HALIFAX, MONDAY, MAY 10, 2004
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. James DeWolfe
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: The Minister of Community Services.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The estimates for the Minister of Community Services. The time is 3:24 p.m.
HON. DAVID MORSE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Our Executive Director of Finance and Administration, George Hudson, and his capable associate, Clem Hennebury, are in the Chamber and will be joining me momentarily.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I recognize the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid. We will get the time straightened out momentarily. Please start your questioning.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I believe it's around 56 minutes. I had a couple of minutes on Friday to start what I was going to talk about.
I mentioned that most of my questions will be around the Affordable Housing Agreement, but before I get into that, as I was saying Friday, one of the biggest things that I've noticed over the last eight or nine months is the concern that many Nova Scotians have which pertains to housing costs or costs of rentals that they find themselves paying these days. Even early this morning, when I was looking through the Classifieds in the paper to see what costs are out there for housing, I was amazed that even just a one-bedroom apartment was $675, and a two bedroom in Clayton Park can range up to $820. The cost is very expensive. Over the last several years it has increased and, of course, the cost of a new home is on the increase, especially around here in HRM.
I've really had a lot of input on that side of the cost of housing in our area, especially here in HRM. I want to go to the questioning of shelter allowances. The people on assistance are really finding it hard to find affordable, decent housing, especially in the city, with such an increase in rent and population. Working over the years in my former profession, I've been in many homes, many apartments and I find the people who really need our help and who are on assistance are finding themselves living in conditions that I wouldn't put on anybody. So I want to ask the minister about the allowances that you give here. Do you think the amounts that you prescribed, like one family, one size, $235, is a reasonable amount given the conditions of the rents in the province today?
MR. MORSE: Thank you, honourable member. The amount of the shelter allowance is a matter of concern. Just to put it into some perspective, of the 32,800-odd cases that we have on the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program, about 12,000 of those are using their maximum shelter allowance. That clearly would suggest that there is a problem, it's a problem that I think is going to grow, it requires some attention and we are looking to ways of trying to adjust this in a way that would be seen as being fair across the province, but to address those hot markets such as HRM, Antigonish, Wolfville - all university towns, incidentally - which seems to have a lot of demand for housing.
With regard to the various shelter allowances, it depends on your family circumstance. The member opposite was giving some acknowledgement of that. It's $235 for a single, able-bodied unemployed person, and if that person happens to have a disability there's a $300 supplement, making it $535; for a family of two, it's $550; and for a family of three it goes to $600. Even those numbers are difficult in some of these markets. The member's point is well-taken and staff have been asked to try to come forward with a proposal that would try to address this growing problem in some of the more prosperous parts of the province.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): This should go pretty well, because you've kind of answered one of the next questions - are you considering looking at geography in the province? In some areas of the province it is a lot cheaper to find housing compared to other areas, so I'm encouraged by that and I look forward to it and we'll make sure we hold you to the word that we'll look at some kind of consideration for the areas in our provinces - especially for our students because, as you're aware, the increased costs of tuition, plus the housing, is a great deterrent for people deciding to seek higher education.
I want to also look under your policies, and just a few brief questions on that. I was reading through it and I came to one with the policy on shelter allowances for single, expectant mothers, and I have some concerns with that. It says over the age of 19, in her seventh month, they may qualify for additional allowances to push them up to - and I'm just using the figures of the $235, and I'm sure the member who is our critic in the area of disability will get into that section, but you will allow a single mother who is expecting, in her seventh month, her third trimester - being allowed an increase of $550.
I'm just wondering how did you come about with that number? Have you addressed the month that the expectant mother is in, over the past several years or has that been a policy for years? I'm wondering if you're looking at maybe changing that because, coming from my profession, someone in their seventh month, that's an important stage and to see that increase then, it's important. I'm glad it's there, but I would think maybe earlier in the pregnancy so they can find decent housing for their child and not just towards the end of the pregnancy, so, are you looking at maybe changing that? How long has this policy been in place? Is it maybe outdated and we could look at it?
MR. MORSE: As the member would be aware, August 1, 2001, we came in with the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program, so in essence all policies go forward from that date, although some may have been drawn from the old Family Benefits Program or maybe even from the municipal Social Assistance Programs. The member's quite right - there is a recognition that an expectant mother is moving on into her term that provision has been made to allow for a move to accommodations that would be more suitable for a family as opposed to a single person and, at this point in time, $550 is the new shelter allowance.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): As I pointed out earlier, even if you want to look at, especially in the city here, a two bedroom is $650, so they're really finding themselves in a difficult situation, especially if it's a single expectant mother who may be on her own trying to find a suitable environment in which to raise her children.
I want to ask some more questions on policy. Under the renters and homeowners, I notice here that you encourage the applicant or the recipient of assistance to try to seek shelter that includes heat, so that they can benefit more from their monthly allowance. I'm wondering, with the conditions we've seen over the last couple of years, the heating costs in the Winter rising over the last several years, are you looking at maybe coming in with something that will assist them, not 12 months a year, but in those peak months when the cost of heating your place is quite expensive? We see the trend where "they're robbing Peter to pay Paul" when it comes to rent and heat and things, are you looking at some kind of policy this Winter to help with the increased costs of heating?
MR. MORSE: The member opposite brings up a subject that I suspect all MLAs and anyone who deals with trying to assist some of those who are more vulnerable in society would encounter through the Winter months and getting those telephone calls where the oil tank is either empty or about to be empty and there are no means to fill it up again. I appreciate the honourable member's suggestion and what I'm going to do is ask that my communications director take that back and make sure that is one of the considerations when the new policy comes forward for consideration. I thank the honourable member for his suggestion, it's totally appropriate.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Now I want to turn to the Affordable Housing Agreement. When that was signed in September, 2002, I believe, I'm just wondering - since the federal government back in the early 1990s decided that it was their time to get out of housing and downloaded it to the provinces, when this agreement came about, who were the players that decided this agreement? How did this $37 million come about? Who were the main players and how did we reach that figure of $37 million for this agreement?
MR. MORSE: The member opposite has a good appreciation of what has happened in public housing, social housing. The federal government did pull out in about 1993. This was a unilateral decision on their part. It was offered to the provinces to continue on with the existing agreements. The agreements expire in 2035, the last one. A lot of these agreements in essence are picking up the mortgage payments on public housing units, but that does not cover the full cost of providing the housing, because actually the rentals that are paid for public housing, which is often based on a rent income formula, they would not be enough to cover the operating costs on their own. The subsidy that's required is actually more than just the cost of the mortgage.
The member has prefaced his question well. As I have said on numerous occasions here and with the federal counterparts during announcements, this is a positive development to see the federal government recognize that they do have a role to play in providing affordable housing. We welcome them back. They came up with the number of $680 million. They distributed across the country on a per capita basis. I'm not sure that's necessarily the best way of distributing those monies, but perhaps the member would have some comments about the rationale for that formula.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, just looking in the past at the agreements, I mean they do range from $177 million for the larger provinces like B.C., to $5 million for provinces like P. E. I., but our province seems to kind of draw a parallel with Manitoba in a lot of issues, especially before I was here, with the same size, same population. I just had a bit of concern. Did we shortchange ourselves by settling with a $37 million agreement, where Manitoba's a $50 million agreement? I'm just wondering, was it the province's intention to go in there with a certain amount of money and that's all we could afford, so that's why the agreement is maybe $37 million instead of maybe $50 million like Manitoba?
MR. MORSE: The $680 million was a number that came about by courtesy of the federal government. They brought it forward. It was straight per capita calculation. I believe the population of Manitoba is slightly more than a million, so they would, just using that formula, in fact, get a larger allocation. They've also come back with a part two to the Affordable Housing Program, topping it up to a $1 billion federal commitment, but until we finish digesting the first component, I think that it would be a little ambitious to start making plans for the second, although the honourable member would perhaps be aware that as it pertains to the second component, his honourable colleague, the member for Dartmouth
North brought up in the House in last year's Question Period, the subject of Shannon Park, which, as the member might be aware, has been in the news recently.
There are many ideas as to what should happen with that property. There does seem to be some agreement between the federal minister for Nova Scotia, the Minister of Community Services, and, I feel, the member for Dartmouth North as to what should happen with those units. I would also suggest that my discussions with the Mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality have been very constructive and the mayor also is quite compassionate when it comes to providing affordable housing.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, and definitely the member for Dartmouth North will definitely be mentioning it. Ironically enough, I have over the years gone into those facilities in Shannon Park and it's amazing that - when I got the call - there that there were so few of those units being used. I though it's a great opportunity to address a large number. I hope the work with that will continue.
I want to ask about our portion, the $18.6 million that we have to come up with. I'm wondering, what is your prediction on how much you're going to seek from nonprofit or the private sector? In turn, in answering my second question, how much do you expect our province or the government to pay out of that $18.6 million? What's your prediction on how much we're going to be covered for and how much are you going to try to get from the nonprofit or private sector?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member for his question. The plan is to split that off into four different components. I think that the member is specifically referring to additional rental units. I can expand the answer to include more than that, but in terms of the number of new rental units and the provincial contribution, it will depend in part on what we get back in response to the request for proposals. Over and above that, we have a Home Preservation Program, which I was referencing the other day. This is for the amounts that are greater than what is qualified for under RRAP (Interruption) The Residential Rehabilitation Assistance program. He's a good member. Which is capped at $16,000, honourable member. The Home Preservation Program takes on applications which are larger than that. There's really no point in going in and spending $16,000 to fix up the house if the job requires $25,000 or even if it requires $19,000, and the part that doesn't get done is the roof, as an example. This is an attempt to try to preserve housing stock.
In addition to that, there's the program to encourage home ownership, which is the program that identifies areas for urban renewal, and assists low to mid-income Nova Scotians to acquire their own homes. The last component which is a very important component and comprises approximately 25 per cent of the $37.26 million, is the component to work with landlords to upgrade the quality of their accommodations, and that's something that also
really involves the municipalities in a sense, because they're the ones that have taken an interest, the responsibility for maintaining a certain quality of a rental unit, and that is a challenge that I know that the mayor and the Halifax Council, as an example, are wrestling with because some of the more challenging situations are right here in the city, and the challenge becomes, at what point in time do you say that your accommodations just do not meet the standards and so therefore, we're going to shut you down, when the flip side of that is that you may be putting people out in the streets. It's a delicate balance. Those are the four components to the Affordable Housing Program.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, just a simple question and maybe one figure. How many provincial dollars will be spent this year or allocated this year on housing?
MR. MORSE: The provincial component is made up of both a capital commitment and an ongoing increase in the subsidized housing. That's the component that is going to trigger the most expansion in the availability of affordable housing, because that's where we go in and we basically supplement the rent that low income Nova Scotians are able to pay to their landlord, and it could be to the tune of $250 a month, to bring them in line with what is deemed to be affordable. (Interruption) Anyway, honourable member, the total that's expected in gross to be expended on affordable housing using the draw down and the federal component which is matched by provincial dollars or the net present value of an increase in provincial rent subsidies is $7.55 million this year, plus whatever else is contributed by other housing partners.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, I wonder since you have some figures there in front of you if you could tell me how much of provincial dollars will go into social housing this year?
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, we're trying to basically dissect the components that may go to the Affordable Housing Program, components that may go to the Rural Residential Assistance Program, and the dollars that may go to various other components of
Housing Services. Those are just a couple of them. The provincial net expenditure is $13,175,000, but again, that's a bit of a composite number, so it would take some distillation to break it down into the various components.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, I would love if your office and your department could break that down and get some information back to us, especially the social housing section of it, if you could.
I want to turn quickly to when the agreement was signed and the federal government said that they were going to get back into assisting our province with affordable housing, there was a reserve fund set up with that. I wonder if you could just tell me the purpose of that reserve fund and how much was it when it was initially set up?
MR. MORSE: Would the member be referring to the federal deferred contribution account that's in the Nova Scotia Housing Development Corporation?
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): It was my understanding that when they downloaded housing to the provinces again, there was a reserve fund set up in case of destruction or disaster that would help us replenish or fix up any existing stock at that time. So was there a fund set up initially in that capacity?
MR. MORSE: Thank you, honourable member, I thought that was the fund you were referring too. That is the deferred federal contribution account, and you're right that when the agreement was turned over to the province, things identified likely as bad debts were quantified and provision was made at that time. There have been other good things about the province taking over Housing Services. There have been some economies and, in fact, as a result of this, that account has built up, and plus periodically, as I had made reference to before in this Chamber and with the media, the province periodically actually augmented that account with fairly significant deposits.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, so later, last year we heard that there was a cut toward Community Services, but yet the minister stated that there was going to be no cuts in services in his department. It's my understanding that funds were taken from that fund. I'm just wondering, what do you foresee in the next year, any possible use for this fund, or are you going to draw any more down on that, or is it going to be untouched until next year?
MR. MORSE: Yes, thank you, honourable member. Just to put this in perspective, just because there's money in that account does not mean the money originated with the federal government. As I indicated before, there have been significant deposits into that account. In 2003-04 there were additional provincial deposits into that account to the tune of some $12.5 million, so that when we had to draw down to meet our commitment to bringing in the balanced budget, you're right, $4.5 million of the $5.8 million came from that account, but I would argue that those were provincial monies that were set aside for a rainy day and indeed we had a rainy day.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): I'm just wondering, have we used that fund for any other reason other than that $4.5 million that the department needed to find with the cuts? Has there been any other money taken from that for any other reasons, repairs to public housing, seniors' complexes or anything like that?
MR. MORSE: The use to which those monies can be used is defined under the Social Housing Agreement, so there are restrictions on what can happen with those monies. Whatever uses they are put to have to be agreed to between the province and Central Mortgage and Housing, I guess, the Nova Scotia Housing Development Corporation and Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): What was their reaction this year when the province had to go into that fund and take $4.5 million from it?
MR. MORSE: The federal government, through Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation expects its partners to live up to their agreements, and we have lived up to the agreements. They were willing to accommodate our concerns within that framework.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, I want to just turn a little bit to our seniors in our province, and the complexes that many of them live in today. As Housing Critic I've traveled around to many of these complexes throughout our province and have seen some of the conditions that these are in. They do have a lot of concerns with air quality and no elevators in a lot of these seniors' complexes. I'm just wondering, with the need which I heard a lot during the election, of adequate seniors' housing in this province, are there any expenditures foreseen in this upcoming year on increasing the stock of seniors' public housing?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, that will be forthcoming as a result of the request for proposals. We did do a very extensive research and analysis into the housing stock across the province, trying to identify the areas of greatest need so that when the request for proposals come forward, we can do some sort of value assessment that the greatest benefit is being derived by those monies.
The honourable member was asking before about the deferred federal contribution account and made mention of exhausting the account. I want to assure the honourable member that, in fact, the account, as of March 31, 2004, is at approximately $23.5 million and a significant number of those dollars would be provincial contributions. So I do not want to leave Nova Scotians with the idea that in any way have we depleted that account.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, yes I understand that it's $23.5 million as of March, but I understand that just within a year it increased dramatically, so we have to be cautious that next year it could deplete as much as it increased.
A quick question on the RRAP programs that we see. Do you keep track of those grants or applications that were turned down by region, or is it all under one umbrella? Are you able to give me figures from region to region, or housing authority to housing authority, on who is applying and who's been denied?
MR. MORSE: Just for greater clarification, we have two entities that are delivering housing services in the province on behalf of the department. One, we have the seven housing authorities, which are scattered across the province and they are the ones that actually hold and manage the housing stock, the public housing units. They do have some other functions. Housing Services, which is aligned with the four regions in the province, are the ones that deliver those sort of programs including the Rural Residential Assistance Program. That sort
of decision would be made in the regions and presumably when somebody applies, there's a file kept and it would be possible to go through those files. I'm not sure that I'm anxious to give that sort of job out to staff and take them away from hopefully approving applications, but the information would be out there in the four regions.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, I'd like to actually give my remaining time to the member for Dartmouth North. I hope to get back and maybe have some more questions for the minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, member.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Chairman, before I start I just want to thank my honourable colleague, the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley, who is the Community Services Critic and the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid who is the Housing Critic for giving me this opportunity to speak to you, Mr. Minister, on a number of issues around your portfolio, Community Services.
I want to tell you that for four years I've had the opportunity of bringing questions to you and certainly having the opportunity of listening to your responses as well, and certainly of having the advantage of listening to your responses as well.
Mr. Minister, I will be all over the field of your portfolio so from time to time I may shift back and forth but I'm sure that you will be aware of where I'm going. I do know that this government has not done much with respect to housing developments in this province except for a 15-unit housing complex in the Town of Middleton of which two are disabled units. I do know that this government had before it a proposal or a discussion paper with respect to housing for tomorrow, a new direction in provincial housing, an action that this government could have taken.
I do know that there are a number of senior citizens out there who are seeking and asking for seniors' housing in this province, particularly in the metro area. I just came across a home, Mr. Minister, where I was talking to the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations about the Residential Tenancies Act and the kinds of problem that tenants are having because of the significant increases in rent, particularly in the metro area, because people are migrating here to get employment opportunities, placing a tremendous burden upon working-poor Nova Scotians and Nova Scotians on social assistance to get adequate shelter components.
I want to say to the minister that that in itself is a very serious problem and the minister acknowledged that it's a serious problem and they need to address it now because in a few years, in a very few short years, it's going to be a very serious problem. With the RFPs that are out there now, and requests for proposals around housing development, you might have the opportunity to address some of that.
My concern is around seniors. I don't know how many seniors are on the waiting list now, but I'm told - and I don't know the actual waiting list number - there are over 100 seniors waiting for seniors' housing projects. I do know that there are a number of seniors who would love to stay in their own apartment complex if, in fact, they were able to get rent subsidies and they were able to stay there because they're familiar with the community, they volunteer in the community, and they would like to stay there. This, Mr. Minister, would be a way of easing the burden and the pressure on some, at least looking at some of the seniors' housing. So my question to you is, how many proposed seniors' housing units do you expect to have built in this year, and you probably can't give me an accurate answer because the RFPs haven't been in yet so that you would review, but how many do you expect will be new seniors' housing units and are you prepared to look at the rent subsidy with respect to alleviating some of those pressures now?
MR. MORSE: The honourable member has answered his first question in that it's difficult to answer until one has the suggested solutions in front of oneself. However, the honourable member has made reference to specific areas of great need in this province and that is exactly why it was important to go out and do that research to come up with identified areas that might be in need of seniors' housing. Others might need three-bedroom family units; others, it might be, for non-elderly social assistance recipients, singles. So the honourable member has basically spoken to much of what we were able to confirm with the report that was done within Housing Services at the end of last year.
But with regard to his point about using rent subsidies, it is an excellent point, that is a very effective and efficient way of targeting monies. In fact, the independent organization, the CD Howe people, have said that that is 85 per cent efficient as opposed to public housing stock which is only 37 per cent efficient in actually delivering affordable housing and while we don't necessarily subscribe to everything from the CD Howe Institute, when they do these studies and, you know, they give such a market differential and the effectiveness of these two tools, and I see the member opposite, by virtue of his question, would tend to agree that the rent supplement approach is a good one. I like it because in this case it allows us to target lower income Nova Scotians and, in fact, you can anticipate, honourable member, that this is the approach that will be taken by the province for our share.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to see that the minister acknowledges this because I want the minister to know there are some good landlords out there and there are some excellent units. There are seniors who get established in a community and an environment and they live there and they want to be there, but they can't afford to be there.
So they're pushed out by way of their income and they're pushed out of communities and neighbourhoods in which they have volunteered and worked very hard and continue to live there.
Another concern that I do know that my colleague, the honourable Leader, the member for Cole Harbour, had put this forward through a question to you most recently and that was the question with respect to elevators in seniors' complexes, those senior complexes that may very well have been designed for elevator units to be put into them, but they have not had elevator units and so on. The Mr. Minister, in your comment, you gave me the impression that you were talking about this being a matter of resources, of the utilization of dollars, and there was a way around that. I was somewhat puzzled by your way around it that you would say that seniors who have become greater disabled, or have deteriorated over a period of time, now could be shifted down to the ground floor unit and they would be there. So it was a matter of utilizing the seniors' centre to maximize its potential use by bringing the senior who could no longer go up the stairs down to the ground floor.
Mr. Minister, what I would say to you is that's dehumanizing because those seniors who have lived on the second floor, or the third floor, or the fifth floor, have made that their home. It's like their community. They have everything in place, where their television is going to be, where their potted plants are going to be, and everything else like that. As a result of moving them and telling them because there are no elevators down there, you bring that down to the ground level. That, in my opinion, is somewhat discriminatory as well. By the fact that those individuals then can't make choices because they're seniors, or they're disabled, they no longer can make choices, government is making choices for them, these people have all their faculties and want to live in that particular unit.
So I would say to you it's a matter of priority on where you divvy out your dollars and I would say to you there are a number of seniors who, in fact, would be quite pleased to continue to live in their homes, or what we call units, without interruption. I find that somewhat insensitive when it comes from the minister, when I stand here, knowing my physical structure and knowing the comments that have been made across this Legislative floor. I don't mean that to be insensitive to your particular portfolio, Mr. Minister, but it comes across as such and it needs to be really looked at as to how do we address the issue of providing for seniors or disabled persons without relocating them.
I will also tell you another thing, that that's an expense to those individuals because they have to have their furniture moved down to ground level. They have to get the reconnection of their telephone. They have to get the reconnection to their cable and a whole host of things. This is not just simply a matter of shifting people. So I would like to hear your comment with respect to when can seniors' housing, particularly since there's not a lot being built, can they expect to see elevators in those units?
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, I wasn't really expecting to have a chance to comment on the honourable Leader of the Opposition's question from, I think it was, last week in Question Period. He got up and he gave a civic address to describe a seniors' unit. I believe that civic address includes, four units and I think there are about four per unit, two upstairs, two downstairs. Three of those buildings have elevators, the fourth does not. So, in essence, that is a fairly good depiction of the situation as it pertains to seniors who need stair-free access to their apartments because in that case you've got 16 apartments, two of which require you to use stairs, and that is about the percentage. It's 85 per cent of seniors, public housing seniors' apartment units in this province are accessible without the use of stairs. In other words, they either have an elevator or they're on the ground floor. The cost of putting an elevator in is somewhere to the tune of $125,000 and $125,000 has to be weighed against how many other units could we put in, how many rent subsidies could we provide. It's making the best use of the monies available.
The member opposite makes some points, and if you happen to be that senior who's faced with that challenge, I can understand that by times you might not want to make that choice, but we do bend over backwards to try to accommodate seniors. We try to make sure that their apartments are accessible. If through the passage of time it requires assisting them to move to a ground floor, or to a building with an elevator, we do our best. The member opposite is suggesting that all units should either be ground floor or have access to an elevator. I think that that's making a value decision because by doing that, by putting in that elevator, we're sacrificing the ability to build perhaps a couple more units and house two more families, including perhaps that senior who is no longer able to stay in that apartment. So it is a value decision and we try to do our best to please as many as we can.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and to the minister, it is a value decision, there's no question, and the cost is, what do you measure that cost by, the number of four units and so on, or the additional units at $40,000 a unit, $120,000 might give you an additional three units. I don't know what the projected cost is, but I do know the cost is to make sure that people are not discriminated against because of where they live and so on. I would say this to the minister. If, in fact, that is the case, and when seniors are moved inside their seniors' housing complex, that the cost be borne to relocate those people on the ground level which would be significantly less. It may only represent $500 or $600, or $1,000, something to that effect, to make sure that somebody pays for their power, for the cable hookup, or their phone installation and so on. That should not be, but anytime you move a senior, because of their disability, that's a cost borne by them and that's not only seniors, but disabled persons.
Also I want to get on to the issue with respect to disabled persons living in seniors' complexes. There are some disabled people across this province and I do know there's one in Amherst for sure whom I do know has contacted me on several occasions, who has been living in a seniors' complex, and that individual feels insulted by the fact that they're not age 55, or whatever. The seniors are great people, they don't mind that, but for some apparent
reason because there are no disabled facilities available for him in that general vicinity, then he had no other choice but to go into seniors' housing. Now, my question is, how many disabled units, new units, will be built by your government this year?
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, I'm going to try to keep track of those questions, but I would like to go back to your first point that you made after I sat down and that was the cost of a senior moving within his or her own complex or, indeed, it could be a senior couple. I'm not sure exactly what the Housing Authority's policies would be in this case. Where there are children in the area, or they have able-bodied friends, I suspect that often they pitch in so that the cost is minimal, but in the case where there's nobody to help pitch in, I think the member brings up a good point and my hope would be that that is recognized by the Housing Authority and, as such, I appreciate the member bringing up the point and I can see my communications director is busily writing that down as a suggestion to take back to the Housing Authorities and find out just what their policy is in those cases. The member made a good point, I've heard his point, and the request is going out to find out whether that's taken into consideration when we do encounter those difficult times. So I thank the member for that.
Now, getting back to the member's specific question as to the number of disabled units being built this year, again it gets back to what comes back from the requests for proposals but, clearly, it is likely that there are going to be more disabled people that we are going to want to be able to assist in staying in their own units and so, as the population ages and indeed as medical science improves, the opportunity to have more people who may have a disability stay in their home is going to grow and whatever government does should be reflective of that change in the demographics. So it's a policy answer as opposed to a quantitative answer, but the member's point is absolutely right on.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, the minister is quite right. He did not quantify the numbers at all and I can understand, but what I would say to the minister is that he take into consideration the number of disabled units that should be available in any new housing projects that come forward this year as a result of the RFPs in which the money is going to be dispensed into housing. I would also say to the minister as well, is that any new housing stock, irrespective if it has any disabled units in, that it meet the Building Code standards with respect to accessibility by disabled persons and that disabled persons have those if, in fact, those proposals are going to go forward.
I just want to say briefly, and the minister touched on it with respect to the Shannon Park grounds, primarily around the housing in Shannon Park, and I do know that the minister and I have had a lot of conversation around that. I concur with the minister that this is a great opportunity to look at additional housing stock for the province and to maybe even entertain some private sector involvement with respect to that as well as the province, or primarily the
province as well, it doesn't matter as long as it becomes affordable social housing stock to some degree as well, is that there's a mix and blend in that community and that the government look at that, but I know that that's a way off because of negotiations through the Canada Lands Company, the Department of National Defence and some native claims with respect to the entitlement of that land. So, minister, you don't have to respond on that, I just wanted to make comment to that.
I do want to go to Community Services and I do want to talk about one particular issue that has been extremely troublesome and outstanding to me that comes through my constituency office and I know it comes through a lot of MLAs' constituency offices across the province. You know that we heard most recently about the government writing off $44 million in taxes owed to the government - $44 million. Yet individuals who are on Community Services, who have outstanding debts to this province, do not get those debts written off. Some of those debts are10 years old and they're coming back, by the Department of Community Services, through Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, and out to the client to pay those outstanding bills and those clients are in exactly the same position that they were 10 years ago as what they are today and they're demanding those dollars be paid back.
I will tell the minister, and I asked the regional manager to investigate this through your legal department, and I don't know that they have, but the federal Government of Canada, if you have an outstanding bill, an EI bill to them and you owe them an EI bill as a result of overpayment, after seven years, the Statute of Limitations, they don't collect it. So I'm going to ask the minister, why does your department continue to collect those monies and when is a good write-off period for people on social assistance if, in fact, corporations and businesses can write off within a couple of years $44 million?
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member for his question. I think the honourable member knows that in terms of any debts being written off by government, it would be really a question to the Minister of Finance. I am not so sure about the number of $44 million unless he's referring to perhaps some employment incentive targets that were put in place previously but, specifically, what the member is trying to say is that there are overpayments that have accrued over time. Some of these overpayments, as you are pointing out, go back to the old municipal social assistance programs which were uploaded at some considerable cost to the province and came with them.
In essence, these overpayments often come from people that have perhaps applied for Canada Pension. It's on the understanding that when the Canada Pension comes in, the money that we advanced to them during that period of time - which sometimes is not very complimentary to the Canada Pension Plan adjudication process, because it can sometimes take years to come up with a decision so the province, steps in through the Department of Community Services and basically provides the fundamentals of life until they can resolve their claim with Canada Pension.
Once that money comes in from Canada Pension, those monies that were basically advanced in anticipation of that claim, are then expected to be paid back with a lump sum payment. If, though, Canada Pension chooses to turn down the claim, then there's no expectation to pay it back. It's only when in essence they're paid twice. We pay them from day one, let's say Canada Pension comes in after three years and they pay retroactively, it's that three years we're talking about. A lot of these payments emanate from problems with Canada Pension Plan delays. Sometimes, perhaps, the clients - and I'm going to say maybe more so with the older ones when it was under the municipal program - they don't realize that the expectation is that they are to pay back these monies that were basically fronted to them so that they could make do until the Canada Pension Plan rendered, hopefully, a positive decision.
However, having said that, when they work their way off of social assistance - and you're talking about the collection activities of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations - their ability to pay is very much a consideration. If they're not in a position to make payments, my understanding is that sometimes they'll suspend payments. Mind you, the debt still is outstanding, but there's just no collection going on. So, it depends on their circumstances.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Minister. Time has expired for the NDP caucus. I recognize the Leader of the Liberal Party.
MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Today I would like to continue where I left off on Friday, with income assistance. Mr. Minister, going to the Supplementary Detail budget on Page 4.11, the amount that's recorded for Income Assistance Payments, under 2003-04 the department had estimated spending $223 million - the actual amount that was spent was a little over $227 million. Then I look at the estimated projection for 2004-05 and I see $224 million. My first question is, why the fact that the department has spent over $3 million in last year's payments, this year, instead of adjusting the budget to reflect the actual cost from last year, the cost is just slightly over what was estimated from last year. My first question is, how do you expect to reach this reduction in the budget for this year?
MR. MORSE: Yes, thank you honourable member. I think you may recall that last week I made reference to the anticipated caseload because if we know what the caseload is going to be, we have a very good idea of what the cost will be. You can take averages and just multiplying it by the number of cases, you pretty much can determine what you should be putting in the budget. So, again, we're recognizing that things are going well in Nova Scotia, relative to what it has been for really quite some number of years. With those record employment numbers and the increase in the disposable income, we feel comfortable with that number.
MR. GAUDET: Again, I hate to disagree with the minister, but when you look at this budget that's being debated on the floor of the House, there's very little of economic development for rural Nova Scotia. During Question Period, many questions have been asked
what the government is doing for Britex, Avon Foods and there was a whole list from around the province, so we certainly understand. When you look at rural Nova Scotia, especially the depopulation factor that's taking place. A lot of people are moving to the city from my area and probably from your area, Mr. Chairman. Again, when you hear of these unfortunate stories like Britex and Avon Foods, you would tend to believe that this department would have to at least give some consideration because not everyone of them is going to move to the city.
The Premier has said, time and time again, numbers are on the increase. I agree, especially for metro Halifax. When you start looking at the true numbers in rural Nova Scotia, a lot of people living in rural Nova Scotia are seniors, but there are young people moving away. That's not just happening in my area. That's happening in many, many parts of this province. When I see the department actually reducing the amount spent for income assistance, when you look at the numbers last year, they went a little over $3 million than what was actually estimated. This year they basically have dropped the money by roughly a little over $3 million again.
I have a concern there. I hope that the minister is right that the number of cases will continue to decrease. Again, the minister knows far better than anyone else in this House, but when you look at the statistics for last year, it just shows the opposite. I would caution the minister being a little over optimistic in terms of his numbers - but again there could be a reality before the year is over that the department will need some additional funding instead of reducing that budget.
Continuing on that same page, Seniors Program. I see that the department has actually reduced that budget item by $103,000. Could the minister indicate why this reduction?
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member opposite for his question. I think the member would remember yesterday I was encouraging all members to share that program with their constituents because this is the program where a senior who is on Guaranteed Income Supplement and still own their own home can get up to 50 per cent of their municipal property taxes to a maximum of $400. This was a program that was reintroduced by this government. It's much appreciated by those that qualify, but the problem is that just because you're on Guaranteed Income Supplement does not mean you'll qualify because you also have to own your own home. It's a little bit of a word-of-mouth situation and it's a question of getting the word out there. I know the member opposite does good constituency work because I get his letters. I'm sure that he will pass that on.
As long as we're on the subject of communication, the honourable member brought up a case of a constituent last week who unfortunately had gotten shifted to a caseworker that was not bilingual. I advise that steps are being taken to address that problem.
The member also was referring to where growth was happening in the province, suggesting it's all in the city. While the city is certainly booming, there's no question about that. I know we all rejoice in that prosperity, I would point out that just as recently as last month when the unemployment rate in Nova Scotia fell from 9.2 per cent to 9 per cent - not as low as we want it to be, but a lot lower than it has been historically - all the improvement was outside of the Metro area. That's a very significant drop outside of Metro. While there may be some high-profile businesses that have gotten into difficulty, clearly, there are more that are finding opportunity here in the province and the growth has, in fact, at least during this past month, been rural. That will fluctuate, I know, over time, but I think one should not underestimate the resilience of rural Nova Scotia.
MR. GAUDET: I want to acknowledge the minister's commitment in helping the matter that I raised on Friday, the difficulties of one constituent in communicating with his caseworker. I appreciate the minister looking into it.
I want to move over to Employment Support Services. As the minister is aware of the department's 2004-05 business plan, one of the strategic goals in the department for this coming year is to conduct an evaluation of the Employment Support Services component of the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program. I guess my first question to the minister is, what type of evaluation are you planning?
MR. MORSE: The terms of reference are in fact in the final stages of being set. Clearly, what we're looking for is basically value for money. The effectiveness, the efficiency and the economy by which we've been delivering the program, how has it served the clients and how has it served the province. So, that is a policy answer to a policy question.
I'm sure the member opposite would concur that three years out is a reasonable time to sit back and just look at what we've accomplished in that period of time and whether there are opportunities to perhaps improve yet again.
MR. GAUDET: My next question to the minister is, is there any consideration within the department to looking at removing or increasing some of the Employment Support Services that are currently in place?
MR. MORSE: Yes, I thank the honourable member for his question because, as he would be aware, on Page 4.11 of the estimates, if he looks at the 2nd and 3rd lines which are in essence the program delivery aspect of Employment Support Services, he will take note of the fact that there is a very significant increase forecast for the Return to Work Initiatives and the Employment and Training-Field Staff over the forecast for 2003-04. We think this is a good investment and we're continuing to invest more in our clients on Employment Support and Income Assistance to allow them that same chance to have a career as the rest of us.
MR. GAUDET: That's where I'm heading with my next question. On Page 4.11 where the minister was making reference, the Supplementary Detail, I'm looking at the budget line item Return to Work Initiatives. This indicates roughly an increase of $171,000. Again, to the minister, are there particular areas where the department is focussing on in terms of providing some support assistance to these individuals with that allocation?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member. He is focused on the Return to Work Initiatives. That's not the only component of the Employment Support Program. The whole program is a more holistic program. There are a lot of tools that are available to the caseworker to assist the client, to make full use of their abilities - whether it may involve a return to school, to obtain their Grade 12, or community college. There could possibly be an employment subsidy. The employment support workers are in contact with employers in the community. As the member opposite would likely be aware, the community economic development agencies across the province work with Community Services and the Employment Support Services component.
It's a multi-faceted approach to make sure the right supports are in place for the client when they need them. It's hard to just pick one area. They have an entire menu that they can draw upon to assist the client.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I would like to, I guess, go into a little more detail about the type of support that's being provided to those people seeking employment. I know the department is providing daycare allowance, transportation allowance, clothing, equipment, training. Currently we have residents from Clare travelling to Digby for training. I understand from speaking with a number of them that the department's rate is $7.50 a day, $150 a month. Some of these residents have to travel over 50 kilometres one way. The Municipality of Clare has no public transportation, so many of these individuals are having difficulty in trying to meet these requests.
As the minister is aware, trying to set a transportation policy province-wide, especially for rural areas that have no public transportation available, certainly makes it very challenging for some of these individuals to attend these training programs. I guess what I'm trying to find out from the minister, is there consideration given to some of these individuals, especially living in rural areas where there is no public transportation? To try to provide them with $7.50 to travel at least 40 kilometres one way and back, certainly brings challenges. I guess my first question to the minister is, one, is this $7.50 policy the maximum benefit allowed per day for individuals to attend training programs?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for his question. It is $150 a month maximum. The member has brought up some points that point out the uniqueness of the transportation challenge in rural Nova Scotia just as one of the previous Opposition critics brought out the point that the cost of shelter is not consistent across the province. So what the honourable member is pointing out, where one area may have an overheated demand for
rental accommodation, another area may lack in other infrastructures. I have taken note of this. My communications director has written it down. We are trying to grapple with what the member articulated so well in terms of how do you grapple with this province wide when it's only specific to one area so that you still maintain some sort of control, that that's something that should also be given consideration.
I know the honourable member represents Clare and I believe that the Kings Transit system is now extending all the way to Digby. Now, that's no help to the people in Clare, but I have some familiarity with this municipal transportation organization because it was in jeopardy at the time that I was first elected as a councillor and some good things happened that ultimately took this little transportation authority that by rights is a rural one - it should have been one of the most heavily subsidized in North America instead of the most efficient in North America in terms of revenue recovery - and it is now going, I believe, all the way to Digby, or at least well down the Annapolis Valley. I'm wondering if the member has friends with the Clare Municipal Council who perhaps might like to make a contact with Andy Patterson, or the chairman of the Kings Transit Authority, because the member is quite right, public transit is a crucial service and with the density of population along the French Shore, I would think that it might lend itself well to public transit.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I'm glad to hear the minister saying that he will give consideration to looking at the monthly travelling allowance that's being currently allocated, especially for those living in rural Nova Scotia who have to travel a relatively large distance in order to attend some of these programs. So I guess I'm not going to get the minister to indicate on record today that that amount will go up, but at least I want the department to acknowledge some individuals and not just especially in my area, but in many parts of this province who are having challenges, and probably great challenges, with transportation costs in order to attend some of these programs.
Again focusing on these programs, I'm interested, Mr. Chairman, through you, I understand that HRSD helps to fund some of these training programs. Maybe the minister could indicate how much federal funding is in these training programs, how much provincial funding is in these training programs? So let's start off with that one, please.
MR. MORSE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, by times you've heard me stand up here and be critical of some of the federal programs. By times you've heard me stand up here and compliment them. This is a time to compliment them. There's a good working relationship with the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development. In essence what happens here is that we continue to provide the basic necessities of life while Human Resources and Skills Development Canada covers the tuition costs, which is to say go back to community college, or possibly, if there's a fee to complete their high school. So it's a shared program and we both do our part and we enjoy that working relationship with them.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I heard the minister indicating that this is a shared program. I'm looking at a point in the Estimates Book, Page 4.10, under Income Assistance and Employment Support Services, less recoveries is $7.2 million. Am I fair to, I guess to jump to conclusions, that the federal government is providing the province with $7.2 million in order to support Employment Support Services? I guess that's my first question and then, my second one, is the minister indicating that that amount is also matched by the province?
MR. MORSE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, having discussed it with my two colleagues here, we have come to the unanimous opinion that that is recoveries of overpayments.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, maybe the minister could indicate how much money does the Human Resources Department provide to the province in order to help Employment Support Services?
MR. MORSE: Thank you, honourable member. In essence what you're asking is whether the federal monies flow through the Department of Community Services and that is not the case. That would be over and above what you see here. So I would anticipate by what I'm advised that their cheques must go directly to either the clients or to the community colleges, but it does not come through as a recovery in the department.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I have some questions with regard to this funding. I want to find out, through you to the minister, is the province receiving any federal funding to help individuals through employment support programs and, if so, where is this funding located in your budget?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to correct my previous answer. There is a small component that comes through the cost-shared Employment Assistance for Persons with Disability Program which is a federal-provincial cost-shared program. So there would be a small component that would flow through Employment Support and Income Assistance, but still the basic premise of my previous answer is the correct one because I think the member was asking whether there's a federal component in the main Employment Support and Income Assistance Program that's included in these numbers. So that answer still remains the same, but with the caveat that there is this one smaller program which the member would be aware of where there is a framework agreement with the federal government and they match provincial dollars.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I'm still not clear. We have some individuals at home, and I think the program, it's called something different now. It used to be called WINGS Program for adults to allow them to re-enter the workforce, or look for jobs. What I'm trying to find out is, who is actually picking up the cost for these training programs and I'm just using as an example the WINGS Program and I stand to be corrected what the program is
now called. So maybe the minister could indicate who exactly is funding these types of training programs?
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member and we're starting to surmise that you were referring to the aforementioned WINGS Program but, again, the money does not flow through the department for the WINGS Program. It is a dollar-for-dollar matching, but the feds invest their own dollars, we invest matching dollars. It is not totalled in our numbers.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, through you, now we understand that we have at least some type of provincial-federal agreement that shares the actual costs. Could the minister indicate how much money we are talking about in the run of a year and, at the same time, could the minister maybe provide us with a copy of the agreement that is currently in place with the province?
MR. MORSE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, we would be pleased to obtain a copy of the agreement and provide that to the honourable member. We will also endeavor to get a breakdown as to how much money flows on the part of the province as a result of the agreement.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the minister for agreeing to provide us with a copy of that agreement. The reason I was asking, you know, and maybe the minister has an answer, the fact that we have residents from the Municipality of Clare travelling to Digby to follow some of these training programs - has the department looked at maybe providing some of these training programs to individuals within the Municipality of Clare rather than having them drive 40 kilometres one way to attend these training programs? Has the department considered offering programs to these individuals at home instead of having them drive to Digby?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would suggest to the member opposite that it's going to depend on the nature of the program. Some programs are going to need to have a certain attendance in order to effectively be delivered with any sort of economy of scale. I would suggest that if that could be accommodated in a smaller community, then it should be done so but, again, it's really just getting the economies of scale to put on the programs.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the minister's comments. Without knowing how many people are actually available for any given program, I guess maybe to try to get some commitment if the numbers warrant, if the numbers are high enough to allow some training to take place at home, would the minister acknowledge that that could be a reality to allow individuals from within the Municipality of Clare, if enough individuals would be available for a given program, that program could be, again pending on the numbers, be offered within the Municipality of Clare?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I would tell the member opposite that we would be pleased, where the numbers were right, to discuss this with our partners which includes the former Human Resources Development Canada and the Department of Education in that regard. We are very conscious of the need as well to try to provide services where the numbers warrant in the first language and, of course, Clare, Argyle, Cheticamp and other parts of the province, are unique and certainly add greatly to our diversity and our culture and that's something to celebrate, but it's also something to respect that when one can deliver those programs in the first language of those whom we're trying to serve, every effort should be done to consider this. So if that was perhaps a side point of what the member opposite was bringing forward, we are very supportive of that point of view.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, again I want to thank the minister for at least giving consideration, you know, especially when numbers are right and, I guess, fair and due consideration can be given.
Mr. Chairman, I want to move to my next area of questions, to community support for adults. Again looking at the Supplementary Detail, Page 4.8, we know in the Budget Speech of a few weeks ago that the Minister of Finance indicated there would be an additional $10 million more in this year's budget to support adults in care. I'm sure, as probably all members in this House have been asked, especially adults that are challenged and are living at home with their families, the first question that I would have to the minister is, with this $10 million increase, will any of this new funding go to help support some of these adults living at home with their families?
MR. MORSE: The answer, honourable member, is yes and, in fact, $1 million of that $10.3 million is air-marked for just such priorities. When we launched into the Community Supports for Adults' Renewal initiative, there was a caveat put on that anything that came forward would have to basically be within the existing physical envelope, but in actual fact I was very pleased that we were able to expand those services to the tune of another $1 million to address exactly what the member is talking about.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I'm very pleased to hear the minister indicating that $1 million will be available in this current year to help adults living at home with their families. Could the minister, you know, I don't know if the minister has any details on how that $1 million will be broken down, if increases have already been identified, in what area. So I guess my next question to the minister, if he does have some information, could he indicate through you, Mr. Chairman, how the department is looking at spending this additional $1 million in funding?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member would be aware that in March 2004 we released the discussion paper and this follows about 18 months of pretty extensive consultation right across the province and, in fact, gleaming information about best practises and what is done in other jurisdictions right across the country. So within that there is
basically a menu, if you will, of suggestions and we are very pleased with the uptake on the response and we feel that once we've got all the response between now and June 30th, we'll be able to move forward and then be able to give definitive answers to the member's questions.
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Chairman, I believe there are approximately 22 minutes left. I will be sharing the rest of my time with my colleague, the member for Halifax Clayton Park.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I welcome the opportunity today to have a chance to have a bit of dialogue and some questions back and forth with the Minister of Community Services. As you're well aware, each one of us, and I think whether we are new MLAs or not, we get a lot of calls and a lot of inquiries about social services and about issues that impact on your department or relate back to the Community Services Department. It's, therefore, been a real eye-opener to me in a fairly affluent area of Clayton Park, to realize that there are many people who are on social assistance and many people who rely on many of the programs that fall within your mandate and your authority. As I say, it's been a real surprise.
I was councillor for virtually the same area, in large respect, for several years and spoke, very much, to people who had property and homes, people of more substance, and I was not aware of the some of the crushing needs of other people living in that same area. So to me it's been a real eye-opener to see another side of my same community that I thought I knew so well.
I have a number of questions relating to issues that come up, on a daily basis really, in our office. On the alternate care arrangements for people with disabilities, and again it relates to a specific case but I'm sure it's indicative - and I won't go into names and so on - of systems that exist for many people. We've been talking about, and I think it falls into the program that has been tried, where you have 10 people who have been looking at self-managed attendant care, I believe. In this case it's a fairly young woman who's about 35 years old, and she has lived with her mother forever. Her mother is at a point where she can't continue to care for her. They were told some years ago that the option was there for her daughter to have the funds to live on her own, and that's no longer available. At the time it was offered, they didn't need it, and the arrangement they had, where the mother cared for the daughter, was working.
Now a few years have passed, and they find that they've hit the point where the mother can't continue that kind of care, it's taking a heavy toll on her health. They would like to have her daughter live independently, with the kind of help she needs. They now discover that it's not an option, it's not available to them. The alternative that's been offered - and
there was some late debate discussion on that last week - has been either a nursing home or one of your larger residential facilities, something like 16 or 20 people living in a residential facility, both of which are really inappropriate for this woman who doesn't have severe mental disability, neither is she comfortable with the idea of being put in a home with seniors. She doesn't feel that's the right place for her either.
What can you offer in the way of some hope that there's another way to manage these cases that don't fall neatly into a category? I'll be frank, just for the minister, the mother and the daughter feel that the options offered to them are warehousing, that her daughter will be housed but kept in a warehouse, essentially, her life will be very restricted. If she's in a nursing home, she wouldn't have the option of visiting her doctor and going to her hairdresser and having any kind of a life outside of that home. She wants to be able to live a life where she has a certain amount of independence. Her problem is medical, really, far more than mental. Could you give me some sense of what options are available for people who don't fit neatly into those categories?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I want to go on the record as saying that I believe those programs that were in place have been transferred over to Health, by and large. Specifically, with your point about trying to customize the programs to those we're trying to support, that, in essence, is exactly the direction that I anticipate we're going to be going with the renewal initiative. Perhaps, if I might suggest, if you wanted a copy of the renewal initiative, the discussion paper, if this mother and daughter have not already obtained a copy, they might be well pleased by what they saw there. Hopefully, that will provide them with some comfort - what we envision for your constituent.
MS. WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I would like to pursue this a little further. You mentioned the Department of Health, and in this particular case of a client, they feel that they were switched over to the Department of Health but they haven't been offered that kind of an option through the Department of Health. They actually felt they were better off with the Department of Community Services, but I'm not sure if they are or not. They feel a little bit like they've been pushed from one department to another but with no real difference in the care, no options provided. These people are really quite desperate. It's an awful thing to be in your office and have somebody say, I hope you can work a miracle for me.
They have been part of your consultative group, they've been involved in some round tables, some focus groups, they've put their input in and opened their hearts to the department. Their feeling on your renewal initiative is that it's very slow in coming to any kind of options. It's sort of one discussion paper after another. Really slow. Can you respond to that?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I guess I get an acknowledgement that in fact the member realizes those programs are actually delivered through Health now. With regard to the speed of the Community Supports for Adults Renewal Initiative, we wanted to do it right.
It's been about 25 years since it's been done, as I have been advised by my staff. In fact, it's interesting that you make reference to the fact that you don't think it's moving fast enough, because I did extend the period for a response by an additional six weeks, due to requests, basically from the people we're trying to work with. Clearly, whenever one makes a decision, you're not going to please everybody, but my sense is that the majority of people wanted us to take a little bit more time and get it right.
MS. WHALEN: I do believe we should get it right, too. I don't disagree with you. If there's people who want to be heard, I think it's important to leave the door open for that feedback. It's just that it seems like it's had years to percolate through the system and for answers to come. Some people are at a point where there's a crisis in their lives, and they're waiting for a resolution that is really in the hands of these working groups or the recommendations that are coming out. So waiting another six months or however long it may be is very difficult for people who are physically and emotionally at the end of their tether.
I know you personally deal with your own constituents who are in those very difficult situations, where it is very emotional and it is very difficult to sustain the situations they are in. They are innumerable, right, there's many different kinds. I do feel that it is important that we get to some resolution, and hopefully you have a role in that, even if it is the Department of Health. I would assume that Community Services is engaged in that process, as well, maybe you're not the lead department, but if I'm wrong, you can tell me. I assume you're involved.
I think it's just really important that we look again at the flexibility in terms of identifying what people's needs are, because they don't all fit neatly into a category. I would like that to be very much kept in mind. The quality of life for individuals is the most important. Did you want to answer?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, really, what she has discovered in working with her constituents is very much mirrored by, indeed, what I've discovered working with my own. The fact that there's more money in the budget to accommodate some of the things that the member is calling for, I hope, would be seen as something very tangible, that in fact we are moving in that direction. While a decision may have been made in the past to move some of these services to Health, the idea of supervised apartments, in-home support and some of these other, I think, progressive approaches to assisting individuals and their families in overcoming some of the challenges they face with these disabilities, whether it be intellectual, physical or mental health consumer challenges, are in fact not only recognized in the renewal initiative, but they're in the budget. That, to me, is good news, and I hope it's good news for your constituent.
MS. WHALEN: It will be good news if they can access some of these programs. I'll be happy then. We'll continue to lobby on their behalf. I appreciate knowing that I can call the minister if we run into complete roadblocks. He has said so in the past, that we're
welcome to do, and I have yet to call him personally, so this may be an instance where I will have to.
I would like to talk to you a little bit about training opportunities for your staff throughout Community Services, and whether or not you have opportunities for the staff, particularly your front-line staff who are dealing with these often desperate cases but difficult and challenging cases on a day-to-day basis? Do we offer some training and some respite for them, in terms of coping with the stresses that go along with this job?
MR. MORSE: The member opposite has actually put her finger on something that is in fact going on within the department, in the Human Resources section, that is a priority, in fact, to identify those areas and make sure that that balance is brought to the workplace, not only for the benefit of the staff but ultimately, of course, for the benefit of those we serve.
MS. WHALEN: I wonder if you could be specific on just what percentage of your front-line staff will be getting some training, or how frequently they get that training? I'm really looking at training that helps them to stay fresh and to do the best job they can do, so that they don't become jaded, they don't become disgusted with the whole situation. What training are we doing, and how frequently, and how many people get to go?
MR. MORSE: Because there's so much diversity within the challenges within the department, so much diversity in the challenges for all the people who work in the department, it is being taken on an individual basis. So, every employee has their own training program, in essence, looking at the challenges. It's a very individualized approach to this. Hopefully, as a result of that, benefits will not only flow to our clients but we also hope that it will make for a better workplace for all our staff.
MS. WHALEN: Would the minister be able to tell me what dollar figure is put on training in your department? I had the opportunity to ask some training questions of the Public Service Commission, but they were unable to tell me by department. They said a lot of money is spent within each department. With your department, I would like to know how many dollars are spent, or how much have you allocated in this budget coming up? Perhaps you could put it in context of your total budget?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, we are going into another screen, another program actually and another screen, and we should have that number momentarily. I would say that from my perspective, I see it more for the more senior members of staff, when they have to travel out of province, because all those travel approvals have to come through me, through the minister. I'm advised that the number is near at hand. It is $738,000, and that would represent approximately one-tenth of 1 per cent.
MS. WHALEN: I appreciate that. I would like to talk a little bit about the attitude of the department, I guess, in terms of overpayments to clients, and I'm thinking of social services recipients or Community Services recipients. I had occasion, again, to meet somebody in person who had managed to become more independent, now had a job at Tim Hortons, was working on her own, had a husband now, which she didn't before when she was on Community Services, but she owes $3,600 in back payments for the period of time in which she was working part-time and kind of trying to make that transition.
Through no fault of her own, she was honest and upfront about the work she was doing and the steps she was taking, but the payments were larger than they should have been, and Community Services then says, well, you owe us $3,600. Here's somebody who's really teetering on the edge, who has to repay that money over some period of time. She had a payment schedule to repay it at about $30 a month, which she was doing, but the crunch or the crisis came when Community Services moved in to take her income tax rebate, which would have been coming back this Spring. For this particular family, that was a real crisis because they had planned to move and that was going to pay for their moving and for their damage deposit in a cheaper location. They were moving to another community in HRM.
It comes to mind that we're not providing any incentive. The letter I got from that woman said it's so hard and I'm trying so hard to make it on my own, why would you do things like this that make it so difficult for us? I would like to ask if you have a comment for those cases where we're doing this clawback? That's obviously a policy of the department, to seek back these monies that are owed.
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for her question. I am familiar with the specific case but, in essence, I gather she is telling me that there was an error in the determination of the monthly budget, and as a result of that a $3,600 overpayment accumulated over time. The member opposite is nodding. I'm not aware of the specifics that would prompt them to use that avenue of going to Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and asking them to turn over income tax refund monies. It is an avenue that is available, and we do work with other government agencies.
My hope would be that if the member opposite feels that this was not a reasonable thing to do that she would have the comfort to call the supervisor, her supervisor, for the Community Services in the area, which would be your contact, have a discussion with him or her, and see if you can make your case. I would tell you that long before I was a minister, definitely Minister of Community Services, the response I got from the area supervisor, whoever it was at the time, always gave me a confidence that if it was reasonable, it would be done. I'm not sure if the member opposite has followed that avenue, but I would encourage her to do so if she has not already done it.
MS. WHALEN: In this particular case we made some calls and half of it was taken off and given to them and the other half, the department took. So there was a compromise made. I think what it points out is, when we sit here in government, we see huge write-offs, hundreds of thousands of dollars written off with Community Economic Development loans of Office of Economic Development loans, NSBI, whatever it may be, but large amounts, and yet we don't have any incentive for people at this more vulnerable end of our community.
What I would think, and I would like to propose to you, is there should be something like a bonus for her to keep working, if she continues to work and doesn't return to social assistance, maybe then you would forgive the loan. That would give her an incentive to continue, because any of the overpayment, as I say, was through an error in the department, not through any error or wrongdoing on the part of the individual. Maybe you could just comment on the idea of creating some kind of an incentive or a positive view of helping people and recognizing that they've made a huge commitment to change, entirely, their lifestyle, in a sense. It's very hard to make that transition, as you're aware.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, in fact when the new Employment Support and Income Assistance program came in, there were built-in incentives. Under the old programs, in many cases, there was a dollar-for-dollar offset or perhaps after $150 or $200, depending on the person's circumstances. In fact there was no recognition of the cost of employment. One of the frustrations that some of the caseworkers felt at the time is that they would have the classic case where there would be a single parent who wanted to go back to work, everything was right about this person, could get a job, but the first job is for minimum wage. Because they have to come up with childcare, because they have to come up with transportation, and then at the end of the day they were thanked by losing their entire pay cheque or more than it cost them to go out and work, that was incorporated into the program.
That's why there's $400 a month for childcare available the program, that's why there is $150 a month for transportation, that's why we will pick up the cost of maybe it's a hard hat, work boots or whatever is needed for the client to take that first step into a career. In addition to that, that's why they're able to keep 30 per cent of the gross income, so that that provides a powerful incentive, I would suggest. If a client was in a family situation and let's say that their social assistance cheque for the month was $800, there's one child so you get another $250 a month for the National Child Benefit, which is no longer clawed back. We were one of the provinces that ended that practice, and I'm very pleased to say that no longer happens in Nova Scotia. When the National Child Benefit goes up, that flows directly to the client, it flows to all Nova Scotians, whether they be working poor or on social assistance.
The point here is that if the client can go out and get a job that pays, say $1,000, basically their costs of employment are covered. They still get their full amount of the social assistance cheque, plus they have $300 now, which is basically their discretionary income. That's the income to improve what they're able to serve to their children at night. It's the difference, perhaps, between eating hotdogs and maybe being able to purchase an occasional
chicken or something that would be a better diet and certainly, perhaps, more appetizing, to have a variety. It's the difference between being able to rent a movie or go out to the movies. It's the difference between occasionally being able to go out for supper. That $300 is a tremendous incentive.
The member opposite brings up the question as to whether there should be an incentive, there is an incentive in place. We might not agree on the size of the incentive, but we do agree that there should be an incentive and there is one.
MS. WHALEN: I'm happy to hear of the transitional aspects of the program that are in place. I would like to know how long that transitional period is allowed to exist, where you have the extra $300 and you get the $400 a month for daycare and so on. I'm sure there's a limit to that. I'd like to know that, and it's because I'm not familiar with it. I would appreciate that.
Again, I still think we come back to the idea of the overpayments during that transitional period. In this case, this woman is being asked to repay it, so why can't there, again, be a case by case where you look at whether or not this person is managing and doing well and should really not be penalized. That's what I would like to see.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time for the honourable member has elapsed. The minister, a short reply.
MR. MORSE: With regard to the question as to when the transition period ends, it depends on the size of the client's income. When the income is such that there's a net gain, even after taking the most favourable calculation, at that point in time they're then on to the 12-month transitional Pharmacare period. It's always calculated to the benefit of the client.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MS. MICHELE RAYMOND: Mr. Chairman, I have a couple of questions for the Minister of Community Services, again on the topic of housing. Just very briefly, I have had a number of constituents who are concerned about the percentage of wheelchair accessible housing and whether there is any particular protocol for ensuring that a certain number of the new housing units built will in fact be accessible?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for her question and her concern. It is a question that has been raised by others. The answer I can give is not a specific percentage, other than it is a concern with the changing demographics and clearly there's going to be a greater demand for accessible housing, and also accessible affordable housing. This will be a consideration as we go through the response to the request for proposals. I think that, ultimately, we have to see a greater presence of affordable housing in our public housing mix.
MS. RAYMOND: I'm sorry, I had missed that earlier question. I guess what I would just leave you with is that Nova Scotia has the highest percentage of wheelchair users in the country, which is 20.6 per cent. So if we assume that it's a representative population, that would suggest we should be looking at probably a fifth of those new units should be accessible or perhaps there should be retrofitting. I will just leave that with you.
Another question that I had in housing is that there are some co-ops, which I have been dealing with, which have been collapsed into one another. At that time, usually one or two units are sold off. I wondered simply whether there is any protocol again for the divestiture of provincial housing stock and disclosure of that, and so on?
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, your previous question was totally appropriate, and you cannot expect it to be in all places at the same time. Make no apologies for asking the question. You had made reference to 20.2 per cent - I'm going to get to your second question - but I think that is a number that is used to measure the percentage of Nova Scotians with self-reported disabilities. I'm not sure that would apply to Nova Scotians who are necessarily in wheelchairs.
But your point is quite correct, we unfortunately hold the distinction of having, by far and away, the largest percentage of our citizens with a disability. Some of it may pertain to a problem with mobility. We have an older population. This is a place where people like to come to retire, and with age sometimes come other challenges. We also have the misfortune of being known as the tailpipe of North America. That, with some of our industrial past, has led to a disproportionate number of Nova Scotians with lung problems, lung disease. So those are some of the reasons. The member's point is an appropriate one.
You're asking about the process for the divestiture of public housing units. Could I perhaps offer a couple of examples, and that might help frame the debate? With Mulgrave Park, some years ago, this is, of course, an area in the North End for those who are not from the city, which is very high-density housing, it got to the stage where the community actually felt that they needed a greater sense of diversity. This came forward from that community. There was an agreement with the Housing Authority that in fact there should be the selling off of some of the units. It's worked well, and things have gotten better.
There was one particular apartment building within Mulgrave Park that was particularly problematic. It really had some challenges. In fact by going and addressing some of these and bringing some diversity - in this case, it was to make sure that there was not only a cultural blend but also representation from right across the financial spectrum - that it really turned out to be a very good thing for that community. What I'm trying to say is we do not take these decisions lightly. The member is quite passionate, as am I, about the need for affordable housing. So you never want to be taking units out of stock, unless it's a benefit that can be agreed upon by the community.
MS. RAYMOND: So I guess there isn't a specific protocol at this point, but it is a question of community consultation, perhaps. I would certainly be very glad to know if there is in fact a specific protocol developed at that point and for notification, as well, to the broader community. Certainly the concerns of diversity are valid ones, but one need to ensure that there has been (Interruption) I would just be very glad to have it a transparent process, when there is a decision, to remove provincial assets from the provincial portfolio that that in fact is the case.
I had only one other very quick question, and I won't keep you any more. It's a very specific one, about Quickcard for social assistance recipients. I understand that it does not cover the fees for consultants, so that if a general practitioner refers somebody for consultation, that fee is not covered. Is that correct? Maybe you could just clarify that for me.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, there is a very basic dental coverage that they administer for us. So whatever is covered under that program, Quickcard would pay and we reimburse them. It's based on an 80/20 cost-sharing arrangement with the client which, as the member for Clare has pointed out, is not an easy thing for all social assistance recipients to cover the 20 per cent. In fact, it's not an easy thing to cover the 20 per cent but, from the point of view of the department, we've gone to providing virtually zero, in terms of dental care, to about $3 million this year. So I think it's a move in the right direction. Could it be better? I think there's no question, but it's moving in the right direction.
Regarding your concern, I think specifically it would be about the Greystone community, the 252 public housing units in your constituency, honourable member, and I would tell you that you've taken an interest in your community and that if there are any proposed changes to the mix of public housing, I would ask you to be part of that process. You represent Halifax Atlantic and your comments would always be welcome.
MS. RAYMOND: I guess that wraps up dentistry and housing, so thank you very much. I will pass my time over.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Minister, and I want to thank my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to once again pose some questions to you.
Mr. Minister, when we left off we were talking about overpayments and outstanding debts by Community Services' recipients and you outlined a number of those overpayments might very well be because of Canada Pension Disability Benefits that came forward to individuals, and there's not a duplication of income. So that income would have been
considered to be given to them on day one. There is also, with respect to the additional overpayment money, that they might have gone out through an employment practice after, in fact, they went back to work. But there's also additional overpayment monies that the Department of Community Services brings upon people and then later on they pay them extra money that they shouldn't have paid them because of maybe some of the benefits that have gone to them, and they claw them back saying that they were not rightfully entitled to those benefits, and those are the kinds of benefit overpayments.
I don't want to dwell on this one and I don't want you to respond on this one, I just ask you to take into consideration and ask your legal department to have a look at the possibilities of putting a statute of limitations whereby the department cannot collect these dollars, if I may, Mr. Minister, and it's very important that that be considered. If at other levels of government it can be considered, then it should be considered there as well, and it's a very important thing to look at with respect to taking some of the burden off those individuals, because through no fault of their own if the Department of Community Services has not paid them the rightful allotment to them, they will only go back six months and then they will give them the additional dollars that they're rightfully entitled to. They've been carrying on that practice for years and they won't reimburse the individuals for those dollars. So I think there needs to be some consideration and it should be looked at with respect to limitations and I would greatly appreciate it.
The other issue is around defrauding Community Services. When an individual has been considered to be defrauding Community Services, taking money which they were not rightfully entitled to and there's an investigation by the department through an Eligibility Review Officer, or other investigative measures, what happens is once the department has decided that the individual has defrauded the Community Services Department of monies, or benefits that they were not rightfully entitled to, they're cut off immediately. They're not given this opportunity of being innocent until proven guilty through an appeal process or going through the courts - they're immediately cut off.
My question is - everyone in society, including police officers, if they're found in violation of the law within their workplace they're usually suspended with pay and so on, so there seems to be a double standard here with persons on Community Services. Would the minister seriously give that some thought with respect to continuing to provide those benefits to individuals until at least an appeal process has been heard, or a court hearing has taken place?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for that question. I can tell the member opposite that, in my own experience as an MLA and as minister, occasionally when I get letters where people are objecting to the decision to cut them off, typically I have been advised that they have been reinstated until the time of their appeal. Now, I'm not sure that that's the case all the time, but it certainly has been brought to my attention that that is at least common practice, if not policy.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, to the minister, I'm disappointed. I don't think it's common practice although that is what you tell me and I can only take your word for it. All I can tell you is from the experiences out of the office that I represent in Dartmouth North, with respect to the kind of complaints and concerns that come forward through my CA and so on, this is a very important one and we have had some cases whereby individuals weren't, and there was a huge battle with respect to even trying to get some benefits for them, at least to hold them off.
The other thing is I want to go into the area of persons with disabilities which, Mr. Minister, is a very important issue. We do know in the rural area and I do know that the honourable member for Clare has brought it up with respect to accessible transportation, particularly in the Clare-Argyle area, and we do know about Dial-A-Ride in Antigonish and in the Guysborough area, and we do know about the Kings County Alternative Transportation Services Society and so on, and I want to ask you, Mr. Minister, I have heard from LEO, as you have heard as well, that these costs continue to escalate and not only do people who use these alternative sources, not only are they not disabled, but they're seniors and other individuals as well.
There's a time frame in which these individuals can actually use the accessible transportation that's available to them in the rural area - and in the rural area it is becoming even tougher because a lot of the hospitals have closed and it means longer rides and so on. So people have to govern or gear their time to the most unusual hours sometimes in order to reach appointments and so on. So one issue is alternative transportation for disabled in rural communities serving its purpose and doing it well and, number two, is there a need to enhance that level of service as well - and one more, if I may, Mr. Chairman, before I sit down?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure.
MR. PYE: Are there any alternative disabled services available that are now not operating?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for bringing up the question. Actually the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations is the funding minister for these various alternative transportation organizations. I do have some knowledge of this because of my friendship and support over the years, a friendship with the local Kings County Alternative Transportation Society and indeed with the chairman, Chuck Richardson, but the member opposite has described well the service that is provided there. It's an invaluable service. It makes a lot of sense, and you can justify it for many different reasons, if you need to justify it, and I think that just basically, fundamentally, providing transportation which is an essential necessity of life is reason enough. So I share the member's passion for these organizations and I believe that there was one just recently opened in Shelburne - and I think that there may have actually been two in this past fiscal year but, again, I'm probably straying
beyond my area of expertise and I defer that to my colleague, the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I do apologize to the minister if I've gotten the wrong portfolio, but my understanding is that a number of the departments meet together to discuss issues around disabilities and so on and that the minister would be very much aware of all the issues discussed. Health, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Education, and the Department of Community Services are some of the areas - and transportation. I believe there are five ministers who sit at a table and discuss issues around providing services to persons with disabilities. I'm wondering, Mr. Minister, how many times do you meet and are those minutes available, on the discussions which take place at those meetings with respect to this particular portfolio, to the members of this Legislature?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for his question. I can tell you that we should be meeting twice a year. The last meeting was about a month ago. It had been too long since the previous meeting because I was a minister in a different portfolio at that time and things like elections and whatnot and the change perhaps in the executive director at the Disabled Persons Commission, which is the coordinating body for these meetings, may have perhaps been a reason for the delay, but I would say it's not an excuse for the delay. So we are looking forward to meeting again later this year. The date has already been set. I've forgotten the date off the top of my head, but I am looking forward to it again.
As to the minutes, honourable member, I've got to confess that minutes that come to me are of interest and I try to apprise myself of what has been written, but the question has never really occurred to me as to whether it was available publicly or not, but I would be happy to get the member that answer.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I think there's a very good reason why these discussions are important for all members of the Legislature to know, because we do set tone and direction on where government is going and what government sees as a priority and where government is going to mete out its resources, in fact, and the discussions at that Cabinet Table with all those ministers available give us a sense of direction and what the priority of government is and what government sees as a priority, particularly on the issue of disabled persons. The reason why I want to bring that up is because I know a disabled person, and this disabled person is a brain injury individual who suffered severe, traumatic brain injury, and when I brought the question up to the Minister of Health, the Minister of Health said that it's a matter of resources and that there wasn't money set aside for alternative therapies and so on, with respect to that, and the individual was directed to go back to Community Services, with respect to special needs.
Now the Department of Community Services is not in lockstep with the Minister of Health and therein lies the problem. That's the reason why I asked what kind of conversations go on in this particular area and how can you help, because if you're directed back to
Community Services for special needs, in my opinion I have to say, Mr. Minister, in defence of your department, it is a health issue, but since Health doesn't address the issue it should be addressed by the Department of Community Services under special needs. Now, I'm not about to name the client or the individual on the Legislature floor during budget deliberations, but I do want you to know that it's an important issue and that's the reason why that connect needs to be there. So tell me how your department deals with the Department of Health when a special need comes up like alternative therapy if, in fact, there are requests for alternative therapies?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for bringing up a point which is a legitimate concern. Honourable member, shortly after the time that the deputy got this appointment she recognized that there was a lack of coordination between these two departments. In many cases there is an overlap there and having the ability to define who should be serving who and doing some sort of coordinating matter was clearly an area in need of attention. So about six months ago we undertook to hire a former senior Department of Health manager - and, again, she had recently taken her retirement, I believe - and it was for the sole purpose of trying to better coordinate the two departments, and I can tell you that the amount of communication and attempt to reduce overlap, duplication, and to generally streamline our services is an active undertaking between the two departments, and the member has basically pointed out the need for this perhaps to have happened many years ago but, in fact, it is actively in the works for the last six months in an official manner.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to see that the minister is moving in that direction, but the direction is rather slow, particularly when there are individuals out there in our province who are seeking these very real needs. These are very, very real needs, they can't wait for today, tomorrow and so on and so forth. This is one isolated incident where the individual, who should be receiving services under the Department of Health, is then asked to go back to the Department of Community Services as special needs.
Another real issue is with respect to wheelchairs and technical aids assistance, which are special needs. The individuals are out there expected to fundraise for these particular needs when, in fact, it should be under the Department of Health Medical Services Insurance to cover for those wheelchairs, so that those individuals aren't embarrassed in having to work out there and fundraise, the charitable organizations that no longer have the kind of dollars that they used to have. So, Mr. Minister, I'm going to ask you, through you and your Department of Health and whoever is in the connect with respect to that, when will you set up a technical aids program that can be administered by disabled persons so as to save the taxpayers a heck of a lot of money and keep people out of hospitals, or bring people out of hospitals quicker than what they should be there because they don't have the technical aids needed to bring that support about? So I just ask you to give me some summary on that.
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, one of our blueprint commitments was a wheelchair recycling program. The initial draft that has come forward is, in fact, something a little bit more comprehensive than that and targeted first to minors - I think that would be the best way to describe it. There are some attempts to try to keep track of surplus technical aids, wheelchairs specifically. I know the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre attempts to do this, but with reference to the member's specific question, the Disabled Persons Commission is working on this. They have come and they have made their first preliminary report back to the coordinating committee of ministers and we had some questions, we gave them some direction, and we're looking forward to hearing from them again, and the idea was that this would be coordinated with the Abilities Foundation who might actually be the one that was the agent to carry it out, with funding from the Department of Community Services.
MR. PYE: Again, Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister. I guess that's somewhat plausible, there's some direction. The bottom line is this, if a Nova Scotian needs a prosthesis it's fully covered under MSI, and there's no question about it. If an individual needs an orthotic, a long leg brace, or something of that nature, it's not fully covered, and if individuals don't have insurance plans then they have to cover that. If not, they have to fundraise, the same as for a wheelchair. That, to me, is inexcusable, you know there's no need, and I do appreciate the Abilities Foundation because I know their good work over the years and I do appreciate them coming onside with respect to this, but it's going to only be such a minute program to start off with, because all you're dealing with is the younger citizens who need wheelchairs, and the recycling program - one size doesn't fit all - the Medical Society will tell you that these are specially designed wheelchairs, so they will know how to work that out.
I've got a couple of minutes before I pass this on to some of my colleagues, but I want to talk about the Kendrick report. The Kendrick report was commissioned in 2000 I believe, it came forward in 2001, and there were a huge number of recommendations. There were many recommendations in which the Kendrick coalition, some 47 members formed together in a coalition and they asked this government to liaise with them about some of the recommendations and changes. The very first one, and the most important one, they wanted was a blue ribbon committee that would look at those issues which they feel are important and the government should address immediately, and those on which the government may take some time. So there was a timetable.
I ask you, Mr. Minister, what has happened to the Kendrick report and, in fact, has there and will there be - well obviously there hasn't been, so I guess will there ever be a blue ribbon committee struck to do an assessment and provide recommendations on the Kendrick report to government? Now, you've got to remember, Mr. Minister, that this is a report that also went through a peer study.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for his question and, just by way of a little background, the member would probably be aware that I have met with the Kendrick coalition, some of their key committee members, and I look forward to continuing
that dialogue; also the member opposite would know that they contributed significantly to the renewal initiative. Dr. Kendrick's report did form some of the basis for what came forward. It is referenced in the appendix and so, in essence, much of what was done there was drawn upon in producing the discussion paper.
With reference to the blue ribbon committee, at this point in time we do have the community committee which is supposed to vet what has come forward. I'm looking for them to do this. I know that during the Summertime it was not as active as the membership had hoped it would be, but there have been meetings since that time and they do provide that grassroots input that, in fact, we drew upon when we went through the renewal initiative. In fact, there were over 50 different groups and organizations that we consulted, including not only clients within the program, their families, the service providers - clearly staff within the department have an area of expertise - we went to advocacy organizations and consulted with them and really it was quite a comprehensive consultation, and as such the Kendrick coalition certainly had a chance and a role to play in contributing to the discussion paper and the response to the discussion paper.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I'm just wondering, through you to the minister, I will ask the minister if he has seen the Kendrick report? It's a paper on full citizenship for persons with disabilities and it was a small report that was done in July, 2003, and it outlined five recommendations, Mr. Minister, and I want to read those recommendations to you just briefly. It said the Nova Scotia Government should set up an income trust, the creation of the trust fund up to $100,000 for children with disabilities and this money should not be counted in as income in relation to social assistance and support services. Mr. Minister, you've probably seen that recommendation and, hopefully, you will respond to that recommendation.
Recommendation number two, the rights of residents during a labour dispute, and we can talk about that. The RRSS was a very, very important one whereby many disabled persons were displaced all across the province and so on and, finally - not finally, but recommendation number three, in-home supports recommended being removed from Health back into Community Services; recommendation number four, this provincial planning committee; and recommendation number five is support of that planning. I just wanted to read these off to you, Mr. Minister, and if you could just give a brief response on the status of these recommendations and where you are.
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, all five I think are important to consider in where we go from where we are to where we want to be and as such this should, I feel, be reflected in what ultimately comes out of the discussion paper, all certainly given consideration. There were two points there that I would like to comment on specifically.
The first one is the rights of the disabled during a labour interruption. I want to make the point that I've had many, many approaches from organizations that are there for the sole purpose of serving the disabled community who have expressed their grave concerns over what was able to transpire during that labour dispute, and wishing government to take steps to see that that not be allowed to happen again, and also from the families and, where possible, sometimes even clients have expressed concern about that not being allowed to happen again. So this is the feedback that I've gotten as Minister of Community Services, and I can tell you, honourable member that I did not enjoy what happened to the residents at RRSS during that labour disruption.
The other point which I want to address is the in-home supports and, in fact, that is something that we see flowing from that $1 million as a start. So while we're not able to turn back the clock in terms of what got passed over to Health, there are some higher-functioning persons with disabilities who perhaps with a little bit of help might well be able to stay in their home, but those supports have to be there as long as it's good for both parents and the disabled person. So that is one thing that is actually actively not only being considered, but has been provided for in the budget and I hope that this is something that will flow from the discussion paper and the new program.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, in my limited time I would like to ask the minister some questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have approximately 25 minutes.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I would like to have the minister address a number of things. I've written the minister around the issue of residential care, group homes and so on. The response I've gotten is that there's nothing to indicate that there's any great need in my constituency. I think, if my memory is right, Mrs. Linda MacPhee, in Nine Mile River, has actually offered a piece of land for a residential facility to be built on their property because they have a son in need, and in a number of cases people are getting more elderly and the difficulty of looking after a family member, but I would like if the minister could clarify for me the difference between a group home, a small options home, and residential care or residential placements, and if these somehow are - well what's intertwined with those definitions before I move on.
MR. MORSE: Thank you, honourable member. Yes, you are not shy about writing me when you have a question and we always do our best to try to send back what we feel is the appropriate answer, and I don't know if you always agree with those answers, but you've always been respectful of them. Basically you have various options, quite a number actually, for people with disabilities. Starting with the small options home, which is a home that houses three or less residents, or clients, and as such it does not require a licence - although that's
something that may change with the renewal initiative - and the licensing sets certain standards which you get when you go to four, and then in essence you have a group home, although group homes would tend to be larger than four. By definition, once you get to four you have to be licensed and therefore meet certain prescribed regulations and other policies. So that's your difference there.
If you're talking about residential care, I believe what you're referring to is when people, adults basically, are kept in a home, in the traditional home and supported with a per diem on the part of the department which is another thing which, by the way, is advocated in the discussion paper and I think that that's a great way of enhancing not only the resident's life, but in many cases, if you will, it's almost like a foster home situation, except that instead of a child or a youth it's an adult, but still I'm sure that the bonds that form are very much the same as within a family.
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, I want to bring it to the minister's attention because I've talked with the manager at Corridor Community Options in Enfield, and I've spoken with people in charge of the Lantz Residential Programs and at Lantz Residential Programs they get, two or three inquiries per month from people looking for residential placements. In the group homes I think they've had roughly, about five people in recent times who have had to be moved out of our area due to a lack of facilities. So for us it seems that it is important that the province does look at the need.
I guess it's over the past three years they've had five individuals who have left the Corridor Community Options program and have moved to other parts of the province looking for residential placement. The manager at that facility says they have eight to ten individuals who will require residential placement in the next five to ten years and half will probably be in a crisis situation due to illness or the death of a parent or guardian. They've had roughly 14 calls in the last 18 months from families of adults with intellectual disabilities who are looking now or will be looking in the next five years for placement.
So it would seem to me that there is a very great need in my area for placements and the minister's response to me in this regard is that there's nothing from the department to indicate that the need is there. I want to ask the minister, it would seem to me that there may be two or three different programs, income support programs, support for adults, and I'm wondering if these programs actually share any of their records, because if one of them is getting information, or both of them, but they don't share with each other, then it would seem to me that there's no accurate form of information that would indicate the appropriate need in any particular area.
MR. MORSE: Could the member just confirm again the two programs?
MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Chairman, income supports and supports for adults.
MR. MORSE: So to be specific, Income Assistance and Employment Support devices and Community Supports for Adults - okay, the umbrella programs. The member has perhaps heard us speak of integrated case management as an advance in the way that we store and disseminate information within the department and, in fact, what the member has put his finger on is something that does hold some promise for better service to those that we're there to serve, and indeed this is one of the things that we hope to capture with this, because with integrated case management the information about a client who may be in community supports for adults, who may apply for Employment Support and Income Assistance, or vice versa, will be readily transferable, indeed also with Housing Services. These programs all have a common thread and we feel that by making that available to the various caseworkers at the press of a button, it will accomplish what the member is referring to. So there is a recognition that we can do better and steps are being taken - $2.5 million in this year's tangible capital asset budget - to actually pursue this initiative.
MR. MACDONELL: Well, that's fine, Mr. Minister, and I hope that actually works, but I guess the final word from me is that the need in my constituency is far greater than what the department seems to think, and I will be following this up with correspondence.
I want to raise the issue that in my area, I think there are five seniors' facilities, and actually that includes one rest home, but the seniors' facilities, the other four that are under the purview of the province, I think there are three of those that do not have elevators, and this is something I think we've talked about before.
I don't think I can emphasize enough and I think the minister can certainly visualize the importance of elevators to seniors. It was raised on the floor of this House during Question Period. I hear the number being bounced around, around $100,000 per facility, so to me this doesn't seem like a lot of money. I've been the MLA for six years, and in six years we haven't gotten one elevator in one facility. I'm not sure where you're spending it, but if you're spending it on other facilities, I think that's great, but certainly in my area, one every six years doesn't seem to be asking for too much if it's $100,000. So I would like to know, what's the holdup? I mean if you're going to justify that you can't spend $100,000 in my constituency per year for one facility, or six years, you're going to have to go and make a strong case for that.
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, I, personally, am not familiar with all the seniors' complexes across the province. As you would appreciate, we have got 7,700 units and I do try to get out and get a sense of the services we provide and, indeed, not only the services we provide, but perhaps a geographical sense of what's out there, but as it pertains to the specific seniors' residences in your constituency, I guess that the question that I would ask is how many people are on the second floor. The one that we announced at the Captain William Spry Centre, I think something like 20 or 40 apartments were on the second floor. I can't
remember if it was 38 apartments in total and 20 on the second floor, or was it 38 on the ground floor and 40 above, but the point is that there were a lot of people who benefited from that $125,000 investment, and kudos to the member and the former member for Halifax Atlantic, and also the area councillor who was very conscientious in this and he took his $10,000 in discretionary money and he also offered it to the department. The case was certainly made over a period of time that preceded my becoming minister, so I was very pleased to be able to make that announcement.
I'm not sure how that compares in your constituency. I do point out that 85 per cent are accessible without the use of stairs, whether that's ground floor or whether it's because they have an elevator, but ultimately, that is 17 out of 20. In the case of the question that was brought up in Question Period last week by the Leader of the Opposition, your Leader, I think he was referring to four units, each had four apartments, two upstairs, two down - three of them had elevators and his point was we should put an elevator in the fourth. I guess my answer to him would be, if one of your units has 20 people on the second floor and whereas 14 out of 16 in this complex already have accessibility without having to use the stairs, I would rather look to the complex in your area, honourable member, as an example.
MR. MACDONELL: I'm going to try to sum up my comments. I would say I would appreciate any reason for you to look at the facilities in my constituency. They are not so low as four individuals, there are more apartments, but not 20 apartments. As I said, I have five seniors' facilities and one rest home. Of the five that are provincial, there is one that's ground floor and one already has an elevator - the one in Shubenacadie - but the other three do not. So I push a case for those individuals and in summary, I just want to raise the issue of those facilities generally. The Shubenacadie one comes to mind because there was some work that was supposed to happen - replacement of siding and so on - that the residents feel, for whatever reason, went to the facility in Maitland, which is still in my constituency so I'm glad for that, but they are not.
I think I've written the minister around the case of the Shubenacadie, Sunnybrook facility. With that, I'm not sure that I actually got a clear answer as to why facilities in my area haven't been able to receive an elevator - at least one every six years. I will continue to press the minister because I see this as a safety issue as much as anything. I know, as one senior in my area put it, and she's not in a facility, she's still in her own home, she said, John, when you got old, you don't want to be forgotten. I've lived by that and I think the people in my area do not ask for too much. There are lots of days when I think they don't get too much and that's the reason I'm speaking on their behalf. I thank the minister for his response and if he has an additional one, that would be great, but I know there are other members of my caucus who want to speak.
MR. MORSE: Just for the record, I was not sure about the number of units on the second floor of the Captain William Spry Centre - it's 38 units in total, with 20 on the second floor. I was trying to do that from memory and I've had some assistance to refresh my memory.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd like to thank the member for Hants East for his comments and questions this afternoon. At this time, I would like to recognize the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley from the NDP caucus. Member, you have less than nine minutes in turn and then we'll recognize the Liberal caucus.
MS. MARILYN MORE: Mr. Minister, I want to pursue the question of caseload and just how is your budget going to alleviate some of the concerns that have been raised over the past couple of years. I know you're familiar with a couple of the reports - the impact report and the caseload overload report from the NSGEU. They both identify the tremendous pressure on workers because of the large volume of clients they're expected to serve within their individual caseloads. There was some indication last Fall that the department might meet with the NSGEU to address vacancies and overuse of casual staff. I'm wondering - has that meeting been held?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for bringing that up and she might remember that in my opening remarks on Thursday evening I spoke about the 16 per cent drop in the caseload. We have maintained the 235 positions, Income Assistance caseworkers plus we've the Employment Support staff there which carry a different responsibility but still they're serving in many cases the same clients. So, not only has there been a drop in the caseload to the tune of 16 per cent, but we've provided other services to serve those clients which hopefully should lighten the load of those caseworkers.
With regard to a meeting with the NSGEU, I think that it would be always constructive to have the managers meet with them. I know that I was approached about a year ago just prior to going into the RRSS strike, or perhaps it was shortly thereafter. That was a rather awkward time because I was being pressed to step into the negotiations and it was not my role to do so because I was not the employer. The department funded the employer through grants so for that reason it was not an appropriate time to be meeting with the union president.
MS. MORE: I think we've talked before that there's much more pressure in the metro area and the complexity of a lot of the individual needs is quite high here so I'm not sure that reducing by 16, especially, I understand that for some of the Employment Support and Income Assistance workers, the staff to client ratio is 1-160. Even a few people being dropped off that is not going to relieve the pressure.
I understand that part of the caseload overload report did have a recommendation that the department join with the union and set up a joint labour-management committee to develop some guidelines and monitor the caseload. I'm wondering, is there any interest on the department's part to implement that committee?
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member for her question. Also, with regard to those ratios, it would be appropriate to point out that while some may be higher, quite often the caseloads are not homogeneously challenging because - if you have a stable clientele - almost 50 per cent of the people that are on Community Services now are basically long-term disability cases with limited prospects for employment or at least full-time employment. As a result of that, those cases are more static and one could argue that it would be more manageable to handle a higher caseload in that regard.
In some of the other cases which the member is referring to where there are challenges, with a challenge are opportunities, it may require more hands-on assistance and the caseworker is an invaluable person, not only to the province, but most particularly, to the client who often very much appreciates that chance to get the guidance from the caseworker and advice and generally assistance and support. I guess the support would perhaps be the best term.
When it comes to labour negotiations and working with the unions, one thing that I'm perhaps not sure is fully appreciated by the public and even by members is the importance of the Public Service Commission in this regard because whenever negotiations come up, the Public Service Commission is committed to trying to make sure that things are done consistently right across the board within government, that there's an element of fairness, as well, of course, as sustainability in any agreements. I just wanted to point out that the Public Service Commission may also perhaps have a role in this.
MS. MORE: Just to give you an example, Mr. Minister, I understand that this field staff budget for Community Supports for Adults is less than budgeted for last year although it's indicated elsewhere that there are considerable pressures in that program. I believe you've budgeted approximately $67,000 less so I'm wondering how you justify that in light of the workload situation?
MR. MORSE: Thank you, member. I believe the member is referring to Page 4.8 in the Estimates Books? Second line? Okay. While the estimate to estimate may be down, I think that if one is to check the actual forecast to be spent in 2003-04, one would find that the estimate for 2004-05 is up about $90,000.
MS. MORE: That must be the result then of money that was budgeted not being spent. So what would be the explanation for that if that's one of the pressure areas in one of the high-need programs?
MR. MORSE: Thank you, honourable member. One of the things that a large department such as ours encounters is that there's just an actual turnover, whether it's because of retirement or other opportunities coming along. There's always a vacancy factor so even though we may budget for a certain amount for salaries and wages, inevitably, because of the vacancy factor, it is often the case that you're not going to make full use of your estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, minister. The time is finished this evening for the NDP caucus, the member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley and we thank you for your questions this afternoon. At this time I would like to recognize the member from the Liberal caucus, the member for Kings West. The time is 6:22 p.m., you have one hour and that will pretty well bring us to conclusion for this evening. The member for Kings West has the floor.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Chairman, through you to the Minister of Community Services, I certainly appreciate the opportunity to make a few comments and ask a few questions in this area.
One of the first great realities I have discovered as an MLA is that a good number of calls in a rural constituency regarding people's concerns and issues are on Community Services. This possibility was addressed on Friday but I am not aware of the minister's response. Knowing income assistance levels that a single adult has to live on, the amount of $180, I presently have one such client who is waiting to meet with the minister to outline how that impacts on her quality of life over a period of time. I'm just wondering how often is this reviewed? Is there a current process going on to review the income assistance for an adult?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for the question. Member, I want you to know that if I were in your position today and you were in mine, you would have been getting the same question. But, in essence, it has been, as I understand it, something like 10 years since this has been done. At the risk of repeating myself because I know not all members can be in the main Chamber at the same time because there are competing responsibilities, but this is something that has been of concern to me for some time. I've shared it with my colleagues. The Premier also brought up the question as to how can we perhaps help more in this area, he asked me specifically about supporting food banks. The answer that came back from the food banks was, the best thing you can basically do for us is to put us out of business as it pertains to the Department of Community Services, please increase the basic personal allowance.
That is why on October 1st there is going to be a $4 increase in the basic personal allowance for all adults that are on the caseload. It covers the difference between what the market basket measure which was produced by Statistics Canada for an adult being able to provide a healthy diet for $135 and what's currently there for $131. We're going into the Summer season, hopefully with the harvest, the cost of the market value measure may drop. On October 1st I'm looking forward to covering that differential.
Honourable member, I can tell you that my colleagues already know that with the cost of inflation and everything that they can count on having this discussion again going into next year. We're also looking at shelter allowances across the province. Your colleague, the member for Clare, brought up the differential and the availability of public transit. We are going through our first review - it's been about three years since the new program was brought in on October 31, 2001 and these are some of the questions that have come out of it. Clearly, the member has an appreciation of the challenges of trying to live on $180 in a month and I share those concerns.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you, minister. One of the other areas that I've been discovering over the last number of months in dealing with clients of Community Services, while caseworkers do thorough reviews of what they are able to access from Community Services programs, there are occasions when clients aren't familiar with the entire amounts that are available and areas covered. I know this is available by way of the Internet, however, is there anything in terms of booklet form or information that can be made available to clients? I know many of them do not have a computer to access the information and I find it a little bit disconcerting when I, as an MLA, have to point out that this is an area which could indeed be getting some coverage. So my question to the minister is, what source of information is available to clients of Community Services so that they are aware of all of the areas that they could be getting some support in?
MR. MORSE: Thank you honourable member, a very reasonable question and a question that we've been working on for the last year and one-half under the leadership of Charlie MacDonald who was seconded as executive director of the Disabled Persons Commission to go out and meet with all the various groups, clients, families, advocacy groups, service providers to produce this booklet which last week I committed to distribute to all members of the House. I'm looking forward to the answer from my communications director as to when this is going to happen. The answer is that she asked that they be sent over today. That commitment came from Friday and the day is not over yet so we still may be in time.
If not, honourable member, you can be the first to have one. It's a good question, it's very user-friendly and you don't have to have access to the Internet. If I could ask a Page, please, to . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are you tabling this?
MR. MORSE: No, I'm providing it to the honourable member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You also should have a booklet, minister, to table because if you refer to or speak from any piece of paper or booklet, then also you have to table one for the perusal of the rest of the House. I'd like to recognize the member for Kings West.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Minister. That might be the most timely question I will ever ask here in the House - to have such a quick delivery.
One of the areas that I have come across that I found the most disconcerting of all the cases and that is of a student who recently, in public, talked about her case. Being a disabled student who was receiving Community Services also received a Canada Student Loan and then had clawback from the Canada Student Loan because she is on Community Services. I'm wondering if that is a natural process that does go on or if this is an individual case, I'd like to have some enlightenment in that regard. I think when somebody who is disabled, who is making every effort to improve themselves, upgrade, go back to school and through the Nova Scotia Community College, having a great chance to enhance her life and then she has to have an additional burden while she is going through her study time. So I'm wondering if this clawback of a Canada Student Loan is a normal process or is there some anomaly perhaps that she was experiencing? She had actually had announced this in a public forum at the College of Geographic Sciences just a couple of weeks ago.
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, I just want to confirm that it was the Canada Student Loan that clawed back an amount when they learned that she was on Community Services as a disabled client?
MR. GLAVINE: It was the provincial Community Services that was now clawing back some of her Canada Student Loan. She now had more income than what Community Services felt she should be receiving.
MR. MORSE: I always think it's good to be answering the right question so as my old industrial arts teacher told us, it's better to measure twice and saw once.
Honourable member, I wonder whether she has applied to the employment assistance for persons with disabilities program because one area which we cost share 50/50 with the federal government is this. We've just basically assigned an extension to it with some improvements in terms of the program delivery and accountability. It is in essence a continuation of the same program and that is the one instance where people that are on social assistance can actually go on to university if they meet the criteria of this program. Whenever you can meet those qualifications, clearly, it would be advantageous to enter that program because that would be a grant program as opposed to one that would involve loans.
MR. GLAVINE: I will actually, now that you have given me a bit more information, I will check back with her and see if that is the case that she is experiencing.
I do have a number of questions regarding the document renewing the Community Supports for Adults Program. I know it's a discussion paper, but it certainly does embrace many of the current policies and does reflect on some existing programs. One of the references there is talking about 3,160 clients that are in support at living situations. It says 540 are in vocational placements. If there are just 540 in vocational placements, what would be the possible programs that many of the remaining group would be engaging in? I just ask this as a background question to start out a series of questions that I hope to have the opportunity tomorrow to ask about. Our time was kind of predetermined for today as to who would share it, so this is just the first background question with this group with only 540 in vocational settings, what would the others be involved in in terms of a program?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for his question. In essence what you're asking is what's the continuum of supports out there for our Community Supports for Adults clients and making specific reference to the fact that only a small portion are in adult service centres.
The supports, of course, have to be customized to the ability of the client. If the client's abilities are such that they could go out with basically an outreach employment program such as we have at the Flower Cart. The member opposite shares the Michelin plant with me, the constituency boundary goes right through the middle of the plant. The member might be interested to know that the Flower Cart has sponsored 20 clients with Michelin that are being paid wages above the minimum wage - sometimes significantly above the minimum wage, not perhaps at the level enjoyed by most Michelin employees, but still it's a very positive aspect of this. That would account for some. They are more able and with minimum supervision, particularly after getting into a routine, they're able to function quite nicely.
With regard to some others, their abilities may not allow them even to function in an adult service centre. It depends very much on the abilities of the client, but we always try to provide the appropriate support and stimulation for all clients. So it just depends on their own abilities.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd like to thank the member for his question and would like to recognize the honourable member for Cape Breton West in the Liberal caucus. You have the floor.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, just a few little questions for the minister.
My first question is with regard to adoptions. How many adoptions took place in Nova Scotia in the past year?
MR. MORSE: I'm getting that number for the honourable member, but my recollection is that it was 97. I haven't seen the number for perhaps a month, so it's somewhere in the 90s. As a supplemental to that answer, in anticipation of the member's next question, there should be more adoptions in Nova Scotia. That is an area where we, as a society, can do better.
MR. MACKINNON: Is the number of adoptions in Nova Scotia up or down from the last five years?
MR. MORSE: The numbers over the last two or three years are more or less static. I'm not sure where they were five years ago, but there's a flurry of activity over here and if that number is available, it will be given. This leads to the adoption initiative that we want to undertake. We know there are opportunities there. In fact, where credit is due it should be given, under the Early Childhood Development program, in fact, we can draw on those funds to do the consultation. As to what are the obstacles to providing that needed family, that loving and caring family home for children, which is the best possible outcome. I have those figures now. In 1999-2000, 92 children; 2000-01, 94 children; and 2002-03, 90 children - sorry, we missed one there, 2001-02, 96 children and then 2002-03, 90. Going backwards - 90, 96, 94, 92. So, static and in about there, and I think that last year it was actually 97.
MR. MACKINNON: How many of those were to single-parent families?
MR. MORSE: Honourable member, as you would appreciate, adoption goes through a comprehensive process. There's a home study. Clearly that information would be in those files, but it has not been analyzed to that kind of detail, at least here for the estimates.
MR. MACKINNON: I'm a little surprised, because he indicated he's talking less than 100 over the course of a year. How many were issued to same-sex couple marriages?
MR. MORSE: I'm not able to give a specific answer, but I will give a philosophical answer - it's based on the recommendation that comes from the home study and it's the home that we're concerned about. Is it a place that will provide the loving, caring, nurturing environment for that child to grow and flourish and become a happy, contributing member of society? It's all about the child. That's the focus - less upon the vehicle. So if the adoptive parent or parents who apply meet the expectations of the department that will come through a home study, and that's our concern. Is it good for the child, and if it's good for the child then it's good for society.
MR. MACKINNON: Can the minister confirm if there is at least one family to which an adoption has taken place of same-sex couples?
MR. MORSE: As I mentioned before, that type of minute detail is not readily available to us here today. Again, the concern is whether it's in the best interests of the child. If it has been judged by professional social workers, or whoever does the home study, that it is in the best interests of the child, then presumably the courts would approve it.
MR. MACKINNON: Will the minister undertake to provide that information no later than tomorrow, when the budget resumes?
MR. MORSE: I'm not sure how readily accessible that information would be, because I'm not sure that we would necessarily categorize those kinds of attributes of the parents. Again, the concern is whether it meets the criteria that we set for providing a caring and loving family for that child. If it meets that criteria, the recommendation comes forward from the home study and then from the Children's Aid Society and it's adopted by the court, then really that is the concern - what is best for the child.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Chairman, I just want to, on a point of order around this particular question with respect to adoption, isn't, would this not - excuse me, I should say to the honourable member for Kings West if he would allow me the opportunity . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Member, are you standing to ask a question or are you standing on a point of order?
MR. PYE: Well, I will ask a question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Then would the member for Cape Breton West allow for a question? Would that be directed to the minister or to the member for Cape Breton West?
MR. PYE: Thank you Mr. Chairman. It will be directed to the minister, definitely not the member for Cape Breton West, and I want to thank the honourable member for the opportunity to ask this question because I'm curious, as a member of the Legislature sitting here and listening to the question from the honourable member and yet the minister did not speak - would this be in violation of the Adoption Information Act with respect to readily identifying those individuals?
MR. MORSE: I am not a lawyer and I'm not able to answer that question; however the member's point is well taken and I have tried to address my answers to the member for Cape Breton West as to what is best for the children. Certainly we would not be disclosing personal information about either the child or the parents. Whether keeping statistics or not somehow or other breaches the Act, I would think that, based on the member asking the question, we should also answer that question before we try to provide that sort of answer. I thank the member opposite for his intervention.
MR. MACKINNON: The question I asked is very fundamental to a number of socio-economic issues that are associated with adoption. In much the same context that I asked how many adoptions were approved for single-parent families - that's no different than a married couple, heterosexual, same sex, or common law or whatever. It's general statistical information, and while I appreciate the comment from the member for Dartmouth North, for him to try and put a little bit of acid on a very important issue for political purposes, that's up to him, but I don't think it's very difficult for the minister to provide some very important information. He's indicated very clearly he's dealing with less than 100 approved applications in a year. That's one in less than every three days. Is he indicating that he cannot provide that information by tomorrow?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for his question. It begs the debate that's going on in this country about many other issues, including things like same-sex marriages, which undoubtedly perhaps is prompting his line of questioning here today. Again, my concern will always be for the benefit of the children within what is allowed in terms of disclosure within the Act. So if it's allowed within the Act, if we're keeping track of such things, then I'd be happy to provide it, but it's with that caveat that I make the statement and, again, my concern as minister is what's in the best interests of the children.
MR. MACKINNON: I'd certainly appreciate that. He's answered five different questions with the same answer, so let's not beat a dead horse here. We know what the primary focus is - that's the welfare of the child, the best interests of the child. That's a given and I'll save the minister from standing back up and pressing the same button - replay, replay. The question is, can he tell us if there's been at least one same-sex couple who has made application for an adoption in the Province of Nova Scotia in the past year - yes or no?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite. I would suggest that is a matter that should be dealt with by the home study and the Children's Aid Society and ultimately by the courts. If it passes that test that the child is being provided with the caring and loving environment that the child needs to grow up in, then it has passed the test of this minister.
MR. MACKINNON: Again he has pressed the button, replay, but that wasn't my question. Given the fact that the minister doesn't want to answer the question we'll move on to some other issues. (Interruption) The member for Dartmouth North would make a great cheerleader. The only difficulty is he has to watch his blood pressure.
Mr. Chairman, through you, I'd like to draw to the minister's attention a number of issues in the Supplement to the Public Accounts on Pages 34, 35 and so on, so we could start there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The member for Cape Breton West has the floor and I believe you directed the question to the minister? It was so noisy member, I couldn't hear.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I wanted to get the minister's attention to this page first and then we'll go into the detail. I notice there are a number of different companies identified in here with regard to, I would presume, leaseholds. There's NovaCorp Properties - not so much that one I suppose - there's Parsons Investments Ltd., $436,472.80, and there's Universal Property Management, $666,552.63, on Page 35. I know there are some other ones in the Supplement as well. Could the minister indicate what those figures were for?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, we caught the first company, we were busily scrolling through the page. Parsons Investments? Parsons Investments is a landlord, so we rent from Parsons Investments. I think there are a number of locations. I know one is in North Sydney, Sydney, Windsor, New Glasgow.
MR. MACKINNON: What's the cost per square footage that's being paid to Parsons Investments Ltd. for their leaseholds?
MR. MORSE: Before the department undertakes to rent space - of course we do that through the Department of Transportation and Public Works, they are the ones that basically do those negotiations - there is a process that is gone through to make sure that we're getting best value for the taxpayers' dollar. It is a competitive process and I think that tomorrow when the Minister of Transportation and Public Works has a chance to defend his estimates, he would be well positioned to answer those sorts of questions.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, is the minister indicating that he cannot tell us how much they're paying per square foot out of his budget?
MR. MORSE: The Minister of Community Services goes on the record as understanding that we provide community services; the Department of Transportation and Public Works provides property services. We rely on their expertise to advise us in that regard. It is a collaborative relationship, just like with the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the Department of Justice - we all have a role to play. The honourable member is asking a question that would be best answered by the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, as we work with his department.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, that is categorically and factually incorrect. This line item was charged and payed for directly from Community Services to Parsons Investments Ltd., it was not paid through the Department of Transportation and Public Works. It may have been negotiated through the Department of Transportation and Public Works, but the money is coming directly out of the minister's department. What I need to know is how much money is being paid, per square foot, out of his department for this particular business?
MR. MORSE: As I stated previously, we depend on the Department of Transportation and Public Works to assist us in making those decisions. Once they make a recommendation and we are the tenant, it's clearly we're the ones that pay the rent, but it's done on the advice of the department with the expertise in that area. To suggest that the rent is a homogeneous amount across the province, I'm sure the member opposite knows that it would vary depending on whether you're in downtown Halifax or if you're in perhaps, Ecum Secum, which I believe resides in the chairman's constituency.
AN HON. MEMBER: No, it's in the constituency of the member for Guysborough-Sheet Harbour.
MR. MORSE: Okay, it is now within the constituency of the member for Guysborough-Sheet Harbour, but it would have a population of substantially less than the city and probably a different rental arrangement. Clearly it depends on the demand for space in the area in question, and I think the member opposite would realize that.
MR. MACKINNON: What flipper-flopper talk; that's all that is. The minister is spending over $600,000 of taxpayers' money directly out of his budget, he's paying it to a private corporation and he refuses to provide not only to members of this committee, but the people of Nova Scotia, the detail as to how much they're paying per square foot. The minister's in-line departments, the Department of Finance, Department of Education, they had no problem providing that. Why is the minister suppressing this information from the committee? Why will he not tell the people of Nova Scotia how much is being paid for rental of properties to his department? I'm asking point-blank, how much is being paid on a per-square-foot basis to Parsons Investments Ltd.?
MR. MORSE: I thank the member opposite for his intervention. I would point out that the member opposite represents the Liberal Party in Nova Scotia, and if Nova Scotians who are watching this feel that somebody who gets up and asks the cost per square foot of rent that's scattered all over the province - in this case we have three different units - and he's demanding the price per square foot without identifying the location that he's talking about, that I think does not fairly represent the Liberal Party, but you do represent the Liberal Party during these estimates.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, since we want to deal with the remedial approach in logic, since that's the minister's approach, let's go there. Would the minister please identify the names of the properties that were re-leased from Parsons Investments Ltd., and how much per square foot on each property that was leased? Could he please provide that, or is that too heavy a question for him?
MR. MORSE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, I will try to maintain the dignity that should be afforded to this honourable Chamber here. As I answered the first time, there are three locations, one is in Sydney, one is in New Glasgow, and one is in North Sydney. If the
honourable member wants a specific on one of them, we will endeavor to get it. The member opposite is indicating he wants to know the total amount. I can give him the total amount. If he thinks that we know the square footage here, with all the properties that we rent across the province, and have it broken down to a per-square-foot number readily accessible at our fingertips in this Chamber, he's mistaken, and if Nova Scotians find that to be a shortcoming in this minister, then I'll accept that. But I would suggest that those numbers have been calculated before we went forward and the total is $436,472.80 for all three, and if the member wants us to go out and endeavor to get the square footage and the breakdown so that he can have them, we would be pleased to accommodate the honourable member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The member for Cape Breton West has approximately 23 minutes left in turn.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, it took five questions for it to finally sink into the minister that that's exactly what I asked for, and Hansard will show that I asked for that detail. Even in the previous question I asked for the per square footage in each of those properties, so why the minister has to keep regurgitating in circles so as to avoid the answer - if he doesn't have it at his fingertips, I can appreciate that, but the least the minister could do was give an undertaking that he will provide it in a reasonable time frame; likewise for Universal Property Management, which is Page 35, $666,552.63. How many properties, where are those properties, and how much per square foot on each of these properties?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, Universal Property Management is the owner of Nelson Place, and Nelson Place is where we have our head office. Again, we are not familiar with the exact square footage of the many, many properties that we rent across the province, but in terms of the total rent that is paid to them, $666,552.63, the honourable member has the numbers. The honourable member would know that one should never ask a question unless one has the answer and the honourable member clearly has the answer.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, I have part of the answer; I don't have the price per square foot and that is what I need. So if the minister is indicating that he will provide that, that's fine. There is also for the Hardman Group, $235,039.20. Would the minister give an undertaking to provide similar detail - what that's for, the cost per square foot, and what locations? Would that be okay? I will take it on notice.
MR. MORSE: I would be happy to provide that undertaking for those three landlords.
MR. MACKINNON: On Page 34 of the Supplement to the Public Accounts, there is a line item there, DMR Consulting Inc., $1, 029,399.85. Could the minister please apprise members of the committee as to what the line figure is for?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman - a good question by the way, honourable member - that is a significant amount of money and it is the software support to our IT system for Income Assistance.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, can the minister indicate as to whether there has been any type of a satisfaction survey done within his department, much the same as what was done in other departments? I know there was one conducted with the Department of Environment and Labour a few years ago, just determining whether the employees were generally satisfied with their workplace, their job description - there was a whole series of questions done. Was there any type of a survey done for staff within the Department of Community Services and, if so, what are the results?
MR. MORSE: Yes, Mr. Chairman, and honourable member that is the sort of thing that is done by the Public Service Commission. In fact, there is one currently underway, I believe.
MR. MACKINNON: I am aware of that, but has there been one done internally within the Department of Community Services in the last couple of years?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, there would not have been a formal one per se, but some of what the member refers to is being addressed in other ways. We now have an employee newsletter that comes out on a quarterly basis and just generally trying to grow as a department, as a team, to serve Nova Scotians in need.
MR. MACKINNON: I would like to switch the focus just slightly. It's an issue that was raised a little earlier, but perhaps I'm looking for a specific figure, if it's possible. Can the minister indicate how many wheelchairs the department owns, that they have either in storage or out on loan or what, how many does the department own, altogether, as an asset?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, the nature of the department's involvement in this would be to purchase them for clients where they meet certain criteria and, as was mentioned earlier, we are also looking at a pilot project in conjunction with the Abilities Foundation for providing chairs to children but, in terms of warehousing wheelchairs, that is not something that we do in the department. Where the client qualifies, we would make the purchase for them and then it would belong to the client.
MR. MACKINNON: Does the minister or his department have an inventory of how many wheelchairs are out there presently?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, that is something that we are turning our attention to as a result of the commitment that we made through the blueprint, but in terms of whether the department has one, no, the department does not have one. But through the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre I know they track surplus wheelchairs across the province and try to
do the matching, so there is the essence of this out there and, as the department funds the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre, I suppose some might draw some connection - but I think I'm going to give the credit to the folks at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I acknowledge and congratulate the Kings group as well, but the issue is the department is expending considerable amounts of money and not tracking how many chairs it has out there, so there could be some duplication, there could be some situations where these wheelchairs are no longer being used. I know I have spoken to representatives from the Disabled Persons Commission and they are quite frustrated with the fact that the department does not know how many wheelchairs are out there and, in some cases, where there is a demand, there are - I don't know if you would use the word "surplus", but there are wheelchairs that are out there that could be utilized that are not being utilized. The minister has already acknowledged that his department doesn't do proper tracking on that particular issue, so we will leave it at that.
Now, my next question . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Excuse me. Order. The minister is ready to answer. Just one second now, the member is not finished questioning.
MR. MORSE: Yes, but I guess I'm . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are you standing on a point of order?
MR. MORSE: I'm standing on a point of order. I think the member has misconstrued my comments in terms of the department's responsibility for the wheelchairs, so I just want to put that on the record.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, with due respect, you could have informed the member of that information when he was finished his question. The member for Cape Breton West has the floor.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, he has already acknowledged that his department doesn't know how many are out there, simple as that. So he has a long way to go.
An issue on a slightly different topic, an issue I raised in this House I would say in 1989, maybe 1990. It's something that you will see a lot of in the private sector and it's with regard to the issue of reverse mortgage annuity. Now several years back when the Bob Rae Government took power in Ontario, they developed a similar type of program for public housing. I made a proposal here in Nova Scotia that we should examine not exactly that as being proposed by the private sector but, rather, an initiative whereby those individuals and families, living in public housing, over a period of time could acquire a certain percentage of equity in that unit if they maintain that unit to the best of their ability and certain other criteria
was achieved, not just in terms of maintenance but just general repairs and a whole series of things that would allow them at a certain point in time - 10, maybe 15 years, depending on the situation - they would, on a sliding scale, acquire equity in that unit.
Thereby it would be a win-win situation, both for the department in terms of saving money and also for those individuals and families, that they would in fact get an opportunity to become a little more self-sustaining, because one of the biggest problems I find is that people who are compelled to depend on public housing, or some type of a social housing, are always kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. They are just going from week to week with their budget and they just never seem to get out of that downward spiral, and with the cost of fuel going up and with the cost of insurance and the cost of electricity and the cost of telephones, the cost of groceries - you name it - it's a never-ending struggle.
You hear this old adage "the poor get poorer and the rich get richer," and I would ask if the minister would take an opportunity to activate in very real, substantive terms some possibilities around this particular issue, because we know about the issue of the aging housing stock, we know about the crunching dollars in terms of federal-provincial, what they call the global agreements and so on, and there is always with that the fact that, particularly from the federal government, they have been shying away from housing in recent years although Minister Bradshaw, when she was in charge of this particular division, did an excellent job, but the fact of the matter is it is not as glossy a thing at election time to be refurbishing a lot of public housing units as it is to cut ribbons for new highways or putting something new and grander up.
So I don't know if that was part of the political mindset or what, but I think there is a real lost opportunity here for the department, and for a lot of people in Nova Scotia who always seem to be just below the threshold of getting a break. So as to help motivate them to get into the marketplace, we have the new income generating program, the federal-provincial, the national program, but I would ask the minister to give some serious consideration to this, even if it is somewhat of a hybrid from the Ontario model. I have studied the British Columbia program as well, and there is something that we can take out of each one of those without locking them into the mindset that it has to be like the private sector. It's not. You are using equity, you are using human resources, you are using goodwill. You are using a lot of things that would help not only these individuals and families, but also the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. Perhaps the minister could comment briefly on that?
Mr. Chairman, how much time do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have exactly 10 minutes and 22 seconds.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, if the minister could give us a - I know my question was long - kind of an abbreviated version on that.
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, to the honourable member. There is surely merit in your suggestion and indeed everybody needs an incentive to try to get ahead in life, and that sense of ownership certainly makes a tenant, who might some day be an owner, perhaps take extra care in that property, and that's good for them and I think it is good for society. This is not unlike the 5/5/5 proposal that the Secretary of State Steven Mahoney brought to Nova Scotia when I first met him last August. I would say that while there may be some elements of what the member is suggesting in our Affordable Housing Program, this is sort of a graduated way into acquiring home ownership and I think that it's a worthwhile suggestion. It's one that has been made elsewhere. As the member indicated, it has been tried in other jurisdictions and perhaps someday we will have the opportunity to bring that to Nova Scotia. I would certainly welcome that sort of program.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, there was an issue I was about to raise the other day when we ran out of time and it is with regard to transition houses, that regional plan that was put out there. The way I understood it, and from talking to representatives from the transition houses in Nova Scotia, it would appear to indicate to me and to those representatives that in fact there is a lot of coding in the words there that would suggest that we will see a reduction in the number of transition houses in Nova Scotia with this regional approach. Would the minister care to comment on that, and indicate for members of the committee if in fact there is no intent to reduce the number of transition houses in the province?
MR. MORSE: I thank the honourable member for his question; it's a question that is of considerable concern to some Nova Scotians. I think the member would be pleased to know that the consultation process has already begun; in fact it was last week that the assistant deputy minister was travelling to northern Nova Scotia to start this process - and to specifically answer the member's question, I would be very surprised if the recommendation came forward to close any transition houses.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for his response because I think that is important, particularly for those who are dealing with transition houses, to have that comfort level.
Just briefly because I know I have asked about a few of those property leaseholds. There is another one there, Banc Properties Ltd., $290,141.62. Rather than get into the minutia at this point, if I could get an undertaking from the minister that he would provide the list of the properties that are being leased or rented by his department, itemized, and how much is the cost per square foot and the total cost for each one. I can just take an undertaking that perhaps within a week or 30 days he could provide that, would that be okay?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, honourable member, looking at the gentlemen responsible for coming up with those numbers, they are nodding and they say that they think that can be done, so I give you that undertaking.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, there is a line item there for All Occasions Catering for $14,946.18. What was that catering service for, and if you could give me the details?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I want to start by just confirming that this pertains to the fiscal year 2002-03, these numbers that we are talking about, and that would be the meeting expenses catering for the entire year at the department's head office.
MR. MACKINNON: I'm a little curious (Interruptions) Yes, that is $15,000 worth of sandwiches. It seems like a little much.
AN HON. MEMBER: Here's your chance for cheap political points, Russell.
MR. MACKINNON: No, no, it is, it does seem like a lot of money, but if the minister has indicated it is spread out for the entire year and it is perhaps for people coming in - I know there are a lot of different companies that are itemized here, consulting firms and so on, and I would presume that is for providing food and beverages for these people as the meetings go on. Is that the general thrust of what it is all about or is it just for in-house?
MR. MORSE: As the member was pointing out, we do have a lot of groups who come to head office and meet with us, and it is to accommodate all of those occasions. It works out to about $1,250 per month and, given the number of people who come to visit the department, it would seem that that would be a reasonable number.
MR. MACKINNON: There is another line item there, Mr. Chairman, Iron Mountain,
$14,133.80. Could the minister indicate what that is for?
MR. MORSE: That line item is for offsite record storage.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Member for Cape Breton West, you have three minutes left.
AN HON. MEMBER: Don't we have storage somewhere, provincially?
MR. MACKINNON: Well, that was my thought, that we do have facilities over in Burnside that belong to the provincial government for storage, but he is talking about records, actual confidential records and that sort of thing.
I notice there are a number of consulting firms listed all through the detail there. Can the minister confirm if any of these firms listed here - and I don't want to go through them line by line because, number one, I would have to wait another hour to get back to them and, number two, I think it wouldn't be fair to all members of the committee - are any of these firms non-Nova Scotian firms, these consulting firms?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, honourable member, we are not able to give you an answer without scrutinizing them but, if you would like us to do so, we would be happy to do so and get you that answer.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, the minister indicated before DMR Consulting Inc., the $1 million line item, but there is another one here, CGI Information Systems & Management Consultants Inc., nearly $168,000. Would the minister be able to indicate what that is for?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, that is another computer consulting firm.
MR. MACKINNON: Would the minister indicate what they did for the department that warranted that expenditure?
MR. MORSE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the member opposite for his questions because, in fact, I want to first start by saying, I am going to give the honourable member a compliment for his line of questioning because the gentleman who is sitting to my left has been doing this for - how many years?
MR. CLEM HENNEBURRY: Too many.
MR. MORSE: He says too many years. I don't think so because, as long as I'm minister, I want Clem here next to me to answer those questions. Clem Henneburry, he's not used to this kind of attention but, honourable member, what I am really saying is that you are asking questions as they pertain to the estimates. Clem is very knowledgeable in this regard.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Respectfully, Mr. Minister, time is finished for tonight's estimates. You can finish with your thanking comments tomorrow.
MR. MORSE: I will do that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I appreciate that.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I move that your committee do now rise and report progress and beg leave to sit again on a future day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So moved.
[The committee rose at 7:24 p.m.]