MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now be called to order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Resolution E25.
Resolution E25 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $24,505,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of Nova Scotia Business Inc., pursuant to the Estimate and the business plan of Nova Scotia Business Inc. be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton South.
HON. MANNING MACDONALD: It is a pleasure to rise in my place and give a few remarks regarding Resolution E25 which, by the way, is the Nova Scotia Business Inc. I would have thought there would have been some opening remarks on that but apparently the minister gave the opening remarks before so there's (Interruptions) Well, the minister should have said that, Mr. Chairman, but anyway, before the minister gives his opening remarks, just on a point of order, I don't see the president and CEO of NSBI over there today and I'm just wondering whether or not he's going to join us for this debate or leave it up to other people to answer the questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I don't think that's a point of order. I think the minister picks his own staff who attends the Committee on Supply.
The honourable Minister of Economic and Rural Development, and he also may introduce his staff at this present time.
HON. PERCY PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I would like to re-introduce - with me is the Deputy Minister for Economic and Rural Development, Ian Thompson to my left, and Pat Ryan is with me representing NSBI.
Mr. Chairman, things happened just rather quickly over the last few minutes and I didn't hear the question asked if I have any opening remarks. I do have some opening remarks, and if you would indulge me, I would just like to spend a couple of minutes since they were prepared. Thank you.
The province is dedicated to strengthening Nova Scotia's economy. Despite a turbulent past year, the province's business development agency - Nova Scotia Business Incorporated - worked with clients and partners through the economic uncertainty. The global economic downturn had a direct impact here in the Province of Nova Scotia. Many local companies put their growth plans on hold, while international companies reconsidered or delayed expansion. NSBI continued to add value by supporting the growth of local and international companies.
In the agency's recent 2008-09 annual report, NSBI helped clients create or retain up to 2,700 new jobs in Nova Scotia. This translates into as much as $108 million in projected payroll. Through its various programs and services, the agency assisted companies from all areas of the province. In Yarmouth, NSBI continued to work with IMO Foods and insured a loan for working capital in 2008 and 2009. Port Hawkesbury-based McGregor GeoSciences Limited and Superport Marine Services are clients through NSBI's payroll rebate program. Burnt Out Solutions Inc., a manufacturer of soy-based candles and soaps in New Minas, travelled with NSBI as a participant in the Northeast Market Center trade show in Boston. NSBI also collaborated with partners from all areas of the province on initiatives such as brightcareerfutures.com. This Web portrayal connects Nova Scotian students with career opportunities available in the Province of Nova Scotia, ensuring Nova Scotia companies have access to the right people with the right skills.
Mr. Chairman, NSBI collaborates with the Department of Labour and Workforce Development and Come to Life on this initiative. The trade development team actively pursued new and existing markets with local companies in 2008 and 2009. The team exceeded its target of working with 150 companies and travelled with 269 companies to new markets or explored existing markets. In 2008-09 these companies reported $155.7 million in actual and projected export sales - more than $100 million above the 2008-09 target of $50 million.
NSBI's investment attraction team completed 10 tracks and actions with international and local companies. The average gross salary of these forecasted jobs is $48,117, which
exceeds the 2008-09 target for the agency of $42,000. This further demonstrates the agency's five-year commitment to creating higher paying jobs across Nova Scotia. The business advisory team met with more than 360 businesses throughout Nova Scotia to assist them during this recession and offer their expertise in developing their growth plans. The business financing team authorized five term loans and finalized investments in four Nova Scotia companies, through the expanded use of the payroll rebate. This tool is designed to support local businesses as they invest in overall productivity and competitiveness.
NSBI's venture capital team invested a total of $4.5 million in 2008-09, adding one new company to its portfolio and completing four follow-up investments in existing companies.
In the agency's annual published business plan, NSBI took a closer look at programs and services. The agency will make its offerings increasingly flexible to help meet the unique and individual needs of NSBI's clients. The economy will remain a priority going forward. More than ever we need a mix of strong international companies and solid domestic businesses to fuel our economy. NSBI will continue to work with domestic businesses and international companies. The focus is to diversify Nova Scotia's economy. Our goal is success for our people.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd be more than happy now to entertain any questions by either of the opposing Parties.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton South.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: It is a pleasure to rise and enter into a dialogue with the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and also the other departments he is responsible for, Departments of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, African Nova Scotian Affairs, and of course Nova Scotia Business Incorporated - the topic that we're on right now.
As I stated earlier, I'd like to ask a direct question of the minister as we start, where is the president and CEO? By the way, that's a very lofty title, president and CEO - I thought that we had deputy ministers in most departments. But this one is different, and I'm going to get into some other differences I'm going to point out about this department and other departments and agencies of government - but perhaps I'd ask the minister, where is the president and CEO?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, the president of NSBI was unable to make it with us today. He has some personal commitments outside of the House.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: That's not a satisfactory answer, Mr. Chairman. If the minister had come to me and said that the CEO couldn't be here today, I would have postponed these estimates until he could be here, however, we are dealing with them now and we'll be dealing with them, I guess, without the president and CEO.
I listened with interest to the minister's opening statements and I'm going to tell you, they were well scripted, and if one takes everything the minister said regarding NSBI as gospel there shouldn't be any unemployment in Nova Scotia at the present time. Unfortunately, and sadly, that's not the case - there is high unemployment in Nova Scotia despite the efforts of agencies in this province.
I want to ask the minister another question, the Deputy Minister of Economic and Rural Development, is he ultimately responsible for the entire department, including NSBI?
MR. PARIS: NSBI has its own legislation, has its own board, and it reports to me. I would also like to add, since the member raised this as well, the president for NSBI, the personal commitment that he had to attend to today wasn't predictable. It was one of those things and, unfortunately, I only found out about it this afternoon as well.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: I must say that the same thing must have happened last year, because attempts to question that CEO of NSBI were less than successful at that time as well, however, we'll move on.
Back some time ago, when I was minister in the late 1990s, we had one department at the time and it was called Economic Development and Tourism. The economic development part of it was responsible for doing economic development in Nova Scotia and we were severely criticized at the time - the Opposition accused us of bringing politics into the way we did business in Nova Scotia. So along came the new Premier - John Hamm was going to change the way we did business in Nova Scotia. He was going to bring into the mix a new agency called NSBI, which would be dealing with the economic development of the province in terms of bringing new business to the province and, as a result of that, providing funds for start-ups and businesses to grow.
One of the things that we did was to set up a payroll rebate system in the late 1990s - that would enable businesses to come into Nova Scotia or to stay in Nova Scotia with a payroll rebate system that would enable them to compete and also basically hire more people. The payroll rebate system was used quite widely at that time and continued to be used after NSBI came into force - as a matter of fact, it was working so well at the time that NSBI took ownership of that and just moved it along. It was a policy of the previous MacLellan and Savage Governments in Nova Scotia that was adopted, and I'm pleased they did adopt that.
The problem is that while they went down that road of using the idea of the previous Liberal Government to attract business in Nova Scotia, I saw very little of new initiatives
outside of that by NSBI. Every business that makes the headlines in this province seems to have an attachment to it that there is a payroll rebate system in place at the end of the day. There are some outside of that, but not many - most of them are employed with that kind of initiative.
I must say that in regard to that, the businesses that we're talking about here, for the most part over the years, have been call centres. I said at one time that we must have so many call centres in Nova Scotia they must be talking to each other, because they couldn't be talking to anybody else - there are call centres everywhere and they're coming and going. Now, I have nothing against call centres, they provide employment, but they're only as good as the book of business they have at the present time. When the book of business leaves, they leave, and the long-term benefits from call centres we hope will be there, but in some cases we know they're not going to be, and they have very little investment in the province outside of the investment that NSBI and, by extension of NSBI, the taxpayers of this province put up - taxpayers' money.
The investments that those companies have are their book of business. Very few of them own property - they're in leased properties, or properties the government has provided, and very few provide their employees with the kind of long-term stability and opportunities that we'd like to see in Nova Scotia, particularly in rural Nova Scotia. But there is a place for call centres, and I'll acknowledge that, and we do have some very successful call centres - some of them in my particular area.
My point I guess is that now we have two agencies in the province - the Department of Economic and Rural Development was supposed to get out of the business of giving loans, get out of that business altogether and leave it up to NSBI, and what happened was the first time that the Department of Economic and Rural Development and the political masters of the day found out that NSBI wasn't going to deal with somebody, they decided they'd better get back in the business; in other words, if business deals couldn't pass the smell test from NSBI, then they reverted back to the Industrial Expansion Fund or the fund that the Department of Economic and Rural Development had at its disposal from time to time to give out when it suited them - it's called "largesse".
I'll give you a couple of good examples of that. The "Potatogate" issue that received widespread publicity in Nova Scotia and also the Pictou County issue with Dr. Hamm's own riding - or the riding next door maybe, I think it was the Speaker's riding - the amusement park down there. Both of them were denied by NSBI, and NSBI, while they denied them, never raised, publicly at least, the ire of anybody else in approving those, so they got approved. What we had at that time - and we still have - is a number of agencies dishing out public funds.
Mr. Chairman, I might put this in the way of a question. In the Public Accounts Supplementary Information, Page 248, Public Accounts Volume 3, every board and
commission in this province is detailed in here - and I mean detailed. I'm going to get to some of the comments that the Minister of Finance made in Opposition regarding openness and accountability.
When it comes to Nova Scotia Business Inc., Grants and Contributions, there is one line. One line - it says $23,312,758.56. One line - there are no salaries here, there are no expenses here, there is no travel here, there's nothing but one line in the Public Accounts. Now, Mr. Minister, do you agree that a Crown Corporation in Nova Scotia, publicly-funded by the taxpayer, should be allowed to get away with having a one-line item in the estimates that we, as legislators, can look at and determine, on behalf of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia, whether or not Nova Scotians are getting a good deal, a good bang for the buck from Nova Scotia Business Inc.? I'd like to know - $23 million is a lot of money - by looking at the Public Accounts, what that involves, and why are we paying this company these kinds of amounts?
I'd like to know also, Mr. Minister, while you're answering that, if you would table in this House the salaries of the people working for NSBI, their travel costs, and the amount of successful deals that this company has put through in the past year. I'll refer again to the statement of the Minister of Finance last year when he said on this side of the House that all government departments must be open and accountable, the Legislature is the body that reports to Nova Scotians and everything should report ultimately to this Legislature. Well, Mr. Finance Minister, in your document, the supplement to the Public Accounts, I don't see that, that's missing. Maybe it won't be missing next year, I'll allow the minister that - perhaps he's working on that.
Back to the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and NSBI, will you be prepared to answer those questions that I've just asked?
MR. PARIS: I heard the question asked and I just want, through you, Mr. Chairman, to let the member know that NSBI tables an annual report, and in that annual report is a financial breakdown of all their operating expenses. What he is referring to, and he is correct, it is a one-line item, but certainly in the business plan that is tabled by NSBI in the annual report there's a breakdown of where the money is spent.
I just want to briefly comment - the member brought up, Mr. Chairman, something with respect to contact centres. I know that when he raised the contact centres - which some people call call centres - he acknowledged the fact that they create a lot of jobs in the Province of Nova Scotia. They certainly do - I reported last week that there are 19,000 jobs created as a result of call centres. I think it is also important to note that a number of those call centres have been around for years and they employ a lot of people. That translates into a huge boost.
It is also of note, and I mentioned it last week in the House, that those contact centres, for the most part, provide employment in rural Nova Scotia, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, some people have suggested to me that NSBI is, indeed, a runaway train in Nova Scotia.
With a population of less than a million people in this province, we now have three agencies of the same department of government having their hands on the dollars to put around this province where they deem necessary and advisable by the advice they get. We have the Industrial Expansion Fund of course, and we have Economic and Rural Development - which, by the way, was supposed to be involved in setting policy only, I don't know how that got off the track a few years back, but it did, it got back into the political realm - and also we have NSBI.
Now the minister speaks about the openness about this department, NSBI, they have an annual report and they table it - why isn't the annual report here? Why isn't it with your estimates, that we can discuss the annual report? In the annual report that they give, are the individual salaries listed there, like every other government department has? Are they listed salary by salary? How do we know we're getting value for money in this province, or value for the dollars that we spend?
Now I haven't seen the annual report, but if there's one out there, is it the minister's responsibility - like I asked the minister before about accountability in the House, answering questions about NSBI, and I was told that - and I believe the previous government was uncomfortable about this as well, because it seems to me that NSBI has outgrown government and somebody has to ask the legitimate questions, whether we're getting legitimate value for money here.
I haven't seen much evidence in rural Nova Scotia that the situation is getting any better. I've said it before that Halifax, within 25 or 30 miles of this building, doesn't need any agency to look after it - it can look after itself because it is the kind of buoyant economy here that capital cities will bring, the federal government will bring, the provincial government offices will bring. Unfortunately rural Nova Scotia, and particularly Cape Breton, doesn't have that luxury of those large numbers of government jobs.
I just wonder what avenue outside of a call centre - which, by the way, we just lost a couple of them, the minister knows that, down in the Cheticamp area we lost one and we lost one in Canso, just recently, and there are a couple that have changed ownerships. Some of them are American owned and they've changed ownerships and you wonder, some of them are now employing people under another company so they don't have to pay the benefits. There are all kinds of problems and I'm wondering whether or not the government
is riding shotgun over some of these businesses to make sure they are meeting their targets, and that they're looking after their employees the way they should be looking after them. I've been led to believe lately that in some cases that's not the case, that employees are being hired through umbrella companies or companies that have been set up just for hiring, so they don't have to pay the benefits that some of the other people in those call centres were getting.
I'd like you to respond to that, but before you do that, Mr. Minister, I would like you to respond to the fact that I asked you the question earlier - will you table all the salaries and the expenses of everybody who works for NSBI, before the estimates are finished next Monday?
MR. PARIS: Actually through you, Mr. Chairman, I heard a couple of questions there and I hope I don't miss any of them. First, with respect to the annual report, I certainly will table the annual report within the next 24 hours, if that's acceptable to the member opposite. So that takes care of the annual report.
As far as salaries are concerned, certainly I will get that information. It is my understanding that salaries are not in the annual report, but we will make those available as well. I will see that they are tabled in the House.
I was taking some notes there as the honourable member was speaking and I think those were the two questions that I picked up, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Now we've established, Mr. Chairman, that the salary and benefit packages for the people working for NSBI, we know that they're not in the supplement to the Public Accounts, and now we know they're not in the annual report, so Nova Scotians still don't know how much we're paying, to whom in that particular department, and really for what.
There may be a good value for public funds, but I sat here for the last number of years and listened to the current government incessantly talking about the need for openness and transparency in government, and here we have NSBI, an agency of this government, spending upwards of $24 million and we don't know how many they're employing, we don't know what they're paying them, we don't know whether we're getting value for money. Has there been any kind of audit done in this particular department to see whether we're getting value for money? All of these are questions that people are asking me.
In the meantime, Economic and Rural Development is sitting over to the left and saying if NSBI runs into any problems or their conscience takes over and they can't give people money, then there's always the good old Economic and Rural Development sitting there - and I would hope that the NDP Government won't allow that situation to continue whereas if one government department can't make a case for it, then another government
department will. So I think that we have to be asking these questions because taxpayers literally want to know what's going on with the expense of public funds.
And I've used the term "runaway train" before - I would like to think that we're getting value for our dollar at NSBI, but attempts to get answers from senior executives at NSBI have not been easy, you know, in terms of asking about particular projects. The words "secrecy" and "confidentiality" come out a lot of the time, and I, as a member of the Legislature, can't invoke confidentiality in anything I do, and if I was running the Department of Economic and Rural Development, I certainly can't say I'm not going to answer those questions because I don't think it's in the best interests of the people I'm dealing with.
Well, let me say that the people you're dealing with, Mr. Minister, are the taxpayers of Nova Scotia - the people who live here. We're spending their money and they would kind of like to know whether or not the people down in Cape Breton are getting value for money from this agency. They would also like to know, Mr. Minister, whether or not there's a plan here that's going to reduce the unemployment rate significantly in this province. They also would like to know, Mr. Minister, whether or not Economic and Rural Development is going to go back to a role of planning the future economic needs of this province and get out of the business of giving money to groups and individuals in this province.
If you look at the Economic and Rural Development side of things here in the supplement, there's no problem there finding out. Everybody in Nova Scotia got some money from Economic and Rural Development it seems - every agency, every group - and whether or not that's right or wrong remains to be seen, but at least it's public. It's public knowledge, but NSBI isn't and I have difficulty with that. Mr. Minister, I've asked you and you say you will come forth with the salaries, the expenses, travel, for everybody who works there, the number of people who work there and what their particular jobs are, you'll do that? Fine. That's the kind of openness I would like to see, and I'll congratulate you when I actually get it, Mr. Minister, and I hope that it's soon.
I would like to say to the minister, again - and I'm not going to go much further down this road - you'll be familiar with a letter that came from The Cove Guest Home in Sydney regarding Williston House. Now Williston House is a long-term care facility, an assisted- living facility, which employs hundreds of people in the Sydney area. It provides a service that's probably, in that field, second to none anywhere that these services exist.
Now they're in the process of building additional assisted-living apartments, and the problem is they owe a loan to NSBI, something that was brokered a few years ago with the proviso that if they continue to expand - now I have to put this in context, Mr. Chairman, because I have to tell you there have been businesses that have met their targets in Nova Scotia in the past few years, and even back in my time as minister, if they met the targets outlined, loans were forgiven in order to keep them stable and keep them moving down the
road to prosperity; in other words, deals were made that if you met your employment targets. It was called forgivable loans, that's what it was called, and they were forgiven in some cases, but for some reason, I can't understand why, Williston House has met everything they said they were going to meet in the community - they have been corporate citizens of the finest kind, they employ nurses, they employ health care workers of all kinds, they have a vibrant board of directors, they're raising money on their own, and they're right in the heart of the City of Sydney where they're desperately needed.
They, along with three other institutions in my area, are providing a tremendous service that government does not have to provide in terms of building the facilities to look after the people who are aging and in need of this particular service - and I refer, of course, to the MacGillivray Guest Home, the Harbourstone homes that Joe Shannon has and, of course, The Cove, and - pardon me?
AN HON. MEMBER: The new Celtic Court.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: And the new Celtic Court, the member for the adjacent constituency points that out to me. It was just opened, actually. The assisted-living part, is what I'm really getting at.
Now, Williston House want to expand, and they can't expand unless they get some help from NSBI. Now, I can't think of a better project or a better way to legitimize NSBI than to go down there and say to Williston House you go ahead and build another unit, you go ahead and employ dozens more of people, not the least of which are going to be construction people, and then you're going to have permanent employees there. All we need is for you to forgive the portion of this loan that's out there, that's left, and let's get on with building the new facility down there.
I'm going to tell you, if there is anything that is a crisis in this province right now, it's the need for beds for those having problems with their health, aging, and those who need assisted living - they're not at the stage where they have to go into nursing homes, but they are at the stage where they need assisted living. Williston House is prepared to provide this down the road - they need a little help from NSBI, and I would ask you, Mr. Minister, are you prepared to help this corporation?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, with respect to Williston House, I will review that again with NSBI, and they will hear from me directly.
Also, through you, Mr. Chairman, the member mentioned that he would thank me when he got some information that I've already promised him, and I do hope, member, that you'll do that in the public forum of the House.
I think that it is important that I also mention, because there was some discussion about reviews. I would say this, that NSBI business plan is available through the Internet, it has been available here through the House. In the business plan itself, NSBI does talk about outcomes and performance measurements, so they do have measurements with respect to accomplishing the goals that they've set out.
Also - and I just have to refer to my notes here that I was taking as you were speaking, honourable member - Collins Management also did an independent review and there was a five-year review that was done with respect to NSBI, and also IEF has been reviewed as well, the results of those reviews have been a positive thing. So, again, the business plan is available, it has outcomes, it has performance measurements in it, and I certainly would encourage all members of the House to have a look at those.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: First of all, let me say to the minister, Mr. Chairman, that everybody doesn't have the Internet in this province, unfortunately, so many people would be still not certain what NSBI does.
In regard to me congratulating the minister in public, Mr. Chairman, I don't like getting instructions from the minister on how I should congratulate him. That's his job to provide this information to the House, it's not something gratuitously going to be given to me and then I'm supposed to get up and say I'm sorry for everything and thank you very much. That's not just going to happen, but I would acknowledge the offer and I'll take it under advisement.
I'm going to let my colleague, the member for Cape Breton North take over in a few moments, but what I'm trying to get at here, and I guess this is more for the Minister of Finance who controls the purse strings of this province, that if there is going to be a corporate change over there, I would hope that we would have one agency.
Now, whether or not that agency is NSBI - it could be, NSBI could be the vehicle that this province designates solely to do the job of providing funds to private business sectors and to non-profit organizations as well, like Williston House, to create jobs in this province or to get the construction going in terms of - particularly in my area with the coal expansion and those types of things happening. If that is going to be the case, if NSBI is going to do it, then let's not have a sidebar where, if NSBI doesn't think it's a good thing, the Industrial Expansion Fund can kick in or Economic and Rural Development could kick in and start giving out funds that NSBI doesn't deem to be in the best interest of taxpayer spending in this province.
Mr. Chairman, I would think that is doable. There's a duplication there. There's also, I guess to use the term, "a political wing" of that department still lurking there, to be able to
look after people who NSBI, for one reason or the other, don't choose to. In other words, they couldn't make a business case - and I go back to the ones that I cited earlier, and there are others.
I have to say, Mr. Chairman, to the minister, that he should be taking a look at that. He should be taking a look at how to consolidate that whole department into one because, as I say, the runaway train is certainly there with NSBI.
I say again - the minister said about call centres and I welcome his comments on the call centre issue because they are important, but let's not hang our collective economic hats on whether or not call centres in this province are going to be the salvation for us all down the road, because I'm going to tell you they're not, because you know and I know, technology changes. Everybody in this House, and outside this House, knows that what's a good job today in the call centre is not necessarily so. As well, the international set have caught on to doing business with North American companies, largely in terms - what did you call them? Not call centres . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Contacts.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Contacts - yes. Well, I prefer to use the oft-known name of call centres - but I had the experience a few weeks ago to make a call to a company to try to get some information and I got a guy in Bombay, or Mumbai, now. The guy was in Mumbai, he answers the phone and he talks to me and I tell him where I am and he says, is it summer there? No, it's not summer, it's Fall. Aren't you in Australia? I said no, I'm in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Where's that? So I told him that it's in Canada.
Now, this guy works for a company that has employed a call centre in Mumbai, he is probably getting a fraction of the amount of money that we pay call centre people - and we don't pay them enough here, far from enough, but that's not us, it's the companies that are paying. We give them payroll rebates so they get some of their money that they're paying, and some of the $9, $10 or $11 jobs - which can't support a family in this province. Mr. Minister - we subsidize that. We subsidize these companies - now is that, over the long run, a good use of taxpayers' money in this province?
I say that the call centres are good for now, some of them are doing a great job, but increasingly we're seeing where companies are using staff from Asia and from other countries throughout the world where they can get cheaper labour. Not to say that we're not getting cheap labour - the people who work in these call centres certainly aren't going to be able to bridge themselves to retirement on the salaries that they're making in these call centres, that's for sure.
I want to say to you, Mr. Minister, that we need a direction, either from NSBI or from Economic and Rural Development, totally absorbed in policy-driven solutions in the future
in order to make Nova Scotia viable in the coming years. Just to put another call centre in the province is not going to do it. It's a good stop-gap, and I'm happy that there are people employed there, Mr. Minister, but maybe you might want to react to those few statements that I just put to the House. Thank you.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I certainly will react to those statements. First of all, I think it's not fair for the public to get the impression - it's not fair to the public and it's not fair to NSBI, there is no benefit served and I wouldn't want anyone here to think that NSBI, and Economic and Rural Development for that matter, concentrate on contact centres. That certainly is not the case.
One thing the honourable member and I do agree upon is that things do change. Things change on a pretty consistent basis, especially in the world of Economic and Rural Development, especially when it comes to the economy. You look at the situation that we're in today, the role of Economic and Rural Development, certainly the role of NSBI, is to stay current with change and, more than just that, it's the role of NSBI to be ahead of change.
What NSBI does - my interpretation of one very, very important and vital role of NSBI is that when one wave is hitting the shore NSBI is looking behind it to see what the next wave is. So NSBI plays a very, very active role in trying to keep pace with change. It's not all about contact centres.
I think on the weekend, when I finally did get home and found myself reading the paper - actually I'll table this, it was Monday, it was just yesterday - and I take great pleasure in reading the Business section, which I'm sure a lot of members do, and it was very, very interesting what I was reading in yesterday's paper, some of the activities with respect to the financial institution that NSBI is involved in. I will table that and I think that it made some interesting reading for me and I think that demonstrates one of the things in my opening remarks I've tried to stress, the diversity that NSBI is involved in now, and certainly it's not just all about contact centres.
There was some mention about the IEF, and I think the member was drawing a close connection between the IEF and NSBI. Certainly my understanding years ago before I came here is that the IEF was implemented so that it could serve a purpose that wasn't being served by the other institutions, namely one being NSBI. The IEF and NSBI are entirely two different things with different functions for government - they may have a function that involves money, but the criteria for each is certainly not the same.
Also, on the note of the IEF, I think one has to be reminded that the IEF, it is public money. There's nothing private - certainly, in my experience as minister there has been nothing private about the IEF. It's completely public, it's above board, certainly under my jurisdiction, and I'm sure - and I don't want to speak to what it was like years ago, but certainly it's a public program, it's there for public scrutiny.
On the point of scrutiny, I think it's incumbent on me to say that NSBI, one of the things that I advocated about is that evaluation is an ongoing process for me, and I mentioned that last week and I reiterate it here again today, that we have to always not only be vigilant but we also have to make sure that those things that we have in place are doing what it is that they're intended to do - so I think evaluation. I feel confident saying for NSBI it is an ongoing part of the process, it's something that occurs all the time, they get assessments around accomplishing what it is that they've set out to do.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, the comments of the minister have prompted me to make a couple more comments. I won't trespass on the time of the Party to my left here, but I just want to make a comment regarding the whole business of NSBI, Economic and Rural Development, and the Industrial Expansion Fund.
We don't need three entities in one department - what we need is one entity in that department to do the business for the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. Whether that's NSBI, and Economic and Rural Development could go out there and set the policy parameters like Dr. Hamm wanted to do in the early stages of his government, but somehow that got off the rails - I do want to say that I think if we want to go down the road of sincerely promoting this province, then perhaps we should be looking at an entity that the government could take some initiative to bring a private concern in and ask them to do the job for the province and tell Nova Scotians that, and fund it, and have that funding be approved by the Legislature, which the Finance Minister in the past has always said is the House of the people, and all the decisions should be open and transparent, and decisions should not be made in the Cabinet Room downstairs, they should be made by legislators in this room. So maybe that's something you should look at.
In conclusion, Mr. Minister, I just want to say that the bureaucrats with you today, to your left and right, are dedicated civil servants of Nova Scotia, and there are more of them in all three of your entities that I have just remarked about. I know Pat and Ian have had to sit there and listen to me for the last little while, but I'm sure they've heard that before. I do want to congratulate them on the job they're doing for the people of Nova Scotia and I just want to leave you with this, Mr. Minister - you have the reins now and perhaps we can go down the road of open accountability and sustainability of the programs we put in place so they'll be here for a long time for the benefit of Nova Scotians, our kids and your kids, in the future.
So with that, Mr. Chairman, I'll yield the floor to my comrade, the member for Cape Breton North.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the honourable member for Cape Breton South and the minister and his colleagues for the time so far spent discussing
Nova Scotia Business Incorporated. As we get into the discussion this afternoon and some of the questions and where we are right now with Nova Scotia Business Inc., I would like to just reiterate from the other day where we are, and in terms of a point in time the issues we're facing and, again, some of the areas where people are coming at it from a level of perspective when we deal with some of the issues.
As I stated, Mr. Chairman, some of us have spoken quite passionately about what needs to be done or, more importantly, what's not being done within the province. Some of that has been directed specifically at the minister, who has a very important area with regard to a time of recession, economic recovery, economic renewal, and trying to build for growth. That transcends from community-based initiatives which he's responsible for to international components, and we recognize that in terms of getting out and dealing with things. As I said the other day, we welcome the work and the continued work whether that is with India, whether that is with any other trade partners that they build, the Koreans who were here - but my honourable colleague, the member for Cape Breton South, raised a few things that come back.
Before I get into the questions, I want to recognize that when I stated to the minister the other day, and I have in this House before, that there are expectations that have been set both by the minister, and now that he's part of a government, on the government side of the House, it's incumbent upon him, he chose to take on the duty of being the Minister of the Department of Economic and Rural Development, and Tourism, Culture and Heritage, as well as with that, of course, Nova Scotia Business Inc. So it's very key - he's the trade minister for the Province of Nova Scotia. At a time when we're looking for some answers and we're looking for some clarity, and when we look to say specifically what has the government done in over 100-plus days, now going four months since coming to office, recognizing that in that period of time there is great economic continued uncertainty and people looking for the path forward, we haven't seen that.
Mr. Chairman, as you know, I've been very passionate about, and I've explained to the minister, when you have hundreds of people who have been put out of work, when you have hundreds more who are affected by that in terms of the manufacturing sector, when you have hundreds more people coming back from out West because of the economic woes bringing them home, and then literally when you have thousands of constituents who are on community services and supports and also looking to trying to get a path forward to a job and a career, then those questions come to us at a grassroots level, at the community level.
We all get it, whether it's in the Legion hall, the coffee shops, out on the streets, and in the church halls, we hear those things. What they haven't heard is a very clear definitive plan by the New Democrats and the minister with regard to what specifically they're doing about the economy. So it's fair, when there are no answers, to raise the level with regard to what is not being done.
So I will go, Mr. Chairman, specifically now to the minister. He referenced a manufacturing tax credit, and I believe that's about $25 million - if the Minister of Finance has a different number, let me know, but I think it's about $25 million - and they've talked about the value of the manufacturing tax credit, and actually of some of the other things I've disagreed with the government. I don't disagree with making sure that we are competitive and we accelerate getting where we need to be.
Can the minister definitively tell me what they're doing in a place such as on the Northside, that I represent, where in the manufacturing sector two plants have closed with regard to auto parts, the pharmaceutical plant, all those things, when we've tried to renew and we've been flexible - and I've lauded the government when they have worked to try to get things like the Deep Panuke, the offset agreement with regard to land rigs. What specifically has the minister and his business development agency been doing that is intervening and trying to support and get manufacturing opportunities back on track, into existence, aside from those that are currently still manufacturing?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I went over this last week, but I'll try to reiterate as best I can. I mentioned some of those things that we were doing specifically with respect to employment regarding Nova Scotians. One is we are negotiating very feverishly with Irving to have people re-employed at the Shelburne Shipyards; we are meeting with depressed communities, if I can use that term, such as Canso, with mayors, with Seabreeze, which is a three-way partnership along with the federal government, to have something in terms of employment for people in Canso; we have the I-3 program which I talked about last week; and we have the manufacturing and processing taxation.
We have right now, Mr. Chairman - again I mentioned it last week - we have more people employed right now than at any other time in Nova Scotia's recent history. Are we satisfied with that? Obviously not. Have people lost jobs in Nova Scotia? I said last week, absolutely, people have lost jobs in Nova Scotia. We are well aware of that. These are tough economic times. We have the broadband initiative, something that was started by the former government which we will see to its completion - we are designated to be the most connected province, the most connected jurisdiction in North America and one of the most connected jurisdictions in all of the world.
Is this important? Absolutely. So when you talk about, and we've done things through - I mentioned some companies last week, a basket company in Hants County, where we provided a loan to them so that 36 Nova Scotians could maintain and hold onto their jobs.
We've helped Bowater Mersey Paper Company Ltd. with $2.5 million, which employs 500 Nova Scotians. Mr. Chairman, we've got the Voucher Program to assist programs that need support. We are doing specific things in the Province of Nova Scotia, we
will continue to do specific things in the Province of Nova Scotia. Are we looking for more things to do? Well, you know what? We're not going to rest on our laurels. One of the things that I've said and certainly that the department has said is that they will continue to look for those new opportunities for Nova Scotians.
Yes, we're involved in trade missions. Trade missions are very important to the Province of Nova Scotia. One of the biggest and the largest things that's going to add to our economy is the export business. And how do we get export? It's not by sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, it's by being proactive. It's by being proactive, Mr. Chairman, and we are doing those specific things.
Is there more to do? Are we working every day at discovering new and better ways of doing things? Absolutely, we will not rest on our laurels. Now is the time to continue to push forward. Mr. Chairman, we will continue to push forward.
MR. CLARKE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I guess maybe there might be an echo in the Chamber from the other day, when I asked a specific question and the minister gave a very similar answer but he did not go to the core of what the answer was.
I specifically asked, what is he or his business development agency doing with regard to the manufacturing plants that are currently idle, where hundreds of people have been laid off, two of them with regard to Magna Powertrain. We know that the pharmaceutical plant has closed. So that was specific to that.
While he is responding to what aren't they doing and what are they doing when they talk about export markets, we have to look at the utilization of existing infrastructure. I'm all in favour of a manufacturing tax credit, but if there's no plant, there is no credit. We need to find out, Mr. Chairman, if they are doing something. This is immediate.
I know the minister, because I said it the other day, that part of the reason when people come to me, when the unemployment rate in the urban Cape Breton area is still three times higher than that of the urban core of Halifax, then there are legitimate concerns that people have and they are looking for answers to specific questions.
So specifically to the manufacturing sector in urban Cape Breton, what are they doing there for those companies?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, you know things that we are doing, we are doing a lot. We work with companies, we work with individuals and organizations. When companies close we put together transition teams. We help to improve the skills of the individuals so that they can be re-employed. We also work with those companies. Unfortunately what I've experienced, certainly in the three months that I've been minister, is sometimes we don't even find out that companies are going to expire until maybe, sometimes - I know it certainly
has happened on one or two occasions, when we read about it in the paper or we hear about it in the news, sometimes companies don't readily come forth and tell us that they're about to expire.
We work with companies that are in transition, so what we do also for those companies that want to improve the products that they sell, we work with them and we give them as much assistance as we can to help them achieve their goals so that they, in turn, can employ more Nova Scotians than they already have employed.
We work with - we are negotiating all the time. We negotiate on a regular basis with companies throughout not only Atlantic Canada but around the world, for those companies that exist here, for those companies that we want to come here, for those companies that we want to employ Nova Scotians - not only just maintain a current workforce, but also to increase the workforce for all Nova Scotians.
We have the co-op program that has been going on for some time now in the Province of Nova Scotia, a very successful initiative that we continue to be involved in. All of those things that we are currently involved in, if we're not involved in them, they mean a loss to Nova Scotians. All those things we do - when someone talks about a plan, what I say is now is not the time to take your foot off the gas. Now is the time to continue with the pressure, to be aggressive, to be assertive, continue to try to attract companies, continue to work with Nova Scotian companies, continue to foster those relationships that we've established over the last little while. We have to seek out partnerships.
Mr. Chairman, we're doing just that. We're doing all of the above and then some. Again, are we satisfied with what we're doing? Well, we're never going to be satisfied. We are never going to be satisfied because enough is never enough, so we will continue the pressure. We put pressure on ourselves. Pressure coming from anybody else is not anywhere close to the amount of pressure we put on ourselves. So we will continue to do those things for Nova Scotians, to invest in Nova Scotians, and to encourage people who are non-Nova Scotians to invest here as well.
MR. CLARKE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I guess at this point I'll accept that the minister just does not have an answer to the very specific question I've asked.
Maybe we can go one other tier, and I would remind him that, thanks to the community response and working with the workers, we are able to initiate a process with one plant for some of those affected workers through Labour and Workforce Development, and I do give credit to the minister for honouring that commitment - that we have people in classrooms right now, and if the government will honour another commitment, they'll stay in classrooms for a little while longer and finish their education as they're trying to transition.
Mr. Chairman, the minister sits at Cabinet and knows there are very specific things that governments have done and can do. Thankfully, in responding immediately to the concerns in the community, the previous government was able to start forward in a proactive way, look at future jobs, look at those projects that probably should be put on hold until we have a better ability to respond.
I'll come back now to the manufacturing sector because, as we know, in urban Cape Breton, in certain parts of this province, if you look at whether it's tires, paper production - in certain areas it is the cornerstone of where our economy is. There's both large-scale manufacturing and even into the small business sector.
My next question to the minister is, for the existing Nova Scotia companies and the fact that part of this budget process has a $25 million manufacturing tax credit, can the minister inform this House specifically what they're doing with existing companies to promote how the tax credit will work for them? Have they analyzed what the needs are and what the uptake is? Does the minister know that he is already over-subscribed from the manufacturing sector, that they've done the analysis?
I'm sure that NSBI and the companies they're dealing with, with this type of initiative, they would be assessing their client list and looking at how they may be able to sustain and grow those companies and/or incent new areas of manufacturing growth, so if the minister could provide at least some detail of where we're going for existing businesses, since there was nothing for those that are currently shut down.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, with respect to the last question, right now there's $4.5 million available. In the next fiscal year it will be $25 million that we've set aside for that particular tax credit. What we're doing right now is we're working with the manufacturing sector. When we finish due diligence with the manufacturing sector, all of that other information around the prerequisites will be highlighted and will be available to the public.
I just want to piggy-back - one of the things about specifics, and I know that there was an announcement today by Minister Belliveau, an announcement for boatbuilders, trying to export through the Community Development Trust. I don't think I mentioned that when I last stood up, but the Community Development Trust is another one of those initiatives where we try to actively, in a very proactive way, be involved with companies in their efforts to move forward.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, during the discussion and dialogue between the minister and my honourable colleague, the member for Cape Breton South, I did get a copy of the annual report of Nova Scotia Business Inc. provided from the library. As they go through and highlight some of these initiatives, as I mentioned before - and the member for
Cape Breton South is very correct, they're light on detail when it comes to the specifics, from a public accounting point of view and accountability that people would look for. So the minister's commitment to provide those details would be of interest to our caucus, as well as to the honourable member for Cape Breton South. I would ask that the minister provide two copies - one to the Liberal caucus and one to myself - that we can have the opportunity to look at.
One of the things that we dealt with is - when you look at this, and this has been a frustration with different companies - where does NSBI fit in with large corporations and corporate interests versus small? As we go forward and as we recognize any larger developments, it's going to be the support for the small business sector around there. I know that there was discussion previously that was held, and I know when I was involved in a previous time there was supposed to be some action from the corporation that subsequently didn't occur.
Can the minister detail to us what specific loan or financing programs NSBI has or will be offering or recommending to the minister and Cabinet, specifically for small business financing and at them to access capital?
MR. PARIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. NSBI actively pursues - they prospect for, I would probably say, larger companies than some of the other companies. When they're prospecting, they're looking at what I would determine as larger companies. I think that in their everyday business NSBI would express an interest in all companies, regardless of size. NSBI would meet with, would even partner - and by that I certainly mean would meet with company X and make a determination at that point in time, after due diligence, whether or not - where that company would be best suited.
So when we talk about potential, I think NSBI - and I hope this is fairly accurate or correct - would be certainly willing to have that initial conversation with anyone from the business community, and from that make determinations as to how they can be of assistance, and if they can't, maybe even provide some brokerage work, or it could be a partnership of some nature, maybe a partnership with another municipality or with the federal government.
MR. CLARKE: I will move from the minister's comment then. We don't have a specific program, which is really what small business has been asking for, and I guess to the minister and again to his agencies, as well as to Cabinet, as we come through the recession, people are going to be looking for the connecting of resources for all funding levels. Again, what would be available through ECBC, ACOA, or what would be developed from the community business development corporations where the role and the involvement of the regional development agencies that really know the on-the-ground community-based and those individuals that give. Sometimes, as we know - and we are all very thankful to very large corporations that are resident here - but we know it's the small business that flows from that.
What I'd like to know from the minister through NSBI is, how many of their files are partnered with the Industrial Expansion Fund at this time?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I don't know. I would take that under advisement and I would get back to the member. I think I should mention that one of the things that NSBI does - and I'm not sure how widespread this is as far as knowledge goes - that NSBI does a lot of work with RDAs. They work with RDAs on a weekly if not daily basis. They also provide, when it comes to small companies, not only loans but also loan guarantees.
MR. CLARKE: Again, I will note to the minister - and I know the Minister of Health and Health Promotion was in this room, and I will say that to the Minister of Health's credit, she was here with officials with very detailed analysis and the numbers for her portfolio, which are very important, and they could readily access that information. As we all know - we could all see them - there were volumes, and to their credit that they can work through those, it's a testament to those individuals.
We are in the midst of the greatest economic downturn that my generation, at least, has known; that has been significant, and we're asking about the economy of Nova Scotia. We're asking about very important issues, and we are bereft of any of the detail that would be appropriate to have during estimates, questions that are being asked right now. I know that in the Red Chamber, the Department of Justice is up. When I left my colleagues over there I saw volumes of briefing books there as well, so how is it that the business development department of the Province of Nova Scotia and the business development agency of Nova Scotia, through Nova Scotia Business Incorporated, can sit here with a scant bit of paper and not provide their minister with the details to basic questions that are legitimate to be asked during estimates and more appropriate that there would be answers provided here during estimates?
I don't dispute my honourable colleague, the member for Cape Breton South when he talked about the level of professionalism, but I do dispute when people are not here with answers to basic questions when they have them in their own files, in their offices. They know estimates was coming up, they've known they've had time to prepare for this, so I'd like to know from the minister, why don't his officials have those details here in the House today?
MR. PARIS: Since I've been going through estimates for the last few days, when I think we've been able to manage through the volumes of information that I have under my desk and that staff have at their desks, we for the most part have been able to provide the information that somebody has been seeking.
I've listened to other estimates and I know that other members, other ministers, when requested information, if they didn't have it at their fingertips, got up as I have and said they didn't have that information readily available to them and that they would get that
information to the honourable member in a very timely fashion and it was completely acceptable. That's my response, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I don't dispute, to the honourable minister, about people getting back, especially if there are areas where there are not commonly-asked questions that might occur. But the minister knows, and his officials know, they deal with very specific files. The Minister of Health, when she was here, could reference any specific area through her officials. The Minister of Education could reference specifics in great detail.
We have portfolios that are line items, they are all in spread sheets, they are all there, the detail is there, and the minister may be taking up some time and albeit, that may be his choice and prerogative, but the other thing, Mr. Chairman, that we have is a lack of courtesy during an economic downturn when legitimate questions about what the government is doing or plans to do come forward. If what the people and the businesses of Nova Scotia are hearing is, hang on, we'll get back to you later when we can get around to it, then that's very cold comfort to countless businesses in this province.
Again, I just note - and I won't ask the minister another question because I know we'll just go down another rabbit track road, but it's not appropriate, they know it's not appropriate to have the basic information of the files that they hold within their departments and to have those at their fingertips that are here.
Mr. Chairman, I will move on again. Before I go into some of the other federal-provincial, I don't want to lose sight of Williston House because it does speak, as the member for Cape Breton South had talked about. My question is, we know that when NSBI came into existence, it took over certain files that would have been deemed to have been loans and/or extensions. We also know in the community that there was an intent around that. I understand that Williston House was extended a loan, it was their understanding it would be a forgivable loan. It was the community's understanding it would be a forgivable loan because it was recognized that it needed financing to serve a community need and, because of that community's infrastructure needs, we have seen year after year of payroll increases, of job increases that have occurred to assist that particular organization.
Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, maybe something specific, will the minister, either through Cabinet discussion and then a request, or directly with Nova Scotia Business Inc., look at the Williston House file and actually answer the question they provided in writing to the minister and will they provide the support as sought by Williston House?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I think in a previous response I did say that I would look at the file. That's the commitment I make, I will look at the file. I'm not going to say that - I'm not going to speak to the specifics of the file or negotiate it at this point in time but I will certainly have a look at it.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, again I will admit in this House, and we worked when we were on the other side of the House and I was there, not in the portfolio, but we did want to work through in trying to find a path forward, to work through the level of information that was known and held in this particular file. What I do know, and I will leave with the minister who says he will look at it, is that we have an opportunity during an economic uncertain time to see the construction trades benefit by an encumbrance being taken off of Williston House.
We have the benefit of new employees being hired which, by the way, Mr. Chairman, and for the minister's edification, can be trained at the Nova Scotia Community College and the personal care workers and other areas, so they can get those skills to support those areas and support Williston House as they want to expand in the community. We know that Williston House is associated with The Cove. While they are separate legal entities, we know they're all part of one family and one community.
Mr. Chairman, I know we'll have to adjourn for this evening's late debate, but in that I will come back and just note, for the minister to be able to talk to his colleagues, that those are things that really are about - if he really wants to help the community, he can help incent it by dealing with a previous loan and not having to provide a new loan.
I'll adjourn debate and resume when late debate is over.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There is a motion to adjourn for the late debate.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
We stand adjourned until after late debate.
[5:59 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[6:33 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee of the Whole House on Supply will now be called to order.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North. You have approximately 34 minutes left.
HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, to continue on some of the dialogue and to maybe try to get into a little bit more detail, if we can, with regard to where we are. Can the minister explain Nova Scotia Business Inc.'s strategy with regard to regions? We have the two metropolitan areas - that being HRM and CBRM - that are very large concentrations
within the province, and then, of course, there is the rural component elsewhere. So can the minister outline what specifically the strategy is going forward in the two metropolitan areas, as well as rural strategy for the upcoming year?
HON. PERCY PARIS: Mr. Chairman, NSBI works very closely with RDAs and currently they're in a mapping process with the RDAs. They are mapping out strategies on a continuous basis, whether they be locally, regionally, or abroad.
I want to, since I've got all of this - if I may, Mr. Chairman, I have a number of things here that I would like to table. They were things that were requested, and staff have done due diligence and provided me with the information.
I would like to table the IEF Fund for the year ended March 31, 2009, and the Industrial Expansion Fund Annual Report. One is the financial statements and one is the annual report. You'll find, from reading these documents, that the IEF over the last eight years has been involved with 150 applications; 10 per cent of those applications are done via NSBI.
I also have to table, which I've also mentioned earlier during estimates - these are the annual reports of NSBI, which I will table as well. Also, I talked about the five-year plan for NSBI, and that's here as well.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I'm glad to see that the half-hour break for the late debate has been fortuitous for the minister to be able to consult with his officials and be able to compile some information that wasn't readily available to the minister while coming in to this Chamber for that.
Again, with regard to the areas - and the minister has referenced the RDAs and the mapping out strategy - can the minister inform the House if Nova Scotia Business Inc. is funding and/or contributing to this process with the RDAs?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, there is no core funding provided by NSBI with respect to the RDAs, but what NSBI does do is they provide some capital dollars to certain initiatives - no core funding.
MR. CLARKE: As we know with the recession, and I think if I recall from the minister's statement properly, he had indicated that the NSBI had, I think, in excess of 300 meetings. Is that correct, 300-plus meetings around the province with stakeholders?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, that is 360 meetings - approximately 360 with respect to domestic companies.
MR. CLARKE: So it was in excess. So of the 360 meetings that were held, can the minister inform the committee with regard to a summary of either findings or recommendations that were received as a result of this widespread consultation? I'll just leave it at that before expanding further.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, my response to the question is that the first part with respect to the business climate, the business climate is pretty well the same right across the province. There are labour issues, labour concerns, and by that I mean regarding skill or lack of. There is also an issue with respect to capital.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I guess it speaks to the findings. If you had 360 meetings with domestic businesses around the province, some themes must have emerged with regard to recommendations that businesses have identified for government for action and help them with continuing a viable business, an ongoing vitality as well as where we grow and/or diversify and/or partner to come through that. So would the minister please advise the committee of any specific recommendations that have flown from that?
MR. PARIS: With respect to the question, one of the things, and I mentioned this earlier and I'm going to reiterate, what NSBI does is they tailor things to meet the needs of the client. Also, if I heard the question correctly, is that one of the things that we've done is over the, well, certainly since I've been involved and I can't speak to how long it's been active before I came along and by that I simply mean timelines, but we're very, very active as we speak doing those things that will make us more productive in the way of job opportunities for Nova Scotians.
One of the things that I've been recently involved in, in a proactive way, is internal trade, regulations around internal trade. I've also done some things or in the process of doing some things with the European Union. We invest in those things with the hope, and I say hope in a very, very positive way, that they will lead to more things when it comes to job opportunities and partnerships right around the world.
MR. CLARKE: I guess to the minister and with the organizations it's reasonable to assume that businesses will be looking for where there are areas of commonality among their peers, among their sectors, what do they deem to be the needs. We've heard that the emphasis is not on small businesses, it's very much a large corporation, which if you're in the regions is not connecting the dots and so, my question before, of those 360 meetings, how many of those businesses, Mr. Chairman, would have been considered small or medium- sized businesses?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, those approximately 360 meetings are with respect to individuals in the field and certainly the vast majority, by far, of those meetings would have involved small to medium-sized businesses.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, with that, so if the vast majority of those meetings are being targeted or discussed with smaller businesses or enterprises and there has not been a review of smaller loans or access to capital aspect and/or connecting with other government or private funding, working with, as I say, specifically federal or regional agencies, credit union and/or private banks in the province - so there is lots of consultation going on and of those recommendations that have been heard from the 360, since many of them would have been small, how often would access to capital and a small business loans or financing program have been discussed?
MR. PARIS: Finances are a regular part of the discussion with those 360 meetings. What NSBI also does because financing is a, and I say the word "regular", part of the discussion and I mentioned earlier about the ability that NSBI has to tailor things, so part of the discussion would also be around the fit and with NSBI making suggestions as to what would best suit, if I could use the word "client", at that particular time.
MR. CLARKE: Can the minister advise, just to reiterate for my edification, what the budget amount for this year is, the total amount for NSBI?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, $24.505 million.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, so of the $24,505,000 that is part of this budget, can the minister inform the committee then how much is in reserve, i.e., uncommitted funds, within Nova Scotia Business Inc.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, operating money is $10,905,000, strategic investment fund is $11,500,000, and loan valuation allowance is $2,100,000.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member has approximately 10 minutes left.
MR. CLARKE: So, with the funding allocation that's targeted for this year, with the operating funds that have not been utilized to this point, with the surplus that is in the account, with the Industrial Expansion Fund, of which, at times, they would partner with, can the minister then advise how it is that during a recession, that having so many consultations - 360 to be specific - that there hasn't been at this point any designation for small business financing, access to capital programs and, to clearly articulate, if they're working with the RDAs they would be hearing this from them, so can the minister explain why that isn't the case or, if it is, what are they specifically doing, again?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, the way it works through the Nova Scotia Fund and what happens is that people, individuals, companies, small companies come to NSBI - and I don't want us to lose sight of the fact that NSBI tailor fits the needs of the company or the
individual - so in that consultation, NSBI may make the recommendations/arrangements for another lending institution to be involved, and that other lending institution could be any one of the number of financial institutions that NSBI has partnered with over the years, a chartered bank or it could be the federal bank.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I'm just noting the summary to the Nova Scotia Business Fund from the last annual report, and have been supplied a number of papers here, and I would just go further - can the minister advise the committee what, if any, partnerships have been forged with the federal funding agencies with regard to access to capital or supports for small business that they've either undertaken or they're in the process of?
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, again, it's a client-by-client basis, and some of the partners over the years have been Enterprise Cape Breton as well as the Business Development Bank.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, I know I've been trying to, as politely and tactfully as possible, go through looking for what would be seen and deemed to be reasonable information from our benchmark - this is a signature organization, Nova Scotia Business Inc., working in collaboration with Economic and Rural Development, figuring where the Industrial Expansion Fund would be, of course recognizing that there always has to be flexibility - I would never stand here and tell the minister that Cabinet shouldn't have the ability to have discretion to make sure that they have the means to meet the circumstances, because not all business arrangements are the same.
We understand that, but it is concerning when we have an ongoing process where there very much is a disconnect from the entities that are there to be the lead for Nova Scotia, to represent the government. I don't dispute, and not for a minute would I ever criticize the capacity of what we do beyond our own borders here. The minister is aware and I've witnessed the great work that happens with external export and market development, how we position Nova Scotia, but how we are positioned within Nova Scotia is very concerning from a region-to-region basis.
It's very concerning when there is a lack of clarity of how our business development agency is meeting its goals and objectives for Nova Scotia companies, for the individuals who are seeking to look for economic recovery, how it is that at a time of the single largest economic downturn that, again, in my lifetime has occurred, the government in coming through with an agenda that they have set to come forward to Nova Scotians, yet we don't have clarity about where these numbers are.
The minister has not been able to effectively, or clearly, identify the role and function of NSBI, its role with the Industrial Expansion Fund, the Department of Economic and Rural Development, its relationship with the regional development agencies, the federal Crowns that are out there to do work, the private business.
What we've heard, Mr. Chairman, is a lot of discussion. I know and the minister would be very well aware that the companies around this province in the coming months are going to be looking for definitive items. I would leave with the minister that, as I said on a previous day here in the House, Nova Scotians are looking for that leadership. Nova Scotians are providing millions of dollars of investment to these agencies. Nova Scotians are expecting that these agencies will respond appropriately. What we have not heard during the committee estimates debate is how the manufacturing tax credit can work for small businesses, how we can connect that for those companies that are disaffected and have been put out of business and production by the economy - those that are currently there, how do they go forward?
There are a lot of questions as a result of this estimates debate so far for Economic and Rural Development. It has left just a whole series of unanswered questions, of a lack of clarity as to where the government is going and what their agencies are doing. Nova Scotians, by virtue of the Hansard that they have, will be looking to see where the government is. I would hope that the minister, in this case Nova Scotia Business Incorporated, in consulting with 300-plus - and I know that discussions are ongoing - that they will take into account that they have not provided a path forward that is clear. That involves millions upon millions upon millions of tax-funded dollars, yet they have not yet connected back to the very people looking for those programs and supports.
That applies to the understanding of the Williston House in Sydney, working in partnership with The Cove, recognizing that they can generate economics, yet we're so stubborn about past relationships to have the flexibility that I would give to the minister, and I would congratulate the minister if he came forward, that would incent small business development, meet a social need, and incent the local economy for infrastructure at a time when we're looking at it for stimulus all over, Mr. Chairman - a small loan that was meant to be forgiven before, but because we now have the rigidity of a board and/or administration that says, that's not just the way it works, what we're saying is that we're prepared to be flexible when it meets community needs and is wanted by the community and is supported by the community, and that's how you support it.
So from the tens of millions in reserve to the hundreds of thousands that could help local community groups, if we're going to get out of this recession, Mr. Chairman, if we're going to move forward, then there has to be greater clarity on the role and the function of where Nova Scotia Business Incorporated is going to be, and how it relates to the Department of Economic and Rural Development, and what they are going to do definitively. We've heard lots of suggestions of dialogue but very little on detail. I would hope, as we go forward, we will gain that detail in the coming days.
I'm glad that we've had this estimates opportunity to at least provide questions, because we've gotten very little answers, but Nova Scotians are taking note. RDAs, municipalities, federal partners, everyone is looking to see the direction we're going and,
again, of how we're going to leverage millions upon millions of dollars that Nova Scotians have put in trust to these individuals and agencies, and people need to know that we will be here to hold them accountable. I thank the committee for its time.
MR. PARIS: Mr. Chairman, I've got to say just a couple of things. Through NSBI, the economy has been and will remain a priority. NSBI has established itself not only as a leader here in Nova Scotia - a much-welcomed leader - but has established itself in the global economy as well. NSBI continues to do good work in the Province of Nova Scotia and for Nova Scotians. Through NSBI, and in partnership with Economic and Rural Development, we will continue to do those things that will not only maintain jobs in Nova Scotia but also attract those new businesses to the province. I've already mentioned that we will not - I reiterate, will not - let up. We will keep the pressure on. We will keep the pedal to the metal and continue to make Nova Scotia a thriving community.
I think, again, when I look at Nova Scotia and what it has experienced over the last year, year and a half, that it has been a tough time for Nova Scotians. It has been a tough time for Nova Scotian companies, and throughout that whole period of toughness throughout the province, we've done fairly well. We've fared far better than a lot of other jurisdictions in Canada, and I think part of the reason, a significant part of the reason, why we fared so well is because of the good work by Economic and Rural Development and agencies such as NSBI.
Nova Scotia's incorporated business plan this year is about creating the right kind of jobs for Nova Scotians. Nova Scotia must have a domestic focus and we must attract new investments. It's not one versus the other. Both are the ways to real growth. Nova Scotia has been able to attract some of the world's leading companies in the IT sector, in defence, in aerospace, and in financial services. We've been able to attract some of the largest companies in the world and we will continue to do that.
As minister, I have had the pleasure of participating in Lockheed Martin Canada's opening in Dartmouth of its new Atlantic headquarters. Also, businesses and communities throughout the province are making critical investments in themselves - they're doing this with the help of Economic and Rural Development and agencies such as NSBI.
Through NSBI we are a partner with those very companies. In the last few months announcements have come from companies such as Enligna in Upper Musquodoboit and Copol in North Sydney. As per NSBI's 2009-10 business plan, the corporation is focused on helping Nova Scotian businesses to navigate this economic downturn and to come out of it stronger and better suited to growth in the future. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes the debate on the estimates for NSBI.
Shall Resolution E25 carry?
Resolution E25 is carried.
Resolution E34 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $63,022,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage, pursuant to the Estimate, and the business plan of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Tourism, Culture and Heritage.
HON. PERCY PARIS: It is a pleasure to be here today to speak to the budget and major initiatives of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage. I think it's important that I stand in my place because I think Tourism, Culture and Heritage is one of those departments that sometimes does not get its just due. I think it's important that we as members of this House understand to what degree and how important this particular initiative is to the Province of Nova Scotia.
Since assuming my portfolio in June I have been impressed with the scope of the work undertaken by the department and the dedication of the staff and management team. I have witnessed how hard they work to serve the interests and needs of Tourism, Culture and Heritage sectors in our province. Nova Scotians can be very proud of the contributions made to the social and economic well-being of this province by the tourism industry, our talented arts and culture community and the legacy of our impressive natural and built heritage.
More than just creating jobs and economic activity, these sectors and their members ensure our communities remain vibrant, our stories, songs and traditions inspire new generations and our culture and history come alive for residents and visitors alike.
Mr. Chairman, Nova Scotia is blessed with an abundance of resources that help us to build a secure future for families and their communities but there is no resource that is more valuable or more critical to our future than our people. They are the ones that take risks to build innovative and successful businesses that attract and service over 2 million visitors every year. They are the artists, the singers, the musicians, the composers, the craftspeople and the designers that are recognized nationally and internationally for their creative excellence. They are the volunteers, students and staff that help our museums and heritage sites come alive and interpret our history for the benefit of all of us.
They are the people the government is focused on as it seeks to make life better for today's families by creating a province where people can find secure jobs and raise their families. We are fortunate, Mr. Chairman, to have such a solid foundation laid by our province's human resources. The spending priorities and program budgets for Tourism,
Culture and Heritage were largely set forward in the May 4, 2009 budget document introduced in this House.
Working with the team of staff and management in the department, I am committed to ensuring that we continue to play a key role in developing the tourism, culture and heritage sectors with our partners while helping the province regain a firmer financial footing.
That is not an easy direction for any of us but we have to meet the commitment to live within our means. This means being prepared to make some hard decisions which are necessary for the longer term to benefit every Nova Scotian. Our investments, through the department's programs and services, must be strategic to ensure they continue to make a definitive impact on the health of our sector.
To do that, we will need to be honest with members of those sectors in their communities about the challenges government faces in meeting its obligation to live within its means. We have to be prepared to listen to their ideas and their suggestions to make well informed decisions that are truly in the best interest of Nova Scotians.
Mr. Chairman, I can assure the House today that I and the staff and management team of the department are ready to make that commitment a reality. Having noted the challenges we face, the department is moving forward with several important initiatives in the tourism, culture and heritage sectors. These will help us to face global economic uncertainty while preparing the tourism, culture and heritage sectors to access new opportunities.
This year we are proposing a departmental budget of nearly $63 million; the budget for Tourism is $25.2 million; Arts and Culture is receiving $10.4 million and Heritage is budgeted at $19.1 million.
Mr. Chairman, Nova Scotia's tourism sector will be able to weather the global recession and resume a path of growth by sharpening its focus on the most important determinant of success - the customer. Nova Scotia has welcomed almost 1.5 million visitors so far this year which means it's pretty well on track with the figures we saw in 2008 but it is too soon to speculate what the final numbers will be because the Fall months are not over.
Tourism is a $1.3 billion industry in Nova Scotia providing over 31,000 direct and indirect jobs. The effort to stay on track has been tremendous on the part of the department's team and members of the industry. They know visitors are not only being more careful with their dollars, their choices are broader than ever before. That reality means Nova Scotia must ensure that we have high quality products and services to attract and retain visitors from our most important markets. It means large events like the Tall Ships Nova Scotia Festival, Celtic Colours International Festival, the Nova Scotia International Air Show, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, Yarmouth Seafest and concerts are all vitally important for
next year as they were this last year. Centennial celebrations for the Canadian Navy are even more important to help our province stand out as an attractive destination for visitors.
Mr. Chairman, this year the department's Tourism Division has invested nearly $20 million in advertising and marketing initiatives. In a year when the trend is for visitors to vacation closer to home, the department has placed more of its marketing and promotional focus on the Atlantic Canada market which has always been our biggest source of visitors. That strategic decision has paid off with total road visitation up by 8 per cent to the end of August. New technologies and the expanding reach of the Internet has opened innovative and cost-effective ways for Nova Scotia to market itself to visitors.
As we continue to enhance our Web presence through novascotia.com, the emergence of social media feedback such as Facebook and Twitter have offered a chance to extend interest in Nova Scotia to the Internet generation. Recognizing the need to develop new products in these areas, to be competitive the department is making another investment this year with funds from the Community Development Trust Fund - this federal government fund transferred to the province to assist communities and sectors facing difficult economic challenges.
Mr. Chairman, working with our partners in the tourism industry, I am pleased to say the department will invest $1.035 million from the trust fund in 2009-10 with an additional $1 million to come in 2010-11. This will support development in these products targeting emerging visitor markets and each market's development of specialized products and experiences that appeal to a particular group of individuals. It focuses less on where a potential visitor lives and more on what motivates them to travel to a particular destination. The department will be talking about the kinds of projects that will benefit from this in each development in the coming months.
The department's commitment to develop the tourism industry was underlined recently with the announcement of a number of key initiatives to the Tourism Development Investment Program. Funding is available through the program to assist eligible organizations and local groups seeking to enhance the visitor experience. To date, 15 destination development projects have shared in more than $280,000 in provincial funding while six industry development projects received a total of $110,000.
Mr. Chairman, the true impact of these investments is enhanced because they enable $2.3 million in funding to be accessed from other sources. The smart approach to tourism investment is part of the department's strategy to ensure program dollars are creating the maximum possible benefit for recipients, industry and the communities that benefit from the resulting employment in economic development.
Halifax Cable Wharf Interpretive Walkway is receiving $10,000; $12,000 is being invested in Shelburne County's Tourism Development Plan. There's another - the Highlands Heritage Trail from Cheticamp to Pleasant Bay is receiving $40,000 - and there are others. Development projects will support enhancements to visitors' experience in several parts of the province. The Annapolis Digby Economic Development Agency and the Pictou Regional Development Commission will each receive $14,000; $30,000 is being invested to allow industry members to participate in best-practice missions that will help them see first-hand the successful tactics being used by tourism entrepreneurs in destinations in other parts of the world and bring that knowledge home to benefit their communities here in Nova Scotia.
The department and the government are working hard to ensure that Nova Scotia continues to be a competitive destination for visitors by offering quality experiences that are found nowhere else.
Nova Scotia is renowned for its vibrant arts and cultural community. Visual artists, musicians, composers, writers, sculptors, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, craftspeople, designers, and even digital artists tell our stories, interpret our past, and help guide our view of the future. Music festivals, art galleries, theatre, dance, film, and spoken word occupy central places in communities right across this province. They provide opportunities for creative expression and also appeal to visitors seeking a unique cultural experience that, again, can only be found here in Nova Scotia.
The sector is estimated to generate more than $1 billion in economic activity in Nova Scotia. That translates into 28,000 direct and indirect jobs that depend on arts and culture. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the department's cultural division continues to provide a broad range of support to individual artists in their creative pursuits in organizations that advocate on behalf of the sector. Mr. Chairman, $900,000 was added to the department's cultural budget to support new initiatives in 2009-10.
Cape Breton will play host to the East Coast Music Awards Conference and Showcase in February 2010. This will be the largest event involving this region's talented musicians, composers, and performers. Nova Scotia's arts and cultural sector will continue to benefit from targeted funding support through a number of programs designed to assist individual artists and organizations engaged in supporting arts development. In 2009-10 more than $8.6 million in grant funding will flow to the arts and cultural community.
Panels and juries composed of sector members review and award grants to successful applicants. Major funding programs include cultural opportunities for youth, grants to individuals, cultural activities, Nova Scotia Art Bank, operating assistance to cultural organizations, assistance to book publishers, emerging music business programs, and so much more. Just as funding programs provide the support needed to ensure that Nova
Scotia's artisans are able to hone their creative abilities, a series of annual awards and prizes recognize the achievements of those same artists and provide more resources to individuals in communities striving to build the creative economy.
The Portia White Prize is the largest and most renowned artistic award presented in Nova Scotia. It is given annually to a Nova Scotian artist who has achieved professional status, mastery, and recognition in their individual field. It is named after Portia White, a classically-trained African Nova Scotian singer who overcame barriers to rise to the top of her profession and receive acclaim on the stages of North America and Europe. Each year the winner receives $18,000. Designated emerging Nova Scotia artists or a cultural organization are able to receive a secondary prize of $7,000. There have been a number of recipients over the year.
Art appreciation and preservation continues to flourish thanks to the work of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Headquartered in Halifax, with a satellite facility in Yarmouth, the gallery is at the heart of Nova Scotia's artistic heritage. In 2009-10 support for the gallery will increase by 2.8 per cent, or just over $2 million. As the department and the government continue to explore ways to support the arts and culture sector in its development, I am looking forward to an active and engaging dialogue with members of the sector to inform policy and decision making.
Just as the tourism and culture sectors are critical to the social and economic future of our province, preserving and interpreting our numerous heritage resources contributes to the quality of life for every Nova Scotian. Nova Scotia is blessed with an abundance of heritage properties, provincial and community museums, and iconic features tied closely to our identity as a people.
Mention the words Bluenose, Museum of Natural History, Highland Village, The Dory Shop, Museum of Industry, Sherbrooke Village, Fundy Geological Museum, and Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and you quickly realize the impressive and important contribution which heritage resources make to communities around the province. They define and interpret our history and present our compelling stories to visitors from every corner of the world. Some would say - and I agree with them - that Nova Scotia heritage tells the tale of how our nation came to be. That is supported by the strong influence of the Mi'kmaq community of the Province of Nova Scotia and those of African descent.
This year we will continue to support the activities of the Nova Scotia Museum system. With 27 museum sites around the province, the Nova Scotia Museum is one of the largest decentralized provincial heritage systems in the country.
Complementing the work of the Nova Scotia Museum are more than 60 locally-managed museums. This year, the department is maintaining the $900,000 to the Community Museums Assistance Program to help these locally-managed museums.
One of the biggest commitments to heritage in the department's budget is the refit of Bluenose II. In the 2009-10 fiscal year, we have included $6 million in the budget for the refit project. Half of that amount will be recovered from the federal government as part of the federal infrastructure program announced this past winter. The department is pleased to be able to access federal funding support for this important infrastructure project, and will continue to identify opportunities to leverage federal funding to support its goals and priorities.
For the Town of Lunenburg, the enduring legacy represented by Bluenose II further enhances its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - one of two in Nova Scotia. This designation and infrastructure, such as the Bluenose II supporting it, are valuable to our tourism industry, hallmarks of our heritage as a people, and important investments in our future at a time of economic challenges.
Nova Scotia's most recent UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Joggins Fossil Cliffs on the shores of the Minas Basin, are also enhanced by the department's budget of 2009-10. Nova Scotia has become known as a treasure trove of rare geological finds, and the Joggins Fossil Cliffs are at the heart of that valuable natural heritage.
The Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage continues to take a leadership role in promoting our billion dollar tourism industry, supporting creative excellence, and preserving heritage resources. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I understand that concludes the debate on Resolution No. E19 and E34.
Shall Resolution E34 stand?
Resolution E34 stands.
Shall Resolution E19 carry?
Resolution E19 is carried.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before we proceed with Resolution E2, maybe the committee can recess for a few minutes to allow the minister and his staff to do the switcheroo. The committee will recess for a few minutes to regroup.
[7:26 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[7:35 p.m. The committee resumed.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates for the Department of Community Services.
E2 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $945,813,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Community Services, pursuant to the Estimate, and the business plan of the Nova Scotia Housing Development Corporation be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Community Services to make some opening comments. (Applause)
The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: Thank you, I appreciate that. Good evening. Mr. Chairman, it is an honour to appear before this committee for the first time and to present the budget of the Department of Community Services for the 2009-10 fiscal year. I am fortunate to have two senior staff with me today for support. George Hudson is the Executive Director of Finance and Administration and Dave Ryan is the Executive Director of Employment Support, Income Assistance and Housing. They both have decades of experience within the provincial Civil Service and I am happy to be working with them every day - not just today, believe me. They're fabulous people to work with.
This debate gives me an opportunity to talk about the key programs and services delivered by the Department of Community Services to about 50,000 Nova Scotians. I am also pleased to talk about all my responsibilities as the minister and as a member of the Executive Council, which includes serving as Minister of Seniors, Minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act, and Minister responsible for the Disabled Persons' Commission Act. All of these responsibilities provide me with the opportunity and the occasion to cross paths on behalf of Nova Scotians who are interested in our collective services.
I want to take this opportunity to recognize the staff at each of these departments and agencies. I may be new to provincial politics, but it didn't take me very long to recognize the value in the Civil Service. I have come to rely on the advice of our public servants and feel confident that they have the interest of Nova Scotians at heart.
I recently had the pleasure of presenting long service awards to 39 employees with the Department of Community Services. For the benefit of new members of the House, I want to tell you about the dedication and commitment of these people. Whether it's for senior staff, for social workers, case workers, and for all those who face clients on a daily basis, this can be very difficult work, occasionally even dangerous work. I understand from
speaking with my colleagues who have been members of the House far longer than I that they too have always valued the co-operation of the staff of Community Services and their dedication to their job. I'm confident that the new members will discover this for themselves very quickly as well.
The Department of Community Services has 48 offices throughout the province, employing about 1,400 people. We have quite a presence in many Nova Scotia municipalities and communities. In addition, we have seven housing authorities which employ about 600 people. With such a wide range of responsibilities, it is appropriate that the budget for the Department of Community Services is increasing to almost $946 million. This is an increase of $33.2 million. I do hope all members would agree that increasing the Community Services budget to help Nova Scotia families and our most vulnerable citizens is certainly the right thing to do.
I'd like to take a moment to speak about services for persons with disabilities. The Services for Persons with Disabilities - SPD - program supports children, youth, and adults with intellectual disabilities, long-term mental illness, and physical disabilities in a range of community-based residential, vocational, and day programs. These are voluntary programs designed to support people at various stages of their development and independence. Programs include a continuum of options ranging from support for families caring for a family member with a disability in their own home to 24-hour residential support.
The goal is to create a range of programs that can support people at various stages of their development and their independence. I would like to commend the former government for bringing this sector into the 21st Century and for recognizing that with some assistance, persons with disabilities can live more independent lives which is vitally important.
Mr. Chairman, while we are still debating the previous government's budget, I want this committee and all Nova Scotians to know that our NDP Government is looking to make life better for persons with disabilities and their families over the life of our mandate and beyond. We are committed to investing in the long-term health, safety and well-being of Nova Scotians with disabilities. As minister, I am committed to improving the range of supports for individuals with disabilities. Community Services has developed the Services for Persons with Disabilities provincial strategy which is based upon departmental reviews of the residential support sector and the vocational and day program sector which includes the adult service centres.
The ultimate aim of the SPD strategy is to redesign programs in order to support individuals with disabilities in the right program, at the right place and the right time in their lives, and in the least intrusive environment to enhance their quality of life. Currently about 5,100 individuals with disabilities are provided with at-home or other support options under the mandate of SPD. Additionally, the SPD program funds approximately 2,200 individuals in vocational and day programs, many of whom are also assisted in the residential support
sector. I have actually mentioned in the House that this is a personal commitment of mine as I have a family member who utilizes the wonderful services of the Department of Community Services and it has certainly given her life back.
The following program initiatives have been funded through the SPD provincial strategy in order to enhance services and supports to Nova Scotians with disabilities and strengthen the continuum of support: continued incremental support to expand the Independent Living Support Program, which is a program to provide support to individuals with disabilities in their own home, or their apartment, up to 21 hours a week; ongoing expansion of the Alternative Family Support Program which matches an individual with a family other than their own who are able to provide support, supervision and assist the individual in achieving the highest level of independence possible which is certainly what we all strive to do in our own lives, to have that independence; ongoing commitment and support to the Direct Family Support Program which provides funding to families caring for a family member with a disability - either a child or adult living at home. This funding enables families to purchase respite services, items of special needs and equipment.
Continued commitment to adding capacity to adult service centres which provide community-based vocational skills, training and day program opportunities for adults with disabilities in communities across Nova Scotia is another program area. We also continued investment in the rate review process which will result in standardized operational and staffing guidelines within the residential support sector; ongoing commitment to invest in the modernization and downsizing of Riverview Adult Residential Centre - a residential facility located in Pictou County that provides 24-hour support to individuals with disabilities. This renovation and new building project will also include the addition of three new community homes - the goal of which is to provide an appropriate range of services for residents of Riverview whether they live in the community or require 24-hour intensive care and support provided in the facility. This is another step in the SPD strategy to ensure that the appropriate range of living options are available for persons with disabilities throughout the province.
I know it is a very difficult one because it comes down to, most of the time, an individual basis and what is best for that individual and where this service and the appropriate needs can be met.
In addition to the Riverview community homes, funding has also been committed for new community homes in other areas of the province. These new residential settings will add capacity that will offer more choices for the individuals and their families. Overall, the SPD budget continues to grow and support individuals with disabilities. Last year the SPD budget was increased to $216.8 million. Our government has committed to increase the SPD budget to $235.7 million for 2009-10.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to now speak on child care. As outlined in our election platform and in the recent Speech from the Throne, we are making funding available to the child care sector to add daycare seats and to make more subsidies available to make life better for today's families in Nova Scotia. Our government is committed to improving life for Nova Scotian families. That commitment starts with investments in early learning, which is so critical to a child's successful development.
The creation of the additional child care spaces will mean up to 300 more families in this province will have access to regulated child care and their children will receive the support they need to get the best possible start in life so they can develop into healthy, contributing citizens. This takes us beyond the previous government's commitment to create 1,000 spaces. I'm proud to say we have also committed to create 250 new subsidized spaces in year two of our mandate.
The recent Speech from the Throne eloquently outlined this government's belief that citizens must be treated with respect - as I'm going to speak about poverty and making life affordable. We recognize the intrinsic value and the richness that provide the caring, compassion and being compassionate to communities. We know that some Nova Scotians are truly struggling, even more so in these challenging economic times. We are now taking the first steps in our plan to reduce poverty and make life better for Nova Scotia families.
This year we are increasing the income threshold for the Nova Scotia Child Benefit program. Government will invest $2.5 million in the Nova Scotia Child Benefit program so more families will qualify for the benefit and also be eligible for the Low Income Pharmacare Program for Children. This will mean up to 42,000 children and their families will benefit from these changes, either by receiving increased benefits or by qualifying for the program. Qualifying income thresholds will be increased by $2,000. This change will extend full benefits to approximately 3,700 children, and a further 3,800 children will qualify for benefits for the very first time. In addition, more families will be eligible for the Low Income Pharmacare Program for Children, as it has the same income eligibility thresholds as the NSCB. The personal allowance under the income assistance rate will go up $6 a month as determined by the Consumer Price Index.
Mr. Chairman, I have gone on record in this House as saying that I'm not happy with that amount, and I struggle with that amount. So we are focusing on the redesign of the Employment Support and Income Assistance program to make it more responsive to the individuals it is designed to serve. We intend to seek the input of the community as we undertake the redesign of this program. Even in difficult economic times, we are committed to making progress in the fight against poverty. As everyone knows in this House here today, it is a challenge because of the economic times and because of the budget, but I have made the commitment that we are going to work together and we're going to work with the people of Nova Scotia to go forward and make strides in this area.
Addressing the needs of low-income Nova Scotians and reducing poverty is not just about income assistance. It will require a government-wide response, programs such as family Pharmacare, et cetera. Those types of programs are an important support. The focus must be on prevention and intervention, as well as helping those most in need, so that folks at risk of poverty have the best opportunity to support themselves.
Believe me, if I had the pot of gold from the end of the rainbow, I would be the first standing in line with many people in the House here today passing that out. The reality is it's not there, but we have to not give up. We have to work together. That's why Nova Scotians have put each and every one of us in this House. At the end of the day, it's working together for those people and making better lives for Nova Scotians.
Housing stimulus - this is a very exciting time for affordable housing in Nova Scotia. With the Canada-Nova Scotia Infrastructure funding, we are overseeing a $128 million investment in affordable housing around the province. This is one of the key areas where my responsibilities as Minister of Community Services dovetail with the Department of Seniors. I'm happy to be able to serve Nova Scotia seniors with our programs and services.
There is a need, we all know, for more affordable housing, and Community Services is working with federal, municipal, and community partners to meet the housing needs of low-income Nova Scotians. Community Services provides housing through our housing authorities, not for profits, and rent supplements. We are one of the largest landlords in the province, providing low-income Nova Scotians with access to over 20,000 units. Providing affordable housing is certainly our main priority. All seven housing authorities are helping people find public housing and helping people access grant funding and loans to repair or renovate their homes.
With Premier Dexter's appointment of Halifax Chebucto MLA Howard Epstein, we will be investigating low co-operative housing and how it can play a larger role in this portfolio. I'm very proud to work side by side with Howard Epstein on this project. He has gone forth and made some very positive strides in this area, and I know the people of Nova Scotia are going to be very happy with Howard Epstein's results and working together with Community Services and with all the other agencies to make this possible.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. Order, please. The Chair must now recognize that when you are in the House of Assembly, you cannot mention the member's name. You can only mention the member's riding. Thank you very much.
The honourable Minister of Community Services.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: We are investing more than $100 million to create or preserve homes for families, seniors, and persons with disabilities, and to renovate the province's social housing portfolio. This scale of housing funding has not been seen in the
province in decades. To date we have created or preserved more than 1,200 affordable housing units. I'm pleased to report that the province is on track with the delivery of the housing stimulus funds. Tenders are being issued weekly and projects are moving ahead as anticipated.
In fact, we expect that with the projects that get underway this Fall, we could see seniors and the disabled occupying completed units in the next six to eight months. That's very exciting, we're very pleased to be able to say that. It's nice to have some good news. This is a very exciting time to talk about affordable housing in Nova Scotia, and I'm looking forward to making some announcements about more communities receiving new housing in the coming weeks.
I'd like to focus on the Child and Youth Strategy. Announced two years ago, the Child and Youth Strategy is well underway and focuses on coordinating resources to fill service gaps. The Child and Youth Strategy is not just about more programs and services; it is about better access and coordination of existing services into a more sustainable and effective system of supports for children, youth, and families. The strategy is designed to use a horizontal multi-partnered approach to mobilize collaboration across departmental tables and committees and ensure accountability. The Child and Youth Social Policy Committee oversees the implementation of the Child and Youth Strategy and is made up of senior officials from the Departments of Community Services, Health, Justice, Education, and Health Promotion and Protection.
In 2009-10, the Child and Youth Strategy is moving beyond the intense work of the pilot development and implementation that was the work of its first year and is beginning to work more strategically on broader system issues and future planning. The strategy needs to reflect systematically on where it has been and how well it's positioned to support delivery on the strategy's intended outcomes. For this year the strategy's focus will be to track and evaluate and make decisions about all first-year pilot projects. Then we'll look to develop and practice a shared governance model for the strategy that recognizes all levels of ownership, to ensure coordinated activity and to enhance collaborative practices.
Development and implementation of a five-year plan outlining areas of focus for the Child and Youth Strategy: one example of this focus would include a review of inter-departmental youth services, which would ensure best use of resources and the most efficient delivery of services to children, youth, and their families.
I would like to now focus on the Department of Seniors. I would like to briefly profile the activities under the agencies for which I'm responsible and that is, as I mentioned, with the Department of Seniors. The Department of Seniors acts as the centre of a hub reaching out to connect a wide array of programs, policies, and services from across a wide spectrum. The Department of Seniors facilitates the planning, development, and coordination of policies, programs, and services for seniors in partnership with government departments,
seniors, and the voluntary seniors groups. It also ensures these are matching the needs of seniors and making them available through one entry point.
The key to the department's value to seniors is cross-government collaboration. As seniors themselves strive to lead healthy, fulfilling, and productive lives at work, home, and play in their communities, they are supported in those goals every day by government. Through the Department of Seniors, they can and do access information and support programs from nearly every department and agency within government.
The department leads the implementation of Strategy for Positive Aging in Nova Scotia and Elder Abuse Strategy: Towards Awareness and Prevention. The department's activities are in support of the goals and visions of these two strategies. The activities and goals of the Department for Seniors fosters age-friendly communities and seniors' safety, including increased awareness of senior abuse. It provides a critical role in service to government by providing seniors with a conduit to communicate and advance their priorities through the Group of IX seniors. It's an organization that includes seniors in a consultative role and, in partnership with its federal counterpart, the department also acts as a liaison between Nova Scotia seniors and their peers and other provinces on shared interests and challenges. It provides a grant to support the annual 50 Plus Expo - I'm getting to that age soon, so I'll be participating. A few more years, but it's getting there.
We have over 7,000 visitors to the 50 Plus. It's a wonderful event. There's a seniors' art and photo gallery and supports of other senior-oriented events and programming. These and a host of other initiatives are making substantive, measurable progress against the goals of the strategy for positive aging in Nova Scotia and Nova Scotia really is the place for positive aging. I recently was at a federal-provincial meeting, a forum in Edmonton, with regard to seniors and we are known in this province as innovators and going forward with seniors' programming and the support of seniors. I was very proud being there, and knowing that, and being the Minister for Seniors. I also must say thank you to the former government for taking on that commitment and going forth. As we are all growing older, and as we know, our population is getting older, it is one area that we really need to support and focus on and thank you to the former government for initiating that.
One of last year's key achievements was passing the $1 million mark in funding program grants to non-profit organizations. You can imagine how that helps the communities throughout Nova Scotia, from rural to urban communities. Each grant is leveraging community support and volunteer efforts that multiply the real effects of the grants far beyond their face value in the form of community volunteerism, local donations and in-kind contributions. They are the starting foundation for a wide array of interesting and innovative opportunities created for and often driven by seniors in dozens and dozens of Nova Scotia communities each year.
This year the department will focus on key initiatives that enhance the age friendliness of communities, support community organizations that involve seniors and enhance their health, well-being and community participation, support community organizations that provide sustainable services and programs that prevent and respond to seniors' abuse, particularly in the rural communities. We will promote the business and social opportunities associated with the silver economy, develop an innovative approach for growing volunteerism. The department will also continue to administer the Positive Aging Fund to advance initiatives that focus on helping seniors remain healthy, active Nova Scotians. The department continues to support accessible services through involvement in the interdepartmental review committee for the Community Transportation Assistance Program and Accessible Transportation Assistance Program grants.
Population aging will continue to have broad implications for our workforces, our economies and government supplied services in countries around the world. It is in the best interests of all Nova Scotians to ensure that seniors are encouraged and supported in their own efforts to remain self-reliant and that they are able to continue to contribute to families and communities in a meaningful way. As Nova Scotia's average age continues to be the highest in Canada, the province will continue to lead the country on seniors' issues by hosting a Silver Economy Summit to review and promote the senior's role in the workforce, volunteer organizations and their influence on the economy as a whole.
The Silver Economy Summit next May, Mr. Chairman, is going to be very exciting. We had staff who initially saw this type of summit in Spain where the European countries came together and we will be the first in North America to host this summit. I'm very proud of that and we should all be very proud of that. So everybody will need to mark that on their calendars for next year - 2010. The summit's key goals include the creation of cross-sector partnerships and the birth of innovative solutions and ideas regarding the various roles seniors will play as the economy and society itself adapts to an aging population.
This work of the department will benefit seniors and their families, but it will also significantly figure into the prosperity of Nova Scotia in our future.
Next, Mr. Chairman, I would like to talk about the work of the Disabled Persons Commission. The Disabled Persons Commission advises policy makers on the needs of people with disabilities and provides research and support services to the community on disability issues. The commission focuses its efforts on five key areas: education and awareness, building and dwelling accessibility, research and policy analysis related to disability supports, the employability of Nova Scotians with disabilities, and improving the administrative capacity of the commission.
The commission produces statistical reports that help us better understand how people with disabilities live and work in Nova Scotia. This year the commission will produce separate statistical reports on education, employment, and income. The Disabled Persons
Commission partnered with the Human Rights Commission and a collaborative partnership network last year to host a conference on developing a human rights framework for inclusive education and employment of people with disabilities. Over 100 people attended last year's event, and the committee is hard at work to host a follow-up conference on December 3rd of this year.
Here are a few activities the commission has underway presently: the DPC is working with Communications Nova Scotia to ensure that all provincial government Web sites are accessible to persons with disabilities. We are working with the Public Service Commission to review the sign language interpreter services policies. We are participating in the third phase of the Kaiser Research Grant Project, which will assist people with mental health disabilities in gaining access to legal, education, advocacy, and access to justice services, and we're also co-chairing the Nova Scotia partnership on respite, family health, and well-being with the Advisory Council on the Status of Women - another one of my responsibilities.
This committee has developed and conducted five workshops across the province on respite for families of children and adult children with chronically high needs. The committee is in the process of developing a sixth workshop on the Eskasoni First Nations reserve. The commission is also very involved in promoting employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. That would include paid employment, supported employment, and volunteering. To that end, the commission has been working with community groups and the Department of Labour and Workforce Development to develop a labour market strategy for persons with disabilities, and they will also be looking at hiring a disability co-ordinator who will develop the strategy.
Mr. Chairman, I would also like to say that in my role as Minister responsible for the Disabled Persons Commission, I chair the Coordinating Committee of Ministers. This committee brings the ministers who are represented on the commission - Health, Education, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Labour and Workforce Development, and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal - to meet with the commission. These meetings are typically held twice a year. This Fall's meeting will be actually on December 3rd - the International Day of Disabled Persons. These meetings present an opportunity for the commission to identify issues of concern from the disabled community and to also give ministers a chance to brief the commission on activities within their own departments that are of interest to the disabled community.
Now I would like to take the opportunity to speak on another role that I take very seriously and am very honoured to be able to have this portfolio, and that's the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act. The Advisory Council on the Status of Women is the government agency that promotes equality, fairness, and dignity for women in this province. The council works to ensure that women have an equal voice in society, fair pay and pensions, freedom from violence, and good health and well-being. The agency is committed
to reaching out to women of all backgrounds and walks of life in rural and urban areas, with particular attention to women who face multiple disadvantages.
Council's key projects for the coming year reflect the issues faced by women in Nova Scotia. The projects fall under four programs: Women in Leadership, Women and Economic Security, addressing Violence Against Women, and Women's Health and Well-Being.
Under Women in Leadership, council will continue its work to increase the participation of women in all their diversity in public decision making. The agency does this through the Nova Scotia Campaign School for Women and by encouraging women to participate on agencies, boards and commissions, round tables, and at events across the province. I'm very pleased to say that this weekend we're having the campaign for women, the Campaign School, at Mount Saint Vincent University, and we actually do have counterparts coming from the Yukon and Prince Edward Island. We are known throughout Canada for this campaign school, which we should all be very proud of.
There will be events during the year to raise awareness about violence against women and to celebrate women's contributions in paid and unpaid work.
Achieving economic equality for women remains a council goal. The agency strives to increase the capacity of women for attaining high-paying work through partnerships in training and education, sciences, trades, and technology. Council launched the Bread and Roses Bursary earlier in 2009 to benefit women who are beginning or continuing their studies at the Nova Scotia Community College in sciences, trades, and technology.
Violence against women is on the permanent agenda of this government through initiatives such as the Domestic Violence Prevention Committee, the Sexual Assault Services Planning Group, and Partnerships on Family Violence in Aboriginal Communities and inter-agency committees. This year, the council will continue to work with partners on the domestic violence prevention strategy and, beginning with an information forum, the province will look at gaps in services for victims of sexual assault.
Council will continue to work with First Nation partners to develop culturally appropriate solutions to family violence in Aboriginal communities.
Regarding women's health and well-being, council's focus in recent years has been on challenges facing caregivers. The need for respite is high among those facing intensive caregiving, particularly mothers of children with disabilities. The agency will continue co-chairing the ever-expanding and active Nova Scotia partnership on respite family health and well-being.
I'd like to point out two important roles the Advisory Council on the Status of Women serves in this province. One is providing government with feedback from women across the province in all their diversity about the issues facing them and their families. The other role encompasses the many services the advisory council office provides to Nova Scotians directly: news bulletins to keep the public informed about issues and opportunities, an extensive events calendar, how-to and self-help books and resources, fact sheets and statistical reports, education programs, and outreach and bursaries to benefit women in need who wish to advance their education and training.
The status of women has changed for the better during the council's 32 years. Today, more of us attain higher education and better jobs. We make up nearly half of Nova Scotia workers, more of us are involved in policy and law, and we are entering public life, representing diversity and experience.
Maternity and paternity leaves and benefits, family illness benefits policies, and encouraging respectful and healthy workplaces - these are wins for all Nova Scotian families.
Violence against women is on the permanent agenda of government. Sex and gender are now recognized as important health determinants and crucial factors in health research.
Despite these advances to the status of women, there remain barriers to a better life which we must focus on and face and work together to eliminate. Not enough women are involved in political participation. Many women have low income levels, due to the low-paying jobs and not enough education for well-paying work. Violence against women and girls is a continuing challenge that must be stopped. As the minister responsible, I will dedicate myself to work with the Advisory Council and other members of government to make these changes. Council's goals and strategies continue to address these gaps in the equality, fairness, and dignity in our lives.
As you can see, my shared responsibilities interconnect and even overlap with each other. I want to take this opportunity to thank all employees in the departments and agencies for which I am responsible for their hard work and dedication on behalf of the people of this province.
Also, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and my colleagues for your attention to the 2009-10 budgets of Community Services, Seniors, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act, and the Disabled Persons Commission. As I go forth as the new Minister of Community Services, Minister for Seniors, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act, and also the Disabled Persons Commission, I can say here today, very honestly, that I am committed to serve the people of Nova Scotia and work with my government to make a better life, and to invite people to talk to me and to consult, because at the end of the day
we're here for the same reason, for the people of Nova Scotia, and we have to take that attitude to work together to make a better life for all Nova Scotians. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton South.
HON. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Chairman, it's a pleasure to rise with a few remarks on the estimates, E2, for the Department of Community Services. Listening very carefully to the minister for the last little while, one of the things that she did say was that she wasn't satisfied with the six dollar increase in the assistance levels, and I said to her then, when I sort of interrupted the conversation, she's the minister, she can change that. So, if she's not satisfied with it, we would expect then to see a larger increase in the assistance rates; in other words, it's not good enough to just wax eloquent about what you really feel. If you feel that this increase is not enough, minister, then change it.
I want to also thank the minister for giving us a lengthy overview of her role and the role of her department. I might say at the outset that the minister is new and the NDP Government is new in Nova Scotia, so I'm going to perhaps confine my remarks to where I think this department should be going in the future, and remind Nova Scotians of some of the comments of the NDP members opposite when they were in Opposition regarding Community Services.
Mr. Chairman, the Community Services Department in this province has been very much an evolution, I guess, over the past 100 or 150 years - from the Elizabethan poor laws to the charity laws, to the poor relief rolls, to welfare, to social services, and now to community services. While that process has been evolutionary in name changes, it certainly hasn't been revolutionary in changes to the people's lives that need the assistance in this province.
The continuing assistance to those in need in our province is a concern to a lot of Nova Scotians. Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, the people that we're dealing with in this particular department don't have the kind of advocacy that most groups have. As a matter of fact, they have very little in the way of advocacy except, perhaps, elected officials. Unfortunately for these people, they don't have big unions to look out for their interests nor do they have corporations that look out for their interests, they have themselves and sometimes most of these people, more often than not, are struggling to make ends meet from one week to the next week. It's those people, I think, that are looking for a direction from this government. They certainly have high expectations that this government will change lives for the better in terms of assistance to those who need public support.
Now, some people, Mr. Chairman, have suggested to me that the NDP has abandoned their support for the poor of this province. They have abandoned their support for the disabled, they have abandoned their support for the aged. Very little, in the last election, was even mentioned about the poor in this province, and very little was mentioned about those
groups that are out there that don't have that advocacy that I'm talking about. The NDP changed direction in order to get elected to government in Nova Scotia and it worked.
They did get elected but I think that the - and I see one member shaking his head over there, well, he can shake it all he wants because I'll tell you, that there wasn't anything mentioned down my way about the people needing community services - rather the NDP seemed to have moved ideologically to the centre and perhaps, in some people's minds, even a bit to the right, and that's unfortunate.
I hope over a period of time I'm proven wrong, that the NDP will realize they have a responsibility, as they said in Opposition, to those in this province who can't defend themselves and those in this province who don't have advocacy.
Now let me say this, that in terms of housing, the minister mentioned some of the housing programs they have. We have the Cape Breton Island Housing Authority that looks after the public housing needs in my area, Mr. Chairman, and one of the basic problems with that authority is that it is a first-come, first-served basis. You put your name on the list and when your name comes up, you get called. No regard to need. Need doesn't come into the picture and the people who work in that department will tell you that need doesn't come into the picture. It's first in the door, first into a unit, if a unit is available. Unfortunately, there are hundreds on the waiting list in my area and the member for Cape Breton Nova knows full well the problems with people trying to access public housing.
I think that a major change in policy direction is needed there, Madam Minister. I think they should be looking at putting people into public housing units that are most in need.
I can say this, too, I think minister, you and your people should be looking into more housing units, more public housing units in our area, but I must say, that some of the units have been vacant for a long time and people are coming to me and saying, why are these units not being occupied. Well, I don't have the answer to that and to get the answer out of people in the housing department is sometimes frustrating.
I know they're working as hard as they can to try to accommodate people. Simply put, these people who are looking for public housing for their children and their families, have been forced into less than adequate housing with predatory pricing in terms of rent because there simply is no public housing unit available. As a matter of fact, Madam Minister, you might be interested to know that one of the slum landlords in my area is a very prominent member of the New Democratic Party, who takes great delight in using predatory pricing, whenever the rates go up in Community Services, he jacks the rates on his apartments. I am sure other Parties have people too, but I just bring that to your attention that this gentleman is making full use of the lack of accommodation in public housing.
We have over-priced housing, bad housing , in our area and something has to be done about it. Again, Madam Minister, I'm making all these statements in the hope that over the next weeks and months some of these things that I talk about here will indeed change.
As I said, the changes to date certainly haven't been revolutionary, and I hope we don't have to wait another 150 years to see a true change in the direction of the Department of Community Services.
You mentioned, minister, regarding shelter allowances in the province - in my area I believe it's $570, and I can tell you that some of the problems that we're facing, if a person is getting $800 a month and the rent is $650, you only pay $570 - then the person has to take money from some other part of their budget in order to pay rent. That's wrong. That's wrong, I think, because people can't afford to do that. It takes from the other needs of the children, in most cases a single mother who's having difficulty enough raising children without having to dig into their allowance to pay rent because the Community Services Department only will pay a certain amount.
Now, in fairness to the Community Services Department, if they increased the rent in my area, the predatory pricers I'm talking about - the guys who have the slum housing down there - will only raise theirs. So it becomes a situation where something else has to happen, and what has to happen is there has to be restriction on the amount of money these people can charge vulnerable citizens in our area for rent. I'm not suggesting that we bring back rent controls, but I'm going to tell you that the department should come up with something to be put in place in order for these people to be able to maximize the meagre amounts of money that they're getting today from the Department of Community Services.
I just want to refer, Madam Minister, to a couple of statements that were made by members of the New Democratic Party while in Opposition, and I know that you'll take these in the spirit they're intended and, perhaps, move in the direction that these same members of your same government are suggesting. So this statement in The Metro, on Thursday, October 2, 2008, responding to statements by Judy Streatch, the Minister of Community Services at the time, that the increase of $4 a month will cost $1.4 million. She said, can it ever be enough? She went on to say that there are challenges out there, and my goodness there are challenges out there for all Canadians - all Canadians, she said. We aren't talking about all Canadians, we're talking about people in Community Services Nova Scotia. I won't go on about that.
The Dartmouth North MLA said at that time that the $4 hike will have no impact when the rising cost of electricity, oil, gasoline, and food is considered. To quote him, we're in for a real tough winter for a lot of people. That was the member for Dartmouth North, a member of the New Democratic Party and a person who I believe really cares about people in this province. That has been evidenced by the statements he has made while he has been on this side of the House.
Also, comments from 2004: Welfare hike a disgrace, NDP member says. I'll go on - this is from Amy Smith, provincial reporter at the time: The allowance rose Friday to $184 for recipients who are renting or boarding. This comment from the Minister of Education: It really just highlights how impossibly low that allowance is, Ms. More said Friday at Province House. It just throws more shame back on the province for not responding in a responsible way to the extreme needs of people on Community Services allowance and per diems.
It goes on and on, but I want to quote the last of this article: It's impossible to live on that amount of money, so they're relying on food banks, community groups, friends, neighbours, families, Ms. More said. It's disgraceful in this day and age. That was the present-day Minister of Education. In Opposition she felt that way, and I congratulate her for feeling that way at that time. Hopefully she'll feel that way again when Cabinet comes to make some decisions as to the future of the people that they're now entrusted with as a government.
So I go on, Madam Minister, to talk about the personal allowances that people on Community Services are expected to live on. Now, how anybody would expect somebody to live on less than $10,000 a year in this province - and some people are living on less than $10,000 - and I don't care what budget restrictions you're having problems with now, and you alluded to that, I don't care about the direction the government goes in other areas as much as I care about giving people a living wage in this province. An amount of money that they can buy the necessities of life, that they don't have to go to food banks, that they don't have to depend on neighbours and relatives and everything else. I'm talking about in this day and age, this province should be taking a serious look at where it's going in its treatment of those who need help.
We still have child poverty in this province. This government should be looking at alleviating child poverty in this province totally. It can be done if the political will is there to do it. You know what? I always thought the political will was there with the NDP when they were over here. But I haven't heard the minister say that. All they're doing now and what I heard the minister say is, we don't have any money.
Well, it's a priority that we look after those who are in need in this province. It is not a priority, in my mind and in the minds of most Nova Scotians, that the Department of Community Services ends up at the end of the year with a surplus. A former minister of the previous government got up in his place over there and said that the reason people are on assistance in this province is that they don't have enough money. Now, there was an enlightening statement. The second statement he made while he was a minister is that people who are on Community Services benefits should, perhaps, eat more pasta. Then, to add
insult, he got up and congratulated his staff on coming in with a surplus. Imagine, the Department of Community Services congratulating each other on coming in with a surplus.
I said from day one, in addressing this issue, and thank heavens the previous government realized they had the wrong person in the wrong job and changed direction, albeit too late, but I can tell you that my feelings on that whole matter were simply that you have to have the political will to change lives for the better for Nova Scotians. You can't sit back and say, we can't do it. Do we need to take a look at minimum incomes in this province? Do we need to take a look at guaranteed incomes in this province for our people? Do we need to take a look at guaranteeing that children don't go to school hungry or that children have adequate clothing? There are a lot of children in this province who still don't have that. People turn a blind eye to it but I see it in my constituency. The member for Cape Breton Nova sees it in his constituency, or Cape Breton West, and I'm sure that other people do as well. It's not hard to do. We're not re-inventing the wheel here.
All it takes is some political courage. It takes the will to provide better housing for people. It takes the will to do away with predatory pricing on rents from some people in my area who should know better but are making money off this. It shouldn't take much to look after the disabled amongst us and provide the necessities of life, including the transportation problems that they have. It shouldn't take much except political will to do all of that stuff. I could go on and on about the various other groups that are impacted by decisions made by this government now, but also by previous governments in the past.
Mr. Chairman, I would hope again that this government is feeling its way along as it respects the problems that people on low income are having in Nova Scotia. I hope that there is somebody there convincing the minister and her department that more has to be done for those who are vulnerable. I'm sure the people who are working in that department mean well, but you've heard me say in this House in the past, those who have been here in the past, that the department has shifted its emphasis from the influence of professional social workers to the influence of accountants and lawyers, and bean counters, I see a smile, he's heard me say that before. I'm saying that these are great public servants, but how much of the policy of social workers is getting to the table when it comes to the future direction of people in need in this province?
I look to decisions that were made in my own Community Services office in Sydney. Decisions were made over the past few years, not for the clients, but for the people who work there. Security is the big word now. You can't get in there. You can't get into the building, you can't get by these guards that are there. You can't go in and see a social services worker. You've got to make an appointment and you may get an appointment in a week or you may get it in two weeks or you may not get it at all, depending on the circumstances. But security was put in there, not for the clients, not to let the clients in, but to keep them out. Now, I haven't seen too many incidents in the past that would demand that
kind of security in this day and age. But I'm going to tell you, it's a pretty tough fortress to crack if you're going there looking for assistance.
I think the people who are desperately in need should not have to call their MLA to call a social worker in order to get them an appointment so they can get in past the security guards to have their say. Then they're told they'll be evaluated. Now, these aren't rules that these front-line workers have made up. They're the rules that are made up for them. The people on the government side of the House, who were employed as social workers before know what I'm talking about.
In those days, social workers had discretion in dealing with clients, they could move the bar, they could look at a situation and say this person deserves more funding, so I'm going to give it to them. I'm going to give this person an opportunity to climb up a little bit. Do you know what it is now? It's all computers. Everybody is a number now. It spits out an amount every month and that's all you get. In fairness, every once in a while there are special needs programs that are put in place which help, but there is far too little latitude given to the front-line workers these days and, Madam Minister, I would hope that you take stock on what I'm saying here.
I think the decisions made at the local level should be more the responsibility of the local workers and not head office, I guess, for lack of a better word or Halifax. I think the people deserve that and I think the social workers deserve that latitude. They're overworked, there is a serious situation in Nova Scotia, particularly, with certain groups of people, the disabled, single moms with two, three or four children trying to exist, trying to get by, some of them, by the way, have gone out to work only to find that every dollar they make was being clawed back or they're being investigated or this kind of stuff. (Interruption) Yes, even the care giver allowance, that's right.
I guess what I'm saying to you, Madam Minister, is this, that I believe there is an opportunity, since you're new as a minister, since this government is new, for you to take the advice of some of the people that I mentioned earlier, who are all good people. I know that the Minister of Education believed what she said when she was on this side and the Minister of Health, who used to wax eloquent about these problems when she was over here. She's a social worker and knows what I'm talking about and other people on the government benches right now that used to be over here in Opposition. So I think there is a caring attitude to do something among some of the ministers who have been around here for a while and I know as the new members move along in their jobs, they're going to confront these situations, particularly those that live in urban areas, that large numbers have tremendous problems with adequate housing and with accessing public services.
At one time, the largest number of people who used to call me on a daily basis were people who were looking for work. That's not the case now. The case is, I'm getting calls from single mothers with children who can't afford housing. I'm getting calls from seniors
who don't feel they have a voice any more, that they need assistance and the assistance is not there for them and, of course, the disabled, with disabled people in my area having great difficulties with areas like transportation for example, and those types of things that the Department of Community Services could probably help with.
So, there are a number of problems and as we move along, Madam Minister, I hope that your department will take these few remarks that I'm making this evening to heart and I don't know if I'll get a chance on Friday, or Thursday, to speak again about some particular things that I would like answers to. But I think in fairness to you, you're new in the job, what I would like to do here is just plant the seed of change for the Department of Community Services. Once again, I've done that in the past, and I know the members over here, my friends to the left of me now, not ideologically, seated to my left, have heard me make this statement when they were over there, and before I turn it over to my friend in the Conservative Party, I would just like to say that there is hope yet.
I believe that I speak for a number of people in my riding, and certainly the ridings that I'm familiar with around Sydney, that this Department of Community Services, this minister, will listen to their plight. Some of the rates that are being paid out today are ridiculous and most Nova Scotians know that and I say again, how would anybody in this room like to live on $10,000 or less a year and pay rent out of that $10,000, feed and clothe their kids, and provide them with an education and everything else they need.
So, I'll just leave that with you and thank you for your time, Mr. Chairman, and I will turn it over to my colleague to the left here. (Applause)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would the honourable Minister of Community Services like to make any comment?
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: I would like to thank the honourable member for his comments. I certainly realize the difficult situation that we are in. It's extraordinarily challenging for all of us and that's why I've mentioned that for me, putting politics aside, we have to work together as a team, and I know that you have a role to play in Opposition to bring forth those issues that are dear to your heart and dear to Nova Scotians. But I want you to know that our government is committed to help the most vulnerable and to help Nova Scotians.
It is really a challenge and as I'm sure that the former government of 10 years, looking at Community Services and having the opportunities to make change, was not satisfied. We're not satisfied where we are today, but I know that they've dealt with the complexities too and I know, with your past knowledge, honourable member, and what you have done as part of your profession, that you've seen it all.
It really does bother you when somebody comes to see you and says, I've got $200 a month for groceries or I'm on disability and I'm only getting $600 a month. It is tough and we really need to work together and I'll offer here today, if you have any suggestions for me outside these doors, feel free to let me know. I'm one person who has a wonderful staff and wonderful colleagues, but we need to listen from all sides in order to learn and to go forth and to work together to try to make those changes.
Of course, finance always comes in. That's the tough one. That really is the tough one. But I don't want to, as the new minister, in having this opportunity, put my hands up in the air and say, well, we can't do anything about it. I think we need to be creative, we need to consult, we need people to know that we want to listen to them and we give them that opportunity for them to be heard and to see if we can work together to make changes. So thank you very much for your comments and I certainly do appreciate them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: May I ask how long I have until expiry here?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have 31 minutes.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: First of all, I want to welcome the minister to her first opportunity to present the estimates of the Department of Community Services.
In a different world, I would have had the same opportunity, but I didn't actually really get to sit with the two Georges and Dave and the whole gang from Community Services to present the estimates. Sitting beside the minister are two phenomenal individuals who do their best, every day, with the limited resources they do have. They are very creative and they have some wonderful ideas, as well as Lynn Hartwell, as well as the Deputy Minister Judith Ferguson.
Judith is definitely a diamond in the rough when it comes to the Public Service as well. She's phenomenal in her ideas and the way she moves and I know I'll probably end up having to buy her lunch at some point for these comments, as this moves along.
Now, Mr. Chairman, first of all, if I look at this as a baseball game, the minister already has two strikes against me at this point. Or, I have two strikes against her, I'm not too sure how it works. Number one, she entered the election, she takes out one of my good friends, of course, the Honourable Judy Streatch. I'm okay with that one. She's now got my department, so that's strike two. Hopefully now, here on strike three, we'll have to work on answering some questions and having her commitment, that I know that any previous
minister has had, to actually (Interruption) - I'll have to bring Judy out for lunch too - but ultimately to do the best the minister can do with this wonderful department, but this challenging department.
If you look at the business lines within the department, they're vast. From income assistance, to child care, to persons with disabilities, to housing, there's a phenomenal amount of business unit happening within the Department of Community Services.
Mr. Chairman, I can say we have a whole bunch of questions, maybe some comments. The first one I really want to start talking about is the poverty strategy, the poverty strategy that I was so happy to finally put some structure to. I know I talked to the Minister of Labour and Workforce Development during her estimates, I talked about it a little bit there, and I look forward to having a little bigger discussion here with the Minister of Community Services.
This was a large undertaking, one that took the thoughts of the standing committee's recommendations, taking from those grassroots community individuals, to try to find a focus. Everyone, from Claredon Robichaud to the other members of that board, it was a range - disabilities, seniors, children - how to bring all of those things together to truly look at that path, that path of helping these individuals move from one point in their lives to a better point in their lives, and those pathways in which to get there.
By putting these things together, also having this committee working inter-departmentally with three different departments and then putting a piece of document together, one that we can sort of anchor ourselves in time and then move forward, to break the cycle of poverty by creating opportunities for all Nova Scotians, to participate in the prosperity of this province and enjoy a better standard of living.
I'm going to quote a little bit from the document, I could table one later on but I know the minister has a copy of this document, which I might say, it was difficult to find another copy of it on the main Web site of Community Services. Fortunately, the search engine does work, I can still print copies and of course I still have a copy of my own sitting at home. But the Web site wasn't clear on where the poverty strategy fits within government. I don't know, maybe it moved around a little bit within the departments where it was off the main site, but it was actually difficult to locate on the main site.
Like I said, change doesn't come overnight. This is going to be a multi-year program that builds on the $155 million of investment that our government sort of put into focus, that we're hoping that this government takes the ball and continues to run with it.
In the past three years our government was able to put over $200 million into helping Nova Scotians - helping those Nova Scotians that need it so much by taking the three goals of the poverty strategy I think were important as well: to enable and reward work, to improve
and support those in need, and of course, to focus on our children. The member for Cape Breton South speaks of child poverty, still unacceptable in this day, and it was quite a while ago that everybody embarked upon ending child poverty in this province, and I can say today child poverty numbers are almost the same. Maybe we have a few less children, but their plight is still the same, and I know the member for Dartmouth North is shaking his head in agreement, and of course for that member to represent the area that he represents, he probably has the highest caseload of anyone in this House.
If we look at the sub-headings, of course, enabling and rewarding work, which is a value that our government really put a lot on, and by providing the extra dollars through the Department of Labour and Workforce Development, of course with the partnership of the federal government, of being able to download or bring in the LMDA, the LMAs to provide those funding dollars to help those people take that next step that we talked about during estimates the other day.
You know, there were $81 million transferred from the federal government to the provincial government, which Employment Nova Scotia - which is the new division of the department - can use to meet specific needs in our labour market. By setting forward in our poverty strategy, to really say, okay, here are the targets, here is what we want to do with it - there was $7 million targeted toward recommendations from the Poverty Reduction Working Group, such as helping groups traditionally under-represented in our workforce and supporting equitable access to literacy, adult education, and training. I know that our critic and the critic for the Liberal Party talked about literacy in this province as well and how we do need to do a better job. If you look at the causes of poverty in our province, illiteracy is, of course, a very important one.
There was also that $400,000 that we were able to put in as the disincentive to work. People who did have the opportunity, who were on IA and actually went out and worked - be it little - if they could, whether it was during harvest or other opportunities, actually had the dollars clawed back. Maybe I'll ask a question a little around that because we did have to make some adjustments, of course, with the Provincial Finance Act with the Minister of Finance. I should have asked that when I had the opportunity to talk about him. I want to make sure that those adjustments are held within - I believe they had to be held within the budget content. I'll ask that one as I maybe start to wrap up.
Improving supports for those in need, I think, was of course the one that took a lot of time to get your head around. It's a lot broader than saying, we need to provide more dollars. Who are those focuses? We do need to begin that review of the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program because the program that was created - what, 40-some years ago? - does not work in today's world. We need to take that program - and I've used this a whole bunch of times - to basically blow it up and see what comes out of it, what's the phoenix that's going to rise from the ashes of this program, because this program really has
come to its end. I know that I'll be there, and I know that other members on this side of the House will be there to help the minister look at the redesign of the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program because, as much as each individual office across the province continually sees and works with people in these situations, we tend to see those same people when Income Assistance, or what have you, has said no.
So we have some clear examples of, you know, had this income threshold changed or had this situation changed, or had this been taken into consideration, then maybe that person would get the help that they need. So there's a wealth of information in this House. If I look at the member for Cape Breton South, who had the opportunity in a whole bunch of lives to be a front-line worker in this case, to be a mayor, to be an MLA, he has seen probably every case that possibly could come across the desk of an MLA or the desk of a minister.
Increasing income assistance allowances in line with the rate of inflation, I know we could probably spend hours and hours about where IA really needs to be. I remember, and the member was quite correct, the $4 days when the department was allocated some dollars and once you crunched the money, once you crunch it and you go, wow, that's not a lot of money, but would it be right or wrong to provide that money?
So I think we, as a government, went forward and said all right, listen, if $4 is what we've got, $4 is what we're going to go with, knowing all the other programs and things that were going on at the same time. But even if we go with LICO, or we go with some other comparative, what is the right number for a single individual, for a four-person family, what is the number that we would say could provide them with a good level of living? We can't provide them with everything, but what is that level, and that's going to be a tremendous challenge because you're going to have the advocacy groups that are going to continually ask for more and more, but at the same time, by giving people tools, by providing them with that reward for work, maybe there's a number in there that truly makes sense.
I could spend lots of time talking about the increased availability and quality of affordable housing and I can say I was very happy with the housing agreement and the way that it was being structured with the dollars that were going to be flowing from the federal government and being matched by the dollars from the province. When you're talking about - I forget the total numbers, and maybe I'll ask that in a minute - but with hundreds of millions of dollars, I can't remember the number and I apologize for it, but we have a lot of housing stock that truly needs adjustment, fixing, new roofs and new heating systems, and it just goes on and on from there, but we need more housing.
I can take my constituency, for example, I have three seniors' homes. We probably have a number of homes, single family dwellings, but that's a handful, a very small handful. The housing stock, whether rightly or wrongly, was put in my colleague's riding, the member for Yarmouth. So we need to have an addition to our system and we need to be a little more
balanced where those homes are going. I know I've had that discussion a whole bunch of times with the department and that will be a tremendous challenge for you, as well, because what you'll find is that not only will we be pushing for homes in our areas, but so will the group behind you, and the department has its own ideas too. So it will be a tremendous balancing act to make sure that those residences, apartments, rooms, whatever they end up being, will be placed in the most appropriate place.
Again, you know, Community Services is a wealth, it's a wonderful, challenging, and frustrating place to be. So the first thing I would probably ask, and I'll let the minister - I'll ask a few questions over the next, what, 19 minutes - will revolve a little bit around the mission and the goals of the Department of Community Services. So I wanted to maybe let the minister comment a little bit on the Poverty Reduction Strategy as it stands today, how we presented it, and how she's going to be taking that football and running with it as the next number of years go on.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Chairman, I would like to say thank you very much to the honourable member. I have to tell everyone a little story, though. My first day in Community Services, when I sat at my desk, I opened a note from the honourable member wishing whoever was the new minister the best of luck, and he spoke about his commitment to the department, his time there, and how he certainly appreciated the staff. I thought that was an absolutely wonderful gesture, and I want to say thank you because that made my first day. I was very pleased and it was very enjoyable to know and to receive that note - although you did not know you were writing it to me, but whoever would have received that note would have certainly appreciated it.
I know, Mr. Chairman, for the honourable member to have spent - although it was a short period of time with Community Services, I do know that he really was committed to Community Services and would have liked to have gone forth with some of the changes, as he has spoken to this evening. The fact is that I'm sure he has seen, the same as me, that there are a lot of complexities within Community Services, a lot of issues that overlap each other, sort of like an octopus that we have to try to untangle and to figure out what we can do. I think part of that, as I mentioned earlier this evening, is the aspect of consultation and discussion. None of the issues have easy answers.
When we talk about increasing IA, there are many complexities. There are many other organizations. You have hundreds of agencies that we support that haven't received funding over the years and, of course, our economy has gotten worse and the cost of living has increased. So they've relied much more on volunteers, doing fundraising, on the corporate donations, and that has been a struggle now that the economy has taken a downturn. Everyone is having difficulties, and I know the honourable member appreciates and knows that.
Certainly, as he said with respect to his government and the former government increasing the IA at $4, how difficult that is because when you look at it in the overall picture, it's a lot of money, but when you bring it down to each individual who receives that, it's only $4. So very difficult decisions, and I know that everyone here and all the staff make those decisions based on what is the best. We know that it's not the best of what we would like to do, but it's what we have at that time.
So I would like to address the question, back to the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and I think that that's some light at the end of our tunnel. I'm very proud that the former government started this project to include a consultation process, include staff, and looking at the poverty issues. One of the first steps to resolve a problem is to admit that you have a problem, and so that's what has been done. It wasn't swept under the carpet; it was identified that we had a problem and we had to go forth. That's what the honourable member did in his role, and I think that's why he became so passionate about it, because of the fact that it gives you a feeling of hope.
The challenge, as the honourable member would know, is the fact that there are immediate needs each and every day, and all of our colleagues receive those calls each and every day. Those are the difficult ones because we don't have the rabbit to pull out of the hat and so that's very difficult when you have to deal with those.
What I'm finding, as the new minister, is the fact that if you listen to people and you give them an opportunity to talk to you, sometimes you don't have the answer they want to hear, but they've had the opportunity to talk to you. That makes a big difference to know that you're listening and to be able to say to them that we are going forward and we have made that commitment.
With respect to the Poverty Reduction Strategy, it is a commitment of myself, my colleagues and this government and we will be going in the approach of a consultative process. We already have a committee of staff and individuals who have been involved in it, as the honourable member will know. It's also important to have a ministerial committee so ministers will have an opportunity. I also want to take it forward that there's a political opportunity that each and every one in this House has that opportunity to put forth their ideas. The honourable member mentioned the fact that there's a lot of experience here, there's a lot of knowledge and we shouldn't waste that on politics. We need to help the people. That's the approach I will be taking.
I wanted to mention too, I know we work away each and every day and we're trying to make those changes. Sometimes we don't think that we are effective, but some of the things that you have done have been effective. The actual number of children living in poverty from 1998 to 2007 declined from 35,000 to 15,000 in this province. Now, having one child in a poverty situation is not good, no one should live in poverty. However, I know in the mix of everything else that takes place in the negativity, but the efforts have been made
and we are seeing something happening in that area and that's important for us to keep in mind.
When you're working on any type of strategy to make change, you have to keep that hope and you have to know that you are making a difference. The government has been moving forward with initiatives and investments, and as we talked about, it's little steps, but they will make a difference in the long run and that's increasing the income assistance personal allowance and looking at that under the strategy. We know that's not enough, but what can we do to increase that? Where can we find the financing to do that and make that commitment?
I'm sure every one of you respect this, these are early days for us, 107 days - I know our friendly members across the way keep reminding us - but 107 days, we have made those commitments through the HST being taken off of heating and going forward with those types of programs. As I said, one of the struggles is the fact of doing things immediately and the challenges. Sometimes you can make mistakes doing it immediately and that's why we have to be very careful and we have to be able to be working together on the strategies.
Some of the other areas, of course, are the increase in qualifying income for Nova Scotia Child Benefit and the Low Income Pharmacare for Children program; the housing stimulus, it's $128 million over the three years; investment in skills and training programs through Labour and Workforce Development; and an investment in the subsidized child care spaces.
As I said, sometimes we don't think we're making a difference because there are so many issues out there, but differences have been made over the years. I'm very excited about the poverty strategy, the ESIA redesign, it's going to make a difference for many Nova Scotians and we want their input. We're not always going to have the right answers and that's why we need to discuss it together. These issues have to be discussed in length because they're so complex and they affect so many people. There's just not one straight decision, it's really not black and white, it comes to multi-colours in your decision-making. One of the things I think the honourable member will be very pleased to know is that the Poverty Reduction Strategy coordinator has been recruited and that's very important to have somebody who is focusing on that role and helping us. That will be the person that will be pushing us forward and that person will be a part of our staff at the end of October, so I will be extremely pleased to welcome that person aboard.
As I mentioned, I would like the honourable member to know that we have that commitment and we're going forth and, once again, I invite you to provide me with your knowledge base, your experience and your suggestions. Thank you.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for that update. I think it's phenomenal that we'll have that person in place. I'm sure that Dave and Lynn Hartwell
and the people in the department will be happy to have someone focused on the Poverty Strategy because I know they're being pulled in a hundred different directions in order to keep the boat in the water.
You know, we talk about percentages and the issue of child poverty is one that, yes, we've done a lot of work and as much as I'd like to take credit as a previous government for really making those changes, part of that change is really because we're having less children. The population of children in this province continues to go down, as families are having one child or in some cases, no children at all. One part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy knows that this is happening, so we need to continue to focus on that issue but we also need to focus on the broader issue as well, which is housing, which is the valuing the work and all that.
To give you an idea, right now poverty statistics based on the 2006 LICO, this is the after tax low income cut-off, we still have about 76,000 people in Nova Scotia living under that line. Like I said, this is one comparison you could use, being LICO. There are 16,000 children living below that line today. The largest percentage, of course, is between 18 and 64, which are 57,000 people. Right now 3,000 is an estimate of the number of seniors over 65 living under that cut-off, so low income, depending on where you put it. I forget the exact amount that LICO actually is but I think it's sort of below that $12,000 cap or somewhere near there and Dave's looking at me. I know I'll have to ask that question. What's LICO? I forget what the exact number on LICO is.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: The actual number we believe is around $12,000 but we will confirm that number and if it's different we'll let the honourable member know that. Thank you.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much and like I said, that was my recollection, in that $12,000 range and you know how calculations go, it's like $12,234 and some-odd cents. Thank you for providing me with exactly what LICO is.
How are we doing compared to the rest of the country? It's my guess that we are doing a little better than other parts of the country. Maybe some comments on what is that percentage of total population living in low income situations and maybe what that comparison is with people under 18.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Mr. Chairman, the honourable member certainly has his knowledge base right on in the fact that we are lower than the Canadian average - in fact, 8.2 per cent versus the Canadian average of 9.2 per cent - although that still does not make you feel any better, but we are a little bit under that number.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Chairman, that was what I suspected, you know, remembering my briefings as well. We do a little better than other parts of the country, I think principally for one reason, which is that we are smaller. We have a better opportunity
to put a true provincial-scope strategy in place. If you took Ontario, I mean the focus that you would have to do on Ottawa versus Toronto versus other parts of that province would be staggering.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for debate has expired.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I would ask that you do now rise and report progress.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 9:17 p.m.]