HALIFAX, FRIDAY, APRIL 23, 2010
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Gordon Gosse
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. Good afternoon, we will now begin with the Committee of the Whole House on Supply.
The honourable member for Argyle.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Chairman, it's a pleasure to stand and move into this first hour of estimates with the Premier. Again, this is a great opportunity to ask questions of the Premier. He is the executive officer of the province and should have a broad knowledge of what's going on in this province, what's happening in different departments. He has known for awhile about my concerns about southwestern Nova Scotia and the issues, of course, with the Cat ferry.
I do want to thank him though for working with his Minister of Economic and Rural Development for creating an organization to try to help southwestern Nova Scotia but, Mr. Chairman, I was just wondering if maybe I could ask the Premier if he could provide maybe some information on Team West and maybe the members or the organizations that will fit into Team West?
HON. DARRELL DEXTER (The Premier): Well, I want to just thank the member for that question. I believe that yesterday the Minister of Economic and Rural Development actually said that he would be checking to get that information to make sure that if any of the stakeholders are voluntary or are participating, that they are aware that information is going to be provided.
I mean, I know when that question was asked yesterday, there was a little bit of shock that it wouldn't immediately be provided. To give the Minister of Economic and Rural Development some credit, he's just trying to make sure that he is able to accommodate the sensitivities that are involved when you're asking for people to participate, just to ensure that they know that if they are under any impression or allusion that the information they're going to be providing is on a confidential basis - so it's just a matter of the minister fulfilling his responsibility with respect to those folks.
I've been surprised there has been some confusion about this because the differences are really purely on the basis of a regional approach that we're taking. The federal government had a narrower mandate they were considering. They decided they were specifically going to deal with southwestern Nova Scotia, which is fine with us. We're fully engaged in the process with the other levels of government. In fact, it was our Department of Economic and Rural Development which called the meeting with ACOA and this Team Southwest in Cornwallis to develop the terms of reference and to determine our participation.
We said we have no difficulty participating and being part of this. We do have some other regional interests that we want to be able to serve, that are a little broader than just southwestern Nova Scotia so we called it Team West and perhaps if it's confusing we could find another name. But I don't think that's the point. It's not the name that should matter to anybody, it's who's on it and what they are going to do.
I think fundamentally that what we need to do is actually take a strategic approach to this so that there is actually a mapped out, long-term set of goals that are determined and then the critical path be set out on how you will meet those. I spent some time over the years involved in economic development - I was head of the Downtown Dartmouth Development Corporation in Dartmouth. In that organization we were specifically aimed at the question of redevelopment which is really part of the issue in Yarmouth and in southwestern Nova Scotia as well.
The difference between just greenfield economic development and redevelopment is that there are usually, in redevelopment, a set of interests that are already in place. So you're accommodating a group of businesses, stakeholders, community interests that are already there, rather than simply going into an area that doesn't have those interests in just setting up something new. The level of sensitivity in your ability to work with stakeholders has to be greater in the redevelopment scenario than it is in the greenfield development scenario.
One of the things fundamentally that you want to do is, you want to go in and you want to do a genuine appraisal of the assets of the area and the people in the area are in the best position to understand what those are. They know what their strengths are in terms of natural resource assets, they know what their strengths are in terms of tourism assets. They know what their strengths are in terms of their human resource capacity. They know which businesses are already there that you may be able to leverage in order to bring in other associated businesses.
It's almost a process of asset mapping in the region that then allows you to develop some strategic goals, a timeline and of course most importantly - this is where that process of having a community economic development plan and a strategic critical path that you want to follow is kind of a well-known formula. Where most of those kinds of things actually fall down is on the implementation side.
Once you actually start implementing them, then the partners that are involved are called upon to actually put resources in. That's where the question of money actually starts to come into play. That's where your partnerships with the municipal and federal government actually comes into play and that's where your local business interests comes into play, at the point when you've actually developed a comprehensive strategy and are looking at how you're going to go about the question of implementing it.
Everybody is in a position - and they say, quite rightly, this season is now. This season is upon us. But, over the longer period we have to have a plan that's going to work on the way through. The question of transition is an important one, one we recognize and that's why when I went down to see the councillors, wardens and mayor, what I tried to point out with them, in terms of our allocation of some money for the purposes of promotion in the Maritime market, was that this was an attempt to go to the market which already provides some 50 per cent of the tourism traffic, and say this is the most logical place for us to go to try to bring more traffic into the region.
No particular plan is guaranteed or perfect but it was the notion that this would be the best way that we could help as we're developing a longer term plan. I also made it clear that I felt this was not intended to be the only thing. This is not the limit on the kind of help that we want to provide. If we find other aspects of - even in the short term - things that we can do to assist, then we're going to take those into account as I think would be reasonably expected by the members of the region. I know our member, the member for Shelburne, is of course, as concerned as I'm sure the chairman is, or the member for Argyle.
If there's anything that saddens me about this whole situation, it is that in some ways there have been attempts to try and pit one region of the province against other regions of the province and that is not our intention. When we make decisions, our intention is to simply make what we consider to be the right decision for the province as a whole and it's a tough decision.
Now, I know that the member for Argyle has said in the past, stop saying it was the right thing to do. I understand his concern about that. He says it is a concern with respect to the sensitivity of the people in the area because every time you say it, it feels like you're hitting them again. So I'm going to take that as - I think that's a point that should be considered. But I'm trying to say, earnestly, that we spent a lot of time considering this, that this was not a rash decision. It was not one that was made without forethought. It was not one made without talking to people - we did.
You always have the benefit of hindsight. Were there people who were left out of that who should have been talked to? Perhaps, but we did, at that time and I think at this point I would actually give the member for Argyle and the former member for Yarmouth - I think they were the two people who came in to see me really early on about this situation. In fact, well before the decision was ever made, I met with you both. (Interruption) Yes, I mean I think I had barely moved into my office and I don't even think we were through transition by the time that we had that meeting.
It was really useful because at that point in time, the entreaty into the office was to say, can you talk to these people in Maine? I remember thinking at the time, saying, well, I've got this file sitting on my desk which contains a fairly serious decision that we're going to have to make. Good point, shouldn't we actually be out over talking to Governor Baldacci, and at that point, I think we wrote them at that point, or at least we had contact with their office, and then we realized that the meeting with the New England Governors was coming up fairly quickly thereafter and that I was going to have an opportunity, actually, to have a face-to-face with Governor Baldacci. Other than just getting to know him because he's a neighbour and it's good to have good relations, I think the sole piece of work I had on my agenda was to talk about that particular issue.
So like I say, these are difficult decisions. No decision you make in my office is without ramifications, without effect on somebody, and I'm acutely aware of that every time I open a file on my desk, that the livelihoods of people can be at stake, the potential for economic development is there in each one of the files. There are risks associated, capital investments that can or cannot be made, questions about whether or not the payoff or the benefits of a particular agreement are sufficient to justify the decision to invest, or to grant a rebate, or whatever part of the business equation might be in front of me, so I am acutely aware of those things and work every day.
I'm sure that all the members can appreciate that often times your constituents don't exactly know what it is you do every day. I think, if the House isn't in session or if they don't see you in your constituency, they wonder what you're doing. I think I speak for all members of the House when I say, we have extraordinarily busy lives. Often we're many, many hours away from our families, because even when we're not in our office or in this place, there are briefing books, there are critic responsibilities, there are people with individual cases that you are talking to and trying to resolve problems for. There is just a lot of work.
I still maintain a constituency day, or constituency morning now, I guess. What I have found in this job is that there are a thousand different ways to try and extend your day. You start earlier and you end later, and every single meal that you have is a meeting, because one of the ways to have more meetings is, instead of just having breakfast, you have a breakfast meeting with somebody. That just happens throughout the day; it is one of the ways that time gets filled up.
If there is anything about this, and I'm not trying to be overly philosophical about it, but if there is anything about it that I have learned in the transition from that side of the House to this side of the House, is that the single biggest premium in this job is simply the time to think. You are so completely filled up, your days are so filled, that it is difficult sometimes to have the necessary time to be able to reflect, to be able to think completely about the decisions that you have to make. That is why you do have to be able to depend on the people who are around you to make good decisions and to implement the decisions you make.
I think that was, perhaps, a fuller answer than you were expecting, but I appreciate the question.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you for that answer. Just speaking to the time thing - ultimately, being here today has kept me away from my family and kept me away from a volunteer banquet that I haven't missed in seven years. But I think it was important to stand here and ask questions that are important to southwestern Nova Scotia.
We can get into a debate later about whether we could have had you here on Monday, and we could have all moved on with our regular lives and Education could have come up. There were a couple of offers that were made at that time. But, we're here today and we're going to ask some questions; it is what it is. But I thank the Premier for the answer and I know there are tough decisions that need to be made.
I want to go back to the Team Southwest discussion just a little bit. When we hear the answer of regional representation, that kind of got thrown out the door yesterday. This is why, written by Brian Flinn of allnovascotia.com yesterday, it basically says this - and of course you can't print the darn thing because they have it in flash and you can't present it here - so this is the best rendition and retype that I could possibly do and I apologize to allnovascotia.com. The Minister of Economic and Rural Development stated that Team West focused on Annapolis, Digby, Yarmouth, Shelburne, and Queens. So from a regional standpoint, more of a western view of what's going on there.
In the interview that Brian had with ACOA spokesperson David Harrigan, he stated to allnovascotia.com that Team Southwest focuses on five counties as well. Team Southwest is a regional response team comprised of government and community organizations established to identify ways of combating economic challenges facing communities across southwestern Nova Scotia. When the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, Culture and Heritage stated that Team West and Team Southwest are in many cases the same people, they overlap and they meet together. In that article was a listing of the members of Team Southwest and I find it very interesting, and I'll list them off and I'll present this to table in the House as well. We have Debbie Windsor, Chair and VP of ACOA Nova Scotia; we have Chuck Maillet, he's a Community Development Director of ACOA Nova Scotia; we have Jennie Enman, Service Manager, Citizen Services Branch of Service Canada; and we have Lisa Richard, Manager of Field Operations, ACOA Nova Scotia. So the federal government folks on Team Southwest are four.
Members of the Economic Development Agency's authorities in that area: Frank Anderson; Mike Gushue, from the Annapolis-Digby Economic Development Agency; Brian Holland, he's a CAO, Municipality District of Barrington and Team Shelburne; Neil Emenau, Executive Director of the Lunenburg-Queens Regional Development Authority, so municipally represented, that's four folks.
Provincial representation on Team Southwest, Ian Thompson, Deputy Minister; Neal Conrad, Director of Community Development, Economic and Rural Development; Louise Watson, Acting Regional Director, Western Region, Economic and Rural Development; Robert Lefurgey, Area Manager, Labour and Workforce Development; John Somers; Executive Director, Tourism, Culture and Heritage; and this one I add in because NSCC is really a provincial organization so Mary Thompson, Principal of the Nova Scotia Community College, Burridge and Shelburne. Six members of the 14-member Team Southwest are provincial representatives, four are feds and four are municipals.
I'm just wondering, since it covers five counties, the majority of the representation on Team Southwest is provincial, why do we have a Team West? I don't know and I'll provide these to you. From what you've been told, does this sound right or are we really duplicating what's happening here?
THE PREMIER: This is not a long and winding road, this is a fairly simple, straight-forward thing. The reality is that we may want to do things that Team Southwest doesn't agree with or might not come to a consensus on. Rather than worry about the structure and having to make some kind of a deal around this, we would simply convene as Team West and go ahead with the initiatives that we wanted to have implemented. It's a question of whether or not you're seeking to build a consensus in an organization around a specific list of objectives and initiatives. I went through what I said is the way to try and do that. It might come to a point where, as a province, we see a different set of initiatives that we want to implement, then we would do that under Team West rather than under Team Southwest.
In fact, rather than see them as a duplication, I think your point actually strengthens our argument on this. Because of the fact that there is this overlap, because of the fact that there is this continuity between these teams, it means that we are better able to take advantage of information flow. We are better able to take advantage of the values of consistency and coherency because we know what the plans are going to be for Team Southwest then we would be able to tie anything that we wanted to do on a more regional basis or on a broader basis directly to what we know as a result of participation in Team Southwest.
It's always a question of how you look at things. At the risk of telling too many stories, I remember this little analogy. There was a shoe company and they were trying to decide whether or not to build a new factory in a particular emerging market, so they sent two salesmen out to the country and asked them to do an analysis and come back and decide whether or not they should build a new factory. One salesman came back, issued a report and said we should absolutely build a factory in this country right away because nobody there has shoes. It's a great market. The other salesman came back, issued his report and said under no circumstances should you proceed with a factory in this country, nobody wears shoes.
It's all a matter of how you look at it. It's all a matter of perspective. That's what I'm saying with respect to - I mean, you see contradiction and confusion, but I see coherency. So, I guess these are things on which reasonable people can disagree.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I know the member for Clare as well is probably taking an interest in what's going on here. I enjoy the analysis of the lawyer sitting across from me as well. I always found it interesting if you have a lawyer in the room, you're going to have at least three opinions from that one guy. So I can only imagine with the number of lawyers that are sitting in that caucus maybe there's a lot of different opinions that happen around there on a regular basis.
To the Premier, the other thing that we do (Interruption), six, two, no there's three if you count the Minister of Justice because he's a trained lawyer, he's not a practicing lawyer. Anyway, I just remember when we would have the discussions, we only had one lawyer, he would come up with two opinions and we'd sort of pick the opinion that would work the best and we would go with it a lot of the time. They were both as important and made sense as the other, but it was just which one had the impact that was desired or not desired.
The point here that I'm really trying to make is, we do have the Minister of Finance that stands before us and says we need to find ways to save money. We're in a financial bind and in order to cut costs, provide us with some suggestions on how to cut some of those costs. To the Premier, we're going to have six people that I'm going to guess probably are going to belong on both organizations, in some cases they're going to have six sets of meetings and six sets of travels times two.
A lot of times, especially when it comes to economic development anyway, when it comes to enticing companies to areas that you go with a full voice. That's the reason you've talked about your trips to Vietnam, that we've talked about our trips to India. We go as a federal government, as a provincial government and as a municipal government - as one voice to get things done. That's what my suggestion here is, let's streamline the process.
I know there will be disagreements but I know that knowing those names - I know pretty much everybody on that list, they're all phenomenal individuals with very good minds that are going to come up with great ideas and work very hard for the people in western Nova Scotia. Including the five counties that are included there. My suggestion there is to consider it. At some point I think they need to be together so why fight the inevitable and just get it done.
I want to change a little bit, these are some comments that you, Premier, had made yesterday in response to the member for Clare's question in Question Period that revolved around southwestern shore. I don't know, maybe that wasn't exactly what you were trying to say but maybe that's how it came out, I don't know. It was reported in The Chronicle-Herald and I'll provide a copy of that article. I'm going to read a couple of paragraphs out of it. It was written by David Jackson yesterday.
The Premier took the opportunity to rip the South West Shore Development Authority while answering a question from Liberal MLA Wayne Gaudet about the mess made by this NDP Government. The Premier is quoted: He's right about the fact that there is a (Interruptions) Do you want me to start from scratch? I can start from scratch and read it all over again if you want, Mr. Chairman: He's right about the fact that there is a mess in southwestern Nova Scotia and that we understand that and we know where the root of it belongs. The Premier said that during Question Period.
My shoulders are getting wider by the day and I would have figured that he was going to shoot at the previous government, which seems to be the normal happening in this House, that the financial mess is blamed on us. Anyway, it goes on and that's not exactly what the Premier was saying. He says that it belongs squarely with the organization set up by the former government that wasted money in southwestern Nova Scotia - well, I mean, we are in there a little bit - that didn't serve the economic development goals of southwestern Nova Scotia and we're going to clean it up and we're going to strengthen the region. The Premier said outside the Legislative Chamber that there were substantial questions in how effective the organization was in how it handled money and how it operated.
I'm just wondering if the Premier has had a meeting - either during his premiership or prior to his premiership - with the South West Shore Development Authority during that time?
THE PREMIER: Well, I read the news today, I don't remember that article saying just exactly what the member said because I don't believe it referred to us in any fashion. I can say this, I have people coming to us and I've met with - not with the South West Shore Development Authority as a whole - members of the South West Shore Development Authority over time and I've certainly met with people who have been dealing with the South West Shore Development Authority. A lot of people come to me now who are contractors who are unpaid. I have municipalities who see themselves with potential liabilities as a result of what they feel are things that were told to them that have turned out not to be as they were presented.
We have an ombudsman's report which has raised - I'm not sure there's a tactful way to say it - what I'll say is, considerable concern about the manner in which that organization operated. We have a number of audits that are currently underway in relation to that organization. I would have to say that I think that in many regards the comments that I made yesterday were tempered and perhaps not as direct as I might have otherwise been. I do want you to know that we are going to leave no stone unturned with respect to the South West Shore Development Authority. We are going to make sure that there is a full examination of the activities that went on there. We're going to make sure that the audit is as complete as can be done with as much co-operation as we can get and ensure that appropriate remedies are put in place.
I think that it is critically important at this time that the people of this region can have confidence in the process that is going forward for economic development in the region. I've just been informed that there have been meetings with the agency through the Minister of Economic and Rural Development's office but you asked directly about me.
I believe that there is the opportunity for a very bright economic future for southwestern Nova Scotia. But I also believe that it is going to take perseverance, it is going to take innovation, it is going to take ingenuity and it is going to take a coordinated and co-operative strategic plan in order to make that happen and I have to say, based on everything that I have seen to date, that has not been the case.
Now, I'm an open-minded individual and if I'm presented with a case that argues the opposite of that, then I'm prepared to look at it. But that, I think, has not been the practical experience of many people in that region of the province. It has not been the experience that the departments of the provincial government have had and I think that the concerns that I voiced yesterday are a reflection of much of what I have received to date, a result of much of the conversation that I have had with people in the region, and lest anyone doubts our resolve on this, I want you to know that we are committed to the economic development future of the region and we are committed to getting to the bottom of what happened over the last number of years.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Mr. Chairman, how much time is left in our hour here, just before I ask?
MR. CHAIRMAN: There are approximately . . .
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Until 4:19 p.m., is that okay?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, 4:19 p.m.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: That's fine. Mr. Chairman, to the Premier, you actually met with members of the development authority on March 25th of last year, as you came to Yarmouth and, actually, it was the caucus meeting that you had in southwestern Nova Scotia. (Interruption) That's right, there were a bunch of the community groups that did come to see you. I have a copy of the speaking notes that the executive director or CEO of the development authority had at the time, and I just want to talk about the things that were brought forward at that meeting.
Maybe I'll get into some other pieces, too, because there are so many avenues that I could go down on this one that I really don't know where to start, but the important issues that were brought forward by the CEO at that time included infrastructure development, talking about highways and completing the Highway No. 103; ferries, the Yarmouth pre-clearance and single-hull all year; talking about Digby and continued operation; talking about the expansions of the ports in Shelburne and Yarmouth; talking about the airport having scheduled service. At that time I think the carrier had just basically come in and, of course, over the course of it, we lost one carrier and gained another one and so things are going quite well there.
In people development, new entry level trades programs with NSCC; youth wellness programs; youth engagement services; emergency housing and drop-in, we were talking about a homeless issue that we were having in Yarmouth at that time; a community youth centre for Clare; an analysis for a centre like the Tusket School community project; seeing if there are some of those courses in first and second year transferable to the community college so people could actually stay closer to home for the first couple of years in university; looking at immigration support. In community development, what was presented to you was explored renewable energy opportunities, wind, tidal, solar, geothermal. The Clare energy project, I know Warden Melanson quite often talks about that.
The decentralization of government, English and French services; investigate Georges Bank issues; ensure good health services, clinics, doctor recruitment; English and French services for the Acadian population; complete Yarmouth YMCA redevelopment was brought to you on that day; build new Yarmouth regional arts centre and maybe an expansion of the art gallery that does exist there; and complete the Rendez-vous de la Baie, which is actually all done now, I think through intervention of ACOA, I think is where the final dollars for that came through; business development to facilitate fishery diversification, looking at alternate species, new markets and value-added; support for business investment, access to capital, you know, you've probably heard that from 100 organizations by now.
Develop Yarmouth Waterfront Fish and Farm Market; import replacement or buy local plan; build new markets and new attractions; look at Yarmouth Farmers Market and the possibility of an aquarium and marine centre of excellence; expansion or redevelopment of the Black Loyalists Heritage Museum; support for new development, a new event development, sorry; Acadian games; theatre summer camps; sports-tourism, as well as to create and market new tourism packages, seniors' hostels, winter lobster events, scuba diving in the area, culinary tourism, sea tours and biker rallies.
All of those were brought to the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition at the time and his NDP caucus, fully talking about what was presented to him at that time. A couple of them really stand out to me as being important, of course the ports, for Yarmouth and Shelburne. We have, I would say, the second largest ice-free deepwater port in Shelburne that is completely under-utilized. There is that investment with Irving for the new slipway and marine facility, which should do some things but still, we need boats coming in and out of that harbour.
Yarmouth, of course the issue is the lack of industrial space in Yarmouth. Over the number of years, what has happened in the Town of Yarmouth - and I know the member for Clare, Mr. Chairman - has seen a complete change in what happens in the waterfront in Yarmouth. What used to be very industrial is now very touristy; it has been built up around the visitors who would not normally come to our shores.
Those are the projects that were brought to you by the development authority of the time, the development agency, whatever we're going to call them today, as a result of the Ombudsman report, of the partnering organizations that are part of the southwestern shore. Let's not forget that it's a - I'll say it like we do down our way - tour du tour du tour. There are three partners in that one, which is the municipalities as an amalgamation, there is, of course the federal government through ACOA and the Department of Economic and Rural Development as a partner as well.
The reason I find a bit of concern here is that as careful as the Premier was in his answer not to name names when it comes to the appearance of conflict - and if I look at the ombudsman report, these were some of the lines that were in it - there were some bylaw issues that were happening there. There were a lot of things that needed to be adjusted and I know that a number of those issues were addressed. There are six development authorities today that have made the changes that need to be made, are looking to be accepted and funded through the Department of Economic and Rural Development and for some reason the South West Shore Development Authority continues to be singled out.
A lot of people don't understand economic development and exactly what do the different organizations do. I have a really nice summary provided to me by the South West Shore Development Authority, I thank them for that and there are a number of issues and projects that have been undertaken. A lot of these issues have been undertaken under request of the municipalities, under request of the province, under request of ACOA. A lot of these things come from, of course, some of the more ad hoc members but for the most part, these are things that have been asked of these organizations.
Under Business Development Infrastructure Projects - I'll provide this one as well as I finish it up - IMO Foods, a phenomenal employer in downtown Yarmouth, down by the waterfront, the Kersen brand of kippers, smoked herring. They've done a phenomenal job and the development authority supported expansion of the fish plant for a new value-added product and 50 new full time jobs. They worked with Schooner Seafoods the transfer to new owners and retention of 100 seasonal jobs with short-term maintenance projects on the former Domtex plant.
They worked with the White Rock Mine Project, worked with JHS Fishproducts - that I know the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture have talked about on a number of occasions as well - to facilitate that establishment of this new operation and support of the negotiation necessary to receive approval for a loan and an employee rebate from government.
They have worked with the Yarmouth Airport Commission to complete that analysis for a flight training centre at the airport, you know, spent $25,000 on that one, $15,000 on the White Rock, $25,000 on Schooner Seafoods. The Dominion Textile redevelopment plan, which is one of those projects that never ends, it seems sometimes, as new companies come in and new companies flow out, it's sort of more an incubator facility as it's rolled around.
When Yarmouth did experience the closure of the Dominion Textiles plant, there were a number of people who lost their jobs. They were able to bring back employment for about 200 people. Call centre development - many times, all of us in this House have stood and talked about the success of register.com. Who's really responsible for that in the background? I know there have been thousands of hours by employees of the development authority to make that happen and looking at the possibility of expansion in other call centres as well.
We can talk about the port authority in Yarmouth that has a connection to this. This is a retention and expansion project, which is another program from the Department of Economic and Rural Development, which is housed by the development authority. We can talk about the tourism initiatives and venues. The new Waterfront Development Corporation, the Fishers' Shanty, the takeover of the Lawrence Sweeney Museum, in working with the West Pubnico Acadian Village, actually we should say that even better as Le Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Écosse. Not only is it an attraction for southwestern Nova Scotia, but is a key site for all of Nova Scotia.
There are a number of projects that were undertaken over the last number of years by it. We can talk about the Mariner's Centre, exhibition support, AGNS Western Branch, the Yarmouth lighthouse, the community centre, I need to really talk about that one. That's a project that my hand was in for a number of years when I was Minister of Acadian Affairs, but it's something that many Acadian regions didn't have. We seem to being putting up school community centres in places where the population was really small, but we weren't putting them up where we had a larger group.
Argyle is a funny constituency where it really has no centre, probably not unlike Cape Breton West, even though Louisbourg seems to be your largest town, but in Argyle we really don't have a town; our town is actually Yarmouth, as a commercial centre. Speaking to the school community centre, a lot of work went into developing that site with the CSAP, with the community, but the development of it itself happened with the South West Shore Development Authority. I think we wouldn't have the walls up, we wouldn't have it mostly built if it weren't for the work that they did.
I could go on and on and I'll provide this for the Premier if he wants to have a copy of this as well of all the good things that I want to make sure are not impacted by a snubbing of an organization. I can't say things are being ignored, all I can say is that I hope the audit is done soon. I hope that the recommendations that have been presented to the Department of Economic and Rural Development are considered and that we can find a way to get from zero right now, because right now there's nothing going on. We're pretty much at a stalemate with anything that's going on and they can't work on those economic development projects that are needed in our southwestern area right now. They are the organization, not unlike the Lunenburg-Queens organization, not unlike the Western Valley areas, not unlike the Pictou County. All of these organizations are making their changes just like making the changes in southwest.
I hope those things are being considered by this Premier, by this Cabinet. I'll allow some more time here - I've got plenty of time here - to see what his thoughts are. This is a nice long list of good things that have happened in southwestern Nova Scotia. I just want your feelings on how to make sure this moves forward and doesn't stay in park over the next number of months?
THE PREMIER: Well, I mean obviously, Mr. Chairman, we're expecting that all those interest groups, all those groups will be able to come together. Obviously that's what's ultimately in the best interests of the region. When he originally asked the question, I thought he was referring to my time in the Premier's Office but perhaps I didn't hear him (Interruption) And even before, okay. He should know that we held a series of community relations meetings around the province and rather than what I would consider to be a meeting with them, I would consider it more to have been a presentation to a group and, as he mentioned, I do recall the particular meeting he's talking about.
As you can imagine, when we hold community relations meetings, there are many groups that come to make presentations over the course of an afternoon, or in some cases a day. Those meetings would usually consist of two parts. There would be a community relations forum and then there would be community relations meetings where particular critics, or myself, would go out and see particular businesses in order to facilitate a broader understanding of the particular region or area and what it is that they're trying to accomplish.
Certainly if you spend enough money, there is bound to be good things that come out of those and, of course, we would want to ensure that there is a consistency and a continuity in those projects that we see are of value and are providing value for the area, but I'm sure that the member is aware this is an organization that is in deep financial trouble. I know the element of the ombudsman's report that are already there point to the manner in which it appears that financial controls were essentially ignored, or at the very least circumvented. I think this should be a matter of considerable concern to a funding organization and it should also be of considerable concern to individuals in the various stakeholders that make up the organization itself.
I think it's worthwhile if I read this and I'm happy to table it - it comes out of the very ombudsman's report that you mentioned. This is Dwight Bishop's conclusion after he had had the opportunity to carry out his examination, and he said:
"I find the SWSDA Board is not fulfilling its governance responsibilities in an adequate manner which extends beyond training. Greater directions and controls need to come from this Board and not the CEO. Board development appears not to have been addressed as contemplated in the performance based funding review of funding partners. There is also a need for greater oversight of administrative and management operations by all funding partners. The external review the Department of Economic and Rural Development has committed to undertake should examine this need."
That's one of the things that was said. Here's another:
"There have been considerable concerns raised regarding the effective management and administration of this organization, specifically surrounding financial and risk management. The public and the funding partners have expressed the need for an external review of the finances of SWSDA. The examples of lack of Board governance and certain financial transactions affects SWSDA's credibility in the public eye. This is damaging for any organization and has a negative ripple effect on similar organizations and all provincial RDAs. Both the Department of Economic and Rural Development and SWSDA have agreed with the recommendation from this Office to undertake three (3) audits examining governance and compliance, value for money, and the funds attached to the former youth centre."
As you know, the Ombudsman's report goes on and on and I have to say, it's not often - and this is no slight to Ombudsman's reports or Auditor General's Reports or anything - that you receive one of those reports where generally speaking you keep turning from page to page. Because of the scope of the criticism and the conclusions that were reached, this one was one of those where you just had to keep reading. Really I suppose it was more in sorrow than in anger but still, you have to feel bad for a region, which is depending on the adequacy and the efficiency and the effectiveness of an organization in order to build its economic base and create a vehicle which will allow communities to grow, will allow young people to stay, will allow business to flourish and will promote trade and commerce. To find that there are substantial questions about whether or not that is being done in the manner in which it should be, as I said, is part of the concern.
Again, I have a difficult time with people who say, well why is Yarmouth being singled out or why is this area being singled out? It's not being singled out, it's being paid attention to. We are concerned, we want to be of assistance, we want to ensure that the region is given the kind of chance to flourish that it deserves because I don't think it's enough that Yarmouth and the regions there simply be allowed to survive. I think that as communities, they have the right to thrive and we have to be part of the answer to that equation.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much, I don't know if the member for Truro-Bible Hill was clapping for your comments or the fact that I was standing up. Let's just say both and we'll go with that one.
I understand but I need a commitment from you, and maybe at some point from the Minister of Economic and Rural Development as well. If the ombudsman's report and the recommendations that are held within it are enacted, the changes are made to the organization, that the audit comes back and the changes are made on the recommendations coming from that audit, 19 - that you'll make sure that things can move on.
I think the stalemate that we're at right now as we're waiting for audits and those things to come back and waiting for the Department of Economic and Rural Development to accept the changes to the authority is that, as you said - because of the debt that has been incurred, because of request to that organization like the base in Shelburne, like the Boys' School, like the many projects that have happened and that have gone over budget and there's been no mechanism to retrieve some of those dollars. If there's going to be a move forward and especially for the organizations that are waiting for dollars - you prefaced that in your comments as well and I know the minister knows that as well - there are a couple of those projects that are now completely stuck in limbo, that cannot move forward until certain bills are paid, so my ask of you is whether or not, if everything is taken in place, things are fixed as soon as they can be fixed, that you'll allow Yarmouth to go forward in getting these projects finished.
I know you're looking at me kind of funny there, and I'm not going to get the chance to comment back on this one because my hour comes to an end pretty soon, but can I have assurance that we can continue to move forward and make sure that projects are completed? There's a debt there that needs to be paid. There are bills that need to be paid so certain projects can be finished. Can I have your assurance that at least the process will continue to move forward?
THE PREMIER: Well, I'm not sure what other point there would be to this. I mean, if the recommendations of the audits are put in place and properly addressed, if the concerns laid out in the ombudsman's report and recommendations are properly addressed, then that's the ticket to ride, right? That is exactly what we're trying to do.
We are engaged, as I've said - I thought I laid out for you the critical path toward economic development that I thought was necessary. The point of the whole exercise is to get us to the point where we can actually do exactly that, because you're quite right, there are outstanding bills down there. Let me tell you, I've asked this question - we would like to know where the project management office for some of those things were and who was making the decision. Here we are as funders for some of those projects and we can't find the answer to pretty simple questions about where some of that is. So somebody comes and asks for more money, you say, okay, I want to know where the first money went, and if you can't answer that question, then it's a pretty tough road to go down to ask for more money.
So, as I've said, we're taking the opportunity to try to do a thorough - and I'm willing to accept that there may well be answers to that. I'm just saying that I haven't seen them yet, and before we write another cheque, before we advance additional funds - and the reason why decisions get made, difficult decisions with respect to funding, is because there isn't a lot of money to go around. So, before we spend more money, we think we have the right to have answers to some pretty simple and fundamental questions.
I realize the time for this has expired. It has been about two hours, Mr. Chairman, and I wonder if it might be possible to take a break at this point before the next hour starts.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will recess for a short period of time and then continue on with estimates. We are now recessed.
[4:20 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[4:32 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd like to call the Committee of the Whole House on Supply back to order. The time for the member for Argyle has elapsed.
The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.
HON. KAREN CASEY: Thank you for the opportunity to continue asking questions of the Premier. Thank you, Mr. Premier, for entertaining my questions and I look forward to the answers.
As you might expect, I will be focusing most of my questions on students from early childhood through to adult learners, the broad range, which of course is important to all of us. I have heard you, as Premier, speak about - with pride - the quality education programs that we have in Nova Scotia. That includes, of course, our public education system and our post-secondary.
As you know, we have been called the Education Capital of Canada, and at one time there was some discussion and debate and comments about if we need as many post-secondary institutions? I as Minister of Education, and I'm sure as the Premier, you've had opportunities to visit all of the 11 university and college campuses as well 13 community college campuses. Every one of them delivers high-quality programs designed to meet the needs of the students enrolled there.
I'm also sure the Premier will remember in public education when we had options for students at the end of Grade 9 and one of those options was to follow a vocational kind of training program and the other was to follow an academic, which could have taken them on to university or college. That system appeared to work well because what it did was provide students with an option at the end of Grade 9. We know there are many students who are more inclined to work in the skilled-trades area and do well in those employment opportunities. We also know there are many students who are academically inclined and so it gave an opportunity for students to follow the path for which they were, perhaps, most inclined and, in some cases, could afford.
The other option, which really was an option we wanted to not encourage, was to get out into the work force, but for many, that's what they did and they had very successful careers. But the government of the day made a decision that there would be no more vocational schools in the Province of Nova Scotia, with one exception. That one exception, of course, is Composite Memorial in Cape Breton. It was, I think, a sad day in Nova Scotia when that decision was made, because it took away that opportunity I've just spoken of.
Since that time, I think it took a while for people to realize it had been a mistake, so then the Department of Education began to look at ways they could provide programming that might try to replicate the vocational training program that had existed. I commend the governments of the day since that time with the skills, trades, kind of programs that were offered, with Options and Opportunities introduced, and trying to give students who had an inclination for trades, to get an understanding of what it was like and was it a path they wanted to follow.
However, we still only have one school that could be called a vocational skills trade school. We looked at expanding the community college and, again, the community college is another post-secondary institution that is meeting the needs of many of our high school graduates, but it is high school graduates and so we have to look at how we can accommodate the needs of all students. So my question to the Premier would be, with the Memorial Composite High School in Sydney Mines, and with the programs that deliver skills apprenticeship training programs to their students, along with an academic program, what is the thought of the Premier on that model in other communities?
THE PREMIER: Well, that's a very interesting question actually because (Interruption) What's that? If you'll repeat the last piece?
MS. CASEY: My question was what your thoughts were on looking at the model that exists at Memorial Composite High School for other communities across the province?
THE PREMIER: I guess I'm going to go back a little ways as well, because the member in putting her question, talked about a system that was in place. Of course, that was the system which was in place when I went through high school. Particularly, I can't speak to the experience in an urban part of the province like Halifax, but certainly in regional high schools across the province very much there was that almost streaming piece that took place where young men and women went to vocational schools because, perhaps, academic pursuits were not the manner in which they intended to proceed.
Of course, in our particular area that was the Lunenburg Regional Vocational School in Bridgewater which today the member for Lunenburg West, I think, was there for a little while; I'm not exactly sure how many years, but he was there for a little while. (Interruptions) No, I didn't say as a student, he was there in a number of different capacities, I think, over the years.
I think it's interesting because I, too, have reflected back on this. I know people who went through school with me, whom I rode the school bus with, who went on to go to a vocational school and have had very successful lives. They have made a good income, they've had good solid jobs over many years, they've raised their families, they have bought homes - it was in fact a ticket for them to a very successful life. I mean I think we kind of draw a line and we say, well, this was the end of the vocational program in the province, but that's not really what happened.
There was a transformation that took place from vocational schools into the community college system and, of course, many of the programs that were offered in vocational schools were then offered in the community college system. In fact, one of the issues around that today is not so much the effectiveness of the schools in terms of continuing to provide that kind of education, but the fact that the community colleges have gone through a system where they have become more modern, more inclusive, and they encompass a broader range of programs. They have become very attractive to young people who are seeking the skills they need in order to have a better life for themselves.
Now what we're facing is a shortage of seats. They are over-subscribed. There are so many people who want to take that option that it's difficult for us, as the former minister would know, to keep up with the demand. One of the things that we have done here is to try not to take a helter-skelter approach to this; we try to take a practical or reasonable approach to this. So we said, we know they need to have more seats so let's not simply define so many seats in this program or so many seats in that program, we'll make a broad commitment to 250 additional seats, which I was pleased to be with the minister just a short time ago to support that announcement and that commitment, which is contained in this budget, the funding for this project is contained in this budget.
Instead of defining exactly where they will go, they will go into the areas of most demand, either by the student population itself or by employer groups who say these are the kinds of skill sets that we need in the labour force in order to be able to fill the demand that companies have. That's a worthwhile thing. We need to have an education system, particularly in the community college sector, which responds to the labour force requirements of the economy. That's why we're doing that.
Now, at the high school level, there is in addition to the - because what happens is that - (Interruption) I take full notice of the generosity of the member opposite who has supplied me with some coffee and I appreciate that very much. She was kind enough to pay for it as well, she knows how tight the budgets around here are. (Interruption) I'm not going to touch that one.
In addition to what's happening with the community college system is the O2 program, which is an opportunity for us to look at that very successful program that existed in the past that takes people who would prefer to have a kind of more hands-on experience, some actual trade experience earlier on, gives them what they need in addition to fulfilling the requirements that they will have for going on to community college. It assists them, through that program, into the broader community college programs, if that's what they decide to do. If they decide just to benefit from the O2 program at the high school level, that's a decision they are certainly able to make. In the event that they want to do more, they can come out of that program, and I believe they get preferred access into the community college system.
I think one of the things we have to do in the education system is that we have to account for personal growth. None of us, when we were 15 or 16, likely envisioned what it is that we are doing today. There is always an opportunity in every young person for them to achieve virtually a limitless future. I would not want to see a situation where young people make decisions when they are 15 and 16 and that closes the doors forever for them for the kind of future that they might be able to achieve. I don't think there's any reason why at some point in time we shouldn't be able to get to a position with our education system where you can walk through the doors of a community college and start off in a trade. Then through the years, through upgrading, through additional education, that you eventually could walk out the doors of a university with a Ph.D.. if that was what you wanted to achieve in your life and you had the perseverance to do that, there is no reason why we shouldn't be able to design a system that would allow that to happen over time.
We have so many competing interests in government but it is literally the case that education, by and large, is the one that will lift people out of poverty, it is the one that will change people's lives forever. So we are extraordinarily cognizant of that and when difficult decisions have to get made, it is with deep regret that we cannot, perhaps, do all of the things that we would like to be able to do in education. Because, simply put, we understand the innate value of education and the product that it provides to our broader community.
An educated population is of a particular quality and value that attracts so many other aspects of a civil society. It is through education, iIt is through training that we support our economy. It is through education that we support the cultural life of our province. It is through education that we remember our history. It is through education that we provide ourselves with the professionals who run our hospitals, who run our justice centres, who police our streets. It is literally the manner in which we conduct the idea of civil society and we won't be tied into narrow or old-fashioned thoughts about the way in which education is delivered.
There are lots of new ways that we are able to reach young people, where we are able to reach out and provide education through the Internet, through on-line learning, through correspondence. At the same time we are able to recognize that the experience that people have gained first-hand, through work that they do, has an educational value that is separate from, but equally as important as, something that they may learn in a book or in a classroom. So recognizing experience and prior learning and doing those kinds of assessment is another thing that we in this government put a great deal of value on.
As I said, and I suppose in some ways the irony of this is that I'm preaching to the converted because, of course, the member has spent her life in education and working to ensure that those services are in place. I acknowledge that and certainly in your time in government, you know, we may have disagreed with the manner in which implementation took place or on which budgets were conducted but we never underestimated or diminished in any way your dedication to ensuring that the province was well served.
MS. CASEY: I'm not surprised to hear the Premier speak about how much he values education and it is something that we do both agree on. I just want to make a few comments and two points, one in particular was with the O2 program. When that program was introduced, one of the things that we wanted to make sure it would allow is for students to get some exposure to some trades programs. At that time we had a parallel where students could pick up some experiences with the skills programs and maintain their academic program and in many cases, when they went out to do their experiences, they learned one of two things - that it was something that they wanted to do or it was something that they didn't want to do.
I think that was one of the benefits of that program, because it helped them, as you say, make an informed decision about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. I believe that we have been able to save many students who might have otherwise been discouraged and maybe dropped out of school. They can't move on to the community college program unless they do have high school leaving certificates and so I think there is an opportunity to value both, but the O2 program, I think gives them an opportunity to make that informed decision.
Having said that, and I support that, I was proud to be part of the O2 program and I saw the kids who were saved because of that program and many made the decision that was not what they wanted to do.
With the supply demand and working with industry to determine what programs would be offered at the community college, that is certainly a positive working relationship. I know the minister has both of those portfolios - Labour and Workforce Development, and Education - and I think that you can't separate the two, because the programs that are offered at the community colleges must reflect the demand. So, I guess I am happy to know and I can tell you I regretted when that division took place, when I was the minister, because I thought the two departments needed to be working closely together, and that is not to say they don't with two different ministers, but when you talk to yourself, you usually don't have any arguments. So it was nice to see that it went back and this minister now can talk to herself as the Minister of Education, then she can ask questions as the Minister of Labour and Workforce Development and the chances are the two ministers will agree. But I think that is important.
The additional seats that you talked about at the community college, again, if they reflect the demands, then I think that is great.
Something that was mentioned, and some agreements are already in place between the community college and the universities, so that students who graduate from community college can go on to university or sometimes students who graduate from university decide they want to go to the community college and acknowledgement of course work that is done in those particular institutions began a few years ago. I'm not sure how many universities have that kind of an agreement with the community college, but I think it is important that be expanded and enhanced. If you spent two or three years at a community college, and then you decide that you want to go on to university, getting credit for the work that has been done there, I think is no longer a deterrent, but you're going to get some advance placement when you go in there, so I would encourage the Premier, the minister, to make sure that more agreements with more universities are forthcoming.
Getting back to the Memorial Composite in Cape Breton, I had an opportunity to visit there and to see some of the work that the students there were doing. It was very encouraging. They were very proud of the work they were doing. They were in their own community and I think that is important because I know we can't replicate what we had, but there are some students who, for whatever reason, whether it was leaving home or whether it is finances or whatever, can't afford to get their education anywhere else but public schools. So, I guess that would be my thought that the model that exists there maybe should be replicated in some other parts of the province, and that doesn't mean that it is in every school. But I think it provides an opportunity for students who have that inclination.
You know, I hear the Premier saying, and I agree, we agree on a lot of things today, when we're talking education anyway, that students have gone on and have taken a vocation and they have become very successful, a very valuable contributor to their community and to the province and have provided a good life for their families.
I remember when I graduated from the Teachers College, way back, that (Interruption) Not that far back but thank you, I'll buy you another coffee - that there were people going to vocational school, graduating as plumbers or electricians and they were making more than I was as a teacher. I think that is commendable because they felt important, they were important. We know now, if you go to hire an electrician or a plumber, you go on the wait list, because we don't have enough of them and they are valued members of society and the profession that they have and the skill that they have can't be measured. So, I'm pleased to see that there is going to be that connection between the Labour Workforce Development and Education and the community college.
But I would not want you to not consider some kind of a model in other parts of our province. I know that we have 13 community college campuses and they are spread around the province. A review of whether the needs of all students are met through community college would be something that might be worth pursuing. I think that it is important that we recognize that students who did happen to get streamed, and I'm from the old school, when there was streaming, I did not support streaming but I think it provided an opportunity for people to continue learning but not necessarily in a strong academic program.
So, I am just going to leave that vocational/trades part for a minute and talk about the students in Nova Scotia who are involved in post-secondary and that does certainly include community colleges. One of the things that I am sure this minister, and you as Premier and I am sure other ministers and Premiers in the past, have heard was from students who were concerned about the high cost of tuition and the high cost of university.
I want to separate those two because I think there is a difference and I know there is a difference. The cost of a university education and the cost of tuition are not one and the same. One of the strategies that we had put in place as a government was a tuition reduction strategy. At that time, we were responding to what students were saying and they were saying, university costs are high. So we put in place the reduction strategy. We knew that we were well above the national average, in fact, I think at the time, there were six provinces that were above the national average and we were one of them. Not something that we would be proud of, but it was where we were. So we looked at how can we bring this tuition down to the national average and looked at projecting the tuition growth and looked at projecting where we were as a province.
We put together that strategy. We had projected that by the year 2010 we would be there and I guess we would be looking at whether we were able to get to that or not.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. TREVOR ZINCK: Mr. Chairman, I also want to thank the Premier and his staff for extending his day of work to take some questions from the members of the Opposition. Mr. Premier, I am going to start off by making some opening comments and then I will end with a question. It centres around what has obviously been a very difficult nine or 10 months, coming into government, having to make some very tough decisions based on decreasing revenues coming into the province; a budget that, obviously, your government has taken the steps to try to alleviate some of that burden with a tax increase; decisions that have been made that have affected different parts of the province, and I'm going to touch on a couple.
A tough decision was made around The Cat, in Yarmouth, and we know that the upcoming tourism season is going to be very difficult for those folks down that way in southwestern Nova Scotia.
The member for Cumberland South, in this session, has been very passionate about a tough decision that was made around the jail in Springhill. Cumberland County is also going to take another hit with increased cross-border shopping.
The members for Cape Breton North, Victoria-The Lakes and Cape Breton West have been rather emphatic in their lines of questioning around economic development and the high unemployment rates in Cape Breton. So it has been a tough nine or 10 months coming in as a new government and, obviously, dealing with the books from the previous government and again, tough decisions that you and your government had to make.
That being said, we have different regions in the province now that are taking some really tough hits, and I'm just wondering, how are you going to mesh and bring the people together again in the province? As a government, and with leadership, we don't want to separate regions in the province, we want to bring people together, but those particular communities are going to really struggle over the next coming years. I'm just wondering - I know the Finance Minister has gone up to Cumberland County and I know the Minister of Economic and Rural Development has visited the folks in Yarmouth, as has yourself - I'm just wondering if you could give me a quick outline of how you can bring the people of Nova Scotia together again so that they can solidly understand the direction that your government is going to take us in.
THE PREMIER: That's pretty broad in some senses, even a philosophical question, with respect to approach and direction of government and you're right, after nine or 10 months, you look back on this and the journey that has actually brought you here. I came into this House, as the member for Cumberland South said, back in 1998, we walked through the doors together, we sat in the Opposition. At that time there was a minority government, we went, in fact - and I don't know if this was a record or not - but in 10 years in the House I was in three minority governments. That's not something you see, in fact, minority government, for me, was the norm, rather than a majority. So it was a completely different feeling about the way in which government was operating.
In some senses you don't see the kind of thing that you see in a minority because at the end of the day, in a majority, the government makes a decision; in a minority, of course, the accommodation that has to take place is more profound. I mean, you have to find a way to be able to find that accommodation.
Interestingly enough, I actually think it is harder on the Opposition than it is on the government because, of course, you realize then, that when you're in Opposition, the actual effect of your decision is that it can bring the government down, that you can force an election, so you want to be very careful about how you make those decisions. I've listened to the member for Inverness saying why did you support these budgets over the years. Well, in minorities there are a lot of reasons, you might not even agree, necessarily, with everything that's in a budget and in a majority you might well vote against them. But in a minority you have to be responsible for all of the consequences of your actions and you just can't pick one or two.
I look back at the election and I think to myself, what happened was not a revolution, it was an evolution. It was an evolution in the sense that it was a group of people as a Party who over many years built up a certain level of experience and understanding of who it is that they're actually talking to when they're talking about the political work that they do.
I realize this is a bit of a road to get to where you want to be but in that sense we know that serving the people of Nova Scotia, in and of itself, and bringing them together is a broad-based matter because it won't be the same in every region of the province. There are different interests - in fact, in my view, different economies. There are different cultural traditions, there are different attitudes about the way in which they want to protect their way of life. I think some would argue that is probably most profound on Cape Breton Island. It has a deep cultural tradition, has developed its own unique way of addressing issues and concerns.
Our direction, our decision, is to try and build in each one of the areas as inclusive a procedure or process as we can. We literally would want to try and bring people together. It's not just regional, it can be issue-based. You have to look for the areas of accommodation.
For example, I'm also the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. We have Aboriginal communities all across this province and I'm saying this because I'm here, but I don't know what the attitudes of past Ministers of Aboriginal Affairs are, but I see this as an extraordinary opportunity that is set out before us; an opportunity to lift up, economically and socially, many communities of Aboriginal people right across this province. To include them, to allow them opportunities to build better lives, to create stronger forms of governance for themselves. To treat them, as they have for many years been demanding to be treated, as the legitimate government of their people. I think in those communities we can build a kind of attitude, a kind of spirit of co-operation that will be able to bring them together.
I think we can do the same thing on issues like the one we did today, for example. Today I think we had a remarkable economic development and renewable electricity plan that we set out that brought together people who want to see this province become more independent, become more sustainable in their use of electricity. The people who are interested in this come from all areas of the province. They come from many different kinds of communities. There were municipalities, Aboriginal representatives, small communities that want to set up CEDIFs to get smaller projects on. There were large, institutional investors, people from DSME who are interested in and committed to building an industry here on the basis of renewable energy. We can bring people together around those things because we recognize the inherent value associated with it. I'm using those as examples, but what I'm saying is I think the values that we bring to this are values of collaboration and co-operation. You know that in the history of this Party, we used to be called the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. I mean that notion that there is a commonwealth in society which we can harness for the general benefit of the public is as much a part of the members of this government as it is of the history of the Party that we belong to.
So, it may not always be recognizable on a day-to-day basis, but that's what we're trying to do and I think, in some sense, it's trying to set right some of the things that have gone on in the past. I think one of the good examples, of course, is what I thought was a tremendous outpouring of support around the Viola Desmond pardon and apology. I think the Africville community response to the apology there, and to the investment being made by the government, is another example. I think we can find ways, as you say, to build that sense that there is hope, because that's really what this is about, it's about hope.
I say often when I'm talking to people that we come into government at a difficult time - and I don't want to use up all your time because I know you have other questions - we come into government at a difficult time. We know there are challenges and we spend a requisite amount of time dealing with the challenges but we cannot be consumed by only the challenges, because the other side of the equation is opportunity, and we have to spend as much time on opportunity as we do on challenge.(Applause)
MR. ZINCK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I would have to agree, Mr. Premier, we have a lot to celebrate in this province and oftentimes we don't do it enough. You were quoted recently, upon taking some questions around your trip to Vietnam, about that very point, promoting Nova Scotia.
In the past I've had an opportunity to go on a venture with the Department of Economic and Rural Development. There was a long-time civil servant, Marvyn Robar, who I asked that very question of, why don't we have industry or manufacturing or folks coming here and setting up business? His comment to me, three years ago, was, we don't tell anybody about our successes here, we don't promote ourselves enough. That was something that you quoted around that trip to Vietnam and I want to specifically ask you, you also said that there were 10 memoranda of understanding that you had gone on and signed, issues around support for the Port Authority and shipping, I'm wondering if you can tell me when we can maybe see, or when the province will see, some of the fruits of those labours that you had put in Vietnam.
THE PREMIER: Well, those are good questions because I think it is important that we talk about the value proposition that exists whenever we do any of these things. Oftentimes, of course, they get tied up in what it costs and we don't see the other side of it. I mean it's that whole question of what is the challenge, what is the opportunity, and we don't necessarily see what the payoff is. What's interesting - and if you want, I can try to get exact figures on this but for the sake of argument let's just take these, I'm trying to recall them from memory, let's just take them as relative examples.
I think Vietnam produces something like 26,000 students every year who go abroad for education. Nova Scotia gets a very small percentage of those students. Now, they have a completely different way of dealing with universities and out-of-province education than we would be used to. Students there, when they are graduating from high school, hire an agent. The agent goes out and finds various appropriate universities that may be of interest to them. So the student, through the agent, will negotiate with the schools and the country that they are going to to ensure things like, not necessarily the cost of tuition, but things like can their visa requirements be completed in time, in order to ensure that they are going to get and be able to stay through the school years, those kinds of issues. They depend on an agent to do that sort of thing.
One of the things we were doing when we were in Vietnam was meeting with the agents because, of course, they are the ones who have direct access to the students. We are not used to this because the agents get paid fees, both from the student and from the universities that they are dealing with, so they get them essentially on both ends. If you don't have a relationship with the agent, then essentially - there are a small number of those students who wouldn't have agents. We're not used to dealing with this this way, so we had to look at this from kind of a cultural perspective, so we had to sort that out. That's one aspect of it.
Another aspect of it is, as I mentioned, the amount of time it takes for a student to get a visa to come to work or come to school in Canada. To my surprise, the agents told me that it would often take many months to get a visa to come to school in Canada, where they could get a visa in three days in the United States. This is post-911, this is in an era where we're incredibly concerned about security issues, because of our relationship with the U.S., but yet they can supply and meet the visa requirements of students.
The memoranda that were signed were signed more broadly than with the notion of us getting students to come here. The memoranda we were signing were with other institutions in Vietnam that were signing them with institutions here, for the purposes of working together. For example, it would be possible for you to do two years at a university or post-secondary institution in Vietnam and then do your last two years at Saint Mary's. So those were the kinds of agreements that you would see.
In terms of me knowing necessarily this year how many students will go to Saint Mary's as a result, well that's difficult for me to say but I'm sure they would know and they would be able to tell you the manner in which they pay off. What I can say is that they were very pleased with the connections they were making with that process.
Now on the trade side, that was a completely different thing because on the trade side we have seen the rerouting of the "K" Line, which is going to be very important for us because we are going to be the first port of call now for shipping into Vietnam. This is a tremendous economic benefit. I believe that very soon there will be an announcement with respect to an additional carrier coming to Halifax, I expect that. I met with the president of "K" Line, who is already making a port of call here.
One of the things we did while we were there was we said how are we going to get the attention of people. So we went out and issued an invitation to Vietnamese companies that do business with Canada and Canadians working in Vietnam and got them all together, in one room, one evening for a kind of reception. The result of that was, myself and the head of the Port Authority met an individual with Magnussen, which is a freight handling and furniture distributor working out of Vietnam. They shipped exclusively through West Coast ports, and in the course of that meeting we simply said, well why is it that you only ship through British Columbia. He said well, quite frankly, we just never really thought of Halifax as an option for getting our product into the midwest. We said, well, how about if we see if this relationship can't work.
The result of that was they worked with the Port Authority here, they sent some test boxes through to see how much it was going to cost, what the timeline was going to be, to ensure that the supply chain was secure and they sent that through Halifax. I understand now they have diverted all of their supply through Halifax.
This is an extraordinarily good news story in terms of the development of the port. This comes about because you are there, because you take the opportunity to invite people in, and I'm told - and I think that the experience of the former government would be, that when you bring your head of government, when you bring a minister that's important, when you bring your head of government that's even more important, and you will tend to get more people who will come to these events because, particularly in Southeast Asia, they put an elevated level of importance on a meeting, depending on who is there.
This is not an opportunity for me to brag, it's just to say that I fill this office and, as a result of that, I have a responsibility, I think, to the economic interests of the province to ensure that we are projecting ourselves upon the international stage, the economic stage of the world. In our case, half of the trade, half of the cargo that comes through the Port of Halifax is now coming through Southeast Asia. These are our customers. You are in business, you know, you work with your customers. You are there to serve them and that's our market, so I see myself in that regard as a facilitator of that. I notice you probably want to get another question.
MR. ZINCK: Mr. Chairman, I think some of the people have to understand in this province, those of us who maybe have not had the opportunity to travel or do business with other cultures, the key thing is you don't just go there one time, sign a contract, and business is done, it's all about building relationships with those folks and that's a part of the culture.
I think governments in the past have been criticized for taking trips and Nova Scotians have been outraged at some of the expenses we've incurred on these trips. It is not a one-time deal, and people have to understand that when you are dealing with other cultures. The handshake is very important but Nova Scotians have to understand you don't get that handshake by a one-time meeting, it's many times meeting and getting to understand each individual who is in the room, so I'm glad to hear that.
I'm going to touch a little bit on the post-secondary, and then I want to talk about immigration real quickly. Part of the success that we will see is having our post-secondary students actually stay in our province. We've talked about out-migration over the last number of years, you made mention - these students who come from overseas, a large majority of them come to our universities. The universities and our economy benefit from that, but it's getting them to stay here afterwards.
We always talk about tuition relief and the $15,000 tax credit after, and some people aren't happy, they need it during. One of the things I've recognized over the years is the fact that we could probably have the highest tuitions in the country, if on the other end, there was a job for that student coming out. They wouldn't probably mind as much. So the economy and building this province back up, getting back to balance, eliminating the deficit, it's going to be key with that, is having those students come out, having those foreign students actually stay here and participate in the economy.
Your economic panel, one of the things that they suggested as being important for getting us out of the situation we're currently in fiscally is around the recommendation of immigration. I know that there are a number of immigrants who have come here over the years. In my previous business I dealt with many of them from various backgrounds, various countries. Certification was always an issue around their professional status. There are some immigrants who will tell you we have probably the most educated taxi service in all of the country, folks who come here with degrees and these are some of the jobs they get. A lot of immigrants come here and they end up, unfortunately, on social assistance because they can't get employment.
Of course, immigration is a federal issue, citizenship is a federal issue but in this province we need immigrants to stay here, to put down roots, to embrace not just our culture but allow us to embrace theirs. The recent issues around the Nova Scotia Nominee Program, we had that whole debacle in previous years and immigrants might not look forward to coming here now. We don't have a program currently, but I know it's on your mind and I know it was recommended with the economic panel as being one of the ways out of this situation.
So I'm just wondering, and you can run the clock out, I know I only have a couple of minutes, but I'm wondering what steps do you feel that you're going to be able to take as a government? Conversations you might have with the federal government around citizenship, and maybe the possibility of some form of program other than having families come over and whatnot. Because we need the investment financially but we also need the workers. In all cases, Nova Scotians, I think we have to do a better job at actually welcoming immigrants. If we have that success, maybe this won't be just a point of entry into Canada, that being Nova Scotia, and then they go off to Toronto or they go out West to B.C. We need these folks to stay here but I'm just wondering what do you see in the plans over the next coming years as far as how we can entice folks to come in here.
THE PREMIER: Well, I've got about two minutes I think here before that runs out so it's kind of tough to talk about an immigration strategy but, our commitment is to get 7,200 landings over 10 years. So I mean we recognize this is a major challenge and we also recognize the demographic challenge for the province but, fundamentally it all comes down to this. When we talk about new immigrants, a fundamental thing that they want to know is that there is a place for them in the communities, in the economy. That is what we need to sell, in terms of bringing more people into the province. In my view, I don't know why we have such a tough time with this because we are friendly, accommodating, open people and we should be able to sell that to immigrant communities.
If you look at the strength - I was at the Chinese New Year, an extraordinary event, it was wonderful. The Lebanese community which, of course, you know well, is part of the backbone of our province. You go through the various communities that exist in this province and they have enriched us, they have helped build this province over many years. We need to find that strategy, and we're working as hard as we can to embrace that strategy of selling the openness that we have, selling the beautiful province we have and bringing more people into local communities. I think you know that I'm very much committed to it. As to the specifics of programs, as I say, it's difficult because I know I've now run out of time. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That completes the hour for the Opposition to ask questions of the Premier. The Chair will now invite the Premier to make closing comments on his estimates.
The honourable Premier.
THE PREMIER: I'm not going to take a lot of time. I just want to say this about estimates and this time that we've spent over the last three days. As the member for Cumberland South said awhile ago - we came through the doors of the House together and when we were in Opposition we spent a lot of time in those seats, and I happened to be in Opposition for a long time, so I spent a lot of time in those seats.
I had the benefit of sitting for a number of years next to John Holm and John would always get up and say, I just have a couple of words to say, and then an hour later he would sit down. So I served with him; I also served and sat on your benches with George Archibald and you will remember, Mr. Speaker, those rascals over there, is what he used to say, and he would speak at length. (Interruption) I appreciate that.
I had the opportunity to sit over there and to spend hours in debate and to talk about the things that mattered to me, talk about my philosophy, what brought me into the House, what brought me into politics, what brought me to this life. What I found in this transition is I don't spend as much time here in the House, necessarily, because I'm constantly being pulled out to do other things and to the commitments that you have to do if you're a minister or if you're the Premier.
These estimates, in fact, have given me an opportunity over the last three days to actually talk a bit more broadly about these things. I'm pleased with that. There is a tremendous weight that comes with government but the reality is that we are going to carry that weight, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes the debate on the Estimates of the Office of the Premier.
Shall Resolution E20 stand?
Resolution E20 stands.
Resolution E16 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $4,115,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E25 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $3,522,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of Intergovernmental Affairs, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution Nos. E16 and E25 carry?
The resolutions are carried.
On behalf of all the committee members, we wish to thank the honourable Premier and your staff for your presentation before the Committee of the Whole House on Supply.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
The committee will recess for a couple of minutes and then we will continue.
[5:36 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[5:38 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee on Supply will reconvene. We will begin the Estimates of the Department of Education.
Resolution E4 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,315,365,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Education, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Chair will invite the honourable Minister of Education to make some opening comments and introduce her staff to the committee members.
The honourable Minister of Education.
HON. MARILYN MORE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to thank the members present for the opportunity to talk about the Department of Education and our ongoing work to improve learning in this province.
First, please allow me to introduce Darrell Youden, senior executive director of Corporate Services, and Dr. Alan Lowe, senior executive director of Public Schools, who will be assisting me answering your questions today.
Before I begin, Mr. Chairman, I'd like to take a few moments to thank my staff at the Department of Education, our school boards, teachers and school administrators, support staff, school advisory councils, parents, school volunteers and all our other partners who together share the responsibility for educating our children and making public education work in this province.
I also want to acknowledge those at our universities and community college campuses whose teaching and research cement Nova Scotia's reputation as a learning province. The strong and productive partnerships we enjoy at the post-secondary level are part of the reason we are Canada's university capital. Nova Scotia is, and will continue to be, an excellent place for young people to get their education, because of the dedication of the people we have working in both public school and post-secondary.
Mr. Chairman, as everyone in this Chamber is well aware, the coming year will be a very challenging one for all Nova Scotians, including those served by, or working in, education. We are in a time of serious fiscal restraint. Every sector, education included, must share in the responsibility of bringing Nova Scotia back to a financially sustainable path. That means making some hard choices. It also means spending what we have, smarter. The challenge for us in education will be making sure that we strike the appropriate balance between economic efficiency and ensuring students in the classroom, or on the college or university campus, are not adversely affected by our funding choices.
Mr. Chairman, I believe we have a budget that strikes the balance, preserving what we value most in education and, at the same time, allowing our sector to live within its means.
I wish I could stand here and be in a position to defend budget increases that are much higher. What I can tell the members of this Assembly is that there will be more money for education. Mr. Chairman, we are increasing our investment in the public education sector by $26 million this fiscal year, an increase of 2.4 per cent. The increase to our eight school boards is $20 million and that means that the budgets for all boards will increase at a time when enrolment is declining by more than 2,500 students, or about 2 per cent this year.
In 2010-11, per student funding is increasing by $400, or 4.1 per cent, to over $10,100 per student. The fact that we have been able to provide a modest increase is good news. However, the increase will not be enough to allow us to add new or expand existing programs. I also acknowledge that boards may even be challenged to deliver the same level of service as they provided last year. They will have some very difficult decisions ahead of them, despite this increase.
As many of you know, we work very closely with school boards throughout the year and through the budget process, so that there are no surprises. We have worked together to identify their cost pressures and we are providing them with as much flexibility as possible, to utilize their funding to the maximum benefit.
I might just take a moment to highlight some examples of where we are helping boards get the most out of the $1.1 billion they will be receiving from taxpayers this year. We are allowing them flexibility with the funding they receive from us. My department recognizes that every board is unique and so, in this difficult budget year, we are giving some additional latitude to boards to address more of their own spending priorities.
I want to add here, Mr. Chairman, that certainly I, as minister, and I know my department and government, truly value the role of elected school boards at the community level. I was very fortunate to be a candidate in the very first school board election in this province. That was after several years of working with other people, trying to encourage the government to take that move. In those days we only had partially elected school boards and later on they became fully elected. So I, of all people, fully appreciate their autonomy, their responsibilities and their mandate. I certainly recognize the heavy responsibilities they have in reflecting the many interests within their communities but particularly the best interests of every single student in this province.
Mr. Chairman, my government continues to put education among its highest priorities. Like all departments, we and our boards are doing our part to protect the taxpayers' investment in the education of our children. Our goal is to help develop an environment where education and training are valued and achievement is celebrated. Although we are facing challenging economic times, those goals will not change.
In English language arts and literacy we will be increasing our investment by $100,000, to $2.3 million, to help support a number of priorities, including the training of 70 literacy mentors, grants of $500,000 to boards to supplement implementation of the Active Readers and Writers in Action and other literacy programs. Our investment in mathematics increases to $2 million, to address increased training for 100 math mentors and provide continued support for students not meeting expectations on the Early Elementary Mathematical Literacy Assessment at the end of Grade 3. We are also extending the support to students in junior high who did not meet expectations.
Mr. Chairman, my department, led by the Student Services Division, along with the Public Schools branch, continues to work hard to support students with special needs. Targeted funding to address gaps in core professional service ratios in areas such as resource, school psychology and speech language pathology have been met provincially. We have developed professional development resources to support programming and services for students with autism spectrum disorder. An autism resource for teachers has also been developed and will be released in 2010-11.
Mr. Chairman, as many here today know, I recently announced my response to the Tuition Support Program Review. The Tuition Support Program provides eligible students with financial assistance during an intensive, short-term placement at a designated special education private school. The review recommended three years and I accept that recommendation. A three-year time limit, with an optional fourth year for transition, if necessary, reflects the intended purpose of the program as a short-term intervention in designated special education schools. This program is not the only option for students with special needs, but it should be seen as part of a continuum of supports offered by the public system.
Mr. Chairman, the department has also taken the lead in implementing the SchoolsPlus program, which is a model of inter-agency collaboration developed as part of the Child and Youth Strategy. The program, currently in 17 schools and four school boards, is improving coordination and collaboration in our delivery of programs and services for children, youth and families. The SchoolsPlus model is helping us provide timely identification of, and response to, children and youth in need of additional support and services and to better coordinate community and agency activities and resources.
Mr. Chairman, there is no denying that Nova Scotia is a greying province. In fact, we have the oldest population in the country. We are also seeing fewer students entering the public school system. As the majority of Nova Scotians age, priorities begin to shift and needs change. As we retire and our children grow, things like health care become the focus. Although the health and well-being of Nova Scotians is paramount, we cannot forget this province's youth and the importance of education and training. In order to make this province the best it can be for Nova Scotia's families, education needs to be at the top of the agenda.
Mr. Chairman, there is no doubt that Nova Scotia's young people are the future of our province. With their fresh ideas and zest for possibility, we must continue to engage youth about the exciting opportunities that exist right here at home. Our students of today and tomorrow are what will keep this province's workforce and economy strong. As the need for health care workers, tradespeople and technologists grow, we need to do absolutely everything we can to expose our youth to the wonderful careers they can have in Nova Scotia.
On that note, Mr. Chairman, the Department of Education has undertaken a number of initiatives to make Nova Scotia even more attractive to help young people build a life here. Options and Opportunities is one of those initiatives. It is one of our great success stories in public education. O2, as it is known, is an exciting high school program, which offers students more hands-on learning experiences with a career focus. Options and Opportunities captures the attention of students because it is different, it not only encourages students to develop hands-on skills but also gives them the invaluable opportunity to put these skills into use while still in high school.
Mr. Chairman, this year boards will be receiving more than $7.5 million to fund the province's O2 Program which is run in 46 schools across Nova Scotia. This funding will allow the O2 Program to increase engagement among students who have recommitted to building a new approach to their education. This commitment includes the development of a career plan and the ability to transition to work, a career path for post-secondary programs.
Mr. Chairman, O2 was first established during the 2006-07 academic year and was offered in 27 high schools. Today the program is offered in almost half the high schools across the province with more than 1,600 participants. Participation in this program has quadrupled in just about four years. This is a testament to its great value and success. This year we are moderately increasing funding for O2 by $414,000 - allowing the program to continue to expand and grow where already committed. This additional money will fund the remaining months of Grade 12 this school year in eight schools, expand the program from Grade 11 to Grade 12 in nine schools, and expand the program from Grade 10 to Grade 11 in École du Carrefour. By expanding the program and engaging students at an even younger age, we will be able to help more young people successfully transition into the workforce or educational opportunities.
Mr. Chairman, since the program's inception evidence shows that the attendance and grades of O2 students have improved with principals reporting fewer discipline issues. The students themselves express that they're developing self-esteem and self-confidence. Some students have even described the program as life changing. In short, O2 is helping students identify visible opportunities that showcase their unique abilities and talents and channel them into bright, successful careers here in Nova Scotia.
Another way my department is helping students transition into the workforce is through the high school Co-operative Education Program. Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to say this year's budget will include $300,000 for Co-op. This money will support school boards in the delivery of the program beyond O2 in 25 schools across the province. Co-operative Education helps students plan their education and get hands-on experience in potential careers while they are still in school. Students complete 25 hours of in-class preparation before their 100-hour placement with a qualified employer. Students come away with real work experience, new skills and better knowledge of workplace preparation, career planning and health and safety practices. Co-op placements are available in many types of work settings, reflecting the wider range of student interest and abilities. Placement time can be completed during regular school hours, evenings, weekends, holidays or summer.
Just a few short years ago, Co-op was struggling with low student enrolment and very little school and employer participation. But because of teacher, employer and community support, as well as the creation of some vital positions at the department and board level, Co-op is now in high demand. Currently 83 of the province's 87 high schools offer Co-op with over 3,000 Co-op credits earned this year. This growth represents thousands of connections between employers and students, totalling a 700 per cent increase in participation since 2006. This expansion is evidence that there is a strong appetite for programs like Co-op and it's proof that this type of learning works.
Mr. Chairman, I recently attended a Co-op panel discussion at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth to recognize the many students, teachers and employers who have helped to make the Co-op program such a success. Four students participated in the panel discussion and I was so impressed with their enthusiasm and excitement for the Co-op program and their placements. One student told me that he was working part-time with his Co-op employer while he attends college. Another student called the program life changing. These are just two examples of the many success stories that have come from the Co-op program. These stories are a testament to the program's value and I look forward to hearing even more stories as Co-op continues to grow.
As part of the Co-op expansion efforts, the province has developed and strengthened partnerships with the Nova Scotia Community College and industry. One example is the Building Futures for Youth program. It allows Grade 10 and Grade 11 Co-op students to explore careers in the construction industry. The program can provide up to three Co-operative education credits, banked apprenticeship hours, and eligibility for one of the three Construction Association Nova Scotia - Building Futures for Youth at the Nova Scotia Community College scholarships. Co-op is a valuable learning experience for all students and I'm very pleased that the program continues to grow each academic year. Co-op is a great way for students to make connections with employers and explore opportunities that could turn to a future career here at home.
Many of those careers are in the skilled trades. Mr. Chairman, in June 2007 the Construction Sector Council released a report which predicted that the annual retirement rates for construction trade workers in Nova Scotia will increase, resulting in a total replacement need of more than 5,000 skilled workers over the next 10 years. As the economy of the province grows, so too will additional demand for skilled workers.
Mr. Chairman, Nova Scotia's skilled trades workforce will form the backbone of the province's economic growth over the coming years and this is an area of tremendous employer demand. The active decision by a student to enter into the skilled trades as a career choice can result in a number of positive outcomes. The skilled trades span many differing skill sets so work choices are many. Quality of life increases as good paying jobs result in higher earning capacity. There is the respect that comes from productive work and the professionalism that is required of skilled trades people.
Recognizing the importance of this option for our students, the Government of Nova Scotia committed to further expand choices for hands-on learning in the areas of vocational and composite programming. This new programming will offer students opportunities for trade-specific learning in high demand areas such as metal, wood, plumbing and pipefitting, and electrical work. The skilled trades suite of courses and the Skilled Trades Centre, a unique specifically designed learning environment designed by educators, tradespeople and members of industry, are the beginning of the integration of the skilled trades in Nova Scotia's public schools. Skilled Trades 10 engages students in the investigation of the skilled trades, the impact they have on society, and the opportunities that exist for those who pursue a livelihood by working as skilled tradespeople. In addition, Skilled Trades 10 offers students multiple opportunities to experience the rewards that come from hands-on learning.
Construction Trades 11 continues to focus on the skills and knowledge developed through prerequisite Skilled Trades 10. It further defines these skills and knowledge in an authentic construction environment. Trades that are experienced by students include carpenter, construction electrician, floor covering installer, lather, painter and decorator and plumber.
In Trades 12 Co-operative Education courses, students will apply and extend their previous learning in on-the-job work placements. In 2010-11 my department will invest more than $937,000 to support skilled trades education courses. I'm happy to say that will allow us to begin a skills trade education program at Parkview Education Centre. We will also work with boards to identify additional sites with a view to expanding the program to one or two additional schools.
As part of the preparation process for a career in the skilled trades - or for any career - workplace health and safety must be a consideration. I'm sure you'll find these statistics as disturbing as I did but in 2008 alone, 4,000 young workers were injured on the job in this province - 1,000 of those youth even lost time due to their injuries. These numbers are simply unacceptable. In an effort to better educate and prepare our young people for the realities of the workforce, my department, in partnership with Labour and Workforce Development and the Workers' Compensation Board have teamed up to develop eight hours of in-class instruction on workplace health and safety for Grade 9 students.
This workplace health and safety module will be a part of Healthy Living 9 curriculum and will teach Grade 9 students how to respect their work environment and arm them with the knowledge to prevent a workplace injury. The outcomes for this healthy living unit do not just teach students the difference between safe and unsafe work, it also teaches them their workplace rights. It teaches and encourages students to question and evaluate their work environment regardless of the nature of the work they are doing or who they are performing the work for.
This module was piloted in five schools across the province during this academic year. The five teachers who participated in that pilot are coming together in May to discuss the module's benefits and ways to improve the unit before introduction into all Grade 9 classrooms this Fall. This module gives students the knowledge, power and positive re-enforcement they need to make confident, competent decisions in the workplace from the minute they start their first job. It is my hope that these students will carry this knowledge with them throughout their careers as we work to create a more safety conscious Nova Scotia. The students who complete these courses will have the knowledge and skills they need to make an informed decision about the next phase of their education or training.
To support any decision, a wide variety of learning resources are needed. That is why I'm proud that in the 2010-11 budget the province has invested $8,332,000 in the Credit Allocation to ensure students and teachers have access to the learning resources they need. Authorized learning resources accessed through the Credit Allocation represent a breadth and depth that is necessary to engage the diverse population that we serve in Nova Scotia. Far beyond textbooks, the Authorized Learning Resource inventory includes a wealth of printed resources in both fiction and non-fiction as well as hands-on manipulatives and software for productivity and student learning. These resources captivate students and support them in achieving outcomes across all subject areas with interest and enthusiasm, equipping them well into the 21st Century.
Our strategy for the 21st Century learning ensures that students develop the information and digital literacy required of citizens in an information age. Our strategy provides for the equitable access to current technology, for learning, tailored teacher professional learning, technical support, digital curriculum and high-quality curriculum software and learning experiences. In these endeavours we are working very closely with our school board partners. Students graduating from Nova Scotia public schools must be well-positioned as information age learners, employers and employees. Indeed, Nova Scotia's capacity to flourish depends upon our success in this regard.
Government is sustaining its $4,280,000 Information Economy Initiative investment. This funding supports boards in purchasing hardware such as computers and LCD projectors and software, funding technicians to service computers and providing technology mentors to lead professional development of teachers in the effective use of Information Economy Initiative to support teaching and learning. We know that further investment will be necessary to ensure that all our graduates have had access to learning experiences prerequisite to digital literacy.
We will enhance opportunities for students to pursue high school credits through on-line learning, particularly for those students in small high schools with fewer than 300 students. On-line learning provides a way for students to access high school credits regardless of their location within Nova Scotia.
We will improve our capacity to create DVD and on-line professional development resources that specifically address Nova Scotia needs. Resources in digital and multimedia formats allow teachers to access an even wider range of professional learning experiences anytime and anywhere, instead of at the expense of teaching time in class. Such just-in-time professional resources meet the needs of dedicated and very busy teachers. Because of the learning these experiences and resources provide, Nova Scotia students are among some of the best and brightest in the country. Like a proud grandmother, I like to brag about this fact as much as possible because it represents the dedication this province's students and educators have toward their learning.
In about a month I will be releasing my annual report to parents and guardians. This report will provide Nova Scotians with valuable information about student achievement and the state of public education in the province. As Nova Scotians read through this document, they will gain a better understanding of how schools use assessment results to plan instruction, set goals for improvement and record the academic growth of their students.
In past years, students have improved considerably, 2009 followed that trend. For example, students improved their listening and expository writing skills, 85 per cent of the students also met reading outcomes. These results reflect the department's focus on explicit instruction in language arts and teacher commitment to ensuring quality literacy instruction for all students in the early years. This year my report will focus on school improvement as an ongoing theme. Once Nova Scotians receive this report, I am sure they will be as proud as I am. My report will highlight our achievements, but it will also shine a light on areas that require attention. I won't say too much more on the report, but I do want to acknowledge that continued growth and improvement is a collective responsibility. I appreciate the ongoing role Nova Scotia's teachers, parents and education partners play as we continue to take responsibility for our students' learning.
It is also our responsibility to provide safe, healthy and appropriate learning environments for our children. The health and safety of students and staff is our highest priority. Through our Health Promoting Schools Initiative, which is a partnership with the Department of Health Promotion and Protection, we are working to improve the health and well-being of our students because students who are healthy are better able to learn. We have fully implemented our food and nutrition policy for Nova Scotia public schools and I am happy to state that the majority of schools have made excellent progress towards meeting our policy objective. I'm also happy to note that the current budget we have provided an additional $400,000 to assist school boards to continuing to implement our safe schools policy.
That commitment to health also extends to our school construction program. The Department of Education has an extensive construction and renovation plan for our schools. This year we will spend $128.8 million upgrading and building schools. To ensure students get to school in modern, safe transportation, we will buy 63 new buses at a cost of $5.6 million this year.
We also have a duty to set a good example for all students and Nova Scotia families in the area of environmental stewardship and we are doing that in a number of ways. Let me outline three. The buses we are buying will be fuel efficient and low in greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, all eight of our school boards are participating in a program to retrofit schools with more energy-efficient lighting. Thirdly, we design and build all our schools to very strict leadership, energy and environmental design program standards so they will use less energy and water. Those are just three examples and we intend to continue to do our part to reduce climate change.
I would also like to take a moment to say just a few words about our plan to begin implementing our much anticipated student information system, which will have a significant positive impact on the public school system. A modern school system is a complex and data-hungry organism. Government has introduced significant changes in the past number of years that require the public school system to manage and track student data. School boards have been working with outdated, inconsistent, limited and incompatible technology to manage that data.
An education data system has been proposed for many years but cost, budget priorities and other factors have meant a delay. A modern, province-wide information management system is now needed more than ever in order for school boards to meet and demonstrate education program service and performance standards in relation to student achievement and school performance. We will be spending $4.5 million for this year on a province-wide student information system that will be invaluable for the day-to-day education of students through its ability to support teachers, inform families and provide vital data to our educational professionals. We want this information to better shape educational programming for students.
I would now like to talk about what is happening at the post-secondary front. The students of today and tomorrow will play a key role in keeping this province's workforce and economy strong. Government needs to do everything possible to expose Nova Scotians to the training options needed to take advantage of the viable career opportunities this province has to offer. One way to achieve that goal is to match employer demand with program availability.
Nova Scotia Community College enrolments have been increasing steadily over the last number of years and more Nova Scotians recognize the value of a college education enrolments will continue to increase. As part of this government's commitment to meet training and labour market needs, creating good jobs for Nova Scotians and growing the economy, we've invested $2 million from this year's budget to create an additional 250 seats in high-demand programs offered at Nova Scotia Community College campuses across the province. This investment will work to provide lifelong education, economic development and community building while ensuring Nova Scotia has the highly skilled workers needed to meet the demands of the growing labour market. In turn, these graduates will work to create growth and development in the province while filling high-demand jobs in need of talented individuals.
This investment will create several new programs at the college, including Mental Health Recovery and Promotion at Burridge Campus, Yarmouth; the Behaviourial Intervention at the Strait Area Campus in Port Hawkesbury, and the Industrial Engineering Technology at the Centre for the Built Environment, Waterfront Campus, in my very own constituency in Dartmouth. The funding will also expand capacity in the Nova Scotia Community College's Schools of Access, Applied Arts and New Media and Business. We know that 90 per cent of Nova Scotia Community College graduates stay in Nova Scotia to build a life for themselves and their families. This investment will allow even more Nova Scotians to build a career here at home. The students who fill these seats today will fill the jobs of tomorrow and that is why our partnership with the Nova Scotia Community College is so valuable and why this investment is so vital.
Mr. Chairman, our province's post-secondary education opportunities are growing. Nova Scotia is proud to be Canada's university capital and home to 13 Nova Scotia Community College campuses and a number of private career colleges. Enrolments have increased over the past few years and it is my sincere hope and expectation that they will continue to rise. Nova Scotia has a high percentage of students enrolled in college or university compared to the national average but we cannot be complacent and we must work hard to attract more students to our universities and college system. The message to post-secondary students is that government wants to make it easier for them to go to school. Post-secondary education is a key priority for our government.
Mr. Chairman, we are making good progress toward making university education more affordable for students. The average undergraduate tuition for Nova Scotia is down $181 from $5,877 to $5,696 - a reduction of 3.1 per cent. Nova Scotia was the only province to decrease undergraduate tuition fees and no longer has the highest average tuition in Canada. Ontario is now the highest and Nova Scotia ranks second. In 2010-11 the Nova Scotia University Student Bursary Trust Fund will reduce tuition for Nova Scotia university students by a total of $1,283 for each and every Nova Scotia student - an increased benefit of $261 from 2009-10 - and for the first time, in 2010-11 out-of-province students will receive a $261 bursary that reduces their tuition at Nova Scotia universities.
The Nova Scotia University Student Bursary Trust Fund will serve to further reduce tuition fees for Nova Scotia students studying at Nova Scotia universities by $1,283 in 2010-11 and by $261 for out-of-province students. With these tuition reductions, it is anticipated that the province will achieve its commitment to bring tuition fees to the national average by 2010-11.
In addition to our prepayment of the MOU to universities of $341 million in 2009-10, we will also be providing $60.6 million in assistance to universities, which will cover the balance of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program funding - funding for the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, the Atlantic Veterinary College, and financial support for the Bachelor of Education programs at St. F.X. and Cape Breton University. Universities will see the final components of the federal Knowledge Infrastructure Program, also known as KIP funding, totalling $38 million in 2010-11.
As you know, we have launched a review of our higher education in this province to ensure excellent post-secondary is as strong and as efficient as it possibly can be. In June Dr. Tim O'Neill will complete a report and have recommendations for the development of a more integrated, effective and sustainable higher education system in Nova Scotia. As part of the review, Dr. O'Neill is examining demographic trends, the rapidly changing demands of the workplace, and the financial situation facing post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia. His findings will help to inform future agreements and funding arrangements between the province and the universities. This is an opportune time to take a fresh look at our post-secondary system and I look forward to seeing Dr. O'Neill's recommendations.
Mr. Chairman, my portfolios also include libraries, which are a significant and much loved community resource for lifelong learning and literacy. My government understands the vital role of public libraries as public spaces and that's why we are contributing $13 million to a new central library in Halifax Regional Municipality, and $1.5 million to the new People's Place Library in Antigonish. The Department of Education recognizes the importance of keeping Nova Scotians connected to the world around them and we continue to provide funding for Internet connectivity in all public libraries. Our budget is providing an increase of $900,000, or a 6.8 per cent increase, for 2010-11.
We understand the importance of equitable library access and so we are following up on the Fall 2009 Nova Scotia Summit of Equitable Library Access and we are investing in universal library access training, a front-line library staff from all regional library boards this Spring. This will help ensure that Nova Scotians with print disabilities understand that the public library belongs to them too. We continue to support collaborative library initiatives such as Libraries Nova Scotia, a collaboration of public, college and university libraries working together to deliver a reciprocal borrowing service for Nova Scotia library users and continuing education for library staff across the province.
So, Mr. Chairman, let me conclude by saying that I'm indeed honoured to lead a department overseeing such a varied array of learning opportunities. Whatever challenges we face now and into the future, we are well equipped because of the richness of our educational offerings and their accessibility to all Nova Scotians. I appreciate the opportunity to share the highlights of the Department of Education's financial plan for the rest of the fiscal year and look forward to answering any questions my colleagues have. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Bedford-Birch Cove.
MS. KELLY REGAN: Mr. Chairman, I thank the minister for her opening remarks and thank Dr. Alan Lowe and Mr. Darrell Youden for accompanying the minister here today. I have three children who are currently in the education system here in Nova Scotia; two are in post-secondary and one is still in Grade 7 and I must say that throughout their time in school we have been blessed with terrific teachers, principals and volunteers who have made a huge difference in the lives of our children.
I have had some concerns over the years though, for example, when our second daughter was in Primary, it was when the former Halifax County board moved to half-day Primary and we saw that have a real effect on our daughter. Our eldest daughter had finished Primary reading chapter books, our second daughter - who was born three months later in the year so there wasn't a big age gap - came out of Primary and could not read. It made me realize that that handicapped her for awhile until we got her extra help and she caught up. It just seemed to me that the decisions we make in here can have massive impacts on the lives of children and sometimes the kids catch up because we do something extra or they just catch up naturally and sometime they don't.
I am always really mindful of that when we are in here. I think that is one of the things that has, for me, underlined the whole argument, the whole range of options around special education. I very much appreciated that the minister came back and decided to continue with the Tuition Support Program. I have some concerns around capping it at three years with a possible fourth. For example, the day the decision was announced, I was talking to one dad who was saying, geez, my daughter is going to finish Grade 11 and that would be her fourth year, so that means that for Grade 12 she is going to have to go to a new school. I can tell you, as someone who moved to a new school in Grade 12, that's not the most fun thing to do in the world, but I would think that if you have a learning disability, it would be a very challenging thing to do in your final year of school.
I have a number, but actually I don't want to spend a lot of time talking, I would just like to get to the questions. I have some concerns around post-secondary school loans, we discussed some of them the other day and the graduate tax credit but I think what I'll do is just move on to my first question, if you don't mind.
The Nova Scotia School Boards Association said that the various school boards needed a 3.6 per cent increase to maintain services. Has your department assessed the repercussions of not providing that 3.6 per cent and if so, what are they?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, yes, the Nova Scotia School Boards Association and some of the education partners did have this Save Grade 2 Campaign. It is interesting because several people asked me, well, are you really thinking about cutting Grade 2? I said, well, no, I think the theme is meant to reflect that any cuts to public education are unthinkable just as it would be unthinkable to cut out Grade 2. Then the theme made a little more sense to them.
We certainly, in the department and as a government, appreciate both the support of those education partners and the focus that their campaign placed on public education. It created a lot of discussion out in the general public. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, as Nova Scotians gray and we have more and more older residents, there is a lot of concern that they want us to see a lot of public investment in health care and in other initiatives. So, certainly, I have to give credit to the education partners for their campaign and it created a lot of healthy dialogue about public education. While there may be a difference of opinion between the department officials and the authors of that report, and the amount of money they feel that school boards needed, it is interesting because there is ongoing discussion about cost pressure for school boards between department officials and, particularly the superintendents and chief financial officers with the various boards. So, each other knows what's happening. There are no surprises.
Within reason, I would say, initially, the budget supported the real cost pressures and the financial needs of those boards. I think what the boards are perhaps reacting to, a little bit, is the 1 per cent efficiency reduction that all departments and all public services had to absorb this year because we had to be seen not only to be taking a responsible attitude to where our revenues are coming from, but we had to ensure that we were belt-tightening as well, as a government.
There is a combination municipal and provincial revenue that goes into the budgets of the school boards. The 1 per cent general efficiency reduction actually turned out to be a 0.7 per cent reduction for the school boards. So they weren't as impacted as some of the other, if I could call them, semi-publicly funded agencies and boards.
The day after the budget was announced in this Chamber, senior officials of the department, including the deputy minister - who I want to recognize sitting up in the gallery providing support today - senior officials met with top officials of the school boards; the board chairs, the superintendents, the chief financial officers. I had a chance to just drop in and speak briefly with them, and they went over the profile sheets that each board received and that gave the details of their funding and the different dedicated categories. So there was some good discussion there.
So there will be ongoing discussions over the next several months as the boards figure out how they're going to adjust to, perhaps, getting a little less money than they had hoped for. We are working very closely with them to ensure that there is little negative impact on students, teachers, and the classroom.
I think all of us realize there are always some efficiencies that can be made, and we're hoping that's the level the 0.7 per cent reduction is going to hit.
It is interesting when I travelled around last summer meeting with all the school boards and their various administrative areas, we had a discussion about what might be coming. I think by then I already knew that revenues were going down for the province and to get us back to balance, we're going to have to spend and invest money very, very carefully. I had a lot of frank discussions at that time with the various boards and we talked about thinking outside the box and doing things a little differently, working collaboratively, sharing resources and functions when we could. I have to say, they were amazingly co-operative and interested. I am not saying it's going to be easy, but certainly there is a lot of good will and interest in trying to spend each dollar that we invest in public education as smartly as possible.
I want to thank educators and education partners around this province for taking that proactive optimistic attitude. Thank you.
MS. REGAN: So, I take from your answer that we don't know what the repercussions are going to be at each board level yet, it is still ongoing and they're still trying to figure things out?
MS. MORE: Yes, that is correct. The boards are striking their budgets as we speak. So, for many of them, they're still having discussions in their various committees and some of the boards are actually at the board level in terms of those discussions. But certainly, over the next several months more and more information will be known. They, at this time of the year, continue to make adjustments, no matter how much money they receive as funding and revenue because they have to react to shifts of populations within schools and grade levels and where the anticipated pressures are going to be in the Fall. So it is very much that it's business as usual in terms of how they're dealing with it.
MS. REGAN: So, at this point, we don't know if there are going to teacher layoffs or anything like that?
MS. MORE: No. Just to speak generally, school boards are getting $20 million extra this year over last year. So that certainly gives them flexibility to deal with the current situation and we anticipate that retirements are going to cover any reductions caused by, for example, declining enrolment or migration of people within their jurisdictions from one community to another. So, certainly there is additional money there for them to work. I agree, it is not what they had hoped for but it is not as though they kept the same level or they received any reduction.
MS. REGAN: Of course, I imagine a good percentage of that $20 million will be going for salary increases, that had been negotiated by the provincial government.
On October 5, 2009, during estimates, the minister stated in her opening remarks: "This year's Education budget also contains reductions compared to last year - we have had to defer spending for text books, CDs and other learning materials for one year in order to save $5 million; we've also cancelled some special education pilots for a savings of $924,000; our literacy improvement program was cut by $1.4 million, leaving $1.4 million still in the program; and the class size cap for Grade 4 was increased from a maximum of 28 students per class to a maximum of 30, for a saving of $440,000." What will happen to these initiatives this fiscal year? I am sorry, there is a sort of a list there.
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, in the items that you listed, the first one was an actual one year deferment. We have been successful in putting the $4 million back into the textbook allocation. The rest, they haven't changed. They were reductions that were made and they stand as they were presented in last year's budget.
MS. REGAN: So, I should understand from your answer that textbooks, where we spent $5 million previously, we're now down to $4 million, so that's a reduction of $1 million. I'm sorry I didn't understand your answer around the other programs when it says things were cut by $924,000, $1.4 million, are those cuts continuing on, so, for example, our literacy improvement program was cut by $1.4 million leaving $1.4 million still in the program, so now is that program at $1.4 million or is it back up to $2.8 million?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, the textbook allocation and educational resources went from $8 million to $4 million last year and is back up to $8 million this year. The others that you listed have stayed at the base amount.
MS. REGAN: You said it went from $8 million to $4 million but what you said last year was that we saved $5 million and I'm not really great at math but eight minus four is four, so if you could just clarify. I'm sorry if I'm being thick here, but I'm just not quite understanding what you mean by base amount. When you say base amount, is our Family Literacy Improvement Program $1.4 million now or is it $2.8 million?
MS. MORE: Let me deal with the text book one first. I think I have this correct. In the text book allocation, it was reduced to $4 million from $8 million and this year the $4 million has been added back, so it's back up to $8 million. Also, within Public Schools budget to school boards, it was reduced by $1 million. Some of that would have gone for textbooks and other educational resources and $400,000 of that has been put back in, of the $1 million cut last year, so it hit bottom and now we're working our way back up again.
MS. REGAN: So with our literacy improvement program that was cut by $1.4 million, leaving $1.4 million in the program, is it now back up to $2.8 million, is that $1.4 million or is it somewhere in between?
MS. MORE: It remains at $1.4 million. The boards knew last year that the text book allocation - in fact, they were part of the discussions. They did not want to make these cuts but they best know their systems and they were able to give some advice on where a one-year deferment could be made and so that's what happened with the text books. We really felt a responsibility to get that money back in because they'd been co-operative in terms of delaying purchases, but they understood that the other reductions took them down to a new base and that we would try to increase those as funding became available.
MS. REGAN: You said in October that you had cancelled some special education pilots for a savings of $924,000. Have those been reinstituted? You said in your remarks you weren't adding in new programs, but I wasn't sure if that would qualify as a new program or if it was a program from before and just coming back.
MS. MORE: As I've said a couple of times, those other items were more permanent reductions, the boards knew that at the time and we've made a commitment to increase them as funding allows and as the revenues of the province dictate.
MS. REGAN: Thank you for clarifying that. I'm sorry I didn't understand. The Grade 4, the cap in enrolment that was changed from 28 students per class to 30, is that still holding at 30 as well?
MS. MORE: Again, that has not changed. The one commitment that the department made was to reinstate the $4 million for the text book allocation and that promise was kept.
MS. REGAN: Do we know how many individuals are employed at the board level across the province and does the department have any say on how large a board can be, how many employees they can have?
MS. MORE: We certainly can get those details, we don't have those numbers here with us. In terms of dictating the numbers, those, quite frankly, are dictated by the number of students and their special needs and their distribution throughout the geographic areas covered by the school boards. So no, we don't control, that's part of the local decision-making that the boards are responsible for.
In terms of some of the education-related professionals, we do provide information that indicates the average ratio of that particular function of professional to a certain number of students. They are aware of the ratios across the province and the boards do try to keep within that same range. They understand that money spent on buildings and transportation and staff is not being spent on direct programming necessarily, so they balance all those factors, depending on sort of the unique circumstances that each of them has. For example, I was intrigued to find out with the Strait Regional School Board, their geographic area covers 20 per cent of the province and they have about 6 per cent of the student population, so that creates really interesting challenges for that board. It is not surprising that 97 per cent of their students are bused to school. So how they would arrange their numbers in certain categories would be very different from a board area where most of the students walk to school, for example. We have to allow for those local situations and the local expertise, they are the best ones to make those decisions. Thank you.
MS. REGAN: Mr. Chairman, thank you. If we could get that information on the number, that would be terrific, thank you very much. In the Fall Budget Estimates, there was a plan to buy 63 new buses, for a cost of $5.5 million. I'm just wondering, have those school buses been purchased? Are they those nice, hybrid ones or the fuel-efficient ones we were talking about earlier?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, yes, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, we've ordered 63 buses. They cost approximately $82,000 each. We are in an arrangement with the other Maritime Provinces so we get the advantage of a bulk purchase price and they usually arrive in the Spring.
MS. REGAN: Last year there was $120 million targeted toward special needs supports and that's the total for all boards. I'm wondering how much has been targeted for this year?
MS. MORE: If you total the dedicated special education funding for all the boards for the coming year, it is about $127,134,100. It includes the special education under the Hogg funding formula, about almost $126 million, then there are much smaller amounts for special initiatives like increased learning success, it is about $200,000; for autism, $200,000 and what is called the innovation challenge fund is about $1 million, so that totals over $127 million towards special education.
You may be aware that many of the boards actually provide additional money to what is provided through the provincial funding.
MS. REGAN: During Budget Estimates in the Fall, the minister said she didn't think it would be a productive exercise to review the funding formula until we have put more money into it, otherwise, some boards may be considerably negatively impacted by such changes. Has this position changed and will you be looking at more funding going specifically to the Halifax Regional School Board in the budget or future budgets?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, well I guess my short answer is no, my opinion hasn't changed, but the longer answer is that I respect the length of time spent in consulting and engaging school boards and education stakeholders in developing the Hogg funding formula. I'm sure no matter what board you talk to in this province, they would feel that perhaps they're not getting the full amount they feel they need to best serve the young people in their communities.
When I made that comment last Fall, I was suggesting that if you have a certain pot of money, and you open it up and you start rearranging how much you give to each board, obviously you're going to have to take from some boards in order to give more money to other boards. That's certainly why I thought, at that time, and still do, that until we have significantly more money in that pool of funding, I don't think it's fair to disrupt what is happening across this province just to rearrange the same pot. Hopefully, down the road, as we get our revenues and expenditures closer in line, or back to balance, as we're fond of saying, then perhaps we can look at significant investment, new investment in public education.
At the time, you know there are certain cushions in the Hogg funding formula that I think has well served some particularly rural areas of this province. There's a cushion there that prevents rapidly declining school population from taking a large amount of money out, there's a cushion that slows that down, because we know that boards need time to react to those situations. There's also some cushioning in there so that boards that have higher than average teacher and educator salaries are not penalized. There's extra help there to help those boards because we recognize that with some boards they have more experience, an older teaching force, and we don't feel that all that money should be pulled out of supports for students, for example. There are some adjustments there that help boards over some of the rough pressure points that they have.
If you wanted to talk a little bit about the cushions for the rapidly declining enrolment, it triggers at 2 per cent, so if your school population goes down by more than 2 per cent that year, then you get some of this extra funding. You might be interested to know, for example, in the coming year, Annapolis Valley Regional School Board will be getting over $1.2 million in supplemental funding; Cape Breton will be getting $9.1 million; Chignecto will be getting $1.5 million; the CSAP in Halifax, their enrolment has not triggered that yet so they don't get any supplemental funding, their decline is under 2 per cent; South Shore gets almost $3 million; the Strait Board gets almost $5 million and Tri County gets $3.3 million. So that supplementary funding to help boards adapt to declining enrolment actually totals out over $23 million this coming year. Thank you.
MS. REGAN: So a school board that is experiencing significant decline, but hasn't reached that 2 per cent threshold, gets no triggered funding, it's only if you are at 2 per cent or more, is that correct?
MS. MORE: Yes, that's correct. Under 2 per cent is probably - you know, you can react to it in a reasonable length of time.So the 2 per cent figure has been known from the beginning, it was part of the original Hogg formula. So boards certainly know about it and they often are worried but when it's triggered for them and they get that funding, they're very pleased.
MS. REGAN: I would like to move on now to the action that has been taken to address the Nunn report since your time as minister. There have been a number of recommendations and I'm just wondering if, I mean I could run through them if you would like but I'm just wondering what you would have so far?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Maybe I could ask the honourable member to repeat the question, please?
MS. REGAN: I'm just wondering what actions have been taken in your time as minister to address the recommendations from the Nunn report that dealt specifically with youth and education?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, there are several departments involved in implementing the recommendations of the Nunn report. Certainly, and I have to give credit to the former government in terms of the model of SchoolsPlus that was started in this province. It's an excellent model and one that my government would really like to both continue and develop and expand. SchoolsPlus is a way for agencies connected both provincially and at the community level to work together and coordinate delivery of services to families and students in their community. This I think has been probably the primary response from the Department of Education. We have four school boards with SchoolsPlus sites in Nova Scotia. They are the Halifax Regional School Board and we've got SchoolsPlus at Nelson Whynder, at Harbour View and Joseph Howe. The Strait Regional School Board has SchoolsPlus at Chedabucto and Canso, and the South Shore School Board has Forest Heights and Chignecto Central has Amherst High School and the feeder schools are using that model.
Certainly my government committed $2 million to provide targeted support to help community schools and while the details haven't been finalized, we're hoping that some of that may be a renewed investment in the SchoolsPlus program so we can expand it to other boards and other communities. It's very effective. It's a way to maximize the impact of available services and programs for families in a coordinated way and we're very excited about the potential of this in meeting many of the objectives of the Nunn Commission.
I think one of the continuing themes in his recommendations has been that community agencies and government departments have to be working together to provide, almost like a wraparound service for children and youth at risk, and we certainly see this model of service delivery as a very critical way of providing those much needed supports and services.
MS. REGAN: I'm looking at Education Initiatives from the Nunn report, Recommendation 31, "The Department of Education should ensure that there is additional training for teachers and administrators on best practices in assisting students with attention deficit and other disorders, along with adequate funding for assessment and early intervention of students with these disorders in Nova Scotia schools." Can you address what steps have been taken to fulfill that recommendation?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, I could certainly provide many more details to you later on but I think in a general sense I would like to respond by saying that a considerable professional development activity has happened with our teachers and support workers within schools.
The department, I believe, within the last year or so, has actually hired a learning disabilities specialist who is working directly with school boards and educators on many of these issues. I know there is a learning disabilities strategy that is currently underway, and a lot more resources have been provided to school boards and educators. As well, the school boards themselves have reacted very proactively on these issues and there are a number of various initiatives going on, but I could certainly get more details on that. We're satisfied that we're making progress and that those students are much better served in the public school system now than they were previously.
MS. REGAN: The last phrase of that recommendation is, " . . . along with adequate funding for assessment and early intervention of students with these disorders in Nova Scotia schools." Has additional funding been allocated to deal with those two issues - assessment, early intervention - during your time as minister?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, over the last 10 years there has been a steady increase in the amount of funding made available to the school boards for special education. I have to be frank and say, that increase has slowed down a little because of the fiscal reality, but certainly there have been no cuts. This is certainly a strong focus of the Department of Education as it is with the school boards, and so, we're trying to make sure that we have the expertise and support available to teachers to have the most positive impact on these students. We can only hope to add more money to support the teachers.
You're probably aware that as a result of the recommendations coming out of the tuition support, Dr. Alice Price from Calgary actually did research on best practices for learning disabilities internationally. This information has been shared with the school boards, and we certainly plan to create what we're calling learning disabilities centres. These won't be physical centres, but it will be sort of a culture and supports for teachers and students within their local school boards. It will address some of our concerns around equity and access to specialized services. We certainly plan to invest in that more and more down the road, but we want to make sure that all students, from one end of the province to the other, have access to the supports that they need in terms of both special education and including that sub-group of learning disabilities.
MS. REGAN: Do we have any idea about the timeline, when this plan would be implemented? I'm hearing a lot of good work is underway, but I'm just wondering when we're going to see these things implemented. I know just from Question Period, you've been telling me a lot of things that you've been doing, but do we have any timelines on this?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, when I was answering an earlier question about funding for special education, I mentioned several funds - Increasing Learning Success, the autism grant and the Innovation Challenge Fund. Those are funds that boards can apply for funding from. They develop their own sort of locally, "made in their school board" type of initiative based on the mix and priorities that they have in these areas. They can apply to those funds to get funding for those initiatives.
Also, there's an ideal range of specialists working with children with special needs, the ratios, certainly, they have been decreasing, which means there's more support, for example, speech language pathologists, school psychologists, teacher assistants and just having resource and learning centres available to teachers and schools. Those numbers are coming into a more acceptable range and providing more supports for the neighbourhood schools within their local school board.
MS. REGAN: Recommendation 32 of the Nunn Report says, "The Department of Education should consider additional funding of initiatives to develop and sustain programs and supports that encourage 'school attachment' for students at risk, either within the regular schools or in dedicated, alternative programs. Without limiting this recommendation, as particular examples, I recommend that: the department should consider the introduction of and targeted funding for junior high support teachers throughout the province; and the department and Halifax Regional School Board should continue and expand their respective 'Youth Pathways and Transitions' programs." Could you update us on the status of that recommendation?
MS. MORE: Schools boards have responded to that recommendation in different ways. Some of them have tried to increase the academic offerings to better engage students. You'll remember during my opening comments, the discussion about Co-op placements and O2. I think part of the understanding of educators and parents, that students learn best when they're fully engaged in their local school, has led to that quadrupling of O2. We have 44 schools now offering that.
Some of the boards have applied to the grants that I listed earlier and are using that funding to meet some of the needs. Certainly more needs to be done at the junior high level, I don't think anyone would suggest otherwise. For example, the program that I mentioned earlier about increasing learning success, some of the objectives of that program out there are to get students engaged; to reduce drop out rates; to engage students, particularly students of special needs so they receive appropriate programming and support; and to provide or improve practices and procedures to transition students from high school to post-secondary work and community living.
So, boards are using some of that general funding to do those initiatives. Is it enough? Of course not. At least they're aware of the issue and they're trying to use what resources and personnel they have to meet more of the recommendations from the Nunn Commission of Inquiry.
MS. REGAN: I'm wondering how much of that funding is actually going to junior highs. My experience with certain junior highs, there's not a lot for the kids there. If they don't enjoy school, if they're not a kid who sort of excels academically or is a motivated learner, there's not a whole lot going on there after school, before school. There are not a lot of clubs, things like that, that might sort of grab a kid who's having trouble and make them want to be at school just so they can participate in the school play or whatever. I'm not seeing a whole lot of that at junior high and that's just sort of a very simplistic level, that's not even a program that will really target kids. That's just sort of a general thing. Junior high, to me, can be sort of a wasteland where it's this Never Never Land, or no man's land between your Primary and then high school.
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, I don't think you would find an adult in the Province of Nova Scotia who would disagree with you that we need to be doing more for youth at the junior high level. I think that's why a number of different strategies have been tried in different communities - everything from increasing access to music programs to starting clubs or getting youth engaged in other community organizations. Some school boards are looking at splitting those grades up, putting perhaps Grades 6, 7 and 8 together and then having Grade 9 be the entry year into the secondary school system. In other communities they're actually putting all the grades together, you know, Primary to Grade 12 but there are different things happening with varied success. Again, certainly more needs to be done and the department has already had preliminary discussions with the education partners about doing a thorough review of the junior high years and the curriculum.
I remember asking, they laughed at the time but I didn't ask it to be funny, but had they ever thought of changing the start time for secondary school because I know a lot of young people just find it very difficult to get up in the morning. I thought, well, you know, if they started school at 10:00 a.m. or 10:30 a.m., perhaps more students would make first class. I think we need to be looking at the research in terms of what kind of brain and character, personality and development happens in those years. Just make sure that it's a good match for what we're doing and the methodology and approaches we're using for learning at that age level. So certainly it's a challenge and everyone recognizes it and I think there's a commitment to trying to do it better.
MS. REGAN: I have to say I agree with you on the issue of getting teens up in the morning although I think I must be the only mother of a 13-year-old who likes to get up at 6:00 a.m. I'm sure that will change any day now. (Interruption)
Your previous remarks actually naturally lead into Recommendation 30, "The Department of Justice should build on the results of its report, Perspectives on Youth Crime in Nova Scotia and continue its analysis of youth crime by comparing the Province's existing interventions, programs, and services for children and youth at risk with the interventions, programs, and services that are known to be effective in preventing youth crime. The department should publicly report the findings of this 'gap analysis' as a key part of the development of the Province's strategy for children and youth at risk."
Now, I know it's talking about the Department of Justice but you did reference that some boards are doing some things and some boards are doing other things. Is there a place where they get together and compare results? Are we going to have all the best practices coming together or is it going to end up sort of as a patchwork and it depends on where you live, what services you're going to get? Because pilot projects are great but if something is working in one place, you would think you would want to apply that elsewhere.
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, perhaps I could just briefly answer. Certainly those discussions are going on, but as I said, I think the review will cover a lot of the issues that you raised. Now I'm not the Minister of Justice, but I am aware that a program that Education is very supportive of is the Lighthouses Program that is funded through the Justice Department. I believe just a couple of months ago the Justice Minister made an announcement about which community groups receive funding. They are all groups that engage youth in the community in very productive, interesting, fun activities. That kind of answer goes back to your earlier question about we need to be doing more in terms of keeping young people active and engaged in all kinds of things.
I know the Lighthouses Program has put considerable funding into a number of those after school and weekend activities around the province and certainly Education supports that, but yes, we need to bring together some of the partners who are interested in youth and make sure that we understand what each other is doing, that we better coordinate our efforts. I think a lot of this will be the result, not only of the review of junior high, but also an interest and a changed approach by my government to work more horizontally across departments, especially when dealing with certain age groups or issues that we have in common and to better understand what each other is doing.
We talked earlier about interagency delivery of services in the school setting and I think that's an approach that government itself needs to be looking at as well. Thank you.
MS. REGAN: My apologies for reading a Justice recommendation earlier. I didn't flip the page there so I thought I was on Recommendation 33 and I was on Recommendation 30. "The Department of Education, in consultation with the school boards, should identify effective measures aimed at enforcing the school attendance provisions of the Education Act and reducing the levels of truancy in Nova Scotia schools." I believe we have a report, and your response will be coming out to that soon, so I'll just leave that one for now.
Recommendation 34, "The Department of Education, in conjunction with the Province's strategy for children and youth at risk, should provide Nova Scotia schools with adequate space, staff, and programs for in-school alternatives to out-of-school suspension as a disciplinary measure."
I do recall visiting with one school superintendent who said, Newfoundland does not allow out-of-school suspensions. If you are suspended, you are still going to school. I'm just wondering if you could comment on that as a strategy, if that's something that you're even looking at, at this point, and whether you think that is effective.
MS. MORE: Certainly, space is not a problem. This also relates to the research and consultations that were done around absenteeism and student engagement. I think part of the challenge that I've had as a minister, and certainly the department has had, is keeping students engaged so that they want to be in school and learn is a very complex situation. I believe I've mentioned in this Chamber during Question Period that there have been several very extensive studies done on this issue over the last several years and it has been very difficult to reach conclusions that can be done in a very practical, immediate sense.
I think part of my challenge, as Minister of Education, is not only wanting to make things better but to make sure that what we choose to do doesn't bring harm to some students. Some of the generalizations about truancy and having consequences - the situation changes for every child and every family. A child might be missing school for some emotional problem or there may be a caregiver for younger children or a dying parent. It's so hard to say if you miss 20 classes you're out of the program because there are always exceptional situations. So we have to make sure that we're actually treating the root causes of these issues and not just trying to deal with the symptoms that arise.
Now you talked about the in-school suspension. Many of the boards are piloting those programs and I've heard wonderful success stories. Again, it's the problem of trying to fund them in a sustainable way and expanding the program so that all schools can take advantage of it. We have some excellent work being done by educators across this province in trying to meet student needs, especially those who just aren't interested or are distracted or are having emotional problems. We want to make sure that we put our focus on resourcing what is working, instead of spending too much time and money on punishing people for what is not working.
To try to achieve that balance is a tough road at times. I know that is one of the delays in coming out with the recommendations and the ministerial response to this particular study. I agree with the honourable member, we need more proactive, supportive initiatives, like the model she has just mentioned.
MS. REGAN: I'm wondering if there's funding in this budget to address the issues that were raised in the absenteeism report, if there's a dedicated pot of money to deal with some of the issues that I assume will have a response soon and I'm assuming that will cost some money. Is there money set aside to make those recommendations happen?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, certainly the budget includes the funding for a lot of the current initiatives. Actually many of the recommendations are really cost neutral but some, I think it is fair to say, will mean expanding some of the best practices across all boards and all schools. Again, it is the same answers that I gave with special education; we know that's a direction we need to go in and as money becomes available through the provincial budget, we'll make sure that it's used in the best possible way. Certainly keeping students in school, keeping them engaged, helping them to learn in the most positive way possible is a goal of everyone in this province.
I've said many times, with declining enrolment we know that by 2020 we're going to have the same number of youth in Nova Scotia as we did in 1910. So it is a responsibility of everyone, every parent, teacher, legislator, to make sure that the resources are in place so that they are the best educated, the healthiest, the happiest, the most productive generation of young people ever. Not only for their own sakes but for ours because they're the ones who are going to be driving the economy.
We can be selfish about this; you invest the money up front and it's going to be well invested and you're not going to have to spend it on the tail end, in terms of dealing with the problems. I believe they say for every dollar invested in early learning and intervention, it saves something like $17 down the road. So if we want to use our money more smartly, investing in children is a way to do it. Thank you.
MS. REGAN: I'd just like to say I think the minister and I have been sharing the same speech writer because I think I've heard that same message in slightly different words before. I'm just wondering, and I don't know if we'll get this in right now, but the IB Program, what percentage of students who are actually registered in the IB Program are graduating with the baccalaureate, how many are graduating with a certificate, what is the dropout rate?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, I'm glad you raised that issue, because certainly, the International Baccalaureate Program is one that, I think, all Nova Scotians can be proud of. This year we're planning to spend $1.35 million on it. In 2010 the graduating class would be 312 students - not that this indicates anything except, I think, the fact that they're bright and they're enthusiastic about learning, but certainly it is anticipated that they are going to earn $2.6 million in university scholarships, that class of 2010. In June of next year, we expect 352 IB students to be graduating and next year we also expect a total of 737 Grade 11 and Grade 12 students to register in the IB diploma program.
So, I'm not sure if I have answered all your questions, but it is an expanding program. It is very popular, where the students take it. It is interesting, actually, last year, in 2009, our IB students out-performed other International Baccalaureate students in North America and the rest of the world. So, certainly they are benefiting from it and getting a lot of learning from the IB Program.
I met a couple of the students just recently and I couldn't get over how enthusiastic they were about the amount of homework they had. I mean, they just delighted in telling me how much studying they were doing every day and on the weekends and they have a very good balance. I mean they're athletic, they're involved in drama and music, they are just excellent young people. It is wonderful. So often we hear about the few who are struggling, but really, the majority of students in our public schools are doing extremely well and make us all proud.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time for the honourable member for Bedford-Birch Cove has expired on this round.
The honourable member for Cumberland South. He has approximately four minutes left this evening.
HON. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I know we only have a few short moments here left with the minister and I want to thank the minister and her staff for being here today. I will just share with her an e-mail that I received from a constituent. I want you to know, minister, that I actually have her permission to use her name and their child's name in the House tonight. I want you to have a copy of the e-mail so that maybe as I ask you this question, maybe between now and Monday - and I will be back Monday - maybe you could share some more information with me if you would.
Actually, the e-mail is from Kim Crockett. Kim has real concerns around her child, Jarrett, who is 10 and who is in Grade 4 at the River Hebert Elementary School. He was diagnosed with ODD, oppositional defiance disorder and just recently with ADHD. Kim has two real concerns, minister, two concerns she has shared with me, and she asks that I raise it with you. One is around the length of time it takes to have children like Jarrett assessed. She tells me he is on a list to be assessed, he has been on the wait list now for about two years and she has tried everything she can to move that a little faster for Jarrett's sake and she hasn't had any luck to this point. So she wanted you to be aware that there concern out there.
Also, when she went to his class to talk to his teacher and psychologist, she found out that in a small grade like his, there are four children just like Jerrett and they're facing the same situation in regard to assessment.
The second thing is, she has been told by the psychologist for the school that what was really needed in that community and in that school is the BEST Program, much like is offered in Springhill. So her question to you and my question to you, minister, would be, what can Kim do in regard to having Jerrett assessed in a more timely fashion and what can that school do in regard to the BEST Program, making it available for those children in that community?
MS. MORE: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for the question. This is a level of detail that I am not familiar with and to be honest, I feel uncomfortable discussing the specifics of a particular situation. I realize you have permission, but I am not sure that I do. So, I would like to research this and we would have to discuss with the board, because the board wait lists and the access to various specialized programs vary and there is no way that I or my department officials would be aware of the specifics of what might be available in a particular school. But I'm certainly willing to follow up with you and see if there is anything we can do in terms of providing the relevant information to help this family.
Believe me, I know from my previous experience as a teacher and as a school board member, I was married to a teacher for 30 years, and two children went through the school system, and now have a grandson in the school system, and every family develops humps along the way and stress points. So, I understand how stressful this must be for the parents and the young people involved. Certainly, we would like to alleviate some of that anxiety and make sure that they get the relevant services that they need.
So, I thank you for bringing it to my attention and we will follow up with it and get back to you as soon as possible if there are any strategies or information we can provide. Thank you.
MR. SCOTT: Thank you, minister, I appreciate that. I appreciate the fact you can't get into a personal situation, I understand that, but Kim wanted me to share the information to you. It would lead me to the bigger issue of what's available for funding this year in regard to those programs and assessments and what this budget is actually doing for school boards around Nova Scotia in regard to making sure that these levels of assessments and programs are available.
I know you won't have time to answer it tonight and, again, I appreciate it because I think it represents some concerns that probably many parents around Nova Scotia are facing with regard to children who are afflicted with these types of disorders. I would appreciate it if some follow-up could be done with regard to what I may be able to share with Kim and her family, and on a bigger perspective, what we may be able to tell families in general around Nova Scotia with regard to this budget and what they can expect schools boards to be able to do to address these issues. I'll look forward to talking to you Monday further about this. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. The time allotted for today for debate in CWH on Supply has now expired.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee now rise and 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 7:35 p.m.]