HALIFAX, MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2003
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. William Dooks
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I'd like to call the committee on estimates for the Department of Health to order. Madam Minister, we'll wait for your staff to take their seats. I'm just going to notify the Liberal caucus that the member for Cape Breton Nova was speaking last evening and he still has 19 minutes remaining in turn.
Excuse me, Madam Minister, are you ready or do you want to wait for your staff? Thank you. The minister is very interested in hearing what you have to say, so we're going to allow you to start your time now. The member for Cape Breton Nova has the floor directing the question to the minister.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Chairman, I don't want to be distracted by what we just heard from the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley. I don't think I am a scoundrel and whether my point of order was taken by the Speaker or not before he left the Chair, I want to insist, sir, that I am not a scoundrel, nor, I think, are any of the honourable members of this House.
Now, I am asked to speak on the Health estimates for 19 minutes, so I'd better get to it. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a nurse, I'm not a chiropractor or any other health care professional. I guess I'm what you would call a layperson, but that doesn't mean that I don't know the health care system. I've had some personal experience with it, but I don't want to get into that. Thank God, those days are behind me - at least I hope they are.
But I have had considerable experience with the health care system as an MLA for over 30 years because the way my practice developed - I didn't plan it this way in advance, it just happened - I found that there were three kinds of people that commonly approached me: There were those who said, I can't get my workers' compensation - what can you do to help me? Then there were those who said, I can't get my Canada Pension Disability Benefits - what can you do to help me? Thirdly, there were those who said, I can't get my workers' compensation benefits or my Canada Pension Disability Benefits - what can you do to help me?
When you work that kind of a situation, you gradually gain a certain amount of expertise, knowledge, into the health care conditions, the injuries, the occupational diseases, the non-occupational diseases, but nonetheless disabilities that people suffer from. Because if, as an advocate, you take on representing such people in their appeals for the benefits that they've been denied, you have to be able to present a reasoned argument on behalf of your client. You have to know about bone breakage, or skull injuries, or pneumoconiosis, or foot injuries, or what happens to you if you suddenly get immersed into a vat of acid; you learn those things as you work through the cases. When you first begin, you may not be that successful, but you gradually begin, and if you're going to do this kind of stuff at all, you might as well learn to do it well; therefore, you gain a certain amount of knowledge.
I've been told by Peter Smith, who is the Commissioner of the Canada Pension Review Tribunal, whom I've known personally for many years because I met him at St. F.X. many years ago and we've kept in touch ever since, that I give as good a level of representation as any elected representative anywhere in Canada on Canada Pension disability cases. I've taken cases not just to the review tribunals, but also to the Pension Appeals Board and won a fair number of them before the Pension Appeals Board, which is run like a court of law and you have to call the people my Lord, or my Lady, my Lord - Mr. Chairman, I mean.
I've done all that kind of work and you get to know a fair amount about what's troubling the people in the course of your work. Indeed, even my enemies have depicted me as a person who mainly works on Workers' Compensation and Canada Pension cases. I have here a letter to the editor from the Cape Breton Post, April 11th, by John Murphy of Sydney who criticizes me at great length, concluding with, "I think it's time for the old war horse to go to pasture." - I'll table this - and he also criticizes the Paul MacEwan "school of political espionage", which is one of the best schools going and he should know that. This fellow is so plugged into the NDP, although he calls himself a Liberal, that he has minute-by-minute knowledge of the NDP candidate's whereabouts and call tell you that at 2:24 p.m. he was here, but at 2:26 p.m. he was there, yes.
And this critic of mine, under the heading, Espionage Falls Short, states that Cape Breton Nova needs more than an MLA who fills out Canada Pension applications, Workers' Compensation forms, and so forth - I'll table that - John Murphy of Sydney, who calls
himself a Liberal, but as I say is so plugged into the NDP he knows minute-by-minute where the NDP candidate is located, and accounted for the fact that he attended a meeting for 20 minutes and then took a rain check to go somewhere else to campaign, but he knew exactly the minute he came and the minute he left. That kind of person is an NDP-er in my view, and in the view of the Paul MacEwan school of political espionage.
Let's get back to the estimates on Health. You learn a fair bit from working Workers' Compensation and Canada Pension appeals about the sufferings that people go through, the responses of the hospitals, the responses of the medical profession, the feelings of the nurses and all those others who are involved. I think you get a grasp over the course of 32 years of their basic feelings; besides, these people will talk to you. For some reason, they think that because I'm an MLA, that makes me important and I have some sort of decision-making power over all this stuff - well perhaps I did, when my Party was in power, to a greater extent than I do today, but yes, it's true I can raise issues of concern in this committee or the House and report on things that I've been told by what I consider to be qualified witnesses, experts perhaps in the field. I've gotten to know a good number of doctors, I've gotten to know a good number of health care professionals - I've even gotten to know one doctor, Dr. Ivar Mendez who has two doctorates, an M.D. and a PhD. Both, yes.
He was especially impressed with my knowledge of the history of Bolivia. He had never run into a person around here who knew where Bolivia was.
AN HON. MEMBER: We were supposed to go down to Bolivia with him.
MR. MACEWAN: I told him I have a colleague who sat in the House with me, right behind you, who was born and brought up in Bolivia; for that reason I had some knowledge of the place, yes.
But I'm not trying to give you a list of the doctors that I know, I'm just trying to form an overview of their concerns. Yes, there is ongoing concern about the welfare of our health care delivery system. There's no question about that, by those who work in it and by those who are served by it. I pointed out before that one-quarter of our provincial budget goes into Health. There's no other department that you can say that of - not debt reduction, for sure. Not Education, not Transportation, not Community Services, not any of the rest of them, not even the budget of the Office of the Speaker, although I was in charge of that myself for three and a half years.
So, if it's a quarter of all tax dollars spent and the biggest department, it must therefore be the number one concern of any government, and not just the Tory Government. Polls that have been taken very recently, only known to those who are in the Paul MacEwan school of espionage, that will identify health care as the number one issue of concern among the public when people are phoned and asked: What do you think is the most important concern to the provincial Government of Nova Scotia? The majority replied, the greatest
number replied, health care. Number two is education, and number three is roads. We will hear about roads at 6:00 p.m. I didn't win the late show debate today, but I was asked by the winner if I would take it for him, and so at 6:00 p.m. you can hear me again on roads.
Now with health care such an important concern, it stands to reason that the government must be judged by how it has performed on this vital test. It's just like on a report card at school, there are compulsory subjects and there are non-compulsory, and if you made 49 in music, well you can still get through, but if you made 49 in whatever compulsory subjects they have nowadays - when I went to school it was four or five or six, and nowadays I'm not sure it is - if there are such things as compulsory subjects, you have to pass them if you're going to pass, and the government's report card is just about due. It will be put to the test on election day and subject number one, the most important subject of all, is health care. What have you done on health care?
AN HON. MEMBER: They failed.
MR. MACEWAN: Oh, I know they failed because they said they would close the steel plant at Sydney and save all kinds of money by doing that, and with these extra dollars they were going to pump them into additional health care facilities - beds, beds, b-e-d-s, that's how you spell it. Have they done it? I think the statistics show that the number of beds in Nova Scotia today is a bit less than when they took over as government in 1999. Now, Dr. Smith knows more about this than I do, is that so? Well, he thinks so, I see the head going up and down and not that way.
AN HON. MEMBER: Did I hear you say something about the steel plant should be kept open?
MR. MACEWAN: Oh, you've heard me say that not once, but many times, our government kept the steel plant open; our government kept the steel plant running to the day we left office. That's a matter of historical fact, and when the Tories came to power on the slogan "we shall close the steel plant", lo and behold, they did. That's also a matter of historical record, and I think the people of the Sydney area will vote on that on election day because they have been disenfranchised, and I think that has something to do, Mr. Chairman, with the fact that the Tory Party in Nova Scotia is the weakest in industrial Cape Breton - and in Cape Breton South, in Cape Breton Nova, in Cape Breton Centre, and in Glace Bay, in those four ridings, only those four, the Tory candidates who run will all lose their deposits.
It doesn't matter to the minister over there, the member for Truro-Bible Hill, but the Tory candidates who run against me or the candidate I'm sponsoring and runs against the member for Cape Breton South, the member for Glace Bay, and the member for Cape Breton Centre, they will all lose their deposits. It doesn't matter who they are. If they bring out Dr. Einstein - and I'm not referring to Epstein - or if they bring out General - well I don't know who, some general in the Army, it doesn't matter, they could bring out John F. Kennedy, I
suppose, and they still wouldn't be able to save their deposits because they're running on the wrong ticket - the Tory ticket.
Why is the Tory ticket wrong? Because the Tories closed the steel plant, that's why it's wrong, among other things. They did many other things, but they did close the steel plant, and they put hundreds of people out of work directly, thousands indirectly, and provided nothing to replace it.
AN HON. MEMBER: That's not true.
MR. MACEWAN: All right, it's not true, they provided call centres at the minimum wage, or slightly above the minimum wage, to replace the steel plant. That's true, that's true. (Interruption) What do you want to hear about Cecil? Cecil is on the other side of the harbour.
AN HON. MEMBER: I know, but how do you explain his election?
MR. MACEWAN: I can't explain it. That's the whole point, I can't.
Now, getting back to where I was, Mr. Chairman, the fact is that their record has come to haunt them in a way that candidate recruitment in those four ridings, it's just a non-issue. They will put names on the ballot, yes, to satisfy the need for 52 candidates, but they have no hope whatsoever of electing them. Also they have no hope of electing anybody in Cape Breton West. Their candidate there may come second rather than third. In South, Nova, Centre, and Glace Bay, the Tory candidate will come third. The battle will be between the NDP and the Liberals. That's the way it is in those four seats.
AN HON. MEMBER: What's going to happen in Glace Bay?
MR. MACEWAN: In Glace Bay you will see Dave Wilson re-elected with a record majority and you will see "catman" doing very poorly; he will meow when it's all through. (Interruptions) Now, let me not get distracted by that honourable member who is always trying to get me off the right path and into trouble.
The fact is, Mr. Chairman, that the government has a great deal to answer for. I probably don't have much time left, but I want to say this, that the $155 payment won't cut it when you're trying to get over the four years of silence and neglect that we've had from this government - these who came to power promising all things to all people and delivering nothing except to the steelworker to whom they delivered loss of employment.
Mr. Chairman, how much time do I have left? I'm just starting to get warmed up and I don't want to develop a new theme if I have no time to get into it. How much time do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have four and a half minutes left.
MR. MACEWAN: I have four and a half minutes, fair ball, all right. Well, Mr. Chairman, I think that I may have said the basic drift of what I have to say on the Health estimates. If you want to hear more, read my weekly column in the New Waterford Community Press or other such effusions that I offer here and there because I've never been known to be particularly silent. I'm not going to criticize them for good things that they have done, although I have just said they have done nothing. Where those good things can be found, I will not criticize or chastise them for that, but I do say, once again, that the dollars they said they would save by closing the steel plant in Sydney have not translated into increased hospital beds and, if I'm wrong, as I said yesterday, show me where I'm wrong, correct me, chastise me, you know, I might make a good target for some flagellation if that's what they want to do. But we hear generally their standard treatment of silence, and if they don't argue with you that means we've got to be right. Where I come from, you can't be wrong if there's nothing to say back.
I want to compliment the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley because he had the good sense to stand up and express his disagreement with things that I had said last night - more power to him, but where are the rest of them? I would urge them to follow the leadership of the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley if they want to get re-elected, because it helps a lot if you can show your constituents where you stood up in the Legislature and defended your point of view. I trust I won't be guilty of not having done that, Mr. Chairman, even though I don't plan to run in this next election, but you never know about beyond that. Anyway, enough for today, I understand there are other speakers wanting to speak on these very important estimates.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth East with three minutes in turn, or we will address that at that time.
DR. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Chairman, I don't intend to take a lot of the committee's time, but I thought it was fitting on behalf of our caucus that we should make some closing comments on this most important exercise as part of the budget, the review of the estimates for the Department of Health. We consider this, along with Education, to be the most significant estimates within the budget and we have shown this by addressing issues from one end of this province to the other. We've tried to have all of our members speak at one time or another on various issues relative to health relating to their communities and bringing them to the floor here where the minister, along with her staff, is accountable for the actions of her ministry and the government.
We've addressed issues relative to the budget and this year particularly it has concerned us that budgeting process and the accountability of the department and particularly the enhanced monies that are coming in from the federal government into that department and where it's showing up in the budget. It has been very, very difficult to find, but we pleaded that the minister would ensure, and not compromise her staff and put them in a position of signing off on these matters, that money is in the right place because we know that if money is not in the right place, then the Criminal Code has names for that and people can be held accountable.
There have been several announcements at different times. For instance, the early childhood development monies, the program was totally that of the federal government, $66 million was announced two or three times, and that's the politics and the nature that we're in and I understand that, but a lot of our members were pretty upset and still remain upset about the card that the minister circulated in Halifax Citadel relative to closing Sysco and opening beds, particularly in this area.
I think you have to make decisions like that as a politician, whether you're going to allow the people around you to do that. That was obviously a recommendation made, and I assume the candidate at that time, the minister, agreed with that and she would know what she was doing, that she's pitting one poorer part of the province against - what is often seen to be, and I think the statistics would confirm that the HRM, containing 40 per cent of the population of the province, is reasonably well off, particularly even relative to central Canada - this area, and to prey on those fears and those differences, and our caucus is not prepared to forgive the minister for that. I only hope that the smart person who thought of that is not in the campaign, that the minister would not do that again, because I think as a minister she has responsibilities to all Nova Scotians and I hope there has been a lesson learned there.
Some of our members did feel the move to bring that up during these estimates and that's another way of holding the minister accountable, not only for the programs, or the funding for those programs, but also the way in which this government conducts business because I think when issues like this diminish the level of functioning of all politicians, then all politicians suffer for that and it just gives the cynics, whether within the media or within the community in general, another reason to say well that's politicians, that's okay. I don't think that type of behaviour is acceptable.
The federal government has been very generous in the last while, and I envy the minister. When I had the opportunity to be a Minister of Health, it didn't go quite so smoothly. There were cutbacks and they continued to impact on our government particularly. I think our Premier, Russell MacLellan, particularly felt that after the time he had spent in Ottawa he may have a little of what he considered to be fair treatment. That was not forthcoming for the government at that time and I think he always felt disappointed and let down by the federal government that cutbacks were happening.
You have to do some things, Mr. Chairman, that you would rather not do and also the other thing is you're unable to do things that you would do if the funds were coming with more liquidity. So I guess the whole issue is that this government has probably received over $500 million extra - very similar to the amount that we in our Health Investment Fund. We were struggling, trying to figure out a way to fund for the need, how to have a plan for those information systems, coordination of primary care programs, long-term care, home care, independent living programs, those types, how you put that together and that was the way that we saw it.
We thought it was an honest proposal, but obviously both the then-Third Party and the Official Opposition saw fit to bring down the government. We stand by that; if we had to do it again, yes, we would do it again, but I just hope that other people in this Legislature don't have to serve in a minority government again. I think that was the worst experience of my political life to be involved in a minority government depending on if you did the good things, you weren't allowed to do it and any actions at all pretty well were criticized. So we were compromised and it's probably just as well that the government fell after a year because I think it gave, at least the government, a clear mandate to eventually be held accountable for the actions.
Mr. Chairman, could I know how much time I have left or what's the mechanism that we shall proceed?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, member, earlier I was going to cut you off and you only had three minutes left in turn, but the NDP caucus are finished with their questions to the Minister of Health, so by right you're allowed in turn one hour.
DR. SMITH: I shan't take that long, Mr. Chairman, but I will just take a few minutes because I want to summarize some of the activities.
There were some matters, speaking relative to the federal government, the open letter that the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union wrote to this minister and I will just read it into the record. This is signed by Ian Johnson and this is following the First Ministers' meeting, or just prior to it - I think this was following it. This is a letter to the Minister of Health, the Honourable Jane Purves:
"Furthermore, we are disappointed with your apparent inaction on the key concerns that we raised with you in our letter of February 3 and during the joint media conference that was held on that day. We asked you to take a strong position at the First Ministers' meeting to help protect and enhance Medicare by pushing for the full implementation of the Romanow Commission Report, for federal funding to increase to 25% of public health care spending, for full accountability and transparency for health care spending and for public funding to be invested in the delivery of non-profit
health care services. If you did so, this certainly did not seem to have been mentioned by you since the First Ministers' Meeting or to have been reported by the media."
I will just conclude this letter, "We are looking forward to hearing from your meeting of March 20th and to seek your explanation of apparent silence on the issues that we raised with you. As indicated recently, with a 12-hour waiting time for some patients at QE II Emergency Department, we believe public health care remains in critical condition as a result of the Accord and the budget." So this goes on and on, Mr. Chairman, and it's signed by Ian Johnson for Rick Clarke, Joan Jessome, and the list goes on. I imagine that has been tabled, but could I retain a copy, please?
Mr. Chairman, overall if you look back over the term of this government, and the election now will be the first one for the mandate the government has received, there's no question that this government has destabilized the health care system in Nova Scotia. They had an opportunity to carry on with the four health regions. They decided to move into nine district health authorities, to leave the IWK-Grace free-standing, and I think that was strategically a poor move. I don't think that was proper, but that seemed to be a commitment that was made to the hospital boards in a bit of a trade-off. They didn't quite get their hospital boards back, but they got something that they thought might be closer to home.
The district health authorities, and we haven't gone over them during the estimates, I briefly want to say if you compare the forecast of this year - which are really the most up-to-date figures we have - to the estimates and you go down the list of District Health Authority 1, the total budget increase, and we hear about 7 per cent across the board, if you compare the forecast to the estimates, the South Shore area will receive 2.8 per cent; the South West Nova District, 3.3 per cent; the Valley will receive 4.8 per cent; Colchester East Hants, 15 per cent; the Cumberland district, 6 per cent; Pictou County, 0.2 per cent; the Guysborough Antigonish-Strait, 5.4 per cent; the Cape Breton District Health Authority, 4.7 per cent and the Capital region, 0.9 per cent.
So when we question the accountability of all this and how this will spin out in the times ahead, there was certainly some concern that 7 per cent in District 1 wasn't there relative to what they spent. So if this is the up-to-date accounting at this juncture, how they can survive on these types of even less than 1 per cent in some areas, that's a concern that we have. We will probably come back to that on another day, but I just wanted to highlight that we just think there's a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge going on here, and just be a little quiet and let us get through this election and then we will take care of you - like they did last time in picking up the deficits of the hospitals and the district health authorities.
So, primary care, we haven't really been satisfied that we found the $17 million matching dollars that are out there, but I don't want to dwell on that. The access to acute care, I am personally concerned - and this didn't come up - that our cardiac surgeons are
travelling to Winnipeg and I know that Dr. John Sullivan was a little upset I think with my comments - and I haven't had a chance to speak to John, but I will and I will be happy to do that. I have concerns when a physician operates on a patient here in this city and then flies to another city and is absent for I don't know how long, I don't think that is good care. I think what we're having, we have our own wait times. There is a crisis in Winnipeg in cardiac surgery, but we have now physicians travelling back and forth and will be absent. It's like going into Sheet Harbour and isolated communities, doctors going in and doing surgery and then travelling out and driving miles and being hours away from that patient. There's something about the responsibility of a physician to their patients, particularly surgeons, that they're not passing that care over to someone else, that they're familiar with what happened when that chest is open in that heart patient. I am concerned.
I am also concerned that we have wait times here in this province that need to be addressed. We have the best team of cardiologists, cardiac service in the country - there's no question about that, that's been proven in studies. The point being that it takes a while to build a team and it takes that team to be functioning on a regular basis with the same players to be functional. I'm really concerned that we are not offering the space to clear up the wait lists. That's the issue here. We have work to be done in Nova Scotia and I think while it's nice to help Winnipeg, I hope we don't see any further across the board and we get our own house in order, because there are still people suffering and occasionally dying on that cardiac wait list. It's still there - it hasn't gone away. With summer coming and the O.R. closures and nursing staff off, that puts an added burden, so I think we have to be really careful on moving into that.
The liver program is still a major issue. I think to have a university program - university plays a part in this. This is why I was concerned, relative to the relationship when the deputy minister, I tried to support him in his initiative to have an open and accountable medical school system, but I think the whole role of the university and retaining and recruiting specialists is extremely important here, and it's a dual appointment, we know that. So I think that whole relationship is extremely important, but to have a program like the liver transplant program not be up and functioning in a medical centre here in this province is not acceptable. I think it shows that the infrastructure supported by this government in concert with the academic community and the tertiary care hospital has deteriorated and had lots of time to be built up, and unless there's some movement shortly, I really have concerns about the ongoing program.
There was one issue, one comment that the minister made that maybe if she chooses to speak at the end of this, she might make some comments on. There was a Canadian Press release on February 4th and they were speaking about the federal push to 24 hour/7 day primary health care service. There's a quote here and I've never heard this discussed anywhere, but the current Health Minister was quoted as saying,"'We'd like to have 24/7
coverage in terms of clinics, but obviously we don't want to pay doctors to be playing tiddlywinks at 3:00 a.m.', said Nova Scotia Health Minister Jane Purves, who attended on behalf of Premier John Hamm."
I worked in that system a little bit for a few years and maybe the Health Minister can explain to the physicians, if not to the physicians at least to the people of Nova Scotia, what problem she's got with some inactivity of physicians at 3:00 a.m. Does she want them to set up trailers outside like they did at Yarmouth so they can have a different fee structure or be paid differently, leave the premises, come back later, all that sort of thing? Is that what she means, that she is not prepared to pay adequate salaries? I'm not quite sure where that came from. I guess that's why we wanted to hold the minister accountable for some of her comments. She tends to get kind of flippant sometimes in her comments, which is dangerous I think for a Health Minister and I don't know what that meant. I'd like the minister to explain to the committee what that meant.
There was a comment made - I'm jumping ahead a little bit and maybe I should because I don't want to take too much of the committee's time - when I asked about the 79 per cent cut in adult protection that there was a reallocation, and I didn't pursue that as to what the reallocation meant, so maybe that could be addressed.
Mental health is one that I've - particularly as a family doctor - always supported. The importance of having teams that work together - particularly where psychiatrists are available to support family doctors. I think a lot of this work in this particular mental health field in the community can be done by good family doctors who are interested in mental health, but they need that early assessment, they need that quick assessment from a psychiatrist. It doesn't have to be a full, extensive assessment, perhaps sometimes, but at least it has to be a quick assessment of some guidance - not for all patients, but certainly for some. Also, back into the system, if the family doctor has access to a psychiatrist, not that the psychiatrist has to treat everyone with mental health challenges, we know that can be done by social workers and nurses, and even lay workers and in parenting programs and other initiatives that really often falls within the mental health program.
But the minister has informed the House that in this province we are in need of 12 to 15 psychiatrists. I'm going to tell you, that is an extreme challenge. There's been something not working in the recruitment and retention obviously in this program and it has not improved of late. We don't have very many Dr. Naqvis that can go out and recruit. The answers that people get sometimes when they're inquiring into this or trying to get through the system is really problematic, because we're still getting complaints about what they're being told and what's available and that sort of thing.
I think for her to address the mental health and the recruitment issue of professional staff - we're talking about building facilities, there's residential care here, and Community Services is involved with secure treatment, and then we have the centre down by the railroad
station and the bus stop and the boat ramp - so anybody that's running can get away in a hurry, I guess - it'll be a centre down there.
I complimented the government that they brought in standards, but until I see the human resource plan that's going to support the various initiatives whether it's a centre down by the harbour or the residential care or other areas - and those who are homeless - that the money seems to have been lost in the whole counting and the accountability process, then we have real concerns. If you're a psychiatrist which is but one part of the health care team in mental health, we need 12 or 15 of those to make any sort of an integrated, comprehensive program in mental health, then we've got some major issues. I guess from this side of the House we want to say we'd like to see more of what that plan looks like. Standards are great - where's the human resources support for that?
The relationship with Community Services still remains a problem in this province with the Department of Health. We continually hear people with children who are out of control who are being seen by people in Community Services. There was an issue when I was there, I tried to address it, I probably failed as much as any other minister, and for anybody to say it's any different now is deceiving either themselves or someone else. People are coming to us still saying, we're getting promised this by Community Services, this is going to be done and everything's so great, and then you talk to them later and they couldn't really deliver the service. That service, that care-giving is in the Department of Health and they're not going to honour what Community Services has done.
I just wish the minister well. It's a major initiative. You have to try to address it, Madam Minister. All of us have grappled with this and it's still a problem. To admit that it isn't is just further blaming the people for not hearing right or having their demands too great and the needs of those families not being recognized either by the Department of Community Services or Health - where they're just shuffled back and forth.
Long-term care. I think it was embarrassing in many ways to be a Nova Scotian for a period of time last winter and last year and then the following where the residents of the residential facilities were being removed from their homes under the watch of the fire marshal. I don't want to particularly go through that again, but I think that has been a black eye. Our concern, as we look through all of that and you look at what has happened there and what continues to happen, is that there tends to be a trend with disabled persons, with our seniors and others, to put people in larger compounds, to put them in larger facilities.
The people that I met in the Bridgewater community, in Cookville particularly, these were good people, and they had taken their parents out of some of the larger urban settings in nursing homes because they were unsafe. Bad things were happening to them. They weren't receiving, in their opinion, whether they were right or wrong, adequate care and they were concerned about fire because they were on a second floor where they knew they
wouldn't get the people out if a fire started. They had sprinklers, or whatever and all that, that didn't satisfy many of the people that I spoke with.
So I think the whole deinstitutionalization and in the smaller options, I'm really concerned that there's not a commitment of this government to follow that community-based, independent living, the options away from larger and I couldn't help but think that in Lunenburg County, in particular, and Colchester and all the other areas that this was happening, where the fire marshal was coming in and moving people out, obviously in conjunction with the Department of Health, that there wasn't some move to break down the smaller units and have people go into larger facilities. It's not easy sometimes. It takes many more resources often. It's certainly no cheaper, but it is quality of life and I think that's the commitment.
I did speak about the adult protection issue. That's what I intended to bring in at this juncture, but the independent living program needs to be done under very difficult financial circumstances. We brought in 10 areas of managed independent living. That has not been expanded throughout the province and I think there's one vacancy now in that program.
So there are two other issues that I in closing would address. Health Promotion. I think this has been so far a very dangerous situation that the Department of Health has hived off with very little resources where we've seen budgets transferred. We've seen $250,000 added to a smoking program, but we have Health Promotion and a strategy that we're promised, that we certainly will be watching.
We are very uncomfortable with it moving out away from the Department of Health into an area that so far we've just seen numbers and public relations exercises and glossy photographs and those types of warm and fuzzy things. Forty per cent of chronic illnesses are preventable and that's what various studies have indicated. So we're looking for that. So health promotion is more than sport and recreation, although that's an integral part of the program. I think we have to see more and I think health promotion should be an integral part of the Department of Health and I think when it moves out, then the dollars have to flow and there has to be a commitment of the government.
I noticed that the minister commented on SARS. I think I will close with that. I think there are some interesting developments on that. I did want to compliment Acadia University for doing what they were criticized for. I would like to just stand up for them. I think what they did was right. We have Health Canada and other agencies advising people not to travel to certain areas - to Hong Kong and some of the southern provinces of China - and yet people coming back from that area come back into the communities. The idea that someone is telling people that unless someone has a symptom they're not contagious, is probably not correct medically and I'm surprised because that sort of thing - don't worry about it, you will know if somebody has symptoms - just doesn't apply to most any other illness of an
infectious nature that I ever saw and I don't think that it applies to SARS either. It's not over yet.
I think what it has done, I think it showed that our public health system has been slowly weakened over the past while. Perhaps we were part of that as well and, if so, it certainly is nothing that I actively was involved in, but I was part of the government over a period of time. So if there's been a trend over awhile, then I think it's more than time that we look at the public health system.
I think the transfer of the person with SARS from one hospital to another in a Toronto setting was a great misfortune that that took place, but I think again the danger here would be that we think we can solve it by our health care system, is what I'm saying I guess, that it's okay, we will let these cases evolve, we will let them happen and when they happen, we will act and we will either have a big pill for this superbug or we will be able to isolate them and put them on ventilators and somehow the doctors and the nurses and all those people are going to save these people. Well, that's not what's happening around the world and this isn't over yet and this is a public health issue.
I think for the criticism, I just want to say that I think that Kelvin Ogilvie, President Ogilvie and others at that institution did the right thing. They had people coming back. These are not just Chinese people coming into Canada. These were exchange students who were coming back to various universities and they were criticized for that, but I thought that under those circumstances they did the right thing and I would just ask the minister that she keep an open mind on this and just not be part of the disinformation that people would like to have us believe. There's still a feeling that if you get sick, your health care system will somehow pull you out of it and there's a pill. We saw the anthrax stuff, Cipro, and all that and so somewhere there's a magic pill.
It's great to have faith in the health care system, but the public health issues are still basic and every time we think we're getting highfalutin and sophisticated in our health care, along comes nature with a little superbug and the idea that somebody can get patterns of the genes and all that stuff, that's a long way from a cure. We've seen that with cystic fibrosis and all the other issues. Identification of a gene, it makes good evening news, but it's a long way from dealing with the issue and a lot of these are just community public health, common sense issues, but it needs leadership and it needs direction and you need to have information that's correct and not be part of the disinformation system.
So I thank the minister for her co-operation. I know we've taken perhaps a little longer than we intended, but I think this is a real important issue, along with Education, and one I'm sure the minister herself will be listening to as well because some of the initiatives that she had there will be addressed during estimates and I thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, before I read the resolutions, I would like to make a few closing comments if I could.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Madam Minister, it's not time for your closing comments. I still have one question from the NDP.
The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Mr. Chairman, yesterday I asked the minister to table a number of documents and my question to the minister is simply, is that material ready to be tabled and, if not, when will it be ready?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I recognize the Minister of Health, maybe an answer to that question and then your finishing comments.
MISS PURVES: Mr. Chairman, yes, the answers will be over this afternoon and will be tabled this afternoon.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank the honourable members for their questions and I would like to say how much I particularly enjoyed hearing the comments, as all members do, of the member for Cape Breton Nova. The member for Dartmouth East raised a number of issues, some of which I would like to address here, in his comments. One of them was about the percentage increases to the district health authorities and I would like to point out that the 7 per cent increases that we have given the districts were for the non-staff costs and one of the reasons that the member isn't seeing 7 per cent in each of the lines is because not all the salary costs are in there yet because some of the salaries are not yet negotiated.
I would also like to point out that the adult protection budget has not been cut. What we did was separate programs from operations and $650,000 in legal costs was moved from that page to the continuing care operations page which is Page 12.31 in the main Estimates Book.
There are just a few things I would like to say about health care in general and one of them is that, yes, it is a huge budget. It is an amount of money that many of us, including myself, cannot really comprehend a lot of the time, more than $2 billion. So I understand why members opposite spend the amount of time they do on the money that goes into health care, but this government does have health care as its priority, the same priority that all Nova Scotians, or most Nova Scotians say they have, as well as the priority most Canadians say they have and this is one of the reasons why we have, since we have come to office, put approximately $400 million more into health care than was there when we came in. This operating money was not borrowed, but it came out of our operating funds.
We will continue, and all governments will have to continue, to put more money every year into health care and that is a reality of the aging population, new treatments, new drugs, increasing demand, and that is simply a reality. There is no fix because the demand is not going to slow down. All we can do, as governments of whatever stripe, is to try to have reasonable increases and to have a sustainable system so that we continue to have publicly-funded Medicare which is something that we all want and care about very much.
The other thing that I would like to say is I understand that when the member for Dartmouth East was in this office, there were different things going on at the federal level. Even with so-called good times and money from Ottawa, it is not easy to meet the demands that people put on the health care system. So I can only imagine what it was like in a time when Ottawa was cutting back funding.
My suggestion is that we could all take a lesson and I have something here I will table, but I would like to read a bit from it. It was full-page ads put in the national newspapers at the time of the First Ministers' Conference and it was an ad encouraging all governments, now that Romanow and Kirby had made their reports, for the federal government within two years to pay at least 25 per cent of the mandated costs for health care under the Canada Health Act, with an escalator clause, and this document was signed by a number of prominent Canadians from all political Parties.
The federal government did not do that, they came somewhere close, but the only way that we're going to achieve what we need in Canada is through all political Parties continuing to press for a sustainable amount of money to go into the health care system. If I could table this document, I would say that it's something that all Canadians must keep the pressure up on.
Mr. Chairman, a few other small things, the member for Dartmouth East mentioned SARS. There is no disinformation campaign going on here in Nova Scotia. I think he would know that public health officials have been planning for some time on how they would deal with a pandemic and this plan has had to be slightly adapted for SARS. At this point we have no cases or suspected cases. That, of course, does not mean that we will not have them and I absolutely agree with the Health Critic for the Liberal Party that there is no magic pill that is going to solve our problems and there is no magic pill that is going to prevent a superbug from doing a great deal of damage to human beings in Canada and the world. All we can do is plan and use our best resources to make sure that these things do the least harm. That being said, I would like to again thank members opposite for the comments.
Resolution E19 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $756,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall the resolutions stand?
The resolutions stand.
The honourable Acting Government House Leader.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, would you please call Resolution E3.
Resolution E3 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $980,241,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Education, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, first of all, I want to say that I appreciate the opportunity to open the estimates debate for the Department of Education. Before I get involved in the specifics of the plan for the year, I would like to take a few moments to thank the staff of the Department of Education. In a note to staff two weeks ago, I acknowledged that since coming to the department, I've been very impressed with all of their good work and their solid, ongoing commitment to the students of this province.
Staff have significantly contributed to improvements in the education system. They are working closely with our education partners, including teachers, students, parents, school boards, the post-secondary education sector and others, and included in with others, of course, is industry and those involved in training outside of the government structure, or government-related structures. Staff are helping to ensure that students, both young and old, have access to quality education which is our ultimate goal. I want to thank all the staff for their good work and wish them continued success as we head into a new fiscal year together.
Mr. Chairman, as demonstrated in the 2003-04 budget, our government continues to make education a priority. The budget will allow us to build on the many successes to date. On Budget Day media asked me what was new in the department's budget this year and I'm pleased to stand here today and to tell the committee. The Department of Education's budget is increasing by $55 million this fiscal year, an increase of 5 per cent. It means that the budgets for all the school boards will increase at a time when enrolment is declining. Significant investments have also been made in post-secondary education and in skills and learning.
Mr. Chairman, the Department of Education takes its role as an educator very seriously. We remain committed to help all of our children to succeed in school. Helping our children in their early years to learn the basics, to learn reading, writing and mathematics, is critical if we are to appropriately equip them with the skills and education they need to enjoy a rewarding and fulfilling life here in Nova Scotia. The department is strategically organized in the first grades, Primary to Grade 12, to post-secondary, to skills and learning, to ensure we successfully achieve our mission which is to provide excellence in education and training for personal fulfillment and for a productive, prosperous society.
As stated in this year's business plan, the Department of Education is working to develop an environment where education and training are valued, achievement is celebrated and learners are provided with opportunities and tools for rewarding and successful learning experiences.
Accountability to students, parents, schools, taxpayers and others remains a priority for us as we continue on our way to provide all Nova Scotians equal access to lifelong learning opportunities. As I said, we have to start at the beginning of a child's life if we are to help them reach their full potential. We have a plan, Mr. Chairman, and the plan is called Learning for Life. It is our guide to enable all children to succeed in school, to reach their full potential.
Mr. Chairman, we can't do this job alone. We will continue to work with parents, teachers, students, school boards and others to ensure we are giving our children the support that they need to do well. I am pleased to say that more than $5 million will be invested this year as part of the Learning for Life plan. There are new additional targeted dollars to help children do better in school. The monies we are investing this year will help children with special needs, support smaller class sizes for our youngest students, hire more resource teachers, and support student assessments and evaluations. Supporting our students in reading, writing and mathematics will continue to be a priority.
Here are some of the highlights. The department will continue to support school boards and schools in implementing the Math Matters strategy. It will include giving teachers who are trained to be school-based math leaders more time to help others teach the new curriculum. Our children will get the help they need in math. We will continue to work with teachers to help students do better over time. Mr. Chairman, we are disappointed in the results that we reported in our second annual Minister's Report to Parents. We know, from recent student assessments, that more work is needed to help our children to achieve in mathematics, English and reading. We have a plan to help to advance our children's progress, a plan we will continue to implement with the assistance of teachers and others.
Establishing smaller class sizes is another initiative for this year. We expect about 75 teachers to be hired as part of our $2.5 million investment to reduce class sizes in 2003-04. That means Primary students will be in classes no greater than 25 this year. Smaller class sizes will allow teachers to spend more time with more students. By 2004, Primary and Grade 1 students will be in classes of no more than 25, and by 2005, we will expand this initiative to children in Grade 2.
An important element in our Learning for Life plan is success for all students. In response, we are making an investment of $1 million this year to support at least one pilot project in each of the school boards. It's all part of our plan to have at least 24 pilot projects for 2005, to help identify effective ways to increase support for children with special needs. We expect 15 more teachers to be hired as part of this initiative. We will also consult with parents and teachers.
Fifty thousand dollars will go towards providing professional development and resources to assist students with assistive technology; $800,000 will be spent to hire about 20 more resource teachers, speech language pathologists and other professionals to help students with special needs. We also expect to hire 17 more teachers to help Grade 1 students improve their reading through reading recovery.
Mr. Chairman, that's 127 new teachers in our public school system. Many of these teachers will be a direct benefit to children with special needs. In addition, we will continue to roll out our Time to Learn Strategy, to ensure that children spend more class time learning the basics. The Active Young Readers, Jeunes lecteurs actifs, will continue to give teachers the resources and support they need to help students improve their reading. Spelling will be a key focus in 2003-04.
Mr. Chairman, as you can see, there is an increased emphasis this year on our efforts to help children with special needs. Just last week I met with the people who have been working hard with our staff in Student Services to see how we could best implement Nova Scotia's special education policy. We know that there is a great deal to do to respond to the diverse needs of students. We are committed to get the job done, working with parents and others. We are investing more targeted funds for students with special needs funding, which has increased from $40.8 million in 1998-99 to $48.5 million in 2003-04.
Our Learning for Life initiatives and ongoing input from parents, teachers and others will help guide us along the way to more effectively meeting the needs of students with special needs. Before I continue, I do hope that members of the committee have noticed one of the consistent themes of our highlights I've just outlined, that theme is the value we place on involving our teachers in our work. We are very fortunate to have some of the finest teachers in the country working right here in Nova Scotia, working closely with them is critical if we are to continue to improve our children's education.
Teachers, Mr. Chairman, are the reality check we need to help our children succeed. Teachers need to be directly involved in student assessments, marking tests, developing new curricula and other student-focused initiatives. They are the ones who are in the classrooms, they are the experts. It would be irresponsible of us not to work closely with teachers in this capacity. It would be a disservice to our children. The department's working relationship with teachers would seem rational for most people but, from time to time, it seems that some members of the House continue to have something to say about the expenses that we pay for these teachers, such as accommodations and meal costs when they come to work with us. I am sure, upon reflection, that members would agree that we do need the involvement of teachers. I do hope that my brief explanation today will help to address their concerns and put the issue to rest once and for all.
Mr. Chairman, keeping parents informed and involved is another key component of our plan to help our students. This year there will be an increase of $300,000 for student assessments and evaluations. The increase will help to support Grade 12 math and Grade 6 literacy assessments this year. A Minister's Report to Parents will be released in 2004 to show how our students are progressing. For the first time, individual test results will be available for Grade 6 students in the area of literacy. The results will be used to identify students who need more support. Work will also continue on the production of a new standard report card to parents, to ensure parents have a good, solid understanding of their child's achievement. There will be consultations with pilot schools, parents and other partners to evaluate the new report cards and reporting system.
We are also investing more than $430,000 in French language students. Never before has there been such a substantial provincial investment. Providing a safe and healthy environment for our students to learn in is another priority for us. About $62 million is being invested to build eight new schools. We are also investing more than $18 million in timely renovations and additions. Between 2000 and 2003, this government has invested more than $200 million in building new schools and renovating existing schools. We are working hard with our schools, our boards and parents to ensure the most urgent capital needs are met.
Mr. Chairman, there are more than 460 public schools across this province. The capital expense is significant and one we do not take lightly. We have introduced a new capital program to maintain our schools. It's a multi-year approach that enables us to maximize available capital dollars. There is a renewed focus on maintaining our schools to avoid having to spend excessive tax dollars on building new schools. We are taking a responsible approach. The Auditor General, in his recent report, noted that there is a backlog in deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed. We agree and are working responsibly with taxpayers' money to ensure that the department, along with the school boards, can address the situation in a timely manner.
As I said earlier, the Department of Education supports lifelong learning. Significant investments are made in our public schools, but also in post-secondary education. I was pleased to meet with our student leaders late last month to tell them about our investment in post-secondary education. More than $11 million will bring debt relief for students and help universities to keep tuition increases to a minimum. Our new $5.1 million student debt reduction program is designed to help the greatest number of students with the resources we have, and as our resources grow, so will the program and so will support for students.
Our priority is to help students who have high debt, that's why we are targeting our resources to the 9,500 students who have Nova Scotia student loans and study in Canada. We're rewarding these students for successfully completing their programs. We also want them to contribute their knowledge and skills to our economy by staying to work in the province. We want them to pay back their loans in a timely fashion. Every seat in our universities and community colleges is subsidized by the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. We've invested in our students' education, and we want them to be successful. When they are, we will reward them by eliminating up to 40 per cent of their debt.
The extra $6 million for university operating funds is from the 2003 fiscal year. It will become part of the universities' base funding in 2004-05. In addition, this government recognizes the financial pressures universities are facing, including rising salaries, fuel costs and deferred maintenance. In response, we will be discussing multi-year funding agreements with university presidents to help them to better address these issues. Last year we made changes so students pursuing a post-secondary education will get more money for books through their student loans. Students can also keep more of their earnings while studying.
As you can see by our actions to date, this government is indeed committed to supporting post-secondary education students. Part of that commitment is to ensure we educate and train students in the skills they need to succeed. We're very excited to announce that we are investing $123 million in the Nova Scotia Community College. It is government's single-largest investment. It will bring an additional 2,500 students into Nova Scotia Community College classrooms, an increase of 25 per cent. In the college, at its rural and metro campuses, more than 90 per cent of the Nova Scotia Community College students remain and work in Nova Scotia. The expansion means a new metro campus and major renovation upgrades to 13 other campuses across the province.
A series of announcements has taken place to outline the specifics of the overall plan and how more students province-wide will be able to access the education and training they want and need close to home. Government's investment in the Nova Scotia Community College is part of the overall Skills Nova Scotia initiative. Skills and Learning involves training and skills upgrading, from basic literacy to the use of the most sophisticated technologies. This year, we are investing an additional $1.5 million to train and educate Nova Scotians to do the jobs that they want to do. An investment of $350,000 in the Strategic Initiatives Fund will create opportunities for Skills and Learning to partner with industry,
business and sector counsels on new initiatives. It will offer the opportunity to invest in training, facilitation and coordination of initiatives and assist businesses in competing locally and growing Nova Scotia's economy.
An increase of $700,000 for the Nova Scotia School for Adult Learning will address a wait list of more than 700 people. It will expand learning opportunities in rural areas and provide alternative options for adults to earn high school diplomas. Money will also be invested to promote and develop Skills Nova Scotia, to support initiatives that directly tie skills to economic development and prosperity. An increase in the labour market development activities will significantly increase the department's ability to partner with business, labour and industry to address the skills and learning needs of the workforce in a way that positively impacts competitiveness and productivity.
More Nova Scotians will also get better trades training through improvements in the provincial Apprenticeship Program. The improvements will make the apprenticeship system accessible to more people, including youth. They will be able to complete their training in a more timely manner, and they will get better training through greater industry involvement in course design. Everyone will get an essential skills assessment when they enter the program. Those who need to upgrade literacy and numeracy skills will get that support before they pursue trades training.
Mr. Chairman, I am confident that the path we are following in Primary to Grade 12, post-secondary, and Skills and Learning will lead our students to a successful and prosperous future here in Nova Scotia. I began my comments acknowledging and thanking the hard-working staff of the Department of Education. In closing, I would like to acknowledge our partners in Education, and there are many. Staff meet monthly with representatives of the school boards to ensure we are all heading in the right direction and doing the best job we can for our students. Teachers, as I mentioned previously, are an integral part of our planning process. Parents continue to challenge us, a challenge we welcome. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to work not only with these partners but many others, including universities, colleges and the labour, business and industry sector.
Providing a quality education is a shared responsibility. We all must continue to work together in the best interests of our children, their future and the future of this province. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the members of the committee for their attention during these introductory remarks, and I look forward to the discussions relative to the estimates.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will now proceed with questions on the estimates, beginning with the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the next hour and a number of following hours on issues of concern to Nova Scotians. I also welcome members of his staff here with him today. As I am sure the minister knows, I hear from many teachers from across this province on concerns with regard to education, and I am going to bring some of them forward. I also hear from parents, particularly when it comes to some issues of curriculum. So I'm looking forward to a healthy exchange of ideas.
I am aware of the fact, I know I'm expected to ask coffee questions, perhaps we will leave that to another time and another day, but I do want you to know that if you believe that coffee should be supplied at all meetings from now on, invite me to the meetings because otherwise I believe we put our loonie in the jar so that we can have that shared. Let's get that one out of the way.
Let's talk on an issue of real concern to me and that, of course, is the building of schools. Let's talk about buildings first, though. I would like you to clarify, if you could for me, how you possibly get in and out of the Trade Mart Building. Secondly, are there plans for any kind of continuing renovations to that maze? Furthermore - I know I have a couple here together, if you wouldn't mind - is there a lease for the current building, and who is it with? I get confused, let alone getting a conducted tour to get into a particular conference room, but never leave me on my own trying to get out because there's that classic hit, I don't know from what year, "He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston", and it has nothing to do with my favourite hockey team. I would consider that if there's any possibility to look at continuing renovations, that the Trade Mart Building, in my view, is a disaster when it comes to floor plans. The question was, are there renovations in place, is there a lease and who's the lease with?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for the question. When I first arrived there, I thought it was a scheme to get the minister physically fit because I climbed four flights of stairs in order to gain access to my office and, indeed, that's good for me physically, but it's not what you would call easy access. There is easier access and I appreciate the comments of the honourable member with respect to the layout. The difficulty with the layout is that the building is not a square building, it is not rectangular, it is not even triangular, but it is more like a polygon of some kind. I'm not sure how many sides there are to it, but I do know that I had to follow the jelly beans to find my way around for the first few days and still I manage to stop every once in awhile to make sure that I have my bearings.
All of the money that is spent with respect to renovations in the building are spent by the owner of the building, that's Halifax Developments Ltd., and that is the group that the lease is with. The expiry of the lease will be in August 2004. I don't know if there were other questions that you had relative to that or not, but if there are, I will gladly deal with them.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Perhaps this should be clarified for me, but I'm under the impression that the Atlantic Shopping Centres Ltd. was involved in a lease. I was particularly interested in how much the lease was. I think it's of some concern, and I refer to this book on numerous occasions, but perhaps you could clarify for me in the Supplement to the Public Accounts, that we refer to numerous times in this House, on Page 45 there is a line item, Atlantic Shopping Centres Ltd., $24,498.60. Can you clarify for me this particular line item on Page 45 of the Supplement to the Public Accounts?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would the member care to clarify that figure?
MR. ESTABROOKS: It's on Page 45 of the Supplement to the Public Accounts, Atlantic Shopping Centres Ltd., $24,498.60.
MR. MACISAAC: I thank the honourable member for the question. We did find it, it's Atlantic Shopping Centres Ltd.. It's my understanding, I'm not sure who is the parent firm, but the Halifax Shopping Centre and Atlantic Shopping Centres are the same people, same companies, is that correct? (Interruption) Halifax Developments, I'm sorry. That sum of money was for parking, rental and maintenance and it's spread over various divisions of the department. I believe you also inquired as to the amount of the lease?
MR. ESTABROOKS: Yes.
MR. MACISAAC: Yes, it's slightly over $1 million a year.
MR. ESTABROOKS: So we are paying $1 million a year for a building that you can't find your way in and out of, that has been a legendary problem for many, many years. Do you consider that when the lease is up and if you're currently in that position, or this could happen, if I'm the Minister of Education, would you recommend that in the next year when the lease is up that that lease be renewed?
MR. MACISAAC: It takes quite some time, of course, to prepare for a change of this magnitude. The normal process is to call for proposals, but before we can call for proposals, we have to do the planning that's required. That planning is currently underway and we're calling the proposal next month, that is in May. We will be calling for proposals to find new or improved facilities, depending upon the proposals that come in.
So, yes, we are planning for the end of the lease and, in answer to the second question, I can say that we are making a call for proposals. We, of course, would have to evaluate those proposals as they come in and make our decision on that basis. I'm going to do my utmost to make sure that I'm the person who makes that final decision, Mr. Chairman.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I want to return to this $24,498.60 that's listed on Page 45. I would like to have it clarified for me, that I heard the word parking in that amount, and who exactly is that covering the parking of, when it comes to that amount of money, $24,498.60 to the Atlantic Shopping Centres Ltd.?
MR. MACISAAC: Thank you, I was waiting for the red light to come on. It usually means stop, but here it means go. There are five locations just outside the building, parking locations that are reserved for visitors to the building, and there are a number of other locations that are reserved for some employees of the department. The specifics of that I would have to get, I will get them and table them for you.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, thank you for that opportunity to return for questions. I'm talking about buildings and, of course, I made my comments about the Trade Mart Building and the lease. However, I want to turn to another building and I want this out of the way. Of course, Hansard knows that I will be asking for it. It's at 3:59 p.m. on this day of April 11th. Sir John A. Macdonald students and staff have endured split shifts at two different schools to the community of Bedford, but more particularly to the community of Sackville High. I offer thanks. The Premier says we can expect further school announcements. I was there that day with the member for Sackville-Beaver Bank at the Hammonds Plains School. However, the school steering committee from Sir John A. Macdonald has expressed some frustrations and, in fact, I want to pass on to the Education
Minister, they've expressed some distrust with regard to the project at our local high school.
Education Department officials are now telling the members of this committee that they should be talking about compromise, about a different schedule for additions and renovations to that overcrowded school. I can tell you this community is not prepared to compromise, not under any circumstances are they prepared to compromise. I would like to give you the opportunity today, Mr. Minister, to reassure the community, the growing community that is served by Sir John A. Macdonald High School, that there will be no delays, there will be no deferred decisions and the Sir John A. project will proceed on schedule, as was originally agreed to by the member for Halifax Citadel.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I want to remind members of the committee that with respect to that project there were unforeseen cost overruns. That, of course, impacts on the cash flow that is available from one timeframe to another. Therein lies the challenge that faces the department as well as the school advisory committee, in terms of addressing the needs of the school and meeting the commitment that was made to that school. That commitment will be met.
The department will, in the very near future, be responding to the advisory committee that they met with, with respect to how those commitments will be achieved. I can assure the honourable member and members of the committee that they will be achieved as expeditiously as possible and that the commitment that was made to the community will, in fact, be met.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I want the minister to know that the deputy minister, who is sitting to his left, attended an overflow crowd, we should say, a number of years ago - time flies when we're having fun, Mr. Cochrane. At that time there were tough decisions in the community. The decisions revolved around the fact that Sir John A. would endure an environmental remediation process. Out of the environmental remediation process, it would mean that we would have to attend schools in other communities. You're well aware of that, I know, but the agreement was that there was to be a schedule for improvements. I know that when the community met with me and expressed to me, as the MLA, and the member for Chester-St. Margaret's was in this particular meeting situation too, we were made aware of the fact of the importance of a gymnasium. Now this isn't the old jock talking, this is a teacher who's concerned about delivering programs.
The delivery process was to be based upon curriculum, that the school gymnasium was crucial in the schedule of renovating that high school. Fifteen new classrooms, a new entry way, the gymnasium, those were part of the originally agreed to schedule. We agreed to that schedule, because as a growing community we could not offer the services that were necessary to offer the public school program to our students. When the community asked my opinion, I was firmly of the belief that we needed a new high school.
However, the committee decided, in its wisdom, and I agree with them now as I agreed with them publicly before, we will live with the decision, however the concern comes down to the fact that we're expecting the gymnasium to have begun this Spring, we're expecting the classrooms to begin this Fall. There was an agreed to schedule. I'm aware of the fact that there is a schedule that you now have in your department, officials have. But the one that we agreed to originally, and I say we in the community sense, that's the schedule we want to be maintained, in terms of a new gymnasium, 15 new classrooms, new entryways to the schools. We have the budget overruns because of the environmental cleanup, but I'm talking about the renovations and additions to this overcrowded school that has three portables in back of it, you've heard me go on and on about this.
We have to have some trust restored, the trust restored between your officials, Mr. Minister, and the community that I represent and the community that the member for Chester-St. Margaret's represents. I can tell you at community meetings, you and your department officials are getting trashed. The word is distrust. So reassure us about that schedule, if you would.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member. I appreciate very much the involvement of the honourable member and the honourable member for Chester-St. Margaret's with respect to this project. I know that my colleague, the former minister, would also want me to express our appreciation for the very constructive attitude demonstrated by not only the members involved, but by the entire community relative to this project.
The department officials met very recently with the committee, and they undertook to go back and look at the issues that are raised, the issues that flow out of the cost overrun, relative to meeting the commitments made to the project. They will be responding in the very near future with respect to the issues that were raised at that meeting. I would love to be able to provide the specifics of that response at this moment, but it does involve the need to reassess money relative to meeting the objectives that were made. The honourable member can appreciate that cost overruns are in fact cost overruns, and that means you don't all of a sudden have quite as much money as you had previously.
That problem does not in any way diminish the commitment that was made relative to the project. The department will be responding to the committee in the very near future with respect to that.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, we've gone from the Trade Mart to Sir John A. and those are the priorities for this, however I have some other comments that I want to bring to your attention at this time, particularly when it comes to curriculum development. I don't want to use up my hour pointing out the fact that curriculum development in this province, from my experience in the classroom, is hit-and-miss at best. I would like to know - and this is a rhetorical question, it's not a question - the number of times we have reinvented the wheel with the subject of mathematics.
Math Matters is a program which we are currently going through. Teachers are trying to get up to speed. I want the minister to know that I had the opportunity this Sunday to play an old-timer hockey game. In the old-timer hockey game, playing against me was one of my ex-students, so you know how old I am as compared to this young man. He teaches junior high, Grade 8 math, the year from hell, excuse the expression, Mr. Chairman, I will take that comment back. That's what teachers call that Grade 8 class. He has 70 outcomes. If you're not a teacher, you're going, he has what? He has 70 outcomes to match by the end of the year. Of course, he's trying to get up to speed with the delivery of this particular curriculum.
I can tell you I've heard about holistic education. I've heard about the fact we weren't allowed to correct their spellings. I've heard about the experts who come from the United States and say this is how we do it now. If I ever get another curriculum expert who, when my daughter was in Grade 1, I got into a conflict with and said, don't give me a teacher who cannot correct my daughter's spelling - oh, we let them express themselves, this is the
holistic way of teaching children. Some good old-fashioned teachers said get that woman out of here.
Now, I'm talking about the curriculum person at the time, who will remain nameless, because the people who are in the classroom are saying, what are they talking about, let them express themselves. We don't care whether they can spell or if they know sentence structure, just let them express themselves. If any teacher at the time, Mr. Minister, said anything, we had to buy the Party line, oh, this is the way we're going and parents were saying, no way, correct my kid's spelling, but holistic education, that was the way to go.
So you will know that there are parents and teachers whom, on many occasions, look at curriculum development and say, that's somebody who works in the Trade Mart Building and is hiding from the reality of being a classroom teacher and has been in the senate - it's called that on occasion - for far too long. When was the last time they taught Grade 8 math day in, day out? Grade 8 math, last period on Friday afternoon, and you're talking some of these outcomes.
I want to turn to a specific example that has been brought to my attention by an elementary school in my community. I would like to, if I could, table this with the minister. Hello, Mr. Minister, it's nice to see you're back. This is a November 25th letter - if you could take that over to the minister, it would be appropriate, please - from Ann Blackwood who is the director and it is about the Primary and Grade 1 science program that is now underway. I know that the minister, on occasion - and I'm sure there are people in the Trade Mart Building who get a little upset with me because I'm grandstanding and bringing concerns forward with regard to education. I want to go over this because I can't mention the teachers' names, and I know the members of the Liberal caucus understand this, too, because they don't want their names brought up. I can't bring the name of the school up, but I went to their school and had an afternoon meeting with them after dismissal.
I want you to know, Mr. Minister, the principal and the vice-principal weren't present - how they knew I was coming is another matter, but they were not present - and we reviewed the science program and how some of these materials arrived unannounced. I'm sure Miss Blackwood is probably still very upset with how it was handled, but we looked at the fact that there was, in that particular school, a complete set of scales that arrived - wonderful little devices, wonderful little creative plastic devices - but that particular school already had a whole class set of them. However - and if the chairman rules this out of order I will have to take it for what it's worth, I know I'm not allowed props, this is not a textbook, this is a piece of wood - 64 pieces of this wood arrived.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, I will remind the member that it is a prop and I will ask you to table it.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I will table this piece of wood, it's refined, it's sanded, it's showing shape, but 64 pieces of this arrived unannounced in an elementary school. I got a call from the principal who said, Bill, bring a camera, you will never believe it, we've received firewood. Now this, of course, is softwood, however the concern I have is, in the midst of this science program, which company provided this particular teaching tool to one of the elementary schools in my community?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I don't have that information with me at the moment. We will be glad to obtain it and let the honourable member know.
MR. ESTABROOKS: You see, my question revolves around the fact of which company is providing - if I said textbooks, I'm sure you could tell me, if I said it was Gage, then you would be able to say that's the company that supplying the science materials. I fully agree, science materials have to be scales and science materials have to be bug magnifiers, it has to be those sorts of items. But my concern is, what company, who is the curriculum driver of this particular project? Which company has the contract to provide the materials for the Primary and Grade 1 science program for this province?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I can tell the honourable member that we will find the answer to his question and provide it to him. Just so that members would appreciate the reason why we can't provide an answer immediately, we spend upwards of $8 million annually on resources of this nature, and for us to be able to pull that out - that amount of information would probably require us to have the floor full of materials in order to find that immediately, but we will find it and we will make it available to the honourable member.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I want to be clear on this. As the minister, your staff cannot tell you who is providing the textbooks, the teacher resource books, the materials for the science program that we, as teachers, have been told this is the direction we're going? Those bug magnifiers are great things and we needed them at that school - we didn't need scales, mind you. (Interruption) You can't tell me who we are paying for that? I'm not saying that piece of wood, although I would doubt the fact. For example - let's use this for an example - has Gage provided most of it? I noticed that on Page 46 they've gone from $53,532 last year to $808,064 this year.
Now, that was the answer I was expecting. I thought you were going to tell me that's one of the major amounts of money that had to be decided on because of the curriculum change, so that Gage Educational Publishing Co. were the ones who provided this particular impetus to the science program. So I want to make this clear again, I'm not talking about where the wood came from, maybe it came from the member for the beautiful Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley and MacTara did it for us, I'm not talking that. I'm talking about which company is providing the learning materials, teachers' aids and various other things,
for the new science program that we have been told is a good one - and it's a good one, I will agree with that - I'm just looking at the amount of money, that's all. (Interruption) You don't know the answer?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, as I indicated previously, we spend about $8 million a year on resources of this nature and we will undertake to provide a clear and accurate answer to the honourable member and we will do that as soon as we can.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Well, I'm not so much pleased with that answer. One of the concerns in curriculum development is, we always follow the American example. For some reason or other, we believe that the examples across this country on how to be successful as educators, you always look at the American example. You look at the American example because for one reason or another, I suppose mainly because most of the textbook companies are there.
When I was a classroom teacher I tried to get a good Canadian history textbook - and I will tell you one of the better ones was written by a previous member for Queens, Peter McCreath, great textbooks. The concern that I had is, at times the curriculum in this country, particularly curriculum, from my experience, in the past in this province, has been overly influenced by American publishing companies.
So I want to draw this to your attention if I could, please. On Page 45 of this book, the Supplement to the Public Accounts - there is some logic to this I want you to know - there is a payment of $37,001.01 to the American Council on Education.
Now, I have lots of good friends who are Americans and I cheer for an American hockey team. I'm not, under any circumstances, going to allow you to say that I might be anti-American about my theme in education, but I'm interested in whether you share some of my concerns about textbooks. Secondly, and most importantly, what is that $37,001.01 all about?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, that amount of money is for GED testing service and materials that are provided through adult education within the department. It is an international program that's recognized internationally, and has been purchased for some time, I understand, by the department. That's what that particular amount of money is for.
I can say to the honourable member that every effort is made by the department to ensure that the Education curriculum and programs that are developed are, first of all programs that are recognized as quality programs, that serve the interests of Nova Scotians in particular. We don't exclude our exposure to sources of programming and curricula from outside our borders that are very helpful in supplementing the work that we do. Obviously, we would not want to be like - if I could draw a very extreme example - the English school
program that exists in Hong Kong, which teaches the Nova Scotia curriculum. We do not, in Nova Scotia, want to be teaching curriculum from South Carolina.
On the other hand, if there is very good curriculum being developed in other jurisdictions, we should not deny our system of the benefits of work being done by others in other jurisdictions. So, it is always a challenge to ensure that first of all, you're working with your own to develop what you can, obviously that should be a great deal of what you do. But you should not hide from good work that is being done and being developed in other jurisdictions.
Hopefully, what we are achieving - and I believe we are - is a good balance with respect to programs that we develop and curriculum that we develop. I can say to the honourable member - especially relative to the math curriculum - that one of the initiatives that we have is to employ math leaders in the implementation of our program and our curriculum in the province. Those math leaders are teachers of mathematics within the Province of Nova Scotia. They are leaders in assisting us in the implementation of that curriculum.
I believe that based on my experience, this involvement of math teachers, relative to supporting our teachers throughout the province with respect to the math curriculum, is a very significant, constructive, positive step. I believe it is one that we can learn a great deal from and I will be following its results very closely to see what applications there might be in other areas of the curriculum.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that clarification. The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Clarification, Mr. Chairman? I doubt it. On Page 46. Gage Publishing, over the last year, was paid $808,064.23. That's a major jump from the previous year when they received $53,532. Gage Publishing, obviously, has provided some materials of real relevance to classrooms across this province. I'd like to know what some of them are.
MR. MACISAAC: That money is for a variety of educational supplies. Those supplies purchased by the department are tendered. From any one fiscal period to another, it is natural to assume that as a result of the tendering process, some companies might receive a higher level of payment in one year than they received in another year. They may have been more successful in one year than they were in another with respect to winning contracts.
I would also point out to the honourable member that some of our school boards also make decisions with resepct to materials that they want to use, and we attempt to accommodate them relative to that objective.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I'm certainly not questioning Gage, it is a very credible publishing company. I was expecting that I would hear the answer, that's where this infamous science curriculum appears from.
Let's just continue on that page. If we can go to Page 47, the National Geographic Society. Last year there were no funds directed and this year, the National Geographic Society receives $262,882. I'm wondering what that particular item is for?
MR. MACISAAC: That money is used to purchase learning supplies from National Geographic. I'm sure the honourable member, based on his experience, can appreciate the quality of the materials that are produced by National Geographic. My first son was born in 1977 and I have every issue of National Geographic from 1977 up to now. I can tell you that I used the materials from those National Geographic magazines and from the National Geographic catalogue.
I ordered many materials out of that catalogue myself, paid for them and incorporated them into classes that I taught, whether those classes be history, modern world problems, or economics. The materials I received and employed that were produced by National Geographic were very, very helpful to me in the work I did in the classroom. I believe the fact that we are accessing learning materials from National Geographic is a very positive sign and I was very glad to see that line in the Supplementary Detail.
The answer to the honourable member's question is that we purchase many of these items, they are learning resource materials, they're purchsed by the book bureau and we resell them to boards for use in the classroom.
MR. ESTABROOKS: That's the sort of curriculum answers which I'm pleased to hear. Could you turn to Page 48 of this same book, at which time I see, Win-Leader Corp. Win-Leader Corporation has received $476,723. I have no idea what Win-Leader Corporation provides to your department and particularly, to the students of this province, but I'm interested in your answer.
MR. MACISAAC: Those are purchases that are made by the Nova Scotia School Book Bureau and it is for learning materials that are provided in our classrooms throughout the province, not unlike the purchases that were made from National Geographic.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I'm pleased to hear that answer, but in the middle of the Gage Educational Publishing Co. comments, the National Geographic Society and Win-Leader Corp., I come back to the fact that you, as the minister, cannot provide for us the information when it comes to who is the main source of curriculum innovation when it comes to that Primary, Grade 1 science program. That's why those questions were put together like that,
thinking that somehow those curriculum decisions were based upon the fact that those were the companies that could provide the best answers.
Page 45 of this book, it's an expense that from my experience I have not seen before. I could be wrong, I have been wrong on occasion, a few times, during estimates, but when you see the question, you ask it. Page 45, it says the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency, $171,779.50. From the experience that I have had during estimates in this Legislature, I am intrigued with the fact that, certainly, last year there was no such line item. Last year, there was no such allocation of funds to the Copyright Licensing Agency, yet that amount is included this year. I was wondering if you could explain that to me, as we look at another budget line item.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, one of the great concerns I had when I was teaching was that someday I would be landed with a suit of some kind because I was using materials that belonged to somebody else that I did not have the capacity to pay for, nor, indeed, if I wanted to pay for it would I have known how to pay for it. This particular item resolves that problem, and it is a program which allows the department to pay copyright to the owners of copyright when teachers are using copied materials in the classroom. I asked the question as to why it was not included in last year's item, it's been recently worked out, this arrangement, and it may be that last year it was paid by CMEC, but I will endeavour to get a more detailed answer with respect to why it is a new line item this year that did not appear previously. The purpose of the arrangement is to ensure that teachers can in fact use materials in the classroom and that there is a proper legal coverage with respect to the use of those copied materials.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I look forward to receiving that answer. There are two more items on Page 47. I know my time is moving along quickly, but I want to have these questions asked because these are the sorts of things. I want you to know, Mr. Minister, that this book makes the round in my community. In fact, a native of Antigonish who occasionally spends a few moments at my coffee table is a school principal, and he is always intrigued with what these various amounts are for.
I would like to turn to Page 47 one more time. I see the line item, Marlin Motion Pictures. Marlin Motion Pictures, last year, according to estimate figures, received $9,628. This year, Marlin Motion Pictures has received a different amount, $22,700. In addition, if I can continue on that page, on the same topic of cameras and motion pictures, Precision Camera Atlantic, last year in estimates, there was $10,805 on that particular item, and this year we have a far different amount, we have $166,138.04. I know there are two there for the price of one, but I am interested in the Education Department's commitment to motion pictures and also to Precision Camera Atlantic. Could you explain those for me, please?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, with respect to Marlin Motion Pictures, the amount of $22,700.50, whenever a school or a teacher uses, we will say, a video or something that is produced by somebody like Marlin Motion Pictures, you can't use that without paying for the rights to be able to use it. This is a duplication charge for the use of materials that have been duplicated, produced by them and then used in our classrooms.
Precision Camera Atlantic, they are suppliers of more than just cameras. I believe they produce office equipment, and they also provide supplies and services to the department, through various divisions of the department. I would expect that the change in the value is again related to a previous explanation I gave, that they, perhaps, were more successful in their tendering in this particular year than in previous years. Anyway, I offer that as a possible explanation. They are suppliers of office equipment, supplies and services.
Now with respect to a previous question, the honourable member asked me about the suppliers of materials relative to the science curriculum. If he looks at Page 46 of the Supplement to the Public Accounts, Exclusive Educational Products, you will find an amount of $186,772.49. Again, it's an educational resale supplies company. They provided the materials that the honourable member referenced, those materials relative to the kits. There were 330 kits and the cost of those kits was $21,740.40.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you, particularly for the explanation about Precision Camera. However, let's go back to this fact, Exclusive Educational Products provided some of those very important educational tools for science projects. My problem is the matter of communication but we've been down that road before, so let's not go back.
The Chairman, the member for the beautiful Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, perhaps his view is blocked by it, but there is that piece of wood that's sitting there that we had to table. I want this to be clarified with the fact that this particular company also provided, in those packages, the 64 pieces of wood, cut, trimmed, planed, the whole works, that learning material, to these schools.
MR. MACISAAC: Yes, Mr. Chairman.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Thank you for clarifying that, because this is where I wanted to go with the question when I began. I can tell you that there are learning centres around this province, I can tell you there are learning centres in schools. There are classes of young men and women that could provide that material, could provide that material to a particular family of schools, could provide it to a certain number of schools in one particular school system or another, a worthwhile project that the high school students in a particular class could provide to the family of elementary schools in the same area. Those 64 pieces of wood, could be planed, cut and provided by a high school student to an elementary school student. I want you to know, Mr. Chairman, those high school children would have said, we are helping our
elementary school and part of our science project is, we have to cut these pieces of wood to this size.
I want you to know, this is an example of co-operation between schools. It would save a few dollars, but let me tell you, those high school students would feel that they had contributed something to the elementary schools in their community when they go in there and say, we did this for our school. Instead, we have Exclusive Educational Products doing this sort of task. In my opinion, that's a waste of good taxpayers' money.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member has an interesting suggestion. It's one that I will think about. It's a question of how much educational value there is involved in having high school students cutting out upwards of 21,000 blocks of wood. If we were structured in such a way that we were able to do some basic instruction in the operation of a bandsaw or a circular saw within an industrial arts department and the industrial arts instructor thought that would be good value, would have educational value, then perhaps it is something that could be accomplished.
I note with interest the suggestion made by the honourable member. I would have to spend some time contemplating the suggestion to know whether it is something I am prepared to pass along to high school principals and elementary school principals.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Let's be clear, the gales of laughter and the hoots that I received when I went into that elementary school, when I saw 64 pieces of wood laying there in the main office in boxes, all wrapped and shipped out, as opposed to saying, can you believe that our Education Department is providing this sort of stuff, not that it's not useful to teach educationally with shapes and forms. The suggestion has been all along, communicate with your principals, communicate with your teachers.
I want you to know that as far as I was concerned, the science projects and the science program for Grade 1 and Primary is a noble one, but it was, in many ways, a public relations disaster because many teachers were looking and going, we don't need this stuff, we don't want this stuff. What has happened to that particular shipment of wood? Well, I am saying to you that if that was offered and delivered by the students of Sir John A. Macdonald High School and the teacher needed and wanted it, it would have been much better received. But so much for a suggestion from a teacher that brought it forward at the time.
I want to talk about some issues around this Learning for Life book. I've seen some of the costs, I've seen some of the issues. It's called the Education blue book, incidentally, by my friend, the member for Dartmouth North. Could you tell me what it cost to produce this particular book, outlining the plans of this government when it comes to Learning for Life-Planning for Student Success? What did it cost to produce that book?
MR. MACISAAC: I suppose if I were being trite I would say it's priceless, but I won't say that. The difficulty with finding the answer right at this moment is that that particular expenditure is not one that's included within the supplementary estimates, so we will have to go and find that. It's not included because the expenditure occurred in a year different than the one covered by the Supplementary Detail. We will obtain the answer and provide it to the honourable member.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, let's talk about the people who work in Communications. I looked on Page 46 of this book, and I've tried to follow it from year to year, in terms of what actually is spent on Communications. I think there is a neat way of doing this, if you could follow me. I'm on Page 46 of the estimates. I have to keep an eye on my time here. I want you to point out to me - we had advertising at $43,989, in the previous year, Support Services, there was no line item. Communications Nova Scotia is where I am - in 2001, there was no line item at all around Support Services, but now under Communications Nova Scotia, we have a line item of $280,978. I know that you can talk about postal services, you can talk about media monitoring.
There was a line item last year under Communications Nova Scotia called Creative Services, but I don't see Creative Services this year. Perhaps you can help me through one category as compared to another when it comes to Communications Nova Scotia, particularly when it comes to the topic of advertising in the Department of Education.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, first of all I will try to explain the reason for the differences in the line items appearing this year, not having appeared previously. It's simply a matter of how the services are billed. Previously they were part of the Communications Nova Scotia budget, and the service they provided to us was paid for by Communications Nova Scotia. What you're seeing now is you're seeing it identified in the Department of Education's estimates, because they bill us for that amount of money. It shows up clearly as being an expenditure of this department, and it is a service provided to us and it is now billed through us. Similarly with advertising that would be placed on our behalf, it would be purchased through Communications Nova Scotia, but it would be billed to us for any of the advertising that is done. I hope that answers the honourable member's question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allocated at this time for the NDP has expired.
The honourable member for Glace Bay.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Chairman, before I start I want to compliment my friend and colleague, the member for Timberlea-Prospect, on his intricate detailed questioning of the minister. I know that comes from his background in education, as a teacher, and I can honestly say that there's not a day that goes by that I don't wish he was back in the teaching
profession. I am sure a lot of the members here in this House will agree with that comment. (Interruptions) In all seriousness, I know how dedicated the member is. Some members just can't take a joke. I know how seriously dedicated the member is, and I know what he puts into his work and the effort he puts into it. I'm impressed by some of the questioning that he has done today.
Mr. Chairman, I would ask the minister, in the start of my time, if he would be kind enough to indeed table his opening comments for the members of the House to refer to, if he could be so kind and if he would to do that. In the opening comments, I believe I am correct if I quote the minister as saying that he was somewhat disappointed. I don't know if he was referring to an overall statement there or if he was disappointed with the test results that he was talking about. His comment was to the effect that he was disappointed with what was happening. I took it to mean in general, in the field of education in Nova Scotia, but perhaps I'm wrong.
Mr. Chairman, if we take a look at education now, this very day, in Nova Scotia, and we take a look at the fact that we have sick schools in this province, Barrington is an example that we have, for instance, a sinking school in this province, Dominion is an example, and we have our kids who are failing math and are failing English, and we have our university students who are up to their ears in debt in this province. The cost of university to a lot of students in this province is out of reach, for a lot of Nova Scotians.
I would suggest, Mr. Chairman, that it may not be disappointment, the word that the minister was looking for, he may be looking for a word such as ashamed. I would be ashamed if that was the situation. Right now I would be terribly ashamed if I was the Minister of Education and I was looking at a system that has now reached that degree. I would be saying that the government is going to do as much as possible to try to turn the situation around.
This is where I want to begin some questioning of the minister. Let me give you an example, this is a quote and first of all I will read you the quote, ". . . the pursuit of post-secondary education should not leave Nova Scotians mired in debt." For those of us who have become familiar with a book called the blue book, you will know that's a quote from the Premier of this province. It's actually on Page 24 of the blue book. Yet in the year 2000, it was the Government of John Hamm that cancelled the Loan Remission Program that would have, indeed, left students mired in debt, as that quote said should not be the case.
Along those lines, Mr. Chairman, if I may, along the lines of post-secondary education, if I could ask the minister, and I have a series of questions. One of the things, as you well know, is we will have a number of hours to question the minister in estimates, and I can guarantee you that there will be other members of this caucus who will want to ask the minister questions in various fields of education, as there will be in the Official Opposition caucus as well. I am sure that the member for Timberlea-Prospect hasn't finished his
questioning. There are just so many items that you will find in the field of education that have to be questioned that we will not have enough hours in the Chamber to actually get to all of the questions that should be asked of the minister.
To start out, just in the field of post-secondary education, we know that this government says that it is committing more than $11 million for post-secondary education. It says that's going to bring debt relief for students and help universities keep tuition increases to a minimum, as well. That's the total, $11 million. Now we know that the university funding, as a percentage of Nova Scotia Government program expenditures in 1992-93, was 6.3 per cent. A decade later, it's 4.4 per cent. Students in this province are paying the highest tuition, the highest portion of university operating budgets in the country. As a matter of fact, Mr. Chairman, for every dollar of student tuition, the provincial government contributed only $1.35 in 1999-2000. In other Atlantic Provinces, they averaged $2.50, and the national average was $2.28.
So, with those few statements to start off the questioning, my first question to the Minister of Education is, with universities hiking tuition to pay for the operating costs - and we know that's going to be the case because the University College of Cape Breton, I think, has already indicated that its tuition costs are going to go up some 7 per cent, and I think other universities in this province are indicating that will probably be in the range that they're looking at, about 7 per cent, if not more - can the minister explain, that portion of the $6 million in operating funds, when you divide it among Nova Scotia's many universities, how is it actually going to help to keep tuition fees, tuition rates lower in this province?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, quite a number of items were touched on by the honourable member in his comments. First of all, I want to make sure that he understands the context in which I used the word disappointment. I used the word disappointment in the context of referencing the test results that we put forward in our report to parents. That report to parents related to test results of our students in Grade 12 programs in particular.
I also want to ensure that the honourable member and all members of the House appreciate that the results that we've put forward measure and show the performance of our students not only with respect to this province but with respect to performance levels in the country and internationally. While we are disappointed with how our students fare nationally, our performance was better than any of the other Atlantic Provinces. That, in and of itself, is not a reason to be satisfied with the results, but it does demonstrate that we are achieving some level of success relative to our neighbours. It does demonstrate that relative to the rest of the country, we're not doing as well as we would like. But when we compare our results to international results, then we are doing extremely well, relative to what's taking place in other jurisdictions around the world.
While I used the word disappointment, it was specific to the test results that we announced to parents, but I don't want to, in any way, suggest that we are not poised to improve our situation considerably and, indeed, I have every confidence that we will. What we have done is we have set the bar, and we have set the bar at a high level. We are going to commit ourselves to achieving those objectives, relative to where we have set the bar.
I can also point out, Mr. Chairman, that the test results are not indicative of what happens in a single year, but indeed are indicative of the cumulative effect of our school system over a number of years. If you were to examine the testing results of students in Grade 12, then those students spent most of their time in school at a time when that Party formed the government and was in charge of education in this province. So, while the honourable member can be smug and use the word, ashamed with respect to things, I believe upon reflection he should think about the context in which all of these test results are developed. They are a cumulative indication of what students are accomplishing.
I can also point out that the testing we've done is being made public and it's being shared with our parents and it's being shared with the people of Nova Scotia, and we're prepared to continue doing that and we will continue to do it. That's a far cry from what had been done with testing results previously. They were never shared with the public and, indeed, many parents never had the opportunity of receiving these test results.
We're committed to continuing to share with the people of this province the performance of our students in schools. We are committed to improving the assessment that we do with respect to our students, and we will achieve results because we will assist all partners in the delivery of education in this province to focus on objectives that are achievable, and we will ensure that those objectives are met. They are not going to be met in a single time frame, but they're going to be met as a result of a cumulative effort over a period of time where we emphasize the basics - where we emphasize the basics in literacy, where we emphasize the basics with respect to writing, with respect to numeracy and with respect to computation skills and with that emphasis and with the resources that we are putting into this, we will see significant improvement over time. We have a long way to go; everyone recognizes that, but we are moving in the right direction. We have a long way to go relative to achieving national standards; we do very well relative to international standards.
Now, the honourable member has made reference to our debt reduction program, and I just want to share a couple of numbers with the committee, if I might. In 1998-99 the number of students who were eligible for the assistance provided by the previous government was 3,464 students; that was the number that was eligible for assistance and it was an amount over $7 million that was provided to them. Well, Mr. Chairman, I can tell you that for an amount of $5.1 million, we will be assisting 9,500 students in this province and we will be
assisting them to the tune of being able to retire up to 40 per cent, slightly over 40 per cent of their cumulative debt as a result of this particular program. So we are extremely pleased with the program that we've developed, that we have put forward. It is one that is going to affect far more students than had been affected previously.
I can also tell you, there was one other matter that you mentioned - how is $6 million going to help reduce or keep the increase in tuition from going up? The fact is, if you provide $6 million to the universities, then it's $6 million that doesn't have to come from some other source such as tuitions. The number is significant and I have indicated to the universities and I've made it quite clear that it is my objective to reach the stage where we have more than fully restored the level of funding to universities that had existed before the severe cuts had taken place in previous years. Thank you.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, a couple of comments before I get to the next question. One, I was referred to as perhaps making some smug comments - by the minister - and I certainly don't appreciate that; I don't appreciate the reference to what may have been misconceived by the minister as smugness. I have comments to make in this Chamber and if the minister feels they're smug, that's too bad. He's here to listen to those comments and he's here to answer those questions. If the minister thinks that I didn't read him right by saying when he was disappointed, that's too bad for the minister, he's here to answer to us. If he thinks I'm smug, I'm not going to apologize to the minister, but I would ask him to keep his personal comments to himself for the rest of the questioning.
I also don't need a lecture from the minister as well, let me point that out. I'm sure the minister has - I know he has an extensive background in education, but let's remind the minister that doesn't make him better than anybody else. Okay?
Now, having said that, the minister answered some of the questions and some of the questions he has not. On the issue of the Loan Remission Program that was cancelled and the $5.1 million that is there in the Loan Remission Program now, I'd like to ask the minister this, maybe he can answer me this question then, how many students will benefit from the Loan Remission Program that he's announced before the next election is called, let's say, how many students do you think will benefit from that program, Mr. Minister?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I don't know the date of the next election, it's a difficult question to answer.
MR. WILSON: I don't know the date of the next election either, but I can answer the question. Zero - that's how many. Absolutely none will benefit from the Loan Remission Program that the minister made a big announcement about. Also, at the same time, let's remember that the previous Minister of Education happened to make a commitment that she would consult with students before coming up with a new Loan Remission Program.
Mr. Chairman, as you know and as I know, the only consultation that took place with students was a half an hour before the Loan Remission Program was announced, and that was to tell them what the new, very confusing, Loan Remission Program was. I was at the news conference that day, a lot of the students were left - you know, they couldn't figure it out. Who could? The Deputy Minister of Education was there in a technical briefing beforehand and, I must admit, he probably did the best he could - pretty capable guy, they tell me, in some aspects - he did a technical briefing and it still left reporters and a lot of other people scratching their heads and saying, how does this work?
If you had $9.9 million in a previous Loan Remission Program, and your new Loan Remission Program only has $5.1 million, then - and I'm not being smug here, I don't mean to be smug, but let's do the math. Just do the math - what's missing? Where did the money go? How can that program possibly be as good as the previous one if there isn't the same amount of money there? We know that the Loan Remission Program is not the same. We know that there's not going to be anybody who will benefit from the Loan Remission Program.
I referred to what the Premier had to say in my opening statements - that no Nova Scotia student would be left mired in debt. Another comment that he had to make was that - this is the same Leader, who stated in 1999 and here's the quote, "The time has long past for government to step up to its responsibilities to ensure that our young people have full access to higher education, without having to mortgage their futures to do it."
Now, what I would like to know, perhaps I'll give the minister a chance. I'd like him first of all to point out to me - because it just may be a case that I overlooked it - I would like to know where that $5.1 million is in the Estimates Book, and I would also like to hear the minister's explanation of the $5.1 million, the Loan Remission Program, how it's going to benefit students, and I would also particularly like to hear him explain to me how it's going to benefit a fourth-year graduating student who will be graduating from university this year. I left that for the last because I'm particularly looking forward to hearing that answer.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, if the honourable member would turn to Page 6.7 on the Supplementary Detail and the Student Assistance item that's there is $15,568.0. That, relative to the prior estimate, I'm sorry - the forecast is $12.5, but included in that is the $5.1 million figure for the implementation of the Student Debt Management Program. There are savings that offset that figure: interest savings and loan portfolios, $1.8 million; transition from risk premium loans to guaranteed student loans in the amount of $2 million; there's about $150,000 in student assistance loan system support transferred; and there's a $60,000 item transferred to resources, to administration. So when you work all of those figures together, there's $1.189 million net change in that item.
AN HON. MEMBER: . . . sure straight forward.
MR. MACISAAC: Well, it's not straightforward, but it is the answer. At any rate, that's the explanation as to where that number originates.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I don't know. I'd like to reply to that answer, but I'm starting to ramble as much as the minister just did in that reply. I couldn't understand what he was talking about. Maybe he used to be an executive at Enron, I'm not sure. I'd ask the minister again just to clarify - I guess you're telling me that was on Page 6.7 of the Supplementary Detail and the details of that detail are in the details. Is that what you're telling me, Mr. Minister? I'm not sure. What I wanted to know, again on the answer, I also asked you how many graduating students would be benefiting from the Loan Remission Program this year. So we'll ask that question again to the minister.
MR. MACISAAC: The amount of money in the Student Debt Management Program is $5.1 million. We have achieved savings from other sources and as a result of those savings, we could have used the savings elsewhere, we chose to employ the savings in the debt reduction program. So, that is why the honourable member does not see a $5.1 million line item relative to this program. But it's important to understand that the savings that we have employed to support the program could have been employed elsewhere. We chose to employ them to support this particular program and so the amount of the program is $5.1 million. That money is available to students who will be enrolling in university this coming year and, as a result of that, I can't predict precisely the amount of money that would be there, but the budgeted item in order to support that is an amount of $5.1 million.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I know this debate generates a lot of conversation, but I'm wondering if honourable members could please turn down the volume a little bit. It's very exciting and riveting, but I would ask you to just turn it down a little bit.
MR. WILSON: About as riveting as I heard going into Supply today, as a matter of fact. (Interruptions) Sometimes if you open a door, you may not want to go through it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Would the honourable member please try to stick to the Department of Education budget, please?
MR. WILSON: If I take a look at that line item as referred to on Page 6.7, then I see a difference of just over - let's say $2.8 million from forecast in 2002-03, 2003-04, so that's not $5.1 million. My question to the minister I guess is have you added $5.1 million to a debt reduction program, and if you have, have you cut any programs?
MR. MACISAAC: First of all, there's $5.1 million for the program, and that is available next year. There have been savings through interest reduction. Now that happens to be the case this year, that there are savings in that particular area; however, should interest
rates increase, then of course those savings will not be available to us and we would have to deal with that as the interest rates increase, and we will. But it will not in any way affect the amount of money allocated to the debt reduction program.
The other area of savings is in the area of risk management; that has decreased and, as a result of that, there is a savings there. Those numbers, which may change in the future relative to changing economic conditions, will in no way affect the future of the $5.1 million figure. It is a number that is available and will continue to be available.
MR. WILSON: Well, I'm just going to leave the fact that the debt relief program is $5.1 million. I'm going to leave it there. The students know, they've said from the very beginning, and I think everybody else - with the exception of government officials - has said it's not enough, it's not enough, it's not enough.
So let me ask the minister this, why do we have to wait a year for that debt relief program to take effect? What was the reasoning behind waiting a year? Why wouldn't you make that program retroactive to at least this year to apply to students? You make an announcement this year, why wouldn't that program apply to students, this physical year, who are graduating from university?
MR. MACISAAC: The money that would be needed to finance the program this year was not available to us. The money to finance the program in the next year is available, it's in the budget and it will become available to students as they move through their education.
I want to point out to the honourable member that he suggests that there was no consultation with students. I know that my predecessor met with students on a number of occasions, listened to what it is that they wanted with respect to a program, and I met with those students. I met with them, probably about two months before the program was announced, and at that meeting I gave them a very high-level indication of what the nature of the program would be so that when they received the details of the program, prior to it being announced, the principles of the program were not new to them. What we did was fill in the numbers for them in that particular meeting.
So there was indeed a level of consultation with the students, as is always the case, and the satisfaction relative to a consultation process very much depends upon how close the result resembles what those who are consulted wanted. That sometimes is not easy to achieve; however, there was a very real effort made by my predecessor and by myself to communicate to the students relative to this particular program.
MR. WILSON: The consultation that the minister is referring to, if I'm not mistaken, the consultation on behalf of that minister occurred a half an hour before the news conference to announce the Loan Remission Program. If that's the level of consultation that the minister is referring to, it must be about the lowest level of consultation that you can possibly use,
because you're only having a half an hour before the meeting that you're telling the students. It's not me, Mr. Chairman, who said the students weren't consulted, it's the students who said they we weren't consulted. I'm just relaying what they said - I'm a messenger. If a half an hour before the meeting you're called into the minister's office to sit down with the Minister of Education and he says here's our Loan Remission Program, like it or lump it - that's not my definition of consultation.
As a matter of fact, it was the former Minister of Education who was quoted as saying "we're going to share our option with the students first." That's what the former Minister of Education said - quote, unquote. So the option wasn't shared with the students first, the decision was made and then the students were told this is what you're going to get in a Loan Remission Program. There was no choice, there was no consultation process, there was no discussion, there was no input.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. There's entirely too much racket in here honourable members and I again appeal to you to turn it down some so we can hear the honourable members who are engaged in the Supply debate on Education.
MR. WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I would agree with you. If it takes removal of some members to hear what I'm saying, I would be for it.
We know that university students in this province, at graduation, on average, they owe $22,000. On average. If you look at the year 1998, at that time it was $14,000. It's up substantially. When this government cut the Loan Remission Program and instead used the substitute, which was the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, students in the province ended up sacrificing their futures really by incurring more debt. Or they had the choice - and this is the choice that the students in this province are now left with - you can rack up more debt or you cannot go to university. That's the choice that they're left with.
I'd like to ask the minister a question. I would just like to know why didn't you commit to increasing the level of funding for the Loan Remission Program, and why couldn't you go back to the $9.9 million that was there originally and just reinstate the Loan Remission Program that was there, which was the program they cancelled when the Millennium Scholarship Foundation came into existence?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, we've brought forward, as I explained previously, a debt reduction program which was one that we could afford. We brought it forward when the money became available and we brought it forward without borrowing money in order to implement it. It is part of the balanced budget. It's the operation of our government, there are funds available in order to fund this program. So that is the history as to when it was brought forward.
I also want to point out that the design of the program is such that as additional funding becomes available it can be easily expanded. The expansion of that program can take place very, very easily and it is one that would add additional dollars as they become available.
With respect to the consultation process, the honourable member perhaps didn't hear what I had to say. I did meet with the student leaders about two months prior to the program, and at that meeting I did indicate to them at a high level the nature of the program without the details. My predecessor did commit to tell the students the nature of the program prior to telling anyone else about the program. I fulfilled that commitment by providing them with the details, the dollars, of the program. There is no sense on my part that we have not fulfilled that particular commitment. Did we do everything that the students wanted? No, Mr. Chairman, we didn't, and therein lies part of the difficulty with respect to whether or not a consultation took place. A consultation that resulted in students getting everything they wanted did not occur. A consultation that listened to the students and developed a program that would be expandable and would provide for future students as additional funds became available was in fact achieved.
We believe that it is an extremely good program, one which will assist over 9,000 students and the previous program would assist only somewhere in the vicinity - the numbers have disappeared on me here, but about 3,500 students. So we believe we're going to provide assistance to many more students, and we're going to provide it in a manner that's very meaningful, retiring in excess of 40 per cent of their debt if they take advantage of all features of the program. And it is a program, as I indicated, that can be expanded as resources become available.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, at the risk of sounding smug again, if you have a meeting and sit down with people to discuss a rather complicated program without the details, it's not much of a meeting. Certainly, without the details, how could you possibly explain what's going to be happening with a Loan Remission Program is complicated and a lot less than what it was previously.
In the words of Howard Cosell, in retrospect looking back, let's go back to when there was a Loan Remission Program and when it was cancelled and along comes the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. I'd be interested in hearing the minister's explanation as to why the Loan Remission Program was cancelled at that time and what, indeed, to this day, if there have been any recent discussions held with the Millennium Scholarship Foundation people, and I'd be very interested in knowing what they're saying these days about the new Loan Remission Program that the minster has initiated.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the indications I have is that the Millennium Scholarship people are lukewarm to our program. That would suggest that perhaps there's an acceptance of the program as being a reasonable one. The program was designed in such
a way that it can be added to and easily expanded as resources become available; as they become available, indeed, that will happen.
MR. WILSON: I'd like the minister to further clarify on a couple of points there. I wanted him to explain to us the reasoning behind the cancellation of the original Loan Remission Program in 1999. If I could hear that explanation, please?
MR. MACISAAC: That explanation was provided on many occasions by my predecessor during previous estimates that are before the House. The estimates that I'm defending today have included with them a $5.1 million debt reduction program, which is going to assist over 9,000 students. I'm quite pleased to defend that Mr. Chairman.
MR. WILSON: What I'm asking the minister before us today is to give me an explanation as to where the Loan Remission Program stood during the time of that government. Whether there was another minister there or not, I'm asking for that explanation. I'm asking the minister to provide that. I'll ask him now to provide me with the reasoning behind what happened with the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, why the decision was made. Regardless of whether another minister was there or not, that makes no difference, you appear before estimates and you put forward a Loan Remission Program that costs $5.1 million, when there used to be one there that used to have $9.9 million in it. If I'm standing here asking for that explanation, Mr. Chairman, I think I deserve that explanation. So I'll ask the minister one more time, what was the original reasoning behind cancelling that program?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, I would just comment before I recognize the Minister of Education that I know the honourable member for Glace Bay is fully aware that it is the Minister of Education's prerogative as to how and if he answers these questions. We trust he will co-operate, as he has been. The honourable Minister of Education.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I'll be quite happy to again repeat the answers that have been provided many times in the past by my predecessor with respect to this. When we formed the government in 1999, there was before us a deficit of $500 million. That was the deficit that we inherited from the previous government. The honourable member for Glace Bay was not in the House at that time, but there were some of his colleagues who were in the House and, if he wanted to take the time to ask them about the nature of the budgets that they had been bringing forward to the people of this province, I'm sure that in all sincerity they would explain to him that they were not balanced budgets; that they, indeed, had to borrow a great deal of money in order to finance programs that they were spending money on. Borrowed money, Mr. Chairman, not money that was coming from revenue or operations.
Therein lies the answer, that we, in order to come to grips with the very severe fiscal situation we inherited from the previous government, found it necessary to take some action that was not as palatable as we would like it to be for a number of sectors of this province. We made a determination that it was appropriate for us to balance the books of this province. We set out on that agenda in 1999, we achieved that agenda. This is the second year in which we have brought forward a balanced budget and, as a result of bringing that balanced budget forward, we are now in a situation where we can address priorities that we have. Among those priorities is assisting students. We are assisting them to the tune of $5.1 million. We have added an additional $6 million to assist our universities, which will help moderate tuition.
Mr. Chairman, as you achieve your fiscal objectives, such as balancing the budget for the first time in 40 years and using principles that are accepted, Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, then you are in a position where you can begin addressing the priorities that come before you. We're extremely pleased that we have been able to address those priorities. We are providing additional funds for universities. We're providing additional funds to address the issue of student debt. As we move forward and gain further fiscal success as a government, we will be providing even more money to assist students and universities in this province.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, let me ask the minister to go to students at St. F.X. University in Antigonish, and go to the students at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and go tell the students at the University College of Cape Breton in Sydney that you're fiscally responsible and how great a job you're doing. Go tell them, when tuition goes up 7 per cent-plus this year, that you're fiscally responsible and what a great job you're doing. Go tell them that, Mr. Minister. Go tell the students who can't afford to eat and are going to food banks on campuses how fiscally responsible you are and what a great job you're doing, Mr. Minister. Go tell them. Go tell the students whose parents can't afford to send them to university, who are growing in numbers in this province on a daily basis, tell them what a great job you're doing, Mr. Minister, and how great things are in post-secondary education in this province. Go tell the university presidents, who you have given, until this year, absolutely nothing in terms of an increase in their operating funds, go tell them that they know they're chronically underfunded, that they have no money to fix up the campuses and the buildings on campus. Tell them what a great job you're doing and how fiscally responsible you are. Tell them that.
Mr. Chairman, the minister can repeat the question that has been rehearsed with the Minister of Finance, and he's been very well trained, but it's not cutting the mustard with the students in the Province of Nova Scotia. It's not cutting the mustard with Nova Scotians in general. What I asked this minister to explain on a number of occasions - let me remind the minister of this, when the Millennium Scholarship Foundation came into being, that's when the Loan Remission Program was cancelled by that government. That's when the Millennium Scholarship Foundation was used as a substitute, and that's when this government started to
pick the pockets of students in this province. That's exactly what happened. By using the Millennium Scholarship Foundation in place of the Loan Remission Program not only did they pick the pockets, but they went back for the change.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Order, please. I would just advise the honourable member for Glace Bay that all members in this Chamber are honourable members and nobody is picking anybody's pocket. I would ask the honourable member to refrain from that type of terminology in this Legislature. (Applause)
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, you may want to review Hansard of earlier today where a certain member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley referred to members of our caucus as scoundrels. So I'm curious as to what his ruling might be now, sitting in the Chair, as to the appropriate use of that word, when he is trying to chastise another member for using unparliamentary language in this Chamber.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Alright, I would agree with the honourable member for Richmond, because a scoundrel, unbeknownst to me at the time - and I did use it as a figure of speech, I apologize for that, because a scoundrel is an unscrupulous villain or a rogue and I had no intention of referring to the Liberal caucus as being unscrupulous. I will ask the honourable member for Glace Bay to refrain from the terminology, picking pockets, because that is most dishonourable to imply.
The honourable member for Glace Bay has the floor.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I will retract that comment. I may have said it just to get a reaction from the backbenchers. It's the only time we hear from them, but if that's the case (Interruptions)
Mr. Chairman, the fact of the matter is that the Millennium Scholarship Foundation funds, the minister and the province took those and used them as a substitute for the Loan Remission Program. That's a fact. They were chastised, as a matter of fact, by the Millennium Scholarship Foundation. If the Millennium Scholarship Foundation is now referring to the new Loan Remission Program - the reaction is lukewarm as the minister said, then I would suggest their reaction has been less than lukewarm to the original happening when they took that money in the first place. The students in the province are quite aware of this and they've been complaining about it for some time because they are the ones who are the most affected.
What happened was, instead of benefiting the students in this province with both the Loan Remission Program and the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which the Millennium Scholarship Foundation was intended to be, it was intended to augment the Loan Remission Program in this province, instead of doing that, what happened was that when
they took the money - I'm not going to use the words again, but I'm at a loss for words as to how to describe it. I don't want to say anything unparliamentary, Mr. Chairman, and I won't. I'm not using the phrase just to heat things up here in the Chamber, I would never do that intentionally. What I would like to have this minister explain to students in this province who are hit with increasing tuition costs, who, on average, as I said owe more than anybody else in the country at graduation time, I would like to hear the minister explain to those students who may be at home right now watching, I would like to hear him explain how this Loan Remission Program is going to benefit those graduating students this year? I would really like to hear that explanation.
So I will ask him one more time, can the minister explain to those students who have put in four years of university in this province and have paid the full amount and are now mired in debt - which is where your Premier did not want them to be, but they are now mired in debt coming out of university - can the minister explain why his decision, not the previous minister's decision, but his decision has left them in the wilderness with no Loan Remission Program this year, Mr. Chairman?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, we did answer that question previously, and the answer is that we did not have funds available to us to be able to make it applicable in this particular year. We do have funds available to us this year, and we are implementing a $5.1 million program. I would point out to the House that if you examine the last four years of the previous program, with the exception of one year - it ranged in the vicinity of $7 million - we're not far from that mark. Secondly, we are going to assist far more students with our program than were assisted by the previous program.
With respect to the difference between our program and the Millennium Scholarship Program, it is a program that once the funds run out, they run out, and some students who are deserving get nothing from that particular program, and that leaves students wanting. Our program, if you qualify, you will receive the money. Indeed, Mr. Chairman, if our program were fully subscribed in any given year, it would be an amount over $7 million that would have to be made available, and if it is ever fully subscribed, we will make that particular amount of money available.
Now, Mr. Chairman, it was suggested that I should go to students and defend the actions of this government relative to the finances of the province. We have, in fact, done that. We have talked to students with respect to it, and I spoke about it when I was last on my feet. We inherited, in this province in 1999, a debt of over $500 million. There, that's $0.5 billion. That is the debt that we inherited when we took office. In order to bring our fiscal house in order, it required some very, very difficult measures. We took those measures and we balanced the books in this province, the first truly balanced budget in over 40 years. This government accomplished that and we're proud of what we accomplished, and all Nova Scotians contributed to that. We salute Nova Scotians for the efforts that they have made.
Mr. Chairman, when you consider that accomplishment to what went on in this province in the period of the 1990s when successive governments were attempting to balance the books, they talked about balancing the budget, they gave us rollbacks, they gave us wage freezes, they gave us Savage days, they gave us a whole host of programs that did not achieve the objective of balancing the books of this province. We balanced the books and we did it through concerted efforts, and I will defend that before anybody.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, they tried that tactic already today, it won't work with me let me tell you. You can huff and you can puff all you want, but you're not going to blow this House down because the students in Nova Scotia know that we're right. The students in Nova Scotia know that this minister . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allocated for the Liberal caucus at this time has expired.
The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect. He has approximately 11 to 12 minutes before the hour of interruption.
MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Eleven to 12 minutes, well, thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for a few moments. You know, I heard a man at X yell at me one time like that and he wasn't quite as big as you were, Mr. Minister, but when he started on me, I listened. I had a football helmet on at the time. I want you to know I can sense your frustration. That was the only time I ever listened to anybody from X, let me tell you. Mr. Minister, I have a topic and my topics are, I have got some time with you, I have some teacher friends - who still admit that after five years in politics - I have some issues and I have some concerns, so I would like to bring this one to your attention now as we have a few more moments.
It's a topic of some concern to the public school teachers of this province. I'm wondering if you could comment for me on the growth of public schools, private - excuse me, I'm not delivering it very well, it must be that last outburst of yours - the growth of private schools across this province. I can give you examples where there are private schools in my community popping up like mushrooms in the middle of the night, and they're full. They are full, and parents are saying we know we pay our taxes for the public school system, but we are going to send our children, our kids, to whatever school. I can mention some of the private schools in the community of Timberlea-Prospect. I'm wondering, does that concern you at all, the popularity of private schools across this province?
MR. MACISAAC: I want to thank the honourable member for the question, Mr. Chairman. It is, indeed, a valid point for us to discuss in consideration of these estimates. The real solution to this problem, from the perspective that the honourable member is asking it is for us to succeed in ensuring that we are providing a quality of education so that parents
will not have the perception that they can get something better elsewhere. That is the challenge that is before us, and in order to address that, Mr. Chairman, we will need to work very hard to ensure that people have confidence in our schools, have confidence in our programs, our curriculum, and have confidence in all of the partners who are delivering our programs. That is why we have instituted programs such as the Report to Parents. That is why we are making test results available. That is why we are looking at our schools to assist them in improving their programs, improving the quality of what goes on within the schools. That is what we will dedicate ourselves to doing.
It is only in that way, Mr. Chairman, that we can address the problem to which the honourable member refers. Indeed, it is a challenge and it is a challenge that we recognize and it is a challenge that we are dedicating ourselves to and will continue to do so on a day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year basis.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I haven't got a light on here. You know I was once accused of breaking this desk by smashing my fist down on it. I guess the microphone is working, but the red light is not on. People watching this are saying what are they talking about. As long as you can hear me, Mr. Minister.
I want to go back to perception. (Interruption) I will take that as a compliment, as an old school disciplinarian. I want to go back to this issue, and if the time runs out, I'm coming back to it again. The concern that I have is the perception, and I want to talk about this perception. I can go in this direction and - I know for one reason or another this topic eventually comes around to it - that, of course, is the topic of school uniforms.
Now, there's a tie-in here, because that school uniform is a reflection on discipline in private schools around this province. I want the minister to know that that is the number one attractive factor of having parents make the decision that their son or daughter is going to go to whatever the private school is called. I want you to know very clearly, Mr. Minister, that I have friends who come to me who are the parents of kids in junior high, and they are saying to them, Bill, I can't send my kid to the local junior high or middle school, there are so many kids in the class, there's so many other things the teachers are doing. They're not reflecting on the teachers, but one of the most attractive things about having kids who go to private schools is, as one of my better friends has said, that there's some old-fashioned discipline in private schools.
Now, I would rather not have you comment upon the uniforms, but I would have you comment on the perception that private schools do have better discipline. They have better control over the children, or young people, depending on what age they are, and that this concern is a major attracting feature to have these young people go to these private schools. I wonder if you could comment on that for me.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, as I indicated previously, we are working toward improving the quality of education within our schools, and that is an ongoing initiative. I know that all the partners are involved and dedicated to that initiative, and part of it relates to smaller class sizes which we are attempting to implement. We, of course, are working with the communities. Our code of conduct is something that's designed to address that particular concern. The code of conduct is one which will take some time to have it fully implemented, understood and appreciated. There is a real challenge out there and the honourable member has - I have to be careful here because I restrain myself from going off on a tangent relative to my own experience in the classroom. I can say that one of the great frustrations that appears to have flowed out of the Charter of Rights is the lack of capacity that teachers have in order to maintain discipline within our schools.
We are not likely to effect any change relative to the Bill of Rights, so what we need to do is to find a capacity to restore a level of discipline within the schools. Perhaps the word discipline is not the word we should use in attempting to come to terms with this problem, because it isn't a matter if we're going to do it under the influence of the Bill of Rights, then we need to do it in such a way that there is a mutual respect that is ingrained within the culture of our schools and, indeed, it's a respect that must go beyond our schools.
We have a Youth Advisory Committee that I meet with from time to time, and in the course of our meeting on Saturday past, the students expressed a frustration with the apparent lack of understanding of adults that they would encounter within the community. It was very interesting because this was an experience related to sort of a fringe urban area that this story emanated from, where the youth were sitting on top of containers that were very close to an area where adults were picking up their mail. There was a sense on the part of the adults of being intimidated by these youth and that, as we discussed the issue even further (Interruptions) I am quite happy to pick up on this after. Do you want me to move the adjournment?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, actually you have a minute.
MR. MACISAAC: Okay, I will carry on. So as we discussed the issue further, we found that in areas, primarily rural - this is the experience of the youth - in areas where the youth were known to the adults, those experiences did not occur because adults in those communities knew all of the young people by name. As you get in more densely populated areas where you have a greater movement of people, perhaps over bigger distances, or they live distances apart and that knowledge is not known, then there tends to develop this sort of disconnect. That's why I say that it's not just an issue of culture within the school, but it's an issue of culture relative to the whole community. I will pick up from there, after. I will move the adjournment of the debate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is now time for the moment of interruption. We will be back at 6:30 p.m. sharp.
[6:00 p.m. The committee adjourned.]
[6:29 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'll call the committee to order. We're in debate with the NDP caucus and the Minister of Education. Minister, did you want to stand now and finish your comment? I'll give you 15 seconds to the good, minister. This is your day, I'm sure.
HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the reason for the lapsed time between your recognition and rising is to wait for the light to come on. I just wanted to explain that. (Interruptions) It would be a dull place if we were depending on your light.
Mr. Chairman, in response to the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect's comments relative to discipline. I was commenting about the impact that the Charter of Rights had on the authority of teachers within the classrooms, not just the authority of teachers, but the authority of many people within our society relative to others. As a result of that, the capacity of teachers to be able to enforce discipline has been diminished considerably. I also was recounting a story about how youth that I met with on the weekend were explaining the frustrations they had as a result of adults appearing as if they were intimidated by the youth. I believe that I recounted as well, as that discussion went on, the difference in the experience of those who lived in the rural parts of Nova Scotia where everyone tended to know everyone else. The relationship between the adult population and the youth was a very positive relationship. There was an appreciation of one for the other and considerable knowledge of one and the other.
Just to refresh the honourable members with the story I was relating, the youth felt that the adults were intimidated by them at a particular scene. I was making the point that in those circumstances there was a lack of knowledge of the adults as to who the youth were and what families they came from and everything and as a result of that, there's quite a gap relative to understanding and there was a sense of intimidation on the part of the adults. The adults felt intimidated by the presence of the students and the students were frustrated - or the youth were frustrated, I should say - by this apparent attitude on the part of the adults.
I related the story in order to illustrate the fact that culturally we have a gap, I believe, that we need to address, relative to the matter of discipline. It was a very interesting conversation on Saturday because one of the suggestions that was made, for instance, is that perhaps what needs to happen is for people to engage in dialogue. That's supposedly what we're famous for in this part of the world, where you say to somebody, hi, how are you today, it's a nice day, there is some dialogue engaged and you don't really have to know the person that you're having that conversation with. Perhaps we should be emphasizing with our adults and with youth that they should not be afraid to enter dialogue, to exchange
pleasantries, so that sort of thing doesn't happen. I'm suggesting that there is a cultural bridge to be gapped here.
When we move the situation to the classroom, then because we're not going to be turning the clock back relative to the Charter of Rights, then the challenge is one where we need to develop respect and mutual understanding of one another within any given environment so that there is a level of tolerance developed and there is a level of respect developed so that people can learn to conduct themselves in a way that does not infringe upon the rights and the ability of others to conduct themselves in a particular manner. So when it comes to the classroom, there needs to be an understanding on the part of everyone involved that the primary objective of what's going on in the classroom is education and that behaviour that impedes that activity is behaviour that is not fitting for the circumstance.
In order to achieve that, I made reference before the break that perhaps the word discipline is not the word that we need anymore. Discipline is much harder to enforce relative to previous standards that our society has had. The emphasis needs not to be placed on discipline but rather on respect and mutual understanding and there needs to be a cultural emphasis placed on that.
All of that is to say that the code of conduct which we're attempting to put forward within our schools in this province is one which is based on mutual respect. It is one that needs to be supported by all partners in the education process. When that respect is lacking, then it becomes very difficult to achieve a code of conduct which is satisfactory to the educational process within our schools.
I wanted to thank the honourable member for raising that question. He puts his finger on an area, in my view, which is a very real challenge for all of us relative to education and relative to the conduct of individuals within our schools. It's one that all of us need to dedicate ourselves to in terms of achieving positive, constructive results. So I welcome the honourable member's intervention. I will listen carefully to any and all suggestions that he has to make with respect to this very important subject. Of course, that goes with respect to all other honourable members and individuals. Thank you.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, for those members who weren't in attendance, I want to frame those comments that we began with because we're talking about the growth industry in education, the popularity, the attractiveness of private schools. Enrolment continues to grow in private schools, people are making sure, in spite of the fact that they have to spend increasing amounts of money, they want their children to go to private schools. One of the most attractive, perhaps the attractive feature that is at the top of the priority list, is there is still discipline in private schools. In public schools because of some of the factors the minister brought forward, this has been neglected - out of no fault of teachers, let's be clear on that. Teachers are frustrated, concerned, but we'll come back to the code of conduct later in the hours that we have ahead of us.
Instead, during the time this evening, I would like to look at the role of our school boards with the Department of Education. In particular, I would like to address, if I could please, comments that came out of the Auditor General's Report. Hopefully, I won't have to table my Reader's Digest copy of the Auditor General's - as long as I don't use it as a prop, I know you will allow me to continue to use it. The Reader's Digest edition of the Auditor General's Report points out a number of major findings. I'm going to ask the minister to comment upon these, particularly because of, in the view of a lot of Nova Scotians, the lack of accountability of school boards.
In particular, the Auditor General has brought to the attention of members present who are part of the Public Accounts Committee which we have each Wednesday morning here from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. in this House, of which I have the privilege of being the Chairman, the Auditor General has brought forward some comments, particularly with regard to major findings that he and his staff are concerned about. I would like that minister to comment upon some of them if he could, please.
The Auditor General in his report says that the current funding system does not motivate regional school boards to invest in preventative maintenance, deferred costs. The fact of course is that we know many of our schools in areas throughout this province are falling to pieces and what the Auditor General has said is that the current funding system doesn't motivate in any way regional school boards to invest in this important budgetary item and I would ask the minister to comment on that particular finding of the Auditor General.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member for bringing this matter before the committee. He again is talking about a subject that is very important to the department because we have obviously the responsibility for those buildings. I recall in my final years of teaching when there were the budget crunches that I've referenced earlier and the school boards making decisions in favour of programs at the expense of buildings and at the expense of maintenance on buildings. The cumulative effect of that over years is presenting itself today in very real terms and it is necessary for us to address that. We have, in fact, this year an expenditure of $18 million for additions and alterations to schools which, as part of that, we have a $3 million item which we make available to school boards to address this concern.
The Auditor General, I believe, has also put his finger on a situation where there is a bit of a disconnect relative to the responsibility of school boards in dealing with the maintenance of these buildings and our responsibility as being the owner of the buildings and the financier of the buildings. That is something that we're working with our partners, the school boards, to address. We have a committee made up of people from the school boards, people from the department and we're looking at the specific recommendations of the Auditor General in order to ensure that, number one, those recommendations are addressed but, number two, that we put in place a mechanism that will ensure that proper allocation of funds relative to the maintenance of buildings will be in place and will withstand any
changes in spending over time so that we do, in fact, adequately address the maintenance issues of our schools.
So, Mr. Chairman, it is something that is very important to us and we are working with the school boards and we're going to continue to meet with them and to put in place, as I said, a program of maintenance that will ensure that the concerns addressed by the Auditor General, concerns which we share and concerns articulated by the honourable member, in fact, are addressed over time and that we do not get ourselves into such a situation in the future.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Chairman, I would like to continue with the Auditor General's comments and I know we can say that we're trying to do things. However, it concerns me that if we particularly look at this finding which is included in the audit, the audit of objectives, the audit of communication between the department and the regional school boards, it says that regional school boards provide audited financial statements, but the department does not analyze property service expenditures in detail. The concern comes down that if we are saying that the regional school boards - they have a responsibility no doubt - but, in return, the department does not analyze property services' expenditures in detail. Regional school boards do not regularly report important information to the department, it also goes on to say, building conditions, service levels, deferred maintenance. The department does not have a process to adequately monitor regional school boards' performance in maintaining schools.
So eventually, as the minister knows, the buck stops on your desk and the accountability of school boards across this province on this important topic eventually ends up in your office. What sort of steps are you prepared to take that this is not going to continue?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, the report that the honourable member references and which is referenced by the Auditor General, those reports do not provide the level of detail that is required to do the sort of analysis that is required relative to maintenance. We do, however, work with the school boards beyond the documentation that's provided and we do have an extremely good knowledge of our buildings and our schools and we are working to, and indeed putting up the money to address these shortcomings. We will continue to carry on that level of detailed consultation with our partners and the school boards in order to address these things. For instance, we meet with the maintenance staff of the schools on a monthly basis so that it is an ongoing consultation that takes place between ourselves and the school boards.
We will continue to address this and indeed, Mr. Chairman, we will be coming forward with further initiatives with respect to this in the future because we're actively involved in consideration of actions that we can take to enhance the level of maintenance that goes on within our schools, but I did want to make the point with the honourable member that beyond the documentation that is referenced by the Auditor General, there is a level of communication that occurs between the staff of the Department of Education and the school boards. I referenced, for instance, the monthly meetings with the maintenance people on the school boards, that that level of interaction is continuously ongoing.
MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Minister, I want to turn to the Auditor General's Report and his staff's recommendation with regard to the Halifax Regional School Board specifically. In fact, with some surprise, the biggest school board that we have, we were informed through the committee of which I am the Chairman, that the project management systems, MegaMation it's called, MegaMation software, which is used by other boards to track the importance of maintenance, to look at property services, that the one school board that is not using MegaMation is the Halifax Regional School Board, the biggest, the one that has the most buildings, the one that has the biggest budget, the one that has the most number of expenditures probably when it comes to such issues as school maintenance.
Mr. Minister, what are you prepared to do to ensure that a proven piece of software should be used, if it's already used compliments to the Halifax Regional School Board, but the Auditor General in his report and in the comments that he made in front of our committee last week, pointed out that the Halifax Regional School Board is not using MegaMation. Can you, in your auspices as the Minister of Education, ensure that this proven piece of software would be used by the Halifax Regional School Board at the earliest date?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I'm informed that the Halifax Regional School Board is, in fact, employing two consultants who are presently addressing the issue to which the honourable member refers. It is their mandate to come forward with suggestions and certainly we look forward to hearing what those suggestions are and what follow-up activity will be pursued by the school board.
MR. ESTABROOKS: One of the final recommendations that the Auditor General makes with regard to the Halifax Regional School Board, he and his staff say in the comments that the Halifax Regional School Board reviews existing controls over maintenance materials, inventory and implement changes. My question to the minister is, will the Halifax Regional School Board report what they have done in light of what the Auditor General has recommended to you as the minister who is responsible ultimately for this sort of issue?
MR. MACISAAC: I want to thank the honourable member. I can tell the honourable member that the committee which I referenced earlier that exists as part of the response to the Auditor General, that is a committee of department personnel and personnel from the
school boards, includes representation from the Halifax board. We fully anticipate that they will obviously be part of formulating the response and we would fully expect that they would sign onto that response and implement the recommended actions to address the concerns identified by the Auditor General.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I would like to move on from that topic. As the minister is aware, we have a number of topics to discuss during the limited time which we have during estimates. At this stage I would like to move to a topic that's of concern to many Nova Scotians and in particular, of course, to myself in a previous career as a school administrator and that is African Heritage Month. African Heritage Month is of consequence in schools throughout this province, there have been concerns, however, that the appropriate funding is no longer in place to make sure that this particular event receives the profile which it should from one board to the other. I was wondering if the minister shares those concerns that have been expressed to me by a member of the community that I'm fortunate enough to represent about ongoing funding concerns with regard to African Heritage Month?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I want to indicate to the honourable member that we indeed provide funding to address concerns relative to issues surrounding the community and I can say that the particular issue that the honourable member references is not one that has been brought to my attention up to this time. I will, however, explore the issue and depending upon what is brought forward, we will respond hopefully in an appropriate manner.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I have learned from experience earlier during estimates that if I bring forth a particular piece of documentation, I have to table it. I see it there in front of me and I'm reluctant to do that. However, I know I can't use this prop, but I have in my possession a book entitled Drawing the Line: A Resource For the Prevention of Problem Gambling that was made available in a pilot project in certain schools around the province for Grade 4 to Grade 6. It's a curriculum supplement for health and math. It was published by the Department of Health, the Gaming Services and Drug Dependency and the Department of Education. If I hold it up, then I can't use it any more. Mr. Minister, are you aware of this particular pilot project, what was the reception in the schools in which it was used, and is it really the sort of thing that the public school students in Grade 4 to Grade 6 should be looking at? If any of the members would like to look at this book, it is in my opinion a controversial workbook to say the least. Grade 4 to Grade 6, Drawing the Line: A Resource for the Prevention of Problem Gambling, what is the status of the pilot project, what are the results and, heaven forbid, in my opinion, if we're going to extend this pilot project to other schools.
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, this particular issue is among those categories of issues that the school system is sometimes asked to address. I believe as a society it's necessary for us to very seriously question the capacity of our school system to address the myriad of concerns and issues that exist within our society. Our education system obviously
should be providing skills for individuals to allow them to live a productive life, expose them to the elements of our society, the accomplishments of our society that would enable them to live a fulfilling life, but very often we get sidetracked because there are so many issues out there that schools are being asked to address. The capacity of our teachers to be able to adequately address these concerns is something that I believe we need to take a very serious look at and we need to decide what is the responsibility of our schools and what is the responsibility of other agencies and other resources that exist within the community.
Having said all that, Mr. Chairman, I can indicate to the honourable member that if that was a pilot, then there should be an analysis of the pilot available within the department. I will seek that and provide the results of it to the honourable member.
MR. ESTABROOKS: I want members in the House to know of this book and, again, I think it's important that I share with the members present where these pilot projects were used. So if you happen to have a school in this area, the Brookfield Memorial School, a pilot project on gambling, the Inglis Street School, the Coxheath Elementary School, the Upper Stewiacke Elementary School, excuse me as I come down through, Somerset and District Elementary School, Mulgrave Memorial Education Centre and the Hebbville Academy. Now, this particular pilot project, excuse my humble opinion, is a waste of time and a waste of money because this sort of pilot project, in my view, and I'm no expert on curriculum innovations let me tell you, has no place in the school system. As far as I'm concerned, the teachers of Grades 4, 5 and 6 in those schools have a full enough plate with the many, many expectations that we all know of, yet a pilot project is allowed to move into these schools . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time has expired for the estimates for this evening.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise and report considerable progress and beg leave to sit again on a future day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee rose at 7:01 p.m.]