HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 2010
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Gordon Gosse
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon. The Committee on Supply will now be called to order, and we will resume the estimates of the Premier's Office.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North, who has 54 minutes left.
HON. CECIL CLARKE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm glad that we're back in the Chamber with estimates and I want to note that I'll be sharing my time today with the honourable member for Inverness, and I look forward to another opportunity as well to continue with the estimates debate.
When we last left off I think we were pretty much establishing the fact that the government, through its many consultative and outsourcing to try and find ways to get themselves to a position to try and justify some of the decisions - as ill-headed as they are - to try and do that and put it on the backs of a previous government rather than being forthright and commit to the facts as we now know them.
Under the auspices of the Public Accounts Committee, and maybe it was the newness of government members on the Public Accounts Committee because actually one topic got slid through by the committee that otherwise they would have voted against had they probably been more prepped by the staff and the Premier's Office, because we see topics that are not coming forward that are relevant and important for discussion. This is going to be a pattern I'm sure we'll see until the next time the writ is dropped, and then Nova Scotians can make the change they now wish they could reverse at any moment's notice. We'd be happy for a writ to drop to get that change sooner than later.
Mr. Chairman, what we need to know and clarify again is that the government has been so desperate to try and position themselves and to stack a deficit in the first year and go against the advice of their advisors that they spent a lot of money to put in place, and the fact that indeed the books of the Province of Nova Scotia weren't cooked. The reality is the government made decisions and we would argue that many of those were bad decisions. There were many things that were in there from the previous budget in May that committed to the infrastructure and stimulus - we're thankful that the government saw fit to continue on and maximize any dollars that could be there to be leveraged.
We regret that the government hasn't chosen to invest and leverage other dollars, for instance with Health Promotion and Protection, but they would spend 100 per cent dollars on dirt that no one asked them to buy and no one was in a lineup to get. Really, I suppose the Minister of Natural Resources truly could be the "Minister of Swamps and Bogs" because that's all they seem to be fixated on as well in their capital acquisitions, rather than indeed investing in people at a time when economic recovery should be paramount and top priority of the government.
Also, when we come back, I know I'm looking forward to a further discussion with the Premier especially around other things that were supposed to be good news in Nova Scotia, supposed to be great moments in Nova Scotia, such as the Royal Visit. With that coming forward for the 100th Anniversary of the Navy, with Her Majesty coming here, with her family's long history of coming to Nova Scotia, yet the government threw the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo under the bus as well.
The Premier and his office is directly involved with making sure that that was scuttled, making sure that an internationally renowned organization such as the Tattoo that has had four members of the Royal Family attend without issue, without any incidents because they are professionals and because they make sure that safety and operations of an event go very well, to an international standard, in fact to a standard that Buckingham Palace obviously has been very pleased with in the past. But it is a standard that the Premier and his office didn't see fit because it didn't meet with their political optics of what they want at the moment.
They got into a personality battle back and forth and basically scuttled what was supposed to be a very great moment for Her Majesty, the very monarch who provided the "Royal" designation to the Tattoo, the very monarch who has served with such greatness, in my opinion - and I am a monarchist in Canada. I believe in the institution and not in terms of what it was decades or 100 years ago, but that it represents what is right about our British parliamentary traditions and democracy that we celebrated here last year. It is just regrettable that petty politics of the Premier's office would interfere with such a good event. We'll come back to that and I've got my specific binder to the Royal Visit that we'll talk about in greater detail and, yes, there will be questions that the Premier can answer.
With that preamble of where I'll be going and with that setting the tone and knowing that the real "back to balance" that Nova Scotians were looking for right now is some common sense from the government to get really back to the core issues and priorities of Nova Scotians - and I'm very pleased our Finance Critic will take over at this point. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would like to thank the honourable member for Cape Breton North for his introductory remarks. I think I will move right into my questions. For the benefit of the people who are watching, I would like to draw their attention to my questions and to see if they'll actually be answered today.
My first question to the Premier, there were a number of election promises made in the 2009 election and two of the most significant were a call for a balanced budget and that there would be no increase in taxes for Nova Scotia, and what have we seen? We've seen those promises broken; we see a deficit budget the past year, the first NDP deficit budget and they plan to give us four more, for a total of five deficit budgets, a broken promise; we also see increased taxes, HST increase, as one example. Mr. Premier, why did you tell Nova Scotians that you would do one thing - namely balance the budgets and not increase taxes - and do another?
HON. DARRELL DEXTER (The Premier): Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It's great to be back for the estimates of my office and to have the opportunity, of course, to hear the introductory remarks of the member for Cape Breton North, getting up and making remarks and then sitting down without asking a question is a little bit of hit and run.
So, I do want to take the opportunity, and I think it works well because it is, in fact, addressing the very point that was made by the member for Inverness, which is the whole question of how we got to where we are and I think that was a fairly well laid out in the Deloitte report. They were pretty clear about the path that we were on, the fact that there was an active campaign by the previous government to try and make the books look one way when they were in fact another.
I find it interesting, the criticism that was launched by the member for Cape Breton North was that you didn't follow the advice of Deloitte when you decided to put back in the prepayment for the memorandum of understanding with the universities. Of course, the very logical question that comes from that is, who established the practice of prepaying the university memorandum of understanding? That was the previous government. It meant that they had fashioned a budget that had no money in it for post-secondary education, no money in it for the universities of the province.
Now, anyone who considers that just for a second would say, well, how in the name of all that is good and great could that possibly be considered a balanced budget when there are $360 million in costs that are not recognized in the budget of the previous government?
Well, of course that is wrong. But that was the decision that they made and we felt that the previous government should be responsible for the decisions that they made. They made the decision to enter into this MOU; they made the decision to prepay the university funding so, Mr. Chairman, when the government changed on June 9th and we brought back in the previous budget, we included in that budget what we felt was the reasonable thing to do, which was to include the cost of the university funding in accordance with the terms of the memorandum of understanding signed by the previous government. So, of course, that created the obviousness of the deficit.
Further, even though the previous government knew that they were going to have to be dealing with the costs associated with H1N1 pandemic, there was no money included in the budget for those costs, this was something that governments right across the country were having to deal with, but there was no money in the budget for that.
It was just a series of decisions that had been made along with, of course, the idea that somehow, all of a sudden, the costs that they had already imposed - this is what the last budget said before they were defeated - that the costs they had already imposed, magically, the next year, become zero per cent increase, that health costs were not going to grow at all, in fact, that across the board cost increases for government was going to be zero.
Well, that was not the history of the government. The history of the government was to watch while spending increased at 4 per cent and 5 per cent every year, regardless of what the actual growth and revenues of the province were. They treated what was revenue associated with natural gas royalties as if they were fixed revenues over the long term, as if somehow the projections with respect to the offshore were not going to come true, that the production of the Sable project was not going to start to drop off. They knew the direction that royalty rates were headed in. So, what happened, of course, is we inherited a budget that then had to deal with all of the costs that weren't included. We had to deal with the associated loss of revenue from the decline in offshore revenues and royalties, and also the decline in production. So what we saw, and what I thought Deloitte did very well, was they set out the path that the previous government was on, and the previous government was on a path to create a $1.4 billion deficit; that is a deficit, each year, of $1.4 billion.
We know, and I am sure in his heart of hearts the member for Inverness knows, that is not a sustainable position for the province and, of course, we invite the members of the Opposition to suggest where it is that they would go in terms of the kind of cuts that they would make. In the past, the member for Cape Breton North and others have said, well, you didn't have to buy land on land, for example.
Well, Mr. Chairman, I believe the member for Cape Breton North actually referred to it as dirt, and he derides it as swamps and bogs, yet if you look at the acquisitions that were made by the province and where they were made, they were made for pieces of property that were of a particular interest to the government, either from an ecological perspective, in that we wanted to make sure that the areas were protected; from a historic perspective because there are negotiations currently going with Aboriginal peoples in this province; part of those negotiations revolve around the question of land and land acquisition and access to natural resources in the province; and thirdly, that property that is purchased looked at the recreational value of that property to the people of the areas in which the property is located.
So, you have hunters, you have trappers, you have snowmobile enthusiasts, you have off-road vehicle enthusiasts, you have hikers, you have all manner of people who use the wonderful asset, which is the great outdoors of Nova Scotia. The program of government was designed to try - when that property is on the market and before it could fall into foreign hands where we may not be able to get it back - to purchase that property so that it would be a lasting legacy for the generations to come, so that young people in these areas would have the same ability to experience wildlife and the great outdoors of this province that we have been privileged to be able to experience.
So, we shouldn't be derided. I think, out there among the vast majority of Nova Scotians, people say, we realize that times are difficult; we realize you came in at a very difficult time; we also realize that property wasn't going to be for sale forever and you made the right decision purchasing it when you did.
Now, we move on to this set of budget estimates and this year you will see that the amount of money that is in the estimates for the purchase of land has now fallen back to what is considered to be a more traditional level, a relatively small amount of money in the overall budget. This was exactly the point that we tried to make to the member for Cape Breton North and others who would say, well, if you wanted to balance the budget, why didn't you cut that? Because that is a one-time expense. It is a one-time expense for a generation or generations of benefit. What better investment could we make?
But now we're into a new set of estimates and the question, I think fairly, now that you don't have that to point to, then what is it that you say we should cut? What is it in the Department of Health? Which programs in the Department of Education no longer merit support? I mean these were, after all, programs that, at least in theory, were supported by the members opposite over the course of their time in government. The Pharmacare program that was established, is that something you would see cut? I mean, it was something that was brought in. The many other programs that we deliver to young people in this province, what is it that you feel should be cut in order to be able to achieve what you say should be done in the short term? Because, after all, Mr. Chairman, the proposal that was made by the member opposite is completely inconsistent with what other governments in Canada are doing, including the federal government.
Mr. Chairman, the federal government has set out a plan to deal with what is a very large deficit over a considerable period of time. Frankly, in my conversations with the Prime Minister and certainly in my conversations with ministers, I understand the difficulties that they have. I understand the challenges that they have in their books, but what I don't want to see happen, is I don't want to see them decide that they are going to try and fix their problems with respect to the federal budget by taking money out of the transfers to the province.
Ultimately, Mr. Chairman, and you know this because you have been in this House for a while and perhaps the member for Inverness does not, but we all know that the budgets of this House are symptoms of what happens in Ottawa with federal transfers. We know that agreements with respect to social transfers, with respect to health transfers are going to be coming up for renewal in the not too distant future. Something that could be extraordinarily devastating to this province would be if the federal government should decide to take money out of those envelopes as they come to the province, because that would create even more difficulty.
Now, I want to at this point say that I understand from everything that I have read and from what my departmental officials say and from what I understand from the Department of Finance is that the federal Minister of Finance has said that this will not happen. That he has no intention of balancing the books on the backs of the provinces and I appreciate and I laud that position, because I think it is the right one. But I also know that they can't go on forever with budget deficits at the federal level.
They have a much better ability to raise revenue than we do. But, they also have to - I mean the Mulroney Government had much the same ability to do that but they were unable to meet those targets. Frankly, if you were to go back and review that era a bit, you will see that one of the things that really caused trouble was not so much the amount of money that was spent in services over the Mulroney years. It was the interest on the debt and the higher interest rates that really worked against the federal government in those years that caused those budget deficits to continue to grow.
I certainly remember much of the unhappiness around the Mulroney Government when they brought in the GST. You will remember that it was the Mulroney Government that actually brought in the GST (Interruptions) and what it did, the member for Inverness says, to replace another tax. Well, that is true, but it is only true to the extent that it replaced a tax that was much narrower in its base than the GST. The GST became a broad-based tax that went onto everything. The only parallel I can think of is, it is like the secret police that sneaks into your room and carries you away. It was everywhere, whether you bought a pair of socks or a pair of gloves. This was the insidious nature of the GST, it was completely broad based. It was voracious as a tax and it still is, but it is what we have now for taxing measures.
Of course, it is exactly why we took the view that we did. Exactly why, because we said, you know, sometimes there are things that just ought not to be taxed. There are some things that is unfair for people to have to pay tax on. For example, we looked at home heating costs, home electricity costs and we said - and just prior to the election of 2006, I guess it was, there was a conversion by the former government when they all of a sudden recognized that home energy costs shouldn't be taxed.
They made that as a commitment over the course of the campaign and, of course, this was in response to the work that my colleagues and I had been doing around the voracious nature of the HST, and they announced just prior to an election - of course we all understand all things are possible just before an election - so they announced that they would take the tax off home energy. They did that, I think it was for a year, and then they put it back on electricity costs. They put in a threshold and we said, no, really this was the commitment that was made by the government and if this was the commitment that they made, it should be lived up to and, of course, one of the very first things we did when we got elected in June 2009, was to, in fact, take the HST off home electricity costs. We also took the HST off children's clothing, another item which we said ought not to be taxed; we took it off diapers; we took it off feminine hygiene products.
We looked at the list of things that we could do within taxation to try and deliver what we considered to be fairer taxation, Mr. Chairman, so that we could recognize the inequities that exist. So within the balance that is needed in order to bring the finances of the province back, unlike what is suggested by the member for Inverness, we decided that we would approach it in a way that people could understand, that would make sense to them.
That's why instead of just taking the broad-brush and say we're going to raise the HST by 2 per cent, we said - and I think it was the wisdom not just of my Cabinet but of many of the people whom we spoke to, of our caucus, of many of the people who work on behalf of the poor in the province said - we understand that you have a difficult position and we understand that part of what you need to do, besides growing the economy and managing your expenses, part of what you have to do is raise revenue. We want to make sure that you don't disproportionately affect the people who actually need the help the most, those people who are struggling to make ends meet.
So what the Minister of Finance announced in this budget, and what we did was we put in place an Affordability Living Tax Credit that more than offsets the cost of the HST. In fact, those families, as a result of this budget, will have more money in their pockets, and we did that because it is, in fact, the right thing to do. We understood that we could get back to balance quicker if we didn't do it, we could raise more revenue that way, but that it would be unfair and that ultimately people understand that - there is probably no really easy time to be in government - but they understand that when you come in under the cloud of recessionary pressures that existed, as they did at the time that we came into government, when you're under the cloud of the kind of systemic and structural financial problems that had been created by the previous government, that there does need to be action taken. They understand that, but they want to be treated fairly.
I believe that the budget that the Minister of Finance has brought forward does that. It creates a fair approach to bringing the books and the finances of the province back into balance so that taxation is fairer, so that we get that monkey off our backs, Mr. Chairman, that we're able to deal with the finances of the province in a reasonable fashion. So, the member for Inverness says, well, why did you raise taxes? Why are the books not balanced? The answers to his questions are sitting right in front of him, just one row up. Those were the members of the Executive Council who made the decisions that put the province in the position it's in. He doesn't really need to ask the question in estimates. He could ask it at the next caucus meeting that he has because the answers to those questions reside among the very members of his own caucus.
I have to say, another thing they like to say is, why is it that you supported budgets, you voted for budgets, if you say that this was the case? Well, the budgets that were presented were presented as if they were balanced. They were presented in the nature of doing many good things on behalf of the people. We had no problem with doing good things for people.
I can remember the members of the government opposite saying if you vote against this, you are voting against projects in downtown Windsor, you're voting against the fire department in Windsor, you're voting against the rink - that was the way they would present the budgets to us. We said that we didn't have a problem, but we wanted to be assured, and we were time and again, by the previous government that the budgets they were presenting were actually sustainable. They said they were. We were skeptical and then finally, in the last budget, it appeared to be pretty obvious that was not going to be the case.
I understand that this is the approach the member for Inverness takes. He likes to paint it as if somehow the election is like a fly stuck in amber, that it's a moment frozen in time and that you must only dissect it as if it is somehow a pristine piece all of its own that can be held up to the light and shown to people. But that's not the reality of government. That's not the reality of life.
The reality is, the timeline changes. Things move. New information comes into play and in this case we had the Deloitte report, the economic panel's conclusions and their recommendations. One of the things that those recommendations said was that we should take the opportunity to have a broad-based consultation with the people of the province. We did that. We went out across the province, took the opportunity to speak to people in their homes, on their doorsteps, invited them out to the community centres, had them talk to us about the issues associated with the budget that we have brought in.
Although the members opposite say this is not what you heard, it is what we heard. We got lots of feedback in the way of written proposals. We did our best to balance off all of the interests that were there, including, of course, the interests of small business which is why you saw the reduction in small business tax credits.
I think that's a fairly thorough examination of that issue that was prompted both by the introductory remarks of the member for Cape Breton North and the excellent question that was just posed by the member for Inverness. I am reminded now of a person who used to speak a lot in this House and that was John Holm and he would often stand up and say I just have a couple of words to say. So I have just had a couple of words to say about this and I look forward, of course, to a much longer discourse on whatever the next question might be.
MR. MACMASTER: What would I know? I'm the newest member in this House, but I thought I would come here today and ask a few questions and thought I might get some punchy answers. I thought there would be some good dialogue.
Of course, the purpose of having an Opposition is to question things. When we question things we make them better. I think I'm going to have to be careful here in asking questions because all of our time will elapse and Nova Scotians won't have any of their questions answered.
The first question I asked was why did the Premier break his promise to Nova Scotians by not delivering a balanced budget and by raising taxes. His answer was very lengthy and thorough, and I will speak on some of the points that he raised, but one thing I would ask, I did ask, why would you tell Nova Scotians one thing and do another? I guess the obvious response to that is, well, we didn't know how bad things were. Well, if that was the case, what were you doing when you were in Opposition?
I had a good look at this budget and I know in great detail what I don't like about it and I've stated that here in the House. So I guess it either says that the NDP are incompetent or they just want to switch things around to make it look like they want, for Nova Scotians, and I think we'll let Nova Scotians be the judge. The Progressive Conservatives delivered eight balanced budgets; they're planning to deliver five deficit budgets. So I think when it comes to credibility, we'll let a balanced budget speak for itself, Mr. Chairman.
One of the things the Premier mentioned was that he was left with a spending mess, and the Finance Minister likes to say a structural mess, and I understand that term. I know for many Nova Scotians, if they do not, what that means is that there are things inherent in the budget every year that have to be expended unless there's going to be a transformational change.
Now, what I find interesting is the NDP voted for many of these budgets. From 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, they voted for these budgets; they were in favour of them. Now, they say that a mess was left to them, but they haven't really done anything on the expenditure side with this budget in 2010, Mr. Chairman. Some of the expenses that the Finance Minister named yesterday, they weren't structural expenses, they were one-time expenses. The Premier and the Minister of Finance like to ask me, well, member for Inverness, what would you cut? But I'm not sitting on the government side. (Interruption) I don't have that option and, yes, the Premier says that's a bailout, but when I pose the question to you, you bail out of it. You bail out of it, and I think that's something that's important, it is the biggest thing that's missing out of this budget (Interruptions) Yes, well, you should have, like you can't have it (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
The honourable member for Inverness has the floor.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You can't have it both ways, and for Nova Scotians, if they haven't turned the channel yet, if anybody is listening, I think what this government says is that a mess was created before them, but they don't want to change any of that. They're afraid to point out anything. Now, it took great courage for John Hamm to balance the budget in 2002-03 and that was a good thing, I think we'll all agree. Now, Nova Scotians made sacrifices to balance that budget, but I will say, now that I'm elected in this House, and I'm proud to say, that was the right thing to do. I think that this government has to start looking at the expenditure side of the operating sheet for government and they haven't.
Now, I'm going to make a comment on a couple of other items here. Our revenues are a significant portion of this conversation and there was some concern raised about federal revenues and they make up, I believe it's - I can't remember if it's 40 per cent or 60 per cent of the provincial budget - I would say about 40 per cent of the provincial budget is federal revenues. I met with the federal Minister of Finance a little over a month ago and he indicated to me that federal transfers were at an all-time high and they're going to be stable. So I think that point needs to be made and needs to be put on the books.
Another question I would ask the Premier is, what will he do to change things? He's complaining about the Tories this year. What is he going to do for the next three years? What is he going to do when he goes back to the electorate in four years? Is he going to say the Tories made this mess? He's going to have to accept responsibility. (Interruption) Well, you're not going to clean it up, because you're already telling us you're going to continue to run deficits. That's not good for Nova Scotia. I truly believe that.
Now, we talk about measures that you've done to offset tax increases for people under $30,000. I can see your logic with that, you're trying to protect people, but what are we doing for those very people when we increase the taxes of Nova Scotians? We're making our province less competitive. We're destroying people's incentive to go to work and to earn money. We have increases to the top marginal tax break - and I asked a question here the other day, Mr. Chairman - take physicians, physicians work very hard in this province and, yes, they earn high incomes and sometimes people can't realize why somebody could ever be worth that much money, but these people work hard. They devote a significant portion of their life to their education. They come out, they work long hours, and I'm sure some of them are motivated by the money they earn, and there's nothing wrong with that, but what this NDP Government is doing, they're taxing that. They're creating a disincentive for people to give their life to that cause and that's not good. It's not good for our economy, and it's not good in the business world either.
So we've not seen - and I'm going to check it off my list here, Mr. Chairman - we've not seen anything that this NDP Government is going to do to change things for the better with this budget. I expect - I don't know what they're going to do, they're complaining about the Tories now but they're not doing anything to change the direction of the structural spending in government, and they don't appear to do this over the next four years. They have the power to do it. They're choosing not to do it. If I was sitting over there today, I would do it, and it's as simple as that, and I'm happy this is being put on the record.
AN HON. MEMBER: What would you do?
MR. MACMASTER: What would I do? Well, I haven't heard what you would like to do.
AN HON. MEMBER: You've got to tell the truth.
MR. MACMASTER: I'm trying to tell the truth and, do you know what, I want to raise another point. If I was to put out a budget, perhaps something like that, what would this Opposition do? They would start picking away at this, and then it would become about this and what's wrong with it. Most Nova Scotians aren't going to understand that, but I will tell you, Mr. Chairman, and I will give you my word on this, I went through the numbers in detail - every line item - and I can tell you that this budget could be balanced. It could be very close to being balanced this year.
If I took the approach that I did with this, from the date this government was elected, I think it would be balanced. You can snicker, you can laugh, but I give you my word on that, I've got the numbers and I can back it up. (Interruption) Do you know what, Mr. Premier, I'm glad you asked that, because I want you to tell us what you would cut to change the structural expenditure you say is wrong with government. You have the power right now to change it but you don't have the guts to change it, you're afraid.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. That remark was unparliamentary and I will ask the honourable member to retract that statement, please.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I will retract that statement. I do apologize for letting my emotions - but this is an important issue and what does the Minister of Finance like to say, is it this crew he says when he refers to the people opposite? The NDP, that crew there, that crew over there. You know when John Hamm balanced the budget in 2002-03, and the following year tough decisions were made. They were. (Interruption) Yes, and that's probably why you voted against it. So you can't have it both ways. You were just asking me what would I cut and then you're saying you wouldn't have voted for the Hamm budgets that brought expenditure under control, and then you turn around and say, well, we're not going to make any cuts, and that's evidenced by your budget. So it's travelling in a circle here and it's hard for people to follow but I hope my comments are shedding some light on it for the people at home.
What else do I have here, Mr. Chairman? I want to read a statement that the Premier had said, I'm going to read a portion. This came from the Third Reading of the Financial Measures (2007) Act on the budget. It says here: "So the question is, why then would you vote in favour of it? Although it was a difficult decision, it is difficult for a government to spend almost $500 million in new revenue and not do some positive things." But then he turns around and says he was left with a mess because he doesn't agree with the expenditures the Progressive Conservative Government made before him.
So it's inconsistent thinking, Mr. Chairman, and let's let Nova Scotians decide, let's let Nova Scotians decide if the Premier's word was good in advance of the election, compared to what the actions of his government are today. One thing I want to ask the Premier, I want to give him a chance to answer this question, and I'm probably going to have to hear a lengthy response, but I want him to tell Nova Scotians what his government did to try to balance the budget.
THE PREMIER: I do have a couple of words to say about this. First, of all, I'd just like to deal with some of the assertions that were made by the member for Inverness. I'll start with the first one he started with.
He said, you guys were here, you voted for these budgets, you were the Opposition, surely you knew that this was the difficult position that was building up, if you say they were bad, why did you vote for them? You must have known what the situation is and you're either - I think he said incompetent, or, I can't remember what the alternative was, but it was something equally as bad, I think.
Then he says, I'm here and I know the answers to balancing the budget, but I'm not going to tell you. I'm not going to tell you. It's up to you - because you're the government - to take this. If he really knows what the answer to balancing the budget this year is, then we would surely like to see what he has to offer. The reality is he won't make those kinds of representations because he knows the result would be severe and dramatic cuts to many of the services that people of the province actually need.
I think terminal velocity is something like 32 feet per second and I think the credibility of the member for Inverness was pretty much reaching that by the time he finished his question. I was waiting for the parachute to open and save him, but it didn't. (Interruptions) It is quite right that it is generations to come that will pay for the mess that was left behind by the previous government.
I want to give him just a couple of examples; for one thing, this budget managed, through the expenditure management initiative, to take some $54 million in costs out of the budget. The position that we took with respect to pensions meant that we strengthened the pension plan overall and we took $160 million worth of operating deficit off the books by 2013. We achieved both the reduction in the cost to government and secured the benefits that people expect, that the members of the Public Service negotiated over many years in their collective agreement.
We managed to do both of those things because that is fundamentally, and this is really what it comes down to - he obviously has done some homework in looking back through the years and what people have said. But I don't think he was really here to experience what happened in the early years of the Hamm Government. I was here and I remember the budgets as well and I remember the line-ups of people outside here and the protests. I remember what the government did with legislation - Bill No. 68 - to take away collective bargaining rights, to impose wage settlements, to essentially destroy the relationship between the people who delivered the services in this province and the provincial government.
Well, he's quite right. We have a different view of the way in which this has to operate. We don't believe that you have to come in and take those kinds of actions in order to be able to move the province back to balance. In fact, even through what were difficult contract negotiations over the first nine months of government, we managed to maintain the collective bargaining rights of the working people and to achieve the targets and goals set out by the government.
It's difficult, it takes hard work, it takes an actual belief in the system to make it work, but that's what this government is dedicated to - the notion that you can achieve a balance in your relationship and a balance, ultimately, in the finances of the province. We have laid out a process - and this is what the member for Inverness doesn't want to say - we have laid out a process that, in fact, gets us back to balanced budgets. That is the whole point of this exercise. It is to ensure that, just as the federal government says it's doing, over a much a longer timetable, just as other governments, both in this region and across the country are doing, is they are taking the time that they need in order to be able to get the finances of the province back in order.
Of course, it's a one-sided argument for the member for Inverness because he says, you ought not to raise taxes and therefore what you ought to do is make cuts. He held up a piece of paper and he said, I've gone through it line by line and I could bring this back to budget. I wonder, Mr. Chairman, I sense in his question he obviously referred to that document, in fact, he showed it to the House, I wonder if you wouldn't mind having the member actually table that document because I think this might be the first indication that we actually have that there's some sort of a plan over there from the member for Inverness. While he responds to my request, maybe I'd have an opportunity to actually have a look at that document, I'll await your ruling.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I do believe that the honourable member for Inverness did make reference to that document in his debate, so I would ask that the honourable member for Inverness table that document at his convenience. (Interruptions)
MR. MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, this discussion is about the estimates of the government today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, order please. He's right, the honourable member did not read from the document, did not quote from the document, so the honourable member does not have to table the document. (Interruptions) The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, how much time is left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your time finishes at 2:32 p.m.
MR. MACMASTER: Well, you know, Mr. Chairman, I think this is worthy of some discussion. I think the ideas of the Progressive Conservatives should come out when the people have a chance to make them happen and they certainly will come out. We do our homework, and I put a lot of thought into this and I tell you, I can stand here and give my word to Nova Scotians that this government has not, has absolutely (Interruptions) They probably could, but that would be up to them.
Mr. Chairman, I only have a couple of minutes left here, I have three minutes left. (Interruptions) I do think that this budget is not putting Nova Scotia in the right direction. It has not done anything to address - one significant point that was noted by somebody was that every time we look at government, at the budget, government has always tried to match expenditure to revenue, and I have seen no evidence in this budget of that. If revenues are flat, I've seen no evidence of this government trying to flatten expenses.
What we should be doing in this province is reducing tax; we should be reducing the size of government; we should be growing the private sector in our economy. I have a lot of people back in my home area who are looking for work. I have grandparents who want to see opportunities for their children so that they can see their grandchildren somewhere close to home. This budget does nothing but weaken the economy of this province. I don't want it anymore and I can't wait until this NDP Government is ousted from power so we can start to put the province back on the right track again.
They can laugh, but you know what? Who was it that gave Nova Scotia balanced budgets? Who was it that reintroduced fiscal responsibility for Nova Scotia? His name was John Hamm and I can smile and I can extend my arms proudly in knowing it was a Progressive Conservative who brought Nova Scotia back from 40 years of deficit budgets to balanced budgets and strengthened the economy of this province. We will be back to fight again someday, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
HON. STEPHEN MCNEIL: I'm not quite sure where to start. I'm going to tell you, it was interesting to listen to the Premier and the member for Inverness speak. I had the opportunity in the by-election to campaign against the member. It was a campaign that I heard from door to door that the people of Inverness were very proud of all three candidates who ran for them. I know the people of Inverness could and did believe everything you told them. I know today you can still look them in the eye and tell them you didn't tell them one thing to get their vote and something else after the election campaign.
It has been interesting to listen to the Premier ask the member for Inverness to table a document. So I will go back and ask the Premier, two days ago we asked for some information to be tabled, that he would table the cheque that was issued by the Department of Justice to pay for his legal fees, that he would table some contractual information around the increase in salaries of the EAs. I'm wondering if he has tabled that or if that information is available for us today?
THE PREMIER: No, I haven't had an opportunity to pursue the first, we'll make sure we get to that in due course. I'll ask the officials to have a look for them.
With respect to the contract information, I can tell you what that is about. Initially, the EAs were brought on as a casual basis and their amounts were to be determined and the scale set at a later date. The increases reflect the later amounts that were determined to be the appropriate scale for the EAs. I'm sure the member understands that is the function of transition, to bring on staff and to look at where they're going to fall over time.
MR. MCNEIL: I appreciate that and look forward to the remaining information being tabled. I know the Minister of Justice referenced it in the Justice Estimates so it shouldn't be that difficult for the department to be able to find that and we should have that before we finish debate, I hope, here in the House.
You referenced at the opening of your talk at the beginning of your estimates, around the 1 per cent reduction in government spending. I know during the Justice Estimates, the Minister of Justice tabled where the 1 per cent reduction, the reductions to his department were line by line. Would you table for us the reductions that happened across government department by department?
THE PREMIER: Well, I'm here, of course, to answer to the estimates of the Premier's Office, not the other estimates. He can have the opportunity to ask the other ministers for theirs. I'm happy to ask my officials with respect to the ministries that I'm responsible for. I'm not sure what the Minister of Justice said, that's one of the problems with the manner in which the member frames his questions. He refers to things which I don't actually have knowledge of, so I'll see what it was that the Minister of Justice actually responded to and take the opportunity to provide you, in due course, with the answers with respect to my particular estimates. Of course, I also have, not just the Premier's Office, I also have the Office for Intergovernmental Affairs. I also have the Office of Aboriginal Affairs. I'm also responsible for Military Relations, so I'm pleased to deal with those.
MR. MCNEIL: I find it hard to believe that the Premier is not willing to put on the table, and table for the people of Nova Scotia, where the reductions took place in government. You said there was going to be a 1 per cent reduction, the Minister of Justice laid it on the table. You're in charge of the entire government; those people work for you who sit on the front bench; you're there; you oversee government. It was laid out very easily, he took one page, Estimate Reductions 2010-11 and tabled it. Why would you be unwilling to do that? You're in charge of the government, the decisions that were made were made by you.
This goes back to Question Period. When we started debating the silly idea of whether or not people who have committed to wanting to solve a problem in southwestern Nova Scotia should have their names in public. They come forward to be part of the solution and you're sitting here being - this is a silly debate. Why don't you put it out there? Explain to the people of the province why you're unwilling to tell them, department by department, what the reductions were.
THE PREMIER: Mr. Chairman, when I'm called to respond to the estimates for the Premier's Office and for the departments for which I'm responsible for, that is what I'm prepared to respond to. It is, in fact, the Opposition Parties who decide who is going to be here in the main Chamber. In this case, I'm here to answer to these particular estimates and he's referenced other issues in the House. The reality is that what the minister actually said in the House of Assembly was that he wanted to make sure that in releasing the names and the organizations who are participating, that they were comfortable with those names being released. I don't see anything untoward or inappropriate with that. In fact, it seems to me to be exactly what those people would expect.
The member knows that the function of estimates is to bring the individual ministers from the departments before the House of Assembly so that they have the opportunity to speak directly to their estimates. Well, that's why I'm here. Now, there are other ministers who are here who are waiting for the opportunity to be able to respond, but the members of the Opposition, for whatever reason, have decided that they're either not interested in the estimates of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the Department of Education. (Interruptions) He's quite right, this is a silly debate yet it is he who is asking the questions.
What we are left with is a big challenge, and he congratulates the member for Inverness and he says, I'm sure that you're able to look the people of your riding in the eye and yet you told them something during the campaign. I'll tell you something, I'm proud to go around this province as the Leader of the Government of Nova Scotia and the Leader of my Party, and I tell them forthrightly that we kept every single commitment we made in the first year of our government just as we said we would, that we took the HST off home electricity, that we took in the current year (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Order, please.
THE PREMIER: . . . what we found and what we saw as a result of what happened in the previous government. What we are going to do is we are going to bring the province back into balance, over the course of time. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Order, please.
The honourable Premier has the floor.
THE PREMIER: We're going to bring the province's finances back into balance in a reasonable fashion. (Interruptions) He says on the one hand - I can hear the members from across, unfortunately, I can hear them from across the floor because they harp about decisions made in Yarmouth. Well, the reality is there was an unsustainable service in Yarmouth and what we are doing is taking that money and ensuring that we invest in strengthening southwestern Nova Scotia. I mean that is part of the problem. These are exactly the kinds of decisions, made by the previous government, that put us in the position that we're in now - they're unsustainable. You cannot continue in the short term to pour money into things that are failing and cannot be sustained.
They say on the one hand, why aren't you cutting the expenses of government? What they really mean is, of course, why aren't you cutting the jobs of the people in the Public Service? Why aren't you cutting the nurses? Why aren't you cutting the teachers? Why aren't you cutting the people who deliver the front-line services to the Province of Nova Scotia? That is what they are really saying, Mr. Chairman. It's not rhetoric, it's real, and I was here during 2002-03 and I saw the effects of those budgets. They didn't do them on the basis of layoffs, they didn't do them on the basis of attrition. They went into departments, they cut people, they rolled back wages, they destroyed the collective bargaining process, and I want to tell you it was a very difficult time in the history of this province. Just compare that, compare that (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.
THE PREMIER: Just compare that to the manner in which we have approached the management of the finances of the province and the Government of Nova Scotia. We came in and said we are going to respect the rights of our Public Service, we'll work with them, we're going to make sure that we are bargaining in good faith. They know what the objectives of the government are and they know that we have to be able to bring the finances of the province back into balance.
Well, you know, Mr. Chairman, that is exactly what we intend to do. When we got elected, we said there would be a new home rebate. The members opposite were extremely critical of it and yet it was enthusiastically endorsed by Nova Scotians. In fact, they took up the offer and what they did was they reinvested. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
The honourable Premier has the floor.
THE PREMIER: I think you've been told. The people of Nova Scotia enthusiastically endorsed what it was that the province was doing and, in fact, exhausted the entire amount of the program. Mr. Chairman, they took us at our word that we would do away with the practice of deposits for seniors in long-term care facilities and we did that just exactly as we said we would do. We said that what we would do is set a new renewable energy standard, which we did, and which has been enthusiastically applauded not just in this country but has been noticed throughout the environmental world.
Mr. Chairman, the reality is that he can go through the checklist of things that we said we would do in the current year, we did as we said we would, and I think, you know, my government and our caucus have every reason to be proud of the things that we have been accomplishing. Because fundamentally if, as the member says, and if, as the member for Inverness said, if you really want young people to stay in this province, then you've got to get the finances of the province back under control. You've got to make sure that this is a place that they want to live. If you cut jobs, if you cut and take money out of the economy, that does not strengthen the economy. That weakens the economy.
In fact, that is exactly the philosophical and economical principle that the federal government was focusing on with the stimulus package. It was not to take money out of the economy at a time when the world was slipping into recession.
What the members who say that you should be cutting jobs and you should be cutting services are essentially saying is that you are prepared to go down the road toward actually weakening the economy of the province by removing money out of the economy. We happen to be fortunate here in the province because over and above the money we invest in services, we also happen to be the regional centre for the federal government. So we end up with a lot of reasonably paying federal government jobs that put money into our economy.
We are also the home of the Navy. We have more Armed Forces personnel in this province than any other province in Canada. That is an extraordinary benefit to the province. I don't know if the Leader of the Official Opposition has had the opportunity or not to read Mr. Moreira's book, Backwater: Nova Scotia's Economic Decline, in which he talks about the province and what he sees as some of the economic challenges. One of the things he talks about is the level of government spans. (Interruptions) Yes, I have. He looks at (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. Order, please.
THE PREMIER: He actually sees it as a negative thing, he actually talks about the fact that there's government spending in the region as a negative. He says too much of the economy is based on government spending without seeming to understand the complex nature of the manner in which that spending takes place in this particular region.
Now, on the one hand the Leader of the Official Opposition says you cancelled the tax review and on the other hand he says, no, you're carrying out a tax review but you're hiding behind it because it's being somehow done in secret. What he doesn't seem to understand is that the Department of Finance is always looking at the tax system, is always looking at the manner in which the people of the province are being affected by the level of taxation. That is exactly why we took the measures that we took to protect the people in the province with respect to the increase in the HST.
We specifically decided to bring in the Poverty Reduction Credit, we brought in the Affordable Living Tax Credit to ensure the poorest people in our province actually benefited from this budget rather than were worse off. The people of the province who fall in those categories are going to have more money in their pockets, they're going to be better off as a result of this budget. Taking the tax off children's clothing, taking the tax off electricity - who would benefit the most from those? They would be families of modest and poor levels of income for whom those particular commodities make up a larger part of their income. Those are the people who are going to benefit.
Another group who are going to benefit from this budget are seniors who receive the Guaranteed Income Supplement because we changed the tax rules so they will no longer pay income tax if they receive the GIS. (Applause) In addition, they will qualify for the Affordable Living Tax Credit. They will end up with more money in their pockets.
Of course we're concerned about the levels of taxation. But we are concerned about the level of fairness in the manner in which taxation takes place. I have to tell you, we know taxation is not going to go away any time soon. We know that the taxation that we have in the province makes up the broad envelope which is the common wealth of our province. It is with that financial envelope, that we are currently discussing in these estimates, that we seek to provide the very services the people of the province need.
This is what strengthens the hospital system; this is what strengthens the very emergency service that I believe the member for Annapolis is very concerned about, and he should be. He should be concerned about the emergency services around the province because the reality is they are facing great challenges from one end of the province to the other.
It is with the grant of Supply that we are able to address issues just like that. It is why, for example, we hired the emergency room advisor, a commitment which we made during the election campaign. If we hadn't hired Dr. Ross to carry out the examination of the emergency room system, what is it that the member would be saying right now? He would be saying, why didn't you keep your commitment to hire an emergency room advisor? Well we did, and he has come back with an interim report. He's looking for the manner in which we can strengthen that system and provide the services that people need in their communities, when they need them.
That is the function of government; that is the challenge that we took on in government; that is how we respond to the budget challenges that we have. We've done the same in education. We recognize that the university sector makes up a large portion of the budget of the province, and we understand that there were pre-payments by way of a memorandum of understanding that said that there was an amount of money - I believe it's $360 million - that's paid out to the university sector. We know there is great value in that money when it goes out the door into universities because it supports the young people of the province.
We also know that there has to be an opportunity for us to sit down with the management of the universities, with the university presidents, and have a conversation with them about the future direction of universities in the province and how they can maximize their relationship to the government and to the economy of Nova Scotia. That is the job that Dr. Tim O'Neill is currently engaged in and I understand that. (Interruption)
I think the Leader of the Official Opposition wasn't paying attention when I moved from the emergency system into the universities. He says, I'm right, he wasn't paying attention, which is somewhat disturbing considering these are the estimates of my office.
Dr. O'Neill is doing that work with the university sector to try and ensure that what we are getting out of the university sector is best value for the province as a whole, for the economy. I believe, and think that this is the practicality of those engagements, is that they are finding that the universities very much want to be part of the solution to the difficult challenges that face the province. I for one am very proud of the work that's taking place because it's part of the commitment that we made as a government to get ourselves back on the appropriate financial path. Those are just a few of my thoughts on that and I know that the Leader of the Official Opposition has additional questions.
MR. MCNEIL: Mr. Chairman, I wouldn't mind getting an answer and perhaps a truthful one at some point. I have listened to the Premier stand in this House and say, just a few minutes ago, he kept every commitment to the people of Nova Scotia that he made. You promised them a balanced budget, you haven't kept it. You promised them no tax increase, promised a self-managed care program for seniors, and they haven't seen it in year one, and yet you stand in the House and you tell them you kept every commitment knowing full well you haven't.
This is very much like the campaign. I mean, you spend more time looking for someone to hide behind than standing in front of the people, being up front with them. Is that too much to ask of the person who is in charge of the Province of Nova Scotia? (Interruption) You're not. You sit here in the House, you kept every commitment you made to the people and you didn't. The current year was a balanced budget, the current year was no tax increase, the current year was a self-managed care program, (Interruption) which hasn't been kept. (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please.
MR. MCNEIL: The Minister of Health is suggesting I read the platform. We've read the platform, all Nova Scotians have, and they're talking about it quite loudly which is interesting. The other interesting thing, I hear the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island. (Interruption) He might get there some day, maybe, I don't know.
It's interesting to listen and talk, as Dr. Ross is travelling around the province talking about emergency rooms, all Nova Scotians know the challenge of the emergency rooms. It's this government that said they're going to keep them open 24/7. What the district health authorities have been doing, and particularly the one I live in and I'm sure all across the province, is they have been working with their hospitals trying to determine how they can best redirect those Nova Scotians who are going to emergency rooms for basic health care and coming up with great solutions. But instead, they're getting at the same time, Dr. Ross coming into those communities creating great anxiety. We know what the problems are with the emergency rooms. We know what the problems are. (Interruptions)
I'm hearing the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island again saying, what, that's exactly what I'm telling you. When you come to the riding of Annapolis, there has been a great public outcry because of the uncertainty. Is this another commitment the government is backing away from? I mean at the same time the health authority in the Annapolis Valley was coming in to look for solutions about how do we redirect those patients who shouldn't be coming through an emergency room there are patients coming to have prescriptions filled and they're trying to find those solutions. For the Premier to stand in the House today and say that he has kept every promise he has made is simply not true, it's simply not true. (Interruptions)
So you didn't say you were going to balance the budget? There isn't a single Nova Scotian, there isn't anyone in the Province of Nova Scotia who figures out where you're coming from when you say that. You said you were going to live within your means and balance your budget and you haven't. You said you weren't going to raise taxes and you have and from day one, instead of governing, you're looking for someone to get behind and hide. I don't think that's the new thing Nova Scotia was looking for, the new way of governing. Stand up, be counted. You told them one thing and you're doing another. Explain to them why you backed away but don't go saying we kept all of our commitments because you haven't. The people sitting behind you know that and the people sitting in those other seats know that. To say to the people you've kept them - you know you haven't.
Mr. Chairman, it's interesting when listening to the Premier go on about funding to universities and the prepayment, that was never talked about during the election campaign. The previous government, which you were a member of, prepaid out of a surplus. They didn't borrow money, they paid it out of surplus. What we did, as a province, what your government did, was go against the advice you got from Deloitte which said do not prepay. So you went against it and paid $100,000 for advice you didn't want to take. I think Nova Scotians deserve an explanation. The explanation is it was political. You were doing it to try to blame it on the previous government because it was a decision they made. Well, they made lots of decisions that have costs going forward. Are we going to just back them all up and prepay them all? It's a silly notion. You know that and to stand in this House again and tell Nova Scotians that you've kept every commitment you made during the election campaign is not accurate and you know it.
Mr. Chairman, we've got an economic panel. I spoke about it in the beginning and I was hoping to get an opportunity to have an exchange with the Premier on questions. But, obviously, some of his staff must have pumped him up, patted him on the back before he came over, so he would come over as more eloquent and go on about the stuff instead of answering the questions that people had put before him. You know, we were looking for - where is the written policy that he quoted in this House many times, to pay for his Barristers' Society fees? Where's the policy that says we pay for the moving of political staff? There isn't one. There's one that says we pay for civil servants. We believe there isn't one that says we pay for political staff and yet instead you go on and get a chance and get your cheering crowd behind you and they'll stand up and they'll clap for you at the right time - people in the gallery will be good, but Nova Scotians won't get an answer and the answers they've got right now were misleading when you said you kept every commitment to the people of this province because you didn't and those are the facts. Read your own platform - those are the facts.
Mr. Chairman, it will be interesting to know when the economic panel was put together what were the costs of that panel? Were those members paid? Was there a stipend? Were they paid just expenses, you know, what was the arrangement made with the members of the economic panel? I know we have paid Deloitte approximately $100,000. We're paying Dr. Ross, as well, to go around and get the information that we already know. Health authorities could give that to the Minister of Health now but it would be tough to hide behind a health authority. You need someone else in front to hide behind and that's probably what we're going to get for the Dr. Ross report, is someone else to fall in behind.
I've listened to the Premier talk today about trying to improve the economy of the Province of Nova Scotia and one of the first decisions his government makes is to cut The Cat service, to cut the ferry service between Nova Scotia and Maine, the international link. I would say, Mr. Chairman, and I've said in this House and the Premier has referenced it, to many members in this House I said, and the region of southwestern Nova Scotia recognized The Cat ferry service wasn't the appropriate vessel. What they looked for though is an extra year to go forward.
Instead what we have now is a spat between the federal and provincial governments about who is going to try to take credit to fix it. We have two groups that somehow overlap, no one is allowed to say who sits on them, to solve the problem of the job losses in southwestern Nova Scotia. That doesn't sound like governing. It doesn't sound like governing. It sounds like trying to win a political war with their federal counterparts. You've got the federal government wanting to lead the show and you've got the province wanting to lead the show instead of focusing on the people of Yarmouth and southwestern Nova Scotia.
During these discussions, to a person who lives in southwestern Nova Scotia, the cut to that ferry service not only impacts Yarmouth, it impacts the entire southwestern Nova Scotia and the economy of this province. So to have two organizations trying to find the solution just simply doesn't make sense. We talk about co-operation. Why is it that two levels of government can't co-operate together with the municipalities to find a solution to this - because everyone is looking for their own political reward, I guess you would say. They want to be able to say we were the champions of this.
Mr. Chairman, I think, quite frankly, that if the work is done and gets done right, everyone will get credit - both provincial, federal and municipal governments. They won't ask who led it. They'll congratulate all of those involved to finding the solution. It's why the names have not been brought forward to the House from men and women who have committed to stepping up because they want to be part of the solution. They want to help solve the problem and how do we rebuild the economy of southwestern Nova Scotia but instead they're finding themselves in the middle of a spat between the federal and provincial governments about which one is going to get the credit.
We're sitting here today and the Premier is talking about commitments he didn't keep and yet when we ask him to table the 1 per cent reduction, which was a commitment across department by department, he's unwilling to do it. He asked the member for Inverness what he was hiding from when he wouldn't table a document. I guess the question could be asked to the Premier, what are you hiding from? Why didn't you want to put out in front of the people of the province the cuts you made, the reductions you made? You believed in them. You said during the campaign you were going to do that. That's one commitment that we think you've kept, we think you've kept, and we would like to see it.
So I would encourage you to think about that and lay out to the people of the province where those cuts were and if you believed in them and it's important, you can defend them. The Minister of Justice put them out, we thought it would be appropriate for the Leader of the government, the Premier of our province to be able to do that across government. It is, I would hope, part of your mandate. You're the Premier, hopefully you're leading this organization. So you would put that information out.
Today, when we were talking about southwestern Nova Scotia, you referred to the previous government's challenges and the organization they created to fix the problems of the economy of southwestern Nova Scotia. I'm not sure what organization that was you were referring to. As a person who lives there, it has always been the citizens of that region - like every other region in this province - that will have the solution. What they look for, more often than not, is a partner, somebody willing to work with them.
In this case, they're caught in the middle of a spat between your government and the federal government about who's going to take credit for what. In actual fact, nothing's happening, other than the tourism season is approaching and many of them recognize this will be the worst year for their business in its history - if they actually get an opportunity to open and provide service to the people who come here. All because of a reckless decision, one that was made to cancel the ferry service from Yarmouth to Maine.
It was interesting when the Premier talked about commitments that he hasn't kept in the self-managed care program. It's one I know the member for Richmond has talked about a great deal. There was a program in place by the former Liberal Government that was cancelled by the John Hamm Government, and then was reinstated by the MacDonald Government more recently. One that this government criticized quite a bit, but now has embraced as being their program.
It is interesting to note that this NDP Government is becoming the most expensive experiment Nova Scotians have ever undertaken. When you look at their first budget, almost $0.5 billion in debt, decisions made that were not actually told during the campaign. The Premier waves around and actually is quite critical of my platform, one that was fully costed, cost about $0.5 million over a four-year period. The Premier spent that in three months. But he forgot to give the details during the election campaign - $80 million on land. Premier, I believe most Nova Scotians would like us to own more land, just not when you put it into the equation of buying that land with increased taxes. We're going to raise your taxes so we can buy more land.
That would be an interesting question for Nova Scotians to get the answer to. I would daresay they would say no. I'm pretty sure they'd say no. As a matter of fact, I'm hearing it quite a bit as I travel. When I go around and people say, didn't the report the Premier commissioned say don't prepay bills? It did, but that part the Premier leaves out. They say, didn't the Premier promise to balance his budget? He did, yes. Now he's saying he kept that promise, but we're still in deficit. Didn't he say he was not going to raise taxes? Yes, he did. Did he not say there would be no program cuts? Yes, he did. Did he say there was going to be a 1 per cent reduction? Yes, he did and he kept that, I think, we're not sure yet because the information has not been tabled. It would be interesting to get a chance to see that at the time.
As I said earlier, it's becoming quite obvious that this New Democratic Government is the most expensive experiment the people of our province have ever undertaken, when it comes to this. I listened to the Premier talk about some changes to pension plans in the province, and the day the budget was introduced there were some small details there that were put out. It seemed reasonable, people looked at it, but as they started digging into this, there is some great concern that changes will be made to, you know - when people retired in this province, they retired believing this would be their pension. That may not be the case.
I'm sure some of them who have retired more recently may want their jobs back. Are they going to have them? Because they made a deal with the Province of Nova Scotia that, quite frankly, I'm going to retire based on this being the level of income that I'll have to look after myself into my retirement years. Well, that's changing on them, so should they come back to work? If they want their jobs back, are they going to receive them? These are all simple questions, because they left under certain conditions, with commitments made by a government that are being broken. So, you know, they may say, listen, I'm going to work a little bit longer. They might want their job back to actually work longer to invest in their pension plan knowing now there are changes. Are they going to get that opportunity?
It's one thing for those of us who are still working to have benefits change, but when someone goes into retirement, you make decisions based on what your level of income is going to be, and you do that in good faith. Now there's grave concern about that, and it's a legitimate concern. The Premier says, what would you do with the unfunded liability? Well, Premier, that's not understanding the anxiety people are feeling. That's not understanding the anxiety that those people who have retired, thinking their level of income would be here, coming now to be quite concerned about it. Parts of those changes are, quite frankly, moving decisions away from being open and transparent, if you look at it. Those decisions could be made very quickly, major changes to those plans could be made without coming here, could be done, not in an open and transparent way, but in one of the boardrooms.
Nova Scotians are nervous about that and they have a right to be. These aren't Nova Scotians who are fear-mongering or anything, they have legitimate concerns about their pension plan and their retirement, and they're ones that, I think, Nova Scotians are looking for an answer for, you know, to throw out the good pieces to it, and not lay out the full details, is not sincere. It's not a way to engage the members of those pension plans to have a positive solution to the challenges facing the province.
There isn't a single member of the pension plan who doesn't believe things have to change, not a single member, but they want it to be in an open and transparent way. They're very concerned about changes, and particularly for retired members. What happens to their retirement fund? What happens if this goes through and gives government and the actuaries the ability to make changes without coming out and having it fully debated?
Those are legitimate questions and for a government that talked about being open and transparent, that is not what those retirees are seeing. I don't believe it's too much to ask to have that debate here, to make sure those changes, when they're going to be, come to the House. I know that I look forward to further having that conversation here in the House about how we're going to protect the retirement of so many Nova Scotians and then make sure that fund, and that retirement package, gets back to where it's being able to support itself. I'll reiterate, there isn't a single member of the fund that doesn't believe things should have to change, but they're very concerned about the changes that are taking place, particularly those that are going to affect retired members already, and the changes that are going to allow this to operate, really in secrecy, and not in an open way for an honest debate here in the House.
I know what the intent was, but I do believe it is one that I hope government is revisiting, looking at in terms of some of the changes that will really affect the retirement of many Nova Scotians.
I'm hearing from people who have retired recently and now they're thinking, if they had known this was happening, I would have continued to work longer. It's a legitimate statement by them. If they had known the retirement package they thought they were going to receive was not going to be there for them, then they would have continued to work and provide good service to the people of our province.
I hope that as we begin to further debate this issue, members of the government side recognize the concern that those retirees have, and I hope that we get an opportunity to hear from those retirees on this issue, because they put a human face to it and they can tell us what the challenges are that they will be faced with in retirement.
I don't think it's too much to ask for people who work for an organization to be able to believe what the organization is telling them, as it goes forward. I think that's how we've always operated, and I think it's the way we should continue to operate. They are prepared to help find solutions as long as those solutions are not to the detriment of them. I'm sure many of them would have accepted these changes but continued to work, as opposed to retirement and then finding themselves being told these changes will have a huge impact on their lifestyle going forward.
I know I've given the Premier a few things to think about. Hopefully he may answer one of those, at some point. I'll ask again, and I hope the Premier will table the policy that says where government should be paying for the moving of political staff, as well as, was it the Premier who authorized that? Was it the Deputy Premier? Was it his chief of staff? Letting us know who authorized that and as the Premier and I have talked about, this person, Shauna Martin who has come to work for him, she was here during the election campaign prior to that, the Premier said they moved her here in August, which is accurate, it's when her stuff arrived. But she was here prior to that and she was working in your office, we've confirmed that in Question Period.
It would be interesting to know the date she actually arrived in the Province of Nova Scotia and began to work for your Party in the caucus office. She was seconded from the caucus office, she obviously had to come from there to government otherwise, if she was just coming from out West, she would have gone directly into your office. You seconded her from there. I do look forward to, sometime, hopefully, getting an answer to that question. It is important that Nova Scotians get a sense that this is all aboveboard, that it is accurate.
If your Party is hiring someone, your Party would actually pay for the move and not the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. It is important to know when she arrived and what she was doing in your office, as opposed to what we're hearing when we moved her here, it was in August, which is not accurate. Even if you follow back your own response, earlier you had said she was here prior to that. She officially came here and accepted a job. (Interruptions) No question about it Premier, you also - she works for the Premier. She was working for the New Democratic Party, here, before you brought her into office.
There were a number of other people who were moved in. There was someone who had moved in from New Brunswick, did we pay for her moving expenses as well? Are there other political people who you moved into the Province of Nova Scotia from outside our province? Have we paid for other moving expenses? Is this the only political (Interruptions)
Mr. Premier, it goes back to, if the Premier needs to know - I think $10,000 in legal fees over three years is an important question, too, we shouldn't be paying. I think travelling, paying for mileage, I think travel is an important thing. I think if you're paying for a political move that the people of Nova Scotia should know about it. I don't think it is a trivial thing. We haven't moved political staff, you don't move political staff. She doesn't have a civil service contract, she is not a member of the civil service. Nova Scotians are reasonable people, they'll understand that they have helped pay for the move of a civil servant, as a matter of fact, there was one in Justice that moved from Yarmouth to Halifax, we paid for that. I think Nova Scotians probably think that would be reasonable. But to pay for someone to come in, a political appointment of yours to come in from Manitoba and pay for it, I don't know if they would find that reasonable.
All I asked was, are there other ones? It is a question of how you are spending money. I don't think Nova Scotians think that is unreasonable. This is the estimates. After you lectured the member for Inverness on where savings are going to be, there was probably $10,000, you can add that up.
So I think it is important that Nova Scotians get an open and transparent view of how you're spending the money. Why would that be unreasonable? Why would it be unreasonable for you to justify and say why you believe it is appropriate to spend $10,000? Why do you think it would be inappropriate for you to tell Nova Scotians why you spent $10,000 to move a political staffer? I don't think it would be. (Interruptions)
I'll take my chair at the appropriate time. It is interesting. (Interruption) I hear the member for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, he has a lot to say, Premier. You must have pumped him up before he came over here, did you, to be a cheerleader behind you? Was that what you did? You gave him the old Rah! Rah! Rah! and said maybe next time he will be one of the 12. Is that what you said to him? (Interruptions) No, no. (Interruptions)
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to be able to have this conversation with the most expensive experiment the people of Nova Scotia have ever had. As we go forward, I'm sure Nova Scotians will be hoping, at some point, to get an answer, something that they can count on. It is interesting, they say they kept every commitment, the balanced budget commitment, I guess, wasn't one that was written down. I guess the no tax increase wasn't written down. I guess no cuts to programs wasn't written down. Those were commitments that people in the province, I think, believed that the government was going to keep.
It is interesting to note that the Premier has said every commitment he has kept. Well, so far, he has two deficit budgets, the first one he brought in, and now this one, and it looks like we're on track for at least three more deficits to allow, I guess, a future generation to pay for it, to allow those who don't really have a voice right now to pay for it, because those who had a voice actually took you up on your commitment of a balanced budget and instead it was four years and it looks as if the only one that might be balanced would be the one just prior to going to the polls again.
The four or five that will happen in between will all be in deficit, and those who aren't in this debate and don't have a voice, will end up paying for it. What is interesting is many of those who don't have a voice now won't have an opportunity to be here, because we are so uncompetitive now. The Premier talked about his tax review. Well, the tax review for a Premier who preached in his campaign to be open and transparent, what did he do when he became Premier? He cancelled the parts of the tax review that were going invite the public in, the parts that were going to be open, parts that where going to lay it out for people, because why? (Interruptions) The Premier is talking about being open and transparent, I can't imagine there is a single Nova Scotian that is still buying that song.
Mr. Chairman, when I look at the fact of where we fit, not in Atlantic Canada but in Canada when it comes to taxes, we aren't competitive. We're uncompetitive with personal income tax, which was just made worse by this budget. We're uncompetitive when it comes to us having the highest consumption tax in Atlantic Canada. I hear the Premier is looking for advice, get some quick, because the numbers don't lie. We have one of the highest basic personal income tax in the country and one of the lowest basic personal exemptions. (Interruption) Yes, you're the Premier.
Nova Scotians are looking for some solutions, and instead what they got was broken promises. They got an increase of 15 per cent. Remember the idea, during the election campaign, that we were going to create a new zone in Amherst, we were going to change the tax rate in Amherst to fix the problem with the New Brunswick border, to create a problem internally? Remember that idea?
When you think about it now, it is kind of funny. It is kind of amusing when you think about it. That is what we've said to the people of Amherst, we're going to fix your problem. Because what we're going to do is create a new zone for gasoline on the border. We're going to move that problem internally into our province. But instead of fixing that, we go to the URB and get them to say, listen, that really wasn't a good idea and perhaps you might want to rethink that. And the Premier, lo and behold, had a change of heart. But then what he did, what he has done, he has gone and increased the HST, not only is gas going up but so is very other item.
Children's clothing is going down, that's correct. Mr. Premier, you're right. That's one item Nova Scotians won't be crossing the border to buy. But they'll be crossing the border, Mr. Premier, to not only buy gas but to buy other items that they require to live. So, in actual fact, instead of doing what you said, instead of doing what you promised to the people of Amherst in the election campaign, you actually have done the exact opposite.
Not only have you not dealt with the issue of gasoline, but you made other issues a bigger problem with the increase of the HST. (Interruption) Well, I hear the member behind you, Premier, who has a lot to say, wait for the next New Brunswick budget. I'm actually focused on Nova Scotia, I would hope that you would be, and the Premier would be. So in actual fact we're not competitive. We're not competitive. That's the reality, and instead of dealing with that issue in an open way, and having a comprehensive tax review in the province, what we have done is now moved it internally, away from public scrutiny and without public input. Why would we do that?
You came to power talking about being open and transparent. Why is it so wrong to have that debate in public? There are a lot of smart Nova Scotians, Mr. Premier, who would like to participate in that debate. People who have expertise in tax law, people who have expertise in how this is going to affect the economy of our province. Mr. Premier, you have people across the street in the Department of Finance who would like to have an open debate, who recognize how uncompetitive we are. That was one of the things that you talked about during the election campaign, was being open and transparent. So here is a wonderful opportunity to do that. Not only would we be open and transparent and you can say that you did that for the people of Nova Scotia, but you actually might get results that will allow you to deal with our uncompetitiveness in terms of taxation.
Wouldn't that be a positive thing for the economy of Nova Scotia? Create jobs, allow Nova Scotians to stay here, work here. Looking for an opportunity at some point perhaps you would explain to the people of Nova Scotia how many people actually got a job with your home rebate program? How many? I think the answer might surprise you. Zero. You gave a rebate for housing stock, Premier, you gave a rebate for housing stock. That is what you did. It was a reward for the Nova Scotia Home Builders for patting you on the back. It was a reward, that's it. There were no jobs being created. (Interruptions) Give us the evidence. I would ask you to table it, but we've asked you for other things to be tabled and we're still waiting for that. So, at some point when you table the first stuff, if you could just table the evidence that those jobs were created in the Province of Nova Scotia. We very much would appreciate that. It has been a pleasure to have a conversation with you today.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The honourable member's time has expired.
The honourable member for Cape Breton North.
HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, thank you and I'm pleased to come back and resume here in estimates. I couldn't help but notice that the last time when I was sharing my time with the member for Inverness, the Premier could not help but note that the member for Cape Breton North had a statement rather than a question but then I come to find out, in an answer to a question from the member who has many questions, the Premier decides to take 40 minutes and lecture him. So we'll take all the time we need here in the Chamber and maybe, just maybe, at some point, we could get the facts and the truth brought forward. I will be sharing my time with the member for Cumberland South for this next hour.
Maybe to start first because I know the Premier was referencing this, this most extensive, in the history of the Province of Nova Scotia, the dog and pony show of the Finance Minister with his Back to Balance and what Nova Scotians are now realizing they hope it will be back to reality by this government. Can the Premier tell this committee what exactly formulated the basis for saying that it is the most extensive and indeed if it was open and transparent?
THE PREMIER: Well, Mr. Chairman, I know that the member opposite has been in this House for quite a while. He has certainly witnessed many budgets that came down when he was in the Executive Council and in the House, which had very little or only closed door sessions with people prior to the budget. We adopted a much different approach. We invited people to submit their written comments, either through the Web site or to an address that was provided to them so that we could have input from people right across the province. In fact, if there were Nova Scotians who happened to be working outside the province but who still wanted to comment on the government's initiative in the upcoming budget they could do that. In fact, over 1,000 people took the opportunity to provide advice.
In addition, the Minister of Finance himself, he didn't send officials or other people out to this, he went himself, to 19 communities around the province. Carried out the presentation himself. He made a commitment that he would be the first person in the room to set up the room, make the presentation and that he would stay as long as people wanted to talk to him, and he did, to make sure that there was an open opportunity for people to meet with the Minister of Finance for the purposes of discussing the budget of the Province of Nova Scotia. He started off in Whitney Pier, a community that I don't think has ever seen a budget consultation, maybe I'm wrong, maybe the former minister can point to a time in the past when it was done, but I don't think so. The member representing that area couldn't remember a consultation that took place in Whitney Pier.
He had meetings in Port Hawkesbury, Bridgewater, Antigonish, Stellarton, Dartmouth North, Eastern Passage, Kentville, Wolfville, an Acadian session via video conference, Lower Sackville, Liverpool, Yarmouth, Truro, Amherst, Digby, Tantallon, Halifax, Sheet Harbour; so, around the province, touching in every area and making sure that he went into communities where these people may not have had an opportunity in the past to actually participate in the budget process.
The purpose of this was to have public dialogue sessions, to inform Nova Scotians about the situation that the province found itself in and to ask them for their priorities on how they got back to balance, for their priorities. They were designed, there was a facilitator, there was assistance there. In addition to these consultations - and this is what I think is amusing, because I think it was the Leader of the Opposition but also the various members of the Third Party talked about the CFIB and not attending a meeting put on by the CFIB - the interesting thing about that is that the Minister of Finance received the invitation to go to the CFIB meeting from the representative of the CFIB while they were consulting with them on the budget. Now, how can anyone say they didn't consult when that was exactly the point in time when they extended what was then an additional invitation to meet?
These consultations took place with a broad range of groups. There were business groups; there were community groups; there were labour groups; there was a full opportunity for the people of the province to engage, like they have never been asked before, on issues associated with the finances of this province. I think what we are finding, of course, is it has been a very successful budget; it has met the needs of the people of Nova Scotia; it has managed to accomplish - and the member may not think this, but we do hear from an awful lot of people. We hear from people who are engaged in finance and business and people who are involved in seniors' organizations. They all say the same thing, they all say, yes, this was a tough budget, yes, it meant difficult choices, but it was fair. It achieved what had to be done in this year and it was, and is, the right budget and a good budget for the people of this province.
I think the Minister of Finance has every reason to be proud of the things that he has undertaken, the consultation he has undertaken, and who has, through this budget, put us on a path back to financial health.
It is very much like setting a course for a number of years forward. There's an old story, I don't know if the member knows this but there was a time that before a ship left port they would have to have a medical professional come on board the ship and inspect the crew. They would issue a document that was called the clean bill of health. That's actually where the expression, clean bill of health, comes from. You couldn't get into another port, they wouldn't allow you alongside a berth if you didn't have a clean bill of health from the previous port that you'd been in. That's where that expression comes from. Well, this is very much like that, this is ensuring that we have what we need as we leave the current fiscal situation and make our way back to financial health, that's very much what this budget is like.
I said to the Leader of the Official Opposition, we kept every commitment that we made in the current year. Of course, he knows that the platform - which he talked about us deriding his platform - I remember members of the Opposition dismissing it as a pamphlet and being outraged about the simplicity with which we approached it. In fact, at one point in time they actually said that we couldn't be serious because we weren't spending enough, we weren't spending enough in this budget, in this platform in order to be a realistic plan to go forward. Yet we knew that there were significant difficulties.
The member for Annapolis also knows that the manner in which that was set out was the current year . In fact, last year was the year that we came in, this year being the first year so when I refer to the current year, I refer to the year that we come into government. I think he's being somewhat disingenuous when he says you didn't keep the commitments in the current year when, in fact, the platform referred to the year in which we came in. I think he's quite right when he says that the people of the province deserve to be spoken with forthrightly and that's what I did during the campaign and that's what I'm doing now. I'm telling them what it is that is necessary for us to get back to financial health.
I did find it amusing that the Leader of the Official Opposition talked about his platform being fully costed. Now, when you fully cost something you have to do two things. Of course you have to set out the actual costs associated with the program that you're going to put forward. You also have to - in order for it to be fully costed - say where that money is going to come from and of course, that was the part of the fully costing notion that got lost during the election campaign by the members of the Liberal Party. They could give you ballparks about what it was going to cost, they just couldn't tell you how they were going to pay for it. In fact, if we were following that prescription, we would be much deeper in debt today than we are now because this is a government that has actually taken on the challenge of bringing us back to financial health.
He talked about the Home Rebate Program and said it didn't create any jobs. I don't know how it is that he thinks 1,500 homes could magically appear with no workers, with nobody swinging a hammer, with nobody buying a home. He very earnestly says, well, show us some statistics about how many jobs were created. Well, in order for there to be that kind of uptake on a program, there are of course models that can tell you how many hours of work goes into a home. I have no problem supplying that to the member opposite but it ought to be obvious, the impact on the economy for having the home builders build some 1,500 homes.
Then he talks about, oh there was existing housing stock - and there was some, there wasn't a lot, but there was some and, of course they were unfinished houses. What happened is we didn't want those home builders to be stuck with that stock so we included those. It meant that all of the finish work, all of the benefits that flowed to every other part of the supply chain - the building supply companies, the installers, the young apprentices who are going to be involved in that work - all of that was taken up by participants in the program.
It benefits the home buyer because they get the rebate. It benefits the home builder, the actual working people who go out there and swing a hammer and build the homes. The suppliers, whether they happen to be in the lumber industry or in the sale of appliances. The apprentices who were brought on-site to learn their trade, young people who otherwise would be in other parts of the country. All of these people benefited directly from the program. The money that was generated from that went into the economy.
That's exactly the kind of stimulus project I think people would want to see the government engage in. Not only is the program fully subscribed, our entire 1,500 taken up, there was actually a waiting list of people - some 50 or more - who would have liked to have access to the program. It was an extraordinarily successful program. The range of benefits were broad and it was the right commitment to make. I think it was a very genuine and well thought out way to help an industry that was having a difficult time in the middle of a recessionary period. I, for one, am very proud of the fact that we took the time to consult with home builders and come up with a piece of our program that was so beneficial.
In addition to that, we have the efforts that we're making in southwestern Nova Scotia. I want to be clear about this because I've heard the members opposite talk about southwestern Nova Scotia and the federal government. It should be very clear, there has never been a commitment from the federal government with respect to ferry service in southwestern Nova Scotia. In fact, when they brought down their budget, there was no mention of any support for that ferry service.
From our perspective, we did wide-ranging analysis of that service well in advance of the decision being made. We spoke to many people, not just through the department, but specifically through my office because I understood this was going to be a very difficult and important decision so I wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the fact that this was the decision we were going to make.
It was me who spoke to the Governor of Maine. It was me who spoke to the senators in Maine. I held comprehensive sessions to ensure that I knew all of the facts surrounding that service. I understand that this is a difficult time for that area of the province. Ultimately investing in proper economic development measures in that area will lead to a stronger economy in southwestern Nova Scotia. It's a funny thing because they always say two things; it's terrible, it was a wrong-headed decision, you cut the legs out from underneath the tourist industry in Yarmouth. But it wasn't anyone from Nova Scotia who brought in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, that was an initiative of the Government of the United States. They were the ones who looked at the security initiative and said we have to require American citizens to have passports. We saw after 2001 the precipitous decline in the number of people who were using that service. There's no secret as to why that got down to some 23,000 people being the minimum number that was coming across on The Cat. Then they'll say, yes, well, The Cat was the wrong boat, what we really needed was another boat, but they don't have another boat and they don't have another operator and, in fact, the operator who was there before gave way to The Cat.
So what I'm happy about is the fact that we now see actual entrepreneurship taking root, and we see things happening there that are coming about as a result of the initiative of the people in the area. Just as an example, there is now a flight service in there that is not subsidized by the people of Nova Scotia. This is a very positive thing. I'm very happy to see this happen and I think that out of this there may, in fact, be another service that can serve that market, but it will come about because the government is not displacing it by subsidizing a service that is not sustainable.
You see, when you do that, when you sustain a service by large subsidies, another service that might have the capacity to be able to sustain itself on that run won't come about because it's being displaced and, that's the problem with that kind of a program. Anyway, I realize, and I don't want to take up all the time for the member for Cape Breton North because I know he has some additional genuine questions that he wants to ask, and I want to make sure he has time to do that.
MR. CLARKE: Mr. Chairman, it's interesting, it's telling about this Premier and his government when it comes to trying to deal with an issue, when he was asked a question, decided to go from 3:32 p.m., or shortly thereafter, and now it's 3:52 p.m. with regard to these discussions here today.
I want to go back to where the question was and I asked about Back to Balance and, as he said, the most extensive process in Nova Scotia's history. Well, I watched a process and it may have been extensive, but it wasn't open and transparent. It was based upon, Mr. Premier, as you know, not having correct information that was being provided to Nova Scotians in the documents that were presented. We also now know that this Premier and his Minister of Finance took it upon themselves to make sure the numbers would be manipulated in a way to try to legitimize their arguments of a structural deficit, so the documents could have a $1.4 billion number accelerated there, that's what they're going to try to achieve over the course of their term. Mr. Chairman, what we also know is that when this Premier came in and had to find a way to try to paper over the ill-founded and bad decisions that they knew they were going to make, and have made for Nova Scotians, that they had to find a way.
So they went to Deloitte, they said you have to use the numbers from the May 2009 budget and estimates that we voted against. The Premier himself stood in this House and said, let's get on with things and we're going to bring down the government. So don't make any assumptions since the election, make nothing else, the fact that the government now, in creating a needless election of the day, during what they say (Interruption) They may have been successful for the numbers, and this is the one and only time that that Premier who has made history, Mr. Chairman, will make history again by being the only one-term Premier in the Province of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotians are up on what he's up to, and what the cronies around him, and his spin doctors, and all the staff he has brought in - he wanted to bring in from Manitoba, and pay them - it doesn't matter, money is no object when it comes to an NDP'er, if they're in Manitoba or any extent in the province.
Mr. Premier, people understand, you had a flawed process. We went to some of those sessions and, yes, I was at the first one in Whitney Pier and so was the member for Cape Breton Nova, and there were other members who were there, and we were there. The one thing I know about our attendance - and we had staff attend, everyone, and I was at a couple of these sessions, but when we went, we said it was a public consultation. So we should be respectful and watch and be there so people know we have an interest in what this budget consultation is going to be, but he also talked about the Minister of Finance dealing with this. Well, he set - just like the Deloitte thing - they set parameters to manipulate an outcome that suited their purpose, not one that was based on fact or was truthful, but it was wrong. This Premier and his minister sat there and he told people, he set parameters. So he couldn't be the bad cop, he went out - and again, what the government has a tendency of doing is hire more consultants - so he hired more consultants to control a process so that they would do the dirty work for the minister of shutting down people in the meetings.
So as to make sure that some of the comments were there, he made sure if there was an opportunity where an NDP member was there, get at the tables, influence the discussion, while other members never sat at the tables. The NDP members, in fact, the one sitting behind the Premier right now, the member for Antigonish, sat at a tables and wanted to be part of, but not only that, they sent their invitations out to their special interest groups and invited them to come, Mr. Chairman, to go around.
So I know when he talks about extensive, there was something extensive all right. It was a very extensive, expensive process to, again, try to legitimize the bad decisions that the Dexter NDP have brought forward; to try to legitimize the spin doctoring of the numbers and the presentation of numbers. I've seen, when people were trying to report, and I have seen a facilitator take the microphone out of someone's hand because, well, you've had your say. He said the minister would stand around. I also was at Whitney Pier and someone said to me, the minister came by, and I asked a question, and he refused to even answer it.
I'll tell you what the question was, Mr. Chairman, because the person said, well, Mr. Minister, these are your numbers here, but can I talk to you about the Deloitte report and your assumptions for that, at which the Minister of Finance said, I'm not here to talk about Deloitte, we're here to talk about this. So he wouldn't even get into the discussion. The discussion and the dialogue was one-sided. If you agreed with the NDP, you got a green light and if you had a question of the NDP, you were shut down.
You know, when I hear about the discussions - and I remember being at the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon with the Minister of Finance there, and everyone's there, a great turnout, well, I counted 12 staff or consultants who the minister had brought in to try and again spin this process. I know the discussion at that point, because we were there at the chamber of commerce, and people then were starting to question where this government was going with this exercise and that was at the beginning of it. As it moved, certain aspects of that process moved as well.
So for the Premier to try to say that they had some open and transparent, extensive process, as I said, it was extensive and also expensive because, as with anything else, if this government finds itself incapable of standing up for itself and speaking for itself, they hire consultants. So they go after another consultant. You'll see that pattern because they aren't prepared to take the leadership necessary, Mr. Chairman, this Premier is not prepared to take the leadership necessary to put the facts before the public, the real facts, the truthful numbers that are out there from the last budget. You know, Premier, you know the spin-doctoring job that you and your Minister of Finance have been up to around this province.
History, Mr. Chairman, is going to prove otherwise because he wants to dismiss the CFIB, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. On Hollis Street, this week, I was in a shop with an entrepreneur and do you know what that entrepreneur said to me? He asked the question, before you leave, can I ask you, truly, is the CFIB standing up and speaking up for us? He said, I want to know, because we've been a member - and I was concerned he was, I actually thought he was against the CFIB. I said, no, no, I've got to tell you, they're speaking up and they're speaking up to the point that the government is trying to discredit them.
Do you know what he said? I'm glad to hear that because I wanted to know my membership dues were of value. He said, what the government is doing, and with this budget and the tax increases, Mr. Premier has done - people have said from one end of the province to the other - another little shop I go in, and she says, you know, with the budget out, people aren't coming in as much because of the tax, and it's true, ask the entrepreneurs, and do you know what they said - because they don't know, because consumers are trying to get the full extent of the negative impact of this NDP deficit budget and a tax-spend-borrow budget which ultimately is taxing every Nova Scotian and future generations, that is the budget brought forward by the NDP. Those are the entrepreneurs and they're speaking and saying this Premier doesn't get it, but he's putting it to us, and he's hurting us in our ability to run a small business in this province.
The other thing the Premier has talked about, and I know he was trying to - obviously the Leader of the Official Opposition got under his skin when he talked about the housing programs because he needed to try to go back over lost ground that he was trying to recover from in talking about that program. Then he said, you know, well, taxes are up but we don't have the tax on kids' clothing. Well if you're a family trying to buy a house for a family, if it's a newly constructed house, the cost of that house has gone up way more with your tax increase, Premier, than any children's clothes. That's the impact on working families in this province.
You want to talk about this budget, you can cut and paste and what it is, I say, it's the Robin Hood but a modern day one where they take from the middle class to give to the middle class and move around the shell game that's happening. Just maybe if you're lucky, you'll be one of a rare number of Nova Scotian families where you might get a couple of extra bucks while everyone else has paid a price for it.
That is what this Premier and his Minister of Finance have inflicted on the people of Nova Scotia. We talk about a Back to Balance process, well we'd like to get them back to reality because Nova Scotians from one end of the province to the other are asking themselves, what the heck did we do? You know something, in a democracy the electorate are always right and they will be right again when they are moved along appropriately and history is made once again with a one-term wonder government. There might have been an orange tide but it brought in a lot of deadwood with it. I'll tell you, people are going to quickly deal with that deadwood and make sure it quickly receives its proper treatment.
The Premier talked about The Cat, he wanted to go back to The Cat process to try and distract again. What we know is this Premier, this NDP socialist government that talks about the people (Interruption) There are going to be many more times coming before we're finished estimates, Premier. I'll tell you, for an industry that generated hundreds of jobs, working families taking home a paycheque and for this Premier and his Cabinet to be so petty over what now amounts to about $3 million to cut out hundreds of jobs - 500 direct jobs in the area - he keeps spinning the cost of a subsidy. We've all said that we'd look at it but he has devastated southwestern Nova Scotia. He can't get around that and he knows it because the people of southwestern Nova Scotia are speaking about the impact of this socialist regime on their communities. What it is, if we don't like what you folks are saying, we'll put the political wrath upon you and they've done that in southwestern Nova Scotia.
I've got many more items to discuss with the Premier. At this point I'll turn over my time to the honourable member for Cumberland South.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cumberland South.
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, how much time?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You've got approximately 30 minutes. I think it would be a good time to consider a break. We will recess.
[4:03 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[4:16 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The Committee on Supply will now be called to order.
The honourable member for Cumberland South.
MR. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, if I understand right, you say I have 29 minutes. I want to first of all thank the Premier and his staff for being here today to talk about issues under the Premier's obvious responsibility and others I'm sure he'll be asked about. I listened quite intently the last few minutes and I see that if I allow the Premier to get up to try to answer questions I may ask, I may not gain the floor again. I think I'm probably going to share some information that I just shared in the Red Room with the Minister of Justice. What I really want to speak to is credibility and how people in this province - especially our young people in their observations - see politicians and why I believe they've arrived at that today.
I know we'll have difference of opinion on many issues and I'm sure this will be one but I just want to begin with by saying, I was telling them next door that a few weeks back - I speak to a lot of classrooms like I know a lot of MLAs do - I spoke to a Grade 10 class and you get a lot of questions. One question from one young gentleman really struck me. He said, one thing I'd like to know from you as a politician, how can you put yourself out there to promise or to assure people if you represent them, they elect you, that you'll do certain things and then not do it? Basically that was kind of it in a nutshell. I said, I guess I would have to say this, that as an individual MLA, as we all do on the doorstep, people want to commit to all various types of things, everything from paving roads to building buildings, to all kinds of things. I try to always pride myself to think I always try to assure people, the only one promise I could ever really make to anyone would be to do the best I could. That meant some days having to say no and I've said that a lot over the last number of years. Other times, obviously with a lot of hard work you're able to be a little more successful.
I do want to say, Premier, starting out - and I've said this at my caucus office, I've said it for a number of years with various caucus members that I sit around the table with now and I have in the past, I really believe, and I've told my kids this as well, if I want the people to put their trust in me to come down here to represent them, and probably even more so than that, if someone wants to be the Premier of the province, to lead this province to be represented as basically worldwide anywhere, that there's two things should happen. You should promise to do the things you can and if you're not sure - no matter what the circumstances are - that you can't deliver, you shouldn't make a promise. So that would probably mean a pretty boring election.
I can well imagine what the Premier's thinking right now. In fact, Premier, we came through the doors together here, we came in this place the same day. I remember sitting back here - actually I ended up right back where I started I guess (Interruption) I was in the back row beside the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, that's right. I remember being interviewed by a young girl with the news. She wanted to know how it felt sitting in one of these chairs as opposed to sitting in a police car. I told her, I said, I'll tell you a little story about when I was first campaigning down in River Hebert, the seniors' building down there and of course knocking on doors - I was still a police officer at the time because I'd actually campaigned about a year before the election was called. So I knocked on this door and this little lady, probably in her mid-80s, really small, short, little lady, very nice person answered the door and I gave her my spiel and said who I was. She listened to me and she said, yes, I know who you are, I've read about you in the paper. I said, well, I've told you what I'm here for, can you tell me, do you have any concerns or anything you want to ask me? She said, yes, I have one question for you. Now this little lady is really short, she's looking up at me and she said, I have one question for you, why are you going from one side of the law to the other? I laughed too. I laughed and she didn't. I went home and said to my wife that night, you know, I'm not so sure about this anymore, if that is what people think, is that really where we want to go?
But, Mr. Chairman, I have the utmost respect for anyone who puts their name on a ballot and are able to go out there and work hard, communities are all different, work hard and get the support of people and then if people want you to come here and they want you to represent them. The other thing, I was told by an elderly gentleman who had been in politics for many, many years, when I first got into this, he said, Murray, you're going to have to make a choice. When you get into politics, you will be faced with making choices and here is the choice that you are going to face: people or the politics of it; and you're going to be accused of not being a team player. If you want to stay in politics and survive you will have to do this and you will have to do that. So he said, you will have to make a choice along the way, either people or politics.
I took heed to that advice and I would like to think that over the years I chose the people over the politics, even to my own peril sometimes from my own Party at times, even as Speaker having to take a stand. In fact, in committee, go down and take a member's place to ask my government about a decision that they were going to make about a school or a fire department or fire service in my own area. I made those decisions and I felt that it was important to stand up because the people had sent me here to represent them, not to represent myself and to always try to remember that the voice here is the voice that they elected and that is the only voice they have here.
But to get back to this young fellow, the Premier will remember, a few years back, we spent a tremendous amount of money on Democracy 250 and, of course, we were holding up the parliamentary process in this country and the voting process. But I remember one of the things that we really wanted to find out was why people in this province, while we continue to have this decreased number of people who want to turn out to vote. Well, I think that Grade 10 class, like other classes I have spoken to, told me very loud and clear what they think. I mean, they are young people, young adults, being prepared to assume the responsibility of running our province. There will be elected people in that room, there will be professional people, there will be people who will go into construction work and there will be some people who will have to leave to find the kind of career that they want to follow.
Their concern was, how could I or how could anyone come to their house and talk to their mom and dad and convince them that we were going to do certain things or stand up for certain things and then get elected and say, well, I didn't realize the way things were.
Now, the Premier sat on this side of the House from 1998 until he was elected Premier in 2009, and I know the Premier is a smart man. He sat through many budgets. He listened to many debates, took part in legislation, took part in all sorts of issues that were brought forward, some he agreed with and some he didn't. But I don't think the Premier was oblivious to anything that was going on around him in this House, whether it was financial or commitments.
Now, it kind of leads me to this. Since this session began and I have stood every day in the House during the daily routine and on behalf of people of all of Cumberland County, not just Cumberland South, because I have been approached, I can tell you, by a lot of people in Cumberland County, business people, seniors, students, disabled who are wondering what has happened to Cumberland County. So, the petitions I tabled, nearly each and every day, I think we're now over 1,700 names, and we have a few more yet to come. But the question that I keep being asked, over and over again, is how could someone who wants to be the Premier of Nova Scotia say something during the campaign but then once elected in that position simply change direction and then say, well, no, we weren't aware of this or we didn't know that.
So, I am back to what I've said earlier. You make the promises you know you can keep and the ones you can't keep, you just don't make them, to me it's pretty simple. I'll bet there are a lot of MLAs here, a lot of rural MLAs on the opposite site of the House - how many during the campaign knocked on somebody's door and they've said, yes, I will support you, I will vote for you. I'm looking for a change and want you to pave my road. Are you going to pave my road for me? When people ask me that I just tell them, I have no idea. I'll promise you that I will put that issue forward to whoever in the department or whoever the minister is in whatever government at the time, I will put a list in and I have done that. (Interruption) Thank you, minister.
But I couldn't, in all good conscience, look them in the eye and say, if you elect me this road will be paved. Because I've heard that many times over during campaigns that I was involved in. Some people felt that they were comfortable telling people that and it's entirely up to them. If you're comfortable making commitments that somebody else is going to have to come forward on, then that's okay. I find it difficult to do that.
When I saw this headline, I remember during that time, it was May 13th, the ChronicleHerald, the headline said, Dexter Says He Will Keep Tory Promises. I read the whole story, but the line that stood out for me was a quote from the Premier: If they - and when he said, they, I assume he's talking about the previous government - if they have made a commitment to a community, then we'll honour it.
Two weeks ago the honourable member for Cumberland North - and I'm assuming he was there on behalf of the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and on behalf of the Premier and the government - made an announcement that this year, during this construction season, the Northport bridge will be replaced. I want to congratulate him because that bridge absolutely has to be replaced. There's no question about it. It needs to be done. I congratulate the member and congratulate the government. In fact, the school bus driver, at the end of it, just refused to travel over that bridge with the kids in there, he wasn't going to take the chance and so he refused to go over it.
So, the bridge was closed and there's a commitment from the government to replace it. Again, I applaud the government's initiative to move forward on that. Now, something I'd like to ask the Premier, I'm not going to ask him yet because I don't want to give up my time on the floor, but if I were to ask the Premier, so the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, who is a great MLA and a good minister, if he left his portfolio next month - which we hope he doesn't, he'll stay there, he's doing a good job - but if he left his position next month and the member from another riding within the government assumed that responsibility, and then this Fall went to a public meeting, and the bridge wasn't finished by then, and if he or she was asked, your government promised, back in April/May, to replace this bridge. Now my understanding, maybe the minister will correct me, maybe I'm wrong, I understand there's no design yet, there have been no tenders actually put out, there's no actual work on the site being done yet, but the government made the commitment.
So, if you change ministers, do you think it would be fair, now, if the next new minister went to a public meeting and said to the people of Northport, wait now, that was the former minister. There was no tender, there was no written letter signed from the minister to the warden, for example, to say we're replacing that, so there was really no commitment to do it. It was really just words, there was really no commitment. I don't think anybody would accept that. I know I wouldn't, I don't think the Premier would, I know the minister wouldn't, the member for Cumberland North wouldn't accept that and he was sent there on behalf of the government.
So back to when I read the Premier's words and his commitment, I thought, I've known this gentleman - and he is a gentleman - for a number of years and I believe what he's saying here. He's saying, commitments that were made to communities are going to be honoured. Then we get in here, and I heard in the Fall words to the effect, we're going to meet almost all of the commitments, not all of them, not some of them - you didn't say back then I'll do some or part, whatever - he said, a commitment made to a community, we'll honour it.
Well, I want to talk about Springhill for a moment here. I know the Premier has been there himself. In fact, he was there when they had the anniversary of the 1958 bump. Springhill's a community that has faced many, many hardships over the years. In 1891 there were many young men and boys killed in the mines, in 1956 the explosion, in 1958 the bump, 1957 a Main Street fire that devastated the community and cleaned it out, in the early 1970s another fire that cleaned it out.
I'd have to look at Hansard to see exactly what was said, but basically I was told in the Red Room the other day that people have to get over it and get on with life, it's over. I can tell you Mr. Chairman, people of the community where I live in Springhill, for them, it's never over. It's a town of great tenacity. It's a town that Mayor Ralph Gilroy said many, many years ago, with all the tragedies and all the downturns and everything that the community has faced, his words were, there will always be a Springhill, and I believe there always will be a Springhill, no matter what.
However, it's a town that has faced many, many challenges over the years. It hasn't been easy when you live in a community, there's no doubt about it, the Town of Springhill has high property taxes, that makes it very difficult to attract both new business and to attract new homeowners. I tried to explain this to the Minister of Justice that you have to live there, you have to be part of the community, you have to feel it to understand, for it to be part of your life, to really understand how the community could be so upset today over the loss of what they thought was going to finally be a positive for the community.
Someone could say, you were there for 12 years, what did you do to help them? Well, you know, again, it is not easy, when you're trying to attract something into a community that has some debts, has some high taxes. Since I've been around, we put in a new sewage treatment plant, I really believe that infrastructure will help the community in the future. We put in a new water treatment system.
I know the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is a hockey fan, unfortunately Boston, but that's okay, my son is a fan of them as well. But, you know, there is a community centre in Springhill and we have a new one, but again, it seems like anything that could happen in a community to be a tragedy, it would happen in Springhill.
A few years ago, a metal-clad type of rink that was in Springhill - it was during the time of a heavy, heavy snowfall in the community and Bob Arsenault was the maintenance guy working that day and there was a tournament on with a lot of young kids and a lot of parents in the building, about 100, I think, at the time. The story that I like to tell, Randy Ryan - he's actually my landlord but he is also a dentist in Springhill - he was in the rink that day. One of the guy wires that usually guides off the steel girders snapped. One of the parents told him and Bob went down and had a look at it and thought, there is something wrong here. He is not an engineer but he is a smart guy and Bob said, that does not make sense, that guy wire snapped for some reason, there is a lot of snow on the roof, a lot of weight. He began to wonder if maybe there could be an issue here, so Bob decided to get the adults and the children out of the rink.
So, here is a community that has faced all those tragedies I talked about already, we definitely don't need another one. So, they asked the parents to get the children off the ice, not to get them in any kind of panic, but to move them off the ice, off the end of the ice and out the front door. So they did, but as they were doing that, and trying to do it calmly so no one would panic, a second wire on one of the girders snapped, then the third one and as they started snapping - Randy Ryan told me the story - now picture this, here is a bunch of children on the ice, kids on the benches, they get them all on the ice, they are coming toward Randy at the door, and as those wires started to snap, the girders that hold the building up started to collapse on the ice, behind the kids as they are coming off the ice. Now these kids are coming toward the doors and at the far end the girders start to fall and you can just picture what you would feel like to see that happening. So, anyway, God was with that community on that day. They got all those children and adults just out within a very few seconds or it would have been another tragedy in the community.
The only reason, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Premier, I am trying to relate, as I did with the minister earlier, it is a community you have to have been a part of and grown up in, and have seen over the years how the community just starts to move ahead a bit, and it is like it slips and falls and steps back again, slides back. You know, the infrastructure, to me, is very important, the water system, the treatment, the sewage treatment. The community college has just had a major renovation, the building looks great. This community centre - and I have to give credit where it is due, the mayor at the time used to be a member in this House, Mr. Guy Brown, even as ill as he was, he undertook to replace this facility and it turned out to be a $6.5 million community centre for the Town of Springhill.
Many people said it couldn't be done. There are not enough people in this community, no matter how far out you reach to former Springhillers, you cannot replace that type of facility. Well, Mayor Brown himself took it on and raised some private money, three levels of government put money in, the Town of Springhill's portion actually, because it didn't have any money, was the insurance money that they had. Dr. Hamm made sure that the province's third was in and at the end of the day, the cost escalated, and thankfully the former Premier, Premier Rodney MacDonald, through the provincial program, he found an additional $500,000 to complete that project.
Now, today, that project is something that I think we hold up on high in Springhill. It is a facility that we're very proud of. It has actually given the community a real boost in regard to confidence.
The announcement of the correctional centre for Springhill, was, we thought, finally - and I knew that if a correctional centre wasn't built in Springhill, it would never be built in Cumberland County. Because we are bordered on the north by New Brunswick, that really limits the opportunity for clients for that facility, for transportation issues, so really you have what is south and east to the Colchester area. So I knew that if we were able to keep that facility open long enough before the fire marshal closed it - and even staff in the Department of Justice told me - you're going to have to find a partner if you're going to be able to justify a correctional facility for Cumberland County.
So in their search, they came back and said to me, there is a partner there we could have, if we could establish a relationship with a partner, you would be able to justify it, because we would be able to reduce the operating costs. So, I met with Minister Stockwell Day on two occasions in Ottawa, and on his recommendation, I met with the Assistant Commissioner of Corrections in Moncton and then not too long ago with the Honourable Vic Toews, who is now the Minister of Public Safety.
What was mentioned to me - and understand that first of all we have federal employees and we have provincial employees and if you have two adjoining facilities, you are going to have union issues, and I understand that but they quickly identified the opportunity with regard to maintenance, laundry, kitchen facilities, services and programs - a tremendous opportunity for training. Right now, the federal government, through Corrections - not right now today but as of the last year - they put on I think at least two core training programs. Because there isn't any space that they see close by that is adequate to do that, they provide the core training at the local community centre, the one that the community just built. Here they are putting on core training for Corrections in the community centre that there are many other uses for. But that is only because they don't have the ability to use another facility.
The federal government also owns an armoury in Springhill, I don't know if anybody from here has been there but I can tell you that this armoury was built and designed with great classrooms, a smaller gymnasium and an underground shooting range.
A tremendous opportunity if someone were to take it upon themselves to work with the federal government, to work with the province to provide core training at that armoury, with the ability to do year-round training, actually, with an underground range and with those classroom spaces.
At the community college, we have a new principal there, Mr. McCormack, with a great attitude and is a very forward-visioned individual, really wanting to do some progressive things. Edgar MacLeod, who is the Director of the Atlantic Police Academy, I talked to Edgar about this and the possible opportunity for training, making it a kind of security/correctional police type of training in the area. He's very keen on doing that.
So when the new government took over, and the new government and I may not get the chance to do it today but maybe I will do it tomorrow whenever my next turn comes up, but when the issue of the correctional facility came up and the fact that it was in jeopardy, I'll say that, when it was first mentioned it was in jeopardy, I knew when I heard that, it meant that Cumberland County was going to lose here.
The question that I keep asking over and over again, I've asked the minister, I have asked the Premier here in Question Period and I'll keep asking because I can't get the answer, is this, since the government took over, the government gave a commitment to do a review, I have to accept that. But what I can't accept is this and I'm still waiting today, I would like to know who picked up and went and met with the federal government and had some sense of what programs are offered federally and what are offered provincially and where is the opportunity to share and save money? Is it the laundry that could be built that the federal government could buy from the province or vice versa? Is it maintenance? Is it kitchen services that the province could buy from the feds? I can tell you, from my discussions with them, they were very interested in finding some sort of opportunity to share those services, if it meant saving money or an opportunity to generate revenue.
But what they brought up was this - there was an agreement that we signed in 2006, Mr. Honsberger, who was the Executive Director of Corrections at the time, I believe he was the one who actually did the work and we signed it with the federal government - about the opportunity to actually move into agreements like this or to accept federal inmates in provincial institutions and provincial inmates in federal institutions. When they identified that they don't have the administration, as an example, nights and weekends, to process those who may be brought back who are serving federal time, their question was, could we, with an adjoining facility, actually allot extra beds to be held for them or they could pay per diems?
Now, that's pretty creative thinking when you think about it, because it is similar to what the DVA does with our long-term care facilities, when they purchase X number of beds, pay for those beds, maintain those and they are there for them. Now, we can't put long-term care folks in those because if there are, there are 10 in Springhill as an example, if they are down to six or seven, we can't fill that with long-term care patients, it has to be veterans. So they were suggesting a similar type of situation where per diems could be paid or maybe we could hold beds or cell space for their inmates, and actually they would know that we would have staff in place and they would be there with them - an opportunity, actually, to generate revenue for the province.
My point in all of this, Mr. Chairman, through you to the Premier is, to this point, from what I understand, no one has followed up on that. If . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Is any of this in writing?
MR. SCOTT: Well there is nothing in writing on the Northport bridge, but I trust the Premier's word that it would be built. But no one has even taken upon themselves to go ask them the question, to sit down and say, here's what this guy is telling us, is he all wet or what? No one has even asked the question.
Now, geothermal energy. I remember the Premier had said to me - I raised it with him - and he said you can get geothermal energy anywhere. He's absolutely right, anywhere there is water you can get geothermal energy, what you can't get is mine water which is 15 to 20 degrees warmer than groundwater. What you can't get is the ability to have an unlimited resource that geologists and engineers have looked at and studied. That community centre in Springhill I talked about was built. I think it is one of, if not the only one, it is one of the only ones heated with ice cubes and with that technology in North America that we're aware of, using mine water. The Ropak Canada Inc. plant - is, I think, 80,000 square feet - reduced their energy costs by 40 per cent.
But my point to all of this, Mr. Chairman, to the Premier, is that no one has even asked the questions. If you came back and said, we talked to the engineers, we met with the federal government on this date and this date and we proposed this, we proposed all those things that I just talked about and they said no, well, I may not like it any more than I like it today, but I would have to accept that. If someone said, we brought engineers to Springhill and we looked at the geothermal, we looked at the technology that is available, we looked at the difference in groundwater versus coal mine water, we have done a comparison on what it would cost to build, we did all that and it doesn't work, I may not like it, but I have to accept it.
Now, if you think about the scenario that I just used about the bridge. So 2006 - I have a letter here, it's a message to the citizens of Cumberland County. I'm going to do this, and I probably won't get time today, you say my time is almost up, Mr. Chairman, but before this is over I will. It was submitted by the former NDP candidate, the former President of Cumberland South NDP Party that he sent to the local paper.
The Town of Springhill and the Department of Justice began working in 2006, there were some issues around waterlines across this land, eventually I think 34 acres were transferred to the province from the town. There was a lot of resource and money expended to move this project forward. The design work was all done, which we still have. The survey was done. The land was transferred. Now, maybe the Premier would think somebody would do this, but I certainly wouldn't do this. I went as a Minister of the Crown, my colleague for Colchester Musquodoboit Valley, Honourable Brooke Taylor, who was the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, he went as a Minister of the Crown. We went there with the blessing and direction of the Premier at the time, to make the announcement. We had a public announcement. We told them what the timelines were, there was going to be a public meeting that summer in Springhill, and we would begin clearing the land in the Fall.
Now, the Premier will probably come back and say, an announcement made on the eve of an election. Well, I can tell you this, the day I stood there, the farthest thing on my mind was an election, because I thought we were probably at least a year away from an election. There is only one group that knew we were going to an election that time, and that was the government today, because they brought the government down. (Interruptions) So, I see I got a rise out of them. I finally got a rise out of them, Mr. Chairman.
Anyway, I see my time is running out, but I will be back, Mr. Chairman, to enlighten the Premier a little further about why young people in our province don't vote. It is because they don't trust politicians. Do you know why they don't trust politicians? That right there. They expect an MLA or a Premier - they expect when you're going to put your name out there, they expect you are going to keep your word, and when you don't keep your word, (Interruptions) A lots of catcalls from over there, they may think it is funny for Springhill, but I tell you, I think it is pretty serious.
I will tell you this before I leave, the minister down there said, it's over, get over it. Well, I'm going to tell you, for Springhill, it was never over. When those miners were trapped underground, they never gave up and I won't.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time for the Progressive Conservatives has elapsed.
We will now turn to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I do welcome the opportunity to have some questions and perhaps some dialogue with the Premier. It is not every day that members of the House get to speak directly to the Premier in the House. I appreciate that up until now he has been giving us candid answers and there have been some good debates. Again, it affords me the opportunity to talk some about my riding and about some of the issues that have been important to me in the almost seven years that I have been here in the Legislature with the Premier. I know he will have heard me speak about some of these issues before, but I think it is an opportunity to find out a little bit about priorities that the Premier has and where he is going.
A lot of my colleagues have already asked questions around the finances of the province, and I am the former Finance Critic for our Party but not the current Finance Critic, and I thought that I would go around to some other issues rather than the financial issues, at least in the initial go-round to the estimates discussion. I know there are a lot of initiatives underway in the province, and priorities in the province, some of which the government has put resources behind and supported and others that I am not sure where they stand. So I wanted to go and look at that to some degree.
As the Premier knows, the riding of Halifax Clayton Park is unique in a number of ways. One of them is the size of the riding in population and it is, by far, the largest riding in our province, and that is in terms of the number of voters. In terms of size, it is not. It is a nice, compact, high-density area. I had the opportunity to campaign in one of the by-elections near the Premier's riding in Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage and was really surprised, on a rainy day, to find that there are really no apartment buildings in that riding, and I don't know how many in the Premier's riding, but I guess not many. It's very much single family.
In my riding there are 9,000 apartment units, roughly, so condominiums and apartments in multi-unit buildings, and about 4,000 homes. The proportion is quite surprising and I would think probably pretty unique in the House, maybe Dartmouth North might have a similar proportion, I am not sure, but we also have the highest population, again.
I want to ask the Premier, if I could, Mr. Chairman, to begin with, a few questions about the boundary review that is coming. We're at the point of a 10-year cycle where we review boundaries and distribution of seats in the House. It is a concern to me in the riding that I represent. Also, I'm interested to know what direction the Premier might be looking at in terms of redistribution of seats or maintaining our current - I guess it is the standard that 25 per cent above or below the average is the threshold at which we will accept the differences between individual ridings. I know right now, again, because if you take the last 10 years, there has been tremendous growth in my riding, and it is still continuing, and there is another entire subdivision called Mount Royal. Actually, there have been people living there now for almost a year, but it is still underway, lots of empty lots and new apartments going up. There are supposed to be about 2,500 more people coming into the riding. That was the figure that was given by the developer, 2,500 coming into the subdivision of Mount Royal, which will ultimately connect directly to Clayton Park West when Regency Park Drive is put through.
As you know, we've got an underpass coming now from Bayers Lake, under the highway. I understand that is largely funded with our federal infrastructure money and that street, when that comes out, will then connect to parts of Regency Park Drive and will have our community more connected. But I'm very conscious of the growth in some of the city ridings and the disparity in the province and I think it is going to raise some very interesting questions, and perhaps difficult questions, for MLAs.
I guess my first thing would be, could the Premier speak about whether he is comfortable with the current disparity in the riding sizes?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Chairman, this is a very good question. I appreciate the member's riding and, of course, when you live in metropolitan Halifax-Dartmouth, you really do get an appreciation of each other's ridings, because you are in and out of them all the time. You know what they look like and the make up of them, by and large, and of course, like many others, I end up out in the industrial park there or - I don't know if they refer to it as an industrial park anymore really, it is a business park - and, of course, it is the Keshen Goodman Library that is right there. I had a campaign event there one time, but I have also had the opportunity to be at that library a number of times and they use it very much as a community centre. I think the CBC has been there at one point in time and did a show from it and it is a part of the community, that appears to me at least and the member, of course, would know better than I do, it looks to me to be a very well-used facility. It certainly looked to me that it was a providing a great service.
They also have there the Thomas Head Raddall Room, which is part of the library complex and of course they have the Thomas H. Raddall Drive there as well. Thomas Raddall is actually from Hunts Point, just outside of Liverpool and this is another coincidence - I happen to know that the member, I believe, still has a cottage out towards Hunts Point, if not right in Hunts Point - so she is aware of the legacy of Thomas H. Raddall and some of his wonderful writings.
The other thing, and I know this is a little bit of meander into the question, which I do want to answer, is that the member's mother is also a tremendous artist and in my office I am privileged to have one of her paintings. It was very nice of the member and her mother to give that to me because it's of Milton, it's of the blacksmith shop and the bridge that goes across , the falls that go across, you can kind of see the corner of the bridge. It is lovely and I literally have it just behind my desk in my office and I certainly had the opportunity to thank her for it before but it seems in this forum, it is another opportunity to express my thanks to her and to her mother.
I was trying, while she was asking a question, to remember the process around electoral boundaries reform because it is not as straightforward as just striking the boundaries committee and sending them off to do their work. It is now, I think, meant to follow the 2011 Census. So I believe they do the work in 2011 and then the Electoral Boundaries Commission is struck the next year and, of course, that would mean that the boundaries would be in place for the next election.
As I recall, I think there is a resolution of the House that sets out the parameters of the Electoral Boundaries Commission and I think there is a striking committee of the House that actually strikes the boundaries commission. The whole idea of this was that, of course, the Electoral Boundaries Commission would be independent and, therefore, not subject to any kind of interference from any one of the Parties and that it would be endorsed by the House.
I think I am correct in saying that in each case the recommendations of the Electoral Boundaries Committee had been accepted without amendment. I think that is the history to date.
So, I don't know if I'm in an unusual position or not, but I have made representations to two Electoral Boundaries Commissions. Both of which I think were chaired by political scientists over the last two Censuses. I remember that one of the key points to this was always the question about what the appropriate level of disparity should be between ridings. This is the question that the House is going to have to consider carefully. Because it has very real consequences. Twenty-five per cent, I am not sure, I mean we used it last time and we kind of got away with it but I am not sure if it is a sustainable amount.
My recollection is that the Supreme Court of Canada has actually ruled on this. I think they used a much smaller number. I can't remember if it was plus or minus 10 per cent or plus or minus 15 per cent, but the idea was that you could now, literally, have ridings that are twice the size of each other and that wasn't the theory. The idea was to have a deviation from the median, one side or the other. I know there is a difference between the mean and the median and I can't recall what it is, but I know there is one.
I deal with the same kind of issues. I can't remember which are the biggest ones in the province, but I am sure that Clayton Park wouldn't be one of them; I wouldn't be surprised if Timberlea was another one of those; I think Cole Harbour is one of the larger ones in the province; Bedford is quite large. Where those areas of growth are taking place is where the greatest pressure is in terms of the inequality. It is really a question - and this sounds, perhaps, pejorative, it is not necessarily an inequality in terms of representation. I think legally it is looked at as an inequality of voting power. In other words, the effective power of your vote, if you're in a riding with only 7,000 people in it, then your vote is twice as powerful as a constituency that has 15,000 votes in it.
I think, originally, this was a Charter argument, kind of a freedom under the law kind of question, but hand in hand with that question of the size of the ridings, is also the question of the makeup of the House, because you can imagine if we struck a resolution here that said there should be 36 members and nobody should deviate more than 15 per cent from the median, you would have ridings that would take up perhaps half of the south end of the province.
You would have much larger ridings in rural Nova Scotia, by geography, just simply because of the population base. So, the other part of the question is, do you look at the House as frozen in time in terms of numbers? Do you say, we're not prepared to shrink the number of people in the House, we are not prepared to expand it? Because that, of course, is part of the question. So that you don't disproportionately affect things, do you expand the numbers in the House? These are all the kinds of questions that we're going to have to grapple with, I think, as a House of Assembly.
We're going to be, certainly, looking forward to hearing what the members of the other Parties have to say. It is not a decision that we would make without consultation. It is not a decision that we would make without having a thorough discussion on it. I think the disparity, in some cases, is far too great. I think there are certain fairness questions that you have to address with respect to the size of ridings, but I also understand that has a real tangible effect. So, if you want an indication, that is how I feel about it, but I'm not, despite some of the things that have been said, we haven't made up our minds about it. In fact, I can tell you that I have spent very little time actually thinking about it to any great extent.
I did do a lot of thinking about it when the previous boundaries review commission was in place because I watched how difficult it is. If you would talk to the member for Queens, for example, there was a very strong lobby down in Queens County that the municipal boundaries remain intact for that particular riding. But in order to be able to even out the numbers and to be somewhat fair, a number of polls in Lunenburg County actually came into the Queens riding.
So we have to accommodate, in some way, what we're trying to do in terms of recognizing the distinct geographic nature of our province and at the same time the obvious growth in and around the Regional Municipality of Halifax. So thank you for the question, a very interesting one.
MS. WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I was pleased to hear some of the feedback from the Premier about what is coming before the House which will be a look at the boundaries and the number of seats and so on here in the House. Perhaps these are rumours but what I've been hearing is there might be instruction to increase the size of the House and perhaps by three members is what I had heard. You know how rumours are, who knows if they're true or not but I wanted to say that I don't believe that there is fundamentally any reason to expand the size of this House.
Again, given the fact that I represent at least 20,000 voters, we don't have an exact number because it keeps growing, as I said, every time I'm out campaigning or even trying to communicate with my riding, I don't know exactly how many people are there because it's a moving target and it's growing. I just feel that with everything that has gone on with, first of all, our fiscal restraint that the Premier has talked a lot about, the move that's in this year's budget to say that over time there will be a 10 per cent attrition within the civil service-we're looking at, I know not any immediate or drastic cuts but you are looking at seeing that civil service shrink. I think that by the same vein we have to look at being efficient and looking at what is reasonable, in terms of representation for the House.
So I wanted to just make sure that the Premier knew that that is a concern to me as somebody who represents a large riding and I was hoping that I might hear even what the process was. I think I have an idea that the other Parties will be involved in this because I haven't been involved in one of these processes. I actually am the first member ever for Halifax Clayton Park because it was a brand new riding. It was previously called Halifax Bedford Basin. So now Halifax Clayton Park is a riding in and of itself which reflected the growth in and around my riding. I often say even the street of Parkland Drive probably has more people with that address than many of the towns and villages in this province. There are literally thousands of people living on that one street.
It is a terrific neighbourhood. I know a lot of people like to criticize density and say that density is a bad thing but it really is smart development to have reasonably dense neighbourhoods. In Clayton Park you can run buses that actually have high ridership and pay for themselves. There are a lot of pluses as long as you design a community that has community centres, that has recreational opportunities and open space. I know the Premier at one time sat on the Dartmouth City Council so you understand land planning and land use issues that I also had a chance to experience when I was an HRM councillor. I think it's very important that we not disparage the idea of density because when I say we have many people in multi-unit buildings, they're not high-rise buildings in my area. At the same time, I think it has been done in a way that there is a sense of community and a lot of positive things. Especially as the Premier mentioned and I guess I have the opportunity to pick up on the thought about the Keshen Goodman Library, which is very much a centre of our community. In fact, I wanted to have a public meeting there, just to do a town hall meeting and I've been trying since September, and they've been so fully booked that it's nearly impossible. They told me there may be some breaks in May so I'm going to try there but they are just flat out, all their public spaces are being used.
It's very hard to get places for public meetings in our area just because of the demand and the number of community groups and there's also a lot of work done there with ESL and new Canadians. I had an opportunity today to be at one of our neighborhood schools doing a Canadian citizenship ceremony - 51 new Canadians from 26 different countries and actually from many of the other members' ridings. They come in from all over. I met a family from Annapolis, another family from Amherst, and so on. It was really very interesting and I know the Premier has undoubtedly had a chance to do that too. It really is one of the nicer parts of being an MLA, being able to represent your area and to experience that. Clayton Park I think, along with Bedford which is beginning to maybe catch up to us, Clayton Park has been the centre of immigration and multiculturalism in our city and it is really quite pronounced and an area of which we're very proud of as well.
So I may go to that issue later but I have a number of things I wanted to ask the Premier about. On the question of community, the Canada Games Centre is going in there now and I know we have a provincial commitment on that. I don't know if you're privy to information on the Canada Games and the provincial role, but I would be interested to know what role we're taking, and if you knew the actual dollar commitment to the Canada Games provincially? I realize a lot of it is federal but Intergovernmental Affairs does fall under your bailiwick so, maybe that's something you could look up while I'm speaking here because, again, as the MLA for that actual area, we're in the middle of a big urban area. So there are other MLAs who have great interest.
I know the Minister of Finance and the Halifax Fairview riding is very close. Bedford-Birch Cove represents part of the Halifax riding which is very close as well to the centre. It is about a $40.5 million centre that's being built there. Although I don't know how the budget is doing, you might know whether we're on budget. It will be something that's going to be a tremendous asset in a community that - I've been saying from the time I was elected to city council, almost 10 years ago - desperately needed more recreational facilities because of the size of our population, and the fact that we can't have all of those multi-unit buildings and host them in our area without providing safe, and good places for our young people and our elderly to get their exercise, myself included. I guess all ages, I better say, are going to get their exercise there.
So it's very important to me to know a little bit more about that plan, and I realize that HRM has, in some ways, taken the lead on what goes there. I had spoken to the Health Promotion and Protection Minister about, again, the fact that the province is the area that has the expertise. When an event like this happens and it's a national event, athletes are going to come from across Canada and I know the province has got to play a big role in that.
I did want to thank the Premier for mentioning, as well, Thomas Raddall Drive and the connection to Queens County. In fact, I was councillor when that street opened. HRM had a new plan, and that was they were going to name streets with only one name, they didn't want any names that would be, you know, a first and last name. So we had quite an argument because I said it had to be Thomas Raddall Drive, I wanted both names on that. (Interruption) Exactly, they would say Raddall. Well, I said Raddall doesn't do it. Anyway, we had that debate and they agreed, in part, because we had a Thomas Raddall Library that was closed and renamed because of a bequest that was made to the city.
So the community felt that name should remain and still have a prominent place in the community. So our high school of Halifax West also is on that street which is named Thomas Raddall Drive. So, it is a real community centre now, with a very big high school in Halifax West, now the recreation centre coming, and the library across the street. So it becomes a real campus of public areas and public opportunities. So I think it really does complete our area in many ways and we've very pleased about it, but as the local representative I would like to know what our commitment is as a province so that I can relay that back to the people of Halifax Clayton Park.
THE PREMIER: Well, the first thing, I was just thinking as you were speaking, that the first time we actually met was in the Almon Street Post Office when you were doing a mail-out for your run for municipal office, that's my recollection. It's interesting, too, that there is this connection with respect to Thomas Raddall, because the other thing that has always fascinated me is that - I think there was a whole debate over how you pronounce his name. In fact, I heard on CBC that they were suggesting that it should be "Raddle" as opposed to "Raddall", and apparently they spoke to people, I thought they said in the family, and came to the conclusion that it was Raddall. I grew up in the area and it has always been Thomas Raddall as far as I know, and I went to school with the Raddalls and they never corrected us over those years. So I think I'm right, but also on the double-barrelled name, we also have Regency Park, right, so that's a double-barrelled name.
MS. WHALEN: But it's not a personal name.
THE PREMIER: It's not a personal name but it's a double-barrelled name so I'm not sure what the actual distinction is.
Well, obviously, you raise a good question for two reasons. One is that on the larger question of the Canada Games, this is a wonderful opportunity for our province, and I had the pleasure to be out, during the Vancouver Olympics, with Nova Scotians who were there for the purposes of opening Atlantic Canada House and for Nova Scotia Day. One of the things that we would say to the crowds who were there and to the people who were visiting is that once the Vancouver games are over and once the venues are closed, that people should turn their eyes to Nova Scotia, which is where the next generation of Olympians are going to be competing, so this is just a tremendous opportunity for us.
We have already had an official kick-off for the Canada Winter Games. J.P. Deveau, as you may know, has very graciously taken on the job of chairing this and he's doing - I must say - just a fabulous job at promoting the games but also recruiting volunteers to come in and to work on the Canada Winter Games. We're making adjustments and some of them are to make sure that kids are able to get to the games and, in fact, are going to be able to, in some cases, help out over the course of the games. Some of the teachers are actually officials or coaches who are going to be there as well. This is going to be a real community event, it's going to be a provincial event, it's going to be a signature event, it's going to be a national event for our province and we're very proud to have the opportunity to host this.
My understanding is that our budget for this is $12 million, which we have prepaid. I'll actually get you the details on this because I don't know if that's just for that specific facility or not or if that's the broader number. Did you want the number for the facility specifically or (Interruption) for both? I think it's under the HPP budget so I'll undertake to see if I can get that information for you.
MS. WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I should say facetiously that I didn't have time to ask the Minister of Health that question (Interruption) really she was here a long time and we touched on the Canada Games but we didn't get to the actual dollar figure on the Canada Games although I told her I wanted to come for a tour when the centre is ready for a visit and perhaps you might like to join us. I think she said she had an interest as well in seeing the building because it's looking very good right now, it really is. I would like to know, the $12 million, if that was toward this $40 million centre and is there also money we're doing on the hosting side and all the other activities that will go around this. I'm sure there's support for athletes maybe specifically directly because of the Canada Games.
I think it's something that's important for us to begin talking about here because it will be an exciting time right across the province really. There will be activities in other communities outside of Halifax and we're using lots of different facilities around HRM. We are just, I can say, very delighted in the Clayton Park riding to be the host community for that new facility. As I mentioned to the Minister of Health Promotion and Protection, it will be a facility that I think is properly located because we have so many people in the area that there will be an ongoing support for that facility. We don't need to worry about its costs of operation in the future because I believe it will be so well-utilized. I think that's important as we go forward, again, looking at not building white elephants and making sure that what we build we can continue to make use of.
I wanted to ask you about an issue that you know I've spoken of often and that is the idea of a Joseph Howe Day in February. This has been a personal interest of mine, it actually began shortly after I was first elected. A constituent came to me who had lived in Alberta and was back in Nova Scotia and said, this is really important, it was a wonderful thing in Alberta and I want you to look at it. I confess - in Alberta they call it Family Day so she only told me there was a holiday in Alberta. Initially I thought this doesn't sound like a very substantial issue, shall we say. But in the interest of looking into it, I looked at how many holidays we enjoy in Nova Scotia, statutory holidays, and what Alberta and other provinces have. When I saw those figures - and I'm sure the Premier would agree with me - we are out of line with the rest of the country. At that time, I think quite a number of places had nine holidays. Now there are a number that have 10, a couple of the territories and Saskatchewan are up to 10 statutory holidays, Alberta remains at nine. Our nearest neighbours, New Brunswick and P.E.I., have added holidays in that period of time too so that I think they're both at seven now and P.E.I. has picked up a February holiday, and that's over a four-year period of time. I think it was 2005 that I started so it might be five years I've been talking about this.
Things are changing across the country and what was once just Alberta's holiday, which they call Family Day, they were the lone place with it. People could say, well, Alberta's wealthy, they can do that, we can't, but now we see Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and P.E.I. in the intervening years have joined. We now have five provinces with a February holiday and five without. I just believe that where we're still stuck at five statutory holidays, which are all mandated by the federal government, that it is important that we continue to look at this and that we have a government in place that will at least give it some consideration.
I know the Premier - even just out of casual interest - would have seen the response I've gotten over the years. The first Minister of Labour and Workforce Development said he wasn't aware that we needed more holidays and he's no longer a member of this House so maybe that shows he didn't quite get it. He was a nice man but maybe he didn't get it. Anyway, we've had two different Premiers. I first asked Premier Hamm and then I asked Premier MacDonald and this February I wrote a letter, stating my reasons for this being a good idea, to the current Premier. I did get a letter back from the Minister of Labour and Workforce Development and it didn't really offer me any hope that this was really being considered. I appreciate the answer back and it was timely, it came back by March 1st so I was very pleased about that. It just basically says that we'll consider all calls for all holidays, but not that this is being really looked at. I did give a number of reasons and I guess if I have the floor it's a good chance to give some of those reasons again here in the House.
I've talked about the fact that competitively we're out of sync now even with our closest neighbours. I will make the point, I had the chance to hear a woman called Linda Duxbury speak, she's a professor at Carleton and she studies cohorts in the workplace and how we have different values at different ages, our veteran workers are different from our baby boomers who are different than the echo workers. Well the younger people value time off and flexibility in the workforce a lot more than they value, in fact, money. They want to be paid properly but they really choose the job that gives them flexibility, gives them time off and they value their own personal time in the balance between personal and work time far more than the baby boomers who will work long hours and expect eventually to get rewarded in some way.
It's just a different cohort and a different time and young people look at things like that. They look at how much time off they're going to get and what the labour standard rules are and where we stand and I think it sends a positive message. When I first raised this issue, that was one of my thoughts was that Nova Scotia could differentiate itself. We could have been the first province after Alberta to say, we understand that and we know that winter's long and we know that young people value their time and so do all workers. We need more time off with our families for health and wellness. I mean, there are numerous reasons.
Now with the five provinces already celebrating this day, I said there are 57 per cent of Canadians who are celebrating it now. It's Presidents Day in the U.S., which means all the financial markets are now closed, the Toronto Stock Exchange and all the American ones. There is compelling evidence that this doesn't hurt our productivity, that it actually can help our productivity, make us healthier and better. We know that people are stressed and it's time that they can just recharge their batteries and get together with their families.
I didn't want to call it Family Day and the Premier may want to address that. I thought that if we were going to have one holiday that we would want to choose as Nova Scotian, that we should look at something uniquely Nova Scotian. I will tell the Premier, every year when this is discussed, the question is more around what you should call it. Either people like Joseph Howe Day or they don't like Joseph Howe Day, they have a better idea and so on. There is no shortage of great ideas that people have around what we should call it. But the real question is whether or not, anywhere in your mandate, we could see our way clear to having a February holiday and whether or not it's something that you think deserves more consideration. I know that puts you on the spot to answer, I would like to know what your view is on it and I do think you have the chance to do that.
In the year that we celebrated Democracy 250, I suggested to the co-chairs of Democracy 250, what better way for them to leave a mark on this province to actually remind us that we were the first place outside of the British Empire to have elected government and so a representative government.
Anyway, I wasn't taken up on that challenge. I think, if you look back on it, two years ago, we'd say, wouldn't it have been a great idea if they'd done that and had taken the lead and made that one of their signature projects? That would have been lasting and meaningful and would have helped young people remember their history.
I might just mention one thing, because I'm sure I won't have much time to reply to this, but another idea that was mentioned this year, which was not my idea but sprang up on the Internet, and that is the idea of actually calling it Viola Desmond Day. I know the Progressive Conservative caucus, in the meantime, brought in their own private members' bill recognizing November 8th as the date , which was actually the date she was wrongfully convicted, and now she has been exonerated or pardoned completely. I thought at the time, that is an interesting idea, it's Black History Month, there are a lot of other good reasons to look at that. I think it's worth mentioning because I'm not sure that it had been brought to the Premier's attention, that was another of the many suggestions that we've heard around the February holiday.
I did sign the on-line petition. I think it's still on either Facebook or on an on-line petition. My major reason for Joseph Howe is because of the history of the province. I'm not stuck on that. I think what's important is we recognize that we have a Nova Scotian holiday and that this, in my mind, is the best time to do it, the best holiday to choose. What it is called should be left up to the government or the people of Nova Scotia to make their own suggestions and see what works best. I did think that was a very interesting idea, to recognize Viola Desmond on that day as well. There you go, there could be a good way for us to dovetail a number of people's good ideas here at once.
The Premier has said, on previous occasions, that he is always welcoming good ideas. When he was first sworn in and first addressed the House, he said that the government doesn't have the monopoly on good ideas. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say about whether there's any hope, in the next four years, of seeing this holiday.
THE PREMIER: Well, if it was Democracy 250 Day it would have to be Leonard Preyra Day, wouldn't it? (Interruption) Well, there you go. I was actually looking around in the gallery because as you were speaking, I know this, of course, is televised, I was expecting as you were talking about this holiday that Luc Erjavec would appear up in the gallery somewhere. I'm sure you'll get a letter and the CFIB will also be sending off their thoughts on it.
What you get is the cost, particularly to small businesses around statutory holidays. It's one of those things that we have to consider. For a lot of people it appears like a zero impact kind of thing. Why not have another holiday? Well, there is an actual cost to employers. There are, in fact, specific ramifications for the provincial government and for our budget with respect to statutory holidays, as well, in terms of the nature of the contracts of the province. I think it has a certain level of support out there. I think if you ask people, just generally, they'd say, sure. But I think you have to look at it very hard in terms of what you're going to do.
If we get to some point in time in the future where there can be some trade-offs around this, if you get to a point where small business tax rates can come down and that sort of thing, then you can start to look at other kinds of trade-offs. But it has to be done in recognition that it isn't just a zero impact declaration. I've listened to you speak on this before. If there were to be a holiday, I certainly would have no problems with either Joseph Howe or Viola Desmond, or any other prominent historical figure, in terms of making it a day for recognition as well as a holiday.
You're right. You get to do two things there. You get to celebrate a piece of your own history and you get to help people refresh and recharge and we all know if it's a particular day, because it's very rare that you see a holiday, a statutory holiday, which is the first Friday in February, for example, because Friday and Monday is where they can really take advantage of those kinds of holidays and I don't think, February 29th would be necessarily a good choice for a holiday either.
All I can say is that we've heard what you've had to say on it; I think you're right about the value of it; I think you're right about the fact that there are many people out there who would support the suggestion, but at the same time we need to balance off some of the other considerations as well. So it remains kind of there as a thought, which we give some attention to, but we also have to balance it off against the other challenges that small businesses are facing at this particular point in time.
I had an opportunity to be out at the APEC Exhibition the other day and talked to many of the small business folks out there and suppliers and they'll go through the enumeration of challenges that they have right now in small business. So, I know that some of the members on the other side don't think I pay attention or care about these things, but I very much do, and I do listen to what they have had to say and try to be sensitive to the fact that they have very legitimate concerns.
MS. WHALEN: I appreciate that you are looking at it, that there may be another time that would be better. I certainly see this year, with a budget and a 2 per cent increase in HST, that is definitely something we're hearing a lot about from the business community and in faxes to our offices and petitions that they're doing. I understand that minimum wage has gone up and that's another issue that I hear. I certainly have had many conversations with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, which is Mr. Erjavec, and I would say, particularly with food and beverage, that I think that creating a long weekend creates a lot of activity.
There's no question, all you have to do is look at what you do when there's a day off and whether you take your family out to dinner, whether you go to a ball game, or go to a hockey game and go out, I mean community activities spring up and events and opportunities for food and beverage abound when there's a long weekend. In fact, people would come to the city, I'm sure, or travel the province. So we might have a boost in internal tourism but, you know, I really do believe that happens and all you have to do is look at the provinces now that have enjoyed this for a few years. Definitely Alberta has a lot of community festivals that have grown up on that weekend, a lot of winter carnivals and community gatherings, and when I have tuned into the news from Ontario, they open their museums and get people downtown. They make it a free day at places like the Museum of Ontario and art galleries. There's a lot of activity brought into the city and it's an exciting time.
So, I think we can be creative and say there are a lot of positives, too. I know it's easy to just hunker down and that's what we do best in Nova Scotia. I don't want to see that, I would like to see us stand up sometimes and say, okay, we can work on some of those problems and we can do that. Now, when we put it in the platform this year for our Party, we did it with a corresponding decrease in small business tax. I know you've got a small, like a 0.5 per cent decrease in the tax. I'm not sure what percentage that makes of the tax they are being called upon, but it has been chipped down a little bit in this year's budget. I do agree that in Saskatchewan, when they introduced a winter holiday, they brought in a big reduction in small business tax.
So I think it is important to work with the business community on how this might be ever looked at, but it brings me to another subject I would like to ask the Premier about, Mr. Chairman, and that is the issue of on-line petitions. It really falls under what I consider to be Assembly Matters. Our Committee on Assembly Matters has not met. I don't know when it met last, but I've been assigned to that committee since the last election, last June. I hadn't previously been on the Committee on Assembly Matters, but I don't know when it last met. It is something that I think is within the power of the Premier to see that it does meet because we have a lot that we should be doing here in the House to make ourselves more relevant, make the institution of the Legislature more vibrant and more just with the times.
The issue of on-line petitions is something that I've brought up on a few occasions. I've never brought in a private member's bill on that, but I've read a couple of resolutions which have been turned down, one was last Fall when the Premier's government - also somebody said no so that was the end of it. I must say I didn't bring it to you first in any kind of format. I don't know if the Premier heard the other day when the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal suggested I write things on a serviette and I should hand him things on the back of an envelope or something. I haven't done that, I haven't come to you outside of the Legislature, so I'm taking this opportunity because we have the pleasure of having you here at estimates this year which is an unusual thing.
I think the Committee on Assembly Matters could definitely deal with this. When I first raised it, probably about four years ago, I was told to write to the Speaker and ask that it go on the agenda. I think the Speaker at that time might even be in the House today, I'm not sure. Were you Speaker at the time? I know you said no. It was turned down, but in the meantime I've asked our library to look at it again and they said the U.K. is now doing it, Scottish Parliament does it, and we were told that no, no, there's no way this can be done, too many complications. I'd like to see a "yes we can" attitude instead of a "no, here's the 10 reasons why we can't".
The Province of Quebec recently began to accept on-line petitions. There's a man in this House who is younger than me Mr. Premier, and yet he is stuck in the stone age. I don't know what's the matter with him. There are so many naysayers, I don't know where the naysayers come from. (Interruptions) I'm guessing he's younger than me, but you couldn't tell by his attitude. (Interruptions) It's true, we all are, but we shouldn't be here in the Legislature so long that we just think we have to defend everything that always was. We have to look forward to how we can amend the institution that we're part of.
Other provinces, I've just mentioned, have made this change. We look to Britain and say that's our model, and we like to do things the way they do it in Britain. We're a British parliamentary system here. Well, if the Parliament in Britain can accept on-line petitions and they have put parameters around that and they have put some controls in, they don't accept just anything, they tell you what you need to do to make it an acceptable petition.
But we do the same thing with our written petitions. The excuse I've heard is that we can't verify signatures or names, but how many times, Mr. Chairman, through you to the Premier, have we ourselves, as members, brought petitions here that you couldn't decipher everybody's name on that petition. I know the Premier brought in thousands around a number of issues. He has brought in stacks of petitions and the Premier introduced some that were on-line petitions in the midst of those that were handwritten. I've seen that on one of the issues that we had going here. It might have been around the HST on electricity, where thousands of names were coming in, but I've seen all the members of this House sign on-line petitions, use on-line petitions, sneak a few into the record when they're entering them. I just don't see why we are so out of touch.
I'll go back to the Joseph Howe Day idea. This year I didn't do any of this, but this year the Viola Desmond petition was up - I think it was called Nova Scotians want a February Holiday TOO!, if you're looking for it. When you get on that site, it talks about Viola Desmond. There was another one that somebody else in the Valley - I think a radio station in the Valley - started an on-line petition, and these things just spring up on their own. They have thousands of people that have signed that petition, but I haven't brought it in because I'm not breaking our rules at the moment. I won't break our rules.
I'm just saying, why can't we look at this? Not that I expect an answer from you today, but why isn't the Committee on Assembly Matters meeting so they can look at it? This is just one item. I did write to our current Speaker, and I asked the current Speaker to look at - I said we should meet and not only should we look at on-line petitions, I suggested another thing which I think has a lot of merit, and that is that we start a program here at the Legislature for interns.
I didn't realize we had one in the past, but in speaking to some of the employees that have been here at Province House for many years, they said we used to. I found that other provinces definitely do have that - Saskatchewan being one. I had the opportunity, at one of the CPA meetings, to meet some other legislators from Saskatchewan and they do have a program like that. Again, we're talking about how do we make the Legislature relevant and how do we help young people understand and learn about what we do? What better way than to take interested young people and have them come to the Legislature and go through a six-month program, where they work a few months on the government side and a few months with an Opposition member?
In the provinces that have continued to do this and sustained it, they have wonderful people who move into the civil service and are really knowledgeable, or they perhaps become more politically active if that's the way their interest takes them, but they end up being more engaged citizens and more active members of the public and I think it has a lot of merit. If the Premier was worrying about money, in Saskatchewan they get sponsors to pay for a large share of the cost of that.
My question to the Premier really is about Assembly Matters and why we allow a system of committees that are inactive and aren't doing the job that they were set up to do and that the members don't have an opportunity to raise these issues and to try and look for solutions and ways to improve this institution and that's really it. There are many other issues that Assembly Matters could be looking at right now on behalf of the members of the House and I think it would have relevance to the people of Nova Scotia. That's really what I'm saying because just to go to the technology issue, technology is paramount now, everybody spends time on-line. I don't know how many members of the House are using Twitter and Facebook and Web sites. (Interruption)
Yes, I do occasionally, but I think it's a very important thing. I think that we try to remain relevant and to allow the citizens to be connected to us and able to talk to us and raise their concerns by using digital and electronic means. I just think that we need to have that committee meet in order to do that and I'd like to hear from the Premier on that, thank you.
THE PREMIER: Thank you, I was going to make a joke that I never did understand that inter-Web thingy, but the fact of the matter is that more and more, you're quite right, it is a digital age. I couldn't help but think, as you were speaking to that, in fact, we have a former Page who is now a member of the House of Assembly. You have a Page who is, I think, on your research staff, so the reality is that people who come here to serve in those capacities do go on to become elected, become involved very much in political life, and that may actually send some of the Pages running from the room, but you're quite right.
I do like the idea of the internship program. Again, all of these things are around issues associated with costs. When you're looking at where we are, where we're trying everything possible to find ways to cut expenses, it's difficult to find the ability to put more money into those kinds of programs. Nonetheless, I think it is important to have mentorship programs, internship programs, specifically ones that open up the world of political life and public service to young people. Despite all of the turmoil that has gone on over the last number of months, I believe this is a very honourable profession and I believe that the people who come here from all Parties, come to work hard, to try and make a difference in the lives of the people they represent and I think it is a good thing for young people to be exposed to.
With respect to the committees, I know that particular committee meets at the call of the Speaker. I think you indicated you had already mentioned this or wrote him a letter suggesting that there should be a meeting for that purpose. I know that in the transition into the Speaker's Chair that there are a lot of things that you have to sort through, but perhaps you'd raise it with him again. (Interruption) I can raise it as well.
There are a lot of issues around House hours, around the way in which the House operates. I guess one of the questions is, what kind of an appetite is there, really, to look at things like the length of time that we take up on a day-to-day basis with resolutions and would people rather go, for example, with the members' statements? We take the opportunity, for example, when we go into Supply, to essentially make members' statements and I think in many respects those are as useful, or more useful, than the whole resolution process. Maybe you could go to a resolution process where you could put in resolutions for unanimous proposal by tabling them, have them checked off by the other caucuses and then have them entered into the record as unanimous resolutions.
There are resolutions that we like to do, that recognize significant events in people's lives or accomplishments, so you wouldn't want to take that kind of thing out of the mix, but maybe there's a better way to do that. Maybe there are some more family-friendly hours that we could be looking at, just as an example. These are difficult for rural members who are travelling back and forth. If you're in Cape Breton, it's a longer haul. (Interruption) If you have children, that's right. So I think there is much that we could be doing. It does really go to the question of the appetite for that kind of change because, for example, I think we - and maybe this is the wrong time to discuss it because we're in the middle of this - we have one of the longest budget processes in Parliament . I think originally when they set the 40 hours of estimates, the idea was that 40 hours would be the ceiling, that you could have a maximum of 40 hours. Realistically nobody treats it as a ceiling now. I mean if you have 40 hours, you're going to use 40 hours. So, is that what the intention was and do members want to have an opportunity to have another look at that?
We also have rules around debate and when I was on the Opposition benches, you got to learn the hoist, you know, you got to learn all of the dilatory motions that exist under our rules. You could extend the debate for days and we saw what happened under Bill No. 68 where we had 24-hour-a-day sittings and all of that. In terms of a functioning House, is that really what was intended? Of course, addressing those when you're on this side of the House is always, perhaps, far more attractive than when you're on the Opposition side of the aisle because, essentially you're preserving your right to be vocal and protest - particularly in majority government. So it really does take a real appetite on behalf of the House to make those kind of changes.
Perhaps there is a willingness to do that and I'm sure it would be a good thing for the Speaker and for the House of Assembly, the Committee on Assembly Matters, to have a look at that. I've thought for a long time that this is not the only model that exists for keeping within the British parliamentary tradition, it is still not the only model that exists. I know the Scottish Parliament has some very interesting rules that they've adopted and I'm sure the Clerks have experience with what's going on in other parts of the country. Perhaps that was a long-winded way to say that I think there are things that that committee could be doing and certainly I'm happy to raise it with the Speaker when I have an opportunity.
MS. WHALEN: There are important things that we do need to talk about here at the Legislature and I know that the Budget Estimates may be seen as an odd time to ask you some of these questions but I think that we need to get that sense that we can make changes that are not all expensive. A lot of changes that are meaningful can just be done about how we conduct our business, or as you mentioned, a lot of the ideas that we can change. I would like to see us have an attitude that we are not stuck in one rut that we have to keep doing things the same way. I'm sure a lot of people felt that a NDP Government would make a big difference and would put their mark on things.
Well, you're approaching one year and certainly here in the Legislature we're doing things the same way. There has been no change there and I realize you've got financial pressures which we appreciate here, too, but I know that there are always good changes you can introduce that don't cost a lot of money. We need to look at those things and I'm sure you've heard of things like the tipping point where little changes make big differences. We just need to find those items, and we often hear you talking about evidence and where's the evidence that we could do this or that. There is evidence that small changes can make a big impact in our province, and that's what I'm looking to see, is how we can make a difference. I hope that the Premier is right in saying that he will listen to good ideas from all parts of the House and from the Opposition as well. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has now expired.
The honourable member for Argyle.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Chairman, it's a pleasure to stand to speak for a few moments. Apparently we've only got about seven minutes left so maybe I'll just tee myself up for the questions to answer for tomorrow.
First of all, I really enjoyed the discussion around boundary review that the member brought up earlier in the day. Just to bring the caution issue here (Interruptions) No, no, exactly. Speaking for the member for Richmond, and I know you, Mr. Chairman, as the MLA for Clare, they are small ridings. They are mighty ridings. They're there for a reason, of course, to have representation from the Acadian community.
Even though we do see the phenomenal expansion in some areas, like the member's area, like your area, Mr. Premier, we still have to try to balance that off with trying to have the representation in this House of Assembly. Any influence you might have on that process needs to take that into consideration. I know that we here in the House will have that same feeling.
As we look at the vacant seat in Yarmouth, at this point, I know my work load has gone up in taking over some of the phone calls that have come in from Yarmouth. I know the member for Clare is taking those calls as well. To say that at some point maybe they'll combine Yarmouth County in order to expand a seat here in the city, I don't know how that would wash with the population. I know within the Acadian community, it wouldn't wash at all. Even though I know in your comments that it sort of gives a voter's voice almost double the value, you take 20,000 voters or electors or residents, versus 9,000 and quite honestly, it is almost a double vote for that.
But, of course, they were set up for a reason in my riding, in 1984. It was actually created in 1982, first elected in 1984, and I think has caused some really good things to happen in this Legislature, to happen in Nova Scotia when it comes to representation of Acadian people in the area. I know Clare is the same thing. Clare, the largest Acadian region in all of the province, having the only French-language university - there are reasons why this happened.
I want to use the last couple of moments - I know in a bit of the Premier's tee-up, he talked about The Cat. I have to talk about The Cat. I represent an area that has been affected by this decision. I'm not going to get mad, I'm not going to yell - even though that's something I do when I'm sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else - but here are some quick comments that I hear from my constituents and maybe that the Premier can take under advisement.
Stop saying you did the right thing, because people in Yarmouth don't believe you did the right thing. Say that you made a decision that was important, say something else. I don't know what that other thing is, but just, you know - it has to do with respecting an area because a decision was made. Yarmouth hasn't felt that they've had that respect. Mr. Chairman, come more often to Yarmouth, you, your ministers, I know the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations was there, it was lovely to see her there and make a great announcement for hope, and I know she was well received there.
I know the Minister of Health has been in the area. I know the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Environment was just there on Monday making a wonderful cancer announcement to the area. Maybe I could get some advance warning about who's around so I can try to make sure we have some people around talking to them.
Mr. Chairman, to the Premier, people see the Premier as being the guy who cut The Cat. They don't see him as the Premier. They see the guy who can't seem to explain to the area why it happened. The same thing can go to his Minister of Economic and Rural Development. I would love the Minister of Economic and Rural Development to come to Yarmouth. Maybe as we try to put the pieces together on Team West or Team Southwest or whatever we want to call it, come and meet with the people. We're not all that bad. We really would like to have the time, and the face time, with those ministers to see what we're going to do next.
I've said this before and I know the chairman has asked these very same questions of what is the mandate? Who sits on these organizations? And, do you know what, the direction and the leadership comes from the top. If the minister is not comfortable in doing something, well, maybe the Premier has to say, as president of the Executive Council, okay, you've got to go do it. So I see we've got a lot of things that we need to do and, like I said, I'm not going to stand here and harangue or I'm not going to stand here and dictate, I'm just going to say, we've got to do things just a little bit differently and as the Premier you have the leadership capability to go and tell your ministers to go and do the same thing.
Mr. Chairman, I know I've only got about a minute left here to wrap up but, you know, people are probably watching this on TV and going, well, why are we doing this? Why do we continually ask questions and comments to the Premier? Well, it's not very often that we, as an Opposition, get to ask questions of the Premier nor do we get to look him in the face and talk about things that are important. I know the Government House Leader is rolling his eyes over there but we are a voice. We are a voice for our areas. We were elected by the people in our ridings just as much as everybody else over there was and we want to make sure that our voice is heard, we have the right questions, and that we have the answers that we need and that Nova Scotians deserve.
So, Mr. Chairman, I thank you very much, I thank the Premier for being here today, and I look forward to asking questions tomorrow.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for debate in Committee of the Whole House on Supply has now expired.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee do now rise to report progress and beg leave to sit again on a future day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
The motion is carried.
[The committee adjourned at 5:52 p.m.]