made, but luckily that amendment is not included in that bill, and I know we can't speak on that piece of legislation at this time. I am sure we will have an opportunity at some other time. The reason I was asking whether or not the college would be allowed to close some of the centres if they did so wish is, would they need the permission of the minister?
Madam Minister, looking at the community college and the Collège de l'Acadie, could you indicate whether or not tuition fees have gone up, or are proposed to go up, this year?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I am sure the honourable member knows that the fees went up at the community college last year and were supposed to go up at the Collège de l'Acadie at the beginning of last fall, but because of the uncertainty caused by the election and various events, they withdrew their request to raise their fees. This coming year, the collège will be asking to increase its fees from $1,000 to $1,500. Last year, I believe it was supposed to be $1,000 to $1,200, and the community college will be looking to raise its fees another $250, to $1,750 a year; for September 2000, that is what they will be looking for.
MR. GAUDET: Madam Minister, I am looking at the Budget Speech on Page 15. The minister indicated on Page 15, "As well, this budget includes nearly $20 million more in funding for school maintenance and renovation." When I look through the Capital Grants on Page 7.14, Capital Grants for the year 2000-01, for school construction, there is nothing recorded there, so I suspect there must be a budget item for renovations somewhere else. Maybe the minister could inform the committee where that money is within her budget?
MR. CHAIRMAN: At this time I would ask the member for Clare to adjourn debate for today, please.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, it is my pleasure to adjourn the debate for today, and on a future day we will continue with questions in the estimates of the Minister of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We stand adjourned.
[7:55 p.m. The committee rose.]