MR. CHAIRMAN: The time is 2:24 p.m. The NDP have approximately 53 minutes in their turn and we are doing estimates today on Community Services. Before I start and recognize the minister, I also would like to recognize and welcome constituents from the Eastern Shore. Good day to you all.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Chairman, I am just wondering if the minister needs a couple of minutes to wait for his staff to come forward, or if the minister is open and receptive to posed questions now and when the staff come forward they can join us later.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Traditionally, the time is ticking, you are able to ask the minister questions at this time.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I believe when we left off last we were talking about the child care budget and child care development. I did talk to the minister briefly and I was listening as the minister was responding to the child care questions that I posed to him. I just want to tap through just briefly so I can bring myself to clarity, I am just wondering what amount of dollars in this budget from the federal government has been earmarked to early childhood development? I know $9 million has come from the federal government. I don't know if that's all the dollars that were earmarked for early childhood development and I don't know if all that money is going to be spent on early childhood development. While he is there, can the minister tell me what amount of dollars are going to be spent and in what programs are they going to be spent?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member raises a question that we were speaking about the other day, in terms of early childhood development. As I indicated the other day, we have been developing a program for early childhood development that one of our targets would see wage stabilization and the other would see - parts of the program would be grants for non-profit to go forward.
As I indicated to the member the other day, that is the program we're still in discussion with the federal government on sign-off because, you are quite right, they are major players in this. So that is the program we are working on, and we hope to be able to announce in the very near future as to just the areas that money is going in, how much, and to specifically target the areas we are talking about.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I did ask the minister the other day with respect to addressing the low wages and the benefits for early childhood educators. I believe the minister mentioned something about a staff retention grant, or something to that effect. I am not sure if I got clarity on that, if that was a phrase that was used by the minister or not. If that is what the minister said, I am wondering, to the minister, how will the minister ensure that if there are grants, that they are paid to the staff and what monitoring process will be in place?
MR. CHRISTIE: What we were talking about the other day in terms of getting development, we were talking about staff enhancement and staff upgrading and getting staff to a high level of performance and a high level of qualification. At this point in time I will say to the honourable member, again, those specific questions as to which grants they are going to has just simply not been finalized yet and, as I mentioned before, within the next two to three weeks we hope to have that completed so we can announce it.
MR. PYE: The minister only answered part of the question, he didn't answer what kind of monitoring process would be in place. I am sure the minister is going to develop some sort of a monitoring process. I am wondering if the minister can just enlighten us, briefly, on what type of monitoring process he might envisage?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, you are quite right, part of the issue has to be the monitoring. When we set out a program, part of the program is to see that wages and benefits for workers are enhanced. That has to be part of the monitoring program, that we are ensured that it is going in that direction. We have to know that the people in the various areas are getting the upgrading and the training they seek and need and that the benefits are going there. Quite clearly, that is one of the challenges we have, is getting that monitoring in place so when we announce it we have all of that ready
to go. Yes, that is our intention, but I don't have that monitoring process completely developed and that is one of the reasons we haven't fully announced the program as yet.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister and I want to have assurance by the minister that once the monitoring process is in place that it will be able to be evaluated and assessed as to its performance, and on an annual basis when someone asks the Department of Community Services where those dollars are being spent and how they are being spent, we will be able to know that. I am sure the minister is setting out for that.
I also talked to the minister with respect to the number of daycare spaces in the Province of Nova Scotia, and I said back then that there were 2,480 daycare spaces. The minister has informed me there are 2,500, but we did recognize back in 1993 that there was a need for 5,000 daycare spaces in the Province of Nova Scotia. I guess the minister is introducing what I consider a welfare-to-work scheme, which means that single mothers will have to access child care. I am just wondering where will these single mothers find the child care spaces they need to allow them to go to work?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, just to come back to the honourable member, and your question was, will we be able to be ensured that the monies going to people are going to the areas in terms of salary enhancements and in terms of training. That is clearly part of the federal government accountability structure and, as I indicated, that's why, as we develop our structure, as we develop our monitoring structure, as part of this whole process of the early childhood development the federal government has said you have to have accountability all the way down the line. So it is not only the honourable member who has asked us that question, the federal government is too.
Now, the part of your other question, in terms of people looking for daycare, we have indicated we are increasing the amount people can pay for daycare. One of the things, as I indicated, we see as a major initiative as part of early childhood development is to provide grants and to provide assistance for non-profit daycares to open throughout the province. That's one aspect of it. The other part of that is the non-traditional daycare where we indicated that family people care for children and that we would compensate people for that. It is all part of our program steps to try to make more daycare available so more people can avail themselves of it.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, the minister is very much aware that that is all coming out of the $9 million that the federal government has passed down to the province for early childhood intervention programs, okay, not the daycare spaces. The daycare spaces will be separate and those dollars will be separate provincial dollars that, on an annual basis, are added to the daycare spaces available. That is good to hear.
The minister knows full well that, although I do agree that they have increased the amount to families to provide for child daycare spaces, I think you have gone up to about $400, Mr. Minister, for individual families, the cost is about $500, even $525 per month for a child to enter a daycare facility. Now, if you are offering $400, that means the family is in a deficit position of $100 to $125, and how do you expect families to go from welfare to work when it will be a major deterrent for them to go out and seek employment if, in fact, they don't have the appropriate funding for spaces?
MR. CHRISTIE: To the honourable member, a couple of areas, that's obviously one of the many challenges you have in terms of people getting daycare. Obviously, one of the areas that we look at is the subsidized spaces for people to avail themselves of that, people who have needs. The other area we are looking at, as I mentioned earlier, is the untraditional methods, where family members can take care of the children so people can find a different alternative and make themselves available of that as we look forward to getting more daycare spaces through the early childhood development program. Everybody agrees that there are more spaces needed. The question is how can we get that implemented and how can we help people at this point in time.
MR. PYE: Also to the Minister of Community Services, I think I mentioned this yesterday, with respect to my concern about family members being daycare or glorified babysitters, I use that term and I didn't mean to use that in a derogatory sense, I meant that in a sense of early childhood development. Now I am asking you, is your department going to pay the money so those family members, whoever they may be, will be able to receive those dollars for taking care of the child and, if so, what kind of monitoring process do you have with respect to that, particularly in rural communities. There is very little opportunity for access of child care centres, but with child care centres come early childhood educators and they come with a wealth of experience in that field and they provide that early childhood development, as I have said the other day, from 0 to 6, 0 to 7, whatever the case may be, and I am wondering, are the dollars coming from the Department of Community Services directly to the recipient of social assistance to pass on to the person who is going to be looking after the childcare services, be it relatives or not?
MR. CHRISTIE: I will start with the last question first. Your last question was, will we be passing it on, and the answer is yes. They will be working that plan out with their caseworker as to how they are going to make the daycare arrangements. They will be working it out, if it happens to be a family member that is taking care of it we will be passing that on.
I would also want to say to the honourable member in his concern of not enough daycare spaces, which we share, that is not only shared by the honourable member and myself, but it is shared by the rest of the provinces, which is one of the reasons why that early childhood development plan across Canada, over the next number of years, will bring in some $65 million to Nova Scotia for us to target just those areas of early childhood from 0
to 6. Hopefully, as this plan progresses and unfolds, more and more will be able to be in these early childhood centres, be working with qualified daycare facilities, and that we will be able to as clearly as the program says, pick up diseases and/or disorders and so on as we go along. That is the whole objective of this. So, we are quite cognizant of that, and that is part of the reason we were a signatory to the early childhood development program, so we can become a part of that.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, now I want to go into some quick questions. The minister might be able to provide me with the answers, particularly with income assistance now that we are off family benefits and we are off income assistance and we are now providing a one- tier-level of social assistance. I am wondering how many families are currently receiving social assistance in this province who are now, before the changeover as of August 1, on family benefits and those who are on social assistance, which, in fact, is an old form of income assistance, as you know?
MR. CHRISTIE: The breakdown is 22,000 on family benefits, and on social assistance, as of February of this year, 13,031. That compares with last year, 24,952 on family benefits and 13,326 on social assistance. I simply say that to indicate to the honourable member that the number of people on family benefits have reduced in that two year period.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I do apologize for jumping quickly. It causes me sometimes to do that because of the disability I have so I try to prepare myself in advance.
I am wondering, it is obvious that there have been approximately 2,900 people who have actually come off the welfare rolls this year as well. So there has been a deduction, maybe less than that, because 2,000 have actually dropped off the welfare roll from family benefits and another 330 off income assistance, so there are actually 2,300 people less than who you were providing benefits to last year. How many children depend on income assistance? How many single parents are on social assistance?
MR. CHRISTIE: Perhaps I might ask the honourable member if he wants to proceed with his next question. We will just get that data and give it to you within minutes, as opposed to just holding you up now, if you have another question, we will get that information for you in a second.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I am wondering how many people formerly on family benefits will no longer be eligible for welfare because of the drop in rates and the eligibility level? The reason I ask this is that the core rate is lower, children no longer have a personal allowance that is included, and if people are working, even part-time, and are living in public housing, there will be a significant impact on their budgets and will make people ineligible sooner. Does the same apply to those who are on Canada Pension Disability who receive income supplements? The minister knows that the ceiling of dollars has diminished within
his department with respect to the shelter components and so on, so I am wondering if he can clarify.
MR. CHRISTIE: Just going back to the honourable member's question I said we would get the answer for. The question was, how many children were on the caseload? In our bulletin the department put out - if the honourable member doesn't have a copy we can provide one - it indicates, in social assistance, there were 10,045 children; in family benefits, 18,471; for 28,516 as part of our case load numbers in August, 2000. Does that specifically address the question that the honourable member asked regarding children? (Interruptions)
The other question was in terms of the benefits and the ceiling levels on children being out. I think it's part of the program that we mentioned. The other question I believe you asked was how many single parents were in the family benefits program?
MR. PYE: The reason I want to make this clear is because I think this is significant, this question that I asked. Mr. Minister, I want to make it clear I get a clear response. How many people formerly on family benefits will no longer be eligible for welfare because of the drop in rates and eligibility levels? The reason I ask this is that the core rate is lower and children no longer have personal allowances and if people are working, even on a part-time basis and living in public housing, this will significantly impact the budget deficits and will make people ineligible sooner. You know what I am talking about, because even those people who now get income supplements from social assistance, because that shelter component has been lowered, will be penalized. So they will become ineligible much quicker.
MR. CHRISTIE: To the honourable member, of course, as we have indicated and as the honourable member knows, each case is done on a case-by-case basis. I think if you are looking for a specific number of people who might not qualify based on the range of the data that we have now, the numbers I have indicated are about 190 to 200. That would be the number that might be affected because of the change in the different level rates of the children's rate being in and the children's rate being out. The other part of that we have to keep in mind is that we have adjusted the rates of how much people can keep out of earnings before they come in. So, you have to build that into the equation too. In direct answer to your question, the numbers I am seeing here indicate about 190 to 200.
MR. PYE: That just reminds me that the minister made comment with respect to how much income they now can keep. Under the old Family Benefits Act, the person could keep the first original $200, then they could keep 25 per cent of the remaining dollars. On $1,000, that averages out to at least $400. Under the old one-tier system now, those individuals on family benefits can only receive 30 per cent, which is actually $300 of $1,000. I guess my question to you is how does that make them better off?
MR. CHRISTIE: I think as you look at it, and the honourable member indicated $200 and then a percentage, as you look at the percentage, what we have indicated now is that there is no base number, it is just a percentage of your total earnings. In all of this, you have to keep in mind people going back, people with employment, if the people have the $1,000 employment to calculate in that, you must remember as part of this, the family benefits, we have extended the special needs, so everybody has access to the special needs. We have extended the Pharmacare, so if a person leaves work and goes back they take the Pharmacare with them. In this program, we don't see this as only just a dollars program, we see it as the other supports which people have been asking for. So that is how I would view that.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, both you and I view that differently because I know that special needs and food dollars will now be used to supplement their shelter component. I just want to get clarity and, if I am incorrect, the minister will obviously tell me. Under the old social assistance plan, one person receives $225. Under the family benefits plan, they receive $519. Under the new plan they will receive $235. That is for a single person, the prime shelter component. Two persons receive, under the social assistance plan, $524. This is my calculations. Under the family benefits they receive $563. Under the new plan they will receive $550, which is $13 less. For a family of three or more who receive $596 under the social assistance plan, and under family benefits receive $609, under the new plan they will be receiving $600.
Mr. Minister, this is for the shelter component. Let me tell you, the vacancy rate out there is 5.9 per cent with respect to residential vacancy rates within this Halifax Regional Municipality. That might be okay outside the metropolitan area, but for single families, unless you can go out there and you can bring advertisements in here or rental rates in this Legislature that will tell me where a person can find a decent shelter for $400 a month? Single people under this kind of a plan of $235 a month for a shelter component will end up homeless individuals and there will be more homeless shelters built for those individuals.
People who are single family now will be taking out of their food budgets or out of their special needs allotment or whatever the case may be, in order to provide shelter component. Fuel rates have significantly increased. Landlords are looking at significant increases in rental rates. Public housing simply can't sustain that kind of a loss as well. There may be a need, even though it comes under your jurisdiction, with respect to rates for public housing, and I don't think all of it comes under your jurisdiction.
The point is, Mr. Minister, that we are in a negative position with these individual families. I don't know how you or your department ever justified reducing shelter components in a time when offshore oil development is growing absolutely strong, demands for rental rates, and some communities are even being gentrified because the landlords know that they can get better accommodations by building new establishment and moving people out and putting renovations in their establishments to demand what the marketplace will
bear. So, Mr. Minister, I am asking you to clearly tell Nova Scotians how you come to the conclusion of reducing rental rates to people on now what is called income assistance?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member has quoted the rates of shelter allowance for one person on assistance from $235. It was $216 and two people $550 to $560. So the honourable member is quite right, that in the balancing act of bringing all the people under a one-tier system, we had to look at how everybody was to be made equal. Some rates went up. Some people went up in the rates in terms of their rates and some went down. But, at the same time, we are offering those people, across the board - as the honourable member knows, people on family benefits, before, didn't have the selection of all of the full range of special needs - and we have been able to increase that.
Clearly, these rates, which we debated before, last year, it is something that we would love to be able to continue to put up for everything. We have to find that balance for everybody across the province, for all the need, for people on assistance, for children. We have to find that balance and we believe we have found a balance that comes close to that.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, you know that it is impossible to balance shelter rates. You know that when, in fact, under municipal amalgamation, service exchange was that people services would be taken over by government. You knew that social assistance was to balance itself and be equalized across this province. We also know that during that period of time shelter components would vary from community to community and from municipality to municipality because there was no way that shelter components would be consistent across the province.
That rate might be okay on Cape Breton Island where people are leaving. Welfare rates are extremely high. You have some 18 per cent to 20 per cent unemployment and the economy is really suffering on Cape Breton Island because of some decisions the government has made. That is not okay in the metropolitan area. The metropolitan area has a significant problem with respect to housing for people who are on social assistance. If you are going to move them from welfare to work, then surely they are going to have to have a place to live. In fact, the only kind of programs that you are offering them with respect to welfare to work will be those kind of programs that are less than $11 an hour, and less than $11 an hour will not keep a single person in Nova Scotia above the poverty rate.
So my question, Mr. Minister, and I don't want to dwell on this because my time is running short and I want to be able to get in a number of other areas, I want you to clearly tell me how the department has come to the decision of actually reducing shelter components in a community where they are going sky high?
MR. CHRISTIE: The honourable member is quite right and the department is very clear. Over the last number of years, we have been bringing the rates together and we have been standardizing the rates across the province through the municipal agreement. We talked
about it the other day that we are continuing to do that, and the honourable member indicated, the question was, how much are we taking over this year from the municipal units and answer to that question was $11 million.
What we have looked at is a standardized program. We have looked at the best ways of standardizing people to be able to offer them to get an education to get off to work. As part of the honourable member's discussion, you were talking about people with a housing shelter rate of $550. That shelter rate remains the same for people on that disabled rate. For people on the standardized rates, as we brought those together, we found what we hoped to be what was the balance to be able to provide all of these services that the department needs to be able to provide for people and be able to provide for everybody on an equal basis. I think that's the thing that we have to keep remembering, that we are providing for people on an equal basis.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I will say to you, you are doing exactly what the Harris Government in Ontario has done. They reduced the welfare rates and people ended up in the hostels. They ended up in the homeless tents. They ended up in the hotels and so on and so forth, where now it is uncontrollable. At one point, even the Armed Forces were brought in to provide places for people to live. That's exactly what is going to happen under that kind of a shelter component arrangement. I know the minister is from the beautiful community of Bedford and knows full well that many people could not ever afford to live in his community. I know the minister is not that heartless that he had a hand in setting these particular rates. Surely that minister has not.
I still have difficulty standing on this legislative floor talking to the Minister of Community Services who, in fact, is actually assisting the development of homeless shelters in Nova Scotia. By that very nature, you are assisting the homeless developments in Nova Scotia. I would say to you and your government that that is something that you ought to go back and rethink. It really is, because there is no possible way that people can be expected to live on that. I know what's going to happen and you know what's going to happen. It is going to come out of their food budget; it is going to come out of their special needs budget, and even if they don't take it out of their special needs budget and their food budget, they are going to be in a deficit position anyway.
It really doesn't matter, Mr. Minister, because they are going to end up losing. I have a very serious concern of how you are going to address that. I think that we all know that the budget allotment is set out. Each component of the budget allotment is set out for food, shelter, special needs and so on, and all that will come under the department. The department, you, and I know full well that if someone appeals a decision because their shelter component is too low, will lose it because it will be a policy of the department and they will not be able to win the appeal, because there is no flexibility in the appeals.
That is another issue I want to talk about briefly, if I can - the appeal process. When I served in municipal government there was some flexibility in the appeal process that when individuals appealed a decision of the Department of Community Services they could stand a chance of winning. There is no possible chance of winning, and I have attended seven appeal processes so far. I have become familiar with the individuals who are part of the committee on the hearing process. The reason why people can't win is because rigidity has set in. There is no possible way that the person appealing the decision of the Department of Community Services can win because the policy manual sets out exactly what they are entitled to.
When you go to an appeal hearing, the chairman of the appeal committee and the two people who are there ask the Department of Community Services' representative if this is consistent with policy. If it is consistent with policy, there is no way they can win. Now you have extended the appeal process, not only to 30 days, Mr. Minister, but you have moved it up to 45 days before someone can have an appeal process.
My question to the minister is, how do you justify moving from 30 days to 45 days for an appeal process? Under the new system, is there going to be flexibility built in so that the board members, who are hearing the cases for the social service recipients, will have the flexibility to make decisions?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I will just start with the last case you mentioned regarding the appeal process. The appeal process, as you indicated, with the number of boards and appeals that we had, we were targeted to meet a number. As we look at the time now, we tried to make sure in setting the time lines that we have that we will be able to meet all the cases that come to us.
In terms of rigidity, the honourable member knows quite clearly that the rates of assistance for shelter and for personal allowance, for disabled and so on, is set by regulations. As people discuss the various rates and so on, they will be saying what's in the regulations, and those are clearly laid out in the regulations. One of the things that the member will recognize is that as we put forward the regulations, there is a supervisory appeal process. That is to allow some of those things to be able to be introduced prior to the time when they get to the social assistance appeal.
Overall, our program, part of this program, was to provide uniformity across the province. It has taken a number of years and it has taken a number of years to get the different municipal units together, and we are getting to that stage. Obviously, we have to monitor some of these differences. The honourable member knows that in areas where there is a housing shortage, we do provide rental supplements or public housing. We look at those areas, we look at those various things to try to address those needs. That's what we will continue to do.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I just want to go to the new regulations in Schedule A, Section 20. First of all, I want to make a comment. We have a Premier who is crossing this province on fairness, fairness to the Province of Nova Scotia and there is absolutely no question our Party supports that. I think there is an opportunity here for the Department of Community Services. You know and I know that we sat at the Prayer Breakfast this morning and we listened to Diane Swinamer, the Executive Director of the Metro Food Bank. We do know that there is no movement with respect to that, as a matter of fact people are continuing to increase their needs, not only their needs for food but there are increasingly demanding needs to pay their power bills, to pay their fuel bills, to pay their phone bills. Our Party argued, strongly, that phone bills be a part of the component of the budget so people would have that ability to be more flexible.
When I say that, and I know that in the comment that was made, we should open our purse strings and be more generous, and that is what we should do. We should do it as a government, instead of working on year three for an election campaign of a 10 per cent tax cut that will only benefit those people on the top level, an across-the-board 10 per cent cut will only benefit those people on the top level. Those people on the bottom level will never see that 10 per cent cut. I am saying to the minister, why are you not opening your purse on those particular issues? You don't have to respond to that, because I know the Premier should be responding to that, and he has already responded on a number of occasions.
I want to go to Page 10, Section 20(1), "Refusal to accept employment." It says, where "An applicant or recipient is not eligible to receive or to continue to receive assistance where the applicant or recipient, or the spouse of the applicant or recipient unreasonably refuses (a) to accept employment, where suitable . . ." We all know those three sections say that they will be cut off employment.
Now I have something that troubled me, and I did speak about it in the hour-long debate on Bill No. 62, and I did mention this. When I happened to be employed in the Valley, I noticed there was this older gentleman - and I thought we would get away from that when the provincial government took over full control of Community Services - who was socked with arthritis. He was going up and down the field on his hands and knees because he was refused social assistance back then, now I am talking about the 1960's, because it was harvest season and he was able to go out there and do the harvesting of the crops.
I have a copy of a letter that was dated May 15, 2000. It says that it is harvest time and the harvest labour office is now open. You must register by May 30th by calling the number. All employable recipients must pursue any employment for which they are capable of without any specific occupation or wage level. I will table that.
What I am saying is - this is 2000 - under this new regulation as set out, if a person refuses, they have no choice, they have to go out there and work. I am saying to you, Mr. Minister, what are you going to do about that? If, in fact, people are refused or denied social assistance, what kind of an impact is that going to have on the families? Who is going to feed the families when they are denied social assistance?
MR. CHRISTIE: The first comment the honourable member made was about a gentleman who had a medical disorder and was working in the fields. As we have indicated in our program what we will be doing is, we will be assessing people. If people are not able to work, they are not able to work. We all recognize there are going to be people who aren't able to work for medical reasons, for a variety of things. We understand that, and that has always been part of the plan.
What we have said is people meet a variety of tests, the test is through the assessment process. If they are found that they are able to work, they want to be part of our training programs and they want to do these other things, then they will be expected to go to work. That is part of the program. If they go part time, we have set up new rate structures so that a percentage of the wages is kept. We have indicated to them that they can keep Pharmacare, and there are a number of things. But, at the end of the day, when somebody comes along and there is a job available, then we will be expecting them to take that job. Obviously, if there are reasons why they can't, those will be assessed and they will be looked at. The thrust of this legislation is when there is a job available and people are able to work, then we give them the assistance to try to get back to work.
MR. PYE: You are creating an employment field for employers, that's what you are doing. Not only that, Mr. Minister, I have difficulty with who does the evaluation. Who, in the final analysis, does that evaluation? If, in fact, those individuals come in with a doctor's report, is that going to be sufficient? That's the question. The question is, if they are unable to get a doctor's report, is that going to prevent them from getting social assistance?
You didn't answer the second part of the question. What happens to the children of the families who are not going to get social assistance? In Section 21(1), as well, not only where they refuse the employment opportunity, but where they also might quit or be fired, and they may be fired without just cause, it may be that they are just not capable of doing that, then there is a waiting period in which they are going to have to seek this assistance. My question to the minister is, how does that all unfold?
MR. CHRISTIE: I think I would just like to go back for a moment to one thing the honourable member spoke about before. The question was, you mentioned about being at the Prayer Breakfast and what Diane Swinamer was talking about this morning. Clearly, one of the other things she said is that we have to train people and get them ready, that is part of this program. She indicated that people need to be able to get the skills they need, to get the education they need, and that is one of the areas where we go.
One of the thrusts of this program is to be able to assist children. That is why, for example, we took children out of the welfare rates and we have recognized them as being able to get benefits. We have increased the benefits, and the children get their benefits, whether they are low income people or people on assistance. That is one of the reasons we do that.
This function is not to put children in peril at all, it is to help families, but at the end of the day people have to help themselves. We see this as a system of last resort, that is what it says in our business plan, we are there to support people, all the people of Nova Scotia, who need our assistance. We don't know how many of those people are going to come on each year, but we have to be there to support them. We are a system of last resort.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I want to move on to disabled persons. I know they have received an increase of $1.00, from $714 a month to $715 a month. I do know there was some question, when the regulations were being unfolded in the Red Room, as to those individuals who were living together, each receive the same, $715 a month as an income to disabled persons. I don't think that was answered clearly, and I do forget the lady's name, although I should not have forgotten the lady who spoke on your behalf. Tracy Williams, and I do apologize to Tracy if she in the gallery. Tracy was a former employee of the Department of Community Services with the City of Dartmouth, and I do apologize for missing Tracy's name.
I want to say that there were questions with respect to, well both of them received benefits and they both won't receive those dollars, I don't think, if they are living under the same roof. I think that ought to be clarified as well. How does the minister justify a $1.00 increase?
MR. CHRISTIE: To your first question, the specific question about two people residing together, we will get that answered for you and get back to you shortly. The second part of your question, about people getting a $1.00 increase, as I indicated previously, people who were on family benefits and family benefits sometimes include a lot of the disabled people, we have also increased the amount for special needs. When we talked about the fact of, the member mentioned the other day, the $18 transportation rate, what we have indicated is that we are upping that transportation allowance so those people who have medical needs or other needs will be able to receive more. We can't look just in isolation and say it is $1.00, because we have added additional supports for those people that they can access.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, you know and I know that in order to better help disabled persons the government has to take a proactive role. The government has to take the initiative and has to be responsible for putting that drive forward. You know and I know that the government now has, for example, pilot projects for accessible transportation in three regions of Nova Scotia; it is going to be finalized, I believe, as of June 30th of this year. I do know that you have a new plan in place to address that issue. I do know that is not sufficient,
particularly for people in rural communities. I also know that there are now some 20 different regions under one umbrella looking at accessible transportation for persons with disabilities across this province.
I have a troubling point. We know the role and responsibility for public transportation, including accessible transportation, ought to lie with the municipalities. Many of the municipalities got out of that business because of cost and trying to reduce their budgets, and many of them offer little or no services for persons with disabilities in this province. A shame, but nonetheless that is the reality. Thank goodness some enterprising individuals have, in fact, taken up the gauntlet and gone out and done the job.
There are a number of concerns around this. First of all, there is not enough accessible transportation for individuals with disabilities. The government is going to have to look at that on a wider scale as our population becomes older, and it will be the responsibility of government to deliver that. There is also the question of people who volunteer their services and the cost of liabilities and so on. I do know that in the Tory blue book it mentioned about volunteer firefighters and search and rescue people getting a $500 rebate because of the liability costs of insurance to them.
I am wondering, has the minister considered that as part of a package in providing accessible transportation for those people who volunteer their services? I am wondering just how much new money is going into accessible transportation across this province, as well, what kind of accessible transportation are we looking at? I do know that not only is this a responsibility of the Department of Community Services, I believe this is a responsibility of the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and it is also a responsibility of the municipalities. I think that all of these departments and levels of government and departments within government ought to work together to come to some sort of scheme that will, in fact, address this very serious issue. That is one. I do know that you will enlighten me on that. With those questions, Mr. Minister, I would greatly appreciate hearing what kind of new initiatives you are putting forward.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member raises a number of questions in terms of the accessibility and the availability of that throughout the province. The honourable member raises the same issues that the Disabled Persons Commission raises. I am sure, through their correspondence and various things, you have seen their thrust and concerns. In terms of announcing the programs that are going to come, I will have to leave that to the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. His department is coordinating that with our department and with the Disabled Persons Commission, and our department has had some meetings with them.
You are quite right, part of that involves the municipalities and how they are going to be involved. It gets you into the discussion of roles and responsibilities, so there have been some discussions around that. I think your question was, does this government recognize
there needs to be more of it? The answer is yes, the government does. The question the Disabled Persons Commission asks is how will we deliver that, where will the regions be, and how can we expand that. They have been involved, the Department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations has been involved, and we have been working to see how we will be able to bring those programs together. It has to be a fully departmental attack.
You mentioned the Department of Transportation and Public Works, and the Department of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, they have to be involved too. Yes, we recognize that. That is something we are working on. I am sure the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations will be bringing that forward fairly soon.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, Access Awareness Week will be coming up shortly; I believe it is in the month of May normally that Access Awareness Week is. I do know that you receive a report from the Disabled Persons Commission, and there are many recommendations in those reports. I do know that if we are going to move disabled people from welfare to work, this government has to be innovative, as I said earlier. This government has to take the leadership role of talking to the Minister of Human Resources and making sure that there are government positions available for persons with disabilities, providing they qualify for those departments.
When government is on a contractual basis with businesses outside, then you, Mr. Minister, and this government should be making sure that those kinds of businesses are in fact addressing visible minority issues, particularly for persons with disabilities. You also must be prepared to make some significant changes with respect to technical aids and the kinds of services you provide under that.
If you will recall, there was a recommendation that there be a pilot project where individuals who were disabled could actually be involved in repairing technical aids, so that people wouldn't have to stay longer in the hospital, it would save taxpayers tremendous dollars. Mr. Minister, your department has continuously denied funding for a technical aids' workshop so that these people could put this together.
The minister also has to recognize that the Department of Community Services does not provide funding for wheelchairs. You know, thanks to Laughlin Rutt from the Paraplegic Association I have been able to secure a few wheelchairs for individuals in the community who need them, and I want to tell you that that is not an easy process and there are demands for that. Your department has not addressed that issue, making mobility for disabled persons a priority. If it did, then you would be funding these particular things, particularly automated wheelchairs and technical aids.
As you know, prostheses, in fact, are 100 per cent covered when people are injured in an accident or anything like that; the government 100 per cent covers prostheses, but there are other technical apparatus that government doesn't cover, and I think the minister is
remiss in not providing that kind of funding to disabled persons. Now I know that you are going to go to the Access Awareness Week and I know that you are going to bring greetings but how many of the recommendations has your department ever implemented with respect to the recommendations that came from the disabled persons' community?
MR. CHAIRMAN: There is one minute left.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member raised a number of questions and I think the first question was the Human Resources side of things. I can advise the honourable member that the deputy ministers of all departments have been involved in a diversity program with Human Resources to look at just those issues that you raised on how people with disabilities will be employed with the government and indeed with people who supply services to the government.
In terms of the access program, access is a program that has a number of facets to it. The honourable member will know that we had a meeting back approximately a month ago - Mr. Rutt was there and other members - to look at making buildings accessible across the province and the general thrust was that the program had been very successful this year and that we should go forward with it. Some 145-odd places were . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has lapsed for the NDP caucus and I would like to thank you for your questions. I would like to recognize the Liberal caucus and the member for Cape Breton East, with one hour.
The honourable member for Cape Breton East.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I have a number of questions that I will be asking throughout my allotted time. I also have a number of issues that I would like to bring forward, Mr. Minister, after we left off the other night. I also have a couple of questions I would like to ask the minister regarding housing issues, although that is not my critic responsibility within the Liberal caucus and there will be other members of the caucus at a future time who will be asking some questions regarding that.
First of all, if I may, I would like to start out with a compliment. I don't want you to act too surprised and shocked at that because I think within your department and the various Community Services Departments throughout this province you have some tremendous, hard-working people who work for the Department of Community Services, and I want to give you an example of one such case that happened in Glace Bay.
As you are well aware, Mr. Minister, we have a large number of people who rely on social assistance within Glace Bay and the surrounding area. In this particular case I was contacted by a constituent of mine late on a Friday afternoon; this was actually, if I recall it correctly, after the office had closed. I contacted the Department of Community Services.
This particular constituent had been notified by the QE II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax that they had to get to Halifax by Monday. That notification had come all of a sudden and they had to get there and they had no means of getting there and no money in order to get there. The reason they had to get there was to conduct some cardiac testing, which the woman had previously applied for, but had received late notice, unfortunately, from the QE II that she had to get there.
Upon her contacting me, I contacted the office of the Department of Community Services. I don't want to get into naming people because it would be unfair, but I did write a letter to the appropriate officials and thanked them on my behalf and on behalf of the constituent. For the purposes of those who are watching or listening, to further explain that case, that woman eventually - and this was done over a weekend may I add, when your department is not open, when your people are off and so on - that came late Friday, and by Monday that person was on a shuttle service to Halifax and was provided with some meal money, accommodations and so on, and was ordered by the QE II people to stay there for the implantation of a pacemaker.
In other words, Mr. Minister, the action of the staff of Community Services, in my opinion, saved that woman's life. Had she not been able to get there as quickly as she did and under the circumstances, it being a weekend and so on, the people in your office in Glace Bay went beyond the call of duty, let's say, in order to do that and get that particular lady to Halifax, and because of that she is now feeling much better. So I thank your staff for that kind of cooperation and it is quite evident on a daily basis, may I add as well, the cooperation. I am speaking strictly from one department. I am sure the others work the same, but this one Department of Community Services in Glace Bay, a sincere thank-you from me and from my constituent for their cooperation and the fine work that they do.
Mr. Minister, I would like to bring to your attention an issue that was raised in the House yesterday concerning a safe house for battered women and their children in the community of Bridgewater. As I am sure you are aware, and you heard about it yesterday, it has been in the news today, this particular safe house for battered women and their children has to lay off two workers, if I may quote from an article in The Daily News today "because the government is calling in a $35,000 loan that was made last year." The facility, as I am sure you know, is called Harbour House and it has been running a deficit operation for a number of years.
So, Mr. Minister, my first question today. This story has concerned me and it has concerned others, including of course the member for Lunenburg West representing the Bridgewater area. It is of great concern to us exactly what is happening. We touched on this topic the other day when I brought up the matter of transition and safe houses and the funding that was available to them. I would ask you, if you would, to please explain to this House and to the people in this province who are worried about funding for transition houses and safe
houses, exactly what is the situation at Harbour House, how it came about, and if indeed you have any plans to try and solve what is happening there?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before I recognize the minister, I would ask the member for Cape Breton East if he would table the article from which he read. Thank you.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, before I start answering that I will say to the honourable member there were some questions that you asked the other day in our discussion on estimates. I believe it was the honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes who asked about HRDC funding and those programs and I will table that for him. Also, the honourable member asked me a question about people leaving income assistance. His question was, people leaving income assistance, what statistics did you base your projections on and by region? I indicated to the honourable member I would table that and I will do that now.
On your two questions regarding the transitional houses, your question was about the transitional house in Bridgewater. After yesterday's discussion I did have some discussion with the directors. Linda Veinot, the Chairman of Harbour House, had some concerns with the story that was going around about that funding cut and that there were some people laid off. Her concern was that the issue of the loan wasn't clear. On the issue of layoff notices, I am advised by the chairman of that board that there have been no layoff notices and I will table a chronology of events that the directors have indicated they had with the department and their discussion with the PSAC workers.
The issue that they have indicated is that there is discussion with the union group. That is part of developing their business plan, and their business plan they recognized that they were to have it in to our department by April 30th and they need to have that discussion with the union group before they can develop their business plan. The chronology of events that the directors indicated is on that sheet. The directors have indicated to us that after they have developed their business plan, we will be prepared to meet with them and look at the alternatives. One of the issues that we had previous to this was, knowing they had a deficit, to provide them with some additional funds. So that discussion will carry on after they develop their business plan.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I would like a little bit of clarification, if I could, because from what I heard yesterday and from what I have been reading in the newspapers today, what was happening in Bridgewater at Harbour House was because of the fact that the provincial government was calling in a loan. If you could clarify that. What is the connection? Are you saying that this is because of labour unrest at Harbour House, or are you saying this is because the provincial government is calling in a loan, or because there is no business plan in place, or all of the above?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, just let me clarify for the member. The particular transition house did have some deficit issues and they went to our western region supervisory people and they said they needed to have some time, at which time we advanced them the $35,000 on certain conditions of when they would repay it. This week they were advised that we would be taking back $8,700 of that on their next advance. That is not calling the loan, what we were doing is fulfilling the obligation in the agreement that we had with them to go forward. They had known in February, and if the honourable member looks on that list, when we met with them in February we indicated we needed to have a business plan. We knew they had some deficit issues, we knew that they had additional fundraising outside of what the department provided, but we needed to have their business plan.
There are two issues. The directors are clear on this and that is what the directors had indicated they wanted to do. They need to develop their business plan, and as part of that they have to settle their labour issue. Once they have developed the business plan, we have indicated to them we will be in a position to be able to talk to them about sustainability and where we go, but it is based on the business plan that we agreed with them on in February.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Minister, just to continue along that line for a short time. It was raised here in Question Period - yesterday as a matter of fact - by the Official Opposition that all of this was happening because the province was calling in a loan. What you are saying now is that yesterday the Official Opposition was not correct, that there are no layoffs at that facility, there have been no layoff notices issued, this is a matter of labour negotiations between Harbour House and the union involved, and what you are saying here is if those union negotiations are settled, layoffs will not occur at this facility?
MR. CHRISTIE: What I can say, Mr. Chairman, is that this issue wasn't raised just yesterday. This issue had been raised by your honourable colleague, the member for Lunenburg West, some months ago and the question was about the sustainability of that project and how we were going to deal with it. As I indicated, in February we met with them and we said to determine sustainability and how this is going we need to have your business plan. The directors indicated they have done no layoff notices now. I am not privy to those discussions that they have had and I don't know what they told the Official Opposition.
What I am told by the president of the association is as of this date there are no layoffs. Their objective is to finalize their discussions with the PSAC group so that they can complete their business plan, which is a requirement that we have for them so that we can reach that point where we know what their plan is, and then we can talk about how we develop that sustainability. So there are three issues. I can't speak for the Official Opposition, I don't know what they know or what they were speaking about. I do know what the directors have indicated to us today.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, so does this mean that the province is still calling in that loan? Let's deal with that issue. Is there any way that that can be avoided, because as you know, and we dealt with this the other day while I was questioning you, we dealt with the funding situation at transition houses and safe houses in this province. There has been absolutely no increase in funding, but at the same time the minister did tell me that indeed officials from transition houses and safe houses are negotiating and are talking with your department and are asking for increases. I think I am fair in saying that the minister admitted to that. They are not walking in, talking with your department officials, and saying everything is fine, funding is okay, we don't need any more money.
I am sure you have heard from transition houses, safe houses, across this province saying that we are in some kind of dire straits here and we need some help. I know because you said that, that you are negotiating with them. But, back again to Harbour House and the issue of the loan and the $8,700 that you were talking about, is that going ahead? Is there anything that can be done to avoid this situation in Bridgewater?
MR. CHRISTIE: As I indicated earlier, we have asked Harbour House, as we do other groups, to develop their business plan. They have to develop the plan. What we have indicated to them is after they have developed the business plan we are prepared to meet with them to look at different alternatives, and one of the alternatives back last year, obviously we had met with them and there was the alternative to try to find some alternative sources of financing and to help them out. We are prepared and we are ready to meet with them when they develop their business plan, so that we can help them become sustainable. It is obviously in our best interest. It is in the best interest of the province to have them sustainable, but we clearly need to know the direction they are going and how they plan to get there; otherwise we can't sit down with their board of directors and have the meaningful discussion that we have committed to them to do. First they have to prepare their business plan and then we are prepared to meet with them to try to find ways to reach our common goals.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for providing a copy of the document that he has tabled regarding this whole matter.
One final question, Mr. Minister, on this matter. Upon reading your information that you have given me, which starts in December 2000 and eventually works its way down to April 18 and April 19, 2001, with the matter raised in the Legislature, the document that you gave me indicates that what you are saying is that the Official Opposition in this Legislature misstated the facts yesterday? That is what I am reading here anyway, that there has been a misstatement of facts by the Official Opposition regarding this situation at Harbour House in Bridgewater, is that your opinion?
MR. CHRISTIE: The letter I provided you came from the president of the board. Those are the comments from the president of the board. The note that I had received was a copy of the fax from the union. That particular piece of information I gave you was received today from the chairman of the board of directors. What you see on that paper is their opinion and it is not mine, because I obviously haven't been there, but that particular piece of paper is the involvement of the board of directors. So any questions you have on that paper, you will have to direct to them.
MR. WILSON: This will be my final question on the issue. If this is from the chairman of the board, the chairman of the board is stating that the matter was raised in the Legislature with misstated facts from the Official Opposition. I am asking you - although you have not expressed your opinion - is that your opinion regarding this case? Is that what happened in this Legislature yesterday during Question Period when the matter was brought up, if in your opinion the Official Opposition in this House has put forward a misstatement of facts? Is that your opinion on the issue?
MR. CHRISTIE: I can't comment on that. I do know that the president came and gave us some information. As to the information that was related in the House, I am not on the board of directors and so I am not able to comment on that. What we are prepared to do is to work with the board to try to get stabilized, but first they need to develop their business plan.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I will move on. During questioning earlier today, you talked about the appeal process and I, at one time during Question Period, brought up the matter of appeal boards throughout the province. At that time you revealed that the boards will be reduced from the current 10 boards across the province eventually to 6, and that the length of a waiting period or having your appeal heard would be 45 days. I think at that point, if I am not mistaken, I raised the matter with you that the length of time to hear your appeal is currently 30 days, as it now exists. I will give you an example of what can happen in a situation with only a 30-day waiting appeal. One case in particular - again, in my constituency - where both the husband and wife were having their cases reviewed before an appeal board. Both appeared on one particular day, but only the husband's case was dealt with and the answer from the particular chairman of the board was that was the way it was going to be. Sorry about that, but we are only dealing with your case, we will have to deal with your wife's case at a future date - meaning another wait. In other words, the husband's case could not be dealt with fully until his spouse's case was dealt with, which they would have to wait for again.
Whether this was just a slip-up or a mistake or a scheduling problem, I am not sure, but it seems to me that it would show that there is a certain amount of flexibility that doesn't exist within that structure. It may exist within the whole structure of the Department of Community Services, I am not sure, but that is not what I am saying. In this particular case, will the appeal boards - the new ones that you are creating, I understand you have extended
the current appeal boards for another period of time to take us over the hump - the appeal structure have any more flexibility than this?
Given another situation like this with the spouse of this person sitting there and saying, before you can deal with my husband's case you have to deal with mine - don't send me away for another 45 days and make me wait for another 45 days, make me do without what may or may not rightly be mine, barring the decision of the appeal board, with that flexibility. So my question is, is there anything being done in terms of allowing appeal boards the flexibility that I don't think they have right now in terms of dealing with regular occurrences and appeals?
MR. CHRISTIE: The honourable member raises a question that it has been a challenge. One of the reasons for looking at restructuring the appeal boards is to do just that, try to give them some more support in the way of information systems and management systems and to provide them with the ability to be able to be more flexible. That is what our hope is. I would point out to the honourable member on the issue in Regulation 12, Section 4, that it says that the board shall review the appeal within 10 days after the receipt of the appeal and start the process that way so that it tries to get started earlier. Clearly, one of the things that we are looking at doing, these appeal boards, is restructuring them and redesigning them to try to build that flexibility, try to be able to give them the support system so that those appeals can move along as quickly as possible. Obviously you have to build a system for the worst-case scenario of how many you think there will be and we have tried to look at that. That is a challenge that we will face and we hope that, at the end of the day, we will be able to at this time next year say that we have been successful in making appeal boards more flexible and more streamlined.
MR. WILSON: There are a number of other issues regarding appeal boards that I would also like to bring up. As I mentioned, the boards will be reduced from 10 to 6 and that the current board appointees, it has been extended. I am not sure of the exact time frame, it has been extended until August 1st. I am wondering, come August 1st, what exactly will be done in terms of how are you going to select the appointees to those boards?
MR. CHRISTIE: The process for selecting those will be the same as any process. There will be an ad in the paper, people will apply and they will go through the screening process and then on through to Human Resources Committee. It is the same as former boards were appointed or the same as other boards within the province.
MR. WILSON: I am also wondering, with the reduction from 10 boards to 6 boards, as the process exists now, appeal board hearings are held for the most part, I would suggest, in areas that have a Department of Community Services office. For instance, I know appeal board hearings would be held in the same building where the Department of Community Services now exists in Glace Bay. I am wondering, if it is reduced to six, would that mean there would be greater distances for people who are appealing cases in order to travel,
throughout the province, not only in industrial Cape Breton but in areas such as Richmond County or Bridgewater, Lunenburg West or Clare, whatever the case may be, and indeed, to remind you that I think this would be another hardship that would be placed upon recipients of social assistance.
It may not seem like a big deal to a lot of us here to come up with transportation from Glace Bay to Sydney, which is a distance of approximately 13 kilometres, but I would suggest to you that someone who has to exist on social assistance in this province, that would become perhaps a major hurdle as to whether or not they would get to the appeal hearings at the appropriate time. I am wondering what consideration has been given to that? If the appeal hearings are going to be held in the same areas, will they be centralized? Any information you could give me along that line would be appreciated. Thank you.
MR. CHRISTIE: To the honourable member, the redesign of the appeal boards has a couple of objectives and one is to - as I indicated - make it as streamlined as possible. One of the other areas that we will be looking at is where they are held. Obviously, some will be held in the Community Services buildings, as they are now, but one of the things that we have to continue to see is that these people go to where the people are. It is probable the board is not going to go to a community where there is just one case to be heard, but it could be that the number of cases from that area would be put together and then the board will be able to visit them. We will be trying, along with the boards, to make it as user-friendly as we can.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, if I may, I will ask the minister to comment on a suggestion I am about to make, and that would be, I think, one would find it very intimidating, as a recipient of social assistance, to indeed attend an appeal board hearing in one of your office buildings. As a matter of fact, I have been to several board hearings to represent constituents of mine, and I have appealed before them. I concur with my colleague in the Official Opposition that it is a very frustrating experience. Your policy is totally inflexible. There is no flexibility on behalf of the board members that they can take individual cases and say, perhaps we can make an exception in this case, whether it is undue hardship or whatever.
It is a very frustrating experience. I would suggest that if it is a frustrating experience and an intimidating experience for a Member of the Legislative Assembly, not that we are any better than anyone else, to walk in and find it intimidating, I would suggest to the minister that it would be extremely intimidating for someone who is a recipient of social assistance to walk in before appeal board members and start making their case, especially within the confines of the Department of Community Services. My suggestion would be, would you consider, perhaps, locating these appeal hearings at a neutral facility?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, indeed, that is a good suggestion by the honourable member. It is certainly something we will take under advisement. We will have a look as we are doing the redesign. As I indicated, our objective is to try to make it as convenient and as user-friendly as possible. If honourable members think that is part of making it more user-friendly, we will certainly take that into consideration, and thank the honourable members for their suggestions.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Minister, sometimes this House is a shining example of co-operation, working on behalf of people who really need it. I hope this will end up in a, shall we call it, tripartite - is that the term - I am not sure. Perhaps it will. I thank you for taking that under advisement.
Mr. Minister, let me focus for a minute on the much-discussed and controversial single-tier system that is coming to this province. If I could ask you, who exactly was consulted outside of your department in establishing this new single-tier system that is coming to this province?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, as the honourable member knows, this process of moving towards a single-tier system has been going on since 1995, when we started to bring the municipal units together. The honourable member for Dartmouth North knows, we were speaking about that earlier, the time of bringing those together. We all know the reasons why, the diversions of rates and so on. Last year, at the estimates, when we were here putting the bill through, I did table a list of the people who we had consulted with in terms of where we were going and how we were getting there over the period of time, and more specifically, the question last year was, who has been involved in the discussion of the last six months. I did table that list last year.
In terms of the consultation, we have had consultation with the Disabled Persons Commission, we have had consultation with quite a number of groups as we moved forward towards this establishment. I think one of the big issues that we look at is discussions with people who were looking for income assistance support. Some of the discussions I have had with people who were picking vegetables last year, and that sort of led us to the discussion of what are the barriers for people to getting back to work. I think your direct question was, what groups? I had tabled that last fall when the legislation went through. I don't have that list with me right now, but I did table it last year.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, yes, I do recall the minister tabling that list. I guess what I am trying to get at here is if, indeed, there was enough consultation with outside agencies and so on that would be directly affected by any changes that are coming to the social assistance policy and direction in this province. I would suggest that, perhaps, the minister has heard from a lot of groups that did not necessarily agree with the direction in which he is heading. I would like to know if, indeed, the minister has heard from groups, and what particular groups have made, perhaps, suggestions or recommendations to him about
this policy heading in the wrong direction? Could he tell me if he has taken any of their recommendations or suggestions under advisement, or perhaps even implemented them in the new policy?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I am afraid I only heard part of the question, because the member's honourable colleague was speaking to me about something else. (Interruptions) Could he, perhaps, just give me a short capsule of that?
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I will talk with my honourable colleague about interrupting the process. You have said you consulted and you have tabled the list about various groups outside of your department, outside of government that you have consulted with. Not all of them would have been positive and would have agreed with you, I take it. I am wondering if, indeed, any of their suggestions, if any of their recommendations have been taken under consideration, or indeed implemented in terms of the restructuring and the new policy that is going to be implemented in this province?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the answer to that question would be yes, some of them were. I will give you an example. There was the question raised by disabled people, they were under our Pharmacare Program, members of their family weren't. You will be aware that we have indicated in our regulations that people on Pharmacare extends to their spouse and their children. That was one recommendation that was made to us.
Clearly, some of the other recommendations of people getting back into the workforce, there are some recommendation that we certainly weren't able to recommend. We have talked about the shelter rates, we have talked about some of the other issues, that we had to find a balance. Some of those were taken into account, I gave you one example. Obviously, some weren't, because we weren't able to implement them all.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, one final question on that, that is that these various groups that we are talking about here, and whether or not they would be advocacy groups or whatever the case may be, is there an ongoing process here? Are you still consulting with them about changes that have been made, and perhaps the ramifications that they will have on social assistance recipients in this province? Do you have a dialogue going with any of those groups, Mr. Minister?
MR. CHRISTIE: The answer to that question is yes. Just within the last couple of weeks, our director of income supports was down in the honourable member's area speaking with church ministers, going through the program, looking at various issues, and indeed getting their feedback. I think, as the honourable member will know, we did bring these in as regulations, because we knew that there would be some areas where we would have to adjust. All along, we have said if we look at areas where, we find through the assessment review, there are areas of weakness, we will certainly re-look at that. That is why it is in
regulation form, so we will be able to recognize those needs and make those changes and react to situations fairly quickly.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, let me change the topic for a moment, if I may. I indicated that other colleagues of mine will be speaking on the issue of housing, Mr. Minister but, in particular, I can't let the opportunity go by, representing the area of Cape Breton East or Glace Bay and surrounding area, which at the present time is undergoing what I would call an extreme circumstance in terms of public housing. I was notified at one time by the Nova Scotia Housing Commission that, indeed, there were 29 public housing units that were empty in the Glace Bay area and some 20 senior citizens' units that were also unoccupied in that area.
I would suggest to the minister that this was because there was no funding, first of all, for staff in order to fix up those units or to renovate those units after they became empty and have them occupied again. I am asking the minister, is there any funding there to step up and to fast-track the process of fixing up these units and getting them back into use? I don't have the current stats available in terms of how many units are empty as of today, and if that situation has improved, then, would the minister gladfully enlighten me on that as well?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the member does raise a very challenging question. What the member is referring to is that in other parts of the province we do have units that, perhaps when they were located there some 10 to 15 years ago, were not as close to shopping centres, to stores or as convenient as other locations. We find ourselves with long waiting lists in some areas and vacancies in some of the other areas. I can say to the honourable member that if we have vacant units and there are people who want to be able to take them and meet all of the different tests, then certainly we will get those units back in shape so that people can have them.
I do recall a case from the honourable member's area that somebody was speaking to me about the other day, a particular person wanted to be in one particular area. At the end of the day, that person chose to go in the unit that was available to them. We then took that unit and did the repairs and got it ready. The answer is yes, if there are vacancies and there are people who wish to use those units, we will get them ready.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, would the minister tell me whether or not, in the past, programs such as the Winter Works Program have been utilized by your department in order to do that work, renovating public housing or senior citizens' housing, throughout the province?
MR. CHRISTIE: The housing portfolio has just recently come under this department. I will say to the member, a qualification, it is my understanding that has happened, but I can't speak with great authority on that. Housing simply came to our department last August, but it is my understanding that they did use some Winter Works Programs to work on housing.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I would suggest that because of the policy of cancelling the Winter Works Program by that government, it has, indeed, left the minister inheriting a department that is behind the times in having the number of units that are there. These are not units that you have to build; these are not units that need a great deal of funding; these are units that need maybe the odd crack in the wall, the hole in the wall fixed, the walls painted, carpets cleaned and so on.
I would suggest it is because of the cancellation of such programs as the Winter Works Program that, indeed, this has not happened. That is why you have a public housing shortage, in my area anyway. I would suggest that would exist in other areas across the province. There are particular instances and I will grant the minister that, again, it is because of the staff that is working in the various area departments that go out of their way to try to accommodate your constituents when they are in need. But, there are waiting lists, there are long waiting lists, not only in terms of the large numbers that are on those waiting lists, but the time they actually have to wait to get into a public housing unit or a senior citizens' unit.
What we have found in my area, in particular, again, is that you not only have qualified, in terms of age, senior citizens looking for senior citizens' housing now, you have a large number of underage applicants who are there looking for housing because, basically, what they are looking for is affordable, decent housing, which they cannot afford due to a very limited income. I would suggest to you, Mr. Minister, that a large number of these are social assistance recipients who are looking for public housing, the reason being, and I guess things go full circle, is that they can't afford private housing on what they are being paid through social assistance, the rates just aren't high enough. You cannot afford an apartment, I would suggest, in Glace Bay, with heat and lights included, on the budget you would get from the Community Services Department.
There is kind of like a tangled web there that results in people who are in desperate need of housing but aren't getting enough money. If the housing units aren't available, then what happens? What we have happening is that you have people who are living in sub-standard housing. They are living in slums, Mr. Minister, because of the fact that there are simply empty units that are available but can't be fixed up and can't be painted and they are not ready in time. There are families and there are individuals who are waiting, because the government has cancelled programs such as the Winter Works Program.
I know the minister knows, he may not have been minister at the time, but I know that the minister knows that Winter Works Programs were used to do exactly that in this province. What happened, along with many other things in this province - and I won't start citing the long list of examples that I could cite, Mr. Chairman - is that this government decided to do away with the Winter Works Program. When it did, it stopped employing people, they stopped fixing up things such as public housing, which stopped putting people
into affordable, decent housing in this province. That is a direct result of what this government has done.
Mr. Minister, you may have inherited the mess, but the mess is still there. What I have been asking is exactly what is going to be done. You have indicated there will be some funding. What I am asking for is extra funding, perhaps, or whatever the case may be that would take those units, put them up to scratch and put people in those units so that your waiting lists won't be longer and, of course, the bottom line is that people who want and need decent housing will get it. Is your department looking at instituting a major program in terms of renovating those units and getting them back into use, sir?
MR. CHRISTIE: Two questions. I guess the first question was, are you looking at major initiatives? What we have been doing over the last number of months is working with the other provinces and the federal government. The honourable member indicated that people need affordable housing and accessible housing, and we have been working with the federal government and all the provinces to try to achieve that. The honourable member indicated that as of March 2001, in the area that the honourable member is from, on the waiting list we had 21 people for seniors' facilities, 39 for the family units, and non-elderly singles was 25.
The other part of your question was, is there money to fix up those units that are there and not occupied, and as I indicated that is clearly something we want to do and we will be able to reduce the waiting lists. The big part of this question is working with the federal government. We recognize that the housing stock in Nova Scotia is aging, the honourable member knows that and indicated that. We see that we have to work with the federal government to do a number of initiatives, like the rural and northern housing issue, we have to look at the metropolitan areas, and make affordable housing.
The federal government has indicated they want to talk in a number of areas. We have indicated about opening up subsidized rents, we have talked about co-op housing. We have to meet on a number of programs. There are some major initiatives, but those are yet to be announced.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I think I have approximately 14 minutes or so left. Is that correct?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, honourable member, your time expires at 4:18 p.m.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Minister, I would like to change the topic for a moment, if I may, concerning grants to organizations providing family and children's services. If I may, although you may not have a copy of it there in front of you, I will be quoting from the Auditor General's Report in this instance, in regard to audits that are done on grants to organizations that provide family and children's services. According to the Auditor General's
Report, the department does prepare an annual business plan, which, of course, as is to be expected would describe its mission and strategic goals and so on and so forth. According to the Auditor General's Report, however, "The Family and Children's Services Division has not used the Department's business plan to prepare a more detailed operational plan to guide the Division in the planning and delivery of its programs and services."
Mr. Chairman, the report goes on to say that, "The Division does not have a formal strategy or model to determine the level of funding for organizations providing . . .", non-legislated services, and goes on further to say that, "Few new organizations receive funding. As a consequence, approved grants are generally based upon historical funding, with adjustments made for changes in staffing and programming, rather than upon a formal assessment of where available funds would be of greatest relevance to the mandate and priorities of the Department."
Mr. Minister, I think, again, quoting from the Auditor General's Report, that there are approximately - and this is done on some of my calculations and our research staff at the caucus - 298 organizations that are funded, regarding this matter, under the grant program, but, indeed, of those 298 organizations that were funded, only 6 audits were conducted. Could the minister confirm that figure, that out of 298 there were only 6 audits conducted under the grant program?"
MR. CHRISTIE: I am just looking to see the number there. It is in that range, but whether it is actually six or more - the question was, was it a small number audited, and the answer is yes.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, again, I know the minister does not have the Auditor General's Report in front of him there, but I am quoting directly from it. For the 2000-01 fiscal year, most organizations, according to the Auditor General's Report again, were not informed of the approved grant until October 2000, which was five months after the beginning of the fiscal year. The Auditor General goes on to say that his department was informed that similar delays had occurred in previous years as well.
In Paragraph 4.33 of the Auditor General's Report, it goes on say that, "This level of communication is generally not found in the other grant program. However, some funded organizations are subject to program review and/or regular licensing and inspection. Section 10 of the Children and Family Services Act states 'The Minister or a person authorized by the Minister may enter, inspect and evaluate an agency and examine the records, books and accounts of the agency.'" in other words, the audit.
My question to the minister is - and I think that if we look under the estimates, we were talking about this the other day - I know the audit figure has been transferred over to the Finance Department, is that correct? I am wondering, who is conducting these audits now?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the auditors that are transferred will continue to do that audit work, that is part of the program. It was transferred to the Finance Department to put like people together, so they would be able to get the other specializations that Finance has. When we talk about the audits, in the broad term here, we are not talking only financial officers, there are licensing officers and other people who attend to the family and children's services units to see that they are following the different agreements and that they are following their business plans.
The honourable member will remember, back last fall, one of the things we indicated to people who were getting grants under income support and some under family and children's services, as a follow-up of the Auditor General's checking and some from the department, we were going to implement some more accountability. As I said in discussions with the honourable member for Dartmouth North, one of the accountability structures under the federal government, with their early childhood plan, is that there has to be a process and an assurance of accountability. At that time we had some focus groups, we had some discussions with those groups as to the business of having to develop a business plan and then being able to account for it. This is part of the process that the honourable member is mentioning, where we are going with this in the future, and that is part of the announcement we made last fall and part of working with the groups and the focus groups.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, perhaps, then what we are looking at is that we will be conducting more than 6 audits out of 298 organizations. Is the minister saying we will be doing seven audits, or is the minister saying we will be doing a lot more? The Auditor General expressed a great deal of concern over the small number of organizations that were actually audited. As a matter of fact, in another section of the Auditor General's Report, entitled Payments to Funded Organizations, the Auditor General says that, "Except for a draft document related to grants to family and children's services agencies, there is no formal documentation of the respective roles and responsibilities of the Division, regional offices, and funded organizations for each grant program."
It goes on to say that, "During the course of this review it became evident that there is a lack of either clarity or understanding of the roles and responsibilities, as well as the authority, of some of the various participants in the residential child-caring system." Mr. Minister, that would cause me some concern, if I read a statement like that from the Auditor General. My question to you is, did it cause you some concern, and what are you doing about it?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, it did cause us some concern, and it caused us to look at the situation and do a number of things. Obviously, one of the things that happened was, as you indicated earlier, the auditors moving to Finance. At the same time, the numbers were increasing, we were bringing the complement of that up so that that function would be able to meet the challenges. I did indicate that there are areas, other parts of the audit such as licensing, it is not just financial audits; there are licensing and various inspections. We see
that as a major role we have to meet this year, to be able to provide the standards for family and children's services, for daycare centres. We have to programs get in place so that we can substantively increase that and be able to say to the people of Nova Scotia that these are being done and that the standards are being met, and we are able to provide those standards.
We are meeting with people all the time, we are meeting with the different presidents, we are meeting with areas, to keep doing that and developing that. We are meeting with the Children's Aid Society presidents to look at that part, how we are going to do that. There are a number of issues here, but I do take that very seriously. We are working diligently to meet that challenge.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his answer on that particular question. Again, to reiterate, it would be quite disconcerting to me and to all Nova Scotians if, indeed, the minister wasn't going at that full tilt, let's say, in order to correct some of the problems that the Auditor General pointed out.
Mr. Chairman, in closing, may I say that there is not a day, not one day that goes by in my constituency that I do not have an inquiry to make about social services and/or housing issues. I would suggest that these, indeed, enquiries I am getting are from people in this province who feel neglected, who feel frustrated and who feel left out of a system that, really, they feel does not care about them. I think that's where some of the frustration and some of the anxiety is coming from.
Mr. Minister, in my experience so far as an elected member of this Legislature, and being the Community Services Critic, I cannot honestly stand here and say that what you are doing is going to change that. I made it very clear that I don't think that the regulations you are proposing are going to do much more than actually reduce the amount of money that is being given to social assistance recipients in this province on a monthly basis, which will cause them more hardship. I would suggest that perhaps these are ill-informed measures, which are indeed going to hurt a lot of people in this province.
I have suggested and I will suggest again that what is being done is that people who are social assistance are being told, get out, get off this system, we are no longer going to take care of you. We will do a little bit of training and we don't care what is at the end of the line, whether it is a job or not, all we want is you off this system so that department does not have to pay that much in its budget. By doing that, and I have seen it happen in my community, Mr. Minister, you have driven people out of their community, they have gone, they had no other choice. There are those in our society who cannot work, legitimately cannot hold down a job. Those are the people that this government and yourself, as a minister of this government, are mandated to look after. I would ask you, I would indeed beg you to make sure that those people in this province are taken care of. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Once again, Mr. Chairman, through you to the Minister of Community Services. Mr. Minister, when I left off we were talking about persons with disabilities, and we were talking about bringing them off the welfare rolls into a work environment. I have asked you, in fact, a number of questions around that. I wanted to go back to my train of thought on that very issue.
I talked about a pilot project that was recommended by the disabled persons community, and asked the government to fund such a pilot project, particularly to help people with technical aids, such as wheelchairs, such as quad canes, such as braces, such as prostheses. The other one I was thinking about was orthotics, because prostheses are covered under the MSI plan and so on, but orthotics are covered 100 per cent by the client. Many of the clients can't afford that. Orthotics are something like I wear myself, Mr. Minister, a long leg brace, and it usually costs $1,000 or more. Many of these cost between $1,200 and $1,500. Many people don't realize that that is the cost, but it is a huge deterrent for people to get out into the employment field.
I am just wondering if the minister has actually considered putting on a pilot project and funding a pilot project, as requested by the disabled community, for a technical aids operation so that individuals could move out of the system faster? Also, the minister was very much aware, and he did say that there are barriers to persons with disabilities, and he talked about municipalities and governments eliminating those barriers; we are talking about accessible barriers that are out there. I am just wondering, first of all, how much, if any, has the minister committed, this year, to improving the lot of persons with disabilities? Is the minister prepared to even consider funding such a pilot project?
MR. CHRISTIE: There were a number of questions there. The first question was what commitments does the department have to persons with disabilities? I would say to the honourable member, as I indicated earlier, in providing a range of special needs and services, those are things that would support people with disabilities and help them. The pilot project, we don't have funded for this year. We don't have that project included for funding but, to the honourable member, we certainly will, in their assessment, try to help in the ability of the services and things they need.
We look at the people and one of the things, as the honourable member will know, is that the Disabled Persons Commission has been on record as saying that they want to be part of any training programs so people can achieve their potential, the words they have used. So we see that as being a part of the program, to make available for people more programs to work towards achieving their potential.
Those are the areas we have been working in, but to your direct question, do you have that pilot funded, the answer is no, we don't have that in the budget.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, the minister will be aware that this project has been requested in the last three to four years at least, by the department. I also asked the minister earlier with respect to the recommendations that are made by the disabled community to the Department of Community Services. I know that over the years there have been a number of recommendations. I am wondering if the minister can actually tell me how many of the recommendations have actually been endorsed and supported by his department or other departments in which the minister might work in conjunction with to help the disabled community out?
MR. CHRISTIE: I don't have that with me. I am prepared to take that under advisement and table that for the honourable member, the list of recommendations and what the other departments are doing. I will take that under advisement.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I think that's important to note, and it is also important so we are able to track what kind of progress the disabled community can determine government is providing them. I think that's significant.
I am going to a number of questions with respect to persons with disabilities, particularly in the Community Support for Adults Division and so on. My questions will relate to provisions of support, including residential support to persons who have intellectual disabilities, mental disabilities or physical disabilities, and who require services from the Department of Community Services, division of Community Support for Adults. I am just going to ask the minister a question. Does the minister have a policy on how disabled Nova Scotians should live and be supported?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I guess the honourable member is asking me what the frameworks are for our residential programs and people for support in that way? As you know, the services we provide are in the residential side and these people are referred. As we go through our new process of doing the evaluation, and I guess it takes us back to the part of where the honourable member was referring to the Kendrick report earlier, the honourable member will certainly be aware that what the Kendrick report has indicated to us is that we should look at a variety of services and ways to go. I am looking at the numbers here, and in terms of our budget for the department, income and assistance, Community Supports for Adults, Family and Children's Services, it is $124 million.
Those are all the services that we roll in there. The budget page is 6.5. It shows the $124 million. As the honourable member will see, from last year, our forecast was at $106 million, we spent $119 million, then to $124 million. That area is one of the areas that is growing. Dr. Kendrick has indicated and suggested directions for us that we need to come to grips with, it's part of the process that the Departments of Community Services and Health are looking at. It is, as the member indicated, a major challenge.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I know the minister skirted around that issue. I know he referred to the Kendrick report, which makes a number of specific recommendations, it makes a number of specific recommendations in specific areas. When I go through the report, just to make mention of one specific recommendation concerning interim standards, another might be concerning increased innovations in community-based options and the whole bit. The recommendations are here. The minister has had the recommendations.
When I placed questions before the Minister of Health with respect to the Kendrick report, the Minister of Health indicated that they are doing a review of the Kendrick report, with respect to his department. I am wondering, is the same thing happening, again, in the Department of Community Services? Are you now reviewing the Kendrick report, and do you have any money set aside to, in fact, incorporate some of the recommendations that are now in that Kendrick report?
MR. CHRISTIE: The honourable member is quite correct. In discussion with the Minister of Health the other day, he indicated they were looking at it. We are looking at the Kendrick report in conjunction with the Department of Health. One of the reasons that we initiated the report to start with was - I think both the honourable member and I agree that the gentleman, Dr. Kendrick, is a recognized person in his field - to look and see if the direction that we were going in as a province, in terms of the small options and in terms of the facilities for people in the future, was the right direction, and to give us some suggestions.
The honourable member referred to a number of suggestions. One of the things Dr. Kendrick did suggest is that he felt this was going to take a 5 to 10 year period, that you had to develop the process, you had to provide people with the information and you had to assure the stability, that's one of the reasons the Department of Health and ourselves are looking at it. The member will know that yesterday we brought together some of the mental health services for children. We said we have to get rid of the walls between Community Services and Health so it is a seamless transition from youth to adulthood in terms of mental health services. Essentially, fundamentally, if you get right down to the basics of Dr. Kendrick's report, that is what he's saying in here.
Our budget continues to grow, the honourable member will know that we have gone, in our budget for Community Support for Adults, from $96 million, to this year, $126 million. It is a growing area - what Dr. Kendrick is saying is that there is an alternate method of delivery. What you are doing now doesn't need to be completely modelled for the future, we need to reallocate resources. Clearly that's what we have to do in the next short while.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I would remind the minister that his budget might continue to grow, but those are internal costs of operation and not necessarily reflected down to the clients who are the benefits of that budget. I do want you to know that I do know that your budget continues to increase. What I want to say is that we recognize now, and you have made the statement, Mr. Minister, that, in fact, the Kendrick report is going to unfold itself
over a 5 to 10 year period. We are going to see a long drawn-out process with disabled persons and disabled persons' needs being addressed.
I just want to go back to the Community Support for Adults division, and I want to remind the minister that I believe it was back in the early 1960's and so on that we talked about de-institutionalizing individuals and bringing them out into the community and community-based options. I am just wondering, does the minister embrace community living instead of institutional or hospital care as a more dignified inclusive means of supporting persons who have disabilities? It's a simple question.
MR. CHRISTIE: The answer is yes.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, now that I have the time, I should say that in this last hour I am going to be splitting my time. So if the Chairman will be so gracious to inform me as to when my 20 minutes is up, I want to share my time with the member for Halifax Needham and the member for Hants East, if I can.
My question, again, to the minister around this is - you have already said this but I guess I want to hear it again - does the policy include provisions to allow changing needs for persons with disabilities? I guess you do have a policy. You didn't say that you had a policy when I asked you earlier, but you said you had some regulations around that. Does that include the changing needs that are required over time for persons with disabilities?
MR. CHRISTIE: The answer to that yes. As we go through the assessment process we try to meet those special needs, and people have full access to all the special needs.
MR. PYE: I know the government is aware there are some unmet needs by persons with disabilities, and they are constantly calling your department, as well as MLAs, about them. I am wondering, does the government have any plans to address the unmet needs that disabled people are now putting forward as requests to your department?
MR. CHRISTIE: There are two parts to that question. First, that is one of the reasons we commissioned the Kendrick report, to look at the needs that people have, the special needs. One of the other areas, we have indicated all along, through the passage of the legislation and with the regulations, that as you go through the assessment process if areas are identified where there are specialized needs, we will certainly review that. Our commitment has always been to support those people who can't work, and as we identify areas of needs we will certainly be reviewing those.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, now I want to go to the minister with respect to a question around the Adoption Information Act. I know that Bill No. 17, the amendment of the Adoption Information Act was put forward by the Minister of Community Services. About a week or a week and a half ago I recall reading in the newspaper an advertisement for written submissions. I had thought that we had already gone through that process with the advisory committee that was appointed to review all aspects of the Children and Family Services Act, which also had a task of reviewing and reporting back to the minister as soon as possible the recommendations with respect to Bill No. 17. I do know that there were a number of individuals who were presenters at Bill No. 17 with respect to recommendations and changes, not only oral presentations but written presentation as well.
My question to the minister is, why exactly is this government duplicating the review process once again, when a special ministerial committee, versed in adoption issues, conducted an exhaustive, extensive review of the adoption information disclosure issue back in 1994, as well as all the information you have at your disposal when Bill No. 17 was before this Legislature last fall?
MR. CHRISTIE: The question is, why did we set up that advisory committee to the minister to doing that. Obviously, since 1994, a number of things have changed, other areas and jurisdictions have made changes in their legislation. What we were doing is asking them to bring that up to date and see if the direction we had taken back a year ago was still currently within their thinking. We are basically going through an update process, but as part of the process they wanted to be able to get input from the public. That's why they had the ad in the paper.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I would say there has been an exhaustive process on this Adoption Information Act. I just want to go through some of the history of it and I will try to be brief: 1993, the work of a special ministerial committee; 1996, the Law Amendments Committee reviewing Bill No. 12; 1997, National Adoption Awareness Month, the House accepted a petition from the honourable member for Halifax Atlantic, Robert Chisholm, on behalf of many of the people in the adoptive community with respect particularly to Parent Finders and their recommendations; 1998, Parent Finders representation to the then Deputy Minister of Community Services, Ron L'Esperance; 1999, the advisory committee's recommendation on disclosure policies; 1999, Bill No. 17; 1999, the Law Amendments Committee; 2001, - we are going through a whole process of many years and the adoption community feels as though you are trying to avoid the real issue of addressing the issue of adoption in Nova Scotia.
My question, and it obviously begs the question of the minister at this juncture, is simply this, is the government going to continue the duplication process respecting the adoption information disclosure policy until it has somehow achieved a consensus that nothing should change, thereby circumventing the needs of responsibilities for ongoing damage that adoption secrecy has brought to many Nova Scotians? Mr. Minister, that is a
very serious question to you and it is one that begs a response because of the number of years this issue has been before this Legislative Assembly.
MR. CHRISTIE: I guess the question was, are we going to keep it off, out in the distance and not bring it back for a final conclusion? The answer to that is no. We had brought the bill forward, and as the member indicated, in 1999, we had a lot of discussion in the Law Amendments Committee, a lot of different groups and presentations came forward. We thought we should have a further look at it and have a look at some of the changes. We will be doing that and then bringing it forward.
MR. PYE: I just don't understand, Mr. Minister. There are many people out there in the adoptive community who are looking for government intervention here in a bill that is going to respect them. How long will this government continue to ignore the worldwide trends to openness and honesty respecting the adoption disclosure legislation and the right of those impacted by secrecy, namely adoptees who are still prevented in this province from having unfettered access to their own original, long-form birth certificates, unlike the rest of us who have not been impacted by adoption who can really access this information at any time. I am wondering when is the minister going to do something serious so these people will have access to that long-form birth certificate?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member has brought forward one side of that particular issue. Of course, as we were talking about the adoption bill back a year ago, there were a lot of other sides to that debate, people raised concerns about secrecy. There are concerns, and the honourable member is right about the trends in terms of across the country and international trends taking us toward some change in the adoption regulations and rules. We have brought the bill forward, we had some discussion and it's our intent to get the advice from this group and then bring it forward again.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, this is be my final question to the minister on this and I will pass it along to my colleague, the member for Halifax Needham. We look at England, who opened the adoption records, vis-à-vis, giving unfettered access to long-form birth certificates to adoptees in 1975, almost 27 years ago. British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and, now, just followed by Newfoundland who passed legislation mirroring Bill No. 17 about one month ago, and now this House has actually thrown Bill No. 17 out by asking for additional information. My question to the minister is, when is this government going to stand by its platform promises of finally - and that is a platform promise in the blue book - acknowledging the discrimination against adoptees and putting an immediate stop to such discrimination, giving them the unconditional right to their own personal information with respect to their biological identities?
MR. CHRISTIE: When the committee reports back to us we will be getting those and then bringing it forward. That will be in the very near future.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Halifax Needham.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, could you indicate how much time is left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: There are 38 minutes left.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Thank you. In the short period of time I have, Mr. Minister, I would like to talk about probably three areas. Two of them are fairly substantial, one is a specific case. I know you don't much like dealing with specific cases but this has a policy dimension I would like to explore, as well as the circumstances of the situation. First I want to talk about service agreements.
I want to talk about the non-profit organizations that have gone through this process, that you will be very aware of, with respect to service agreements. I want to raise with you some concerns on their behalf about where this process may be headed. We all witnessed, I think, the controversy that Jane Stewart had to deal with around the lack of a paper trail, for want of a better way of characterizing it . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The minister is actually telling me he is having trouble hearing the member for Halifax Needham due to too much noise in the room. I would ask if you have conversations you want to privately have, maybe you could leave the Chamber, otherwise I ask you to pay attention to the members who are speaking.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: . . . a fair amount of controversy about HRDC funding at the federal level. I think we have seen, for organizations that get money from HRDC, a tightening in the requirements with respect to paperwork, recording, business plans, outcome measures and what have you. In the last day, the discussion around the transition house in Bridgewater, reference has been constantly made to the lack of a business plan.
Having been involved in non-profit organizations for a long time, I know that many of these organizations provided an annual budget and quite often they provided regular updates. They have quite a bit of contact with people within the department with respect to their financial situations, their programs and how they are going. I understand that now they will be required to provide a much more extensive set of criteria in order to secure funding from the department and that these things will include a strategic plan, a human resources plan or policies, a business plan and a method of measuring outcomes.
In an organization, for example, let's take the Ward 5 Community Centre where you might have two or three staff people who are already stretched to the maximum trying to provide core programming, I am wondering what the department is going to offer a small organization like this, a volunteer organization, to help them prepare for those requirements,
by way of training, skills development, or additional resources to be able to meet the criteria being place on their shoulders now?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I guess I would say to the honourable member, the debate I just had with the member for Cape Breton East regarding the Auditor General's Reports and the grants and that process, when we keep in mind that the federal government has indicated there is clearly an accountability segment to early childhood development, that's one of the reasons that led us into this whole process.
I guess the question was, what are we going to provide them? We're going to provide them with the clear intent of what we want to get, of how we want to do it and provide assistance if they need assistance in making it, developing it. Clearly, when you start with a budget, and most organizations, as the honourable member indicated, will have a budget, they have an idea of what money is going out, that indicates to you how many people you're going to have, your human resources plan, what you are able to spend on repairs, what you will need, you sort of have to attack it that way. So, what we are doing as we meet with the different women's centres, transitional houses, the children's centres and the various others, they are saying here's the way we see you developing the plan, here's the way we can do it, then we try to provide people at the other end of the line who can say this is what we're looking for.
Trying to keep it as simple as possible, but one of the things we have to recognize is that as we go into the early childhood development programs, not only are we suggesting accountability but, we, as a province, have to be accountable to the federal government and the people of Canada for that money. I hope that we're able to provide people with the advice and support they need.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I hope you can provide it as well, but will you commit to providing it, is really my concern. There's a substantial commitment, not just nice flowery words that this is something we really hope we would like to be able to do, but we're going to do. You can reassure these organizations that you will, in fact, do it, you will assist them in learning new skills if that's what is required.
For example, outcome measurements is a much more recent phenomenon in the social sciences. Actually, that's not true, it's really an old phenomenon that's being brought in. It hasn't been taught in schools of social work for years, it's only being taught in the last few years and it's being taught at a masters level. When you look at many agencies and organizations, a lot of agencies and organizations may not have degreed people or they may not have people who have been in a school, who have been in continuing education, who have up-grading and training in terms of these programs, these new concepts, these new techniques, these new methodologies. So they're going to need some opportunity to have their skill sets developed to match the new requirements from the department. They are going to need to be able to free their staff to take a workshop, or groups of organizations are going
to have to bring their people together for some weekends, or however it gets organized. I think this is really important these organizations have a clear commitment from the department.
The reason they need this is that there have been years of bad relationships on some level. I shouldn't say bad relationships, that's not a fair thing to say and I take that back. What I will say is that community organizations have experienced years of frozen budgets and they've seen the service exchange, for example, between municipalities and the province result in a bit of a vacuum around social planning. They've experienced a decrease in the grants that they receive at the municipal level to allow them to operate, and the province hasn't augmented that loss of revenue. They've seen an increase in the demand on their services from people who are more and more desperate. There may be less people using social assistance, for example, there may be a lesser number of people on social assistance, but all of the research is saying that those people who are poor, are poorer than they were 15 years ago. The numbers of people in poverty may not have increased but the depth of the poverty for those who are in poverty has become significantly deeper. The implication of that is that their needs are more acute, the acuity of their situation is profound to the extent that people are hungry, are living on the street, have severe addictions, can't get into treatment programs and have often given up.
This is the reality that community organizations are confronted with and, in the face of that reality, that worsening situation that intensifies their work, now the department is bringing in a set of service contract criteria that looks like it could be an excuse for funding cuts. I have talked to non-profit organizations that say this is a very big concern that they have. It looks like a way to tell boards of directors they're not doing enough in terms of fundraising, when many of these people are full-time workers, are out there fundraising their hearts out. I know that members of this House probably get multiple invitations on a weekly basis to fundraising dinners from the non-profit sector. Everybody has to be out there beating the bushes for funds, and they're in this situation because other sources of revenue have disappeared.
These organizations want to know, and they want some demonstration from your department and you, as minister, that this won't be a new set of additional requirements that are placed on them, that they will be set up to fail; and the outcome of that will be the loss of their funding and then their inability to provide anything. So this is one issue.
The other, I think, very big concern to these organizations is the question of control and autonomy. To what extent will any autonomy be left in the non-profit sector? I think it's a very important question in that it's fairly well understood that it's often from the grassroots organizations that innovative programming comes. These are groups and organizations and people who are closest to the community. They live in the community, they come out of the community quite often, they know what the community needs are. Rather than have a centralized bureaucracy determine what are the most important imperatives for community
development and social development, it's important that some of that, in fact, much of that defining role rest in the community. Service agreements could undermine that ability to innovate, that ability to respond in a particular way to a particular need in a particular community that may not exist anywhere else in the province.
What reassurance can you give these non-profit organizations that this set of requirements under service agreements will not be an excuse for funding cuts and it will not mean their loss of control in terms of autonomy and flexibility in responding to the local needs of their community?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I guess a couple of issues the honourable member raises. I think first off I would like to indicate that these service agreements that we're talking about, as we've indicated to people, will be phased in over a number of years starting this year. Obviously, the start-off will be for the larger grants. As you look at the larger grants that we have, the people who are there, because they have managed such a large amount of money and numbers of staff, by definition have to have the skills to do this.
Our next part of the process will be that we will be having people come in to give them the information on what they are doing. I guess I want the honourable member to know that we see this as a two-way street, it is not us saying here, go fill this out. The bottom line of all this is we understand that Community Services has an interest in that, it is not just the volunteer group has an interest. They are delivering a service for Community Services and they are providing something in the community that we have all recognized we need.
What I would say to the groups is that with the increasing demands for dollars, we have to sure we are targeting. Through the service agreements and budgets, we want to ensure that group A that we thought was delivering a certain service doesn't decide to start delivering the same service as group B, right next door. I know the honourable member will know of a discussion we had last November about a group in her riding that had we had the business plan and been clear, the issue would have been clear to us as what was going on. That is our intent.
I think the other thing I want to assure groups is that a lot of the groups have a lot of expertise on their boards. Those boards have been providing them with a lot of community service, they have been doing fundraising, they have been providing them with directions. We see those boards and those volunteers as a very significant avenue for Community Services to deliver services. I know we have had the same discussion with Children's Aid in Halifax, clearly defining the roles and where we are going to go.
We are in the process of saying to them, here is what you are responsible for and here is what we are responsible for; just clearing that up. They have said, clear it up for us, what we are to do and what you are to do, and we are doing that. I would say to other boards, we view that as a valuable service, a volunteer service. I view that as a commitment to the
community to keep going with these. We want to make sure that we all understand who is doing what and where they are going.
That is what the purpose of these is, not to take control, not to take over, but to all have a clear view so we don't have these strained relations. The honourable member will know that we have had occasions when people have come to Community Services and said all along I thought you were providing pensions for this purpose, all along I thought you were going to do this; then we get into a clash situation. We view this as the ability to clear up some of those so that we are all clear as to our roles and responsibilities. That is the issue here.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, I could talk about this a lot longer, but I know I don't have a lot of time in total. I would just like to thank the minister. I would like to make a final comment before I move to another area, and that is as a member from a constituency inside HRM I want to put on the record my sense of loss, I guess, of the Social Planning Department at the municipal level. The Social Planning Department at the former City of Halifax played a very, very important role in terms of social planning and social development. In most of the larger urban centres around the country you will find that local governments still maintain an active involvement in social development and social planning.
What we have seen in Halifax now - and I see this in my constituency which encompasses the inner-city - is the municipal government taking responsibility for policing and recreation. They do their best, but they are not social planners and they are not social developers. There has been a vacuum created by the loss of the Social Planning Department and it is a vacuum that I am sad to say has not been occupied by the Department of Community Services, where responsibility for community services now lies. I would urge the minister to think about addressing this very serious problem that has resulted from the loss of a Social Planning Department. I believe that it is probably a situation that is replicated in constituencies beyond my own; perhaps the member for Dartmouth North would able to speak to that, for example.
The other thing I would say is with respect to the non-profit sector and moving into service agreements and what have you. Having worked in this sector for a long time, I agree there are lots of fabulous people who come forward and work on boards as volunteers and they bring lots of talents and skills. They also bring many contacts through their professional and personal lives, which are very important in the life of these agencies. Quite often there is still a need for board development, for volunteer board development, for training in how to be a board, and not just how to be a board but there is a big need for training on how to be an employer. Many people get involved in the non-profit sector as volunteers because they care about the cause, they care about the service that is being provided and the people who are going to benefit from that service, but quite often they don't get involved thinking I am
going to be an employer and I am going to have a legal obligation, I am going to have responsibilities here as an employer to the staff in this organization.
We have repeatedly seen conflict in the non-profit sector over and over between boards and staff when boards have not been able to understand fully their responsibilities and their relationship to their staff, as an employer. For me, this is a very important issue. We have many non-profit organizations that have unionized and we have organizations where there aren't unions. There is lot that people who serve as volunteers on boards need to understand about collective bargaining, need to understand about labour standards, and their responsibilities.
I think the department should either offer training opportunities to board members or funding to these organizations so they can build in training opportunities for their board members, so they can learn, especially if you are going to be asking for human resource plans. That would fit naturally with this whole idea. I think the other thing that would be useful is to help boards develop their fundraising skills and capacities, grant writing, approaching foundations and that kind of stuff. We have lots of talent who know a lot about how to do this, so we need to formalize it and share it around a little bit, I would say.
I want to talk about caseworkers, Child Protection and Income Support workers in particular. I want to talk about what steps the department is taking to provide training and support to the Income Support workers in this period of transition around the legislation that was passed in the fall, which will come into effect in August. There are workers who are concerned about the implications of these changes. They are concerned that they are not going to be adequately prepared to deal with the new program and the implications of those programs, that they may not be able to provide a good quality service, the expectations that have been placed on them they will not be able to meet.
I would like if you could tell us what active measures are being taken to ensure that Income Support workers are fully trained and prepared to deal with the new legislation, and that they won't have to bear the brunt of the potential backlash that will occur as people on social assistance find it difficult to get the resources that they expect.
MR. CHRISTIE: To the honourable member, just before I get to that last question, you raised the issue of people on boards and training, not only in Community Service areas but in Sport and Recreation. One of the things the honourable member will know is that the Family and Children's Services Division were saying to us that they have a concern for liability, that is part of the area of recruiting people to the board. What we have done is start to work with Justice so that we can look at getting some of those things done. Our hope is that shortly we will be able to have a Web site that shows new directors the risks, if you will, some of the areas where they should get themselves brought up to speed.
The other side we are looking at is can we develop legislation for this province that would limit liability to people who perform a service that a reasonable person would expect, not only under Community Services but in the Boy Scouts, minor hockey and whatever, all across this province. There are those many challenges.
To the second part, staff training. The honourable member is right, we don't take that lightly at all, that is a major job. We will be going through and having staff participate in four days of formalized training, the date is to be set; it will obviously be before July. The core staff training program is being developed, and that will be rolled out; we will be having people do that before July. There are not only regulations, but the new systems to support it that people have to become familiar with. The honourable member will know that we are getting updated equipment in a number of the areas, so that we can use and make it easier for caseworkers and, indeed, intake workers to work with. It will be able to provide them more information and it will give them more data to be able to work with, and be able to provide help sections so they can make reference to areas that they need.
We don't take that as any small challenge. We do have a plan. People will be coming together. We will be doing formalized training before July. We will then be having follow-up sessions and information sessions. I have heard comments. I happened to be down in the Bridgewater office, people had that concern, how will they meet it. Once you indicate to them the plan of how this is going to develop, people are looking forward to getting the information so they can meet all the challenges.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Again, this is an area that we really don't have time, I am afraid, to do justice to in some ways, but I did want to find out a bit about what is planned for training. I think that the people who are going to Quebec City have more training on how to deal with peaceful demonstrations than you are going to provide the caseworkers or the Income Assistance workers for these huge changes in the Department of Community Services. At any rate, I think training is very important for these folks. They are going to have a very tough job in front of them.
I want to move and talk specifically about this situation. I am not going to use any identifying information at this time, although I will share all of this with the minister. This is a situation of a young woman who lives in my riding, and I am very concerned about this case. I am concerned about the young person because she is in danger of leaving school. She is a teen mom, and she is taking Grade 10 and 11 courses at St. Patrick's High School. She has a young child who is about a year old, a little more than a year old, and he is in the daycare at the high school. She is in arrears to the daycare, because she was receiving assistance from your department and that assistance ended. She hasn't been able to pay her daycare fees, and the daycare has basically told her that they cannot allow her to continue indefinitely to use the daycare centre.
She lives with her mother in public housing. Her mother is a full-time worker. She works with a cleaning service and she takes home about $230 a week. Her mother, in addition to this young girl and her child, has another teenager living in the household. I have been to their house. They are very nice people. They are a very strong family unit, lots of love and support in this household. They don't live a highly materialistic lifestyle, that was abundantly clear to me on my visit. Their priorities are strong family, supporting each other and keeping the children in school, not material things.
When I spoke with a supervisor in the department, what happened is the young girl got a part-time job at Sobeys as a cashier. In theory, her wages have disqualified her. I can tell you, reading the letter from your department, I cannot understand why she doesn't qualify. She has never been provided with any assistance for herself, from what I can gather. In the calculation, there has been $112 of personal allowance for the child and $186 for child care. Then the child benefit was clawed back, part of it, and the wages. It resulted in no entitlement. Yet there has been no provision made for this young person herself, in any way, in terms of what her personal needs might be. No transportation; nothing.
My concern of course is that she not drop out of school, which is her mother's concern, and her concern. Daycare is imperative, she has no one to look after this child while she is in school. It is the daycare centre or she is going to have to do it herself. The supervisor I spoke with told me that she was being treated, this young woman, as an able-bodied employable person. She is not being treated as a student, she is not being treated in any other way but as an able-bodied person. If she quit her job now so that she could qualify for some assistance and get assistance with her daycare fees, she wouldn't be assisted because she would be treated as an able-bodied employable person.
I remember asking you, last year I think, about students and about young women in particular in high school and how the department was going to treat them under the new program, in a way that we can make sure that these kids don't drop out of school, in a way that we can make sure that we break the cycle of poverty, in a way that we give this young woman and her child a fighting chance of being able to live independently in the future as they mature.
I have to tell you that this situation has shaken me to the core when I talk to your department and they say there is nothing we can provide for her. I say she is going to quit school, the documentation is there and what it is she owes the daycare. She doesn't owe the daycare a huge amount of money. At the stage at which I first encountered this young woman, $443.99; it is now probably another $200 or close to that. We are not talking about a staggering amount of money, but this could be this kid's future, this could cost this province a lot of money down the road if this young woman leaves school. I believe she is not quite 18 years old yet, which may have something to do with the way in which she is being handled - I don't know that, I wasn't told that, but I was told that in August things might change for her. But you know we are near the end of the school year. I know that
people in the school system are really concerned, we are at a critical point with this kid for dropping out or staying in and an intervention from your department in dealing with these daycare arrears and assessing this young woman in a way that she will be able to stay in school could make a big difference. I want to ask for some clarification on the larger policy around teenage mothers who are in school. Are they indeed going to be treated as employable people or is there any room for flexibility in this program to allow them to be assisted to maintain their education?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Minister of Community Services, you have less than one minute.
MR. CHRISTIE: To the honourable member, to quickly answer your question we are under the old program right now. We will take you information, I obviously don't want to deal with names, but we will take it from you and deal with it. Secondly, on the other part of your question, that is clearly what August 1st means to us, that we have indicated people who want to take training, what you described as a young lady who wants to finish school and probably take training, that is why we increased the daycare supplements, that is why we increased some of these supplements just to speak to those types of people, and we will specifically look at that person in the interim.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, that will complete the questions in turn for the NDP caucus. The time is 5:18 p.m., and we will now recognize the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Cape Breton the Lakes.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minister, I would like to say good afternoon to both you and your staff.
I would like to ask the minister, has he met with the co-operative housing federation, who are greatly concerned about the future of co-op housing in Nova Scotia?
MR. CHRISTIE: The people we met with were the national co-op federation and it was their vice-president, I believe, who was in town approximately one month ago. We met with the people from the national organization, but I don't recall if the local president was there or not. The lead person who was there was from the national co-op federation.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, does the minister have any plans to meet with the provincial president?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, as I indicated, when I met with the national people there were some provincial people there. We made a commitment with them to keep an ongoing dialogue. There were some specific issues they wanted to talk about, and members from the Housing Department had dealt with specific co-op housing issues with them across the province. We did make a commitment to have continuing dialogue with them, as needed.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for his reply. I would like to ask the minister, is he negotiating any new global agreements with the federal government?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I would love to be able to say to the member that specifically we have one that should be announced shortly, but since last September we have had several meetings of the Ministers of Housing across Canada, and the officials have too in a number of areas such as co-op housing, rural housing, but the big area we have been discussing is having Canada Mortgage and Housing come back in to provide for Canadians affordable and accessible housing. Those were the discussions we were having. The next national meeting is in July. How successful we are and how we make out I don't know, but yes we have been having discussions with them.
MR. BOUDREAU: Being a new minister responsible for housing within your department, have you had meetings with your counterparts in the other Atlantic Provinces?
MR. CHRISTIE: Just as part of a national group, not individually. All of the Ministers of Housing from the Atlantic Provinces have been there at the national meeting, so it has been at a national level.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, there is a new department being added to your existing department. Did you bring the staff from Municipal Affairs over to the Department of Community Services?
MR. CHRISTIE: The answer is yes, and they are moving into our building in the very near future, in the Lord Nelson Building. There are 89 people coming over.
MR. BOUDREAU: I would like to ask the minister if he is comfortable with these new responsibilities?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I don't know if comfortable is the word to use; I think challenging is a word to use. I think it is complementary to Community Services because as the honourable member will realize from the last discussions we have been having, if you are attempting to make the process of people moving from one service to another as seamless as possible, taking down another departmental wall and having people and our caseworkers doing assessments to determine what people's goals and plans in life are, being able to incorporate housing into that is a seamless process and I think it makes it complementary. I would prefer to use the word challenging as opposed to comfortable.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his reply. Regarding Regional Housing Authorities, is there any plan to merge these authorities?
MR. CHRISTIE: Not merge, just to reduce the number.
MR. BOUDREAU: Could you indicate in which areas those Housing Authorities would be eliminated?
MR. CHRISTIE: No, there will be no reduction in the number.
MR. BOUDREAU: I am a little confused by that reply because I thought the minister indicated on my previous question that he was considering eliminating some of these boards. I would like to get my head straight on this issue, Mr. Chairman, and I will repeat the question. To the minister again, are there any plans to merge or eliminate any Housing Authorities within the Province of Nova Scotia?
MR. CHRISTIE: When I indicated earlier we were reducing, I had misinterpreted your comment as to being the Social Assistance Appeal Board. What you are asking is are we reducing any boards of the Housing Authorities, and there are seven and there will stay seven.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his reply. It certainly seems as if it was a straight answer, so I assume it is correct but it doesn't - particularly when I am asking questions on all these estimates - fall in with what some of the other ministers are saying, that there are reviews ongoing in all these departments, and that makes me nervous, Mr. Minister. Again, I want to be clear, there will be no - none - tinkering with Regional Housing Authorities within the province?
MR. CHRISTIE: As I indicated to the honourable member, there are seven now and those seven will continue to operate. What will happen in four or five years from now, I don't know, but our plan for this budget year and this business plan has those seven authorities included in it.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, my next question for the minister, through you of course. Does the minister anticipate any changes in funding or administration of Regional Housing Authorities?
MR. CHRISTIE: We certainly have talked about housing and their vision and how they are going forward, but your question was do we expect to have any change in the administrative costs and the direction of housing, and the answer is no.
MR. BOUDREAU: What about funding in general to Regional Housing Authorities, will the funding remain the same as today?
MR. CHRISTIE: Based on the budget that you have in front of you and our business plan, the answer is yes, it will, with the hope that we will be able to bring in more federal government initiatives, but the funding for the Department of Housing is remaining the same and there will be no reduction.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the minister are there any plans to privatize or outsource housing programs or administration?
MR. CHRISTIE: With this budget and the business plan that we have, the answer to that is no.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I appreciate that answer. What are your plans for the waiting lists? As you are aware - and I am sure you are being briefed, as I recognize the fact that these are new responsibilities for you, however I would suggest that your staff is very capable, particularly if you brought this staff with you from the previous department. I have a lot of confidence in their abilities, for sure, and I think it is fair to say that my colleagues in my caucus do - I would like to just get some kind of feeling if you are knowledgeable about the waiting lists that are currently in place in housing?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, I am very knowledgeable of it. We have the statistics here of the waiting lists: how many people want to go into seniors' units, how many people are waiting to go into family units, the people who are non-elderly singles. We have the statistics on those. We have some pilot projects on the waiting list, as the honourable member knows, down in your area. We do provide rent supplements to people in areas where there are long waiting lists and there is a reduced amount of housing units, college towns, for example, and those sort of things.
One of the things we do recognize though is that while we have long waiting lists in some areas, we have vacancies in others. As I indicated to the honourable member for Dartmouth North, when we were talking about this earlier, people seem to choose to go in areas close to shopping centres. Some of the decisions that were made, where to put units some years ago aren't attractive to all the people so we have waiting lines, we have people waiting while we still have some units available. As I indicated to the honourable member sitting beside you, if those units were available and as people are available to go in them, we will have those fixed up and get them ready to go.
We are acutely aware of the waiting list and that is one of the reasons we are having such extensive discussions with the federal government, because we know the answer to those long waiting lists and we know the answer to go forward with more affordable housing for people in Nova Scotia is to bring the federal government along with a national program to develop it on a national basis.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, it is no secret there is a shortage of public housing units in the Province of Nova Scotia and I am interested to learn, what is your plan to deal with this shortage?
MR. CHRISTIE: I think, Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, for us to go into a program of substantially changing the amount of public housing units in this province, we are going to have to have the federal government involved with us. As I indicated before, our housing units are aging. We have to look at that, but we have to look at developing new areas and new types of housing and more housing. We recognize that and we need the federal government working with us - as do all the other provinces - to help to solve that problem. So we are going to be working with the federal government to try to bring in plans for that.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I believe my colleague for Cape Breton East - soon to be Glace Bay - talked about maintenance. I am not sure, but I think it was through a question he had for you in regard to Community Services. However, the previous government had a program, particularly a Winter Works Program, where people who exhausted their EI were eligible to be hired for a certain number of weeks, as many as 30 weeks, to provide maintenance to many of these units.
I will speak about Cape Breton because I am familiar with the Cape Breton area. I live there and I represent an area, so I am familiar that we have had plywood on the windows of units for months. In fact, there are a couple of units on the Northside that have been vacant for a couple of years now. There doesn't seem to be any money or effort put into the maintenance of these units, maintenance and of course repairs that are necessary that need to be carried out before the unit can be occupied.
So with the elimination of the Winter Works Program, this certainly, and I am not sure if your government eliminated this prior to doing any proper thinking on it but, in my opinion at least, it provided an avenue for the Housing Department to financially provide maintenance at a reasonable cost. As well, it would provide an opportunity for unemployed Nova Scotians who have exhausted their EI, to allow them to become eligible for training programs that you are selling every day here in this House, federal programs. Do you have a plan to bring back the Winter Works Program or a similar program that your government will name by itself?
MR. CHRISTIE: There are a number of questions there. The honourable member indicated that there are a number of units that he knows are vacant, and the question was do you have resources to have those repaired, and the answer is yes. Specifically, there might be some units that have particular problems that don't make them available to repair and have people move in, but if there are units and there are people that need them, yes we have the resources to do that.
The second part of that was the Winter Works Program and doing units through that. The honourable member is aware that the Winter Works Program was one program, HRDC had programs. We talked earlier this week about the job initiative programs, particularly in your area. There are some programs like that that will do these. However, the issue is, are there resources to get these units ready if people need them and the answer is, yes.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I know I represent Cape Breton The Lakes and I represent Cape Breton. However, there are a lot of areas in the province and Cumberland County is just one area that comes to mind. They have the same problem. So this plan that you have, you said you had the resources and the money to provide the necessary maintenance and repairs on housing units, particularly the ones that are empty at the moment. Is this right across the board and not just in Cape Breton?
MR. CHRISTIE: I guess the answer is, yes, that there is a cross, whether it happens to be in Cumberland County, whether it happens to be in Digby or Shelburne County or in Cape Breton. As I indicated, if you look at the statistics, you will see there are long waiting lists in some areas and there are vacant units in other areas. Some people, for a variety of reasons, choose to be in unit A and there are long waiting lists as opposed to going down the street. But as those units are needed, the answer is, yes, there are resources to get those units ready for people to go in all across the province.
MR. BOUDREAU: Will that process begin immediately, Mr. Minister?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, it is ongoing now.
MR. BOUDREAU: Good, Mr. Minister, thank you. I don't have a problem with that and I appreciate your standing and affirming to the House and all members of the House that these units that are empty will not be empty much longer. My next question, Mr. Chairman is, will the minister assure members of this House that all these units will be repaired this fiscal year?
MR. CHRISTIE: What I can assure the honourable member is that as the units are required, as there are people that need those units or people who want to go in those units, they will be ready for them so they can move in. If the honourable member is asking me if people will want to move into the units in Lockeport, I can't answer that. I don't know if there are people that will want to move back to Lockeport. But what I will indicate to the member, as there are vacant units and they are needed and there are people available to go in them, they will be ready.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, the minister, himself, indicated very clearly and he acknowledged the long waiting list for these units. I know in my area, when someone is offered a unit in a particular area, they have no choice. They either take that unit or they
come off the list. So, Mr. Chairman, through you, I want to ask this minister, very clearly, if these units will be repaired this fiscal year?
MR. CHRISTIE: If the honourable member wants to indicate specific units, I can answer him, as I indicated to him, as units are required. The honourable member indicated that there are long waiting lists. The honourable member knows that when people come up on that list, they can say, I want that unit or I choose not to and go back on the list. The honourable member is aware of cases of that happening, even in his area. But as I indicated, as those units are needed, if there are people to go in them, then we will have the resources in our budget and we will be preparing them to get ready as soon as we can.
MR. BOUDREAU: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for that reply. Could the minister, through you, Mr. Chairman, offer a breakdown of the waiting lists by program and from county to county?
MR. CHRISTIE: If you have a specific community, I can answer that question now. If you are asking me to give you a list of breakdown by programs by community, I can table that. I don't have it county by county. We keep our list by community.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, then I would ask the honourable minister if he would be kind enough to table that document, please?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, we will get that document and we will table that tomorrow.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, the people who are in the units, will there be any rental increases to these people?
MR. CHRISTIE: As the honourable member knows, Mr. Chairman, that is determined by the formula and the formula is a percentage of your income and so on. I guess I can't say. If the person's income goes up, there could be changes in it. So it is dependent on the formula. This isn't a certain rent we set as a department and then say we will increase the rent to this. It is based on a formula.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, through you, of course, I want to thank the minister for that reply. Would the good minister indicate to the House if there are any anticipated changes to the formula?
MR. CHRISTIE: No.
MR. BOUDREAU: Through you, Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the minister how often do inspectors inspect public housing units?
MR. CHRISTIE: I guess the question is, is there a standard where somebody goes in once a month or so and that differs for the different units and the different areas. If you are looking for a specific schedule and the times in various areas when people visit, I am happy to get that information for you and provide it.
MR. BOUDREAU: Are there any changes planned in the inspection process?
MR. CHRISTIE: No, the honourable member will know that last year there were a number of issues surrounding water in a lot of the houses in certain areas, particularly on the Eastern Shore and down in Cape Breton. So the inspections are carried out, not only on a schedule, but as needed to look at these particular issues. So apart from that, no. There is no anticipated change in the schedule.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, through you, I would like to also ask the minister about any fee increases or new fees or other increases, any increases which would cost clients in these housing programs more money?
MR. CHRISTIE: The answer is, no.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I can appreciate the short, direct and honest answer. I assume they are honest. I accept them as being honest. I appreciate the short answers from the minister. I want to go back a little bit to public housing, in particular senior citizens' housing. I know I am going to probably sound selfish when I say this, however, I have a couple of senior citizens' housing units in my constituency. They require many repairs. The residents of those units have been waiting a couple of years now, Mr. Minister, for repairs to be carried out, such as cracked windows or rugs that are worn out and should have been disposed of years ago, in hallways, that sort of thing, painting. Now I want to be clear so I can tell my residents, Mr. Minister, can they expect to have these repairs carried out this year. Is that correct?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member has asked a specific question on a building. What we are going through now is the approval of the budget and the various others. We have areas where we are considering - people are looking at the need for elevators in buildings. We have, as the honourable member indicated, areas where people are looking to get the outsides fixed, windows fixed. We have people who are looking to have painting done. Once we have the budget approved, once we have our budget in place, then we will develop those plans based on how we are going to put that into action.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I am getting concerned now over your reply. I think I asked before if you had the money available to do this necessary maintenance and you indicated yes. Now, when I asked you about the necessary repairs, you are indicating that you are compiling a list. Now, which is it? Are you compiling a list or are you in the process of documenting these necessary repairs so that they can be completed this year?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member who wants to make this clear, so, let's be clear. What I answered in the question he had asked me, do you have resources to get vacant units ready for people to live in - that was what we were talking about, was vacant units - and my answer to that question was yes. The next question we talked about is repairing other than vacant units, how we are going to deal with elevators, leaking windows, yards and lobbies and getting that ready. That is what I am suggesting to the honourable member, we are getting our priority list done as to those areas. I am sure the honourable member knows a number of members who have raised questions about elevators for facilities in Halifax, talked about them in Yarmouth and clearly, the honourable member for Dartmouth North has heard the discussions. There are a considerable number of things dealing with the buildings themselves. That is the list I am referring to, not vacant units.
MR. BOUDREAU: But will these repairs be carried out this year?
MR. CHRISTIE: That I can't answer. We will be looking at accumulating that list. We will be getting those ready. We will be doing as many as we can. At this point in time, until we have determined the full needs and the cost of those changes to units - like elevators, roof repairs, windows, crack filling, painting lobbies - until we have the full list of those, I can't answer that. We will have to, obviously, set priorities because you can't do everything all at once. We will do as much as we can.
MR. BOUDREAU: Could the honourable minister indicate how much money is in his budget for this particular item?
MR. CHRISTIE: The net of the budget is $13.4 million - obviously, that is with the federal recoveries coming in. The total expenditure is in the area - I will go back and we will talk about what the honourable member was asking me about the Housing Authorities.
Obviously, the Housing Authorities have a part to play in this, too, as to setting priorities. They will be part of the setting of priorities. But, the money in the budget - we have for our repair - we have the money in the budget, but part of it is grants to the Housing Authorities and other things, but it is in the relative range of $2 million to $3 million.
MR. BOUDREAU: I appreciate the answer, thank you. Have you got a zone where this money would be spent? For instance, are you grouping communities together or is it just wide open?
MR. CHRISTIE: Our budgets are based on the number of units that we have. So if you are asking me how many units does one area have as opposed to the other, we will look that up and get it for you. If your question is, are you going to spend all of your money in one area and not spend it across the province, the answer is no. Because, as I indicated, the Housing Authorities have their priorities and we will be working with the Housing Authorities. So, when you asked me the specific question as to is a particular building going
to have its front lobby painted and the carpet changed, my first option would be to go and look at the priority of that Housing Authority and see where it stands. They develop the list, we work with them and the money is spent across the province based on the number of units.
MR. BOUDREAU: There was a seniors' unit, actually it wasn't in my riding, it serves my riding. I don't want to get too personal here because it might look like I am trying to play politics here and I am not. But, there was a unit in the Florence area, on King Street in Florence, and that unit had a leaky roof for over a year. The effort of local Housing Authorities was enormous to try to get that leak fixed. However, it was impossible to get it fixed with tar. What they really needed was a budget to replace shingles on the roof. To my knowledge, and I checked over the weekend, that unit is now fixed as of April 1st, but I want assurance that the minister is taking these new responsibilities full on that this situation will never occur again in this province where seniors have to sleep with buckets alongside their bed.
MR. CHRISTIE: I can assure the honourable member we will be working with the Housing Authorities to make sure that we get those repairs done and make seniors and their facilities as comfortable as possible. How we will deal with that, what issues will come up in the future, I don't know, but what we will attempt to do with housing is to make seniors comfortable and have as much comfort in their units as possible.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I would like to ask the minister how much emergency funding is in your budget to deal with situations as I have just described?
MR. CHRISTIE: As I indicated to the honourable member, our budget net out is $13 million. Of that total, the federal government puts in money, but our total allowance for budget is about $86.3 million. That is to deal with the Housing Authorities, to help people with the Housing Authorities through federal subsidies and rents and as for totals, to deal with the subsidies for housing, to deal with all of the issues for housing. That is what I was indicating to the member, that we have to prioritize and so on. What we know is that when we get a situation that the member mentioned, a leaky roof, then we have to deal with it. We don't say, this is the amount of money because we know that we are going to have to make repairs as they become necessary. That is why I indicate to the member that the $86 million is part of our total budget to deal with all the issues around housing.
MR. BOUDREAU: So, again, Mr. Chairman, I will ask the minister - apparently there is no budgetary figure to deal with emergencies in public housing? Is that correct?
MR. CHRISTIE: There is no line item that says this is the amount we are going to spend on emergencies. We need to deal with emergencies that come up, so we will deal with all emergencies. Your question is, is there a line item that says this is as much as you have for emergencies and after that you spend no more? The answer is no. (Interruptions)
MR. BOUDREAU: Yes, you were doing well up until there, Mr. Minister. You were doing very well. How much do the feds put into this program?
MR. CHRISTIE: They put in $34.5 million.
MR. BOUDREAU: It is kind of hard. I am really baffled here. I am really surprised that you and your staff would not put a line in your budget to deal with some sort of emergency if it occurs within public housing. Mr. Minister, there are buildings hit with airplanes. They catch fire. They are hit with vehicles, automobiles. What are you going to do if a situation arises within this province after your budget is gone. You divvy up your budget to the communities or the regions; when that money is gone and an emergency occurs, you have no plan, Mr. Minister, and that concerns me. So, again, when you put your budget figures together, did you anticipate or consider emergency funding for public housing in this province?
MR. CHRISTIE: The answer is, yes, we did consider that. Based on the history of funding, we indicated our total budget. Your question was, do you have a specific item that says, this is the amount that you have in for emergency housing repairs and when that is gone, you don't do any more? I indicated the answer was no. Because as emergencies occur, we have to do them. It is the same as in Community Services. We have to provide assistance to people as they need it. We don't know at the start of the year how many people will need it. But what we do know, is that as people come and to meet their needs, we have to provide those funds. The same thing as I am saying to you here under the emergency repairs. If a roof blows off or if there is a fire, then we have to meet that challenge, regardless of what we might have in the budget line item.
MR. BOUDREAU: Does your department, Mr. Minister, have any plans to construct new public units in this province?
MR. CHRISTIE: At this point in time, as I indicated to the member, we have been talking with the federal government to get the housing requirements that we need in this province to replace the aging housing. We clearly have to work with the other provinces and the federal government to do that.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, again, I am a little concerned by that reply because it seems to me, and we see it in Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Affairs with the UNSM right now. It appears to me that you are waiting for the federal government to come, provide a plan and money and you will go put it to work. So my question is clear, Mr. Minister, do you have a proposal that you are presenting to the federal government to deal with this issue?
MR. CHRISTIE: Yes, we do.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, would the good minister be kind enough to table the plan?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, as part of the discussion that the Ministers of Housing have been having, what our request has been, along with members of other provinces, is to have the Central Mortgage and Housing come back into the housing business, come back into the subsidy system, come back into that. That is what we have been suggesting to them. That is the plan that we propose to them. It is not only us, it is other provinces across the country, to have them come back into the system.
Another area that we have been talking about is the northern and rural housing programs that they used to have, to come back in. Clearly, we have to have a debate as to what part the provinces pay and what part the federal government is going to pay. But the direct proposal we have made to them is the program to have Central Mortgage and Housing come back into the subsidized housing market.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister. At this time, we will ask the member for Cape Breton The Lakes to excuse us. The Committee will recess for one half hour and reconvene at the hour of 6:30 p.m. The member for Cape Breton The Lakes will have 18 minutes left in his turn.
[6:00 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:30 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good evening. I would like to call the committee back to order.
The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes with 18 minutes left in his turn.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, welcome back, Mr. Minister. We have 18 minutes. I am sure we can get through 18 minutes in one piece. When we broke, you indicated that you were meeting with federal officials. I was inquiring about your proposal that you are providing to the federal government. You indicated that you, along with other ministers, are working together as a group and you have approached the federal government and you are in a negotiation process. Could you indicate if they are Atlantic Provinces ministers that you are working with or are they all the Canadian ministers? Who are your partners, I guess is the best way to put it, Mr. Minister?
MR. CHRISTIE: The people that have been attending the housing conferences are all the Ministers of Housing, along with the territories. That obviously includes the people from the Atlantic region. Not only that, but the deputy ministers and officials are attending. So in the interim, the way the housing conference structure works is that you have the ministers at meetings and they instruct the officials to have meetings in the meantime to take
forward the provinces' positions to work with the federal deputies and the federal officials so that provincial officials and deputies work with them to develop the framework. So it is not only going on while the ministers are there, they are having interim meetings with the deputies and officials.
There have been a number of those. Last September, the federal ministers met. The deputies and officials have met on two or three occasions and we are trying to work towards the affordable housing and, as I indicated, from our point of view, the affordable housing thrust is through Central Mortgage and Housing, making more subsidized housing. One of the issues the federal government has indicated is they want a 50/50 cost-sharing on housing initiatives, which clearly makes the provinces and the federal government partners in this. We are progressing quite diligently under those terms of reference.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, to the minister, are your prepared to put the 50 per cent up?
MR. CHRISTIE: What we have indicated to the federal government is if there are programs available for affordable housing that will enable the province to improve its aging housing stock, to make it more affordable for people across the province, that we will do our best to meet that challenge. Clearly, before we can make that commitment, and obviously before the federal government can make that commitment, the terms of reference have to be worked out and that is what we are working on diligently.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I was feeling good about these questions I had for this minister earlier, but now I am under the understanding that you really have no plan. You only have a proposal that you have joined in with the other provinces in negotiating, so you are not directly negotiating the deal with the specific problems within the Province of Nova Scotia, which I really do believe is your responsibility. What we are interested in in this province, in Nova Scotia, are the issues for Nova Scotians. So, Mr. Minister, I learned in the last few minutes that you really don't have any plan and you have no money. So with no money, I guess that is why you didn't develop a plan.
So what I want to ask you, Mr. Minister, if this suggestion that you are making to the federal government is not acceptable, then what do you do next?
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member, we have made a commitment as a province to work with the other provinces and territories and the federal government to be part of a national initiative. As the honourable member will know, there is a national initiative on housing, on homelessness. The federal government announced an initiative for that and required the province to come in. We signed on to that and we are spending money in that area. As we look towards our plan, we see the federal government developing a national plan, a national plan for affordability. So we clearly see that as quite a plan.
I would indicate to the honourable member that if we had had the same discussion on the National Child Agenda a couple of years ago, we would have said, well, there is no plan, there is nothing ready. That has moved on to the stage where now that is implemented and moving forward. Clearly, as the honourable member knows, to be part of a national plan has a great significant ramification. So we don't want to say, let's step outside the national plan and not be a part of that. We want to be part of the national plan. Now, if the national plan doesn't go forward, the honourable member will know that Minister Gagliano announced back last September that the federal government was going to get back into the affordable housing game. What he indicated is that he wanted the provinces and the territories and the federal government to find ways to implement that plan. So I have to take him at his word that the federal government is planning to move forward on that and we want to be part of that plan and work with them.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, that is fine. That sounds very reasonable. But, again, this minister, this government, this province does not have a plan of its own to deal with the housing issues facing Nova Scotians today. So, therefore, what you are doing is joining into a plan that somebody else is proposing. As a member of the Opposition, and I think it is fair to say all members of the Opposition, for courtesy, if nothing else, we should have access to this plan so that we can review it and either recognize it as a good plan or a bad plan. We can't judge this plan unless we see what the plan is. Again, I will ask the minister, are you prepared to table that plan or proposal in this House?
MR. CHRISTIE: I think we should get something clear. The honourable member is saying there is no plan. As I have indicated to the honourable member, this province will spend $86 million on maintaining, getting housing ready and keeping housing maintained through co-operatives and through public housing for people within this province. That clearly is the plan. The question we were discussing is what is the plan for new housing initiatives, for new housing types, for affordable housing types? The honourable member said, will you put forward the plan. What I am prepared to do is table the comments of Minister Gagliano that said he wants the federal government and the provinces to work together to develop terms of reference to be able to take this forward.
Those are the directives that we are working under. Those are the directives our officials are working under to try to bring together the details so that there will be a detailed plan for members of this House and members of the stakeholders in the housing area to work with. But if it is Honourable Alfonso Gagliano's letter to us that the honourable member would like to see, I am certainly happy to table that.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I would appreciate the letter being tabled. However, again, I don't want to jockey over this plan. You either have a plan or you don't have a plan. If the minister can't table a plan in this House, then I would suggest that the only plan he has is another body's plan that he is prepared to join with and support and move forward with. So that is what I would suggest. That is what I am understanding from this
minister. The minister indicated he has $86 million for repairs to public housing units in this province for maintenance. How much was last year's budget?
MR. CHRISTIE: The number last year was $86 million and the number this year is $86 million. Just to clarify, the honourable member indicated that I said $86 million for repairs. What I did say was that it was $86 million to maintain, to work with the housing units and to do the repairs that come along. We have to maintain the housing, we have to work with the Housing Authorities and we have to keep the housing maintained. So the direct answer to your question is, the $86 million last year is the $86 million again this year. As part of the plan, you referred to no plan, the business plan that we put forward is our plan for housing this year and that is contained in the document that was tabled with us as we introduced the budget. So, that is the plan that we have for this year.
MR. BOUDREAU: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, $86 million last year, $86 million this year. I fail to see where the improvement is. I am trying to be fair because I know the minister has just assumed these new responsibilities, however, it is a clear indication to me that there is no improvement within the Department of Housing, in particular public housing. There is no improvement, there is no benefit. Now you are saying you have a plan again. Before you didn't have a plan, now you have a plan again. Well, the plan is in the estimates. The plan that I read in the estimates is basically the budget for housing. It is broken down into different components. However, I fail to find any line where it says there is funding allotted for new units. New units that will deal with the issue. When I leave my apartment in the morning I see people sleeping on the streets. They are the people that I am concerned about. What plan do you have or are you preparing to deal with the homeless situation in this province?
MR. CHRISTIE: There are two parts to the question. The question was, what are you doing to deal with homelessness? As I indicated earlier, the federal minister indicated initiatives to be taken in certain areas of the province, and in certain areas of the country. You will recall that the federal minister announced 13 areas where the federal government, and across Canada, was going to put money in for homelessness. Halifax was one of those areas. The honourable member will also know that we went back to the federal government and said the Sydney area should be included as part of that. What they said to us is that you have to put in provincial dollars to do that. We have agreed to do that and we are working with the federal government, we are putting dollars in. The initiative that was announced by the federal government was for $305 million across the country. From our prospective, we will be putting in up to $300,000 for Halifax and Sydney and additional monies as those plans.
The honourable member will know that when the federal government announced it, they said it have to be for non-profit, non-government agencies that developed those plans. So, we have to work in conjunction with groups outside government to develop those plans. That is where we are working. You will know that there have been announcements in Halifax
around Phoenix House - they have put in a plan. In the Cape Breton area, people will be developing a plan. The federal government has said, as part of that program, it can't be the province that comes up with it, it has to be a non-governmental group.
MR. BOUDREAU: Again, Mr. Chairman, I am not going to argue about this plan. It is obvious, and the minister is very clear, that this is an initiative of the federal government so I am not going to ask about the plan any more, because it is obvious to me that you don't have a plan. I heard it from every minister that I have questioned in estimates. There is no plan. That government is rudderless.
I would like to ask this honourable minister how many homeless shelters he has visited since assuming the responsibilities of housing for this province?
MR. CHRISTIE: The answer is two.
MR. BOUDREAU: I appreciate the minister replying to me and I recognize that the minister at least took time to go visit. My next question is how many homeless shelters exist in Nova Scotia?
MR. CHRISTIE: I can think of four, for the definite answer, I will get that information and table it. Your question is, how many do we fund or how many are there in the province that are supported by either government or non-profit agencies? I will get that information. I know government supports four, but your question is broader than that. I will get you that information.
MR. BOUDREAU: Does the minister plan on visiting more of these shelters?
MR. CHRISTIE: Not only do I plan to visit those, I plan to visit the other women's centres and the transitional homes as part of this process over the next number of months.
MR. BOUDREAU: Would the minister agree that consultation with the homeless is vital to dealing with this issue? Will the minister agree to create some sort of consultation process with the homeless in this province?
MR. CHRISTIE: We already have that, as I indicated, as part of a federal government process. You have to have the federal government with non-governmental agencies working with the provincial government so we have those committees and people in place.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes, you have 30 seconds.
MR. BOUDREAU: In fact, I am a little concerned and being the Housing Critic, I am concerned because the minister comes from one of the richest parts of Nova Scotia, in Bedford. I am not familiar with Bedford, I know the honourable minister is because he was the former mayor, but I would suggest there are not many social housing units in Bedford.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I would like to thank the member for Cape Breton The Lakes.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Chairman, I know there are only approximately six minutes left in this four hour debate that is going to take place, so I am going to be very brief because I am going to allow the minister to do a wrap-up today as well. I believe that will conclude our time. I just want the minister to recognize that there are significant changes within his Department of Community Services, that there are significant changes with respect to Bill No. 62, which is the Employment Support and Income Support Act. There are also significant changes with respect to regulations on how the Department of Community Services will function and how it will mete out the programs and services of those people who are under its umbrella in the Province of Nova Scotia.
I also want the minister to be aware that he has assured this House that from time to time his department will have reports to evaluate and assess the performance of this new one-tier Community Services across this province. I do want to thank the minister with respect to the resources, the data and the technology available within his department to keep him up to speed with those significant changes. I also want to remind the minister that if there is a particular danger that people are going to be slipping through the cracks because of the changes with respect to the regulations of Community Services, then I would hope that the minister and his department will quickly address that particular issue. I don't want to see what occurred in Ontario and I don't want to see what occurred in Alberta with respect to people on social assistance.
I don't want anyone to stand here and believe that the trickle-down effect wipes out poverty because it doesn't, because in the Province of Alberta to this very day - a province that doesn't have a provincial income tax rate has people who are on social assistance, has people who in fact are relying on food banks. There are some 49 food banks as we speak today in the Province of Alberta, a province that is extremely rich and wealthy and was, back when Ralph Klein first got elected, shoving the individuals out of that province.
We know the message of "go home" and we know the message "send easterners back to the east." You know, that kind of message, Mr. Minister. So I hope that that doesn't happen, and I certainly hope that it doesn't happen in the Province of Ontario because it hasn't proven to be a success; actually it is costing the Province of Ontario significantly more because of the kind of problems it has created by shoving people off the welfare roll. I hope,
Mr. Minister, that this is not the kind of action that these new regulations and new direction the Department of Community Services is moving towards.
I want to thank you, Mr. Minister, and the members from your department for being here today. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to make sure that no Nova Scotian slips through the cracks because of the kind of programs that we institute within government. I want to make that perfectly clear. So with that, Mr. Minister, I will cede the floor to you and allow you the opportunity to wrap up.
MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Chairman, I do thank the honourable members for the debate and the suggestions that we had today. In closing remarks, I would like to indicate - as the member for Dartmouth North indicated what he hopes the goals are - our goals, as we put this budget forward, are to provide people with the ability to make themselves self-sufficient. I will repeat that we have talked about people with disabilities and while we expect that people will want to participate to the extent that they are able, we will ensure that there is long-term support for those who cannot find work.
We have to give and we have to provide for the early years for children's development and how that affects their ability to learn, and we will provide for that. The care and protection of children is our highest priority. We will do this through partnerships with the federal government and community groups and we are working with the Department of Health, as we indicated, through the mental health announcement.
With that being said, Mr. Chairman, I would like to move Resolution E2.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to thank the minister.
Shall Resolution E2 stand?
The resolution stands.
[6:54 p.m. The committee adjourned.]