MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now come to order. Before the committee this morning, we will be debating the Estimates of the Minister of Agriculture and Marketing.
The honourable member for Lunenburg West.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in this House, again, to talk about the serious situation that the Department of Agriculture and, actually, the farm community are going to be going through with a 20 per cent cut in the budget of the Department of Agriculture and Marketing. Farmers understood cuts would be coming; farmers understood that there would be a certain amount of cuts that would be there. I believe most of them could understand that, but 20 per cent and approximately 99 jobs is more than anybody, in their wildest imagination, ever anticipated. This government that committed themselves as being the government that cared about rural Nova Scotia, that cared about farmers, that cared about the farm community, betrayed them, absolutely betrayed them with this budget going forward.
The Department of Agriculture losing 99 jobs and losing the Production Technology branch means that over 140 programs will be lost to the farmers of this province. Yes, there are a couple of programs that have been added, but there is a lot more that has been lost. Those programs that are lost affect family farms from one end of this province to another. As I look across the way to members who are in Annapolis, in the Valley, in Cape Breton, they are going to be asking their MLAs why they allowed this government to butcher, to slash and burn, to basically destroy the Department of Agriculture and Marketing. Why did you allow that to happen? You, the rural MLAs; you, the representative of the people in rural Nova Scotia, who understand agriculture very well?
To allow this minister, in your caucus, to sell you on the understanding that farmers would support a 20 per cent cut in this department is wrong. Either you didn't stand up and fight for it, or you did and the minister didn't want to accept it. Somebody let the farm community down. Ninety-nine jobs; the Production Technology division of the Department of Agriculture and Marketing gone, in excess of 50 jobs. Do you know what those jobs mean? They mean that over 1,000 years of experience is now gone from Agriculture. Over 1,000 years of personal service and experience has now been taken out of the Department of Agriculture and Marketing.
You talk about the brain drain, well, this is a brain drain to the agricultural community that is unprecedented anywhere in this country. Even in Ontario when they restructured the Department of Agriculture and Marketing and they said they didn't need these specialists, they are now rehiring those specialists back because they know they were wrong. They know that they made a mistake and they didn't go anywhere near as far in those cuts as we have in Nova Scotia. They are hiring them back because the Government of Ontario finally woke up to the realization that the farmers were telling them that they were destroying the opportunity for them to compete on a global basis. That is what they are doing here.
What about the people? These aren't just 99 numbers, these are people. These are people who have given their lives and their commitments to this industry. When you take a look at people like Dave Sangster, director in charge of that, 18 years of service to Agriculture - gone. Look at the horticultural sector, Rick Whitman, manager, 25 years - gone. Livestock, you have Peter Swinkels, 23 years, acting manager; Dean Cole, dairy specialist, 25 years; and you have Alex Oderkirk, poultry specialist, 19 years. The list goes on and on and on. Over 1,000 years of experience, and how are they going to be treated at the end of the day?
This far right-wing Americanized agenda that this government has taken, they want us to be like the United States of America, they will only allow vertically-integrated agricultural production to continue. If you are a large, vertically-integrated farmer, you will succeed, but if you are a small mixed farmer, forget it, you are out the door. That is what this government is turning agriculture into in Nova Scotia, because those services that are required by the farm communities in small or large organizations are now gone. You, the backbenchers of this government know better, and you should be making sure this minister, who should have known better, realizes this is unacceptable to the farm community.
Last night I was down in the Valley, and I can tell you, this minister is mad at me for being upset, well, forget me, just wait until he goes home and talks to the farmers. I can tell you they are upset. If he hears half of what I am hearing, this minister knows that they are not onside in their concerns.
Mr. Chairman , my time is up. I would like to pass on the torch, the only side that is fighting for Agriculture, to my colleague, the honourable member for Hants East.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I too want to make a few more comments. There are a couple of questions I want to ask the minister, and then I am going to sum up my comments with him. These are questions that have basically come from constituents. In a couple of cases, certainly if the minister can find the information and let me know later, he doesn't have to respond, but I wonder if he would check and let me know in a day or so, whether Bill MacLeod is being let go from the department? That was one question.
I have another question for the minister. This is a request from the Department of Agriculture and Marketing, it goes out to poultry producers, in particular those who are pure-bred poultry producers and show their birds. This is the one that was sent to me because I do participate in the show season. The vaccinations that are necessary before these birds can be shown are done by Alex Oderkirk of your department. Alex is on the list to go so I want to know how this service is going to be done. You have indicated that the 4-H program is to be maintained, yet there are children who, for their projects, show poultry. They require a specialist to vaccinate those birds, and your department requires that those birds be vaccinated. So I want to know how it is that these children or other pure-bred poultry producers can show birds in this province if the specialist who vaccinates those birds is going to be gone? I would like an answer for that.
HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Chairman, in regard to the naming of employee Bill MacLeod, certainly we will endeavour to return an answer for you. The answer will take a number of weeks, and possibly a couple of months. As the member opposite knows, all employees of the province in this situation are subject to the Civil Service contract and the agreements and terms of the Human Resources Department; when that is finalized and when Mr. MacLeod, if he desires to let you know, as a member, which is his right, not mine, then that would be possible. Until Mr. MacLeod was in agreement to table his personal employment contract information, I would be very reluctant to publish is as a public document.
I feel very reluctant to name employees or other individuals in the House. Certainly if they are not treated with respect and dignity, one could unintentionally hurt someone's career, unintentionally hurt someone's business and certainly I think we, as members of the House, have to be extremely careful of those types of situations. Certainly I don't take it lightly, but I understand your request, and if Mr. MacLeod is agreeable, then we would have a look at that.
In the situation of another employee you have named, Mr. Alex Oderkirk who is a poultry specialist and his services and the job he does, he does a fine job and is certainly appreciated in the industry and in the province. Again, what we are offering is alternative service delivery. We would hope that the poultry industry, with the funding provided year by
year for the next number of years by the department, would look at employing poultry specialists. I would hope that Alex would be high on their consideration list because of his competency, because of his willingness to work with the industry and his understanding of the industry. He does have the confidence of the poultry industry here in Nova Scotia.
The issue related to the showing of production poultry in regard to commercial exhibitions, 4-H provincial, inter-provincial or international shows, it is a requirement that those particular birds have to be inoculated, and whether it is Newcastle disease or other forms of avian flu or viruses as Health Canada and Agriculture Canada require and as we as a province supporting require, the eradications and prevention of those types of diseases and viruses are extremely important to the overall health of the poultry industry. When you look at the wild population of birds, as you would know as a poultry producer, sparrows or crows or the common rock pigeon are major carriers. It is extremely important that the program you have said is so high on the list of vaccination and inoculation that if outbreaks did occur it would not transfer between flocks. Large commercial operators are very concerned if diseases were brought in on a smaller pure-bred show operation and brought them into the province or into their particular flocks. It would cost many dollars and mass destruction.
The service that you are talking about certainly can be offered in many ways. First of all, there is no requirement that once the industry, through alternative service delivery, chose to hire their own specialists, that specialist, as long as they have the technical understanding and we provide the equipment and help with funding to source, whether it is live or partially live or dead virus vaccines, could indeed inoculate those birds and supply through the industry context. There are also a number of other situations that can deliver that service. Certainly I know that in a number of poultry processing firms that they would look at offering that type of service.
As you know, here in Nova Scotia, we have ACA. They may consider, because of health, that they would want to be involved in that regard, but those discussions would have to occur with ACA and the processor of those fine poultry products. Other opportunities that exist are private agricultural services, as you have mentioned many times in the House that private business certainly could provide that which would be a wonderful opportunity to provide income and employment for other producers. Those firms that were doing that, say in conjunction with an industry-wide program, could provide added income beyond the specialists once that particular situation is identified.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order, the minister answered my question some time ago, and I only have until 12:06 p.m. so I would kind of like to move on. I certainly got the drift, so I would like to continue with the few minutes I have if that is okay with the Chair.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that point of order. Has the honourable minister completed his answer?
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, I think it is important to come back to one other situation that is extremely important in this province and the province supports strongly and does put funds in to ensure it happens, and that is the veterinary clinics and the veterinary service in this province. They provide testing, have access to laboratory services and certainly, veterinarians have the skill and the legal opportunity and practice to inoculate pure-bred avian species.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, thank you, Mr. Minister. I learned my lesson on that one. So actually, there really is no backup if Mr. Oderkirk goes, that much I learned. I can see that 4-H children and pure-bred poultry producers are going to be left on the lurch for service that they get. I am really glad to hear that you recognize the value of Mr. Oderkirk or any of the other specialists. They are just not valuable enough to keep. The minister should be aware, and I think it is fairly evident, although he disagrees with the comments and the statement by the federation from yesterday that it is obvious there is no support for his direction in the department.
I mentioned to the minister yesterday what he referred to as a hypothetical situation of trying to make some adjustment to keep the specialists from the Production Technology branch. I was surprised when the minister said it is purely hypothetical and didn't really give it much credit and didn't seem to want to go in that direction, if the federation was to propose the same thing. I was surprised when I spoke last night with Mr. Greg Webster from the Valley who indicated to me that he had spoken to you with ideas of his own which were somewhat similar to mine. It seems to be pretty well rebuffed in this notice from the federation, so it is obvious you are not willing to consider anything hypothetical or otherwise. The basic effect of this is going to be the loss of those specialists and privatization of the service, actually, a lack of service in this province. There may be a few of the more wealthy commodities that think this is fine, but overall for the industry it is not a good thing.
I am not sure if the minister feels his legacy to the Department of Agriculture is to gut the department, but your comments yesterday that you had no knowledge that anybody from the province is leaving, I have been informed that there are three specialists who have already left, and other ones are being approached. Some of them are being approached by the Ontario Government who did this very thing three years ago and realized the error of their ways. In doing so, now they are hiring specialists that Nova Scotia is letting go. I think the minister may want to heed what lesson from history has already been provided and, to know that in that particular situation, what we are doing to this province is basically giving up a program.
You have indicated that there is more money in programs. I think the minister should recognize the extension services that are provided by this department through Production Technology. That is a program. Farmers recognize it as a program and, therefore, why not support it and keep it if securing programs is the direction you want to go.
I think the minister, he may survive today in the House, but the agricultural community is going to catch up with him at some point, and he is going to realize that everything he said about support is going to come to pass, that he doesn't have it. He has an opportunity to make an adjustment. He has the power to do that. I would try to encourage the minister to do that before it is too late because when these specialists are gone, they are gone. Unless you hope in three years or at some point down the road that some other government is going to be foolish enough to do this so that we can pick up their specialists, then I think that is a faint hope. It is not going to happen. The private sector is going to pick them up and I don't see that that is necessarily going to benefit all the producers in Nova Scotia. They are there, there is a wealth of knowledge there, and it is going to disappear.
My last few minutes for the minister, I want the minister to be aware of how opposed I am to the direction he is taking with the department. Farmers in this province are opposed. The federation is opposed. There is no support for what he is doing, and I can only hope that I will be around long enough to see the minister realize the disastrous effect he is bringing down not only on the department but on this sector that has the potential to move this province forward, and he is turning his back on that sector.
Mr. Chairman, with that in mind, I move now that the committee rise.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. That motion is out of order.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Why?
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Chairman, on a point of privilege, you have just ruled a motion that has been put before this House out of order. It was a motion to have this committee rise. Mr. Chairman, if you are going to make such a motion - since I always believe that the rules clearly state that motions to adjourn committees are always in order - it hasn't been moved previously, so I would like to know the rationale for the decision you have just made.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have been advised by counsel, honourable members, that the motion is in fact out of order because this is considered to be a Supply Committee, and in fact, we had a motion to adjourn Supply earlier on and in fact there has not been an intermediate proceeding and as a consequence we are still in Supply. We have entertained only one motion relative to one proceeding.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order, the previous motion was to adjourn going into Supply. We have now gone into new business. We are actually in Supply, and the motion was to adjourn the debate on Supply. The previous one dealt with an entirely different business item, and I would ask that you reconsider your motion and in fact grant, as I believe, our rules stipulate the motion be put and a recorded a vote be called.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order, perhaps you would be kind enough to give us some indication if there is precedent for the ruling that you have made.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I can confer on that.
Yes, once again, honourable members, this ruling is final. I will not be entertaining any further points of order on the question. There will be no adjournment motion as we already entertained one adjournment motion on Supply.
Now I would indicate that time has expired, and I recognize the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Supply.
The honourable member for Preston.
MR. DAVID HENDSBEE: Mr. Chairman, the subcommittee has completed the examination of its estimates.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall all remaining resolutions carry?
A recorded vote has been called for.
I would ask that the bells be rung at the pleasure of the Whips or up until one hour.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, could we have the motion read?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is, shall all remaining resolutions carry. A recorded vote has been requested.
Are the Whips satisfied?
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Christie Mr. MacAskill
Mr. Baker Dr. Smith
Mr. Russell Mr. MacLellan
Dr. Hamm Mr. Downe
Mr. LeBlanc Mr. Manning MacDonald
Mr. Muir Mr. Holm
Miss Purves Mr. Robert Chisholm
Mr. Fage Ms. O'Connell
Mr. Balser Ms. Maureen MacDonald
Mr. Parent Mr. Corbett
Ms. McGrath Mr. Epstein
Mr. Ronald Chisholm Mr. Estabrooks
Mr. Olive Mr. Deveaux
Mr. Rodney MacDonald Mr. Dexter
Mr. MacIsaac Mr. Gaudet
Mr. DeWolfe Mr. MacKinnon
Mr. Taylor Mr. Samson
Mr. Dooks Mr. Boudreau
Mr. Langille Mr. Wilson
Mr. Morse Mr. Pye
Mr. Hendsbee Mr. John MacDonell
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: On a point of order. Mr. Chairman, my understanding is, any member who is not sitting in his or her chair at the time called for the vote, their vote does not count. (Interruptions) Yes, absolutely. Same rules apply for the committee as apply for the House.
MR. JOHN HOLM: On the point of order, Mr. Chairman, it is my understanding that a member has to be in the House before the vote is called, but in a committee, you are correct, you can actually speak from any position in the House, ask questions and so on or vote from
any spot, formerly, Mr. Chairman, once you have left the Chair, if a person was not in the Chamber when the vote started, then that person is not eligible to vote. My understanding was that the person I think that they are referring to, wasn't in the Chamber when the vote actually started. For this occasion, we are not worrying about it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: My observation, to be quite fair is that in fact, one honourable member was not in his chair and did vote and therefore, in the name of fairness, it should be stricken from the results tabulated by the Clerk.
THE CLERK: For, 27. Against, 21.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[1:11 p.m. The committee rose.]