MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee on Supply will now reconvene. Before the committee this morning we will be, once again, debating the budget estimates of the Minister of Education.
The honourable Leader of the Liberal Party.
MR. RUSSELL MACLELLAN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and good morning, Madam Minister. I just wanted to inquire as to whether there is an increased cost this year in the administration of the department and what that increase is?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Chairman, just before I answer the question, I wonder if I could introduce Ben MacIntyre from our Finance Department. The deputy is in meetings today with the superintendents.
We have had an overall decrease of about 27 per cent in total administration in the department, and that includes areas of the Council on Higher Education programs, policy, phones, everywhere in the department. In most areas there is a decrease, even though there are some increases included in the decreases but, overall, it will be about 27 per cent.
MR. MACLELLAN: What would be the difference in the minister's office and the deputy minister's office, is there an increase or a decrease?
MISS PURVES: The net change in administration in that area is a decrease of $50,000 and there is no change in the office of the minister or the office of the deputy minister.
MR. MACLELLAN: How many people in communications are there in the minister's office, with the department?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there are four people in communications, including one who works in facilities planning.
MR. MACLELLAN: Yes, and perhaps the minister could tell us what facilities planning is, please?
MISS PURVES: The fourth person was added to communications in the Education Department in the summer of 1998 when the school construction started to become more developed and we needed more communications about the actual school construction, the new schools, and communication between the department and developers and school boards and school advisory councils. That position was there when this government took over and, to date, we have kept that position.
MR. MACLELLAN: With respect to the other three, are those new positions? Had those three been there previously and who are they, please?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the three people in communications now are not the three who were there when our government took over, but the positions were there. One is the same, and two have changed. Donna MacDonald moved to CNS and Doug Hadley, who was there, was hired by the Halifax Regional School Board and because those two changed, two people were moved from other parts of the government. The people there now are Cathy Shaw and David Harrigan.
MR. MACLELLAN: I am not disappointed with the replacement, believe me. He is a very competent individual, but I was hoping the deputy would be here because I didn't want to ask questions behind his back. I always like to be able to have the person here who I am asking questions about. Other then that, I will still ask the questions. I would like to ask the minister, what is the salary of the deputy minister and when his salary commenced?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, it is unfortunate the deputy is not here today. He had a file with him to present, should the question be asked of what his salary is. I believe it is $127,000, but I could be corrected on that by some slight amount.
MR. MACLELLAN: I just wonder if some of the staff would know what it was, just to get the figure correct?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, that is the approximate amount, but I will provide that information very shortly, the exact amount.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, I would ask the minister to get that information and to table it at her earliest convenience. When did he start receiving the salary that he is receiving at the present time?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, his contract officially started April 1, 2000. For February and March, the Government of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia each paid one month's salary while he did work for each government. The salary, over those two months, was split between the two governments, as his time was divided during the transition. At the time, the Acting Deputy Minister, Doug Nauss, was there to provide some continuity. The deputy did spend the largest proportion of the month of March in Nova Scotia, but the largest percentage of his time in February was spent in New Brunswick, and that is how we arranged the transition.
MR. MACLELLAN: Does the deputy still have duties that require him to be in New Brunswick?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, no, he does not. As of April 1st, he was full time in Nova Scotia.
MR. MACLELLAN: Mr. Chairman, I would like to now ask the minister, she was going to get some information for me regarding minorities in the system and the programs that related to them. She wasn't aware of those programs, and I just wonder, was she able to find out that information?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, no, I do not have that information yet.
MR. MACLELLAN: I would like to turn the questioning over to the member for Clare.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Clare.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, returning back to the minister. I guess when we adjourned I was asking the minister some questions with regard to the capital funding that is set aside within her budget to do some renovations in our schools. As I indicated to the minister, on Page 7.14 of the Estimates, there is nothing listed for 2000-01. Looking at Page 15 of the Budget Address, it indicates that this budget includes, "nearly $20 million more in funding for school maintenance and renovation." Maybe the minister could indicate to the Committee exactly where this funding is located, to begin with, please?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, this has to do with the Tangible Capital Assets policy which, since I am not an accountant, I can't explain in detail. There is $31.8 million in expenditures listed on TCA on Page 1.6 of the main estimates, and on Page 7.11 of the Supplementary Detail there is an increase from a $9.7 million forecast for P3 leases to the
2000-01 estimates at $30.2 million, which is an increase of $20.5 million as we are continuing to build and maintain the new schools.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, could the minister indicate how much in total will be spent on renovations in this current year of 2000-01?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, to be spent during this year is $27.1 million on construction, renovation, and maintenance. Any new schools that we start this year, a portion of them would not be on the books until they were completed in the years following.
MR. GAUDET: Thank you, Madam Minister. With the $27.1 million that is being allocated by the department for renovations throughout this province, could the minister inform this committee exactly what projects will be undertaken in this current year? If she has that information could she table that; if not, could she at some point in time provide us with that list please?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes we have that information. We can provide it.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to return back to Page 7.10 of the Supplementary Detail. I am looking at the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau. I see there is a decrease of close to $160,000. Madam Minister, does this mean that you will be spending less money on textbooks and, if this is the case, how can you do this when there is already a shortage of textbooks in our schools?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, that is not what this means. The book bureau is the warehousing and distribution facility for distributing the books, but that is not the allocation for the books themselves. The books themselves are on Page 7.11 called Credit Allocation and Costs, and the amount of money for textbooks has remained constant; it is the same as in the previous year.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, the fact that the funding is unchanged and, at the same time, we constantly hear school boards and teaching staff saying they have to photocopy textbooks, isn't the minister aware that there is a shortage of textbooks in our schools in the province, and that school boards need additional funding to make sure that every student has access to textbooks in the classroom? Could the minister indicate why she is not increasing the amount in this budget item?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, as the honourable member knows, under considerable constraints in this department and other departments, we kept the funding the same for new books. We are slowing down curriculum to some extent and thus lessening the demand for new books that had actually been increasing in previous years. We feel the present budget for books is adequate.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I disagree with the minister. She thinks the amount is adequate in order to provide our students in the province with textbooks. She just needs to ask teachers. We hear this all the time, not just at home. Basically, this seems to be a standard that is being carried out throughout the province. Unfortunately, all the students do not have access to textbooks.
I want to go to Page 7.15, the Funded Staff. I am looking at 1999-2000, we had a staff of 486.6 FTEs. I am looking at 2000-01, we have a drop of 66. Yet in the Budget Address, the Minister of Finance indicated there would be 79 less positions within the Department of Education. I don't understand; these numbers don't add up. So maybe the minister could indicate whether there are only 66 positions being cancelled within her department or whether there are 79 and, the second part to that, would the secondments be included within that number?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the member provided a partial answer to the question. Secondments are not included in department's FTE totals, the secondments are separate. So when you add the 13 secondments that we are ending, you get from 66 to 79.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, my colleague, the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, wants to have a few minutes with the minister as well.
In closing, this Tory Government introduced a budget on Tuesday, April 11th, that is devastating to public education in Nova Scotia. This budget cuts $27.3 million out of the public education budget and, furthermore, the school boards have said that they need an additional $26 million in order to maintain the public education system in Nova Scotia. Why? In order to cover salary increases, to cover high fuel costs, and to cover some pre-existing deficit. So, in total the impact of this budget on the public education system in Nova Scotia will be $53.3 million. This is not what the Opposition has said; this is what the school boards have said; this is what the Nova Scotia School Boards Association has said; and this is what the Association of the Nova Scotia Education Administrators have said.
Mr. Chairman, if the minister had asked all these stakeholders for their input before the budget was drafted, they could have told her what crisis this budget cut would have brought forward. That is exactly where we are. This $53.3 million cut will be felt directly by our students from one end of the province to the other. We are looking at increasing class sizes, programs being cut, services to students being reduced, and no doubt there will be a higher drop-out rate as we go along. Furthermore, many teachers, many supporting staff will be losing their jobs and God only knows how many of these people will actually be losing their jobs. We have gone from all kind of numbers and those numbers have still not been provided by this minister. How many teachers will actually be losing their jobs? I anticipate that probably within the next several weeks we will be hearing exactly how many teachers will be losing their jobs from the classrooms.
No wonder many people across Nova Scotia are worried over these education cuts. This Tory Government is not telling us the truth, this Minister of Education is not telling us the truth. This Minister of Education and this government have no plans for education.
Let me remind the Minister of Education, the Minister of Education in Nova Scotia has a responsibility to make sure that students in this province have access to good quality education. Mr. Chairman, I can honestly say with these budget cuts, the impact that it will have throughout our schools and this province, unfortunately many people, including students, will suffer because of these cuts.
Our Liberal caucus believes that this Tory Government should not balance the books on the backs of our children. Even the Tory backbenchers, MLAs - every day we hear more of this - are starting to openly criticize their own government's budget figures and this will continue.
In closing, I would invite anyone who is worried about how these cuts to education will affect their children, their communities, to let the Tory Government members know before the vote on this budget is taken next Friday on May 5th. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I want to take the committee's time for maybe 10 or 15 minutes to talk about a couple of issues that are a concern to constituents of mine and I think a lot of people across Nova Scotia. Sadly, I think it is an area in our education system that has been ignored at times for many years, for generations, and then more recently has been given, to some extent, only lip-service, and that is first and second-language French education in Nova Scotia.
First of all just to give a bit of background, in my riding of Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, there aren't any French communities per se, French communities that have been there for generations, but it is a community that has many people who do rely on first-language French education. There is a large military base in my riding, CFB Shearwater, and there are many who use the Carrefour du Grand Hâvre in Dartmouth and rely on first-language French. Of course, being an area with a lot of young families, this is an issue that I hear time and time again - with a young son, it is something that I hope to be able to take advantage of as well - and that is the French Immersion Program - so those who do want to learn French, learn our second language, the second-language education in French gives them an opportunity to do so.
I want to start by asking a few questions of the minister. Specifically, what percentage of Nova Scotian students learn in first-language French schools and what percentage are learning in second-language French?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I have some information here, actually in response to a question from the member for Halifax Needham and I will table the information. There are 72,614 students studying core French, a little more than 4,000 studying extended core French, about 4,800 taking French immersion in Primary to Grade 6 across the province and about 5,600 taking French immersion in Grades 7 to 12. I will table this information, if a copy could be made available to the member.
MR. DEVEAUX: Being core French, you mean French immersion and the various French Immersion Programs? My other question is, how many students are in the CSAP, are part of that board, the first-language French as well?
MISS PURVES: That answer is 4,169 students at the CSAP.
MR. DEVEAUX: So, in the entire Province of Nova Scotia, there are 4,100 students in CSAP? That number seems a little low, I was trying to confirm that.
MISS PURVES: We are using the latest enrolment figures we have to come to that number. I believe that to be the correct number, or the latest number that we are able to say is actually true.
MR. DEVEAUX: So we have approximately 80,000 or 85,000 students in French immersion, whether that be the core or extended or P to 12, and we have less than 5,000 in CSAP.
I want to turn to the estimates in the Supplementary Detail. I will start with Page 7.6, Acadian and French Language Services. I see in there, looking back at some of the previous years, particularly under School Governance, in 1998-99, it was estimated that almost $2.7 million would be spent and, in fact, only $544,000 was actually spent. In 1999-2000, it was estimated to be $950,000 and $2.2 million was actually spent. I am curious if the minister could explain to us why such wild fluctuations between what was estimated in 1998-99 and what was actually spent and then the complete opposite the next year?
MISS PURVES: That fluctuation has to do with the Carrefour project which was estimated to have begun a year earlier than it actually did. In other words, the project was slightly delayed but that amount in there that is fluctuating so wildly has to do with that special project of the Carrefour.
MR. DEVEAUX: Now I see for this year it is only $151,000. Is that because that project has been completed? If so, what would the $151,000 in school governance get us this upcoming year?
MISS PURVES: Yes, the project has been completed and the recoveries are shown underneath, in the brackets.
MR. DEVEAUX: We see recoveries all throughout this particular subheading in the supplementary funding. I take it that is federal money that is being provided to the provincial government. If so, is there some sort of cost-sharing agreement with the federal government as to how much is going to be provided by the federal government and how much will be provided by the provincial government?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, there is what is called infrastructure money provided by the federal government that is on a per-student basis that is not cost shared, that is 100 per cent federal funding. Then there is supplementary funding that is cost shared, about $745,000.
MR. DEVEAUX: So, in previous years, 1998 and 1999, even though the federal government was putting in 100 per cent funding for the infrastructure per student, there was still some money on top of that that was being spent by the provincial government, is that correct?
MISS PURVES: Yes, that is correct.
MR. DEVEAUX: Now, I want to turn to this year, 2000-01. In the supplement, I think it is in a little less detail because it has the same explanation in the Estimates Book. We have the government spending, $1.425 million - I think that is what is on Page 7.9 of the Estimates Book - and they are recovering from the federal government $1.645 million. I guess I am trying to confirm if that is correct, that the provincial government will be spending $1.425 million on Acadian and French Language Services and they will be receiving $1.645 million from the federal government?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, that is correct. We are recovering more than we are spending, that is correct, in that area.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to turn to Page 7.18 of the Estimates Book - not the Supplementary Detail but the Estimates Book - under French Language Grants. We have total expenditures of the Nova Scotia Government, $2.55 million and then under Recoveries - I am assuming again from the federal government - $2.8 million. Can the minister confirm that that means the federal government is giving us $2.8 million for language grants and we are spending only $2.55 million of that?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes, that is correct.
MR. DEVEAUX: Here is my concern, Madam Minister. The federal government has a commitment to ensuring that those in this province who want to learn in French, whether it be as a first language or as a second language, are providing money to help our province provide those services because, in fact, we all know that if the federal government wasn't funding this - indeed, they are funding this at 100 per cent - this province wouldn't do it.
In fact, on a personal note, I can say that as a son of an Acadian who was never able to get an opportunity to learn French because we never had the services in this province, I find it quite distasteful to see that our province is taking 100 per cent of the money from the federal government, $2.8 million in grants and $1.645 million in Acadian and French Language Services, and decides not to spend all that money the federal government is providing to this province but seems to be keeping pocket change of somewhere around $470,000; I assume it is being spent somewhere else. If this money is being provided to this government in order to provide French language services, whether French immersion or first language services to the Acadians and those others who want to learn French in this province, why isn't this government committed to ensuring that 100 per cent of that money is actually being spent where the federal government wants it to be spent?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, the per-student money that the federal government provides is for French language education and that money is staying in French language education. That money does not have to go to a particular program that we may have allocated it to in the past, it has to go to French language education. We are using all that money for French language education. Some money will stay with the CPRP, other money will be transferred to the CSAP, but it is still staying with French language education.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I would be curious if the minister could point out exactly in the estimates where she specifically sees that extra $470,000 being spent. If that was the case, I find it kind of peculiar that they would be putting in $1.645 million as a recovery, that they would put in only $1.425 million and then they could put a recovery somewhere else, because that is federal money being provided in those areas. So I would hope the minister could provide to me, specifically in the Estimates Book or in the Supplementary Detail, where that extra $470,000 is being spent and where the line item is?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, what we are doing within the CSAP - some programs within the CSAP - is offsetting provincial money with federal money. This is something we are entitled to do with the infrastructure money that the federal government provides for French language education. I repeat that that infrastructure money does not have to be attached to a particular program but it must go for education of students in the French language and that is where it was staying.
MR. DEVEAUX: Well, excuse me for my scepticism, Mr. Chairman, but when the minister is not willing to specifically tell me where in the Estimates Book the line item is, proving that that money is being spent somewhere else on French language, I have concerns, given the previous history of this government and its number crunching, so to speak.
I guess there are a couple of points I want to make on this. First of all, in previous years the federal government was providing funding, as we see on Page 7.9 of the Estimates Book - $3.7 million, $1.5 million, $2 million, $3 million - and this government was supplementing that. In fact, you see where they are actually spending more, $392,000 in some years. This year they have decided not only to not match that funding to help supplement, but have decided to cut it back altogether; in fact, keeping some of that money. Then we see under French Language Grants, where it had been 100 per cent funded by the federal government, the government is now taking some of that money and keeping it for itself and it doesn't seem to be able to tell us exactly where it is going. I find that very disconcerting, as I said earlier, Mr. Chairman; if the minister is not able to specifically point out to us where that money is being spent, I have some pretty grave concerns.
On top of that, in previous years, where governments felt the need to supplement and to provide extra funding where necessary for French language services, and particularly the minister talks about putting it into French language services, but if you look at Acadian and French Language Services in the Estimates Book, it says, "Coordinates the development, implementation and evaluation of French First and Second language courses and programs in the provincial education system." That sounds like a core function of the government, providing services for French first and second language. So if it isn't being spent there, I am very curious, where is that money actually being spent, Mr. Chairman?
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, I have explained before that the government is cutting administration from every area of the department, and that includes Acadian and French Language Services. I am not trying to hide the fact that we have cut money from English program services and French program services, that is true. Some provincial expenditures have been reduced. They have not been hidden or saved, they have been eliminated. We have offset some of that elimination of services by transferring some money from CPRP to the CSAP, federal money, and it is not being hidden away. Money is being cut and other money is being transferred in order to make the reduction to the CSAP on an equitable basis with the other school boards, at around 2.6 per cent.
MR. DEVEAUX: Here is my concern, Madam Minister, with what you are saying. The federal government has a commitment to ensuring the children of this province learn French, either as a first language or as a second language. We know through the history of this province, governments have continuously not necessarily had that same commitment without federal dollars being put in place. The federal government has committed to providing 100 per cent of the funding for Acadian and French Language Services.
This province has decided to take that money, they say they put it into something else; they cannot tell me here today where that money is going, so excuse me for my scepticism. They have taken that money and instead of spending 100 per cent of the federal money where the federal government intended it to be spent, they are taking it and spending it somewhere else. It is sort of like taking their credit card and paying off their bills with their credit card. They are taking the money from the federal government and trying to spend it on something else when, in fact, it was meant to ensure that those who deserve and want to learn in French have the right to do so, and that is my concern with what this minister is saying.
My final comment, Mr. Chairman, is that I would hope this government would look more seriously at French services. These are communities in Nova Scotia. Throughout Nova Scotia these communities have always been disenfranchised and have had little opportunity to gain in life and what the federal government has been trying to do is provide some funding to make it more equitable, to give them an opportunity to grow and to learn in their own language so that they can continue to live in their communities in their own language. What this government seems to be doing is taking that money and using it for other purposes. I find that deplorable and I would hope the Department of Education and this minister would think twice about doing something like that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Seeing no further interventions, I would recognize the Minister of Education if she would like to close debate and make some closing comments on her estimates.
The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. JANE PURVES: Mr. Chairman, before I do that, there are a few items here I would like to table regarding questions asked on previous days. This morning, the MLA for Clare asked for a list of renovations and construction. I have that. Also, if there was any new material on air quality of Graham Creighton Junior High School, perhaps we can make a copy for the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid on the present state of conditions at A.J. Smeltzer Junior High School.
I would also for the record like to respond to a question regarding the deputy minister's salary and his starting date. The deputy minister's salary is $127,500 and the start date was March 13, 2000.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to move the estimates for the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolutions E6 and E7 stand?
Resolutions E6 and E7 stand.
On behalf of all committee members, I would like to thank the minister and I would like to also thank her staff for their cooperation and presentation. I would like to thank all honourable members who participated in the Education estimates. That concludes debate on the estimates of the Department of Education. Perhaps we could just take a few moments until we deal with the next estimates which I will be calling, the Department of Community Services estimates.
[11:25 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:26 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I now call the estimates of the Department of Community Services.
Resolution E3 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $575,989,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Community Services, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I am pleased today to introduce the budget for the Department of Community Services for the fiscal year 2000-01. Let me say that our commitment is to help people moving toward self-reliance and to help people make sure that their children grow up healthy, happy and safe. On the income assistance side, our focus will continue to be helping people move toward self-reliance. We will increase our efforts to encourage and support people to move into the labour force and to remain there. Our challenge will be to build a social assistance system that does not create dependency.
We are beginning to address that challenge with the introduction of standardized assistance rates. This provides more fairness and, combined this fall with a single piece of legislation, will result in a more effective and efficient system. The department will continue to build partnerships with communities, agencies and other government departments. Working together during a time of strong economic activity, we can make a difference. We will continue to help those most in need. We have to build a system that is not an increasing burden to the government and to the taxpayers of this province.
Mr. Chairman, the issue of child poverty is a pressing one and one we are addressing with a number of programs. One of the most effective and immediate ways to reduce child poverty is to get people off assistance and back to work. Programs such as the Nova Scotia Child Benefit Program, a school supply income supplement, additional subsidized child care seats and refocusing the direct assistance program to low income families, will help address this issue. We are also providing more help for children with special needs and additional
funding and resources for early intervention programs. Four new programs will be set up in mainly rural areas of the province.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to take a moment to introduce Assistant Deputy Minister Robert Fowler and our Director of Budget and Results, Clem Hennebury.
Mr. Chairman, last fall during the estimates debates I talked about the progress the Department of Community Services is making in restructuring its social assistance delivery system. Today, I want to tell you about how we are going to implement some of these changes that will improve our system but, first, I would like to review a few of the steps the department has already taken. The first major step in our restructuring process began in 1995 when it set up a pilot project in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. For the first time the province would administer all social service programs within one municipality. Social assistance rates in the CBRM were standardized.
Outside of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality there were two distinct systems of social assistance in Nova Scotia that were often confusing to the public. The province administered the long-term Family Benefits Program and the municipalities had a wide variety of assistance programs. In 1996 the province assumed responsibility for social services in two more regional municipalities, Halifax and Queens. Again, provincial standards were introduced.
The second major step in the restructuring process came in April 1998, when the provincial government assumed responsibility for the administration of all social assistance in Nova Scotia. Many people in the municipal assistance system received increased benefits when they came under the provincial system. They also had, for the first time, other benefits such as Pharmacare and employment supports.
Throughout this restructuring process there has been tremendous cooperation from the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. In 1998, a memorandum of understanding included a phasing out of municipal contributions to social services over five years. Mr. Chairman, for this year we are adding another $11 million to that phase-out. That means municipalities will pay $26.4 million less for social services this year than they did in 1997-98. Having one provincial system of social assistance was necessary to continuing this restructuring process. With this now achieved, we began our public consultation process. We issued a discussion paper and a report of our focus group initiative and invited input from all Nova Scotians.
A few months later the Standing Committee on Community Services held a number of public sessions throughout the province on our restructuring initiatives. Together, feedback from these consultations told us we were heading in the right direction. The feedback also told us much more had to be done.
Another important step toward a streamlined, efficient, modern system took place last fall when the department moved all of the family benefits files to the same computer platform as our Social Assistance files. For the first time, our caseworkers are now trained to handle both types of files.
Mr. Chairman, we still need a better system. One that addresses a common need - the need for financial assistance and, at the same time, the need to become self-reliant. Today, we begin to address that problem with the introduction of standardized assistance rates. There will no longer be separate rates for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, for family benefits and for social assistance. There will be one set of rates for everyone. As well, we will introduce legislation this fall to begin to develop a single-tier system for people applying for assistance.
Mr. Chairman, while change can often be good, it can also require a period of adjustment. We recognize that in bringing in a new set of rates, there has to be a transition period. We are going to be as fair as possible. For anyone who is currently on family benefits or social assistance, they will stay at their current rates for one year. However, if there is anyone currently on assistance who would be better off on the new rate structure, they will get the better rate. For people coming into the assistance system as of May 1st of this year, they will be assessed under the new rate structure.
Mr. Chairman, we have made some progress but there is still more to be done. We have a more equitable system in place now than just a few years ago. However, we still have a few problems. (Interruption) Mr. Chairman, does he have the floor? Shall I relinquish the floor to him?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister. You have the floor.
MR. CHRISTIE: We still have two very distinct and different programs, our short-term Social Assistance Program and our longer-term Family Benefits Program. These programs are governed by separate pieces of legislation and they have different eligibility requirements, policies, allowances and administrative requirements. In fact, we still have three rates of income assistance when you add the Cape Breton Regional Municipality rates. These rates, developed as part of a 1995 pilot project, still exist. Obviously this can't continue.
It is no secret that the province is in the midst of a difficult financial situation. Every government department is dealing with that reality, Community Services is no exception. While we will continue to help those in need, we have to build a system that will be fair and sustainable to government and to the taxpayers of this province. We have to build a system that doesn't create dependency, and we have to encourage and support people to move into the labour force and remain there.
There will be a transition period during which people on income assistance will continue to receive their current rates, but basic rates are rarely the only help people on assistance will receive. If we look at this in the proper context, we have to add in the most likely types of assistance people will get. There are benefits such as Pharmacare coverage, special needs and employment support.
Mr. Chairman, this will be a transition year in which we introduce the interim standard rates. We will monitor and assess the impact of those rates and we will consult with our clients and stakeholders. We will introduce legislation this fall that will be debated in this House and stakeholders will be participating in that during the development and during the Law Amendments Committee. Our new welfare system will be one that encourages and supports self-reliance, but one that also has compassion and recognizes that some people will need long-term assistance.
Mr. Chairman, we all know that each year brings added financial pressures to families on assistance. This government will help with that yearly expense. Beginning with the next school year, we will provide a one-time payment of $50 for each child between the ages of 5 and 12, and $100 for each child between the ages of 13 to 18. This money will be added to the September assistance payment which families receive in late August. This initiative has a budget of $1.6 million.
As I mentioned, people on social assistance also have access to the government's Pharmacare Program. To maintain this we will be announcing an increase in the co-pay. It will be going from $3.00 per prescription to $5.00 per prescription, effective this June. During the past fiscal year, Community Services spent $29.4 million on Pharmacare coverage. It is an expensive program and the trend in the last few years has been getting more expensive. With the escalating costs of this program we found it necessary to increase our co-pay amount for Pharmacare.
At this point it is important to note that for most claims for Pharmacare coverage made by people on assistance, nearly 80 per cent are made by people with disabilities. It is important for the members to know that we do not charge a co-pay for people with disabilities. This Pharmacare coverage is provided free of charge and this will not change.
Our special needs coverage will continue for people on assistance. Special needs include such things as medical transportation, eyeglasses, dental work and an array of items associated with work, training or upgrading. Each request for special needs is considered on an individual basis, with the health and well-being of each person taken into account. During the past fiscal year the department spent over $12 million in this category.
People on assistance can also access our employment support services. This section of our department has been seeing increased progress over the last few years. Mr. Chairman, we know, and the feedback from the public consultations confirm, that people on Social
Assistance would rather be self-reliant. They want us to remove barriers to getting a job; they want support for getting off assistance and into the labour force. We have been doing that and we are going to keep doing that.
The number of people on assistance in Nova Scotia has been declining in the last few years. Since 1996, the number of people on assistance in Nova Scotia has dropped from about 49,000 to 38,000. Some of the credit has to go to a strong economy; some credit has to go to people who work hard to get themselves off assistance and into the job market; and some credit has to go to our Employment Support Services section.
Working with departmental staff throughout the province, and with government and private sector partners, more than 4,000 people on Social Assistance were matched with employment opportunities in each of the past two years. More than 13,000 people on social assistance have been matched with employment opportunities in the past four years.
We also know that lack of education can sometimes be a barrier to self-reliance. We will continue to work with our partners to provide educational and training support wherever possible. Mr. Chairman, this is about helping people become self-reliant. The goal is to help people move into, and stay, in the labour market. The way to do that is to address both long and short-term barriers to employment.
Nova Scotia must be a place where talent means opportunity, hard work means success, and genuine need is met with a compassionate response. There will be people on social assistance where it would be unrealistic to expect them to participate full time in the workforce. For a variety of reasons, some people will need extended assistance and supports. Nova Scotians understand that those who are disadvantaged among us need our help, and they will get our help.
This is a transition year. We will focus on improving those programs and services that Nova Scotians need and care about most, but if we keep doing things the old way, we will get the old results. The department will continue to build partnerships with communities, employers, agencies, and with other governments and government departments.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to say that this department has been able to maintain its funding to our partnering agencies. There are about 125 agencies receiving approximately $5.7 million from us. That money has been maintained. These agencies, right across the province, provide services and programs to families and children and to people who need help in making the move to self-reliance. Working together, we can make a difference.
Mr. Chairman, we have to provide help to overcome the obstacles to employment. Parents in our assistance system have benefits they would lose if they enter an entry-level position. We have to look at what supports they could take with them. We have to identify and remove the barriers to employment. This will be a transition year as we prepare for a new
single-tier assistance system that will focus on helping people become, and stay, independent. During the coming year, we will explore ways we can provide support when people move off assistance and into the employment situation. The National Child Benefit is one of these programs set up to help people get back to work. It is designed to provide benefits for those leaving assistance and moving into the workforce. The Nova Scotia Child Benefit is this province's main contribution to the National Child Benefit. It is an income supplement given to all low-income families, including those on assistance. If somebody on assistance is currently getting the Nova Scotia Child Benefit, they will continue to get it when they move off assistance. Our reinvestment funds in the fiscal year 2000-01 will be $23.5 million; about $20.2 million will be used for the Nova Scotia Child Benefit; another $3.3 million will be used for our Healthy Child Development Initiatives.
Mr. Chairman, starting this July, 35,000 families with 59,000 children will receive an increase in their Nova Scotia Child Benefit payments. In Nova Scotia, no one on Social Assistance receives less money as a result of the National Child Benefit. Families on Social Assistance receive the Nova Scotia Child Benefit. This government has begun a process of looking at how we might allow families on Social Assistance to keep more money under the National Child Benefit. We will continue to look at these issues over the next year.
The government recognizes that one of the barriers to entering the workforce and staying there is adequate and affordable child care. We will add another 100 subsidized child care seats at an annual cost of $535,000. Five of those seats will be for children with special needs. These new subsidized seats we are announcing will be part of a portability pilot project which will link these seats to the child, as opposed to the child care centre. A full review of child care funding is underway, and we will be talking with our stakeholders and looking at all the options available. Our goal is to give parents entering the workforce greater flexibility and choice in child care. This will allow them to remain self-reliant. We will have 2,550 subsidized child care seats in Nova Scotia. That is an annual investment of about $13.7 million. Every year, more seats are added.
Having children in the more than 370 licensed centre-based child care programs in Nova Scotia has added benefits. Studies indicate children who participate in quality child care go on to have greater success at school, are less likely to drop out, and are less likely to be unemployed. Quality child care gives children valuable skills they carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Mr. Chairman, this government is directing tax dollars towards children. The protection and care of children is a priority of this government. We are investing an annual $4.3 million by recruiting 71 new social workers. I have said before, we are committed to doing the important jobs better, and nothing is more important than the care and protection of children. These new social workers will be placed in positions to ensure they benefit children to the greatest extent possible. The new positions will boost services in three areas: focusing on the protection of children; foster care; and adoption services. These positions will
be located in child welfare offices throughout the province, and we expect that all these positions should be in place by this fall.
Mr. Chairman, almost 80 per cent of the staff at Community Services is located in our regional and district offices throughout the province. While head office staff deal with policies and development of programs, our field staff work on the front lines. Because they are close to the action, they see first-hand what is needed to provide protection and assistance to people at risk or in need. We will continue to ask for input from our staff to make every effort to ensure they are well informed on the programs and services the department offers or what we may be planning. Our staff is compassionate, professional, and dedicated to the people they help. I have the utmost respect for them as they deal with social issues on a daily basis.
Mr. Chairman, children are our province's strength today and in the future. Making sure they grow up healthy, happy and safe is a key responsibility for parents, communities, and society as a whole. An increasing number of Nova Scotians believe we can do more for our children and this government agrees. This is why we support the National Children's Agenda and that is why we have many other initiatives which recognize that every child deserves the best opportunity they can get. The care and protection of children is our priority. The department will begin the process of restructuring the delivery of Family and Children Services Programs in our four regions. The goal is to provide easy access and to make sure that the maximum amount of money is being used for programs rather than administration. This review will include talks with the Children's Aid Societies.
Initiatives are already well underway to strengthen our residential services for children to ensure that troubled children and youth are given the best quality of care. We will soon be announcing new standards for residential child care facilities. They will cover everything from staff qualifications, to reporting child abuse allegations, to staffing ratios. All residential child-caring facilities must adhere to the new standards, and we will offer the necessary training. We recognize that we need a strengthened capacity for Nova Scotians to care for its most troubled young people. A secure treatment centre for Nova Scotia is now scheduled to open in the fall of 2001. Secure treatment is a program to help stabilize children so they can eventually return to their community. However, it is only a temporary stop, not a long-term arrangement.
This year the Department of Transportation and Public Works will continue preparatory work for the facility. Mr. Chairman, Truro is still our primary site for this facility, and we will work with the local community to discuss the best options for this site and for other existing facilities in the area. We will have funds in next year's budget for secure treatment, and we will move forward with staffing. Depending on the construction schedule and other factors, we hope to have the facility open in the fall of 2001. Secure treatment is a complex and specialized undertaking, and only a couple of provinces in Canada have such a facility. We have to make sure we do this absolutely right and do it right the first time.
Mr. Chairman, it is a well-known fact that a child's brain development in the first six years of life sets out the foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour and health. That is why this government is investing an additional $835,000 for four new early intervention programs. These programs are for children with special needs.
The goal of early intervention is to help children with developmental disabilities reach their potential by working directly with children and their families in their home. We will increase funding to the 14 existing early intervention programs, as well as establishing four new programs in unserved areas of the province. We believe that the increased grants, from 75 per cent to 100 per cent, with the added contribution of $220,000, will enable existing programs to deliver more service in the communities they operate in. This will bring the annual funding for early intervention programs in Nova Scotia to $1.8 million.
This government recognizes that low-income families have a harder time making ends meet. We need to target more funding to families with children. I am pleased to say that the funding for the Direct Assistance Program has been maintained, but that it will now be targetted to families with children. This means eligible families can receive $250, up from the $125 last year.
Perhaps the most important anchor in our lives is our families, and seniors play a crucial role in providing strength, comfort and wisdom to children and grandchildren. Seniors offer a sense of perspective that is based on experience and history, and there is no replacement for this in bringing families together.
Mr. Chairman, we are going to provide more help for seniors in Nova Scotia. As of April 1st, all continuing care programs and services for seniors are located within the Department of Health. This will help ensure seniors are provided with the right service at the right time and at the right place. Seniors are also happier in their own homes. We will work to help them remain in their homes as long as possible. Seniors have told us that property taxes are one of the barriers to staying at home. We are extending the Property Tax Rebate to all seniors who qualify. No new applications have been accepted since 1995 when the program was restricted to seniors who received a rebate in that year. With changes to be phased in over the next four years, the property tax rebate will be available to all seniors who now receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement. We are opening up the program and providing more fairness for those who can qualify for property tax rebates.
Mr. Chairman, as I have said, these are challenging times. When you keep in mind that the debt of this province is growing at an alarming rate of more than $1,000 every minute of every day, you get a picture of why hard decisions have to be made. We have made difficult decisions, but we are maintaining the spirit of the mission statement of the Department of Community Services: to enhance the quality of life of communities in Nova Scotia by helping individuals, families and communities reach their potential.
We are continuing with the restructuring of the income assistance system in this province. Our goal has been to build a modern, effective and affordable system that encourages and supports people to move to self-reliance. We will continue to help and support people on assistance who want to get into the job market and become self-reliant; we have always looked for a way to support that.
As a responsible government, we have to find the right balance between helping Nova Scotians who don't have a job, and growing our economy so they will have a chance. We have to find the right balance between an income assistance system that helps those in need and supports those who want to become self-reliant, and a system that taxpayers in this province can afford.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to provide members of this House with an outline of some of the important budget initiatives that we have underway.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for your opening comments.
The honourable member for Dartmouth East. Your starting time is 11:55 a.m.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Thank you. I would classify them as more than opening comments, I thought it was quite a litany of Tory code words: the burden of the poor, the self-reliance, not to create dependency, get people off assistance and back to work. Those themes kept cropping up, although I want to compliment the minister on the early intervention programs and the attention he put there. I was looking for child protection issues and early intervention programs that were mentioned.
I would also like to thank the minister. Our government took measures against the Property Tax Rebate, and he brought that back in. This year I will qualify for that, so, as you can see, all those in need take many forms and some of them are even in the House of Assembly, so I would appreciate that although, I suppose, it is really self-serving.
Where to start in Community Services? I think that Community Services really is the department that is the spirit and the soul and the compassion, if you will, of a government and what is reflected. That is what concerns me about the code words and the "Ontario Tory, Ralph Klein, Alberta-type talk." We are showing the results of a good economy, no question, with Income Assistance and those issues. That is what concerns us on this side of the House with the change now that is coming in with the projected growth for this province, and if we see a downturn in that.
I personally think there is a lack of optimism out there. I think within the last few weeks, in this province, there has been a change. I certainly hope it is not contagious because it will benefit none of us and I am not here to champion that in any way, other than to serve as a warning to this government to get its house in order, get the ministers more familiar with
their budgets and to be accountable for some of their actions. I believe this minister does, we will see. I believe the last time the minister spoke with regard to his budget, he seemed to have a very good handle on the department and he understood. So anything that is not being done, I don't think it is through lack of understanding; and it is reflecting the philosophy and the goals and objectives of this government.
As I mentioned the Department of Community Services is an interesting one. It was my first department, I spent three years there, from 1993 onwards. I want to thank the minister for highlighting a lot of the initiatives we brought forward as a government and he has continued to pursue towards a single-tier system, the standardization of income assistance rates and other initiatives like that and the blending of income assistance with the family benefits. Those initiatives plus the early initiatives, I think it is extremely important to maintain them, and also to have the four new ones.
There are some areas of concern, and as we pursue the debate on the estimates we have specific questions. I wanted to make a few comments. Initially, the minister took about 24 or 25 minutes of our time, so to speak, however, it sets the stage and I think it was quite telling.
The department has grown and has responsibilities in many different areas. The cap funding of the assistance program with the relationship with the federal government determined a lot of the programs in years gone by, and we have seen some of those switching now as the funding mechanisms change. The relationship, not only with the federal government has changed but also the relationship with Health, Justice, and Housing, and we see some of that even more formalized. So I think it is important that that relationship is maintained, particularly when it comes to family and children's services.
The part of the department that I think is most crucial - I know income assistance gets a lot of the attention and it is certainly a high budget item - is certainly the family and children's services group. I think that is the one that has, at least I have found, the most interesting and most challenging issues of child welfare, the maintenance of children and child protection issues, particularly around the issues of child protection because the history of the department has had quite a checkered career on that matter, maybe reflecting again the attitudes of our society and not being up on what was happening to children - particularly children - the issue of child abuse, sexual abuse, and how we have learned, in the last 15 years or so, how things have changed.
When I first came into the House - I think I have mentioned this before - when I brought the issue from my own medical practice of child abuse and sexual abuse of children, I was sent a note by the then Speaker, Honourable Arthur Donahoe - who is probably in the
city today, attending the death of his father, for which we have all expressed condolences - saying that was the first time in the House of Assembly that that had been part of the debate.
I think from then on society was in the process of becoming more aware. We know a lot of the issues surrounding children in need of protection, the attitudes, the issue of shaken baby syndrome, that were not even known at that time, the number of children who were being killed actually by people who knew them within the family, that whole issue has come to the forefront.
The professionalism of the social worker has been a large step. The physiotherapists, the occupational therapists, and the technologists will be having their own legislation; the social workers have had theirs. I think there is much more professionalism in that. The changes to the Children and Family Services Act, for instance, the changes to the definition of neglect alone has made strides and a positive impact on the protection of children.
The issue of transition houses and women's centres, the issue of national child care - child care not being a vehicle to get people back into the workforce, but for children themselves. I think the minister alluded to that, but I am also concerned that many within that government have a conception that child care is a means to get somebody back to work. That is fine to support them in that, but I think that should not be the primary focus of a child care program. The issue of family violence, we will have some questions on this specifically.
In the document, The Course Ahead and in the Budget Address of this government, there is a lot said about the Department of Community Services. It was said that the emphasis of Community Services will make people self-sufficient by helping people get back to work. Perhaps the minister might say, force people back to work, since Income Assistance payments have been slashed by nearly $6 million. As we know, there are approximately 75,000 Nova Scotians who depend on Family Benefits or the Social Assistance Program. It is no secret that anti-poverty groups such as the Community Advocates Network and the Anti-Poverty Network, have called the Community Services budget a disaster for the poor. The bottom line is that most people who receive income support will get less money next year. I fail to see how this is supposed to help people get back to work. There is transition money. People entering the workforce have new expenses, not less, like work clothing, transportation, and as we mentioned, child care.
How does the minister propose that people on social assistance prepare for the workforce when we see these budgets cut drastically, by $6 million? Where is the provision for transition money for people returning to the workforce? This is a big thrust of his 25 minutes of comments this morning.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member raised a couple of questions, and I want to speak to those questions. The honourable member indicated that income assistance was down by $6 million. I did indicate in my opening remarks, and I am sure the
honourable member knows from his time at Community Services, that the progress that has been made towards helping people get back to work has shown some positive results. It showed positive results this year. This year, we had people finding full-time employment, 4,100 as opposed to 4,000 last year, and we see that continuing. People need all types of supports to get back to work. The comments regarding the National Child Benefit, I wasn't attempting to imply that it was a single entry to getting people back to work. The implication was that it shouldn't be a detriment to people getting back to work, it should stay with all people with low income, people who work and people on assistance. That was the implication we were making there.
We do have a challenge. There is a challenge to develop a system that doesn't create this dependency and finds these supports that people need to get back to work. As I indicated, as we come toward the fall, bringing our legislation for the single-tier system in, we will be bringing forward and having debate with people as to what assists they need, how we can best work that legislation out, and how we can best develop the system to help them get back to work. This year, for example, you will notice there is $1.5 million in our Employment Support Program to help with counselling, to help get the training they need, to help with a variety of different things. As I indicated in my opening comments, we haven't developed the legislation yet. There is still consultation needed as we come forward this fall with the single-tier rate, and as we bring in the legislation to standardize it. Those things will be coming along as part of our discussion and as we develop the legislation for the fall.
DR. SMITH: There are so many areas to focus on. I will try to work my way through this. One thing really concerns me about people in a transition period. I had a call this morning, and perhaps it could be best dealt with later, maybe I could speak to the minister. A person who, last year, between their student loan and working, with two dependent children and a spouse, a four-member family, received temporary assistance for one month - because as an engineering student can get into the workforce - this year, as of now, they have been refused. They were told the appeal might be three or months, while the job will probably start around May 15th.
We are seeing a lot of that right now. That is an example of that transition period, those people in need. They are being helped by a disabled parent, to some extent. These people don't have enough money to pay the rent. Yet, they are good people who want to work. There is a transition period. We are getting this - I don't want to call them welfare cops, but there is something happening in the communities. I have run into areas where the cheque is being paid directly to landlords. There is a lot of pressure on us.
You talk about getting off of dependency and creating independency, I would like to know the policy on that, right now. I haven't had a chance to check, but this is a major step. I am sure the minister is aware of this in the metro community. There are landlords who live off people on social assistance. If they get into detox or whatever, they are over there with their Cadillacs to drive them home to that apartment, and they practically have them as serfs.
I know there are some problems, people leaving damaged apartments and all of that, but are we seeing the start of that type of wholesale program, where cheques for people on social assistance, for rent, will be paid directly to landlords? I want to know the philosophy behind that, in light of the minister's comments here this morning.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member, having been in Community Services, would know that there has been over the years, and still continues to be, a lot of pressure from landlords to redirect cheques. We spoke at some length about this last year in the estimates. The department's policy is that only in extreme cases, and then only if the issue is discussed with the landlord and the person, the policy has not changed. It is not our policy. The policy hasn't changed to start paying cheques out, it is only in extreme cases.
DR. SMITH: I don't want to mention or give away the identity of this person in Dartmouth East, but she is a single parent with two children. The payment she received each month was $881, and this month she received $436. No explanation was given, she couldn't get through the system, which is another issue. I guess we all have trouble with that, I think Community Services particularly and as the previous minister, I felt the frustration as well. I hope that does not get worse. Over time, it seems not to be getting better anyway. When we checked with her from our office, that was the issue, that the rent - I believe she accepted that quite well. There may have been more to the story than what we were aware of, but when you start hearing that sort of thing with that kind of a person - and this was a neighbour who was calling for her because I think she had given up on the system. I just wanted to flag it.
A constituency office is an interesting place because you tend to get a sampling and you see trends happening. Sometimes they are warranted. I think the worst of all is someone on social assistance perhaps, in a small community, maybe a small fishing community, and they are cohabitating with someone, there is someone living in the house with a fairly good income; maybe they are working offshore somewhere, but they are actually living there and people sometimes even brag about this to people in the community. So you have low wage earners struggling with no benefits of any kind, this type of thing. That is fraud, and I think we all want to see those things corrected.
I know the anti-poverty groups have had problems with that. As minister, I am sure you have representations that your people are working too hard on, but I think there are rules we must play by. When you have people with children, and all of a sudden cheques are arriving with no explanation in the cheque, apparently, this is what we are told, that sort of thing, is this a trend? If not, the minister has assured me the policy is staying the same, then so be it, these are things we will watch. Have there been any people put in the Dartmouth area, that you know of, for the purpose of auditing or new employees that you are aware of who have gone into that system of monitoring social assistance or family benefits and, if so, what are their qualifications and what sort of numbers are we looking at?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the specific question was, has there been any change in the audit practices, personnel and so on in the Dartmouth area? No, there have been no specific initiatives. The former minister was certainly well aware of the overpayment recovery process and that process is still ongoing. As you know the cheques are paid at the first of the month, if they receive income it is adjusted during the month. There have been no specific initiatives changed in auditing in the Dartmouth area.
Just another comment in terms of the particular individual or the particular case you were referring to, we certainly will not get into specific cases, but we are happy to undertake a review of that case and report back to you on what we find. We are certainly happy to do that.
DR. SMITH: I want to compliment the staff you have with you today, I know they take these matters very serious. They served me well and I hope they are serving you even half as well. Don't be too tough on them. Don't let your Cabinet Ministers, the Minister of Health and all the others, bring in these Draconian laws because people do want to work. They do need assistance and they have special needs rather than burdens that we all must help them share.
The issue of child care spaces and the 100 new spaces, are they targetted more as a priority for people returning to work? Could the minister comment on whether the new spaces seem to be linked with returning to the workforce. Is that an integral part of a transitional employment program, training, or will these be open?
MR. CHRISTIE: Regarding the 100 new spaces, in the pilot project, we started looking at those with people, to make them portable. Obviously, the portability issue is best spoken to people who are going back into the workforce. As we talk with the child care sector, we have instances where people perhaps might be in Truro and coming to Halifax, perhaps they are in Oxford and going somewhere else, so the thrust of those 100 is not exclusively towards back to work, but with the portability objectivity of them, and with the ability so they can move. It would be more designed towards helping people looking for work more than likely than outside of their community. We will be continuing our discussions with the child care sector. We have had discussions with them as late as two weeks ago.
We will be continuing those discussions because, as the honourable member is aware, there is that issue of, if you get into portable spaces, how does that affect child care centres where they have had kinds of grants and per diems before. So we have to work that out, but I think, in the main, the answer to your question is that we see more of those being used for people on the back-to-work initiatives, and five of those seats were for children with special needs. So that would be part of that process, too. Not all of them, I don't want to imply all of them, but clearly a lot of those will be trying to help people as they go back to work.
DR. SMITH: I can share that with the minister, that it is sometimes a difficult call. If it appears punitive then really you get away from that program being for children and it becomes a program for adults and I think that is a thin line. Will the minister be using the round table, will the round table be designating where these spots will be going or is there another mechanism in place for that?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, the round table will be involved. There is not only the issue of where seats will be, but the whole issue of how you are going to fund and move. As I indicated, the whole issue around the program is going to be one of portability, and we will be engaging the round table in those discussions along with other sectors of the child care sector to try to find the best solutions to all of those issues.
DR. SMITH: I thank the minister because I think these are important initiatives. The issue of flexibility is important in portability, those are issues that have been a long time coming because they are sensitive and they can impact, as the minister has said, negatively if not used in the proper way.
I want to just go to Page 5.2 of the Supplementary Detail. We have seen a bit of a disturbing trend across government, and in this budget Senior Management has risen. I know some of our friends you introduced had nice titles, I compliment them on that. We do see a significant rise in the office of the minister and deputy minister of $123,000, under Senior Management. Would the minister like to explain that?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, yes, clearly that line item has to do with the five full-time equivalents. As the honourable member will be aware, back in early January, the Deputy Ministers of the Departments of Economic Development, and Community Services were changed. At that time two people came from Economic Development, Mr. Fowler being one of them, to join us, and two people went from Community Services. The one person who went was the deputy minister, the other person who went to Economic Development was somebody who was included in our operational support team, a person they had been working with there. This year on that line item that has to do with senior management there are 5 full-time equivalents, and that includes the deputy minister, the assistant deputy minister, two secretaries and my executive assistant.
As I indicated, if you look across the whole department, you will see from a head office perspective, we are down some number of people. It is where they are on the line items and where they have changed that is causing one of those changes on that line.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Minister, is there an evaluation protocol established there with senior management that would measure performance and those issues? Has that been enacted?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, yes, the evaluation performance is a performance letter that all the deputies have signed with the Priorities and Planning people that sets out their goals and objectives for the year and it is monitored throughout the year. As the honourable member knows, the deputy then is responsible for the evaluation of the people in the department. So the answer is yes, there is an evaluation and standard performance set for people in that office.
DR. SMITH: On Communications, I see that is decreased. We spoke about Communications, certainly access, people understanding the programs. I wonder, while it may not seem like a large decrease, there is a decrease in Communications, can the minister explain this? Does he think really that you can better serve the clients in Community Services with a reduced budget? We mentioned about the phone access being so bad for people. In some areas it is a half hour before you can get through the system. Those people who come to our office often have given up. Sometimes maybe they don't understand that system. Do you think Communications is adequately funded and is meeting the needs of the department really?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to indicate to the honourable member, the number of people in Communications has not changed. The budget reduction has to do with operating cost reduction, but the number of people who were there were three last year and there are three this year. It is not a decrease in persons, it is a decrease in other expenditures. Clearly, as the honourable member indicated, communicating to people, being able to keep the people informed throughout the regional offices and the other departments is very critical, so we have not experienced any reduction in the number of staff in that area.
DR. SMITH: I think it is important because it is also materials and other programs that have to be understood. Sometimes it quite amazes me how people can find their way through various systems. I think this highlights the importance of some of those programs; Audit Services, for instance have increased.
Also I would mention just before we leave the other issue of Communications that we do see the field services budget reduced. Whether that means a trend in government to move back to a more centralized government that we saw prior to 1993 when things were run basically from the Premier's office, if you didn't get satisfaction in the department, you went to the Premier's office. I hope we are not moving back to that sort of a system, but here specifically on Audit Services, it is increased $158,000. Can the minister clarify what that signifies? Does it mean that there is more intense scrutiny within the welfare system, as we touched on earlier? That would be my question, the increase in Audit Services and where that is focused.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the increase in costs there, that section is now fully staffed, and so it is the annualization of that additional person there, that has increased the cost. The other part of your question was, does it indicate an increase in working with people? To some degree it does, because as the honourable member knows there are a lot of
agencies that are funded through that that we work with. There are 125 agencies that we are involved with. We would want to provide some services for them, and indeed, do some review work with them. That is why we came to that full staffing. It doesn't suggest a change in Community Services and people on assistance. More of our thrust here is to work with the partners and agencies in that area.
DR. SMITH: Thank you, and that is an important area, no questions, because these agencies appreciate that support generally, and it is not intrusive, so that is fine. But, the issue of the Direct Grants, though, in the column under Commissions and Agencies, the minister mentioned earlier that there was no cutting of those budgets, but we see quite a drop in the Direct Grants. Can he be more specific in that area and why isn't that a cut to agencies?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, perhaps could the honourable member clarify. Do you mean from the estimates to the forecast last year or from estimate to estimate?
DR. SMITH: From the forecast which obviously was what was paid out; $38,800 to the $18,000 to $20,000.
MR. CHRISTIE: That particular one, as you recall, Health announced the Seniors' Secretariat was being transferred to Health. Part of those monies that were there last year were for senior citizens' grants and would go with them. The other item - was that what volunteer resources was - was, we had a specific appeal from the volunteer resource centre to help them while they got established and got working with the community. So that is reflected last year which we didn't bring forward to this year.
DR. SMITH: Every department has been impacted by the 243 promises in the Tory blue book; one that particularly stood out was the Disabled Persons' Commission.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Could we ask the members to drop the volume please. The discussion between the member and the minister, they are having difficulty understanding or hearing each other. Thank you for your cooperation as always.
DR. SMITH: It is better now that you have intervened, Mr. Chairman. I was speaking of the Tory promises in the blue book, Disabled Persons' Commission, particularly on transportation. In that book the Progressive Conservatives - I hesitate to use that word now because progressive, I think it is more neo-Conservatives - did promise to work with the Disabled Persons' Commissions in groups that represent persons with disabilities to expand accessible transportation services throughout the province. My question to the minister is, where in this budget can I find that expansion of accessible transportation services? The budget for disabled persons has been slashed by $17,300. At the same time, could the minister give the details of that cut?
MR. CHRISTIE: The two questions were - the first was dealing with the transportation issue for the disabled. We have had a number of meetings with the Disabled Persons' Commission in terms of looking at that, and as the honourable member knows, the pilot projects that are going on in some of the regions around and how we can expand that. Our last meeting we had with them also engaged the LEO group, and that centred around the accessibility question and the accessibility of buildings. That particular item is included in the estimates of the Department of Housing and Municipal Affairs. You will find that in there. That was an initiative they are undertaking, working with the disabled commission and the LEO group.
The other part of the question is, there was a reduction in the Disabled Persons' Commission. We had some administrative reductions there of $9,000. It was a reduction in administration for them.
DR. SMITH: I hope it is not regarding the ability of that commission to function because again, we are seeing boards disbanded, regional health boards disbanded. We are now seeing the interference with school boards, new structures. It all really starts to look like the old Tory Governments of having political followers - I almost said hacks, Mr. Chairman, that would not be right but I noticed the appointment of a Cabinet Minister that I ran against in the 1993 election appointed to a well-paying, patronage position. It is a way that you sort of integrate the system but also, at the same time, you put in your own people, your Party workers and your faithful supporters.
It was very interesting to get just a little political because they sort of woke up over there, Mr. Chairman. Probably the reason that person lost that election so heavily was that Mr. Donnie Cameron had appointed her as a Cabinet Minister and I didn't have to say anything; I never said anything on the doors but it was a given. So sometimes these Tory Governments, even these elite Tory Governments, they get a little too smart for their own boots. I don't want to see them stifling the voice of Disabled Persons' Commission or LEO, for instance. I will come back to LEO because I have some concerns there particularly.
I hope this is not in any way silencing the voice of disabled persons in this province. I don't want to make a big thing; it is $9,000. I am sure that people listening to that think well, that is nothing in the scheme of the government, but it is important to that commission. I hope it is thought out and with their compliance because they are important. Those people come from all around the province. I know many of them personally. They have dedicated their lives to issues surrounding accessible buildings, accessible transportation and those particular issues. So we see it chipped away a little bit. That is how these things happen; it is not all done at once, it just comes a little bit at a time and then, all of a sudden, there is no one there to speak for anyone.
The issue of LEO that the minister mentioned, is it true that you have given them an alternative that it would either be the inclusive transportation project or the wheelchair accessibility project? You mentioned meeting with them, and we are talking about transportation. You said it is under Housing, or Human Services it is called now, or something - which are terrible words but that is another matter - so there is a budget item for that and is it limited to either/or of those two projects?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, those two items the honourable member raised did come up in our meeting. Actually we have had two meetings with them. One was back last September and the last meeting was in February. We did discuss both those issues.
The last meeting we had was focused more on the Accessibility to Buildings Program and that was what we discussed. I think your question was, have we said to them that it is either one or the other? The answer is no. We spoke in the last instance about the Accessibility to Buildings Program, talked to them, along with the Disabled Persons' Commission, about how we could best proceed with that. As I indicated, the dollars for that are in the estimates of Housing and Municipal Affairs. There has never been any discussion about an either/or. We know the next step in that discussion is back to the transportation issues and carrying on with that.
DR. SMITH: Well, it is encouraging to hear and I am sure LEO will be aware of your comments here today. I must say that I don't think they are quite as clear, so the minister may want to deal with that issue with them. They have been strong advocates, particularly in the transportation end, but obviously on the accessibility, and they go hand in hand and you really can't have one without the other because the roadblocks hit pretty quickly.
Mr. Chairman, on Page 5.3, the budget estimate there for Administration is down - it is the Corporate Services Unit - $2,600. It is a small cut. Can the minister give some details there? The pre-election message of the premier, and one of the reasons I think that he was successful in forming government and got the confidence of the people, the votes of this province, was that he was going to fund his 243 promises through cuts to administration. The most notable, of course, was the $46 million in Health - there would be no new money but it would save the health care system. We have seen that fall flat and that promise not kept.
So if the government hopes to trim the fat, does the minister agree that the administrative costs here - although you have taken $9,000 out of the Disabled Persons' Commission, you have taken $2,600 out of this particular line item here. It may be a small point but again, it is a trend across government.
MR. CHRISTIE: Could the honourable member clarify if you are talking about the top line of Administration or are you referring to the Corporate Services Unit's overall budget? If we are addressing the issue of the administrative first top line, if you go from
estimate to estimate, you will see we are the same. The estimate that forecast last year had a slight increase but remains the same.
If you go down to the bottom of that line, if that was your question, of the total from after IT Services, you will see that we are down eight people and that we are down just a little more than $2 million, a number of that, of course, being Y2K but there are some reductions in people there also.
DR. SMITH: And I notice that that was down eight people. That is why it was sort of a little confusing there. Anyway, these are trends that we look for.
On the Financial Services in that same grouping, it does show an increase, $181,000. Can the minister provide the details in that particular item?
MR. CHRISTIE: Thank you. That estimate of $2.068 million and then the expenditure of $1.837 million was that we didn't achieve a full staffing complement that we had anticipated back when the budget was achieved. So there were some savings there.
As you come over to the other side of Financial Services and you see that the budget is down by $50,000, that is the particular line I referred to the honourable member earlier about the transfer of one person over to Economic Development.
DR. SMITH: I guess I tend to look at programs and I don't do well in some of these financial areas but they are important and we look for trends. In Information Technology, I suspected this is the Y2K thing, the answer, but it is very interesting, the forecast, because last year the minister's budget was fairly enriched in certain areas and I complimented the minister at that time for being able to do that. Of course it was very conveniently blamed on the previous government and all this sort of thing but you take it where you get it, particularly when there are services for children.
Here, in this particular IT Services, there is a decrease there. We know that much has been made about the Y2K costs, especially in the budget of the Department of Health, and all of those other issues. What investments, where are the investments in information technology coming within this budgetary period? Where is the thrust and the targetted areas for that and the reduction? Is it just going back to the 1998-99 budget? What are the demands within the department and IT at this time?
MR. CHRISTIE: Your first question has to do with the Y2K impact. The Y2K impact showing in last year, that is not, of course, carried forward this year, is $2.3 million. As the honourable member will notice there is also a three person reduction. The impact and thrust for Information Technology is still included in that. A lot of effort went toward Y2K which can now be refocused, and we saw that could be achieved with a few less people. I would also say to the honourable member, who is certainly aware that part of this line item has to deal
with the fact that Systemhouse has a contract, that contract is out for renewal, out for bid, and that will be the thrust that we are following there to continue, improve and develop our technology.
As I indicated last year, the need for information in the regional offices, the need for people to know programming is critically important, as the honourable member knows. That is a major line item for us, a major information piece, and we feel we can do that with the $7.7 million.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I wanted to touch on this matter particularly because I know with Systemhouse and all the others that it is a highly technical initiative on administering assistance and family benefits and also, the melding of departments. What information systems are shared between the Departments of Community Services and Health at this time? Also, just to save getting up again, what system changes have taken place within the human services or Housing coming in under that same department?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the sharing with Health is at the front of the Income Assistance Program, there is some sharing with that. The second part of your question was, has the Department of Housing started to come into Community Services? That has been the trend and the development. Those details of having that moved is in the process of having a task force set up to bring those together, to bring people together and achieve those objectives. The move toward that has not started as yet. We anticipate that will happen in early summer and that will be developed over the next several months. At this point in time, Housing is still on its own and the details and process is being developed.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I think anything that improves the coordination between Community Services and Health is always a challenge, they are only separated by one street but sometimes it may seem they are in different countries. I think the more programs that are shared and worked toward, and when a program gets underway, I think there is often modest success. Yet, there are other issues that should be dealt with and so it is very difficult.
Moving onto Page 5.4, Legal Services, although there was a decrease in forecast over Estimate, looking at the estimate for last year, there seems to be a significant increase. Could the minister clarify that?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, as the honourable member can see from our estimate last year of $211,000, the expenditure was $158,000. Back to this year with the $261,000, that is to fully fund an additional person in that group, Legal Services, transferred in from another department. That is why there is the increase, there is an additional person providing services.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, what area of service would that be focusing on? If there were services being purchased outside of the department, for example, from the Department of Justice, I would think that would show up here. Why is there this requirement and what will be the job description of this person?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, that particular position is for two lawyers and it is to maintain the requirements of different things, child adoption, all of those different programs that we require. There are a number of issues that come up which require legal expertise, legal work and this is just bringing it back up to the two people so we can do it within the Department of Community Services. As we indicated earlier, it was transferred in from Operational Support and those other areas we had last year.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I know the department has been well served, particularly in the area of adoption, you have one of the experts and I hope you are not losing that person. (Interruption) He is staying, great, okay. I don't want to get carried away with this because he will be hitting you up for a raise and we don't want to see your budget thrown off. The reason they are bringing two in at once, I suppose, makes sense; one is to watch the other, lawyers being lawyers, it makes sense to hire two at once. Somebody said it was so cold in Ottawa this year that even the lawyers had their hands in their own pockets, but I wouldn't want to say that too loudly.
There is quite a fair decrease in Project Management. Are there projects that are not being managed or are there projects being disbanded or changed, why is there that drop in Project Management under Operational Support?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, in this particular section under Operational Support, there has been some reallocation of people within these line items. Overall, in terms of Operational Support, we will be down two people. There have not been any programs eliminated and provincial initiatives will still be carried on, our policy development will still be carried on, but within each one of those lines some of the people have been reallocated. There is, overall, a reduction of two persons in that Operational Support section.
Your question was, have any programs or policies been dropped? The answer is no, it is a realignment of people and some reductions there.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I gather those employees would be transferred to other jobs? Also, under Operational Planning, that has been reduced by $69,000, can you give some detail on that, Mr. Minister?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, if you are looking at the reduction of the two people, they were not people being let go, they were two vacancies that are not being picked up. I wasn't quite clear on the second part of your question, perhaps you could assist me on that one.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, to make it easier as we are going through this part of the budget, there was a decrease in Operational Planning and an increase in Operational Policy, could the minister explain those changes in his budget?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, as I indicated, those were the reallocation of staff. If you look under Operational Planning you will see we are down two, if you look under Operational Policy you will see we are up two. It was a reallocation and realigning of some of the different challenges and the areas that had to be dealt with. There have been no programs there, it has just been a reallocation within Miss Murray's staff area.
DR. SMITH: I thank the minister, obviously you have information that I don't. and that is the purpose of the question. We are looking at the Operational Support on Page 5.8 of the Supplementary Detail which is showing that group would be down one, overall. Basically, what I am looking for is the impact on programs, and would it mean loss of jobs.
Federal Provincial Social Initiatives, it is always an interesting area and I know people spent a lot of time working on that. It has been decreased by $35,000 at a time where we might be seeing increased activity between the department and the federal offices. There is a reduction, so what will be impacted on that approximate amount of $35,000? Also, the estimate was up. Why the reduction, and are there any initiatives to be affected by the reduction? Does it mean there will be less interaction between the federal and provincial partnerships? Are there initiatives this could impact on between the federal and provincial governments at this time?
MR. CHRISTIE: I guess I will start with your last question first. There has been no reduction of programs. Perhaps the honourable member is aware, Nova Scotia is the lead province in the Social Assistance Round Table this year. As we speak, the deputy ministers are in town arranging future meetings and carrying forward with that strategy.
Regarding the reduction, there is one person; we have gone from five down to four in that group. A person has moved into other operational policies, but the biggest part of the reduction is the fact that we are doing cost recoveries from the federal government because of being the lead province in the travel, and the different initiatives. There is no program reduction in that area.
DR. SMITH: I was just wondering if there is any talk with the federal government regarding the national child care program, has that pretty well gone by the boards? The two big ones that were being floated by the federal government was the national Pharmacare Program, and the national child care; also a third overall initiative, that I would favour, would be a child health strategy. Are there any initiatives from your department, or are you aware of any, jointly, from your Department of Community Services, and Health, on a national child care agenda with the federal government?
MR. CHRISTIE: There are a number of issues, and those issues you talked about are certainly still on the table. Those initiatives are being talked about with the deputy ministers as we speak. They are in town to talk about that. As the honourable member is aware and having attended some of those meetings, some of these wheels don't turn quickly. We believe there is a national initiative to move towards that. Jane Stewart was in town about a month ago and the question was, where were we going and how were we going to achieve some of these objectives? She still indicates a strong commitment to moving forward with the national children's agenda. She indicates a strong desire and support to move forward with some of these. One of the other issues that has come up and been discussed at the last meeting is parental supports as part of assisting people, parents who need help, along with those others.
The other thing we raised, as in the last discussion, was the disability issue. Nova Scotia has some needs with disabilities and we wanted to place that on the national agenda. If your question was, what is the issue that is taking the lead right now, there is no one particular issue. I am hoping that as the deputies finish their meeting, they will have a little more consensus on the items that the provinces want to deal with first, and we can move forward with over the next couple of months at our national level.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has elapsed.
The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: I appreciate having an opportunity to rise and discuss some details of the budget for the Department of Community Services, and I appreciate the minister and his staff being here to help us along. The minister may recall from our budget debate last year that I have a tendency to ask a fair number of questions in my hour, so let's get right to it.
Last time, I remember asking the minister if there was something along the lines of a program review, all the government was going through it. I am just revisiting this because presumably this program review is completed. Can the minister tell me the number of programs that were identified in the department when they completed the review?
MR. CHRISTIE: In September, when that initiative was undertaken, there was 87 programs identified.
MR. DEVEAUX: Can the minister now tell us how many of those programs were cut in this budget, of the 87 and, if so, what was the rationale for cutting?
MR. CHRISTIE: I was just checking the details on those. The two programs that are not going forward in this year's budget are the family violence programs, the $53,000 we had in last year, and as I indicated in the House, those programs have been working with transitional houses and in the department. The other one is Victims' Services, which we were
involved with and as the member is aware, came through the Department of Justice. Those are the two that are not going forward in this budget.
MR. DEVEAUX: Can the minister tell us, with regard to those two programs, there is a certain amount of money that was removed because of those programs, I think it was $50,000-odd for family violence and I forget the amount for Victims' Services. Has that money basically been moved to another line item in Justice or in transition houses, or is there actually less money based on the fact that these programs were seen as not necessary?
MR. CHRISTIE: The dollars, as I indicated, regarding family violence were $53,000, on Victims' Services, $190,000. The question was, has that been reallocated to other areas? Yes, the money has been redirected. The thrust we have had, as I indicated in my opening comments, is toward childhood protection. The honourable member will notice under Family and Children's Services, we have increased that budget. In reality, we didn't take that money and say, let's move it to Family and Children's Services, but our increases are there, so by definition, that money is headed in that direction.
MR. DEVEAUX: This is where I find it a bit confusing. I need some clarification. My understanding of the program review was to identify those programs that - to paraphrase the words of your government - were necessary in order to make government smaller and to focus on its core values. I would understand that as meaning that we are taking money out of those programs. I presume the minister is saying then, we are putting it into core programs which include the protection of children. My question is, and it is probably a global figure, how much did we increase protection of children services by?
MR. CHRISTIE: If you look at our estimates under Family and Children's Services on the estimates of the year 2000 to the estimates of 2001, we are up slightly less than $3 million in that area. A significant part, as I indicated earlier, went into early child development, a significant part went into additional social workers and the Children's Aid Society; additional monies went into programs for low-income people. So, in effect, the core program that was directed towards us was the protection of children, that is where we put our thrust and that is where the money has gone.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, we have taken $53,000 from family violence and $190,000 from Victims' Services, and I know when the minister was asked these questions in the House a week or two ago, he said that is now being done through transition houses, but the global budget for transition houses, I presume, Mr. Minister, has not increased to address the fact that they are now doing the family violence initiatives as well. I am also assuming that Victims' Services in the Department of Justice, its budget has not been increased to reflect the loss of services in Community Services as well. Can you confirm that?
MR. CHRISTIE: As I indicated a week or so ago, the issue of family violence is still going on. What the department was doing was the coordination process of bringing the different departments together and coordinating it throughout the government. At this time, we still have those family violence prevention programs that have been trained in the departments. The Department of Health has taken steps towards that, the Department of Justice has taken steps towards that, Community Services has taken steps towards that and that will continue within our department. What has changed is that the dollars for the allocation for the coordination has come out.
The other part of the question was, what has happened to transition houses? I talked about this last year and I indicated to you that there was a number of the transition houses where the dollars went up, as did the money for women's centres. I can indicate to the honourable member that we are maintaining those grants to them this year simply so they can meet all of those challenges they have had over the last couple of years and, as they tell us, there are new challenges coming all the time. So it isn't only an issue of them dealing with family violence, it is all the different issues that people bring to them, and the challenges they have to meet. We don't specifically say to them here is so much money for this program. We give them a block grant because they are the ones who are in the best position to decide which challenges they have to meet when, and how they are going to allocate those resources.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I want to turn now to child care. The minister has espoused at different times in this House over the past month or so, and I think prior to that - I think last year we talked a bit about this as well - the portability of subsidized spaces. I am hoping the minister can explain, in a little more detail. his vision for how this government will provide a portability of subsidized spaces in Nova Scotia?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the question the honourable member raises is a challenging one. Part of the issue of portability is that people who get assistance, people who are looking to go back to work, want to be able to move from one place to another and still have the child care seats available to them. The vision we have with that particular item is that there are a number of groups that have to be involved. The child care sector, for example, is used to being on a per diem rate. They have been used to perhaps getting block funding, so prior to working toward full implementation of that, we have to go through a full consultation process with them, discussing the various options, discussing which would be best. Clearly the outcome of this has to be that it provides clients and people who need this with the best opportunities possible, but we have to be very cognizant that we don't destabilize the child care sector in the whole process.
I can indicate to the honourable member that there is a full funding review. We have had meetings with the child care round table. We have had meetings with the child care sector and we will have to continue with those as we develop and expand that project.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, it is my understanding then that this is probably at an early stage, but the minister did specifically say there were options that will be put forward. Can he tell us, if there is a discussion paper that is identifying those options that is going to be publicly circulated; if, yes, or if, no, can he at least explain to us today what those "options" are for portability?
MR. CHRISTIE: The 100 spaces that we have announced, which we were talking about and that you made reference to, is the pilot project. There is not a discussion paper as yet. The options I was referring to are the options that we will have in our discussions with the child-care round table and with the child-care sector. As I indicated, we have to be very cognizant of the fact there is the non-profit sector and there is the profit sector. We have to make sure we don't destabilize one sector over another. Those are the options I was referring to, what we are going to achieve in the final outcome, which will develop a paper and we will be happy to share with the House. At this point in time, we are very early in the preliminary stages and we have not developed that.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, maybe the minister can tell us, when does he expect to begin discussions with the stakeholders in the child care industry with regard to portability?
MR. CHRISTIE: Since the start of this year we have had the opportunity to meet with the round table on the child care sector on three or four occasions. We will be continuing to move forward with that. Part of the process, obviously, is the budget process and going through that. Once you have finished that process, then you can announce to the agencies and all the different people what is authorized and funded, and be able to move forward. We see that as a high priority project and we will be moving on, over the next few months, to engage them in that dialogue so, hopefully, by the fall we will get the vision of where we want to go with that. We will have had the dialogue and had the input from those and developed the paper you referred to earlier.
MR. DEVEAUX: This is my problem, Mr. Chairman. The minister says he is already meeting with these groups. The minister says it is a high priority, and he says that in the next month or two things will become much more finalized. My concern is, that means you have options in place, that means you and your department and the senior bureaucrats in your department already have a pretty good idea of what some of those options are. As a member of the Opposition, I am asking the minister to tell us here today, or to table a document, if he has it today, that elaborates on what those options are with regard to portability, so that we, as the people of Nova Scotia, have an idea where you intend to go with this.
MR. CHRISTIE: I guess the options we have on the table of the 2,500 day care spaces that are presently in existence, plus the 100 new ones that are coming along, that will come in this budget. The member is quite right. We have had discussions with the round table. When we met with them we were not talking about options. What we had indicated to them
is that we had heard, through consultation and through discussions with people, there was a group of that sector that wanted to make them portable.
What we have said to them in our discussions is, we believe there is some advantage towards portability, we need to discuss that with you, we need to determine the impacts about that. We did not say to them, you either take this or you take that. We said, our objective is to look at having some of this sector portable. We believe that will be an advantage to helping people go back to work. We believe it will be advantageous to helping people as they move from one area to another. Our discussions with them are in terms of, is that going to provide the advantage we believe we have heard and is it a possible thing. So those are the options I referred to and that we were talking about.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I have been trying to do this through some broad questions but I guess I am going to have to get a little more specific. Does the minister have as an option, for portability and subsidized spaces, that it can be used in unregulated child care or babysitters? We have seen in other provinces where they have actually been able to go to their next door neighbour and use the space instead of even taking it to a regulated or somehow inspected day care centre. Is that an option this minister is considering?
MR. CHRISTIE: Those options the honourable member mentioned are not ones we have been discussing. We are not talking about unregulated centres. We are talking about the sector that is there and the sector that is providing the service. So the answer to his question is, no, those are not options.
MR. DEVEAUX: That is helpful. We have two forms in the sector of regulated, there is non-profit and there is for-profit. My question is, is this something the minister sees, and I guess he has already said this, for-profit will be able to take advantage of the subsidized spaces, I take it that is one of the options he is looking at, being able to allow for-profit centres to take advantage of the subsidized spaces, is that right?
MR. CHRISTIE: In our discussions with people we have always viewed this as, if we move in that direction we want the clients to be able to access service wherever they might be. So clearly, the possibility of having in some profit centres has to be there, because if people go to an area where there are no non-profit centres, we can't simply say the portability stops when you move to an area where you don't have the service. That is one of the issues on the table with the child care sector.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I have a number of questions around for-profit centres potentially being able to accept subsidized spaces. There are two particular questions. One is, how do we ensure financial accountability for their use of the money the government is basically giving? It is a transfer of funds to a for-profit centre. How do we ensure financial accountability of those for-profit centres? Secondly, how do we know that the government and, quite frankly, this is probably why the round table in the past has been nervous and
apprehensive about moving to for-profit, because that means the government is actually paying for a profit margin of a specific for-profit day care. Non-profit centres have no profit margin, and the government therefore is covering the cost of providing the service. If we move to for-profit centres and allow subsidized spaces to be provided at for-profit centres, then we are creating a situation where the government is actually paying for the profit for that centre. I would like to hear the minister's opinion on those two points.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, as we start looking at this particular issue, the issue we are looking at is the funding for children. The honourable member raises a number of questions as to whether, in some centres which happen to be profit centres, would that include other things? If we were to eventually move in that direction after consultation, that probably would be the case. I think our major overall concern here is that we provide a level of service across the whole of the province. As the honourable member knows today we are not involved with profit centres. They are in the non-profit centres. So to move towards that direction, going in that way, we would have to provide some advantage to everybody. We can't draw the conclusion now that we are going do that.
What I was attempting to suggest was that we don't want to discount an area and say, in a particular area of the province, you are not able to be involved or have this service simply because there is not a non-profit location there. The focus that we see is having this day care centred with the child. The question is how are you going to ensure accountability and so on? Those are good questions, and those have to be answered as we move forward. If we make the decision to go in that direction, we will have to answer all of those questions.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, can the minister tell us whether there needs to be legislative changes made before portability of subsidized spaces can become a reality?
MR. CHRISTIE: I just checked. From our perspective, we didn't see that, but I will go and ask the legal people if the answer to that is yes, and I will respond to that.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, my biggest concern now about this is that if this is as high a priority as the minister has noted, if this is something he sees becoming a reality in the next few months, I think these are questions he should be able to answer. I would hope that if he was on top of this file, this is something he would have a bigger and better knowledge of. So, I want to acknowledge that for the record.
I want to talk finally around child care, the 100 new spaces. This is a question the minister has been asked time and time again by me, and I think the member for Dartmouth East and the media. If he is serious about having people on family benefits, particularly single mothers, single parents, get back to work, and there are 8,000 single mothers on family benefits - with presumably 8,000 or more children, well a minimum of 8,000, probably more - how are 100 new spaces going to actually allow for those 8,000 women mostly and some men to get back to work?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I indicated in the opening that we have quite a number of challenges, and this, as the honourable member has raised, is clearly one of the challenges. With the 100 spaces this year, that will take us over 2,600, but it doesn't meet all the need. What it does is it provides us options for some people. Obviously some people will need day care, some of the children of the 8,000 the honourable member mentions are past the age of day care. Our challenge is to meet the individual needs of all of those people. Is 100 enough? No, we perhaps need to have more, and we clearly know that we need to have more, but we have to work as best we can at helping all people who come to us with their needs. We see this as a step in the right direction, but it is not the final answer, and it doesn't satisfy all the requirements.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, my biggest concern about this is that is a step in the right direction, yes, but it is like saying we have a long journey, a long march, to go before we are in a position where we can start to say that the people we have in this province on family benefits are going to be given the supports necessary to move off of welfare and move into the workforce. To even state that a tiny baby step in a many-mile march is going to be the answer, and then at the same time also using the words and the language and buzzwords the minister is so adept at using, of self-reliance, and helping people who want to work and so on and so on; to use that language so clearly while at the same time taking tiny baby steps in actually providing them with the support is something our Party is very concerned about and very nervous about exactly what this minister is intending. Rightfully so, for many in the community are very nervous about exactly how this will work.
I did have one other question on child care that I thought was important to raise. It is my understanding that in British Columbia they have portability of spaces. I could be wrong on the number - and if the minister knows please correct me - but it is my understanding there are something like 75 civil servants whose only job is to manage the portability of spaces. B.C. being approximately three and one-half times bigger than Nova Scotia, that would still leave us with about 20 new staff just to deal with portability. My question to the minister is, how can portability be something we want to promote if we are actually talking about having to hire 20 new staff just to manage portability?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I have had the opportunity to talk, at some of our social union tables, with the people from B.C., but I must admit to the honourable member I am not completely aware of how many people they have involved in monitoring their portability spaces and various other things. It is not a part of this project to hire on additional people to monitor. We have people on employment supports. We have people who are looking after the day care problems and the day care projects right now. Part of the difference obviously is that in a number of the provinces they don't engage the round table on child care the way we do, so they don't seem to have that dialogue. Perhaps that is the only reason I could suggest to the honourable member that they have so many inspectors and so on. Part of our discussion is not to add all of these people. We enter into the dialogue, we will have the dialogue and the discussion with the child care sector, and as we get closer to seeing the
direction we are going to go and working with them on that, then obviously we will have to look at the process, but to this point in time there has been none of that.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, unless the round table is going to be volunteering 24/7 to manage the portability of day care spaces for free, I don't see where dialogue with them is necessarily going to result in fewer civil servants having to actually manage a very cumbersome system.
I want to turn now, Mr. Chairman, to the secure treatment centre. The Minister of Health may have some interest in this as well. This is something that has been ongoing for a while. It is my understanding there was a centre there for children, the children's training centre in Truro. It was closed down. There has been a long-time promise made, first by the Liberals and then by this government. I believe it was in its blue book stating that a secure treatment centre would be set up in Truro. I asked the minister last year in the debates on Community Services what $1 million would get us. There was $1 million allocated last year. He said it was primarily for design. I guess I want to start by asking the minister how that $1 million was spent now that the fiscal year has ended and was it all spent with regard to design?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I had an opportunity during my opening comments to indicate that the $1 million that we had included for last year for the development of that was not spent and as the year ended it wasn't spent. I did indicate earlier that there is $250,000 in the Public Works budget to start and finish the development of the secure treatment facility, to work toward doing that, with the unstated goal of having that facility open in the fall of 2001. As I indicated earlier, in our budget this year we are not putting in numbers for staffing that. That is going to be in our next year's numbers. This year Public Works will be finishing the design. We will be completing the discussions with the Town of Truro as to how that will be developed. We have indicated from day one that it was going to have community input, we were going to talk to the community about it. That is still going on and it is our intention to have the design done this year and go to 2001.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, so $1 million was set aside last year for design that was never spent and the same thing is going to be done with $250,000 this year. Is that what the minister is telling me?
MR. CHRISTIE: What I indicated to you was, there is $250,000 in the Public Works budget this year to complete the design, to complete the required survey work. Discussions with the Town of Truro are not complete yet as to how that will work. We have indicated to them that we want to have discussions with them, what our plans are, how it would be sited, where it is going to be, that will be ongoing. I have every belief that the $250,000 will be spent so that the design will be completed this year.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I guess my other question with regard to this is last year you mentioned there are, I believe, 27 children who are out of province because we didn't have a secure treatment centre here. My understanding is that works out to about $2 million a year in costs that we have been spending for several years. Can the minister tell me how much, in the end, he expects design, construction and all the capital costs would be to actually have the centre open, how much we are talking about, what the projection is for the cost of the centre?
MR. CHRISTIE: The number we are working with on that, to bring that to fruition, is about $5 million. Now that could change based on design and a variety of things, but that is the number we are looking at achieving.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, can the minister tell me what the projected operating cost on an annual basis would be to operate that centre?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, the projected cost, going forward with the model we are looking at now, would be approximately $2 million with somewhere in the vicinity of 20 to 23 children involved.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, my last question with regard to the secure treatment centre is, you mentioned dialogue, you mentioned discussion with the community of Truro, is there some sort of advisory committee that has been set up? If so, can you table the names of those people? If not, what do you mean by community consultation, how is it being done?
MR. CHRISTIE: What I was referring to in that process is the standard process set up by the municipal unit for their municipal planning strategy to have dialogue, whether they hold public hearings as part of their municipal planning strategy, what the town requires to do based on the issues around the town. What we would be doing is developing the model, going to them and saying, this is what we are looking at doing, this is the type of facility, and the dialogue would be with the town if they choose to have public meetings with the community or with part of their municipal development strategy. That would be the process.
MR. DEVEAUX: So it sounds like you are talking about a rezoning hearing or something like that or an application for a building permit. My question is, is this something that has been ongoing? Has there been discussion with the community, not the politicians in Truro, not with the town council, not with the bureaucrats in the municipality, but with the people of Truro, much like the minister just said five minutes ago; has there been, and if so, can he give me some idea as to when those discussions started with the people of Truro?
MR. CHRISTIE: To this point in time there have not been any specific meetings called by Community Services for meetings of the community. There have been meetings with the town council. There have been meetings that the town council had where members of the
public were there, but in answer to your question, whether we set a specific meeting for members of the Truro public, the answer is no.
MR. DEVEAUX: I just wish the minister, when he uses words like dialogue and community consultation, would actually be using those legitimately and wouldn't just be using them as buzzwords, which I have heard over and over again from this minister since he got elected on July 27th. We can all talk about dialogue and go forward and win-win and every other buzzword there is in the lexicon, but if this minister is truly serious about resolving issues and truly serious about addressing problems like a secure treatment centre for Nova Scotia, and something that was promised to the people of Truro - in your first year, I may remind you, according to the blue book, not on year three like you seem to be promoting now - I would suggest, minister, stop with the buzzwords and start with some action and I would hope that it would start with something like the secure treatment centre, which the people of Truro so desperately want as jobs and the people of Nova Scotia, who are spending $2 million a year to have other provinces do the work for us, need.
I want to move on to small options homes, Mr. Chairman. Page 5.5 of the Supplementary Detail, Small Option Homes, in 1998-99, there is an estimate of $710,000 spent on Small Option Homes. The actual spending was $702,000, not that great a difference. In 1999-2000, it was estimated that you would be spending $610,000 but you actually spent $1.074 million. My question to the Minister of Community Services is, how can this department explain an increase of 75 or 80 per cent in overspending with regard to small options homes? Where did that money go?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the question of the small options homes was when people achieve the age of 19 they went to other facilities. Last year, on that particular line item you are referring to, people who were aged 19, we kept in those facilities for that extra year, but this year we are looking at them going back to the facilities as they normally would.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, when you say small options homes, these are small options homes for children. These are facilities, when they are at the age of 19 they must move somewhere else, I take it. So can the minister explain to us why, last year, they weren't moved and why, this year, they are and if so, where are they going?
MR. CHRISTIE: In processing those people and getting them ready to go - you will recall that we have been looking at the small option homes - part of that process, part of the decision was that those people just slow down the transfer for awhile, and that is what we did last year.
MR. DEVEAUX: When we talk about the small options homes, I think the term may have two meanings. In the department's supplement to the estimates it is under Family and Children's Services, and from what I am hearing from the minister, those are for people under the age of 19, but obviously there are small options homes that are used for adults as well. Where would I find that? I take it that it is on the next page under Income Assistance and Employment Support Services, if it is not maybe he can tell me where I would find the listing for small option homes for adults?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, that line item would be included under Community Based Options. It is under Income Assistance and Employment Support Services.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, let's talk a bit about small options homes. It has been an issue, obviously, since the Sheppard murder a few years ago and one that rears its head from time to time and one that must be dealt with. This government, in the last year and this minister, as he knows, has constantly tried to smooth over the cracks with regard to small option homes. In particular, what this minister has had a tendency to say is that there are regulations in place when, in fact, they are just guidelines. They have no real teeth with regard to how enforceable they are in the actual small options homes. Recently, we have had this review that is taking place in which the mandate for the review is to question whether or not we need regulations. Can the minister explain in his own words to the House today, why this government is doing a review of small option homes that includes the distinct possibility, in its terms of reference, that we do not need to regulate these homes with actual legislation?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I was just glancing in the terms of reference to see, as the honourable member specifically said where we did not need regulations in those, and I am not able to see those in the terms of reference to Dr. Kendrick. As we talk about the small options homes, and the honourable member has mentioned an unfortunate incident that happened some years ago, I guess in terms of the discussion we have had with the community, is people are looking for a whole variety of placements and places to be; clearly, small options homes are one of those. I think in terms of looking at the study, we saw that study being a requirement to see if we were providing the services people wanted and if there were other areas we could improve on. I guess that is why we went forward. I don't see in the regulations or in the terms of reference that it specifically says to go out and show us why we don't have to have regulations. We are accepting the report back from them when it is done and we will consider that then.
MR. DEVEAUX: I appreciate that. I have reviewed them as well and I may have a different interpretation. Can the minister then tell me here today and tell this House here today, Mr. Chairman, that he believes that we do need to have actual regulations, not guidelines, not codes of practice, but actual regulations to ensure small options homes are functioning properly? Can he tell me that, yes or no?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the member has raised that question a couple of times and, as I indicated, I think part of the reason of having this review go forward is to deal with that specific question. We will receive the report. We will table that report in the House and at that point in time, we will then be in a position to make the decisions as to how we go forward.
MR. DEVEAUX: So let me put this in the alternative. The minister is stating here, today, that it is his position that he does not know whether or not we need to regulate small options homes with legislation, not with just codes of practice and guidelines? Is that correct?
MR. CHRISTIE: I don't think that is what I was trying to say, Mr. Chairman. What I was trying to say to him is that when we get the report back, we will look at the report and then decide where we go.
MR. DEVEAUX: I don't know why the minister is having so much trouble. He is saying, well, no, I am not saying that we definitely want regulation, we need to get the report, which is just saying then that, yes, we do not know whether small options homes should be regulated, which goes back to my original point. Why is the government so hesitant to regulate an area that is becoming more prominent in addressing those who have needs in the community as we move away from institutions, and why is he so unsure of whether they need to be regulated?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I don't want to suggest, imply or give the impression that we are hesitant to regulate, that we are hesitant not to regulate. The question we have is, are you prepared to regulate those in the future? My answer is, once we get the report, we will be reviewing it and then making our decision.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I want to turn to the National Child Tax Benefit. This government had promised in the 1999 election that the clawback of that benefit would be removed from those on assistance. The member for Dartmouth North has been quite adamant on a regular basis, and I saw it myself, but he has obviously many people in his riding who are directly impacted by this. He says it with passion, and I will not do the same, I will not give it justice, but he says quite clearly, that on the doorsteps he had people who said they were going to vote for the Progressive Conservative Party because they promised me they were going to eliminate the clawback; that is good for me and I am going to get more money in my pocket, so I am going to vote for the Tories. So, simple question, when is this government going to keep its promise and eliminate the clawback of the National Child Tax Benefit?
MR. CHRISTIE: The member is quite right. Our intention is to start to work towards that. It has clearly been an intention. It is something we have been looking at doing. Our major initiative over the last period of time has been to work with the federal government because, as the honourable member and the member for Dartmouth North know - we had this
discussion some months ago - the option we are looking at, and we are working with the federal-provincial-territorial council, is to try to make a platform for children so that, in fact, the child benefit is outside of the assistance program and that everybody will get it.
Our plans are to continue to work with the federal government and our initiative next year is to start to eliminate that process. As we work with the federal government and as plans develop - we were having the discussion prior to this with the member for Dartmouth East about where those plans are, or how they are developing - as those plans come along, we want to clearly be part of the federal initiative. We want to be part of that initiative that brings these along. However, as we develop that, our intention is to start and change those numbers and start working to eliminate that next year.
MR. DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, this must be one of these win-win, go-forward plans the minister likes to talk about on a regular basis. I want to particularly ask this minister then, when he says he is waiting for the federal government, is he saying the federal government is putting more money into the pot? Are they going to start funding something along the lines of child poverty? Is that what the minister is waiting for or are we just talking about legislation or other initiatives? I am not clear what he means. Is it money he is waiting for from the federal government or is it just cooperation?
MR. CHRISTIE: I guess I am talking about a couple of things. The member will be aware that the task force was in Halifax some months ago on the homeless issue. We talked with the federal minister on that issue about homelessness and people staying in their homes. I indicated earlier that the Minister of Human Resources was in town some months ago. We were talking about how we were going to achieve that. What I was trying to indicate is it is our intention to work with the national program, to become part of a national program, and I guess clearly our vision is to see that this would be a national program that would benefit children all across the country and we want to work to that.
The other part of that, your specific question was, when are you going to start to eliminate the reduction in people on social assistance from the National Child Tax Benefit and the Nova Scotia child benefit, and what I indicated to you was we are starting to work with that reduction next year. We want to encompass that as part of the plans with the federal government. We want to be part of the initiative with the federal government and the provinces, but clearly, we have to set the direction and our intent is to start that next year.
MR. DEVEAUX: I will ask the question again. Is the minister expecting money from the federal government and is that why he is delaying the elimination of the clawback?
MR. CHRISTIE: There are two parts to that. First, as we indicated earlier regarding people going back to work, the plan that has been going on and the plan this year is to provide money through that benefit to all low-income families. We have had indications there
will be additional monies from the federal government in the area of homelessness and on the national child benefit.
Previous to this, with discussions with the member for Dartmouth East, we were talking about the priorities, whether it is for parental supports, direct child care, or other things, there are a number of initiatives. Yes, we will probably see some more federal money, and yes we will be working, as Nova Scotia, to start to reduce that reduction.
MR. DEVEAUX: May I remind the minister of his promise that it was to eliminate the clawback, not start to reduce.
Let me start by saying this, it is my understanding, correct me if I am wrong, that in the last budget that Paul Martin put out federally, in February, he identified an increase in the National Child Tax Benefit. I guess my question is, how much of an increase, and in what year does that start?
MR. CHRISTIE: My recollection was that was for $850 million and that was going to come into effect in 2001. The member is certainly aware that the government announced, a couple of years ago, the three year program, the third year of that is phasing in in July of this year. The budget announcement this year was for additional monies to come in 2001; not defined on a specific date, but it was anticipated that it would probably be for July.
MR. DEVEAUX: A couple of questions Mr. Chairman. Is the minister telling me that on July 1st of this year the federal government is going to increase, again, as part of a three part process, the National Child Tax Benefit? If so, how much per person? In 2001, with this extra $850 million, how much will that translate to in per-family or per-person increases? Can the minister answer those questions?
MR. CHRISTIE: This year the increase is approximately $65 per child; next year, I can't confirm how much that will be. We have been told it is approximately that much, the allocation of that is not clear as to how (Interruption) $77? That is per month.
MR. DEVEAUX: Maybe the minister can just do this by nodding his head. I just want to say for the record. On July 1st, there was another increase in the National Child Tax Benefit of $65 per child per month? Okay. (Interruption) Yes, that means yes. Maybe the minister had better explain.
MR. CHRISTIE: When I said the number, $65 was the amount per child in May 2000. The amount per child in July 2000 will go to $81.42. That is a difference of $16 per month.
MR. DEVEAUX: So, here is the golden question. We have had an increase, right now the government claws back that $65 if you are on assistance, it will now go up to $81 as of July 1st. Will people on assistance begin to get that extra $16 per month in their cheque or is the government going to start clawing back that extra $16 as well?
MR. CHRISTIE: The increase for people on assistance for the Nova Scotia child tax credit on May 2000 is $27, on July 2000, it will go to $33.58.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cole Harbour - Eastern Passage has 10 minutes remaining.
MR. DEVEAUX: The federal government is increasing its benefit for children for people on assistance or people who are working, people with low income, from $65 to $81 which is a difference of $16, and the government is passing on $6.00 of that. So is that my understanding, that of the $16 that the federal government is passing on to those on assistance, the province is actually only going to make sure that only $6.00 of that is passed on? Is that correct?
MR. CHRISTIE: As I indicated, the number, in July 2000, will become $33.58, from $27 is $6.58. What I indicated to you is that the government will be extending that Nova Scotia child tax credit to all low-income families. The monies from the federal government will be going to all low-income families and some of it will be going into our early childhood developments, some $3.3 million.
MR. DEVEAUX: This is what I don't understand, Mr. Minister. If the federal government increase in the National Child Tax Benefit per month, per child, is going up $16 for those on assistance, it is only going to go up $6.58 per month. Is that correct?
MR. CHRISTIE: What the honourable member says, we are getting the increase of $16 and the increase to all low-income families is $7.00; yes, your numbers are correct.
MR. DEVEAUX: So, Mr. Minister, what is happening to the extra $9.42, why isn't that being passed on? The federal government is increasing $9.42 extra for the child tax benefit, what is the provincial government doing with it?
MR. CHRISTIE: On a global issue, the monies that are coming from the federal government are some $25 million; $20 million spent on the Nova Scotia child tax credit and the balance is spent on the early childhood initiatives, on the reinvestment program. That is where the difference is and that is how that money is allocated. I repeat to you, the money is allocated to all low-income people.
MR. DEVEAUX: The bitter irony, Mr. Chairman, is that this government, these Tories, when they sat over here, they would ask questions about the child tax benefit and they would get that exact same answer from the Minister of Community Services when it was the Liberals in power; you are doing the exact same thing and reiterating the exact same line. Quite frankly, they say they are going to work to reduce the clawback, in fact, Mr. Minister, will you admit here today in the House that what you are actually doing is you are going to increase the clawback as of July 1, 2000. Isn't that correct?
MR. CHRISTIE: That is correct. What the member said, the amount of money coming in, we will be reallocating that among all low-income families and, as I indicated, our target time is to start to work towards reducing that next year.
MR. DEVEAUX: Please tell me, Mr. Minister, why anyone who is in the unfortunate situation of receiving assistance from this province should believe a word you are saying, that next year you are going to take that and you are going to stop clawing it back, when this year you have actually increased the clawback? Please tell me, tell them, how that is going to be done?
MR. CHRISTIE: As I indicated to you and as I indicated earlier, as we look towards the back-to-work initiatives, we clearly see that we are not, nor do we want to, put up obstacles to people coming back into the workforce. That is why it is important that all low-income families receive assistance. That is why it is important that we do it. Why should people believe that? I don't know. The question is, should they believe that there is going to be extra money coming from the federal government? Only time will tell. We will have to show them over time.
MR. DEVEAUX: You said something very interesting, Mr. Minister, that as we try to put people back to work we must give them incentives. Are you telling me, as the Minister of Community Services, you believe that the clawback on social assistance for those on social assistance, is an incentive for people to go to work, because that means they are going to get the extra money on their cheques that they wouldn't get if they were on assistance? Is that what you are telling us here today?
MR. CHRISTIE: No, that is not what I am telling you. What I am telling you is that people who are going back to work shouldn't be disadvantaged because they are not on social assistance because they are not eligible to get the Nova Scotia child tax credit. What I am saying is that that should not be an impediment to helping people go back to work.
MR. DEVEAUX: But the Nova Scotia child tax credit is less than the federal child tax credit, which they would be getting if they were going back to work. What you are telling me is that someone who goes back to work is losing the Nova Scotia child tax benefit, but they are gaining a federal child tax benefit, which is actually a higher amount, which is my point, I think, and this is why I want to ask you this. Aren't you saying that by keeping the
Nova Scotia child tax benefit in place, which includes a clawback, we are actually helping people on social assistance, because it will encourage them to get off social assistance and get into the workforce where they can get the bigger paycheque - though very little extra - from the national child tax credit? Is that what you are trying to tell us?
MR. CHRISTIE: What I was trying to say to you is that people who are on assistance and people going back to work should have the same benefit, that people should be able to achieve the same benefit if they are on low income. There is a variety of other issues, such as people coming off assistance and going back to work - there are the Pharmacare issues and some others.
MR. DEVEAUX: How much time do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Approximately four minutes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Thank you. I am going to use those four minutes to talk about how the minister just said there are deserving poor and there are undeserving poor. That is what this minister said in his cryptic way. He said people on assistance should understand that when they go back to work, they should be getting more money than if they are on assistance. What he is really saying, Mr. Chairman, is that people on assistance don't deserve the same benefits, don't deserve to get the same help, and don't deserve the same assistance from this government. It goes back to the same Throne Speech we heard last fall of self-reliance and getting off the system, and we will do whatever we can to do it. That is my concern.
This minister has been very good over the last nine months at trying to hide exactly what he is trying to do in this department. He has been trying to muffle it or to do it in a stealthy manner so that we can't really see exactly what his agenda is. In many ways, his agenda has been slowly coming together like pieces of a puzzle, but what we really see is a minister who truly believes that a clawback of the child tax benefit is good for those on social assistance, that it is the right thing to do, that those people don't deserve to get as much money, and that therefore, we must take it away from them. It is very paternalistic I would say, a very father-knows-best way of doing things. We will take this money from you, because in the end that will make you better off.
Well, in fact, it was the federal government that provided that money for everyone. The federal government didn't say it was only for the working poor. The federal government didn't say, we have deserving poor and non-deserving poor. This province has decided it would interfere, intercept that money, and it would then decide that money shouldn't go to those on assistance. They should get less because they don't deserve as much. That is why I am so concerned about this minister's attitude. That is why I believe every Nova Scotian should be concerned about what this minister is saying, and why, in fact, when he talks about getting people off welfare, he is taking about a few extra dollars they will get from a national child tax benefit.
You are taking money from those on assistance that they are deserving of because the federal government is passing it on to them, and yet, you say at the same time, I am going to add 100 extra seats to day care. I am going to put an extra pittance of $500,000 in for employment enhancement and training. All these are drops in the bucket, when, in fact, what you are really saying is, if you want to be recognized as deserving poor, we will recognize you if you are working. If you are not working, if you can't get a job, if the unemployment rate is 30 per cent, we don't care, you are still not going to be recognized as deserving poor, because you are relying on us, even though in this country, it has always been recognized as something that we believed in as a benefit people deserved when they couldn't find work. That is my problem with this minister and the way he is attacking the poor.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Minister of Community Services, you have 30 seconds for a response.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I didn't interpret my comments as what the honourable member said. The honourable member clearly knows that people on assistance receive Pharmacare. We indicated earlier $29 million goes to Pharmacare to support people on assistance. That is not available to people as they go back to work, and those were some of the indications I was talking about that help people get back to work. The child benefit covers all the low-income people, but there are a lot of other things that help them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister, and we would like to thank the NDP for their comments this afternoon. Now we would like to turn over approximately 43 minutes to the Liberal caucus and the good member for Dartmouth East.
The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your kind comments. I appreciate the comments of the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage. I think he was trying to explain how he really feels about this Tory Government, and he didn't want to call the minister himself necessarily mean-spirited, but he was trying to find words. Sometimes it is difficult to look at a budget and interpret that into the policy of government and actions, but there are trends that happen in budgets that do set the standards for how that impacts, particularly on children in care and all those other programs, those persons with disabilities.
So, when I concluded my comments earlier on, we were speaking about the relationship with the federal government. I think a province like Nova Scotia at ministerial meetings can play a strong role. I think you often see Ontario and B.C. grouped together in one way or another. I think often Nova Scotia is looked upon for leadership, whether it has traditionally been that way or not. I always found sometimes the smaller provinces think they don't count, don't have a vote, and tend to follow the herd.
We were talking about a national child agenda or child health agenda, whatever you want to call it. Every time I get a chance, particularly with ministers like Allan Rock and others, to say that if they want to leave a legacy for this country, they could really show leadership at the federal level and bring in programs in concert with the provincial governments that would benefit and target children. There is no better place for either your Community Services budget or your Health budget or Justice or Education. That, I guess, has been frustrating with budget estimates to date as we deal with Health and Education, that we just don't seem to get a sense or feeling that those items are either understood or really cared for. I think that is what the honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage was probably expressing, the frustration of the Opposition during these budgetary estimates is getting any sense of real caring, particularly on the education issue here.
One of my concerns is with children with disabilities and special needs. Are there programs in this budget? The Minister of Education didn't seem to have them or didn't seem to quite be fully understanding of the serious impact of this particular issue of children with disabilities in the classroom. Other items within the minister's budget that would indicate a commitment of this government to serve children with special needs and disabilities within the education system, that is what we are looking at.
I have expressed concern in this House about the recruitment of professional people, workers for the offshore, physicians, nurses through retention of these types of people in our communities. They are not going to really come into communities that number one, we are talking about our health care unravelling and that is what this government did in Opposition or Third Party, and we had an education system that the open houses at the private schools are just burdened with numbers. They are looking at that.
There is a real fear within our society that we are losing that infrastructure again that we worked so hard over the last few years to build up. I gave the minister a little time to think about this, the earlier initiatives, we talked about that, the early intervention programs, the 14 and 4. Are there other programs in concert with the Department of Education that would be addressing the special needs of children within the school system? Where does that interaction take place.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, as I indicated earlier to the honourable member, we have the four new early intervention programs to try to get across the whole province. Your specific question was, is there a program set up with the Department of Education to coordinate between the schools? No, there is not. The initiatives are being taken in the early childhood development and the early intervention programs.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Members, I would like to remind you that we are in estimates and your attention is required.
DR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that instruction to the members. The trends we look for, of course, are the changes within the field offices. I didn't want to go through - and I will cease going through - the budget line by line, because you tend to get pretty bogged down on some of these things, but when you get areas like in the Supplementary Detail on Page 5.5, Family and Children's Services, there is an awful lot on that page. I think the disturbing thing is that last year we saw some modest increases. Perhaps the government could put it back on the previous Liberal Government, but now we tend to see some fairly significant decreases in areas of child welfare and residential services on that page under Family and Children's Services.
In that particular area, and I might have missed it because I think the other member had brought it up, the Family Violence Prevention. This was a pretty comprehensive program integrated between departments of government. What was the reason and what will take the place of the Family Violence Prevention? We spoke about communications earlier, my concern about cutting that budget. To clients and the people that use the services, it is so important; while the Family Violence Prevention Week was really a strong week of heightened awareness and information distribution for all people in Nova Scotia. This is a group that has done a lot of work in training of teachers and heightened awareness. What will replace this program? Why was it cut?
MR. CHRISTIE: The honourable member is right. That program had been ongoing for a number of years. It had been involved with four or five departments. It had some very good successes as it went along and brought that concern, and brought that to all the people. The question was, what is going to replace it? Well, in Community Services, in Health, and in Justice, people have been taking the different courses, taking the different training so they become aware, so they can recognize those things, so they will be able to identify violence and be able to work and deal with it. What we were looking at is that program, the coordination aspect, was with the Department of Community Services. We were looking at reducing that. That doesn't slow down the initiatives in each department at all. Those initiatives will carry forward. We will still be, as the Minister of Justice indicated, working with the police community, both victims and within family violence to continue working toward those goals.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I have tried to be fairly positive with the minister here and give him credit where I felt credit was warranted, but on this one, I am really concerned. I don't have the faith of the minister that the various departments will keep this as a priority. The motto of this whole initiative was, never hurt the one you love. I would say it was a modest program. It was a modest budget, and I would be really concerned as a minister to be present when that was gone, was taken away. It is a small budget, but it is vital. I just don't feel we have heard the proper reason for that. The staff was trained to identify and prevent family violence. That involved nurses, teachers, paramedics, police, health professionals, case
workers and others. The small staff coordinated and collaborated on violence prevention training with five other departments as the minister alluded to and, I mentioned earlier, Family Violence Prevention Week. These are small items.
I mentioned earlier my concern that I brought to the House and my note from Speaker Arthur Donahoe that that was the first time, particularly sexual abuse of children had been discussed on the floor of the House. These gains have come very slowly over a long period of time. The worst thing now is to feel that these things are solved. I think this is a statement, oh, we don't really need that. We can better use it somewhere else and so-and-so will take care of it. Well, sometimes we know that so-and-so doesn't take care of it. I just want to serve notice here today to the minister that you are the minister responsible now at this juncture. I think there is a commitment within that department to that program. I would implore you to keep an eye on that and if others aren't keeping up, that that type of relationship continue. It is an outreach program. It helped relationships with other professionals such as nurses, police and others. It was a modest program, again a little bit of a trend maybe reflecting an attitude of Cabinet. What is the abuse of one child worth? What is a pound of cure worth? Just add up the cost of family violence, hospitals and health care costs, justice costs, rehabilitation costs, therapy costs to say nothing of the human terms. I will end on that particular note with that particular issue.
The issue again that was touched on, secure treatment. Has a site been chosen for that? I might have missed that, and I apologize if the minister has already announced that. I was just wondering, there is nothing this year in the budget. It looks like next year, I think the minister said; I made some notes here somewhere. What would the site be, and what was the amount of the project we would be looking at?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the primary site is and was the Truro site where the residential facilities were. As I indicated to the honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, we are in the process, have had some discussions with the Town of Truro officials and will continue to have those to go through their municipal planning strategy to meet the challenges of that. The total cost of the project is now estimated at about $5 million. That will be subject, plus or minus, to design changes as those are completed on the engineering and design work.
DR. SMITH: I understand the site is pretty well fixed at this juncture. You could say it is going to be in Truro.
MR. CHRISTIE: . . . Town of Truro (Interruption) moving in that direction.
DR. SMITH: Moving in that direction, so we shall see. On Page 5.5 again with Family and Children's Services, perhaps we better touch on some of the issues. Has the minister's experience in the department been that there has been a reluctance to take children into care in the 14 to 15 age group? Have you ever had any experiences with that. While there are
children in need of protection and taken into care, has the minister had any personal experiences that would lead you to believe that there has been a reluctance to take that age group into care?
MR. CHRISTIE: I think the answer to your question is, no, I haven't seen a reluctance. I did have the opportunity to meet with people at Phoenix House and some other projects around the province and have come to realize that perhaps the services for that age group are not as extensive as they are for younger children. In answer to your question, I haven't experienced a reluctance to bring those children in. I haven't experienced that.
DR. SMITH: Has there been any change of policy in your department, Mr. Minister, on continuing care beyond the age when they normally would be leaving care if there is education being provided? Is there a transition period of time that is continued? Has there been any change in that policy?
MR. CHRISTIE: There has not been a change of policy as I did indicate to the honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, we were talking about the line item under Family and Children's Services, the fifth from the bottom, called Small Option Homes. The question was, if you look at the estimate for 1999-2000 of $610,000 and you look at the forecast of $1 million, what made up that difference? One of the reasons for that difference this year is, as the member knows, that children at the age of 19 move to different facilities. We had slowed down that process for a variety of reasons. One, obviously, was to complete training; one, obviously, was to complete needs and so on that they had. We had slowed that process down, consequently causing us to spend some more of that money in that area. But the answer to your question is, no, there has not been a change in the policy of that.
DR. SMITH: On the Child Welfare and Residential Services there is $40,000 there. Any details on what services will be cut there? Rather than an increase, we are seeing a decrease.
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, that particular item, that reduction there, is the area where the Child Abuse Register is. As we have indicated, we will be putting a fee of $20 on inquiries, for persons who are making inquiries for employment. As the member well knows, we have about 10,000 inquiries a year and the majority of those are for employment. So the $20 we will be having there is recovery. We will not be doing that to volunteer organizations, but the difference is the reduction because of the recovery of those abuse inquiries.
DR. SMITH: So it is a revenue issue. The Children's Services - field - I don't know if this is the right area or not and my memory does not serve me well on this, but I want to bring it up anyway - on the 71 child protection workers who have been, on and off, referred to as social workers, can the minister give us an update on the status of hiring those 71
people, what their qualifications for the job are and where they would be placed in the system?
MR. CHRISTIE: If you will bear with me a minute, I will look it up and see where the allocations of those workers are. Now, you had a couple of questions. What are their qualifications? It is a social work degree. The other part of your question, have they all been hired and when will they be in place? We have had quite a few responses to the ads that we have. We are starting to go through those and we anticipate them all to be in place by the fall of this year. Where they will be located will be in Family and Children's Services. There is Yarmouth; they will be in the Digby District Office; Children's Aid Society of Shelburne; Family and Children's Services at Hants; Family and Children Services' at Kings; Family and Children's Services, Annapolis; Family and Children's Services, Lunenburg; Family and Children's Services in Queens; and we will be using some for regional foster care recruitment and training positions of 3.5 and that is in the western region. In the northern region there will be 23.
If the member would like a list of these, I am happy to provide it, rather than read them all. The number in the central region will be 16 and in the eastern region 18, so they are fairly uniformly spread across the regions.
DR. SMITH: I will thank the minister and I said I would give credit where I think it is due and I think this is an area that is very positive. The social work degree, I think, is probably in the Act or in various legislation, but there was some talk, there was some concern initially that that would not really quite be so, that these might be child welfare workers of a different calibre, so I compliment the minister on that.
I was not quite clear, we spoke in terms of $3.1 million more for the 71 child protection workers. Where would that be in the budget specifically?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, if you look under Family and Children's Services, Children Service-Field, you will notice that the forecast from last year was $6.5 million. It has gone to $7.3 million. That is for 24 of the workers. The remaining number of workers are included in the Children's Aid Society Grants. You will notice that those have increased to cover those workers and, as I indicated to the honourable member, a lot of those workers were being allocated to the Children's Aid Society, so it is incorporated in their grants. Those two line items pick up those additional salaries.
DR. SMITH: Just to follow through on that. I think the numbers seem to be adding up as far as I can tell at this juncture, but I think this is an area that really was troublesome. The reason I think this is so important and I think this is probably one of the more important areas is because it is important that the income assistance and family benefits have support services around them. It is not adequate to run that system through Finance somewhere and just have a cheque mailed out. So I think it is located properly in the Department of
Community Services, but when I think of the Department of Community Services, I think of what we are talking about right now, child protection, the rights of children and the protection of children, whether they are issues surrounding literacy, housing, shelter, or nutrition and, most of all, personal safety.
It is my experience, going into the department and leaving at a time that really was most disturbing to me, yet even probably we are doing better than other provinces. British Columbia, when they looked at child protection there, 82 per cent of the people delivering the service of child protection in that province - this was just a few years ago, several, and I forget the name of the judge, I met him once in Vancouver - his survey showed 82 per cent of the people had basically no training in child protection. They had a total of two weeks, one of which was sort of on the job, another one was pre-job, and that was the sad thing, that had followed, the provincial court judge had done an inquiry into the death of a child.
When I went into Community Services I think, nothing has really touched me more or bothered me more than what I found in child protection. There was the death of two children, the files were fairly current, the only two charts that I think I read in all my time in government were the charts of the death of those two children, both I think in the Spryfield area, and I will always remember that. I never went back to reading charts, but I am envious that the minister is able to get this through his budget, in a mean-spirited government in my opinion. So somewhere somebody has done some good work here and I want to compliment the minister for supporting whoever was bringing this forward because we are in a much better position, we are nowhere near, even back in 1993, the situation in British Columbia. I always remember that one of the children had been taken by the heels and banged up against the wall at 3:00 a.m. in an apartment.
Neighbours had called, the police arrived, and social workers went the next day. There was nobody home; obviously they left. The child was still alive. They went back and sent a note - this was the Halifax Children's Aid - to the family saying contact us at your earliest convenience sort of thing, but they had to register the letter I think. Anyway, that was the sort of service and that was not acceptable.
When an intervention does take place, often the violence escalates. The child was killed in the next few days by one of the parents, and later had gone to court; I think a parent or a stepfather. That was the story on two of those, and those things, have not been happening. It is rare in Nova Scotia now. There are still some shaken baby syndromes, where people shake the children, but they are not getting away with it as much as they were in those days because in those days they would bring in some doctor from California who was a professional giver of information to courts and they would say that it was CPR that had done it.
We were losing children a lot, and other provinces, as near as New Brunswick, have been having major problems. That is the situation that I saw as minister, and I know that we really tried to do some things and I think this is a very positive thing. If it is here in the budget - and I think it is from what I can tell - at least it is a start on those workers. They are regional, distributed around the province and I think in all fairness that is fair and it is a proper thing because coupled with that, and it was a question of, as some would say, good people allowing bad things to happen, everybody was working and trying. Some of it was the caseload, but not all; some of it was just straight administration. There are cases that were open that weren't really valid to be open and should have been closed.
It was a whole system that really needed some change, and I think this province has in many ways showed the way with our legislation. The definition of neglect by itself gives some assurance to the workers that they are protected by the law. The Act is for the protection of the child basically, but it is also for the protection of the worker and the minister himself. The reason I asked about the children in care is because there are children 13 and 14 and 15 out of control in this province, and you are paying $2 million a year out of province for some of them. That is why this secure treatment - again you are running into a continuum of care - we have those children out of control and nobody wants them or it is dealing off, and foster parents, God bless them, some of the foster families with children of their own are looking after children whom I just cannot believe they would be doing. They are the unsung heroes of this whole system.
It is a continuum of care and this is really the underbelly, this is the soft part and the more vulnerable children that we are seeing. Many of them have been through several foster homes and this is why this part of the budget - even though I said I wasn't going to bother with line items this early - these are really important. You can't shift very much on these particular budgets before you are going to impact negatively on direct care to children, and may we never return to the days when abuse was so widespread.
It has been a hard learning experience for society that this was actually happening to our children. There are actually people - and I am not saying the staff as such, but some of the people and some of the elected people - who thought this was a joke, that kids deserved this kind of thing and all this; this was all before Shelburne. I think we have come a long way in a few years and I am glad, and I just want to let the minister know that I watched this part of the budget very carefully. It does sometimes translate right down to dollars and cents really. You can't transfer that responsibility to someone else because I think it belongs in that department, separate from Justice, separate from Education, but the integration of those departments is so important.
I just want to move from that particular area but, speaking of that, the Maintenance of Children budget, there has been a major decrease there and I know that is not where the Children's Aid Society and the Children's Services-Field where some of the workers are being
funded from. Will the minister clarify on Maintenance of Children, the details of that cut and where that money has gone?
MR. CHRISTIE: That decrease is partly because we see some reduction in out-of-province placement this year. Also, because of the 71 new caseworkers, we see some addition to place more in foster care and to the early childhood development, but the majority of that is because secure treatment is going ahead, we will be working more and trying to place more within the province so we see a reduction of out-of-province placements over the next period of this fiscal budget.
DR. SMITH: I will take back some of my other comments, although I still will give the minister credit, but I think this is a very vulnerable area. There is not going to be a secure treatment in place. These are difficult placements, whether they are in province or out of province, and I wish him well on that part of the budget. I think it is a very vulnerable part; you are taking $2.3 million out of Maintenance of Children and you have children in this province who are out of control, who have illnesses that probably nobody can correct or put back. I think that is why the early intervention programs are so important, these children have missed that window of opportunity and are now at 12 and 13 years of age, and you see them in the middle of the night throughout this province.
I don't find that a good answer, Mr. Minister. I think it is optimistic and I wish you well, but I think to maintain the level of care and take $2.3 million out of that particular budget is really stretching it. If you look back, the actual in 1998-99 was $35.2 million and we are looking at $34.3 million this year on the estimate; that is a leap of faith I would say.
We talked about the family violence initiative. In women's centres, we speak about some of the funding for the Family Violence Prevention. Can the minister give a breakdown on how much new funding went to transition houses and how much new funding went to women's centres? We had added $276,000 to fund the six women's centres in Nova Scotia. What is the current breakdown on those two items?
MR. CHRISTIE: Last year as the honourable member will recall, of the six women's centres, some were at $50,000 and some were at $75,000. We took all of the women's centres last year, the six of them, and moved them to $100,000, to give them additional funding for their programs. That has been maintained this year, and the money for transitional and safe houses, as you will notice on the line item under Family and Children's Services has been increased also. That is part of the increase in that area, to help them with the delivery of all their programs.
DR. SMITH: Adult Protection Services have gone. Is that a movement out? I didn't quite follow that change of jurisdiction and responsibility?
MR. CHRISTIE: That is changed to Health.
DR. SMITH: Changed to Health is the answer for the record. Thank you, Mr. Minister.
One of your people in your government, the MLA for Yarmouth, has promised a women's centre for his community. Do you have plans to support that member for a women's centre in Yarmouth? We read frequently about the difficulties within that community relative to women's services and I would agree with the honourable member that he does need one. Is there a commitment that you have been able to make to that community?
MR. CHRISTIE: I had the opportunity some weeks ago to be in Yarmouth, to have the opportunity to meet with the people who were looking to develop that centre. They were in the process of trying to define what services were necessary and what was needed. We will be having ongoing discussions with them as they develop their plans; indeed they have asked us for some assistance in developing their plans, what services are needed and how they can deliver them. So we have discussions as to how that might be implemented and then them moving on forward. Yes, that is a very active file with us.
DR. SMITH: So, with a little help the MLA for that area will be able to keep his election promise by the time of the next election?
MR. RICHARD HURLBURT: Thank you, Jim. Thank you very much.
DR. SMITH: I am putting a word in for you. Yes, that is good. Well, you heard it here and you can get this record from Hansard to mail back home later, that we are all concerned about Yarmouth. (Interruption) Yes, you might someday. If you keep doing what you guys are doing, it may not be mine, but it will be somebody's that you will need.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I would ask the honourable member not to get strayed away by the rabbit tracks.
DR. SMITH: I think they are eastern cougars. This being so close to Easter, I don't want rabbits to get a bad name travelling with those cats.
I only have a few minutes left but I was just wondering, now that the minister has had a chance to think about the heating fuel rebate fiasco - I see there is a line in the budget, a forecast of $600,000 - what did that finally come out to be that was spent on that program that we advised against doing? It is one thing to not want our help, I think I heard the member for Yarmouth saying he did not need it, but so be it. You would not take our advice either on this one, and our experience with this type of program, we learned that this was not a good
way for uptake. How does the minister feel about that, in spite of a pretty good indication that this was not going to work? If you had to do it again, would you, Mr. Minister?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I guess the question is, was it a valuable program? Well, I don't know, 12,000 people applied and received their money. As we had indicated back at the start of that program, in our discussions with the Senior Citizens' Secretariat and some other groups, they wanted assistance and they wanted it fairly quickly. They did not want to wait, to put it on tax credits or do a slow process. I guess I would say that of those 12,000 people, I have heard that some of them have said that they appreciated getting it, and some have said it was not enough.
Looking back, if we were doing it again, perhaps the suggestion of having it a longer time and starting earlier I guess starting in February, we were right in the heating season; had we done it for a little longer period, it would have been more successful. But I don't diminish the fact that some people received assistance and appreciated it, but it probably could have been a little bit longer.
DR. SMITH: I think this program, more than any other, probably signifies some of the things that I have been trying to say about the burden that the department faces when the government puts a very political program like this into a department that is trying to maintain children in foster homes, the maintenance of children in need of protection, all the other issues, and then you have thrust on you a very political program that is out there really to encourage favour with the voters, in my opinion. Yes, I think some people did appreciate it, $50 is still appreciated by people in our society. But I think the overall thrust and the administration of all of this really caused more confusion than it probably helped in the long run.
I just caution the minister that the next time his colleagues sort of force this type of program onto his department, that maybe he says there are other things to do that might be more worthwhile, and target people more appropriately, more who are in need, particularly children.
The department's offices, I just want to close perhaps on that matter. Are there any issues, studies, or plans for moving the department's offices, and allocation for repairs and that sort of thing and, if so, are they in the budget? Has anything been budgeted for that this year?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, as the honourable member knows, the Johnston Building has been scheduled for a refit and it has been out to tender to have that refit done. The plans at present - the person who won the tender for the Community Services Office is up in the Lord Nelson Building - are not included in our budget. The budget for doing that, for the move and rent and so on is included in the budget of the Department of Public Works but there is nothing in our budget regarding the move, for the transfer of the head office.
DR. SMITH: We have a few moments. I was just wondering if the minister can indicate whether the Bay Side Home in Barrington is under the jurisdiction of Community Services yet? You mentioned that some of the changes were not complete and I am not sure who is responsible, Health or . . .
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, Bay Side is under the jurisdiction of Community Services.
DR. SMITH: Then I will just try to have some questions because, as the minister knows, I think there are 32 residents moved as far away as Yarmouth, Lunenburg, Middleton, and that sort of thing. You have seen the report probably, the details of the work that needs to be done. When can the residents and their families have some indication and expect that the Bay Side Home will be reopened?
MR. CHRISTIE: As the honourable member indicates, we have the reports from the architects, we have the reports of what needs to be done. I had the opportunity to meet with the Barrington people a month or so ago, talking about this whole issue. Our hope is that we will have some words for them in the next month or so, so that we can get them back to the direction that they are going to go.
DR. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I understand to refit will cost around $750,000 and to rebuild perhaps would cost around $2 million. Are there monies in the budget, and where would they be, that would address either the refit or the replacement of the Bay Side Home?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Community Services, you have about 20 seconds.
MR. CHRISTIE: No, there is no money in the budget. If they were going to be going forward, what we were discussing is per diem rates, how it would be financed through per diem rates. Those are included here, but there is no money in this budget to rebuild the Bay Side facility. Some of the options that we have been looking at are how that will be happening, how the government can become involved on an issue other than just per diem rates, but that is what the discussion has been to date.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for debate in the Committee of the Whole House on Supply has now expired. The committee will now rise and report progress and meet again on a future day.
The committee stands adjourned.
[2:39 p.m. The committee rose.]