MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee on Supply will now reconvene. Before this committee this afternoon, we will be debating the estimates of the Minister of Agriculture. I would now invite interventions. The honourable member for Lunenburg West actually does have two minutes remaining. However, it has been the practice and protocol in the House, if the minister is present, we can proceed with debate. So if another honourable member would like to commence.
HON. ERNEST FAGE: I would like to respond . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: That certainly would be permissible.
The honourable Minister of Agriculture.
HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I think certainly it is very important to respond to some of the allegations made by the member for Lunenburg West. First of all, the member for Lunenburg West was very strong in his presentation of how hard he had worked, personally, and what he had achieved for many years. It is very important that you note your family.
So since the member for Lunenburg West did not note his father, I would certainly want to say to the House that Mr. Downe's father is a well-respected member of the farming community in Nova Scotia and certainly without his considerable financial support, his considerable management skills and years of being at the farm and making sure the establishment was run properly, it would not have afforded Mr. Downe the opportunity to partake in leadership and presentations across agriculture in Nova Scotia. Certainly I want to acknowledge that Mr. Downe, as President of the Federation of Agriculture a number of years ago, worked very hard to lead the industry here in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Chairman, I think it is important also to note that Mr. Downe talked quite liberally, I would say, on former ministers and certainly one that I knew very well, that being the former deputy minister, Mr. Grant. Mr. Grant offered me my first job off the farm and he was a huge supporter of agriculture. Mr. Grant was also one of those people who did give sound advice, but the sound advice that Mr. Grant, as I recall, would offer me as a young employee in the Department of Agriculture and a young farmer in Nova Scotia was to stand up for what you believe in and allow the industry to take the lead, that the department was there for a supporting role and not to set the policy.
So I think it is important to state that and certainly to state my high regard for Mr. Grant. He was a wonderful Nova Scotian, a strong industry leader and certainly a deputy minister who did great things for agriculture, who encouraged young people to stand on their own. To his credit he encouraged individuals to be forthright, that the industry should be the drivers, not the department, as the member for Lunenburg West seems to feel.
Also, it is certainly my pleasure in the farming industry, from organizations to an individual, to work with the subsequent deputies across Nova Scotia and those individuals worked very hard as well. Anybody who attains the position of Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Nova Scotia is an individual, Mr. Chairman, who spends many hours organizing, many hours, not only with the political side of it with their minister, but with the department side, again providing that support role and ensuring that the industry has an opportunity to move forward. Those deputy ministers, including our present one, Mr. Steel, that is their objective, to ensure that the agriculture industry has an opportunity to grow and to prosper.
I think it is extremely important to point out that the member for Lunenburg West in his remarks was at times pitting small farmers against larger operations, pitting one commodity against another commodity. Those are not the ideals of this minister or this department. We feel the department does its very best and will continue to do its very best to ensure that all commodities, all farmers, large or small, receive resources, receive the opportunity for their input and are extremely important to the Province of Nova Scotia. Such inflammatory remarks stating that the department would be encouraging such things only reflects on the poor judgement of the person making those statements in my view, Mr. Chairman.
Also, I think it is very important to realize the budget we are at here and what we are doing in the industry at this point is we have taken over from an administration that was in power. The former Minister of Finance, the member for Lunenburg West, was part of that in the last government as Finance Minister. I can certainly tell the former minister that as he rose to his political challenge and used various means to ensure that his view and the industry was put forward, people like myself did what they could to help support his political aspirations and certainly when campaign donations were asked for his leadership bid, members of the agriculture community were canvassed extensively, myself being included, and certainly there
was a great opportunity to see a member of the agricultural community do his best to rise to that platform or that leadership ability although he was unsuccessful. Certainly many of us in the industry were canvassed using his contacts of many years to help support that bid.
Now, Mr. Chairman, we in the agricultural industry at that time thought we had a champion of our cause. This gentleman said that the Agriculture budget would receive funding. It would not go down and the funding would be increased. Well, over $40 million was in the Agriculture budget when this provincial government came to power. A year ago the budget was down to $34 million. So when I looked through the . . .
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, you indicated when you began today that the member for Lunenburg West had two minutes left in his time. Now, if he was here in his place, the usual procedure is you would shut him down after two minutes, him and the minister responding to his question, and then move on to the next member. I would ask that you would follow that procedure and ask the minister to end his debate and move on to the next member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that intervention, but I would advise all honourable members that the practice in this House has been that the ministers of the budget estimates, in this case the Minister of Agriculture, is entitled to respond to comments by the questioners on behalf of the respective caucuses, in this case the Liberal and NDP caucuses. So I would again recognize the honourable Minister of Agriculture.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party on another point of order?
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Chairman, again on a point of order, I ask you to consult with the Clerk because that is not, in fact, how things have been done in this House. I have seen ministers stand in their place and respond to a question of mine and had the Chairman sit them down because the time is up. I would ask you to consult with the Clerks. That has been the general procedure and, frankly, I believe that the Minister of Agriculture is trespassing on the time of the Opposition to ask questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Again I would thank you for that intervention and for the honourable member's benefit, I have consulted and have been advised that it is quite appropriate for a Minister of the Crown to respond in budget estimates and that is irrespective of whether an honourable member's time has expired or not.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: That is not true.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would recognize the honourable Minister of Agriculture.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: No, that is not true. Do you mean he is allowed to talk as long as he wants? Is that what you are saying? That is crazy. He is taking up . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I think it is extremely important when we look at program delivery over the last number of years (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Would the honourable member please let the honourable Minister of Agriculture have the floor.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: He is using up the time and you are letting him and I disagree with that. Ron, you know the difference. You are the Government House Leader here.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, during those years (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Don Downe was up for an hour. He said he had two minutes left.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. (Interruptions)
AN HON. MEMBER: This has never been done before. It is the NDP's time. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable Minister of Agriculture has the floor.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing me to address some of the concerns raised by the member for Lunenburg West.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, the purpose for estimates is we divide time up between the Opposition Parties and we put questions to the minister responsible. We are kept to an hour each, each side, each Opposition Party, and the minister is not allowed to stand in his place. That was one of the deals why we went to 40 hours in this committee because government members were not going to trespass on the time of the Opposition.
AN HON. MEMBER: That is right.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: This is completely in contravention of that practice, Mr. Chairman, and I would say to you and to the Government House Leader, if he is not going to intervene and make that correction, that you are abusing the time of the Opposition and that is a matter we will have to get into later. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Agriculture has the floor.
MR. FAGE: As I was saying, Mr. Chairman, once the government of the member for Lunenburg West came to power, the Agriculture budget was severely reduced during those years. I think it is important to take a few minutes and note some of the changes. What we have seen deleted were programs that were extremely important to the agriculture industry, like the New Entrants Program. That was deleted. The livestock veterinary services subsidy, that was eliminated. When we look at policies like land clearing that had served the agriculture industry in every corner in this province, eliminated. This former minister who we felt would champion the cause of agriculture in Nova Scotia eliminated feed freight assistance, never even stood up as that was eliminated by the federal government.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order, I would like to see if we could get what the established rules are in this committee. The previous member who was chairing the committee, the member for Eastern Shore, when his Party's time had expired, even if a minister was giving an answer, told him that the time for that caucus has expired and sat the minister down. Now what we see happening here is a new procedure where the minister in an attempt to avoid answering questions is filibustering with a long speech. In the interest of fairness which I know you, of course, would be interested in, I would ask that you tell the minister to take his seat so that another questioner can begin to ask questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that helpful intervention, but it wasn't a point of order. The honourable Government House Leader on a point of order.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: On the point of order raised by the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid, the thing is that if a member chooses to take the hour and sits down and the minister has no opportunity then to respond to that member, another member could get up and speak for an hour and the minister wouldn't be able to respond. That is nonsense. The minister is accorded the right to respond. In fact, every member in the House is entitled to speak on estimates. (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Perhaps in the spirit of cooperation and fairness, the Minister of Agriculture could perhaps take five minutes to respond to the several questions and comments that were raised and thus enable the Opposition Parties to place questions and make comments.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, in the spirit of cooperation, the member for Lunenburg West's question was 58 minutes long, so I was trying to cover some of the issues that he raised. What I am attempting to do here is just straighten a few of the facts out. So what we have here . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order, it has been my understanding that during estimates that the member asking the questions of the minister has a right to a preamble to that question and if the member does not ask a question of the minister, then the member who is asking the questions is allowed to continue asking the questions. That has been precedent in this House. (Interruption) Yes, but I understand. For the Chairman to suggest that you are going to get five minutes to answer a question is . . .
MR. HOLM: He has been going for 15, and the member hasn't even been here to ask a question.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Well, the rules are though that a member can if he wants to take his whole hour and do it in preamble he can. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Just on the intervention from the honourable member for Cape Breton South, I have been advised that it is quite appropriate for an honourable Minister of the Crown to respond to questions and comments that have been placed. Thus, I am permitting the honourable Minister of Agriculture to respond. (Interruptions)
AN HON. MEMBER: One rule the whole time.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: I guess the difficulty I have, Mr. Chairman, is that it seems the rules are being changed here as we go along all this week. (Interruption) Pardon me? (Interruption) No. You know the Government House Leader who is afraid to allow the Premier's estimates to be called in the Red Room . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Order, please. This is getting carried away. The honourable Minister of Agriculture has approximately four minutes to wrap up his comments.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I am not looking to be disruptive or anything. (Laughter) All I am doing is trying to address some of the comments and issues raised by the member for Lunenburg West. I think it is important in summation that there were many programs vital to the agriculture industry that went by the wayside during his tendership in government and to stand in his place here in estimates and say that the Department of Agriculture and the present administration is being gutted is simply not true.
Mr. Chairman, instead of reducing programs as the former administration did, as did the former member in not standing up for agriculture, we have increased programs in agriculture spending and we are offering alternative service delivery. As far as the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, the estimated budget or presented budget from the previous year
to this year is $135,000 less. Other than that, that is as quick as I can sum up the hundreds of questions posed by the dissertation of the former member. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I certainly welcome an opportunity to speak. I have a few comments and then I will have some questions. To start, I would like to read some comments from Hansard, which are:
"We want to move the industry forward, to create a climate where agriculture-related activities can flourish and new ideas for even greater prosperity can be developed and implemented quickly and efficiently . . . The Nova Scotia Agricultural College plays a key role. As well, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College takes a leading role in providing education, research, public service in the agricultural, food industries, aquaculture and related disciplines . . . The Nova Scotia Agricultural College is dedicated to helping people acquire the skills, wisdom and independence needed for a lifetime of learning and contribution to the well-being of Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada, and other regions of Canada, both in Canada and internationally."
"We are committed to revisiting the present New Entrants Program within the current budget for this fiscal year to look at new and innovative ways to make the industry viable for young people . . . Our second step is to create a climate where the industry can grow and diversify, and where new ideas are encouraged and supported, to help us compete in an ever-changing global market place."
"We are committed to consulting with Nova Scotians as a government and we will consult with farmers about the role of the department and its programs and services in meeting their present and future needs. The department has a history of consulting with the industry and that will continue. A majority of the department's staff work closely with clients as part of their daily work. We will capitalize on this network to get feedback, and collect new ideas on what is best for the industry and how best we can help the industry."
"We have maintained a number of key programs such as the Limestone Assistance Program. The true test of this government's commitment to the industry and its future potential is in the work we do from today until April 1, 2000, and beyond. We are committed to working smart and to working hard to find innovative and creative ways to increase agriculture's contribution to Nova Scotia and to Nova Scotians."
Mr. Chairman, those are comments from Hansard that the minister made in his speech last year when we entered the budget estimates for Agriculture. I have to say that from what he said and what he did in the last few days, there is a major deviation by the minister. (Interruption) Well, the one he mentioned there, the Limestone Assistance Program is gone, and the only thing I can see that the minister has done anything is in trying to top up or secure
safety net programs. If the minister believes for a second that safety net programs are the way to secure an industry, then where has he been? As a farmer who has come up through the system, from the grass roots, built an operation on their own as a family, then I cannot believe (Interruption)
Well,actually, if the minister was concerned about the hog industry or the beef industry, he would set up some type of supply management system whereby they have security of price and he is going to say you cannot do that because (Interruption) Well, talk to them. I have talked to them and actually supply management in the hog industry is something that was fielded a number of years ago and the members in the industry thought that was the direction they were going. It was scrapped and I will bet if the minister sat down to talk with them, he would find that they would be interested in some form of price stabilization.
If he does not want to call it supply management, he can call it whatever he likes, and maybe there is a different way other than supply management, but at least the minister could look to see whether or not there is some way to secure a stable price so that those farmers are not left out on a limb every time global markets shift. We have been able to do that with poultry, we have been able to do that with the dairy sector and those are two of the strongest, most vibrant sectors in this country. So why is it that we are so reticent to doing it in other sectors? Is it in such a way that it has to be a national program? I am sure when dairy quotas first came about, it was not a national program. There were provincial programs that later amalgamated to control the national supply.
So in a province that only supplies 65 per cent of its pork needs, why would farmers have to have a safety net program. They are not producing a surplus of pork for our needs in this province and they should be getting a premium for what they produce. I cannot for the life of me look back at these comments that the minister made about the people in the department and how they work with their clients on a daily basis and this is the network that is going to provide information and yet cut one of the most important branches, Production Technology, from the department and assume that that is a good thing. Actually, if you were looking at securing the agricultural sector without depending on safety nets, I am not saying abolish safety nets, what I am saying is if you need them, it is good to have them, but don't base your industry on charity or pumping money away for a disaster. Base your industry for growth to the future. Secure the price (Interruption)
Yes, Mr. Minister, I would assume that in Saskatchewan and other jurisdictions they would want safety nets. I just said I am not asking to abolish safety nets. What I am saying is secure a price structure so that farmers can get a decent price for what they produce and farmers have said this time and time again, if anybody is listening, pay us what it is worth for our commodity and we will not need safety nets. The minister must have heard them say that. Why is it that there are apple producers in the Valley in this province getting 13 cents a pound for apples and Sobeys is selling it for $1.13? The farmers are going out of business. You don't
have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that somebody should look at securing a decent price for these people and I don't know if they are doing that in Saskatchewan and I don't know if I care if they are doing it in Saskatchewan. What I care about is what we are not doing in Nova Scotia.
The people in the agricultural sector are not impressed and I don't think it matters how much the minister tries to cover himself by threats to anybody in any organization so that they will not speak out, that the disdain for where the government is going in the Department of Agriculture is apparent. I don't think that the members opposite need me to tell them. They have to be hearing it. I know the honourable Chairman in his riding has heard it from his constituents. I think he has tried to open a door for them to speak, but the question is, is anybody listening? If we intend to move the industry in any type of forward direction - this is the year 2000 - and I asked the minister in the last budget estimates in the fall about his vision for the province.
Well, it was a little bit vague. I was kind of hoping he could be more pointed, but there are those areas where people are trying to bring new initiatives to the province and I cannot see how eliminating the Production Technology Division, which is the specialists, is going to help those fledgling sectors. The hemp producers, for example, in this province, they are barely getting off the ground, but there is an area with real growth potential and to expect them to foot the bill for specialists, and the minister is going to say the money is available, $2.7 million is there to help them in hiring specialists to give them the advice they need for their sector. Well, baloney, the people who are going to get at that $2.7 million are the larger commodity groups, those that have dollars. They still have to contribute. This isn't entirely paid by this $2.7 million and if you look at some of the sizes of the farming operations in this province and think about the millions of dollars generated by them, $2.7 million for the whole province to do this? The minister talked about the former Liberal Government and what they cut, but the minister did not say that he was willing to put those programs back.
I don't know what happens to people on the journey to where they get to, but I know that there must have been some point in the minister's life when his view of agriculture would have been one where he would need some support. His operation, today, may be at a point where he does not need a lot of support, but I can tell you in his particular sector, the dairy sector, that this is a part of the agriculture economy that even though it generates a good livelihood for the participants in that sector, it is a very difficult sector to get into.
The way this system is set up with value placed on milk quota, it takes practically a millionaire to get into the dairy sector today. There are no easy steps anymore and if he expects people to start small in the dairy sector and build, those days are gone. Unless the minister is willing to set up some strategy, some steps and some support in his department to allow for that, it is not going to happen and actually even those who are in that sector and wanting their children to stay there, are finding it quite impossible for their children to garner the funds, even to give them a break to buy the farm. I think that as far as family farms in
Nova Scotia go in the dairy sector, they are going to be a thing of the past because this direction will only make them bigger and bigger.
It is the only way that they can survive with very little support to try to bring people into that sector, or any sector, and especially in the case of those new commodities where markets are only starting to be developed and you have to have some time-frame to develop the expertise, develop the market and have some way to do that in a small way. (Interruption) But no experts to help them with the crop they grow, that is great.
Well, obviously, the minister hears some of what I say. He just has selective hearing because even the industry is saying that the $2.7 million is not enough. The specialists are going to be leaving this province and people don't know, or are not aware, that three years ago the Province of Ontario did this and guess what they are doing now? They are courting our specialists to get them to go there to work because they realized the stupidity of what they had done. So by the time the minister gets through this process in July, or whenever it is that the federation and he and the department are going to figure this all out, there will not be anybody for that fund to work on. They are all going to be gone because I cannot think of anybody who is going to sit around and wait for a call that they might get a contract for five months, or three months, or six months, to do anything.
So how the minister expects the people who are in the Production Technology Division to stick around until he figures out what he is going to do for them, I don't know, because I think they have lives to lead. I think they have families to feed and I think they are worried. I have a funny feeling that from what they have seen so far, they are not going to be waiting on the minister to help them out because I think they have probably got their wake-up call as to exactly how much this minister intends to support them.
I think it is clear that there is an obvious agenda. The agenda is not to move this industry forward. It cannot be. You cannot do it this way and I would think that if this government is concerned about its revenues, if it is concerned about bringing down the deficit, if it is concerned about its power base in rural Nova Scotia, it would give a little more thought to the action that it takes regarding renewable, sustainable resources - and Agriculture is one of those - rather than cutting the legs out from underneath the department. The minister should realize that the Production Technology Division is the interface between the bureaucracy of the department and the farming community. The faces of those specialists are basically all those farmers know; those are the people who for the most part they want to see. Those are the people who they want to know. Those are the people who come to their farms and advise them, to help them move their operation forward so they don't need safety nets, so they can try to cut their costs, get the best from their commodity. That is what those specialists do for them and those are the very people who are gone.
So what is there to ensure that that sector is secure? Nothing. What is there to ensure that a $1 billion industry in this province that employs 16,000 people is secure? Nothing. I would think that the one thing that we have seen lacking on the part of this government and this entire budget, and we see it lacking in the Financial Measures (2000) Act, is anything that will increase revenues. We don't see it in the forest sector. We don't see it regarding gypsum, other minerals, gold, you name it. There is nothing there and I would think that if they were to look at the forest sector, fishing sector and agriculture, which can be here forever, (Interruption)
Well, if we get to Natural Resources, we will talk about the silviculture fund. (Interruptions) Yes, it never has occurred to the minister that his silviculture fund will not be much good when all the trees are cut, if he considers 80 years for a tree to grow, puts no limits on the amount of wood that we cut in this province and thinks the silviculture fund is going to secure that. Those numbers from his other department are based on 1998 numbers and the level of cutting in this province which is about 5.8 million cubic metres. If we go beyond that, then those numbers of sustainability don't mean anything and the minister should be aware of that in case I don't get to that with DNR. All the money in the world, if we woke up tomorrow with all the trees cut, isn't going to replace them. Time does that.
MR. FAGE: So you are not happy with . . .
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I am not happy without putting a limit on what we cut in this province, Mr. Minister, because your numbers will not work. We are in serious trouble as far as growing this economy and we are in serious trouble now in the Department of Agriculture and the whole agricultural sector because there are those sectors of this economy that have no price stabilization mechanism. When they use up their safety nets, which the minister has seen in the pork sector, did we not just give them a loan a year ago, in the fall of 1998? Did we not give more money to that sector to try to carry it through? Did they not exhaust the NISA program? (Interruption) Right, they had the loan exhausted a year before. (Interruptions)
The point I am trying to make to the minister is the safety net program for the hog industry has not worked. They are getting the lowest prices historically. They need a mechanism to sustain a price that is related to their cost of production so that they don't need to use their safety net. As a matter of fact, it has to be in some way so that they don't exhaust the whole safety net and then come looking to government for more dollars. How you build an industry with that type of thinking, the idea that every time there is a disaster, that that is how you secure it, isn't going to work.
I do have some questions for the minister. I would like to know, does the minister have any market studies to show the private sector can absorb all of the laid-off specialists?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. He had a number of them in his discussion there and certainly I would just want to clarify that the New Entrants Program is a new one. It is being reinstated to encourage new farmers in Nova Scotia. I certainly would not want to leave the impression that we in any way would pit small farmers against large farmers. The member has those concerns and certainly I think he should be careful in articulating who he wants to support and who he wants to penalize in the agriculture industry as far as producers or commodity goes, but on the issue of alternative service delivery, I think it is absolutely important for the member to realize that the services from the Production Technology Division are services that are very important to the agriculture industry. He has pointed that out very eloquently and those services are what we are trying to maintain in the overall reduction in the size of government.
From our perspective on this side of the House, we had a $600 million deficit to deal with. Each department had their share or role to play in it and part of making those tough decisions - and they are tough decisions, honourable member - is looking at alternative service methods that allow departments to be smaller in numbers of people who work, but employ alternative methods to supply those essential services. So in that regard, what we have done is we have established a fund of $2.7 million that will be ongoing from year to year. Of that $2.7 million, approximately $500,000 of it will be used to resource five regional offices and $2.2 million is set aside for commodity groups, not private enterprise, to hire their own specialists and establish the priorities that they in turn wish to champion and the direction they want their industry going because for years, decades, commodities and farmers have been saying research isn't going in the right direction.
You have pointed out a number of situations where, although without studies or even antidotal evidence that supply management in a limited area in Nova Scotia would work in a national and international market on beef or on pork, and those things, if you can get all the other provinces to agree to leave you alone and you find somebody who has pockets to pay a premium on doing that, it may work and then you can convince the industry that they don't want growth and that could happen. Those are the types of ideas that are good ideas, that need nurturing, but the industry has to decide them, not you as an individual or me as an individual. Those are industry decisions and decisions that the industry should make cooperatively and then they lobby for support, whether it is government or regulatory institutions, to get that.
That is why it is so important that alternative service delivery allows the funding of those special services because I don't think we can have a difference of opinion. I think you and I would both agree the services are extremely important. What we are having a discussion about in the estimates here, in my view, is alternative service delivery or would there be a main line budget item in some form and what we are looking at at this point is alternative service delivery that, yes, the industry would be in charge. We will supply the money for the
specialist services that they want to hire and they will designate the terms of reference of what is the priority of the industry and what is the quickest and the best way to grow the agriculture industry.
Industries in Nova Scotia, or any other jurisdiction, if they are in charge of their destiny rather than living somebody else's dream or expectation, thrive and that is what we are trying to do, is offer those industries that opportunity and meet our terms of budget that we can live with and that can be contained year after year in regard to the amount of civil servants or the amount of department staff related to maintaining it.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I am going to ask two questions together and the first one is the one I just asked. The other one is, in the $2.2 million that the minister is allowing for the commodity groups to access through the federation, I want to know when they hire a specialist, does that fund pay the whole fee for the specialist or does the commodity group pay part of the fee for the specialist and, if so, how much? My original question, does the minister have any market study to show the private sector can absorb all of the laid-off specialists?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, if the honourable member would repeat the second question, I did not hear it clearly to understand.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: My second question was the $2.2 million that is to be allocated for commodity groups to hire specialists, I want to know if the commodity group pays part of the specialist's fee as well or if the $2.2 million pays the entire fee for the specialist and the commodity group does not pay anything?
MR. FAGE: Certainly on the first question, if the member opposite is able to obtain a copy of the Public Investment in Agriculture, this is a document by the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. A number of sections in here ask for better ways to deliver service more efficiently and more professionally and the present structure leads to that. I guess I could probably read a couple of quotes to him.
It says, along with the necessity to be competitive, a single characteristic that prevails among all farm businesses is improved access to information. All farm business managers have enhanced an extended access to information about their business and to agriculture related information networks. Part of that $2.2 million, is answering that request, 1-800-numbers reflecting technology and allowing that expertise into their home and into their business in that way.
It goes on to say that the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Marketing has yet to adjust its administrative structure and programs and service delivery mechanisms to accommodate these trends. More specifically, the administrative structures that were put in place to oversee highly targetted and rich agricultural programs of the 1970's and 1980's are
still in place. The service delivery mechanisms extension of the Nova Scotia department has failed to recognize the elevated levels of professionalism and independence among farm business managers. It is the opinion of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture that the agricultural industry in Nova Scotia needs not so much to be directed and coddled as it needs to be empowered to make the decisions that will allow it to adapt to new conditions as an industry collectively and individually.
I think even documents from the farm community themselves are the ones showing it. If you look at a case study, the University of Texas, land banking systems through many states in mid-West United States, other service deliveries across the continent, you will see where alternative service delivery has a place and works very appropriately.
On your second question, if the commodity group, the fund is set aside, those discussions, there are a number of commodity groups now coming forward to begin the process of negotiation on (a) what they would want as far as specialists and (b) the allocation of those funds. If they chose a specialist, we would allocate the funds to pay that specialist to them.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I think the answer is that the funds will pay the entire cost of the specialists and the commodity group does not kick in any funds. Can you nod, say yes.
MR. FAGE: Sorry, Mr. Chairman, I had been nodding there but, yes, we would be paying, after that negotiation and agreed upon that that was a specialist and that was a service they wanted, we would be paying the cost of that out of that fund to that particular commodity group to employ that specialist.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, the minister did not answer my first question about whether he had any studies that would show that the private sector can absorb it. I know that there are private agricultural consulting businesses out there. There were before this budget. So I know that there are people trying to generate through their entrepreneurial spirit, you know, a livelihood doing that. So he does not need to tell me that there might be a place for them. What I am asking is, does he have anything that shows that the people he is letting go from his department can be absorbed in the private sector in this province?
MR. FAGE: I certainly would like to respond to the honourable member's question. The honourable member in his preamble informed me that he had jobs for all the specialists in Ontario already. The guarantee that each and every person who is employed will be re-employed by a commodity group, no one can give. The guarantee that they would not choose to work for private industry, no one can give. The guarantee that the possibility that they would work other places in the department because of their qualifications and seniority through human resources, that process has to take place.
I apologize, the previous question, I had thought you had asked me if there were studies out there that show that alternative servicing would work. I guess alternative service delivery, with us providing the money, is a completely different circumstance than hiring independent consultants. Yes, there are many firms out there that will do resource-based consulting for you, hundreds of them across Canada, a large number in Nova Scotia, and certainly when you look at the livestock industry and fertilizer, most of those companies would have on staff a nutritionist, a soil scientist, someone to provide that expertise on their products. The majority of rations, let's say, would be formulated by representatives from the feed company, not our services. We will maintain the lab services to ensure that the delivery of those analyses of feed stuffs are proper, but many farmers now have the technology to program a formula like their own rations, let's say, and a huge majority would use the consultation presently of feed companies and that would just be one example of what is taking place out there in the industry.
Certainly, yes, there is a huge amount of opportunity if you want that expertise and I probably should also add for the information of the House, two of those new programs that we have announced that are independent of alternative service delivery, the two new tech programs, one for individual farmers up to $10,000 a year at a 50 per cent funding level, and the other one up to $50,000 for an organization, could be used for technology too or information as well. They could use that and that would be for a specific service we envision where somebody needs some expertise or information on a given subject on a very short time-frame. It would work perfectly for that type of situation.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I guess I am wondering how it is that a particular commodity group can hire a specialist who is not in the province, if they are not going to stay, then you cannot hire them. I wonder if the minister could tell me, I think, if I have my numbers right, the department's Production Technology Division, and if he wants to separate the money that he thinks he would save in the Production Technology Division by the 54 people who were laid off there, plus the other 45 or so in the rest of the department, but I understand that in the range of $5 million is what the province is trying to glean from doing this?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, if I interpreted your question properly, you are asking me what was the size of the Production Technology budget last year?
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: . . . from the people you laid off?
MR. FAGE: The size of the Production Technology department budget the previous year was $3.7 million; $2.2 million of that is going for alternative service delivery. The five regional offices, we are putting in $500,000 which brings it to $2.7 million and if you give me a moment, I can give you the figure that would have come out of that particular branch. In Production Technology, with the majority of alternative service delivery - and bear in mind it is not a question of reallocating resources, we had our share of the deficit reduction. I think
it is also very important to point out to the House and the member opposite we have $1 million more in programs this year than we had in previous years.
I think it is absolutely critical to point out to the member opposite and the member for Lunenburg West that the former government was unable and unsuccessful in negotiating any agreements with the federal government, in essence. We certainly worked hand in hand with the agricultural industry in Opposition and put forward the point very strongly that our share should be farm gate. I, as minister, on behalf of the department with staff and my colleagues in other provinces achieved that in this budget with the federal government and so safety net funding, which the member is a little critical of, is greatly enhanced here in Nova Scotia.
Commodities that are not supply management depend on NISA, crop insurance and companion programs for their underpinnings or stable pricing when problems occur in the market place or in production. This has risen from $5.9 million, honourable member, to $11.9 million which is virtually a doubling of the amount of money we were able to put into the underpinnings in support of all those industries that are not poultry or dairy related which is a huge opportunity to restore funding that has been missing to those commodities for years and to protect them against the down times.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, the minister mentioned $3.7 million, I think, from Production Technology, but he did not give me a number for the other . . .
MR. FAGE: I have the numbers for the honourable member. For Rural Leadership, it has decreased from $1,530,600 to $500,000 for those five offices. So that would be a decrease of approximately $1 million.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Minister, I guess maybe this comes to the crux of where you and I differ. Well, I am starting to think we differ in a lot of ways, I don't know how I can make it more clear, that I am not against safety nets. I am against safety nets as a mechanism of sustainability in an industry. If we are not offering something that sustains price, then if you have safety nets, then you can help save some people some of the time, but you cannot do that in the long term, you know, because we have seen that in the case of the pork sector, they zap whatever savings that they had in trying to carry on until the price got higher.
Also, I noticed the minister tends to state my comments, or states what he thinks my comments are, and I noticed in this article that was in the Truro Daily News, and you mentioned earlier in the House about the fact that I was supportive of the harness racing industry, but yet not supportive of the $1 million that went to it and you mentioned that that was reported somewhere. I just realized it was reported by you in this paper. So I want to be categorical about my position there. I do support the harness racing industry and I did support the money going into it and I stand here to say that. My concern is where will that money go, whether it will get evenly disbursed throughout the rural economy, will it wind up at the three
tracks and promote jobs in Nova Scotia, that is my concern. I want to be assured that that is going to happen. I think the harness racing sector is worth saving and I think the jobs in it are worth saving. I am not sure what I will read tomorrow about what I just said, but I am sure that I will get an opportunity to present that again to the minister.
When I look at the $3.7 million cut out of Production Technology and losing 54 specialists, to put $2.7 million into this fund, well, $2.2 million plus $500,000 to sustain those five regional offices, and to think that the difference is $1 million on a $4.5 billion budget, that we are letting these specialists go for the sake of $1 million, I cannot believe it. I was going to ask the minister, how will the minister keep all this talent from leaving Nova Scotia and going to the United States, but I can see from his previous answers that he cannot stop that. I cannot believe that he thinks there will be specialists for these commodity groups to hire when they go. So I want to know, what plan does the minister have for the commodities to hire specialists who are not here?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his questions and his observations. First of all, I think it is very important to get a clear understanding of the larger picture. It is wonderful to muse that you would like to have a Utopian type of system that covers someone with supply management but, first of all, I think it would be nice to convey to the honourable member that NISA and safety nets are the accepted safety mechanisms across the entire country. Every provincial government in this country, every producer organization from hog producers to cattlemen, to grain growers, to NDP Governments across western Canada, to the federal minister, have agreed that the one rule is if you are supplying management commodity, you don't qualify for NISA if you are not in supply management. All the industry, all the farmers and those industry representatives have voted for it. So having some other system that runs contrary to those two and does not contravene the rules is a bit of a fantasy.
This comes to another point of the member, I guess my taking the liberty to try to paraphrase, to understand what he is trying to convey to me, and the member does that every day in the House on my behalf and certainly the interviewers who would come from the Truro Daily News, he takes extreme liberal, not socialistic, but extreme liberal interpretation of my words and policy and then instead of addressing it to me, he would send it to a paper. So I am just trying to understand what he is saying and as far as the harness racing, the comment there, I think it is really important to point out that that was this week. His comments when he was in the media before, the last week of March, were he wanted the harness racing to have money, and then afterwards announced in this House that he was against harness racing having the money. I think those things are important for the public and the members to understand.
The harness racing industry though, the protection of that money, we have an industry committee that is working with our department right now and they are disbursing that $1 million - we do not want them to run out of money halfway through the year - and we are setting up a system; the industry will make their recommendations of how to disburse it, but we will be the ones to actually disburse it and make sure that we manage it properly. There is enough support and it is there for the year because in reality, they only have one-third of what they had last year.
On the member's intervention on the last question raised, I think the most important document to read again is the Agriculture Industry. If the member opposite agrees that the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture represents all commodity groups, and is the voice of agriculture, I think it is important to read from their report. This report has been virtually the same for the last 5 to 10 years and at their annual meeting they, as a group, collectively pass it and ask that the publication be sent on to government.
It says that the defining feature of the entrenchment in spending on agriculture by the Government of Nova Scotia has been cuts to programs; that is, the provision of direct and indirect assistance to farm business. While there has been a marked decrease in public expenditures on all forms of direct assistance to farm business during the past decade, there has been no corresponding decrease in the administration, operating expenditures of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture.
That I think is a sentiment that has been expressed broadly in the industry for the last 5 to 10 years. I can assure the member opposite if he looks at the estimates, in meeting our budgetary reductions, in making sure that the department is leaner and smaller, that we have ensured that there are more programs for those farmers out there in Nova Scotia.
We have also allowed the industry through the commodity groups to take charge of their destiny and set their priorities, such as has been recommended by many commodity organizations and people professing to support the agriculture industry, by allowing alternative service delivery and that is that $2.2 million fund so that those commodity groups which wish to hire specialists in their field and wish to ensure that a core group of specialists are there for the industry, that the funds are there to ensure that they are there and that the industry takes that leadership role in deciding where they want to go: (a) putting money on the ground for farmers so they will build to make something out of it and this industry will grow; and (b) ensuring that the support services that they designate that they require through their specialists by providing the funding with them in control allows them to set their own course and direction. Thank you.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Well, I have this and I have read it and I guess we can both put our spin on this, but I would bet that the minister thanked his lucky stars the day he saw this because it doesn't say to do what the minister did, but he sure seems to be drawing a long bow in trying to get there as far as I can see.
The minister still didn't answer my question as to how it is that these commodity groups are going to hire specialists that aren't here. I can't see that the setting up of this fund, the $2.2 million has anything to do with the commodity groups setting their own direction - they have been doing that for years, with the help of the Department of Agriculture to see them get to it. They know where they want to go. They have been going to the department to help them get to where they want to go. They didn't need this fund to know where they wanted to wind up, the question is, is the fund appropriate in getting them there? I am asking the minister again, how are they going to hire specialists if they leave the province?
MR. FAGE: First of all, I am not aware that farmers are leaving the province. Some do leave the province on occasion and have moved their farm operations or have ceased their farm operation and have moved to other provinces. I am not aware that any specialists or people in the employ of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture have left. There are one or two - which is normal - who would be talking to other employment opportunities, but certainly I think the honourable member is prejudging in that these are all valued employees of the Department of Agriculture. They continue to perform their duties; the human resource aspect and the Civil Service agreement all have to be respected and the negotiation and discussion on each individual commodity group on what arrangement they would like needs to occur between the department and the commodity group and then they would decide what special services they want and require.
During that period of the next several months, those employees are still employed in the department so that service delivery will change, but service to the agriculture industry across this province, hopefully, should be seamless.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Maybe it will take months for these people to know, but I would think that before this budget ever got tabled in this House three weeks ago that the word would have been out there in the department as to what was coming down before we ever knew it. I would say that we have been dealing with this budget for three weeks so I would like to understand that in the department, the people who know they are going and if you say 54 employees of the Production Technology Division will be gone, nearly 1,000 years of experience, then in three weeks I would tend to believe that any jostling that is going to get done, people pretty well know where they stand. They are going to know whether they are going to be here or looking for work elsewhere. I am amazed that the minister can regard them as valued employees and yet let them go.
How is the $2.2 million fund supposed to replace a $4 million branch of which salaries alone were $3 million?
MR. FAGE: Again, I tried to impress upon the honourable member, and being a former civil servant himself, I would hope he could recognize that the Civil Service Act takes precedence over this process here. Those contractual rights to each one of those individual employees, whether it is this department or any other department where there are
readjustments in numbers, have to be worked out with the Human Resources section of the Civil Service Act, not here in discussion. I think it is very important to put that down and put that forward, this is no different than the employees' rights and heaven forbid if you are trying to ensure that these employees' rights are abrogated because they have their rights and we are here to defend those rights of those employees to just and fair treatment, to the opportunity to seniority and all those other issues that deal with proper recognition of notice, the entire continuum. Those have to be observed and I think the honourable member as a former civil servant would recognize that is paramount in how we deal with these valued employees in their particular position. They do have many rights and we do have many obligations to them.
Again, back to the numbers and we will go through them. I think, once more, the entire Production Technology was $3.7 million; $2.2 million is the adjustment fund suggested for that quotient. If you do the math, $3.7 million minus $2.2 million, you end up with $1.5 million, not in excess of $3 million. I think that is extremely important. I think it is really important to come back to the reason we are fighting a deficit in this province. That $600 million is a huge amount of money; it gives me no joy or pleasure to look at alternative ways to ensure that we can spend or deliver our services, but we have obligations to the taxpayers in this province to ensure that we spend less money.
The Department of Agriculture and the agriculture industry has done its share in the fight against the deficit and that is why you would not see the two numbers equal, you would see them less.
What is extraordinary that has happened in this department is more money is going to programs. Instead of cutting programs, which has happened for the last 10 years as documented in this document, the request of the general direction of the agricultural industry has been followed. Please look at how the amount of money allocated in your department is delivered. Does it go to programs? Does it go to the delivery mode? It challenged the industry, this department and this government had to look at alternative ways to deliver that. Thus, the $2.2 million was offered for the delivery of specialist service to the industry - not individual private contractors - to employ specialists and to set their own priorities.
That frees up enough opportunity to ensure that there are more programs. Again, this government, this budget, has huge gains for the agriculture industry, that they have not seen in programs in over a decade. There is a New Entrants Program reinstated which will help new people get into the agriculture industry, help those farms turn over. Large animal veterinarian services have been reinstated. The farm community wanted that reinstated. It was important because many livestock farms are out in rural Nova Scotia. You yourself, honourable member, are a rural member and you know how far it is for veterinary service to travel and it is important that if your sheep is not feeling, well, that veterinarian should be able to get there. The farming industry asked for that.
The farming industry, because of their high incorporation of technology and computerization and knowledge-based component asked for new programs that would allow them to access and infuse technology even quicker under specialized operations as stated here. They need that professional expertise that they can plug in quickly and it refines, we have general specialists now, they need refined specialist services for a few moments a day. That allows them to access that and allows their operation of the industry to grow and allows groups of participants on the group component of that new program. I think both of those new programs are highly important to the agriculture industry.
The safety net component is huge, a doubling of the amount of money so we can offer enhanced protection to those commodity groups. Enhanced protection, a doubling of protection. Those are huge numbers in a province our size and a huge achievement. Those numbers are 60/40 numbers, so obviously, we had to put more money into that. We have been able to do that.
Also, we have kept our commitment to hard-pressed farmers, whether they are apple farmers, whether they are horticulturists, livestock producers, pork farmers, we have been able to ensure that the accelerated drought program is maintained there. What we have is a budget that puts $1 million more than was there before into programs. Obviously, how we deliver that service was where we had to address our portion of the budget cut and we chose to do that by offering alternative service delivery; thus the $2.2 million, which is that decline of $1.5 million from what was in that branch.
The other one, which was approximately $1 million there - I think it is important to point out, we realized that the 4-H program, from representations from fine members like yourself, said no matter what, don't touch 4-H. Those are the sentiments that you and other members and the farm community were expressing - $770,000 of that $1 million we talked about, rural leadership, was a transfer, not a decrease in that program. Between those two programs, the real change is about $1.8 million.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I thank the minister. I guess I recognize his number, $3.7 million and my understanding is that was the dollars gleaned from Production Technology for the most part. I guess what I am asking is, from your $3.7 million that supported the Production Technology Division, how much of the $3.7 million was salaries, if anybody can tell me that?
MR. FAGE: How many were salaries? If you can bear with us, we will try to get an accurate figure for you.
I would like to comment that it is wonderful that we have a New Orleans band outside providing a little background ambience for us and certainly puts us in the mood for a festive time here in the Chamber, deliberating the Agriculture budget. As most Nova Scotians realize, and certainly people from the Cape Breton area especially, but all Nova Scotians, our wealth
of talent in this province surely links food production and surely links our culture and music being part of that culture. There isn't quite as much New Orleans culture in Nova Scotia as there is probably Gaelic culture, but it is a welcome addition to this afternoon.
If you would allow a few minutes for us to find it and then maybe proceed with a different question.
I can give him that answer now. We have that number. Out of the $3.7 million, $2.957 million.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Well, that brings me back to my previous question. How is the $2.2 million fund supposed to replace the branch for which almost $3 million was salaries? That was my question.
MR. FAGE: Obviously the funds are not to replace the branch, that was never the intention. We are talking about alternative service delivery, not replicating the branch. The branch is not there to replace. What we are doing is offering $2.2 million in alternative service delivery funds to those commodity groups so that they in turn can hire the specialists that they wish to employ and empower them with their priorities.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Am I to understand that the minister has basically gutted the Production Technology Division for the sake of $750,000, that those 54 employees are gone? I realize that there is going to be some bumping and they might wind up, because of the collective agreement, in other departments, et cetera. But it would seem to me if they are working in another department, they are not going to be available to the farming community either, so they are still going to be gone. Is that what we are to believe, that the $2.9 million now which is basically $2.2 million and we have lost $0.7 million, so close to $750,000 is the reason that we have lost our Production Technology Division? That is what we gave to the Nova Scotia Forest Products Association to build roads, $750,000.
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question again. We are looking at a $600 million deficit. We are empowering the industry and we are looking for a reduction in the number of employees in this department and we are looking for a reduction in overall expenditure. We are looking to improve programs as has been the request from the industry for a number of years. We hope we have been able to achieve that properly and again, the $2.2 million is there to allow the commodity groups if they wish, to provide this year's funding, next year's, the following year, each one of those years we will allocate the funds to employ their own specialist and set their own priorities in relationship to charging their own destination and growth in those particular commodities and industries.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like at this time to advise honourable members that relative to time allocation, in Supply, where possible, we will try to keep the time to one hour. I do apologize for any inconvenience and upset that may have transpired this afternoon as a result of exceeding the one hour time-frame.
The honourable member for Lunenburg West.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: I am sure that this House and the Chairman wanted to do everything right here today. I am sure that giving the minister two minutes plus 10, or whatever extra, so that he could try to discredit the fact that farmers are screaming about the cuts to this industry, were not intentional. I am sure that the Chairman was taking advice, appropriately, but nevertheless, the minister obviously had a script prepared to try to make his point that he is right to devastate and cut agriculture to the bone. Maybe the minister in his enthusiasm to rise up higher in the so-called pecking order of the right-wing agenda Cabinet offered these massive cuts to an industry that, in his own words, has been cut in the past. Maybe he is just trying to impress upon the Premier and his colleagues that he doesn't mind slashing and burning the Agriculture Department so that he personally can receive the star of success by the Premier and his upper echelon.
I thought of asking questions, but I went to my colleague who just asked questions and found that he had to ask the same question four or five times to get an answer and if he didn't get that, then what he did was literally try to talk the time out.
If I honestly felt for a minute that I could ask the minister a very straightforward question and I would get a straightforward answer without going the extra mile, I would love to just have a straight conversation about specific questions in agriculture. I feel that this minister probably would want to have a chance to stand up and run the clock. I shall continue . . .
MR. FAGE: On a point of order. I just would like to relay to the member for Lunenburg West with two minutes short of the hour last time and over two minutes now, it has been over an hour and a question hasn't been asked yet. Certainly if he, as he pretends or emulates, that he would ask direct questions, I would entertain answering direct questions. Since this is an estimate question period rather than a preamble for a leadership platform.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please, honourable minister. A point well taken, but not a point of order.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, you are saying it is a point well taken that he had referred to me as a potential leadership candidate. Is that what you are saying? Is the Chairman taking a position now of playing a political role in this process?
MR. CHAIRMAN: What the Chairman had said, just so I can repeat for the honourable minister because there is some noise, we seem to be in competition with some noise. Essentially, what I said honourable member, is that the point was well taken, but it was not a point of order. You have the floor honourable member.
MR. DOWNE: I won't walk down that little track. I want to say, as I said last night and as I have said for the last two weeks, what this minister and this government have done to destroy the agricultural community, in my view, and in the view of many farmers in this province, is unacceptable. This is a government that led a campaign that said trust us, the Conservative Government that will stand up and fight for the rights of rural Nova Scotia. We will stand up for the rights of rural Nova Scotia because we are rural and we are Conservative and we are the Party that believes in representing the farm community.
I wonder if the members who are in the backbenches from Kings County and Annapolis County and Lunenburg County and Colchester County and Cumberland County and Cape Breton, who actually understand what agriculture is all about and have heard from their communities and their constituents what this minister and government have done now realize that what they have actually accomplished is to clearly abort the support for agriculture in rural Nova Scotia.
What this government has done on the basis of $750,000, as my colleague has pointed out, the difference between the crumbs of $2.2 million and the balance, for about $750,000 this government is prepared to throw away what the Farm Focus and other farmers have said is the heart and soul of the Department of Agriculture and Marketing.
Maybe the $750,000 could have been found in the $88 million transition fund or the fund that the Minister of Finance alluded to today that will be there to inject money into education, which is needed. Maybe this Minister of Agriculture was not as strong and not as powerful as the Minister of Education in getting his point across as to why this is important. Maybe this minister is not as strong and powerful enough in that Cabinet to be able to say to the members that agriculture has had cuts, federally and provincially in the past. I would agree. They have.
This minister as I understand, paraphrasing some of the comments he made, that this Department of Agriculture and Marketing has had substantive cuts. Well, I don't know if they have been substantive, but there have been cuts. This minister is saying that because of those cuts, that this government that said they were going to be the government of the communities of rural Nova Scotia would have been able to stand up and fight for rural Nova Scotia. This minister in the Cabinet would have been able to say to his colleagues that these cuts to agriculture have gone far too deep into the rural community to the extent where we are actually taking away the foundation behind the development of the agriculture community.
I am sure if he had asked his staff, the front-line staff, he would have learned all too well the terrible mistake he is making. I am sure if he had asked the individual members of his government who are in rural Nova Scotia, they would have said, wow, you mean to say you are cutting 100 jobs from our Department of Agriculture and Marketing? You are taking a 20 per cent cut in the Department of Agriculture and Marketing? You are taking away the extension service provisions within the Department of Agriculture and Marketing? I am sure if he had sat down over a glass of milk with his colleagues and said, what do you think about this, they would say, hey, just a minute here. Is there a better way to deal with this issue? Is there another way we can deal with this without destroying the basis of the Department of Agriculture and Marketing?
They have cut the limestone subsidy in the department for all farmers across this province; big or small, rich or poor, mixed or non-mixed, horticultural or beef or whatever sectors they are in, they have cut that subsidy. Well, that was a priority of the government saying they had to make cuts. I have said it before, this government has to make cuts. My colleague, the member for Dartmouth South, just stuck up a big question mark. Well, that question mark is the same question mark that every single Nova Scotian has today about this budget because they don't know what this budget is all about. They don't know the full implications of this budget in agriculture. They don't know the full implications of this budget in its cuts in education. They don't know the full implications in the cuts that will be there in the areas of health.
I know the Minister of Transportation would love to get up and talk about what is going to be there. I am sure he would be forthcoming in his budget, but there are an awful lot of budgets out there, and there is an awful lot of misunderstanding of what this overall budget is going to do to the future of this province. What we have asked for is simply the truth, simply the answers. What is there? What is not there? What is in? What is out, and why? This government refuses to answer those questions.
The Premier drew the line in the sand on the opening of this House when he said to the Opposition, ferret out the facts. Little did he know the backbenchers were asking the same questions, and they, too, are scrambling to find out just what this budget is all about and how in the name of heavens the agricultural community is going to be affected by the cuts this government has made to the department.
Today, the comments were made in regard to comments made by a memo circulated by the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, I understand, and if the minister would look and at least acknowledge this comment - no, he won't. Mr. Minister, the notice or the letter? Oh, he won't look at me I guess.
The minister I guess answered the question, but there was an article or a letter that was sent to all the different farm leaders in the Federation of Agriculture. There was a comment at the bottom that I understood paraphrased - whether it was a specific quote or
not, I am not sure, or if it was a reference to the direction that this minister was giving to the federation - that if the farm community and the people in the department don't stop criticizing what is going on in agriculture, then what he is going to do is take action without the consultation of the Federation of Agriculture. Now if that is a paraphrase of what the minister said or if that is what they understood the minister was referring to then, Mr. Premier, you were the one going around this province promising consultation, open access, transparency and a willingness to work with individuals.
People believed you, Mr. Premier. That is why you were elected. They trusted you. They believed you. (Interruption) No, they don't. (Interruption) Well, we will soon find out how much they do. We will soon find out how much they really do; if we defeat the budget, we will soon find out.
All it is going to take, as the good House Leader over there would know, is a few people with the blue flu; a few of those backbenchers with the blue flu that would make them not be able to come to the Legislature to vote, because they know that deep down inside the cuts to agriculture are wrong. They know deep down inside that the level of cuts in education, which now are possibly being corrected by the infusion of a slush fund out of the Minister of Finance's budget which is going to answer the problems, notwithstanding the all-of-a-sudden revelation of $20 million of deficits of the school boards that all of a sudden miraculously appeared overnight and is now going to be added to the debt when for the last eight months they have thrown everything they can throw to the debt of the Province of Nova Scotia, whether it walked or crawled, slept, moved, stood, it was thrown into the budget.
In fact, they threw so much stuff in the budget, they threw Sysco which is still in operation into the budget, and they even threw some $78 million of what they say will be the clean-up cost. Well, if they think for five seconds that the overall clean-up costs of the mess of the tar ponds is $78 million, then those guys have been eating the wrong food or doing something. I think what they are saying is that whatever those numbers are going to be, they don't know. They don't know those numbers, but they guessed at the number, they threw it on the table, and they added it to the numbers. They added it all up. How would they ever, ever miss $20 million when they have thrown everything else in there. It just happened to materialize after we have gone through two weeks of demonstrations and petitions and phone calls and frustration.
Maybe it was just the possibility that it was just fate that this all came together today. Maybe the stars and the moon and all that kind of stuff all lined up perfectly for the Tories today to find the window of opportunity to fix this mess that they created in the Department of Education. But never did I hear the Minister of Education put out the words to the people, you be quiet or I will be even meaner to you. You be quiet or I will do something very painful to you. The threat. Never once heard the minister say that. Those old days when people used to threaten others because they expressed their concerns I hope are gone. But I am hearing maybe they aren't.
It seems to me I read an article somewhere in the paper about the Minister of Agriculture up in his riding about a hospital. Somebody was critical of what was going to happen to that hospital. Allegedly the minister had said, you be careful what you say, or I will tell everybody what you make for a salary if you don't jump on board to support us.
I can't understand why anybody would want to threaten people from expression and to be able to say what they really feel. (Interruption) I don't remember that. I remember the chairman continually after me when I was minister of whatever portfolio I had; he seemed to be like a bad magnet. He kept being there all the time (Interruption) He liked me. He was critical and forthcoming. He didn't have a lot of compassion. He was out there fighting. I always respected that. He just sometimes went a little overboard I thought from being a rational person that I thought he was, but nevertheless, I respected the fact that, if nothing else, he fought for what he believed and what his community believed was right. If I was doing something that he thought was wrong, he was not ashamed to voice his concern. I don't remember anybody else who was there and is still here being any different than that.
I remember the Minister of Health standing up on whatever issue it was, not afraid to stand up and fight for what he believed fundamentally was right. When he thought there was a serious problem, he was the first one to stand on his feet and fight the battle for his people. I don't remember anybody going over to him saying to his people you tell him to be quiet or we are going to take more away from you. Those are Draconian measures that I thought left in the Buchanan era. Why they are coming back I don't know, but they should never ever influence democracy by using threats. I hear it, we will get him, we will do this to him, we will do that to him. Well, I can tell you, you might be able to get away with that with certain people, but that is not how you treat the farm community, and that is not how you treat Nova Scotians, because Nova Scotians, when they get mad, they get real mad.
When Nova Scotians are saying about this Agriculture budget that they have worries and concerns that we are being pushed back for quite a while in time because of these cuts, then they have a right to express that. When I read articles that were set out by staff that say that the minister expects a report from the federation by the end of June and he is seeking their input. They also go on to say that this is a difficult time for the minister; he, like ourselves seeks support. That is of course the letter to the department staff. It goes on to say that it would be inappropriate to be seen as attempting to influence the consultation that will be going forward.
I don't understand why the department staff are not allowed to express what they believe is right. As a farmer, and as I said yesterday, when I travelled this country representing the farmers of this province, large or small, whether they were from Pictou County or Richmond County, wherever they were in this great province, I always knew that I had a Department of Agriculture and Marketing I could talk about and people would be envious of
not only the department but the relationship our farmers had with the Department of Agriculture and Marketing. That relationship was respected, admired by every single province in Canada. It was without question that the farm community and the Department of Agriculture built that unity on trust. They built that respect on trust, on commitment, on understanding. I talked to some farmers the other day. They said, Don, I know we need to take our cuts.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order, certainly in no way has anybody been bullied or gagged. I think it is improper that the member for Lunenburg West would choose to mislead and misguide this House in regard to remarks by an executive director. If anyone cares to read it, then read it in its proper context. He is informing members of his staff that consultations are occurring between myself and the federation and he is asking them after he has done that observation that they are professional and they will move forward.
In no way have I in any way asked staff not to talk to the media. Clearly, as the honourable member has said, Farm Focus, members of the department, anybody has had free access and has not been restricted to the public press. To impute otherwise that restrictive measures have been happening, that people have somehow been bullied is purely not true. Certainly the member opposite knows that. Those may be tactics that he employs with people around him, but certainly not the tactics that this department employs or people on this side of the House. I think it is very important to make that point of order.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Perhaps I could say that we certainly have two very contradictory views on the same issue. That is not unusual around this place. I recognize the honourable member for Lunenburg West to continue.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, I assume that is not a point of order. Is that right?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You are certainly entitled to your assumptions.
MR. DOWNE: On a point of order, was he in order?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Lunenburg West is asking a question?
MR. DOWNE: I am asking, he stood up on a point of order, did you rule on that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is the honourable member for Lunenburg West asking a question or is he rising on a point of order or is he continuing with the estimates on Agriculture. I am just asking the honourable member to clarify his position.
MR. DOWNE: It is just like this whole government. They are so confused about what is going on, and they try to shell-game everybody out of business, smoke and mirrors. He knows darn well what I am talking about, but that is his prerogative to play the game. I can
tell you something, Nova Scotians understand this game. They understand this game in spades, and that is why you are having people outside. That is why you have people in the gallery watching. That is why you have people watching throughout Nova Scotia and phoning and writing letters and petitioning this government, because they are concerned. They have not been given the facts on the reality of what is going on in this budget.
Mr. Chairman, the minister says that I shouldn't make these comments. I understand that the federation had made a written statement or comment. I wonder if this minister will get that head on the table. We have the Department of Education that all of a sudden didn't like the school boards' noise of what was going on. So what did they do? They shut down the western side and basically said to the rest of the school boards, hey, you guys don't play this game our way, we will find another way to take you out. They have done it with the health boards. They shut them all down. They fired them all. They fired a bunch of volunteers because they didn't want anybody to speak out on what is going on in those respective departments.
So, yes, they have the capacity of doing that. Have they done it? Well, one would have to wonder the good Minister of Health shut down all these boards so that nobody could speak out. Everybody I talk to keeps saying, I am not allowed to say anything. I can't talk to you. Don't stand near me. They can't see me with anybody because if they see me with you, they think something is going on, and I could be fired. Why would they be so scared to stand with me? What threat am I to anybody, or anybody else on this side of the House?
I think they are getting paranoid because they thought they had all the answers and they realize this is not just a little sand box they are playing with. This is government. This is people's lives. This is the future of agriculture. This is the future of all the different departments in this province.
I am going to table for the House - the minister repeatedly stated that there is only $135,000 less in the budget for the Agricultural College through the Department of Agriculture and Marketing. He stood on his feet the other day and made this comment and how dare we ever say anything other than that. I have a letter from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College to the staff. I am half afraid to table this - and he probably got it - because he would want to go and fire the individual who wrote this, but it certainly doesn't leave the impression that it is only $135,000.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order, I just want to point out to the honourable member for Lunenburg West that I did not answer that question in the House. I was not in the House if he asked the question last week. The first time a question was asked on the Agricultural College to myself was in estimates today from the honourable member over here. He may have asked that question or it may have been asked in my absence, but it certainly was not asked to me.
I certainly want to table this letter from Garth Coffin for all in the House to see. It went to every member of his staff and it is from the principal. He clearly states in it that this is only $135,000 less than the budget allocated to NSAC through the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Marketing last year. It goes on to explain some extraordinary expenses and other circumstances, but it clearly, even Dr. Garth Coffin with this document, shows that it is $135,000. I think it is important that we deal with facts.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. That is more clarification than a point of order, honourable member.
MR. DOWNE: This minister is just itching to get up, isn't he? He is just itching to get up. Well, I wish this minister was itching to fight for agriculture and fight for the farmers of this province as much as he is itching to get up and try to talk to this House. I wish he was itching as much to be able to fight in the Cabinet for money properly allocated to agriculture. Now, maybe he has a different letter and maybe after this letter was discussed in the House, aspects of this letter were brought up by a colleague of mine because he indicated in one of the debates, whether it was a question or whether it was some aspect in the House, nevertheless it was brought up, and the minister had made some comment about it. You can check Hansard to get the facts of it, but it was the thing.
It goes on to say, salary adjustments and everything else, effectively this means that we must reduce our expenditures by approximately $1.5 million when all these other cost increases are factored in.
MR. FAGE: Read the first part of the paragraph.
MR. DOWNE: So, yes, the first part of the paragraph, absolutely, Mr. Minister, I will read the first paragraph for you. I will read the first little bit, this is only $135,000 less than the budget to NSAC through the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Marketing last year. However, as you know, last year's authorization was temporarily increased to cover additional costs. So on and so forth, effectively the principal of the Agricultural College has a $1.5 million problem.
I will ask the minister this question, would he agree or not agree that according to the information we have as of April 11th, that the principal at AC does have a $1.5 million challenge before him? No, no, I know he is going to get up there and he will not answer that question. He will take off because I have been told, I cannot tell you which one of you guys told me, but I have been told that the minute he stands up, he is not going to let you ask him another question. So I am a little nervous because he is trying to threaten me by doing that, but are you prepared to answer that question? Can I take the minister at his word that he just wants to answer that simple question?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I wonder if the honourable Minister of Agriculture could just answer the question.
MR. FAGE: The member for Lunenburg West knows I am always good at my word anytime he asks me a question and he does receive notification. The situation, as we all know, at the Agricultural College when you compare last year's budget estimate to this year's, there is a difference of $135,000. Extraordinary expenditures did occur at the Agricultural College last year and depending on how you add them up, you can get $1.2 million, $1.3 million, $1.5 million. There is no question Dr. Garth Coffin and his staff have a situation where they have some budgetary pressures related to salaries, staff and other situations that they have agreed that they can handle and would fully expect them to handle. The normal operating grant for the last five years has been approximately $5 million and that is what they have this year.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, thank you for acknowledging they have a $1.3 million, $1.4 million or $1.5 million challenge before them right now. No matter how you want to compare estimates to estimates, estimates to forecasts, however you want to do that, they have a $1.5 million problem and as Minister of Agriculture responsible for the Agricultural College, that is a problem for you as well as for them and that is all we are acknowledging here.
I can tell you that music really can throw a guy off. I would not mind a little Willie Nelson down on the farm and so on and so forth, but anyway (Interruption) Well, I can sing. I can dance. I cannot sing very good, but I can sing. I can dance pretty good.
I want to go on now, Mr. Minister, to the fact that we have all sorts of comments out there that you are trying to stifle the process. If anything happens to the poor guy who wrote that letter to the farm leaders that got an impression of what the meeting was all about, if anything happens to him and his position because of that, one would have to think that the minister has had his way about silencing any comments that anybody makes.
The Federation of Agriculture is a very respected body and I am a senator in the Federation of Agriculture. That senate position is held by both political Parties, maybe all three political Parties, I am not sure, but that does not matter because we are non-political. What is important is that we are all farmers who really care about farmers large and small. That is one of the reasons why, today, I stand up in opposition to the cuts in the Production Technology side because of the fact those services have an absolute direct impact on all farmers large and small throughout the province. The 140 to 160 programs that are there are gone.
The other day I asked the minister a question about the fact that these programs that he talks about that are expanding, that are in fact going to actually increase agriculture, and he named a couple. I congratulate him for the couple of programs he enunciated, but how can you compare one or two programs to 100 or 150 you are taking away? These programs are
not what you call frivolous programs. These programs are a direct contact with the farm community that deal with very specific applications. I go back to this Farm Focus because, my gosh, this Farm Focus, this is the one that wrote, Nova Scotia Government butchers the Department of Agriculture and Marketing. This is a page we would say in loving memory and these are in loving memory of all the programs that are gone. This is what they are writing. This isn't me. This is the industry.
When you go into the different assistance for horticulture, these are not grants that they provide. These are individuals who provide scientific, research and technical support for our people whether it is in marketing, or cranberries, or strawberries, or raspberries, or other crops. It is about how we can deal with these things from an environmental and production point of view. The same goes on to other departments. Now, the minister says I have $2.2 million to pay for all these 100-odd services that are now being provided so that the farmers can get together and hire these staff. Well, I don't know how $2.2 million is going to be able to do that, Mr. Minister. My question to the minister will be, if $2.2 million would answer the concerns and the problems of the Production Technology Division, service delivery to the farmers of Nova Scotia for $2.2 million, then why doesn't he himself keep that division there and keep the $2.2 million to pay for those costs?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, again, I just want to take a couple of moments. There has been quite a bit of rhetoric and very few questions answered. On the rhetoric side, I would like to reiterate that the member opposite's tactics may be intimidation. Mine is dealing openly and honestly with the industry. In dealing with the question at hand, certainly $2.2 million is a reasonable amount of money to deliver Special Services alternatively to the industry. Those services are there for commodity groups to deliver Special Services. They will decide their own priorities. They will decide how they want to build that industry and where they should take that industry because we are there for the basic support. I think it is important to keep it in context with the kind of rhetoric we have heard that this particular budget, when the member opposite became a member was in excess of $40 million. We have a huge amount of programs that have gone missing during their tenure. I only need to look to programs such as New Entrants, the livestock vet, land clearing, FFA was eliminated without a squeak from that administration by the federal government. (Interruptions)
All those types of issues wouldn't even defend the farming community. We have a budget down by approximately $10 million over those years. I think it is important to note that this budget offers over $1 million in new programs, and we service the entire farming community, large and small, of different commodities. We intend to do the best job that we can to deliver that in light of a $600 million deficit. Yes, $2.2 million is less than $3.7 million but, Mr. Chairman, the important thing is the service is what we recognize, the specialists we recognize. Those services are extremely important. In light of the deficit and ensuring that the farm community has asked that more programs be delivered, we are doing the best job we can to ensure there are programs and there are monies set aside for Special Services that those commodities would want to employ.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, I know the minister made a mistake here, and I know he probably realizes it now that feed freight assistance was a federal program. It wasn't a provincial program. It had nothing do with the provincial government. We fought it. I think this minister knows all too well as a former president of the Maritime Farmers Union, this guy here, myself, fought that battle big time as well as every single farmer in Atlantic Canada and in Quebec. (Interruptions)
Mr. Chairman, this minister over here is so arrogant, he is so arrogant in what he is talking about, he is so arrogant about his position, he is so full of himself about his position, he doesn't even understand what is going on. That is what is so frustrating to the farm community because the farm community is coming to me and saying, my gosh, I can understand if this guy didn't know anything about agriculture, but this guy understands this business. This guy grew up understanding this business. For him to get his head so blown up.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I know the honourable member is very concerned about what he speaks, but I wonder if the honourable member could perhaps try to stick to the estimates a little closer. We do allow a lot of latitude and leeway in this committee, but the honourable member is getting a tad bit personal there.
MR. DOWNE: It seems to me it great in here every time you are really trying to get somewhere, you get somebody that makes a comment like what he did, and of course, he is afraid to talk about the reality of the farm community. If this minister for two seconds thinks that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, then I don't know why he is even over there worked up. Just sit there and relax, because if you think the farmers of Nova Scotia are happy, why don't you just sit back there and relax? We will soon find out how happy they are, and I am sure the good minister over there will soon find out exactly how the farmers feel. He is so sure this is perfect for them and they are going to be happy with this, then don't pay any attention to me. Just go on your own little merry way, in your own little world.
I wouldn't want to interrupt it. But I am going to because I know it is wrong and you are going to wake up some day and you are going to say, my gosh, the good member for Lunenburg West was right, and I made a big mistake. I let down all my guys and my team of the Tory Party, and especially those guys in rural areas that were counting on me to fight the battle for the benefit of agricultural development in the Province of Nova Scotia. My gosh, the farmers knew the cuts where coming and gosh, they understood they are going to have to take a little bit of water in their wine, and they are prepared for that. They were prepared for that, and the minister knows that. But when you take all the wine out, or fill the glass with just water, they are saying, what happened, where is the consultation? Where is this dialogue of trust and openness? It was with a couple of people but we don't know who they are.
Mr. Minister, I want to compliment your government on one thing that was good. Just to show you I am trying to be very fair here, and I am trying to be objective. That is how you kept the 4-H program. I realize how important that 4-H program is in Nova Scotia. My
question to you is now that you have kept the 4-H program, in Lunenburg County they are hosting for the first time the 4-H Show. It has always been in Truro, and the 4-H had agreed to move it out to Lunenburg County, first time I believe ever. The 4-H rep in that area plays a vital role in helping that. This is a major deal. It is going to mean a lot of money to the local economy, to the Town of Lunenburg. My colleague across the way, the Minister of Justice and others will see the benefits in areas. They are asking the minister whether or not the 4-H representative will actually be located in Bridgewater in an office to be able to help look after and assist on this major event.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, certainly I appreciate the opportunity to respond. The member has put a lot on the table. I certainly would apologize if the member was taking anything personal. I hope I have never made any accusations that would make him feel that way. I know he is a little heated with his passion there. Certainly, he defends agriculture as I do. I would not want his personal attacks on me to be considered personal. I would not affront him in that way.
In regard to the 4-H program, I believe the 4-H program has been in areas other than Truro for their pro-show through the years. Is that correct? I recollect that it has been in a few areas other than Truro. I think it is positive that they have returned to a situation where they do rotate it. It is wonderful that it is going to be in the Bridgewater area. Certainly at this point, we are looking at the full retention of the 4-H program where we will be maintaining 4-H personnel. I can assure the member opposite that right now under consideration is somewhere in Lunenburg County, the exact location certainly I can't give it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Honourable minister, we have arrived at the moment of interruption. The committee will adjourn until 6:30 p.m. and reconvene at that time to continue with the estimates of the Department of Agriculture. The honourable member for Lunenburg West would have approximately 12 minutes left. I would advise all honourable members I don't have any control over all the entertainment in the Chamber. Thank you very much.
[6:00 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to say that the committee has now reconvened and we are going back to the Liberal caucus for 12 minutes in turn.
The honourable member for Clare.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words on the budget of the Department of Agriculture and Marketing. Overall, the budget of the Department of Agriculture and Marketing was cut by $8.675 million and 99.4
positions will be cut. (Interruptions) This represents a cut of 18.6 per cent in positions and a 21 per cent cut in budget dollars. A lot of the cuts in this budget will have a negative impact on rural Nova Scotia, including seven agricultural offices.
I can say in our end of the province, in western Nova Scotia, the agricultural office in Yarmouth will be closing. Support and staffing for Community and Co-operative Pastures across this province will be cut, eliminating two branches in the department. The Rural Leadership branch, it is a $1.531 million cut. Production Technology will disappear. That is a $3.793 million cut. Rural Leadership branches, we are looking at 44.3 positions that are being cut. I understand some functions will be transferred to Resource Stewardship which will pick up responsibilities for extension services and administering the 4-H program. I look at the Production Technology branch. We are looking at 67 positions that will be lost. Some of the services that are being provided by the department, I understand, will be provided by the federation by commodity or by industry groups. The loss of the Production Technology advisors and researchers is considered by many farmers to be a major blow to Nova Scotia agriculture. I will have a chance later on to speak further in detail on that one.
In spite of comments about support for the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and education as a leader in the agriculture-related programs, the budget of the NSAC is being cut by $1.128 million. That is an 18.6 per cent cut in positions.
Mr. Chairman, who did the Minister of Agriculture consult with to recommend these cuts to agriculture in Nova Scotia? Were these recommendations approved by the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association? Were these cuts approved by the Nova Scotia Pork Producers? Were these cuts approved by the farmers in Nova Scotia?
AN HON. MEMBER: No.
MR. GAUDET: Well, when I look in the Farm Focus, that is an agricultural magazine that is being printed by a printing firm down in our end of the province, The Vanguard in Yarmouth, an article appeared, entitled Farmers and Cents which says that farmers are appalled by the cuts to the Nova Scotia Agriculture Department. That wasn't cuts, that was murder, said Charles Keddy. Charles Keddy, I know him. He was the former President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. Basically, there is no one left in the department you can put a face to. All the front-line people are gone.
Well, Mr. Chairman, that reminds me of exactly what happened to education. This minister was told by his colleague, the Minister of Finance, that his budget was cut and he had to meet the target that was given to him. No consideration was given to the farmers of this province when this budget was drafted. Now we are ready to sit down with some of the commodity group representatives of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture just like the Minister of Education did with the school boards. She had no interest in meeting and sitting down with representatives of the school boards across this province before the budget was
drafted. Now all of a sudden probably because of the demonstrations and protests that students, teachers, parents, home and schools and everyone else that have come forward to support education, there is a reality check.
Well, no consideration was given to the farmers of this province when this budget was drafted. So now it is up to the Minister of Agriculture and Marketing, and I have sympathy for him, to come up and meet these target cuts in his budget. Now comes the interesting, the frustrating part. I am sure the farmers tonight are probably asking themselves, will we get more funding from this Tory slush fund, just like school boards will be getting tomorrow morning? Cabinet is meeting tomorrow morning to look at this crisis that is currently happening in education across this province. Now, yes, there has been some back-pedalling. But I don't know if farmers will be getting more funding. I honestly don't know. I can tell you, since the budget was introduced in this House on April 13th, we have seen students, teachers, support staff, parents, school boards and everyone else come out and do their part to convince this Tory Government to put more money in education.
Now with the budget vote coming down tomorrow, I don't believe farmers in Nova Scotia will get more funding by tomorrow. However, this government put aside $88 million for restructuring. That is what the Minister of Finance called it, this budget item set aside $88 million for restructuring. I think we are seeing today some of that money has been put aside for damage control, the famous Tory slush fund. So the obvious question today, Mr. Chairman, can some of these dollars be redirected to agriculture? No, not by tomorrow. I honestly don't know. Yet maybe, because I think we remember the Premier of this province saying time and time again, we need to pay our own way. We have heard the Minister of Education saying, this is what she has to work with. There is no additional funding. Let me tell you, for the last three weeks, I don't know if you have the chance at home, but every chance I have, especially on weekends and throughout the week, returning phone calls to constituents back in the municipality of Clare, people were very clear about education cuts.
I am sure, just like the minister has been hearing, there are lots of farmers out there. In Clare, Mr. Chairman, we have many mink ranchers. We have quite a few pork producers. Last weekend I had the opportunity to talk to several in each of these two groups. Believe me, they do not support these cuts in agriculture.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable member, you have two minutes left.
MR. GAUDET: Two minutes left. So, Mr. Chairman, if I believe what the Premier of this province has been saying to Nova Scotians all along through the session and since this government was elected last July that we need to pay our own way, then when the pressure increases, the pressure increases on his office, on himself personally, on his Cabinet colleagues, on the government backbenchers. Well, guess what? He backs down, he gives up, and more money is found. So, tomorrow we have to wait until Cabinet approves, and we still don't know what the magic number will be, how much more additional funding will be
provided to education. So, is there hope for more funding for agriculture? Well, Mr. Chairman, I guess time will tell, especially across this province how farmers will react to these cuts, how farmers will certainly react to these cuts brought down by this Minister of Agriculture and Marketing.
Mr. Chairman, I know that the Federation of Agriculture in this province doesn't support this budget. I know, having heard the minister in this House say repeatedly that he did consult with the executive of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture. Well, when we actually called these members, lo and behold, we found out, yes, the minister was right, he did consult with some members of the executive. Did he consult with the full executive of the Federation of Agriculture? No, that did not take place. So with those few words I will take my seat and I will resume at a future time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to thank the member for Clare, and I would like to go to the NDP for their opening comments and questions. Start time is 6:42 p.m., closure at 7:42 p.m.
The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to have at the minister again. I do have more questions and concerns. I think probably the minister can guess from my questions during Question Period where some of my questions were coming from, so my question right now is around his former executive assistant. I would like to know if that individual had any input into the budget process.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the honourable member for his question. Certainly, my former executive assistant was involved in helping me generally with many situations dealing with a number of departments and individual members such as yourself; when you would raise a concern or need a situation addressed, my assistant would be involved in them. But that particular assistant left my employ at the end of January. The budget process, as you will know the timetable, we were into program review prior to that, during that time leading up to the budget that took place after he had left my employ.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, so I guess I would like the minister to be even more clear that his executive assistant would not have sat in on any meetings with you that were directly connected to the budget then?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, again my assistant would not sit in with me on budget meetings. Certainly he attended program review meetings with me with various organizations through a number of departments and certainly some department personnel, but program review, as the honourable member will remember in our agenda, had to be completed before we could move into the budgetary process. Mr. Connell who is a very fine individual, whose character is above reproach, who is a native Nova Scotian, who has gone back to private
business, has his own company, is exemplary of what we all profess should happen in Nova Scotia: you start your own business, you work hard and you employ a number of Nova Scotians, and you fulfil your obligations. Again, he was certainly involved in program review, attending annual meetings with me through the fall. But his last day of employ was actually February 4th.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Did that business exist while he was employed as your EA?
MR. FAGE: Yes, to the honourable member. I can't give you an exact date for Mr. Connell's business, but it has been ongoing for at least five years I believe. Mr. Connell transferred the business to his other partners, and they ran the business while he was in my employ. Certainly I was privileged to have a gentleman of that calibre contribute and help with the department. I would also hasten to add in that light that Mr. Connell had no contracts with the departments we were involved with when I hired him, during his employ, nor has he had any contracts with the department since that time.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Thank you. I will move on. Rural Leadership. I am wondering if the minister could tell me if, I think in the past the Women's Institute of Nova Scotia would have received funding through that branch. I am wondering if that funding is still available to those institutes?
MR. FAGE: In previous years, if I am reading your question right, Women's Institute was granted $17,000 and secretarial services. The Women's Institute this year were able to apply under the tech program for their funding; as well their secretarial services will be supplied to them.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: So you are saying they can apply to the tech program, so there is no assurance there will be any funding from that?
MR. FAGE: Again, like all participants to a program, there is no guarantee, but that is how that type of funding will be accessed in the future by that group and all groups. Certainly, I would see no reason why their application would not be as favourable as any other year, but I cannot prejudge until an application form is filled out. I certainly would not see why they would be in any less standing than any other year, but again, I cannot, until the department receives an application, be talking in that manner.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Minister, I think prior to you giving that answer you had said that they could apply to that program, but also along with that the secretarial service would be provided, so I want to be clear. Will the secretarial service be provided anyway, and they apply to the program for other funding, or do they have to apply to the program to get their secretarial funding? So are there two different things there?
MR. FAGE: I apologize for being unclear. The secretarial funding will be supplied to them, it is ongoing. That is a service we do supply to them. As well, the funding for the $17,000-odd would be accessed by them forwarding an application through the program.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Thank you. I am going to come back to a previous question because it was just at the time when we left, and I am not sure if I remember exactly what the minister's answer was. We had pretty well clarified the notion that in the Production Technology branch salaries made up $2.9-some million, and my question was, how was the $2.2 million in the adjustment fund supposed to replace pretty near $3 million in salaries of the people who would be leaving the Production Technology branch? If we are assuming some of those people will have to stay in the province to give the same level of service to the commodity groups, how is $2.2 million going to fulfil the $3 million of salaries?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, clearly, it is not intended to cover the same amount of money or we would not be making reductions and offering alternative services to meet our budgetary requirements this year and meet the requirements and the challenges of the industry in the years to come. That is why that amount of money is being offered to the commodity groups on a ongoing yearly basis to finance specialists that they want and that apply to the direction in their priorities. That is why we will be able to achieve some reductions in overall costs to the department. It also allows more money into programs.
As the honourable member will remember I had said earlier, the paramount requests for the last five years put forward at every annual meeting of the federation as their top priority was more program, less government intervention. So $1 million approximately more in programming this year than last year is a significant gain for the agriculture industry. It is certainly with pride and pleasure that we were able to step forward with more programming for that particular budget in that industry. I think it is extremely important to remember that a department exists for the backbone and the servicing of the industry. If the industry is not there, then obviously the department that would be the resource group is not needed.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, if you believe the department exists for the servicing of the industry, then taking these people from Production Technology would be the wrong place to go. We are actually only looking at $1 million. You said an extra $1 million went into programs. I think that if the Federation of Agriculture and the farming community were given a choice as to whether or not to have their Production Technology branch back or have that $1 million go into programs, I think, from what I am hearing, they would rather have their Production Technology branch back. I think from what I read in this, this is a generalization, it doesn't specifically state anything, although I am sure when the federation met with you, they may have been more specific than they would have been with me because there was a lot more chance of you delivering something to them than there was for me to deliver.
I can say from what I am hearing, and I have talked to an individual who was with the Council of Leaders, and supposedly the federation gets their direction from them and he is not impressed with what the department has done in this regard. How exactly will the $2.2 million be allocated to the commodity groups?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his question. Certainly, everyone would love to have extra programming. In a severe budgetary situation where deficit reduction is paramount and required and they would like to have all the services retained at the same time. Clearly, that was not an option that we were faced with, and it was not an option that the industry was faced with. Either/or druthers, is a very hard question here. Individuals, whether they are related to someone or not, or their very circumstances will give you a paternalistic answer. Again, I come back to the $2.2 million. Those are the discussions that I and my senior staff are now having with the industry committee and with individual commodity groups how the allocation of that funding will be appropriated to the various groups and the industry committee to ensure the special services that the industry wants are transferred with alternative service delivery and the funds will be transferred to them.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Well, I guess I want to say, Mr. Minister, if the representatives of the federation were to come to you and were to say, listen, we would rather have that production technology branch back instead of the increased $1 million to programs, what would your response be?
MR. FAGE: Again, the estimate is the estimate. We are not here to debate philosophy or hypothetical questions. Those discussions in alternative service delivery are occurring between myself and members of the industry committee at this point. The funds set aside for that transfer is $2.2 million. Certainly in discussions as recently as yesterday with those esteemed members and that esteemed group, we are talking about the flexibility around the $2.2 million to ensure that the alternative service delivery delivers the specialist services that the industry are putting together. It would be improper for me comment on a philosophical question at this point in relationship to the industry. I can answer questions on how much money is set aside and the budget, and it is $2.2 million.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Let's assume for a second that another MLA represents a different area, wants to make a suggestion to the government. My suggestion to the government would be - because, when I stand here in the House, one of the first things I hear yelled across to me is, what is your solution? What are you offering? Well, I am offering something right now - a notion that you could take your $1 million from programs and put it back to the Production Technology branch and restore the $1 million you took from it, therefore, maintain the Production Technology branch, the staff that is there. If you took the $2.2 million that you have set aside in your adjustment fund along with the $1 million you put into programs, you would have $3.2 million, then your $500,000 from your regional offices.
I am just wondering, what is the minister's reaction to my suggestion that that may appease the farming community more so than the direction he is taking?
MR. FAGE: Again, it is very hard to reply to the member's hypothetical question. Obviously if the member opposite wants to cancel the New Entrants Program and disallow any support to new people that want into farming, that can be the option he would put forward to help achieve his $1 million. He can approach the federation and make that recommendation. Again the hypothetical situation is one I can't comment on. My staff and I are dealing with the agriculture industry, and that is the leader of the industry group. We are dealing on a fund of $2.2 million to ensure that special services that they deem the priority and that they deem are the ones that are most important to them and want to make sure they are delivered. We are having those consultations.
Hypothetical questions about which program we have announced, whether it is the large animal program, whether it is the New Entrants Program that the honourable member wishes to cancel to create his supposed $1 million, he should name those and make those suggestions to the public or to the Federation of Agriculture rather than hypothetically theorizing that there is another $1 million somewhere that someone hasn't attached their hopes, their dreams, their future and livelihood. That is why it is very difficult to work the real world on hypothetical situations. Certainly if he has suggestions as to which programs should be eliminated, he should make those to me and make them to the agriculture industry.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Well, I probably would if I thought the minister wouldn't just call them hypothetical and dismiss them. If the minister can me whether or not the $600,000 for the New Entrants Program came out of his $3.7 million? I wasn't aware that it did, and I hadn't mentioned it. I am talking about the dollars that came from the $3.7 million. It would seem to me that $1 million into programs, $2.2 million into the adjustment fund, and $500,000 into staffing the five regional offices comes up to $3.7 million. I didn't mention anything about the New Entrants Program at all, so where the minister stretches that to the point where I am saying get rid of the New Entrants Program is beyond me. I can't be sure if I make a suggestion if he doesn't like it, it is hypothetical, and if he does like it, well, then it is realistic. I have some questions around the New Entrants Program. Can the minister tell me how the New Entrants Program works, please?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. I apologize if he misinterpreted my response. My response is that we have a budget. There is no money outside that budget. If there is a readjustment in the budget and he wants to transfer $1 million, then some program has to be cut. There isn't $1 million generated out of the air. I apologize if I offered those two examples, but those would be the types of programs that would have to be cut to generate that $1 million, because there is no money to pull in out of the air. Every one of those dollars from that $3.7 million have been reallocated or cut from the budget and gone toward Agriculture's share of deficit reduction to meet the $295 million. There are no extra dollars out there. They are all allocated here. The member has to thoroughly understand that
any $1 million that he wants to put together comes solely by cutting a program that is in this budget. That is absolutely clear. There is no other way around it. No hocus pocus. No smoke and mirrors. You have to cut programs, so if he has programs he would like to see cut, make the suggestion.
On the issue of the New Entrants Program, the New Entrants Program would be eligible for anyone entering agriculture, whether they would be a single proprietorship, whether it be a multiple proprietorship, and the budget for that is $600,000. A person must own at least 25 per cent ownership in a partnership, co-op or that type of arrangement. They have to show and demonstrate 25 per cent ownership, and they need to be between the ages of 19 and 35. The benefits of this new program will be up to $10,000 a year for two years, so maximum total over a two year period per individual who owns at least 25 per cent share in the operation would be $20,000 of what they would be allowed to have over two years.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I want to thank the minister for that. That was one of the clearest answers I have received I think since we have been doing this. I am going to come back to this in a second. I want to make my position clear on Production Technology. What I am saying to the minister is if he took $1 million out of the programs that he says he put $1 million into, that the federation had been requesting, then what I am saying is if he took that $1 million away from those programs and didn't put it into those programs and then reallocated the dollars to maintain the Production Technology branch, if the federation so wished, then I would think if they had a choice, they may go for that. That is all I am saying.
What I would like to know regarding the 25 per cent, if someone has 25 per cent ownership in a farming operation, can the other 75 per cent, in other words, can four individuals of 25 per cent all apply to the New Entrants Program to get the maximum $20,000 over two years?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his question. Honourable member, as long as they met all the other criteria that I listed before, age and all those types of things, each of them, if there were four of them and they owned identical 25 per cent shares, they would be eligible each of them in their own right.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, so there is the potential for one operation to get $40,000 in a year or $80,000 in two years? Yes.
I am curious if the minister will explain, I know my Liberal colleagues keep hammering away at what they call a slush fund. I see restructuring costs here, and allocated for year 2000-01 is $88 million. I would think in terms of agriculture there might be a place for some money. Could the minister tell me what those restructuring costs would be or how they came up with $88 million in the two previous years? I will assume the two previous
administrations were about $16 million each year, but for this year it is increased by approximately $60 million. I would think that if I was looking at generating dollars from a place, instead of taking it from programs, I might take it from there. Could the minister be really clear as to why there is a difference of approximately $60 million in that restructuring fund? What are you expecting to happen this year that is different from the previous years?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I would respectfully submit to the member opposite that he should ask that question when the estimates for Finance are debated. It is not an item in the Department of Agriculture. It is an item in the Department of Finance. Certainly I would not want to comment on the Minister of Finance's estimates. That would be the appropriate place to ask that question.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Well, would the minister be willing to ask the Minister of Finance if there are some dollars for the Department of Agriculture from that fund?
MR. FAGE: Certainly I would have no problem requesting that of the Minister of Finance. Obviously it relates to a number of categories involving human resources across the entire length of government. The Minister of Finance I am sure will be more than willing to supply that information as it arises to the honourable member.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister, and I would think, considering the human resources component in this present bureaucracy which I think is going to take a hit, I can't see why the cost associated with that is going to go up. If you are looking at saving money by letting people go, then I can't see why this restructuring cost, if it is related to human resources, is going to have that much of an increase.
Is there a limit in your adjustment fund as to how much any particular commodity can access in a year?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, under the heading of the $2.2 million readjustment that will be there on a continuing basis from year to year, what those funds are allocated on is that one specialist would be employed, and a related administrative cost, the cost of employing that would be transferred per commodity group or combination thereof. Other considerations in alternative service delivery could be considered if a group of commodities or an organization chose to umbrella a number. But those discussions again are the ones for the industry committee on how they individually want to address their own concerns and priorities.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Is it possible, Mr. Minister, for a commodity group to hire a number of specialists, say the strawberry growers want to hire an entomologist for a certain thing, and then they may want to hire a plant pathologist for something else, or whatever, so could they hire six different specialists in a year?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. Although I am not 100 per cent sure, first of all, if it was the strawberry growers in this situation, they would be entitled to one specialist of their choice, and that would be totally funded along with the administration costs. Other related specific specialists, if they need 6 or 10 or 12 for any given period of time, as long as they funded themselves, they could employ as many as they want is the other option. But if the member is asking if they needed somebody for a week and identified them as a group, obviously we are willing on one of the new technology programs to cost share with them on a 50/50 basis for that intervention. Those are the types of things, that the specific project has to be identified or the specialist need has to be identified and then we can accurately answer that question.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I want to be clear, so let's assume, let's be hypothetical for a minute - I am going on dangerous ground here - if five different commodity groups all had hired a specialist in a year, then they got together as a single unit, could they still hire a specialist between them? In the case I just mentioned about the strawberry growers, they could hire one, but any others they would have to pay for themselves unless they somehow partnered with other organizations. But we have to assume that the other organization hadn't hired one either. In the case if they all had hired their specialist in a previous time, then I am assuming that if they got together they couldn't hire a specialist because they all had hired one previously.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his question. Again, it is laid out so hypothetically that I am really not prepared to hazard a guess on the situation. We will be dealing with the industry group on the adjustments that they need to ensure that the specialists and services they want are there. The industry I guess is the one that will come up if there is some multi-tiering type organizations, but to comment whether this specific tiering situation would work or another one, I am reluctant to because it is out there quite a bit. I apologize.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I just want to be clear, Mr. Minister, and I will try to reiterate what you told me previously because you seemed to be clear about that. If this strawberry group were to hire a specialist, could hire a specialist through the adjustment fund, but if they wanted another specialist, a second specialist, then they would have to fund that themselves, and unless they were to partner with another group and share 50/50 in the cost, then they could also hire another specialist. That is what you said.
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member on the clarification. The strawberry growers themselves, i.e., giving an example, would be the collective group that would be eligible for 50 per cent of the cost sharing themselves without any other commodity group. Okay?
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: That 50 per cent would come out of the fund, right?
MR. FAGE: No, this is another new program that allows even more access for the industry. There are two new companion programs for technology advancement that have been announced in this budget. One of them is for an individual farm operation which would be eligible for $10,000 a year in that category on a 50 per cent cost-sharing basis. An organization such as a commodity group, which is a separate fund from this $2.2 million altogether, would be eligible for cost sharing on 50/50, but up to $50,000 would be the ceiling for them.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: So, Mr. Minister, then I guess what I want to know, you mention the ceiling of up to $50,000, and that $50,000 I am assuming represents their 50 per cent. Is there a limit as to how many times in a year they can access that program? Is there a limit to how many times any commodity group can access that technology advance program?
MR. FAGE: If I am not understanding clearly, I apologize. I was talking. You have a maximum per year. Excuse me, it is 50 per cent for a maximum of $20,000 per organization, and for an individual it is a maximum of $10,000. Those are 50 per cent dollars. They put half in, $10,000 and $20,000 on a 50 per cent share. You could put as many applications into a year as long as you didn't go over the $10,000 or $20,000 level. You could achieve that through four applications, five or theoretically 100 applications. It is not limited to one application. You could do it a number of projects as long as you don't go over your maximum per year. The next year you start over again.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, so if you were an individual, you could apply 10 times for $1,000, and that would make up your $10,000 in a year? Yes.
I want to know, does the minister have any idea what additional costs the province may face as a result of farmers failing or running into crop problems because they can't get the help that they need?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his question. The cost associated with any problem should be nil. This is alternative service delivery. Those people will be employed by other people other than government, but the services we are offering, the money and the services will be supplied by the commodity groups or other related organizations. We are not anticipating there would be a cost to individual producers because they failed to access a program.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Minister, I am not sure that I am concerned that they may fail to access a program. What I am concerned about is that they will fail to access a specialist. From everything we have discussed to this point, even when you mentioned about shuffling within the bureaucracy, the fact that some people in the department may wind up in other departments, et cetera, et cetera, and there were no guarantees that any of these
people who lose their jobs are going to be staying in Nova Scotia. They are already being courted, I understand, to go to Ontario, some of them.
I can't see that the expectation that all the individuals who are presently employed with the Production Technology branch, the specialists that are being let go, are somehow going to still be available in Nova Scotia. I don't see that as a realistic expectation. I would assume, and I know I have a letter here which I think the minister probably has a copy of, because I think it went to every MLA. This was from Greg Webster. According to him, it is just practically impossible for the minister to assume that.
He says it appears that neither the Minister of Agriculture nor the Minister of Finance understands the role of the Production Technology branch staff. This staff works as a team with industry members, commodity groups, other branches in the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Marketing, other government departments, other Atlantic Province Departments of Agriculture staff and Agriculture Canada research staff on numerous industry-related projects, industry issues and committees. This extensive network capability is critical to the survival to agriculture in this region of Canada. If we allow it to be dismantled and dispersed, many vital components will be lost due to the lack of critical mass for survival and isolation. This branch is a classic example that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
I can't see that for this group, I don't see that they are going to be able to afford a specialist. It would seem to me that if you are shipping plants or you are shipping strawberries or whatever, you are probably going to need a specialist more than once, and they can only hire a specialist once. Otherwise they have to pay for that specialist themselves according to what you have told me. That is only if the specialist is still here. The notion that it won't have a negative impact on farm operations that you can't foresee that there will be additional costs that the province may face as a result of farmers failing or running into crop problems because there is no specialist for them to go to.
I do want to come back to the province's own idea, or the government's own idea of revenue targets that it must expect to hit. In other words, if we assume that agriculture is in the $1 billion range, directly and indirectly in the province for what it generates, then to effect that basis of strength and somehow impede its ability to generate revenue the way it is existing now, then that is going to have an impact on the government's bottom line down the road. For your government to hit the targets that it wants to hit as far as debt reduction, this would be a significant factor to consider. I want to know what the minister's thoughts are in relation to the comments I just made.
MR. FAGE: Certainly, on the honourable member's intervention with Mr. Webster, Mr. Webster has many alternatives. His brother has been a valued employee for a number of years with the department and one of the specialists that you speak of and Mr. Webster would speak of. He provides a valuable service and I would hope that he would be employed by the
industry through the transition of the $2.2 million fund and continue to be a valuable asset to the farming industry here in Nova Scotia.
I think we have to look realistically at what is proposed in this budget. First of all, there are five regional centres in this province. Kentville is extremely close, you said Mr. Webster's farm was outside of Kentville, Nova Scotia, well, there is a regional centre there that will have all the resources of the department. Agriculture representatives are able to access information of any kind, the resource. The first line of opportunity for someone that needs the services of the Department of Agriculture will be the 1-800 number to phone in. There will be agriculture representatives in five regions around the province to visit those individual farms and generally identify a problem or situation they need help with. Those agriculture representatives can then again resource information and access from anywhere around the world.
We have a $2.2 million fund in place to finance for the individual commodity group, the expertise that commodity group may want specifically and on a full-time basis to hire them. If Mr. Webster requires specialized expertise for a short period of time or certification, that could be accessed through the 50/50 fund; for technology, if he is in a group or commodity, or fund 50/50 himself or for any of the other farmers you have named, those things are entirely there, funded, serviced and moving forward.
This empowers the industry to put their own lead and own mark on what is important in research, what is important in the direction of the commodity group and what the priorities are of each individual farm. These funds allow them to decide where they are going to go, how they are going to get there and what is the easiest way to have the most up-to-date information in the world; these are highly educated, trained individuals we are talking about in the farming industry. This allows them all that type of access, the dollars to do it with under their direction. We, as a department, are there to encourage and support with an array of knowledge and resource of, again, the Kentville Research Station federally, the Nappan Research Station federally and the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, which is a training and research facility which deals with many berry crops, horticulture and livestock. There is a huge host of opportunities.
What we are looking at here is, as the industry has said, in the last five years of annual reports, the defining feature of the retrenchment and spending in agriculture by the Government of Nova Scotia has been cuts to programs. That is the provision of direct and indirect assistance to farm businesses. While there has been a marked decrease in public expenditures in all forms of direct assistance to farm businesses during the past decade, there has been no corresponding decrease in administration, operating expenditures of the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Marketing.
There is $1 million more in programming. The farming industry, for the first time in a decade, has an opportunity to access a more varied, highly technical and specialized expertise. We hope that those are the tools that will empower the industry to move forward. If specific situations arise through the years, those are addressed as we go along, that is a matter of fact and structure of the department and it is a matter of fact and structure of the government we have in this country.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I want to take issue with the comments the minister made. I guess it must be differences in interpretation, but if the federation is saying that the cuts have come from direct programs directly to farmers, then I would think they would take the loss of the Production Technology branch as a cut directly to them in a big way. It is not so much tile drainage or land clearing or any of these things, but it was a human resource that was provided by the department and that is gone. I really am sceptical about the ability of any of these commodity groups to get the help they need because if we were to take strawberry producers and they hire a specialist as a group, then that individual, somehow within a short time period for a particular issue on those farms is going to have to get from Yarmouth to Sydney to analyse the problems for these producers in this one commodity group that is probably time sensitive on one particular issue, so how that would somehow deliver good service is beyond . . .
MR. FAGE: I guess my only response is, that same individual is doing those same physical areas now, there is not more of him, we can't xerox the person that is already there. Those are the same physical limitations that the one individual employed there has to constrain with now. Those same constraints of physical travel will be there in the future and we are reducing the size of government to meet that demand that there is an individual for each farm is not possible. It is not efficient and it is not what those farmers want either.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: I think what Mr. Webster says about these specialists in the department being part of a much greater unit is the important factor here. If a specialist has other individuals for whom they work, then those individuals have expertise and knowledge that can go out to individuals in a particular area. In this case, they are alone. They are only hiring one, they only have the ability to hire one specialist that is provided by your fund, otherwise they have to pay for any other specialists after that by pooling their resources. I would see that as having a major impact.
You mentioned about the five offices and you mentioned the $500,000 to operate these offices, so can you tell me - you are saying that the five offices in the case of Mr. Webster, the Kentville office would be open - so are you telling me that office will be staffed by a specialist?
MR. FAGE: Again, the Kentville office would be the same as all the other five offices. The person doing the staffing from the representative, certainly would be an agriculturist and a member of the Nova Scotia Institute of Agrologists with the working knowledge of many
disciplines, enabled to access information and the entire variety of disciplines in agriculture and although a specialist possibly in one field, he would never be a specialist in all fields. I think it is important to remember here, the specialization, these are general specialists that we are talking about here. The specific specialists deal with a very narrow - we don't employ that expertise in reality now - we employ general specialists in disciplines, whether it is in forage, whether it is in soils and those are the types of general specialists. More research is required if it is a specific identifiable situation that they want to go to and many producers now access that expertise from the private industry.
I think the other thing to remember here is that we have the entire veterinary structure as well that deals with agriculture, that deals with animal husbandry; that entire program is funded for the large animal and is in place to deal with it.
The other reality I think that needs to be imposed upon the discussion is that here in Nova Scotia it is important to just note and remember where we sit. Since 1895, the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture has represented the interests of the Nova Scotia agricultural community. Today, its members account for well over 90 per cent of all agricultural production in Nova Scotia with an organizational structure that includes representatives from 13 counties and regional federations, and 20 organized agricultural commodity groups. The federation brings together over 1,800 individual farms. So we are dealing with 1,800 individual farms in the Province of Nova Scotia, not 10,000 farms anymore.
I think it is important always to realize how close-knit that agricultural community is and that little description shows you how close-knit it is, and that the sharing of opportunities, the sharing of progress, and the sharing of expertise is ingrained in the industry and the individuals in the industry of this province like no other spot in Canada. That is why we do so well as an agricultural community. That is another reason the industry is so prepared technologically, so prepared and well educated, and champing at the bit to be in charge of their own destiny.
Service delivery will be a debate within the industry, within us here in government and across the broader base of the community because it comes down to the point of who is going to pay for what services. We all know that. That is the reality of it. Government can only pay for so many services. Government needs to balance its books after 30 years of deficit financing. The opportunity has to bear on all responsibility, and what we are honestly trying to do here is ensure that very important service is delivered, but we want the industry to deliver it because in many cases they are mature and have said they are ready to deliver it. No one wants an extra bill. We all know that.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I think what the farmers are getting is an extra bill. They are going to pay for services that traditionally right now they are paying
through their taxes. I think there is a point, Mr. Minister, where people no longer or should no longer have to carry this on their back. We have been through cuts since the Liberals came in here. They cut this department. We only added $5 billion or something to the debt in the process. So I think that there is a point where you can't really cut any more and be effective. There is a point to which you cut and you actually stifle growth rather than enhance it. I think that is the point we are at now, and I don't see this as being a good thing for the industry, but I would like to be clearer as to how many people are going to staff these offices. Is it one person or two in the five regional offices?
MR. FAGE: To the honourable member, obviously if you say it quickly only $5 billion in seven years, it is a frightfully unbelievable amount of money because the province is $11 billion in debt. There is a $600 million deficit. The debt that took 40 years to accumulate, maybe it will take 40 years to do away with it. The deficit is what the problem is. We do not have enough money to do the operating expense, Mr. Chairman. We don't have enough money to pay for the groceries, clear and simple, in this province. That is why expanding this budget when everyone else in Nova Scotia is doing their share is not a reality. But offering more programs is an unbelievably wonderful step forward from my perspective, that the industry has an opportunity to access even more programs. User fees have been there for a while in all industries, and some services that are accessed through the private sector have always cost money, and they will continue to cost money in the future. But this budget has more programs to farmers than the previous budget, and I think that is absolutely key.
The issue as the member, coming back to the direct questioning, asked was how many people are envisioned to be in the regional offices. Starting out that would be the agricultural representatives, that would be the 4-H rep, and that would be the support staff, as well as the opportunity for the office to be used by the agriculture industry as a whole as it normally would.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Okay, so it will be an ag rep and a support staff, is that what you are say? Okay. And a 4-H rep. So it is $500,000 that is going to these regional offices to fund them. How much of that $500,000 is going to the Mabou office because it is a sixth office. You only mention five, and if you are keeping Mabou open, how many dollars are going to it?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. The Mabou office is a 4-H office. That will be funded through the $770,000 allocated to the 4-H program.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Well, I am going to take issue a bit I think with the minister on his attention to the deficit. I want to be clear on this because I have a feeling somebody will try to come back and haunt me on this. I have some comments I want to read to the minister. In projecting a large deficit for 1999-2000, the Finance Minister ignored or understated potential revenue. Unallocated recoveries of $20.1 million in 1997-98 and $14.1 million in 1998-99, simply disappear from calculations for 1999-2000. Prior years'
adjustments added $75.9 million to provincial coffers in 1997-98 and $106.8 million in 1998-99.
The budget for 1999-2000 ignores long-standing advice from the Auditor General to include an estimate of prior years' adjustments in the budget. However, in projections released March 3, 2000, the minister estimated that prior years' adjustments will have a positive impact of only $17.3 million. Deficit projections for 1999-2000 have consistently underestimated revenues. In October 1999, revenues were projected to increase $72 million over 1998-99. The second quarter update released December 22, 1999, projected a further increase of $45.5 million. An update issued March 3, 2000, added another $96 million to revenue estimates, a total revenue improvement of $140 million in less than five months.
Now, I think that if this government is prudent at all, and I don't mean vindictive, then I think they can hit their target. My understanding of your blue book was to get rid of this deficit in three years, not in one. So I think there is room for this government to take a reasonable approach. I think the government can hit its target. I think you will, you will probably hit it slightly ahead, maybe have a surplus in your third year which would be great. But at what cost? How much of the economy of the province are you going to drive into the earth instead of promoting or stimulating or investing?
The minister had mentioned earlier about the program review and so on. I think what he didn't mention was the fact that even prior to that the minister's government had a Voluntary Planning process go around this province and seek information. One of the first things that report said was invest in education. What we have seen from this government in this budget was cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts. So I guess I have to question who the minister is listening to because I know the Federation of Agriculture is not pleased with the direction that you are going and yet you stand behind them as approving what you are doing here and they don't. When I mention my hypothetical situation saying that if they offered that, would you accept it, well, you have made it clear that you are not willing to move there. I think you can hit your deficit targets; I don't think that you need to do this to do it and I think that the economy in Nova Scotia will be better off. I think the agricultural sector will be better off and it will get growth instead of being impaired.
MR. FAGE: Obviously, again, those questions and answers can only come from the Department of Finance and the Minister of Finance and I wouldn't prejudge on that particular territory. This one is the Department of Agriculture estimates. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to thank the member for Hants East for his questions and at this time I would like to turn it over to the Liberal caucus and would like to introduce the member for Clare, who has approximately 35 minutes in turn.
The honourable member for Clare.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, looking at Page 3.4 in the Supplementary Detail, I am looking at the 4-H and Rural Youth. Mr. Minister, I want to start by congratulating you for having not cut the funding and listening to the intensive lobbying campaign that actually took place several months ago.
Mr. Minister, this is a very worthwhile project, a very worthwhile program. I have heard many teachers in the past and I still hear many teachers telling me time and time again the benefit that this program has on students in the classroom.
Last spring, I was invited to be a judge at a 4-H public speaking contest and I can tell you what a successful and delightful event it was. I would certainly encourage all members of the House on both sides of the House, if they have the opportunity to attend 4-H shows across this province, trust me, it is an event that you will certainly not forget for a long time. Again, Mr. Minister, I want to personally thank you for having kept the funding for 4-H in this province. I remember my earlier years when I had the opportunity to be Minister of Agriculture, we had countries that looked on Nova Scotia for leadership on 4-H, so I am pleased that this minister has left the funding for 4-H in this province. Again, thank you very much.
I want to move to Page 3.6. We are talking about Production Technology. This branch was cut and the loss of this branch will have a tremendous impact on farms throughout this province. This branch is better known as the section of the department that provides extension services. This is the branch that provides the expertise to farmers in animal, in field and crop production, and engineering services. This direct contact with farmers across Nova Scotia will now be reduced or even eliminated in some instances.
In Clare, we have mink ranchers that depend on the fur specialist, but now, as I understand, Mike Johnson's position is being cut. Did you know that most of the mink industry in Nova Scotia is located in Digby County? This is an industry that allows our farmers to compete in the world market.
I have to share this with you, Mr. Chairman, through you and to all members of the House. I remember a mink rancher just last year told me, we can compete with anyone in the world so bring them on. We have the expertise, we have the labour force and we have the food supply. The mink industry in Nova Scotia has had good and bad years. Prices go up, prices go down. Prices this year have been relatively good, but farmers have adapted to the reality in the market. I also remember about 10 years ago, AD, Aleutian disease broke out on some farms in Clare and farmers were driven out of the industry and certainly encountered major losses. Ranchers have to continue with the blood testing of these animals in order to keep a control of this AD.
Mr. Chairman, Mike Johnson, the fur specialist, and the research staff that we need to support this industry is so vital to the future of this industry that I hope the minister will reconsider these cuts to this sector.
We can understand why the mink ranchers are worried. Not knowing what exactly what service if any, will be available to the industry. When I look on Page 8 of Farm Focus, I see that the coordination and evaluation of the provincial Aleutian disease testing program will be cut. I hope for the sake of these mink ranchers, and everyone that is being employed by these ranchers, that this minister and this government will . . .
MR. FAGE: On a point of order. Mr. Chairman, to clarify, the article is inaccurate as many things that are printed nowadays, inaccuracies do creep in. Aleutian disease testing in this budget will continue to be a service that will be provided free of charge to mink breeders and certainly along with that service goes that quality assurance. That is part of the quality assurance program of the Department of Agriculture and is not affected. Again, there have been some problems with some misinformation. I do apologize that staff would misinterpret rather than coming forward to their directors for interpretation. That one is a program that is still in force.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minster. I hope the member for Clare will accept that information.
MR. GAUDET: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate the minister sharing that worthwhile information to the members of this committee. Maybe the minister could also indicate whether or not the fur specialist, Mike Johnson's position is cut or not being cut? Maybe he could indicate this to the committee?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question, and if I may, I would just like to broaden the parameters a bit and that is to deal with the entire fur industry. We recognize, as the former minister did, that this is a vital industry to Nova Scotia and it has huge growth potential and that is one of the reasons that factors on the evaluation of our five regional offices, why we would place a regional office in Weymouth to support and address that industry. That is why Aleutian disease testing and related services are there and that is why the Fur Breeders' Association will certainly be entitled to funding from us to employ a fur specialist. Obviously, I would assume that they would employ the individual that currently is working for the department with the alternative services.
We will provide the funds and the administrative cost, they will set the priorities, the quality assurance will take care of the Aleutian disease and make sure that those facilities are all there and with the office in Weymouth, I think it offers a real opportunity to highlight the growth in that industry. I thank you for allowing me to widen the parameters.
MR. GAUDET: I certainly appreciate getting the facts and the real truth as to how these cuts will affect the mink industry in Digby County. I thank the minister for sharing that information and I certainly hope that this minister will continue to provide the services to support the mink industry in Nova Scotia.
Also in Clare, we have a number of pig farms. We have farmers that started in this industry over 40 years ago and are still there today. Some of these farms are now being turned into family farms. These farms that were operated by these individuals are now being passed down to the next generation, the children of these farmers. When I look again on that list - and I hope that the minister will correct me - I am just going to point out a few cuts that the pork industry in Nova Scotia will be hit by and I hope that the minister will rise again and tell me that this is not so.
Provide swine specialist services on a wide range of topics related to the swine industry. Liaison with swine herd health veterinarians regarding industry individual farm problems. Consult as needed with the Department of the Environment regarding manure management concerns on hog farms. Administer and provide technical support for the Canadian Swine Genetic Evaluation Program in Nova Scotia, and provide information and support to Pork Nova Scotia.
This is another vital industry in Clare and throughout Nova Scotia and these cuts to the pork industry will, no doubt, bring about many challenges to the pork industry in Nova Scotia.
Also, we have a number of beef farmers in Clare. My two uncles have been in the beef industry for well over 30 years and the beef industry as well is being hit by this budget. We have approximately 16,000 people that are employed directly or indirectly through agriculture in Nova Scotia - 16,000 people, 16,000 jobs. All those jobs are vital and critical and I hope they will certainly continue to remain and hoping that those numbers will increase.
At the farm gate, this industry is worth over $300 million. When you consider the added value side to it, plus supporting businesses, supporting agriculture in Nova Scotia, this industry in Nova Scotia, agriculture is worth over $1 billion. We hear tourism is in that field as well, but agriculture has been and will continue to play a vital role in the economy of Nova Scotia.
I want to return to Page 3.2 in the supplementary estimates. I see that, "Specifically . . .", right at the top of the page, ". . . the department has reduced its number of local offices from twelve to five to facilitate the development of a 'core' of regional agricultural service centres to support the industry." I know the agricultural office in Yarmouth will be closed, maybe the minister could point out to the members of this committee, what other six agricultural offices across this province will be closed?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, the remaining six offices that will be closed are the Mabou office, the Pictou office, the Cumberland office in Nappan, the Yarmouth office and the one in Lawrencetown as well as the one in Bridgewater, I believe.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Minister, moving to Page 3.3, under Grants. Last year for the year 1999-2000, we had $1.327 million that was spent on Grants; this year it has been cut by $1.1 million, down to $206,000. Could the minister indicate to the committee what funding that is left will be used for?
MR. FAGE: I thank the honourable member for his question. The two items that have been removed are the $225,000 for the Atlantic Sire Stakes that has come out of that budget as well as $900,000 which was the rebate on the pari-mutuel tax that was paid back to the harness racing industry.
MR. GAUDET: That was my next question. Could the minister indicate to this committee what the $206,000 will be used for?
MR. FAGE: The $206,500 that remains will be used for a number of events and I will give the listing and the amount of money for each one. The first would be exhibition grants and that is $215,000; community fairs, $4,500; provincial plowing match, $400; Agriculture Hall of Fame, $200; the SPCA of Nova Scotia, $3,000; Royal Winter Fair, $1,000; Canadian 4-H Council, $5,300; Maritime Winter Fair, $4,500; Provincial Grain Centre, $16,000 and that is part of the 10 year agreement signed by the former government in 1998-99; miscellaneous would be $6,600, giving a total of $256,000 less $50,000 recoveries from the Nova Scotia Lottery Commission.
MR. GAUDET: Further down on that page under Agricultural Development we have Restructuring - Agricultural Innovation Fund, $2.7 million. Could the minister elaborate how this funding will be spent?
MR. FAGE: There are two components here: the $2.2 million is the alternative delivery fund for specialists through the technology and related services there, and the $500,000 is the reallocation for the five regional offices and the staffing, administration and travel for them.
MR. GAUDET: Maybe to be a little more specific, that $2.2 million, could the minister indicate how that $2.2 million will be spent?
MR. FAGE: The $2.2 million is the alternative delivery fund concerning specialist services for the Province of Nova Scotia and this will be disbursed on a yearly basis and this much per year for the next few years to come. It will be long-term funding in each year. This amount, roughly, is committed and that will go to commodity groups, industry restructuring
organizations that would deliver those specialist services to the different commodity groups here in the province, as well as the industry as a whole.
MR. GAUDET: Could the minister indicate how much each commodity group will receive from this amount?
MR. FAGE: At this point, one cannot give a definitive figure for each commodity group, but what each commodity group is entitled to is the full-time services of a specialist and the administrative support. The commodity group obviously is hiring the specialist; they would determine what they are prepared to pay, along with consultation with us. We would then sign an agreement for that administrative and support for that staff person that they have hired and then issue the money to them.
MR. GAUDET: I am still not clear. Is the minister saying that the different commodity groups have to come to the table to negotiate with the department with a number in mind? Will that number be matched, or is it the department basically that will divide the amount to each of these commodity groups? I am just curious to find out how this is going to work. Is it the department that is going to decide? Is it the department, along with the industry that is going to be sitting down at the table to determine how much will be provided to each of these commodity groups? Maybe the minister could clarify.
MR. FAGE: That number will be arrived at in consultation with the industry and certainly in consultation with each specific commodity group. Certainly, I wouldn't prejudge at this point various amounts of training for different specialists. Obviously they receive varying amounts of remuneration in comparison with their degrees, with their knowledge, and with their experience, so to give a definitive amount is impossible. In conjunction with each commodity group, they are entitled to one specialist again. In consultation with them, it would depend on the experience, degrees, amount of all those types of issues that would determine the wage. The commodity group would then bring that forward. We will sit down and come to an agreement in consultation with them on the payment of that full specialist.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, again to the minister, could he indicate if there is a minimum amount that will be set aside for each commodity group? I understand that this is part of the lobbying. From past experience I know these individuals are very good at lobbying the minister's office. So I am just curious to find out in terms of (a) are there minimum amounts set aside for each of these commodity groups, and (b) are they pretty well restricted in terms of how many specialists? The minister points out that he is looking at one specialist per commodity group, I am not too sure. Maybe the minister could point out if there is a minimum amount set for each of these commodity groups and at the same time, if each commodity group will be making presentations to the department in order to receive this funding in order to provide that service to their respective groups?
MR. FAGE: Again, I thank the honourable member for his question. We are being as strong as we can and direct with figures. I have pointed out that depending on experience, knowledge, and performance would come how much one individual per commodity group would receive, and then a determination in consultation of how much is required for office overhead and those types of expenditures. The other situation that will be concurrent with this program is the industry group that I am currently in consultation with on alternative service delivery on situations where there are smaller commodity groups or broad ranging service where we may choose a group or a third party, which we are in consultation with them, would deliver to that particular one. So until I come to a conclusion with the industry committee, I really can't give any more detail on that, because that consultation is occurring on how they want that delivered.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the minister being open and frank with the committee this evening. I think with time, these consultations, as the minister points out, have to take place before any numbers are actually sorted out.
The minister earlier pointed out that this innovation fund will be provided to the industry on a long-term basis. Could the minister indicate what he means by long-term basis? Is it several years, is it two, five? I don't know, maybe the minister could point out what the intention of his department is in order to provide this annual funding to these commodity groups?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, certainly the member has a very good question. Our intention is to provide this funding on a year-on-year ongoing basis. As the member knows, that particular commitment is subject to budget approval in each year, and our intention though is that this would be funding approved each year on an ongoing basis for the commodity groups to fund these positions.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, that concludes my questions with the minister at this time. I will share the rest of my time with my honourable colleague, the member for Cape Breton West.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, my first question to the minister, perhaps it may have been raised a little earlier by one of my other colleagues. With regard to the Production Technology branch, obviously that is the major issue with a lot of farmers in Nova Scotia, and in particular in a recent meeting myself and a number of my colleagues had with the Cape Breton Federation of Agriculture, they raised considerable concern about this issue. Essentially, the way they are reading it, the government is privatizing, and there is no reconsideration on that factor. Is that essentially the bottom line?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his question. I think there are two parts to my answer. First of all, the $2.2 million is alternative service delivery in that we in government or province or department will not be the employer of the specialists for the industry, in the strict sense of the Production Technology branch as it now exists. We fully recognize that those services are very important and needed, and that is why we want to supply the funding to the industry to set their priorities on an ongoing basis. That funding would be in relationship to commodity groups, not private enterprise delivery per se. Those two new funds, though, that we have established, the two technology funds of $10,000 per individual farm operations and $20,000 on a 50/50 cost-sharing basis for a cooperative or a group effort are directed toward that private enterprise. They would access technology or expertise through that.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, we have small mom-and-pop type farms, small part-time operations and small full-time operations, and the larger commercial ones. If I were intending to go into farming tomorrow, what would the minister estimate to be the approximate cost to develop let's say 5 or 10 acres of a variety of different crops or raising some livestock and that sort of thing? What would be my estimated capital cost, assuming I had the land and it was cleared, and close to ready to be used?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his question. I guess to put a crop in the ground and raise the harvest could vary anywhere, if you had owned that piece of ground and it was in reasonable condition, from $200 possibly for a grass forage crop up to $35,000 an acre for cranberries. There would be those types of costs, usually the largest of costs though is associated with the structures involved in those farming operations: if it is horticulture, it is the storage of the crop; if it is livestock, it is those barns, buildings, production quotas, those types of things where the large cost comes in. I would hasten to add we have a Farm Loan Board though that would certainly consider applications, and we have a New Entrants Program that we would have there to try to help somebody to get into the industry.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I find that a little interesting because as I say, we have approximately $600,000 allotted for the young farmers' assistance program. Quite frankly, that really wouldn't go very far if you help two, maybe three farmers at the maximum across the province. You are better off really putting that money into another program, because it really wouldn't help too many people. I guess I am trying to get a sense of the effectiveness of the process.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, certainly, in relationship to some farming operations it is not a huge amount of money, but it is like all attempts, every dollar helps and counts, but to keep in proportion the farming industry, as I noted earlier, it says in the federation's document that they represent 90 per cent of the farmers of Nova Scotia, and that is 1,800 farms; in reality we are possibly talking 2,000 farms in Nova Scotia. That is the scope and size of the industry and the number of participants that are out there right now.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, to the minister, how many new farmers took up the challenge in the last fiscal year?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, for the last five or six years, that number has averaged about 18 per year.
MR. MACKINNON: Do we have it for just last year?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, our figure in putting the program together, by having the program there, we anticipate there would be 30 applications in the first year. Last year there were 18 farms that were new entrants. But we are anticipating with this in place that it will stimulate it to 30 in the first year.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, to the minister, of those 30 or so or 18, whatever figure you would like to adopt, how many of those were from Cape Breton?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for his question. I don't have that information. I will endeavour to get you that number.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I guess just to look at an overview perspective. Essentially we are cutting about $8.5 million out of a $40 million budget. The bottom line is the cause and effect relationship. Obviously the government has two issues before it. One is financial restraint, the budgetary process in bringing the debt under control. Two is the need to allocate some of these services to the private sector where they could be more effectively carried out. But looking at the overall process, given the fact that the Federation of Agriculture, given the fact that just about anyone we have ever spoken to on this issue on agriculture in this province, everyone, except for the minister, is of the opinion that this is a bad budget for agriculture.
I am just trying to get a sense, because I am not a farmer - at best very minimal - but if you take such a large percentage, you take more than 20 per cent of your total budget out, it has to have an impact somehow on the agricultural community, and it can't be all in administration. Not all farmers are large farmers where they can absorb the costs of specialists and so on. Has there been any analysis as to what the impact is going to be on the farming community in Nova Scotia?
MR. FAGE: Just to clarify a couple of points. As the member knows, I brought before this House last fall in the budget an accelerated drought relief program to help farmers in Nova Scotia. By inclusion of that in the budget, it was a $10 million program, that certainly inflated the number for a single year last year by allowing that large of an adjustment to address a very dire situation with drought relief. That is where the number of $42 million comes from. I think it is important to remember that in the context of the percentages. There
was an application of a very large one-time payment there that made those differences much larger than they normally would be.
The second thing I think that is important to note is that there is more program in this budget than there was for the farming community for a number of years, so there is actually more program there. What we are in discussion about with the industry is service delivery. There are funds, the recognition certainly is there, that the technologist service is very important. The discussion is who will employ them and provide the direction, the Department of Agriculture or the industry?
Certainly, when one is instituting something new, they are always conflicting pro and con, but I can assure the member there are many calls coming forward that are supportive of this particular move as well.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, perhaps the minister would give an undertaking to the committee to provide a list of those individuals or organizations that are supporting this budget when he is wrapping up. Since the overwhelming consensus seems to be slightly different in the agricultural community at large as opposed to what we are hearing from the minister and the senior staff that this is not a good budget, I would submit that perhaps what the Minister of Agriculture should do is probably tap into this slush fund that has been developed by the Minister of Finance. Anyone that would argue it is going to cost $462 million to downsize government, then I think there are a lot of questions. One has to consider the report that the Minister of Transportation and Public Works is hiding from the public that will show the true cost of the downsizing of government. I would respectfully submit, given my two seconds left, that the minister may want to give that consideration.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to thank the member for Cape Breton West and also the Minister of Agriculture for the estimates today. 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 will meet again on a future day.
The committee stands adjourned.
[8:18 p.m. The committee rose.]