HALIFAX, FRIDAY, MAY 6, 2016
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Gordon Wilson
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the committee to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. TERRY FARRELL: Mr. Chairman, would you please call for the resumption of consideration of the estimates of the Departments of Health and Wellness and Seniors.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
HON. PAT DUNN: I welcome the minister and staff back again to answer a few more questions in estimates of the Health Department. The first question surrounds dialysis in Pictou County - I'm aware that there's a unit in Pictou - and also the fact that our aging population will probably increase the demand for dialysis, excluding myself, Mr. Minister. I'm wondering if the minister could shed any light on the possibility in the future down the road that there could be a dialysis unit at the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow.
HON. LEO GLAVINE: I guess we can say we're anticipating the end of estimates for Health and Wellness and Seniors because we can go only 40 hours. In fact, my staff have been here so much now they think they can come in and order meals. Anyway, it is good to get to that end stage.
The member asks a very significant and growing question even where there are sites for dialysis. We know the provincial program continues to move across the province. We know the demands and needs so the Aberdeen, where there are four chairs at the moment for dialysis, we know that the need is growing and there have been a few occasions of course when people had to go to Truro.
I believe first and foremost in our province that we have to make education in communities where there is dialysis, and I think right across the province we have to do more in those centres around education for home dialysis. It's an area where we are well behind and I'm not sure of all the reasons but I do know that people have to come into Halifax for the most part to go through the training. I think we have to take the training and that work out to more and more communities.
Technology of course is improving so dramatically in terms of the size of the equipment, the reduction of noise and so on with the new technology and the advancements that are still likely to come. I believe that if B.C. can be at 30 per cent and people very content with the home dialysis that in fact it's an area that we need to make a greater effort towards, not in any way to diminish the need and the need that will always be there in terms of our current sites. In fact we need a few more regional sites across the province as well.
I certainly have been impressed by the work of the provincial renal program and I'm pleased to say that we've asked for a refresh of that plan. It has now been in place for a number of years and I do believe we can do a better job with our aging population, people who suffer from kidney disease may not be candidates for transplant, which of course is a most wonderful cure for so many. Again I do need to recognize what an outstanding transplant team we have in the province and the success of kidney transplant.
I think putting the emphasis on home dialysis, equipping our regional sites to meet the needs and all of that is part of a program that's now getting an updated look.
MR. DUNN: Mr. Chairman, I know that in many areas of the province, including Pictou County, there is a waiting list for that treatment. That certainly is a very interesting concept; the home dialysis certainly is something that I hope the government pursues and is something that I think is certainly needed in the Province of Nova Scotia. Again, that's a very interesting concept.
One more question before I pass it over to my colleague, the member for Argyle- Barrington, and it is dealing with basically an update with Glen Haven Manor in New Glasgow. Glen Haven is a 200-bed facility. I realize that the province is moving ahead with a model that any new places will be somewhere in the area of 80- to 100-bed facilities. I understand the move to go towards that. I guess my question to the minister would be, does he have any update at all on the future of Glen Haven Manor in the foreseeable future?
MR. GLAVINE: The member asks a timely question because Glen Haven has been identified as being on the list for refurbishment, replacement, what may be appropriate. Certainly no decision on whether or not we need to go to kind of 100 beds as a replacement model for that area.
Glen Haven, which I have visited, is at a wonderful site in its present location. I know the community leaders have been in to meet with me about the future of Glen Haven. Certainly when I was on site with the CEO there, Lisa Smith and her team, they've made some very positive changes there. We all know, for example, that more and more patients with different degrees of dementia and Alzheimer's are in our nursing homes. Again, they've moved at Glen Haven to have a much safer environment. It's great when you have that kind of leadership and administration that will make changes, I guess, without formal policies but around safety and best use of the facilities that are there.
That report is due - we'll probably have it in May. That's my hope, anyway, that we will be able to take a look at where Glen Haven fits into that review.
One of the big changes we now take a look at is not so much just the lens of the health department, but to bring in engineers from TIR and really do a pretty significant job at looking at the current state of the facility and what is possible. We know there are some facilities that expanded, they have an old centre that's 40 or 50 years old. They have then a newer section of a nursing home and what may be needed for the future. We'll certainly keep the members from Pictou up to date on what will take place with Glen Haven and the future of nursing home care.
I am pleased to say that we're reducing some of the pressure on the nursing home list in that area. Home care has made a very significant improvement and we hope that keeping what is really a just-in-time service to residents needing home care, keeping them safer, longer in their own home, is a goal that we've established for all of Nova Scotia. Pictou County is able to achieve that and we hope that even as the big baby boom cohort ages, that we'll now be able to have learned lessons on how to deliver home care better.
I think certainly Pictou, with at least three nursing homes that I have visited, they're probably at the right number of nursing home beds as we make home care stronger.
MR. DUNN: I thank the minister for that answer. I think back approximately in 2008, the government of the day purchased several acres adjacent to Glen Haven Manor and Aberdeen Hospital. My personal vision is someday to see a building there similar to Glen Haven with a pedway from the building to the hospital, which would be so convenient to transport residents into the hospital for care. Anyway, I want to thank the minister for that answer and I'm going to turn it over to the member for Argyle-Barrington.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: It's my pleasure to finally rejoin the discussion on Health and Wellness estimates, Mr. Chairman, as I left this Monday night after I had an hour and I shared it with my caucus throughout that whole time. Obviously they had lots of questions as well for the minister, so I thank the minister for his answers.
Let's maybe kick off where we left off, which was on Page 13.9 of the Estimates Book. Maybe before I leave that for a second, as we were talking about the Pharmacare Program and the minister did make a fleeting comment to hepatitis C, I thought that would be a good place maybe to kick off on that.
Can you give us an estimation on hepatitis C - the cost of the drug, or the biologic, and how many people are going to be getting treatment for hepatitis C?
MR. GLAVINE: I know that both former ministers who have been here during estimates and doing questioning are certainly very familiar with the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance and the work they have done in bringing probably about three different drugs into a cure for hepatitis C, which has been a tremendous advance. Their work also to get to you, yes, it's expensive, but it's in a reasonable category, and our goal is to help all those with hepatitis C.
Some were flagged early because of the health issues associated with that and the number that are in the queue for that - I guess we're trying to get that number. But again, our goal is to look after Nova Scotians who have had to deal with hepatitis C.
We have $10 million set aside for hepatitis C treatment and we have about 127 people, not including some who still are under the care of DCS. As the former minister would know, we still have some of that alignment to sort out, I think, that the health of Nova Scotians should be the purview of the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Department of Health and Wellness. We've made some moves to improve that direct linkage to their health.
We'll continue to make Harvoni available. I've been very fortunate to have heard from a few Nova Scotians who have benefited from this, and we'll continue the program.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Maybe a supplementary to that as well. I don't know what the population is right now of people living with hepatitis C. We know the end of this is that they go into liver failure, or at least that seems to be the way it ends. Are we giving it to individuals early or do they have to present with a certain level of liver disease before we actually get them on the program? I'm just wondering, where does someone actually start to access that system?
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of who is in the queue, that's determined by national guidelines that have been developed for the protocols to apply to hepatitis C patients. There are some who have been identified that are also being covered by private insurance, there are some of those programs. So right across the country we would have people who have not yet been identified. That's one of the other issues that really does lead to health issues that bring them in for testing.
Our goal is to treat all Nova Scotians who have been identified with hepatitis C. The program started last year, so hopefully in time we will have treated all Nova Scotians. We know some were due to tainted blood that was part of the system and that was the way in which they picked up the hepatitis C.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I appreciate that because it was something from Monday night that I did want to make sure that I got to. It's hard to believe, as we've talked about hepatitis C and all through the tainted blood issues, that we're actually at a point where there is a drug that can cure it. It's not just a treatment, it's actually a cure to something that has been with people for far too long.
Let's move on to the next heading which is Emergency Health Services. We can probably talk about two things here, which are probably the air medical transport and the ground ambulance service. I notice that there is a pretty large jump here in the Ambulance Services line, from about $115 million or $116 million to $124 million, which is about an $8.3 million increase. I'm just wondering, is there a renegotiation of the contract, or what bumped that up?
MR. GLAVINE: That is a significant increase. On the increase, we would have a contractual increase in the contract of about $4.8 million, a wage increase from the 2015-16 contract of a bit over $3 million, and the remainder would be utilization. That's what will make up that figure.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I know you probably already answered some of these questions from some of my colleagues, but going back to the air ambulance system for a second, since we're on the ambulance system here, the province contracts EHS, EHS contracts EMC, and EMC contracts CHC, I think is how the contract of this one rolls out. We've talked about replacing the air ambulance at this point, the helicopter that can no longer land at a number of our sites.
I'm wondering, did we make any allotments for the purchase of a helicopter or take into consideration that a new helicopter might cost us more money?
MR. GLAVINE: Certainly the member for Argyle-Barrington knows the importance of LifeFlight. The time from some of our communities in Nova Scotia and highway accidents and to have the LifeFlight be able to land right on site is a great part of our system, doing probably about 400 flights a year. It's a service that we need to have as part of our best paramedic service in the country.
As we look at a new helicopter coming into service, because of Transport Canada's directive on April 1st, we will now have an opportunity to look at the options that could be available. We certainly won't be in the business of purchasing a helicopter, we will go down the road of a lease arrangement and I think it now gives us an opportunity to look at the next 10 or 20 years.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Maybe my last comment on that as the details are starting to come out on the air ambulance system - actually, the rules changed back in 2007. Quite honestly, I was the minister back in 2007.
AN HON. MEMBER: Why didn't you fix it?
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I know, I should have fixed it then. I don't ever remember a briefing on that one and then I know there were three ministers between me and you - I can't say the word "you," but between me and the minister.
I'm just wondering, as you're investigating really what happened here, are you going to be talking to our partners in this just to find out how all of a sudden it came forward? Because ultimately the minister is responsible for it, he is responsible for the health care system, and that's one component of it. I'm just wondering how that investigation or how those talks are going to roll out. I'm not going to ask what the final issue is, but how are you going to get down to the bottom of it?
MR. GLAVINE: There is obviously some history between 2007 and 2016 and how Transport Canada gave a directive in 2007 but reissued with the requirement of 100 per cent compliance as of that date. I guess why that emerged is one of those areas that is really difficult to speculate on.
I guess when it crossed my desk, probably April 3rd - or I should say I met with EHS officials and was informed of what the plan would be to make sure that Nova Scotians arrived safely at the Halifax Infirmary and the IWK or left Digby General that again, the best service possible would be in place, and I'm looking forward to the procurement process. Before those officials left the office I directed them to move as quickly as possible, knowing that some would have to go through Treasury Board and Cabinet as part of the process, but I directed them to start a process that would be looking at the future and how we would have LifeFlight as part of our world-class emergency response system.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Maybe a final comment around this question which revolves around the fixed-wing aircraft. We do have other aircraft, as much as we talk about the helicopter because that's the one we see coming in and out of our communities. We do have a fixed-wing as well - I'm just wondering, are there any issues in and around that? Are we using a little extra right now because of the restrictions of the helicopter?
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of the fixed-wing aircraft, I was out actually not that long ago to take a look at LifeFlight and the team that is assigned to the fixed-wing aircraft and the rotary, the helicopter, and to meet those people and see the commitment they make to dealing with trauma is really extraordinary from the point of view of what they do.
If they go any period of time at all without handling certain medical emergencies, they have full training rooms set up right at the airport where they engage in that kind of ongoing training and professional development. We're very fortunate in our province to have that.
With our state-of-the-art ambulances that we do have and just bringing into practice here the latest version of an ambulance that is fully equipped as a neonatal unit or one to deal with any other kind of emergency, but also the training centre for paramedics - both of them are actually on display for people who deal with paramedicine: paramedics, doctors, and nurses. The Canadian trauma and emergency medicine national conference is here in Halifax today and we get an opportunity to display what is indeed some of the best in the country in terms of emergency response.
The fixed-wing aircraft could possibly have an extra flight or two but it's primarily for longer distances - getting over to P.E.I., getting to New Brunswick, getting especially to Yarmouth and Sydney, to get back here to Halifax. That aircraft has had some of that creative ability of our people in emergency medicine. To be able to now see them take the stretcher out of an ambulance and board it onto that fixed-wing aircraft without any movement of the patient is really phenomenal for people to see.
We have state-of-the-art and those people who are involved in emergency medicine, I'll tell you, I've come to really admire their work and what is characteristic of them. In speaking to a few of the doctors who were on stage this morning at the conference and a few others that I met beforehand, they don't talk so much about the great work we do but raising the bar to do even better, so it's quite something what we have. Anybody in any way, directly or indirectly, part of that system, they can stand tall with really anybody in North America.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: We have about nine minutes left in this hour before I have to give it off to my colleagues in the NDP. I know I probably will want a few minutes after them because we have a few more items that we really need to get to. I'm going to talk about continuing care in a moment but we also have the district health authorities that I do want to have a quick chat about, so I'll probably try to finish this off as well.
Looking at Continuing Care on Page 13.10 of the document, we see an increase in this one where there's a better investment in home support services. I see there's a decrease in facility-based care. I see there's a little increase in client-specific expenses, and I see a small decrease in capital infrastructure. So from what I'm seeing in the numbers, again this is about the focus on home care and a hauling away from long-term care or facility-based care.
MR. GLAVINE: In fact, it was yesterday morning that opened up a national conference on home care. It's really interesting to see that now getting the right balance of long-term care, nursing home care, and home care is really emerging across the country. All provinces were pretty excited to hear there will be $3 billion invested into home care.
All provinces now are adjusting to the big baby boom cohort; one in four Canadians is in and around that age of 50 to 68. They realize that we have to plan for the future now. It's not about building more nursing homes, it's moving care - either acute, when people come home from hospital, or those who are very frail, those who are disabled - getting care in their homes, and there's no question that's also where they want to be.
In terms of the 1 per cent, it is to have no impact on patient care, in terms of levels of staffing and whatever patients require in terms of their daily supplies. It's to be looked at from the areas of procurement, administration, creating efficiencies, using pro health, coming together for a number of contracts, especially in geographic areas where there would be quite a bit of symmetry, and it wasn't something that they have looked at in the past.
I've met with the group of nursing homes under - I think NGO is the organization, and they have a real commitment to this. It's certainly my view that if there are emergency repairs and requirements, I've been told that certainly for the last few decades the department has responded to those.
Also, we'll soon be getting the report on six replacement homes. Those are homes that know themselves that they have to be very cautious now in terms of putting money into an old structure that's going to have refurbishing or replacing. I think the 1 per cent is attainable without any significant drawbacks to their operations.
But I'm pleased to say and to see that through the dementia strategy, through our "home first" policy, getting people out of hospital and back to home quicker and providing that whole range of care of home support with CCAs, RNs, and LPNs, we will do more and I think it will be the highest quality of care.
Yesterday I did end my remarks by saying that when people are ill or when our seniors are more frail, who do we want around us the most? It's another family member, another loved one - not necessarily to be in the room of a hospital. I think that we're moving in the right direction here, and we'll continue to make progress.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: We just identified the gap. Yes, of course, we want our seniors to be at home. Of course that's what they're going to say, and that's what families are going to say, and that's what we're all going to try to do. It's the politically right thing to do. It's not even just the politically right thing to do; it's the right thing to do.
But the challenge we have is that we have a wait-list. We still have 1,500 or so seniors who are in hospital waiting for placement for long-term care. They're not waiting to go home. They're waiting to go to long-term care facilities.
The hospitals themselves have tried very hard to mitigate that cost by creating these alternate-level-of-care floors, but at the same time, they're in a hospital, and they're taking up that space. It's impacting the capability of the hospitals to do their job of doing surgeries, hips and knees, and extended on, because hospitals are still running at 100 per cent capacity or more.
When I see that there's no money for any new construction, that means that this government doesn't want to build new ones; they just want to replace - which is okay because we do need to replace a number of our facilities. But there's still no plan to at least catch up to where the 10-year continuing care strategy would have brought us. We're short about 1,000 beds, in my mind.
You said you really don't want to go build them. I just want to know how we're going to address the issue of those 1,500 patients who are sitting in long-term care today who can't go home, and the only thing that can happen here is that somebody has to pass away in a long-term care facility before they're able to come out. There's still a gap that can't be closed by extra money in home care. Yes, it's the right thing to do, but how are we going to close that gap?
MR. GLAVINE: I know that sometimes health care and health care delivery is indeed so big, so complex, that we often tend to look at one area of the system when we need to be looking at multiple areas that can be integrated, where you fix one area and it impacts another. We've worked hard as we did a refresh of the continuing care strategy and what will become our next five-year strategy to really address both of these areas.
I know the member wasn't here yesterday when I gave an update, but since we started with a concerted effort to reduce the nursing home list and at the same time to reduce the home care list and to make stronger home care available, we've been able to do some of both. My first report here in the House using numbers of the nursing home list was 2,563. I think it was in February or early March. The updated statistic was one that we can all remember from our school numbers: 1,492, an easy number to remember. Just in the last little while - I've got a further update, and over the last three months, 147 more have come off that list, and we're now at about 1,335 on the nursing home list.
Do we have some nursing homes that are problematic? Absolutely. That's because the policy allowed them, for whatever reason, to identify three homes. Some people identify only one and want to get in that one home.
At the same time as we're promoting home first and home from hospital, we've reduced the number in hospital. Yesterday when I got an update it was 120 in hospital waiting for long-term care placement. At the same time we've been able to reduce the wait times for home care in three counties to a just-in-time service, so we're on our way.
We see the first time in I believe it's close to two decades that we have the lowest number and the lowest hours required for care in the Annapolis Valley. Again, we've had to play hardball with the agencies to start to modernize and change their delivery of service. I brought many examples directly to VON national, to their board chair, that these were practices that could no longer continue to exist; a change, a plan, a different way of operating needed to take place. I'm pleased to say, as I told the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union and nurses who were there who are VON nurses and want to make sure that their careers remain in VON nursing, I was able to say to them what a better place we are today than we were two years ago. If we hadn't taken the pressure points to them and realized that there had to be change, I'm not sure where we would be today.
While VON still has some challenges in this month of May, they're back before the courts in terms of being in receivership. But having reduced their work to Ontario and Nova Scotia, I think there's much more of a targeted effort on improvement. They've done a wonderful job in Cumberland and Pictou Counties and now they're taking a look at how those best practices can be applied across the province, so we're in a better place.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservative Party. We'll now rotate to the New Democratic Party.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
HON. DAVID WILSON: I thank the minister and his department for being here on day four of Health and Wellness estimates. I want to begin by reminding the minister that this is the fourth day of estimates, over a five-day period, and along the line of questioning over the last number of days I did request some information and so far haven't received any. So I hope that the department and staff have been keeping track of that and I look forward to that. I would have hoped that some would have been here by today, by the end of estimates, because normally that generates more questions. Maybe we could pass a resolution to extend estimates for another week or so, next week, but I don't know if I'll get the support of members in the government caucus.
One of the ones, and I believe I asked this yesterday, it was just kind of a tail-end of my colleague's question around the transitional beds and I believe the minister indicated there were 120 or so in the province. I wonder if the department could provide which hospitals and the numbers of beds that are filled with the capacity of transitional-bed patients in there.
I'd be remiss, because this will be my last hour of asking questions, unfortunately - I know the minister will be upset with that - to remind the minister that my colleague, the member for Queens-Shelburne just reminded me after members' statements that there was another notice that went out about the Roseway Hospital being closed this Sunday, Mother's Day, from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and then again on Monday, from 6:00 a.m. until Tuesday at 8:00 a.m., and he wanted me to remind the minister "To be continued," I would assume.
Anyway, I want to go to a couple of programs and try to get some information around the budgets and how much was spent and where we're going with that. Of course, I think diabetes is an area of concern for all Nova Scotians. We have such a high rate of diabetes in Nova Scotia. Not only as an MLA but also as a Minister of Health, I have engaged people with concerns and always been asked to make sure that the government is doing as much as they can to support people with diabetes.
As a former paramedic, diabetes has left a dramatic impression on the importance of this disease, the management of it, and the support services that are needed. Your brain function needs two things: oxygen and glucose, or sugar. As a young paramedic going into a house and seeing someone who's hypoglycemic and semi-conscious and combative, and thinking there's alcohol involved or drugs involved and realizing, no, it's just because of a low sugar count, and giving them that IV and giving them dextrose and realizing how quickly people can snap out of it, has left an impression to the point where, when I had an opportunity as the Minister of Health to try to improve services, I was very glad to be able to get a commitment from our government and the Treasury Board, most importantly, to introduce an insulin pump program in the province.
I want to thank the minister and the current government for recognizing that program and for expanding it, I believe. The initial take-up or coverage for it was for children and young adults up to 19 for the pumps themselves, and then the supplies up to 25. I believe now the government, last year if I'm not mistaken, increased that age for pump eligibility to 25, so I'm very glad to see that.
I'm wondering if the minister could tell me, what was the budget last year, what was spent? What is the proposed budget this year? I know they fall under programs in the budget; they're not printed in the budget documents - so those three figures, if the minister could.
MR. GLAVINE: To the first point that the member made and had a request for certain information along the way, this gives me an opportunity to thank Roy Jamieson from Communications Nova Scotia who has been diligent and from the gallery has been gathering in those questions. I know with the number of issues that we've had going on, he has been pretty busy, but he will certainly make sure that the member gets that information. That will take place for sure.
In the 2015-16 budget year, there was $1.54 million allocated for the insulin pump program. The forecast is for $1.04 million that will be used for that program.
One of the areas that had caught my attention and now the members opposite there, and former health ministers are maybe wondering about it, is the pickup on the insulin pump program. We've engaged in additional advertising as we increased the age up to 25 years.
There are a couple of former students at my old school, twins who both have type 1 diabetes, and one uses the pump and one uses the needle. Again, it's their comfort zone; they didn't want to break from what serves them really, really well or the amount of times they will test through the day. One has to do that somewhat continuous testing and provide the needles and the required insulin on a regular basis; whereas the other is using the pump and loves the freedom that the pump provides, especially as a university student now. So it's a very individual thing, but our hope is that that program will get more using the pump.
Over a number of years all MLAs have had the benefit of an evening put on for education around diabetes. We were very fortunate to get that education, and I think it was a springboard to cause all members of the Legislature to look at not just the insulin pump, but how diabetes affects a young person, how it affects the family, and right across the life cycle to know that there's no final cure. I know the islet transplant is certainly for those who are classified as - I think it's frail diabetics who have highs and lows. But it's a very important area that the province, under a few governments now, has been trying to address, working to address in a much stronger fashion, so that's where we are today.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I didn't hear this year's budget. I know he said $1.54 million, $1.04 million forecast, but this year's budget, if the minister could just clarify.
MR. GLAVINE: I'll have to get that figure as well. It wasn't in a breakout and breakdown fashion here in the data that we have available, so we'll note that as to what the actual budget for the pump program is this year and we'll get that to the member.
MR. DAVID WILSON: With all due respect, it doesn't make sense to have the other two figures. I mean every page in here you get estimates from last year forecast and this year, so I'll take the minister's word on it. I would hope that an email can go down to a BlackBerry within a few minutes, maybe before we finish. As an Opposition member you wonder why they're not projecting it, so maybe I'll allow the minister to answer. One more question on that - how many people gained access to that program? How many people were served by either the insulin pump itself or by supplies?
MR. GLAVINE: The same budget for 2015-16 is in 2016-17, especially where it was underutilized, but having more education on the insulin pump and what we're able to provide in terms of the pump and supplies, we hope there will be a bigger take-up. We'll get the actual number from the department and pass it on.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate that information. I want to kind of go through - and I don't know how the minister wants to deal with a number of the other programs that are found that support seniors, support families - if I can maybe go through a list. What I'm looking for is that same information: what was budgeted last year, what was forecast, and what is the new budget?
A number of programs are important to Nova Scotians - and the utilization, the number of Nova Scotians who participate in the program. So there's kind of four figures I'm looking for. The programs are the Home Oxygen Services, the HELP - Bed Loan Program, Personal Alert Assistance Program, Specialized Equipment Loan Program, and Supportive Care Program. I think those are the major ones. I know there's a respite care - maybe the respite care, too, how many people gain access to that.
I don't know if that's something the minister could provide now, but I'm looking for those four figures: 2015-16 estimates, the forecast, the 2016-17 budget and the utilization of those programs. I don't know if the minister has a comment to make. When potentially could we get a copy, or could the minister table or provide that information for us?
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of these programs, the caregiver benefit program is a $10 million program that serves 1,914. The personal alert assistance program is a $205,000 program to serve 679. The home oxygen service is a $2.5 million program and will serve 1,235. I believe there are a couple of others that are required. I know the wheelchair loan program is $1.4 million, serving 323. Anything from the list that we've made that is missing, we'll certainly be able to provide that.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I'm grateful for the tidbits of information, but what I'm looking for - just so I'm very clear - is the 2015-16 budget, the forecast, the 2016-17 budget, and the number of Nova Scotians utilizing it. This is kind of a way of grading the government and seeing how well these programs are utilized, how much money is being spent and how many Nova Scotians are benefiting from it. I will be looking for that information.
I will turn my remaining time over to the member for Argyle-Barrington.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable members from the NDP have concluded their questioning for the Minister of Health and Wellness. I'll now rotate to the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Here's what I'm going to try to do: I'm going to keep my questions short, and if you can keep your answers short, we can be done in about 20 minutes. I've got about 20 minutes of questioning here to do so that we can get switched over to the Department of Justice.
We'll go to Page 13.11. As much as I want to talk about continuing care, I think the minister and I can have further discussions around that and ways to participate in the debate because I think the next five-year plan for continuing care is going to be important as to how we close a few of those gaps that we face in our constituencies every day.
The only one that I do want to consider, and he has his deputy minister beside him, is the issue of francophone usage. We used to have a rule that if you were French first language, so a lot of our Acadian communities, especially with a diagnosis of some kind of dementia, you would be placed in a francophone home. I know there's really no such thing as a francophone home, but Nakile Home for Special Care, Ville St. Joseph du Lac, and Ville Acadien all offer services in French. What happens to our loved ones as they go through their mental issue, the Alzheimer's that's taking them or whatever other dementia is taking them, is they lose a lot of their language capabilities, and they revert to their mother tongue, which is French.
I have an individual right now by the name of Simon Belliveau. Simon is suffering from dementia. He is currently in Surf Lodge in Lockeport, in an English community far from his home community. We've been having a bugger of a time trying to get him back into one of our francophone ones. As we start to change the continuing care strategy or look forward to it, can we please put that provision back in that allows at least a right of first refusal or some kind of system that gets these particular patients, these seniors, back to a community that they belong to?
MR. GLAVINE: First of all, I thank the member for raising a really important question today and voicing a strong concern for the francophone community in our province. We can say that we have a number of communities where that is their first language. They have cultural practices as well that we need to be always sensitive to. If there has been some eroding of this practice, then I'm certainly prepared as minister to clearly state that we will address this through the continuing care refresh and that it is part of our next five-year plan. Furthermore, I will check on the case that he has presented here in the Chamber today.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: There was a policy. It was set forth by a previous health minister who's in the room; that was me. After, there was another government that took that provision out. I just want to make sure that that gets put back in. There's times that we can agree on stuff on the Opposition side, and sometimes we disagree on the Opposition side. This is one of the ones I disagree with, that they took it out and they shouldn't have.
These next three things go together because we have a lot under Other Programs, Page 13.11, and then we start moving into the district health authorities. If we look at Page 13.11, we see Active Living, so that got farmed off to Communities, Culture and Heritage. We have Acute Care, which actually has about a $15 million discrepancy there; there's underspending of $15 million. I think IT Systems was part of the one that was moved.
But the one that worries me the most on this line is the Mental Health and Addiction Services, which is a $5 million decrease. I'm guessing that goes into the next line, which is over on health authority, but I want the minister to maybe give us a quick rundown on what happened to mental health services on this line.
MR. GLAVINE: While we have a bit of time, I'll comment first on his previous concern he raised around sensitivity to those of Acadian descent and getting into an appropriate culturally sensitive nursing home. I'm pleased to say that in fact as we roll out part two of our new policy, it will already be accommodated early. Then we'll make sure that that is in fact embedded in our new five-year strategy.
The member has rightly identified in the Budget Estimates that there is considerable change here. We knew that this would be a year when it would be a little more difficult to go year to year to year to see a pattern and changes. In terms of Mental Health and Addiction Services, that has moved to the health authority, and basically it represents personnel and that movement.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: If we move to the next page, Page 13.12, we get into the health authorities. I don't know whether I'm going to split them up, of course the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the IWK. The IWK provides an excellent service for all of Atlantic Canada, and it is sort of special in its own way. It's always hard to figure out what belongs where. I think that one's a relatively straightforward issue. It has a 1.9 per cent increase to its budget, so I think that takes in a little bit of the inflationary growth and contract negotiations. It did seem to get a provincial program which I'm guessing is probably one of the women's programs, so I don't know if they have breast health or what have you.
Then provincial programs again for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, they took in $13 million in provincial programs. Maybe if the minister could provide me with what those programs are and maybe their budget lines on that as well. So there's a $13 million increase on provincial programs, Page 13.13.
MR. GLAVINE: While we're looking for some of the exact figures that the member has asked for, what I can first of all relate is that there are nine provincial programs and seven have moved over to the NSHA, again, operationally it fits in with the one provincial context. Hearing and speech will stay with the department because it has a different governance model and the other program around reproductive care - RCP - again, a much better alignment with women's health through the IWK and I think that's a much better fit.
In terms of these programs, we can see Cancer Care Nova Scotia, $7.2 million; breast screening is part of the Reproductive Care Program; cardiovascular, $1.578 million; Legacy of Life, $390,000; Nova Scotia Renal Program, $751,000; provincial blood coordination, $981,000; Reproductive Care Program - sorry, that figure isn't there because it's a collection, I believe, of several. The breast screening is $1.275 million and the RCP is $1.6 million in those programs. So there's literally no change in those programs, just that they have a different operational point.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Maybe later on we can have a discussion. It's not something that I need to have here, it's just to make sure that that management stays the same because there are times that we have to be the regulator and there are other times that we're the program administrator. I just wonder, by moving some of these programs to the district health authority, do we maintain our role as regulator or not? Or do we lose some of those connections, especially when we look at issues like provincial programs, like the Renal Program?
We've had a lot of discussions in this House about the Renal Program. We talked about having different sites around the province and this is something that really fits in their bailiwick. I just wonder that the minister is able to really influence what happens in that program, but maybe that's a discussion for another day because I have about 10 minutes left and I want to finish up on a couple of issues.
If I can ask the minister to provide the wait-list, a couple of wait-lists. One is our long-term care because we do debate that. We have the 1,492 number that you talked about earlier but we brought that down to the 1,300, I believe. It would be nice to have an idea what that is, and maybe what some average wait times are in this particular case - how long are people waiting in different parts of the province, the different zones? How much are they waiting for home care or even the medical VON service and those kinds of things?
I know I'm just sort of throwing out - I'd like to have what you have so that I'm able to ask questions in this House of Assembly, so at least we have the best data that we can have to be an effective Opposition as well. I'm just wondering if I can have that commitment to submit a few of those wait-lists that are important to us. The other one that's important to me would be the issue of people waiting for doctors - as much information that the minister would have on that would be very beneficial to us. We all have that issue that people are coming into our offices, not being able to access a family doctor, so any data he would have on that would be very much appreciated as well.
MR. GLAVINE: I agree with the member. I know sometimes in Opposition I struggled the same way but very fortunate that the ministers I dealt with over the years realized that lots of information just simply made for better communications, better understanding of the flow of people through the system and he's able to be effective in his work as well. We'll be pleased to provide the long-term care number, the wait-lists for home care, we'll get that to the member for Argyle-Barrington.
In terms of doctors, again those people waiting for physicians, we'll get that number. This time of the year it seems a little bit more of a moving target as doctors retire in anticipation of new doctors coming in to practise. I'm pleased to say that recruitment is going well for this year, but again, we will have and do have pockets that need more attention at the moment, so providing as much information there as possible.
I know Doctors Nova Scotia is part of that body that collects this information so that they can be responsive as much as possible.
One of the areas that we still see happen in the province - and I think it speaks to the unbelievable commitment of doctors, our GPs, who sometimes see patients for 30 or 40 years. I know one of the doctors who works in my area has now seen people for 50 years since he's still practising at 82 or 83 years of age. He has been seeing people for 50 years.
Our specialists, people move in and out of the care of specialists, but our GPs are so committed to their patients that they actually work at recruiting a replacement themselves. That's how deep a concern they have for when they are about to retire.
Many of the older doctors who have served our province, served patients so well, so faithfully, are realizing that there are indeed a number of benefits to the collaborative practice. They often struggled to get an adequate holiday because a locum wasn't always available. In that collaborative setting they have the built-in factor of someone to cover for them. Also, as they age, reducing their hours and the number of patients they see, again a collaborative practice can be a wonderful opportunity for them to maybe work four days a week or six to eight hours a day, compared to what had been the regimen over the course of their many years in service.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I thank the minister for that answer. I also want to throw into that mix while he's thinking about things like that is the usage of nurse practitioners. I know a number of them who have graduated now who would like to set up private practices in some cases. They are caught up in the agreements that they need to have a collaborative issue with an MD, with a doctor, but I think there are ways that we can make that work across the province. If that alleviates some of the stress that we have in some of our communities, I think that would be a valuable addition to our system, or at least an expansion to our system, as well.
I always try to end with a personal issue on this because as much as we stand in this House and complain about the health care system and what it's not doing, I think it's important to underline what it is doing. I know we've stood here a lot of times and talked about cancer. We've had many loved ones who have had it. We've sat here and talked about hip and knee replacements. We have examples sitting in this House right now who have had or are waiting to have that, and sometimes they're the same person. She's not listening over there. But our access to the health care system is extremely important, and we do receive excellent care. Whether we're waiting or have had it, it's an important thing.
I leave with this story, and I do want the minister to pass on the commendation that he can. My family is now a diabetes family. I know I probably mentioned this to the minister and the deputy minister as well: my son was recently diagnosed with type 1. It was something completely out of the blue, something that was not expected. For a healthy 17-year-old, it was something that was completely unexpected - one who was in perfect physical shape, skinny and active, and all those fun things.
I can say that from that diagnosis to the work with the physician, the specialist that we have in Yarmouth, Dr. Kim - I want to thank Dr. Kim, a phenomenal young internist who is phenomenal, who has done marvels to help André and help our family figure this one out. Also thanks to Isabelle d'Entremont, who is the diabetic nurse in Yarmouth who is helping us try to figure out how you're supposed to count carbs, how you're supposed to eat, how André is allowed to get back into the sports that he's interested in without going low, and how to keep him on the right track to make sure he doesn't go high. There's a phenomenal amount of information that has to be figured out, and those people have done a phenomenal job in helping my family take what was a pretty big issue hit our family and made it that much easier, like knowing that the pump program is there and something that we can look at later on down the road.
I just wanted to say to the minister that I want him to pass on to those individuals and to anybody who's included in the diabetes care program my thanks and our thanks because they do a phenomenal job. With those comments, I just want to thank the minister for estimates today. If he has any responses, great, but that concludes my questioning for the day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes questioning for the Minister of Health and Wellness. I would now ask if he has any final remarks.
MR. GLAVINE: I thank the member for sharing a personal story and how the health care system has responded. We know that type 1 diabetes is now a lifetime disease that he will have to manage. We are fortunate in our province, again, to have a great diabetes program and the ability for people to manage diabetes because managing is really the secret. I'll share back a little personal story. My mother at 59 was found in a diabetic coma and lived to be 89. Yes, she had a couple of amputations along the way as she aged, but she was able to live a very full and productive life.
Before making final remarks, there's always a few weeks there as minister - and there seemed to be four or five in a row, as I related this morning when I opened the trauma conference - when I get to see the phenomenal work that goes on in the province. But there's a few weeks there where I was the minister of floods, bed bugs, mice, and all these things that are the flashpoint that a minister deals with. I get to see maybe what White Coat, Black Art refers to as the other side of the gurney. If you're a minister, it's a real privilege to go into areas of our health care system that unless you're a patient, you may never be exposed to.
Our province has been able to really work above its weight, if you wish, of a province of less than a million people because we've been able to attract to our province phenomenal clinicians, researchers, and teachers because we have that dynamic little health hub that's really a gem - not only in our province, but across the country. It attracts some great people to our province who daily save lives, extend lives, and create well-being for us all.
With that, a few final remarks - and one does address a concern that was raised during estimates that I will get to, and that is talking about how the Department of Health and Wellness is now really all about creating highest levels of quality care and monitoring of the system. That was in no way passed off. There was a little bit of misunderstanding when a couple of people went over to the health authority, and it's really to guide the implementation and the operational areas of standards, but in terms of where we are, I think I do need to comment.
I want to first thank my honourable colleagues for their thoughtful questions over the course of the past few days. I also want to thank our officials in the Department of Health and Wellness and at the Department of Seniors who have worked so tirelessly to prepare the department's estimates, gather the information requested by the members, and of course eventually get that to them.
Deputy Minister Dr. Peter Vaughan and Chief Financial Officer Mr. Kevin Elliott have been with me this week, as well as our Deputy Minister of Seniors, Simon d'Entremont, and of course, Roy Jamieson who has been an assistant to this process. Together, they and their teams have done an admirable job in responsibly managing this large and complex budget.
As we all know, the Department of Health and Wellness represents the largest single component of Nova Scotia's Public Accounts. We are all well aware that the Department of Health and Wellness accounts for fully 42 per cent of the provincial budget. That's a reflection of the importance of our health care system to the well-being of every Nova Scotian. Managing these public funds effectively and responsibly is a trust we take very seriously and as a department and as a government.
Over the past few days we have heard many excellent questions from the honourable members. They have touched on many common themes: the availability of services for our most vulnerable Nova Scotians, when and where they are needed; the changing nature of health care delivery, and the challenges and opportunities that presents to clinicians and administrators; and the need to spend our tax dollars wisely and strategically so that we achieve the very best health outcomes. I have always said that we have to do all we can to remain healthy, but we need the best system for when we are sick. That's the goal and target of the work in our department.
As we heard, the department's budget this year totals over $4.1 billion. Over the past 15 years, that budget has increased substantially - more than doubled, in fact, in just 15 years. I am pleased to say that for the first time in recent memory, the department's budget has increased by less than 1 per cent for the second year in a row.
Now we hear suggestions this week that this is not an accomplishment to be proud of - that the budget should have increased by at least the rate of inflation. Yet, despite increasing at rates well above the rate of inflation over the past 15 years, we know that our health outcomes fall short of most other provinces. In fact, my honourable colleagues spoke at length this week about some of those challenges we continue to address.
The creation one year ago of the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the redesign of the Department of Health and Wellness, we have laid the foundation for a health system that truly meets the needs of Nova Scotians now and for the next 50 years. In many ways, I often get the chance to reflect on being Health Minister for two and a half years, now the second-longest serving Health Minister in the country. I speak of the work as foundational. Real transformation will be five or six years in the making.
One concern I heard raised this week was around a question of accountability. Some expressed a fear that the changes I spoke about will impact negatively on the minister's accountability for the management of Nova Scotia's health system.
Mr. Chairman, I want to assure all honourable members and all Nova Scotians that the opposite is true. The changes we have made - consolidating the delivery of front-line health care, and reducing the size and cost of administration - will only strengthen our ability to manage our health care system effectively. The role of the Department of Health and Wellness is now focused squarely on its responsibility to develop policy, identify priorities, manage our expenditures, and set standards for our province's health system. Working closely with our partners and the health authorities, myself, Deputy Minister Vaughan, and everyone at the Department of Health and Wellness are fully committed to the task at hand.
I will close now by once again thanking all the members of this committee for their questions and comments about the Departments of Seniors, and Health and Wellness. Thanks to Dr. Vaughan and Mr. Elliott and Simon d'Entremont and department staff who work so hard to support me and, more importantly, the people of our province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E11 stand?
Resolution E11 stands.
Resolution E38 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,598,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Seniors, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E38 carry?
Resolution E38 is carried.
We will now take a short recess, in preparation for the Department of Justice. We are now in recess.
[1:02 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[1:05 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Committee of the Whole on Supply will now come to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
MR. TERRY FARRELL: Mr. Chairman, would you please call the estimates of the Department of Justice.
Resolution E13 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $330,388,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Justice, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will now invite the minister to make
some opening comments and introduce her staff to the members of the committee.
The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. DIANA WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, it's my pleasure to be here today. I'll be presenting the estimates for the Department of Justice, 2016-17. This is my first estimates debate as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, so it's a particular pleasure for me to take a little bit of time to introduce the members of the House and all Nova Scotians to the efforts we are taking to keep Nova Scotians safe and secure and what we are doing to protect our collective right to an open, accountable, and fair justice system.
Before we get under way I'd like to introduce to the committee Tilly Pillay, my Acting Deputy Minister, who is here with me on the floor and Greg Penny, the department's Executive Director of Finance and Administration. They are both here to assist me with questions that will come up today. I'm also joined in the gallery by William Smith, the department's Executive Director of Correctional Services; Ken Winch, the Executive Director of Court Services; Robert Purcell, who is Executive Director of Public Safety; as well as other members of my staff who are in attendance to support us.
I'd like to make the point, Mr. Chairman, that should there be some specific areas of questioning, with the indulgence of the members, I'd like to see that perhaps that executive director, or it might be one of the other outside agencies that I'm responsible for, if they were to come down and join me that would be helpful. I'd just like to put that on the record so we can be prepared for that. I know we don't have as much time as some of the previous ministers.
As Attorney General I also have responsibility for the Public Prosecution Service, as it is known, so in the gallery I would also like to welcome Martin Herschorn who is the Director of our Public Prosecution Service.
I'm responsible as well for a number of independent agencies: the Human Rights Commission, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Office, and the Office of the Police Complaints Commission. The others include the Public Trustee, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Serious Incident Response Team, and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal.
Mr. Chairman, I will begin my remarks speaking about the Justice Department. We are a department that continues to deliver on its core mandate, thanks in large part to our excellent staff. Our responsibilities are significant and our challenges are constantly changing, one example being the rise in cyber-related crime and cyberbullying. We are a department that benefits from the strong partnerships we enjoy with the justice community. We work closely with the federal government, our municipal and provincial policing services, the RCMP, the Nova Scotia judiciary, the Public Prosecution Service, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, and community-led organizations like the Community Justice Society and CeaseFire, among many others.
You just have to look at the recent rash of gun violence in HRM over the past several weeks to see some of those partnerships in action. HRP, RCMP, CeaseFire, Stop the Violence - which is another community group - Crime Stoppers, and our own Justice Department staff are working together to bring community at the same table to find solutions.
Nova Scotians can be extremely proud of the work that they and our staff do on their behalf every day. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank them and every one of the almost 1,600 employees for their commitment to the people of this province, whether it's dealing with issues of public safety and security, maintaining our correctional facilities, or keeping our courts running smoothly.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to provide and touch on a few of our strategic and budget highlights for this coming year. The department will be implementing the recommendations of the Maintenance Enforcement Program Review Committee report this year, and we had a question today in Question Period about that. I hope we'll have some more questions here on the floor as well. We've made it a priority to improve services that strengthen the enforcement of support orders for families enrolled in maintenance enforcement. As part of this effort, we're also making changes to the Maintenance Enforcement Act and conducting some consultation right now on that.
We'll also be reviewing and responding to the occupational health and safety review of the share of services, and addressing cyberbullying as part of the government's commitment to protect Nova Scotians. With our partners, we'll continue to respond to the recommendations of the independent review of the police and prosecution response to the Rehtaeh Parsons case to address the serious issue of cyberbullying. We will do so in a way that will better support youth in crisis.
We'll also continue to put a focus on crime prevention with the implementation of the unique CeaseFire violence interruption model that aims to change violent behavior through community outreach. We continue to support CeaseFire, which has been hard at work over the past few weeks. It is a public health based intervention model designed to reduce gun violence through street-level intervention and community mobilization.
CeaseFire, which is celebrating its second anniversary, works with the highest risk youth and young adults. They are making a difference in our community. CeaseFire is doing positive work. They have credibility in the community.
Since last Fall, violence interrupters and outreach workers have conducted 33 mediations with 24 clients at risk of being violent, and in doing so, helping to avert potential tragedies. Eleven of those mediations were deemed to be high risk.
I want to thank each and every one of them for their commitment and I want to thank Mel Lucas, the project manager at CeaseFire, and Yvonne Atwell, executive director of the Community Justice Society, who I had the pleasure of meeting with recently for their work to address gun violence in our communities. We will begin the evaluation phase for CeaseFire beginning in 2017 to determine the next steps.
The Department of Justice hybrid hub model is also an example of a collaborative response model that we're using for at-risk youth. This model recognizes that a traditional police response will not solve all of our problems and all of our issues. It works to prevent and reduce crime through the development of community and justice system partnerships. There are currently 13 hub models operating in the province.
We're enhancing programming for adult offenders with a variety of programs, including the establishment of an intensive direct supervision unit at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. When I say that, that's really Burnside. Most of us know it as Burnside, but the proper name is Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.
This year we will continue to improve our integration of custodial and community service delivery with the assignment of community correction staff to work more closely with the four correctional institutions. The community corrections are the parole - the people who work in the community with people who are being released or are on parole.
We are constantly innovating and looking at new and strategic ways to maintain a responsive, effective, and transparent justice system. We're keeping ourselves focused on our priorities and will be doing so by using our limited resources as strategically and as effectively as we possibly can.
I'd like to turn your attention to the financial picture for 2016-17 now. Departments and agencies have been asked to look hard at being more effective in determining our priorities. We need to critically assess what we're spending on and how we can do things as cost effectively as possible. The Department of Justice is no different. There's a budget that holds the line. It is sound and strategic. It is focused on our priorities and the priorities of Nova Scotians.
Our budget for the Department of Justice increased by $2.8 million or a little less than 1 per cent this year - obviously a very modest increase in a $330.4 million budget. We had to work hard to find savings this year. The Department of Justice is holding the line on spending while maintaining important investments in Public Safety, corrections, and Court Services.
The modest increase is related to the contractual obligation to fund the RCMP services in the province. The funding is for increased salary and other operational costs of $5.3 million, $4.1 million of which is recoverable from municipalities.
Funding of $500,000 will also be spent implementing recommendations of the sheriffs' occupational health and safety review. Primarily this will be spent on training, and the purchase and training for conductive energy weapons - again, that means tasers, so I think I'll use that word instead. To keep sheriffs and the Nova Scotians using our justice facilities safe and secure is the purpose of this training. Funding for the Domestic Violence Court in Sydney will also continue.
I would like to take a moment to touch on one or two of the specific highlights in each of our core divisions, just to introduce you to our core divisions. The first one is courts; we have a duty to provide safe and secure courthouses. That means keeping our court staff, the sheriffs, the judiciary, Crown and defence lawyers, clients, and the general public safe. We're working through an occupational health and safety report delivered to the minister last Spring. It had 51 recommendations, including arming a limited number of our 238 sheriffs.
I don't believe you have to equip staff with lethal weapons to keep people safe. The key is to manage risk, that's really what it's about. We believe we can address the safety concerns raised in the OHS review and mitigate the risk to staff and the public through daily threat analyses, which we're increasing; increasing physical security at courthouses; and using armed police officers when necessary - in addition, equipping designated sheriffs with tasers rather than firearms. Thirty-six deputy sheriffs will be trained in the safe use of tasers. They will have to meet the same rigorous fitness and training standards as are used by our police services, to ensure professionalism and appropriate response to situations. Alternatives to firearms are also being developed, which include robust risk management processes and the addition of metal detection equipment at high-risk locations.
Also in Court Services I want to highlight an ongoing commitment to strengthen the Maintenance Enforcement Program, which you've heard me talk about here as well. It is a priority of the Premier and of our government. Court-ordered child and spousal support should be paid on time and in full. More than 16,400 children are served by this program right now so anything short of our best effort is not an option. Improving this program is a key part of my mandate as minister. Progress is being made on all 27 recommendations of the 2015 MEP Review Committee report.
We are starting to see an improvement. Targeted monitoring of cases and restructuring to streamline enforcement and better deal with complex and challenging cases has reduced the arrears in every category where arrears are enforceable. Our enforcement numbers actions are up a whopping 77 per cent, from 12,262 to this year being at 21,751, so a 77 per cent increase. That's all the different enforcement actions we could take. More cases are being referred to Public Safety investigations, 56 over the past year, and more cases are being taken to court - 19 were initiated at last count. It is not where we want to be yet but we're moving in the right direction.
Next Fall I plan to introduce legislation to further strengthen the Act. In my response to the MEP review I promised to review and improve legislation. Targeted consultation with clients and stakeholders is now under way on some of the proposed changes that we'd like to see in the Maintenance Enforcement Act. Proposals we are looking for feedback on include using the Internet to locate payers who are in persistent arrears, strengthening notification provisions, and holding onto money seized from a payer for future payments, even after outstanding arrears are paid. This is targeted at individuals who persistently fail to make payments or are unwilling to work with the program.
We are committed to increased enforcement, better customer service, and improved communication with families who rely on us. Nova Scotia put this issue on the national agenda, and we're taking a lead role to increase jurisdictional collaboration on this issue.
I also want to speak briefly about our specialty courts. Our three specialty courts in the province continue to be successful alternatives to two traditional criminal courts, and they all succeed on partnerships with service providers and the very strong support of the judiciary. The Mental Health Court in Dartmouth, the Domestic Violence Court in Sydney, and our court-monitored drug treatment program in Kentville would not exist without the support of our community partners or the leadership of the bench of the Provincial Court.
Earlier this week we announced that we will continue funding the Domestic Violence Court which has been successfully operating in Sydney now since 2012. It was developed to stop the cycle of domestic abuse and make life better for victims and their families. More than 300 families have benefited from this program since it began.
Violence in the home is extremely difficult for the victim and the entire family. We need to continue supporting families to ensure the cycle of violence is stopped and that life at home is not filled with fear. Each of our specialty court programs connects services and supports with people in our justice system. We believe that helping to make these links makes the system itself more effective for the people directly affected.
I want to thank the Nova Scotia judiciary and Chief Judge Pam Williams for her leadership and their leadership to support these very important projects.
In the Public Safety and security section of the department, I'd like to go through some of our highlights there as well. Crime prevention is a big part of this effort and it will continue to be a cornerstone of everything that we do. The best thing we can do is divert people in the first place from interaction with our courts and with the criminal justice system.
In the latest figures from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, it indicates that Nova Scotia's crime rate has dropped by 22 per cent between 2010 and 2014. Police reported violent crime has been relatively stable over the past two years, but is down 21 per cent over the five-year period, 2010 to 2014. Obviously, the violence that HRM has experienced over the past month is disheartening, but I feel that we are doing a lot of things right. We are well resourced when it comes to police in this province. Nova Scotia's rate of police strength is 197 officers per 100,000 population or one for almost every 500 residents, which is above the national average and the third highest in the country.
Our contributions to public safety will increase to $138.4 million this year from $135 million - $16.2 million of that is dedicated to providing 136 additional police officers to municipal police forces across the province. The additional officer program will be 10 years old next year. It was begun in 2007 when crime rates were at an all-time high in the province and our police per capita was well below the national average. It's now a decade old - almost - so it's important that we review its success and that we look at how we can sustain this program for the future.
Our review will soon start. It will include representation from UNSM - our municipal partners - the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association, and the Department of Justice. We have hired a respected consultant and the review committee will soon be developing the terms of reference for the consultants. Our priority is that police and municipalities have the resources to keep their communities safe.
I think the other big news in this year ahead will be our ongoing response to cyberbullying. As you know, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia struck down the Cyber-safety Act in December. This was ground-breaking legislation - the first of its kind in Canada. It's unfortunate that it was turned over, but we aren't deterred. We respect the court's decision, and we will bring in new and amended legislation in the Fall.
We learned a lot over the past two years through CyberSCAN, and we believe the new legislation will strike the appropriate balance between charter protections and public safety. That really was the missing link and I know all members of the House - all three Parties in the House - supported that original legislation. I don't think we had enough time to consider it carefully and we will have that time this year.
We're leaders in addressing cyberbullying and we will be again. We're going to continue to fight this issue head-on. In the interim, our CyberSCAN unit - the first of its kind in Canada - continues to play a vital role in educating Nova Scotians about the perils of cyberbullying. The unit dealt with more than 800 complaints and has made more than 800 presentations to schools, the public, and the police since September 2013.
I also want to highlight our community crime prevention grants program. Twenty-one community organizations received $12,000 each to address youth crime. Each partnership is unique, meeting the needs of youth in their home communities. I recently visited Youth on the Radar here in Halifax. This club's goal is to engage youth through the arts. The program is aimed to reduce crime by reconnecting participants with their school and their community, and nurturing their physical and emotional well-being.
I was very moved by what I saw. These young people had created such wonderful pieces of art. They reflected emotions and feelings that are really difficult to express here in words. I was also impressed to know that some of their art is hanging in our courthouses, and they want to do more in public places. I think that's a really great connection. The place also creates a safe place for youth to come together in J.L. Ilsley High School, and I think that's very important.
On the corrections side of our department, I would like to take a few moments to speak about the good work that is under way. There is frequently a lot of media attention focused on our correctional facilities. What sometimes gets missed is the positive work that is being done to improve these facilities to support our correctional staff and the progress we're making to address long-standing issues such as overcrowding. In fact, overcrowding is no longer an issue; our system is currently at 65 per cent capacity.
The opening of the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Pictou added 150 more beds to our overall capacity, which has resulted in a decline in the offender population at Burnside. Burnside jail is at only 74 per cent capacity now so we no longer have an overcrowding problem. Government has taken a major step forward in the past year towards improving staff and offender safety at Burnside by investing $4 million to renovate and introduce direct supervision, and $2 million in security upgrades. The direct supervision model has already proven very effective in the Pictou correctional facility, so we believe it will do the same here. It's worth noting that major incidents are down 70 per cent over last year and assaults have declined by 35 per cent in our correctional facilities.
The internal offender complaint process is working well, showing a 50 per cent decrease in the total number of complaints submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman, while simultaneously improving access to Ombudsman representatives with our offender phone system. We have more stringent recruitment practices involving physical fitness and security background checks. Correctional Services has hired a social worker at each of our three largest facilities, and we've partnered with the Nova Scotia Health Authority to hire an addictions counsellor at Burnside.
We continue to maintain a number of supports for offenders, including options for anger, substance abuse education, general education, vocational training, creative writing, and canine therapy - which is the WOOF program, where dogs are brought to the facility.
The department introduced video court on a permanent basis in April 2015. To date we've used video court in 1,193 occasions over the last year. Video court will increase safety and minimize court delays, and we expect it to produce great benefits for all justice partners. The pilot we started in Sydney was a great success, linking correctional facilities to the Provincial Court.
I would now like to talk a little bit about the Public Prosecution Service. Martin Herschorn, the Director of the PPS who is joining us today in the gallery, is certainly here if we have a lot of questions - I would like to be able to call him down. It was established in 1990 under the Public Prosecutions Act as the first independent prosecution service in Canada. It employs 95 Crown Attorneys and has a total staff of 167 in 19 offices around the province. Our Crowns handle about 48,000 Criminal Code charges every year.
In addition to prosecuting all Criminal Code offences in Nova Scotia, the PPS is responsible for prosecuting some 10,000 violations of provincial Statutes annually. The PPS also appeals decisions made by the courts in indictable proceedings where the Crown determines the court has made an error.
Continuing education is a priority for the PPS. It's important that Crown Attorneys and support staff are able to enhance their expertise on an ongoing basis. At the end of the day this results in better quality prosecution services.
I would also like to talk for a few moments about the challenges facing the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service. Major cases are complex and often high profile and require a significant amount of time, skill, and dedication from more than one Crown Attorney. Public safety and the public perception of the justice system are influenced by the outcome of these cases.
The PPS makes it a practice to assign at least two Crown Attorneys to each murder case, at least one being a senior Crown Attorney. This is essential in order to professionally respond to the demands of these difficult cases. Many major or specialized prosecutions are handled by members of the Special Prosecutions Section. Such prosecutions include complex fraud cases, historical sexual assaults, cybercrime cases, child pornography cases, provincial regulatory offences, and Aboriginal law cases. The 2016-17 budget provides for two more Crown Attorneys to prosecute Internet child exploitation cases, a category of cases on the rise.
The PPS received a $192,000 increase in funding as part of this year's budget, bringing its total budget to more than $23 million. This allows the PPS to expand its current complement to four Crown Attorneys dedicated to cybercrime prosecutions. The establishment of these two new Crown Attorney positions also fulfills one of the recommendations of the independent review of the police and prosecution response to the Rehtaeh Parsons case submitted last Fall by Murray Segal, former chief prosecutor and Deputy Attorney General of Ontario. The new Crown Attorneys are expected to be in place by this Fall.
The PPS is a member of the Criminal Justice Transformation Group - a committee representing justice partners working together to maximize efficiencies within the justice system. The PPS continues to spearhead the province-wide e-disclosure initiative to facilitate the Crown's ability to receive uniform electronic disclosure from police. Research is now being conducted into technological requirements in the courts to support e-disclosure and an approach that will be developed to ensure universal compliance.
PPS is also making arrangements to acquire a comprehensive case management system developed by Ontario. It will be tested in Nova Scotia to determine its compatibility with current computer systems in the justice system. If successful, this will achieve a long-needed case management system for the PPS. I very much appreciate the efforts of the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service, and I'm confident they are well positioned to meet any challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.
Briefly on the Human Rights Commission, which is another independent government agency under the authority of the Act, the commission focuses on two core business functions: resolving complaints of discrimination in public education and outreach. Reforms have been made in the Human Rights Commission over the past year to better serve Nova Scotians.
We also have a new director and CEO in place there. Her name is Christine Hanson. She started at the commission in February. I'm very pleased that someone of Ms. Hanson's impressive background, experience, and dedication will be leading Nova Scotia's Human Rights Commission. She will be a strong asset for the commission and a strong advocate for human rights in the province.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the staff at the Department of Justice who serve the province every day - whether it's in our correctional facilities, in our courthouses and our justice centres, in the Maintenance Enforcement Office, or at our head office - for providing excellent legal support to our province. They accomplish great things every day. They quietly go about their work, keeping our province safe and secure.
I look forward to the opportunity for you now to ask me whatever questions that you may have and I will do my very best to answer them in the time we have allotted. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll now begin questioning with the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Thank you, minister, and to your staff. I'm not sure what the rules are, but certainly if the minister's staff wish to join - I don't know if they can do that. I'm hearing a "no." That might save us some time. I think we only have a couple of hours left of estimates.
I'm going to start off with an issue that is - well, perhaps it's not the biggest issue before us, but it's something that's important. It was raised to me by a local fire chief and it concerns body removal where the Medical Examiner's Office is involved. I don't know if it's so much a question - and of course we're always cognizant of not wanting to make suggestions that increase the cost of an office.
I know that the medical examiner may have other priorities in that office, but one issue that was raised was sometimes in rural areas there being a delay in body removal. I know it's the way the system is set up. It's contracted out. In the city it may work better because there's not as much distance needed to be covered, but in rural areas sometimes there are delays. It makes things awkward for volunteers who are perhaps staying with the family until the body is removed, certainly for the families at a traumatic time having to wait for hours at a time.
So I wanted to raise it because I know everybody here is listening in estimates and it's probably the best time to raise these kinds of things. Minister, I'll let you comment. I know I'm not really asking you a question and I'm not really intending to put you on the spot, but I'm more so raising the issue.
MS. WHALEN: Thank you for the question, I appreciate the opportunity. I did want to say a few words about the Medical Examiner's Office and the work they do there. They're really quite amazing. If the member opposite has not had the chance to visit there, I really do recommend you go. Dr. Matt Bowes is the Chief Medical Examiner, and the facility we have built for him is first class. It was begun under previous governments and it is really wonderful. They do a very professional job there. I know they are aware of some of these issues. What I was going to say was that I'd be able to take that back to them. I know they're cognizant of the problems, but maybe we can look at what's going on there.
They are very well set up, far better than the situation was before, when they worked out of the basement, I think, of the VG Hospital. They are much more sensitive to the family members who need to come in, they have a proper area where they can talk to family, which they didn't have before. It's a very professional and very sensitive service they offer. Of course, I know they would be aware of any concerns and really trauma that goes with not having a good system of coming in and collecting the bodies and going forth with their work.
MR. MACMASTER: I met Dr. Bowes during the review of Mr. Clayton's case. They were certainly very professional in the office and do a great job.
I will move to - it seems just taking a very high-level picture of the budget the major change is the increase in the RCMP policing contract. I wonder if the minister could provide the rate of - I presume it's due to a wage increase - I wonder if the minister could provide the rate of wage increase and also comment on the line item Other Policing Services, which has dropped about $1.8 million. That's on Page 15.7 of the Budget Book, the Estimates and Supplementary Detail.
The increase in the RCMP costs, which I believe is under Public Safety Investigative Unit, and the decrease under Other Policing Services - perhaps you could explain what is happening there.
MS. WHALEN: There's a couple of questions there that I am able to answer. As you know, the RCMP contract has gone up, we've had a little discussion with that. That's across Canada, of course, it's negotiated nationally. We're looking at a 3.9 per cent increase to that budget here in Nova Scotia, that's what we budgeted for. I believe the final number still has to be signed. We're working on some advice from the federal government, as well as our best guesses, but 3.9 per cent is what the local RCMP have said they can manage within so that's what's in the budget. It's a 5.2 per cent increase, though $4.1 million flows back from the municipality so we have a recoverable on that.
I'm very well aware that that means a stress on municipal budgets. I know that policing is the fastest-growing cost for municipalities right now so it is a concern. We were originally faced with over 5 per cent, the first estimate we began working with, and from our Public Safety Executive Director, working with the police here, the RCMP, they were able to say they could find some efficiencies and do some belt-tightening and they could do it with a 3.9 per cent increase. So that's the RCMP's line.
Other Policing Services - the major change there comes from the RCMP no longer doing the policing at the airport. You might remember an announcement where that contract was given to someone else and the RCMP have withdrawn from that service, so that amount of money was saved. I believe $1.6 million was coming out of our budget for that reason.
MR. MACMASTER: The next question - the Judiciary on Page 15.4 of the estimates. I notice that it was estimated to be about $11.1 million last year, it came in at just under $10.2 million and now there's an estimate of about $11.1 million again. I wonder if the minister could explain why last year it came in at so much under budget and why this year we're putting the same estimate on it as there was the year prior.
MS. WHALEN: One thing I should say about our budget this year - and this highlights it - is that working with Greg Penny as our financial director, we've really looked at where we've had historical under spends and some historical over spends and have tried to reallocate. So you won't see a big change in our bottom line, as I said, it's less than a 1 per cent difference.
What we have done is if we see that there's extra - and that's what happened in this case - in that line for the Judiciary it has appeared because there was an historical surplus there. Of course, this may change over time, but right now it's related because the judges are getting older and their pension benefits maxed out, similar to, I think, our benefits as well. At a certain point we no longer accrue pension benefits because we've served a certain number of years. Of course here it's 20 years and we don't often see many members get to 20 years. At that point they are no longer contributing to that, we don't need to match those payments, so that's one part of it.
Then at age 70 they can continue to sit on the bench but they become per diem judges rather than sitting as full-time judges, so that also changes the payment mechanism there. That really was the reason why we readjusted that budget. They won't be feeling any change in service as a result of it, it's really primarily related to benefits. Then some of that was redirected to areas where we had over spends.
MR. MACMASTER: I'd like to ask some questions about Boots on the Street. I know that when people see reductions to Boots on the Street and the possibility of a reduction in police officers and when people are reading - I know the area I come from, Inverness, a lot of people are reading the stories about what's going on in Halifax and they're shocked by the violence. I often tell them that oftentimes the people who are getting caught in that violence, they're in that world, and they're coming up against people who are violent. It's often not random acts of violence against people who are - it's often happening to people who have found themselves in situations that aren't safe. That's certainly not in a pure sense, but certainly it seems to be that way when you follow some of these cases. Perhaps people don't need to be afraid to come to the city is my point.
People are concerned when they see a cut to Boots on the Street. I know there's a review going on and I had asked the minister in Question Period a bit about this. I had to ask about why there was a company chosen by way of a sole-source contract. Why wouldn't the government put this out to tender? I think the minister indicated that the type of firm they required needed to have pretty specialized knowledge. But even so, I would think a tender could be put out requesting that specialized knowledge from respondents and thus allow - any time we see a sole-source contract, I think it just raises flags.
I'm not suggesting that anything untoward is going on here, especially with the Department of Justice, but at the same time I think the question needs to be asked and I'll let the minister answer.
MS. WHALEN: This is a really important subject so I hope you'll have a few other questions as well. Your question right now is largely around the choice of the consultant. There were a few things in particular that we wanted the consultants to have, and if I can just read this more carefully, it was particular expertise in the areas of the Provincial Police Service Agreement, the Service Exchange Agreement and the policing framework in Nova Scotia, and understanding the municipal role versus the provincial role.
It's understanding policing and particularly as well, the Nova Scotia circumstances and our agreements that govern it here in the province. We felt that was very important. As a former consultant as well, I know that often if you put it out to a general call you'll get a general consultant, like I was, and we would have hired someone with this expertise to be on our team and then we'd submit a proposal, because this requires expert understanding of police work and the policing agreement. I feel like we've gone directly to people who have that expertise and that makes it faster and more responsive.
We are waiting now for the terms of reference, as I say, and the committee - which will include police chiefs and UNSM and ourselves - will put together the exact terms of reference, and then that committee will also have an ongoing role with the project and review as it unfolds.
MR. MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, the next question would be about - the cut to the Boots on the Street program was made before the review, and I'm just wondering why. Was it felt it was necessary to hold the line on the budget, as the minister had indicated earlier? Also, if the minister could indicate if actually there will be any reduction in police officers on the street.
MS. WHALEN: It's really too early to speculate on what the outcome of the review would be, as the member opposite is asking what it would mean in terms of the number of officers, but I think it's important to note - and in my opening statement I talked about the reduction in crime, violent crime being down. I'm told some of that has to do with our aging population. Here in the House we often talk about how we're getting older and there are all kinds of impacts on health and other issues, but it also impacts on crime.
We've seen a pretty marked decrease, even though as I said in my remarks, we've been pretty shocked and disheartened to see the violence in the last month and a half, so that has been a concern, but even with that exceptional period of time, we're still down in terms of crime. Our youth crime is down.
When I visited Waterville, there were about 25 youth offenders in that facility at the time I went. These numbers are down quite markedly over previous years. So that really would have been behind the idea that we can review this and look for better ways to organize it.
You may have some further questions on this, but I want to just make one example, and I think that members can appreciate this around policing. If we realign our resources in a way that they're brought together to provide better information or better analysis done in advance, we can sometimes have a much bigger impact on the crimes we're trying to get.
The example I'd like to give is the one around traffic. We can have police randomly travelling all the roads in Nova Scotia looking for people who are breaking traffic laws or we can have traffic analysts who say which roads and which sections or intersections are problem areas, have highest accident rates, or have the most reported problems, and we target those and we keep that analysis current on an ongoing basis. That's what we've been doing on the traffic side in the last number of years here in Nova Scotia, and we've actually had a much bigger impact on being able to lower the accident rate and catch people who are speeding or breaking the law.
So it's a much more targeted and therefore more effective way, but you have to use analytics and you have to reorganize your officers in a different way, and they don't just go out randomly. They go out based on information that they're given at the start of a day. It has really been proven to be effective. It's better for the officers themselves. They feel more effective and the results are there. We can prove that.
MR. MACMASTER: I think I will ask this question - and actually I don't think it can be asked yet because the review hasn't really started. Well, I'm going to ask it. Sorry for the indecision, but I'm just trying to understand because we don't know if any police officers are going to be removed from our streets, yet there is a reduction in funding. Is that reduction going to take place before the review happens, and if so, who is going to take a budget reduction? Is it going to be divided up amongst police forces? Can the minister explain?
MS. WHALEN: It is a good question to ask. I think we need to reassure all of the police forces that we wouldn't be making changes in their staffing levels at all in the absence of a review that, as I said, we will be doing together. They're going to help lead it with us with the chiefs of police being at the table and UNSM who are paying a good amount of this cost, as I mentioned. The flow-through, the extra cost, is $4.1 million to all of our municipalities so they have a big interest in this as well.
So we wouldn't be making any changes like that. That would be inappropriate, I think, prior to getting the results back. I would like to see the review get under way so that we have the results and we can perhaps see some changes this year.
I just want to reassure, again, that we have $16.2 million in the budget for this. We are not abandoning our position on paying provincially for positions in the police. It's also really important to note that when this began, we had fewer police officers than the national average, per 100,000; today we have the third highest in Canada. So we have a much more robust contingent of police officers than we did at that time, so we are in a better place and a good place to be having this discussion, and $16.2 million is still very substantial that's left in the budget to do that.
MR. MACMASTER: Certainly even with the homicides recently, I think one of them was just down the street from the police department so I certainly don't want to suggest that more police is necessarily going to stop crime completely. You have an incident like that happening so close to a police department, and it's not their fault either, these things happen. However, it is something that we saw as a concern with the budget. We've raised it a couple of times now and we will be watching this as it develops.
We also think that perhaps the Boots on the Street program helped to decrease the level of crime, although I can't table evidence to suggest that but certainly there's a correlation.
I'd like to move to maintenance enforcement, and I know this is a very popular topic as well. Last May there was a review released and there were 27 recommendations for improving client service. Can the minister give an update on how many of those 27 recommendations have been acted upon?
MS. WHALEN: I was just looking - I do have a working document that showed how many are under way and complete. We are definitely tackling all 27, they're all under way. Some of them we could do quickly. We've been doing things like plain-language fact sheets so that it's easier to understand what the role is of the recipient and what the role is of the payer and what our program really can do.
One thing that has been mentioned a lot is having expectations about what the program can do. We do our very best to collect in every case, but there are people who consistently and without fail do not want to pay. Sometimes they have the capacity, sometimes they simply don't, but it's really in some cases not possible for us to collect. If somebody is continually running away, continually changing their jobs, or working in the underground economy and can't be found, when we find them they move again. That's just persistently in arrears, persistently negligent, and criminal really, to not pay their money. Sometimes we can't do it but we do our utmost, and we want to make it clear to the people enrolled that we will use every tool at our disposal.
I can tell you that in this last year - you may have some specific questions but I'd like to tell you some of the things I mentioned in Question Period today, we've made the phone number available of the enforcement officer and we make sure that the recipients are getting that number. Now remember, we have two categories: the person who pays, and the family member who receives the money to look after the children.
In the case of the recipients, they would become very upset. They are very anxious when they haven't got their money; they're running up their lines of credit, they have no more money available, they can't pay their rent, and so on. They are anxious and they wanted to call and speak to the enforcement office, but they weren't allowed to because the enforcement officer was busy doing their work and was just dealing with the payer.
It really creates an imbalance because you only hear the payer's side of the story, you don't hear the devastating effect it's having on the family that hasn't received their money. We said it's not fair that we basically put a stonewall, in a sense, by sending those calls to sort of a general number that they can be screened and whatnot, we don't want to put them there. That's where they had been, there were six sort of phone people in an area that would take incoming calls and they couldn't even keep up with the incoming calls.
We said it's not fair that it's only the recipients going there and the payer has a direct line to make their case. So we've said that for the enforcement officers they need to talk to both parties and the people need to be able to have someone they can call and hear where their case is at or what the details are. That has created some operational problems, and I know that undoubtedly our staff will listen to what I'm saying as well. I know it has put stress on our staff in New Waterford where they are working, but we said that over time, when people realize they can reach somebody, I think the level of calls will subside because they have a confidence that they can actually get an answer. That has already started. That's something I think - it sounds so simple, but it's fundamental to the operation of the program.
MR. MACMASTER: People certainly need to be heard and I think that's a good change: to give people who are recipients a chance to be heard. We know the impact this has on families who are needing that money. If the person who is supposed to be making the payment is not making it, how it impacts the recipient in terms of their credit rating and all those things, when they're already probably under enough pressure raising the family.
I guess what I'm thinking about here is should there be a follow-up report to report on those 27 recommendations? I don't want to be making work for the department but it may be something that might come up in a Public Accounts Committee anyway eventually.
Further to that, if there is a follow-up report, I just want to ask about - because there was recently, I think it was April 27th, the department has asked Nova Scotians to help improve the Maintenance Enforcement Program. How will this latest initiative couple with the recent report with the recommendations, and is there going to be a follow-up report on both of those consultations?
MS. WHALEN: There are a few other things we've been doing as well. I'd like to mention, there has been a specialization. We used to have the cases just go generally to the various enforcement officers. Now we're specializing. If it's inter-jurisdictional, if one or the other of the parties is in another province, it takes some special skill and understanding. So we now have a couple of officers who are just working on that, and they're the experts. They know their contacts in other provinces and they can expedite those.
We're having a lot more of them go to our investigators within the Department of Justice. I mentioned that over 55 have been referred. Those are the ones that are persistently lost - we can't find them. Our investigators can find a percentage of those and we'll track them down. We're doing better case management really by having a little more hands-on in terms of which ones are languishing, which ones have not been acted on. Can we take some further steps?
Just to go back about what we're doing concurrently - the 27 recommendations in that whole report was really customer service based. It was about how we were treating clients. A lot of it was about communications, our website, our information that's available to people and how responsive we were in customer service with our clients.
When I came in as minister, I said that's all well and good, but the complaints I was hearing went far beyond the customer service aspect. A lot of it was about getting the better enforcement efforts, about using the tools we have available more effectively. That's certainly what we've set out to do this year. When I received the 27 recommendations, I said we would report back. My commitment was, a year later we'll come back and tell you officially where we're at with them all.
In the meantime though, if the members want to have a look at the consultation piece that was just released late April, we did put a backgrounder up with that to say - and it has a section on some of the things that are under way. In a way, I felt that was a little premature because I'd like to gather it all up and present it at the one-year mark, but it actually does give us a sense of what we're doing during the year and some of it is very operational. Have a look at that backgrounder. It's only a couple of pages long and it will tell you what we're doing.
The consultation is about changing the legislation. That's happening concurrently, and again, looking for what other provinces are doing - some of the different tools or better measures that we could put in place, and also to address - some of it we're not consulting on because it's things we do internally.
For example, what we found was our staff at Maintenance Enforcement - I should say as a preamble, there are extraordinary levels of protection of privacy in this Act, the way it is now. I appreciate it, but it had tied our hands to the point where an enforcement officer couldn't get information from Community Services. So within government you might have either the recipients on community services or the payer is on community services. There is some important information, even perhaps around locating them or finding people, but they couldn't share information because they had been told that was not within the Act.
So we want to clarify that. We want to make those changes that allow our staff - still respecting everyone's privacy and not ever taking that for granted, but being able to be effective and operationally effective within government so that we can get the best result for the people who are needing that support - those 16,000 children I spoke about.
MR. MACMASTER: That's great and perhaps just a short snapper here, could the minister provide the percentage of court-ordered child and spousal support cases that are currently in arrears? Another short snapper, suspension of drivers' licences, has that been used as a tool over the past year and would there be a number of times where drivers' licences were suspended when individuals were not making their support payments?
MS. WHALEN: We just had a note from our director on that, that there are 6,865 cases in arrears so that's a lot. I don't know if the member would remember but some years ago, in 2007, the Auditor General examined this program and there was $100 million in arrears at that time. It has really been a problem area, absolutely.
When I look at this the compliance rate is 65 per cent in 2014-15. I know our staff like us to point out that there's a good percentage of people who do pay regularly and are operating within the parameters of this program well. I'm also told that 62 per cent to 65 per cent is the national average. I have said to our staff I want us to be better, far better than that, and we should be leading the country and doing a lot better than 62 per cent or 65 per cent complying with their monthly requirements. So that would be the number: over 6,000 in arrears.
I actually see one here and if that's a comparison, this would be good because it says in 2014-15 we had 8,200 in arrears, so we have improved; a year ago, 7,343. So we're almost 1,000 in those two years, each year improving by 1,000, so we're making inroads.
Your other question was around the drivers' licences and I must not forget that. I don't have the number that we have done but I can tell you that since we received this report last Fall that we have upped all our enforcement activities. I really have to say, while I have the opportunity, a lot of the lack of enforcement activity that happened for a couple of years was the result of a complete administrative change in the program. It used to have an office in Yarmouth and Kentville and Amherst and around the province. Four offices were closed and moved to New Waterford. That was an initiative under the NDP Government.
As a result - and it may be very good and I'm glad they're there now, they have a 10-year lease, they're going to stay there - but as a result of moving, 70 per cent of our staff didn't go. Everybody was hired new and I'm not trying to make excuses but they really didn't - they weren't settled and they didn't have the training to do what they needed to do to use all of the tools available.
Now they're settled in, we have our staff well trained, we're doing extra training as a result of last year's review. There has been additional training and they're really using their tools. We now have, as I said, 19 cases going to court. We had a year when there were no court actions because that's the top level, that's the highest level you can get to. They hadn't been able to get there, it takes a lot of work to build a good court case.
I guess I'm saying that they're greatly improved, they're doing better, and we're making inroads.
MR. MACMASTER: Madam Minister, my colleague has asked me to ask about reciprocal agreements with other provinces, in terms of drivers' licences. I believe that has been accomplished, I think we have agreements with other provinces if a licence is to be suspended for not making payment that it can be done in other provinces as well as here in Nova Scotia.
MS. WHALEN: I did want to give you the numbers on drivers' licences. It's up 57 per cent on rescinding their licence, and we've had 113 in the last year. That's a fairly significant number.
On the question of inter-jurisdictional - that is an issue that our directors of Maintenance Enforcement are talking nationally. They have meetings that they hold and they're working on that. When it's being enforced in another jurisdiction we have to communicate back and forth and let them know. So individually in those provinces, they can take all the actions. It's just we're not the ones able to do the enforcement. We have to rely on our partner, the equivalent organization in another province to actually take the enforcement actions. So we have to work together to do that. They are certainly talking about the driver's licence issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd just remind the committee to not use the word "you" in addressing members across the floor and use "the member."
MR. MACMASTER: I have a question about court safety - I know there was consideration of giving sheriffs the use of firearms, to be trained to be able to use firearms. I feel like I had heard from the minister that not all sheriffs wanted this. Is that the case? Can she expand upon that?
MS. WHALEN: It is true. I had certainly read that. There was a report done for occupational health and safety that outlined what was needed. In that they had interviewed many people. There was a lot of consultation done, and in some of the courthouses and with some of the sheriffs, they definitely weren't interested in this. Some of them have done the job for many years - very comfortable in the work they need to do and didn't feel any need to have that training.
Also, I mentioned there's a high level of physical fitness and criteria that would make it - if it was mandatory, some people wouldn't really be able to do it, I don't think. We don't want to do that. We realize that each courthouse is a different situation and people feel differently. I think the way we're doing it is right. We've asked people to indicate if they wanted the training, to come forward and let us know, so they're essentially applying to be in that cohort that are going to be trained for the CEWs - the taser training.
So I think this first group will learn a lot from that, and then we will not deploy it as part of your uniform - that's how it has been described to me. It won't be something that they always carry, those that are qualified. It's still case by case, based on the risk assessment of the day or what's expected on the day in terms of whether it's at the courthouse, whether it's the other work that they do.
I would just draw the member's attention that the sheriffs do a lot of other work besides what we see at the courthouse. I've learned a lot about this. It isn't just that they - they do drive offenders. They bring them to the courthouse and back, perhaps, to our correctional facilities, but they also deliver summons and they do repossession of goods sometimes.
For example, a dangerous situation that was explained to me might be - and any of you from fishing communities would know, if you're in arrears with Canada Revenue Agency, they can come and seize your lobster catch. That's not a very pleasant situation, I'm sure, to step into. I can only imagine the anxiety and the anger and everything that goes around those kinds of repossession activities. So they say a lot of their dangerous times, perhaps, are when they're out in the community.
MR. MACMASTER: Can the minister confirm that the decision not to arm sheriffs was not made because of economics? As a part B to that, is the fitness of sheriffs becoming an issue? Is that becoming an issue for public safety? Is there a problem there in terms of protecting the public? I'm not trying to read too much into it, but from the last answer given, that was something that struck me.
MS. WHALEN: Definitely not an economic issue - that was not the question at stake. A lot of the question for me was how do we feel about the risk? Is the risk so great that - what's the correct approach? I think we should take a cautious approach, I don't think you go to the highest level in terms of arming and weapons, I don't think that's where we need to go. Many sheriff services across the country do not use arms so I think that's important. It's not something that we're lagging in or behind when we look at the work they do, it's not across the board. So I wanted to take an approach that was more cautious and in step with the need and recognizing that we have an occupational health and safety issue and a concern that needs to be addressed, but again looking at the risk and taking a measured approach to that, that's really what's involved.
On the fitness side, no, I would not suggest that we have an across-the-board concern about that. As I said, a lot of it is just the different nature of various courthouses around the province and people's perhaps - you know if you have done the job for many years, you have a comfort level with it, perhaps the experience and expertise to handle difficult situations because of the years you have been doing it. So it's just different people having a different interest in participating in any arming.
MR. MACMASTER: One last question, related to the last response - what about court layouts? As an example, I think the court facility in Needham is set up such that perhaps it's an older design, so is that an issue and is it an issue that the department plans to address, the safety of the layout of courthouses around the province, with particular mention to Needham?
MS. WHALEN: That is another example that I thought of as well, sometimes it might simply be - I shouldn't say "simply" because there could be a cost there, but redesigning or laying out your entryways differently. Needham has a particular problem - that's our unified court on Devonshire, the Devonshire court - I think they have a very small entrance. I think it used to be a school and it doesn't have a good size at the entrance to accommodate the screening that we have, similar to what we have downstairs where you can screen for any weapons as people come in.
We are actually making that change; I think it's being done almost as we speak. I was told that was under way and they would be accommodating it because they could bring the equipment in but it was very congested, and they had to move it into not the best place but by rebuilding the entranceway they could accommodate it.
That is being done and I'm advised that I signed a couple of approvals today under this budget. There's $700,000 a year for court changes, things to make the courthouses safer or better for those who are working in them. For example, today one of the things we paid for was to put Plexiglas up where the offenders might be - I guess it's from the witness stand, really, just to give an extra level of protection. If they're too close to the judge's area, sometimes the judge's podium area is being moved back a little bit, so some physical changes that make the courtroom safer.
MR. MACMASTER: I appreciate the minister's quick answers here, we're kind of rifling through issues. I would like to move to Burnside. My sense from what I'm hearing is that the number of incidents at Burnside was partially due to the need for people working in the facility to report all incidents, including minor ones, like spitting as one example.
Also, I have a sense that the number of incidents has gone down because with the opening of the Pictou jail there is, I think, as you mentioned - actually I had it somewhere here and it's not right in front of me but I know that all of a sudden now, instead of being an overcrowded jail at Burnside, I think it's down to 70-some per cent capacity, so that is helping.
We are seeing fewer events, news stories, and we hope that continues. One question that perhaps is unrelated to that is, what rehab services are offered to people who are in our provincial jail system, including Burnside? I know sentences may be shorter; maybe there's less of an opportunity for rehab. I know about the WOOF program, which I think you call it. I know in federal prisons there are more resources in trying to reform some of the prisoners, trying to put some positive energy towards them with the hope that when they get out, they will live more positive lives.
MS. WHALEN: I may get a further note on this, but I thought I'd just start. I am cognizant of the time - I'll try to be quick. You're quite right about Burnside. It was the crowding that I think had a lot to do with the level of incidents. You can only imagine how that cohort of people, when they're crowded together and they're in a confined space and under those conditions, it lead to more incidents - whether they were minor or major. We're not seeing errors as well on letting people out and that sort of stuff. That's not happening to the same degree. Things seem to be just able to function better because everybody is working under a more manageable number, which is very important.
You were asking about rehab and support for our clients - our offenders as well. There are courses. I mentioned a couple of them in my intro, but things like anger management and the GED in education. Yesterday or the day before we had some correction officers recognized. Some were teachers that work within the correctional facilities. We have a social worker now in three of our largest facilities - Sydney, Pictou, and certainly Halifax. So those three definitely have it. Those are an extra help, I think.
On the social worker side, a lot of that is to help on the reintegration or the program for release, because often there's a handover to community corrections. I mentioned our parole people. We want to make sure that there are programs in place and a smooth transition to community that way. So we're trying to address that by bringing our community corrections in.
The other thing the member opposite mentioned is that the sentences are short. The average stay in our provincial facilities is four months, so that does inhibit somewhat the programming available - sorry, sixty days, not four months. I know it's a fairly short period of time, and that makes it more difficult to provide services, but we definitely do have that.
I wanted to mention Waterville, our youth facility, in particular. I mentioned that I visited there. I found out something very wonderful that I don't think we all know about, and that is that the IWK has a full satellite operation at Waterville. Waterville is built around cottages and one of the cottages is an IWK facility. There's a psychologist there every day of the week and a psychiatrist that I met who comes once a week to see the offenders and help people. Some of the young offenders may spend their entire time in the beds that are in the IWK unit. Almost all of the young offenders have some interaction and some support provided because they are recognized that they have some needs.
I just thought it was wonderful. It has been going on a few years. It has taken probably a year or more to really work out the different cultures that were coming together - a health culture with a correctional facility - but they are working seamlessly together now to provide really great mental health services to the young offenders.
MR. MACMASTER: My next question - there is still some violence at Burnside. It seems we hear about it from there more than some of the other facilities. What is being done to mitigate risk to inmates and staff? I actually had a call one time from a gentleman whose son was incarcerated and he was very worried about his son and how he was being treated. What is in place to help mitigate risk of violence certainly to staff, but also the inmates in some cases? And is there an element of gang violence at Burnside?
MS. WHALEN: This is really a question about the new facility in Pictou in a sense because that has given us more capacity to move people around the province.
You mentioned were there gangs or could there be people who are a risk to each other, people who you know would have conflict if you put them in the same unit? We're able to actually ensure that they are separated. Again, we have that because we're not at full capacity, we have more room between different day areas that they can be assigned to so they won't come into direct daily contact, or we can have them go to another facility, be actually housed at one of the other facilities. Pictou has given us that opportunity more than we had before, so that has been a big part of it.
I would say there is again risk assessment I talked about for the courthouses. We also do risk assessment as people are being brought into the correctional service, I guess, into our jails. We look at who they are and what are the risks associated with that and do they have any personal risks. We're concerned about their safety as well, so we look at how and where they are housed.
The other part is the capital budget which we haven't talked directly about but the $6 million that we're putting into the Burnside facility this year - I think Burnside would be about 20 years now - and one of the things we found which is really the best practice is that you have that direct day supervision for the correctional officers. So rather than them sitting just at a console with all the cameras, which they do have at Burnside and they can watch all the corners, it's putting people directly in the day rooms with the offenders, it's called direct supervision model.
What we would be doing there would be changing - we're doing $6 million, and $4 million of it is to change the configuration of those rooms to allow the correctional officers to have their space within that area to make it part of the model that's used at Burnside as well. Again, I said it's working very well, we've had over a year now in Pictou to see how that works, so direct supervision is a big part of it.
Just going to that classification system, I'm told there is a classification system and a risk assessment done for each offender as they come in. I think that's done both for the protection of our staff and also for the protection of the individuals - we're conscious of both.
MR. MACMASTER: I'd like to switch now, Mr. Chairman, to children who are in the care of the province. I believe it was this past Sunday, a 16-year-old girl was discovered dead at a house on Macara Street, and certainly it's disappointing to see this. Apparently 10 children in care in Nova Scotia died between 2004 and the end of 2014. In the case of the most recent death, who would be investigating that death? Is it automatic that there's an investigation? If so, who decides?
MS. WHALEN: That certainly is tragic, there's no other word to describe that. When I visited the medical examiner's facility, which is in Burnside as well, we talked about that because the medical examiner looks at all children's deaths. Of course, I think it's something like 8,000 deaths a year that they do look at or examine so they're very well aware of these trends.
Together with the medical examiners, Health and Wellness, Community Services, and Justice, we are looking at setting up a death review committee that could operate, we're thinking particularly for youth, for children or young people maybe under the age of 25. We definitely would like to do that so that every death of a young person is properly examined.
MR. MACMASTER: This is interesting because I know the minister has said they're looking at a committee to do reviews. I know that in some provinces people working in those departments, I'm sure they would be looking at a death like that with all intent to discover what happened and complete transparency. However, there are provinces - most provinces, in fact, have a child and youth advocate. A child and youth advocate could be an office that could help to investigate, that could provide some independent input, transparency, that kind of thing.
Now I know it would be an extra cost to the province, but it's certainly a serious matter. I know other provinces have seen the value in having the independence of a child and youth advocate to be involved in this type of investigation. Does the minister have any thoughts on that?
MS. WHALEN: Again, I mentioned the death review committee which is certainly something we're proposing or wanting to look at. The idea of a child advocate, I am aware that other provinces have that and I would say that we're looking at all of these potential models that might strengthen what we're doing now, but I can't make any commitment today about which ones we're moving on. We're aware of it and we are looking at how that could proceed.
MR. MACMASTER: I'll move along to the Cyber-safety Act. I know the minister mentioned in her opening remarks, I think everyone in the Legislature, after the Rehtaeh Parsons death, wanted to do something to stop this from happening again. We wondered, why is something like this even happening?
I know the minister heard my speech earlier today on pornography and the impact on youth. That was a case where young men were actually making and distributing pornography, and they thought nothing of it. They thought nothing of the impact they were having on the person who they did that to.
I know we tried in the Legislature to punish those people for doing that. One of the things I tried to make a point when I spoke earlier today on this subject is we also need to look at the root causes for this behaviour and address that too, to try to prevent it. I know we're going to be looking at legislation again, the department is putting something together. I know people in the legal community have commented that they felt our last attempt was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. What is going to be different this time and who is going to be providing input to develop a law? I think the last thing we would want is the embarrassment of the Legislature having tried a second time to pass a law that was not constitutional.
MS. WHALEN: I think the member opposite is right, that the bill came in very quickly. We talk about doing proper consultation and so on but that was such an extreme time of anxiety and I know government felt we needed to take action, needed to do something. The government of the day did that, and as I said earlier, with all-Party support, brought in the Cyber-safety Act.
What we will do now, given that it has been struck down, is we will be conferring with quite a number of stakeholders. We'll have the opportunity and the time. I do want to do this quickly, but at the same time I want to make sure we've heard from experts and that we are able to find the right definition that isn't too broad, that doesn't step on people's rights to express themselves but we're still compliant within the charter, but also is going to protect the youth and others who were impacted and are impacted by cyberbullying. Often it's very damaging, as the member knows. We're looking for that happy place where we can do both and still be able to effectively help people.
When I announced that we were not going to appeal the law but instead we want to rewrite it, come up with a new law, I reached out to David Fraser, who is a very well-known privacy lawyer who actually had initiated the challenge to the Act, he had indicated already in the media that there are better ways to do this and that he had some ideas, so I reached out to him and said I hope you'll help us. He said yes, he will offer his expertise and, as well, Wayne MacKay, who did the education review that followed the death of Rehtaeh Parsons and knows a lot about this as well, understanding and having studied cyberbullying, so we'd like him to participate. Those are two individuals.
We'll look at the academic community and I'm sure we'll be talking to the police, we'll be talking to our legal partners, and members of the Bar as well, to get more input so that we can get this right. We want to have an Act in place that can really be a model for the rest of the country, because a lot of other provinces are waiting to see what we do. They haven't taken action themselves since we were the leaders on this. I would like us to continue to be leaders and come up with an Act that other provinces can follow.
MR. MACMASTER: We don't have much time left. I want to move into the Law Reform Commission. I know I've asked a couple of questions about this. By my calculation, the pro bono leveraged work on an average year through the Law Reform Commission is about $300,000. It's a wonderful way for the government to get advice. I think the legislation we just spoke on connects to this.
The Law Reform Commission has always been a place where government can go for advice or perhaps sometimes receive advice without requesting it. It has been an independent organization, it has strong support in the legal community. We know that they are not funded in this budget and nobody in the legal community has recommended elimination of the commission. In fact, I think just about all of the major firms have signed onto a letter saying keep the funding - keep the Law Reform Commission alive.
If we look for the government's capacity to address issues, why at least hasn't the government done a cost benefit analysis to see that this commission is actually bringing more value as being supported by government than by eliminating its budget and not supporting the organization?
MS. WHALEN: I'd like to speak a little bit about the Law Reform Commission. I've already said we value their work, and you put a dollar figure on it. I certainly value the advice received and in older reports it will have a bearing on the Incompetent Persons Act, for example, which we're going to change. So I acknowledge the good work that they do.
A lot of this is really about the significant financial challenges that are facing Nova Scotians. Every department had to find within their budgets ways that we could cut. There is not a lot of extra in the Department of Justice. We are doing some community grants programs. We're running our essential services on policing and corrections and operating courts. There isn't a lot of extra that you could find. What we looked at was that there are no other law reform commissions in Atlantic Canada. The federal government didn't have one anymore, and there are other models.
So by offering in-kind support and saying we don't want to withdraw all our support, we want to help them so we can provide space, if we can do things that don't require a cash infusion, and then ask that perhaps they try to leverage other resources. I'm told that in some provinces it's more of an institutional model and the Law Reform Commission actually rests at law schools - rests within a university environment. So that's another way that you could get that, because this is very much research. It's about searching out best practices and better laws and so on. So there might be a different way to do it. That's what we were hoping.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has expired for the Progressive Conservative Party. We'll now rotate to the New Democratic Party.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. MARIAN MANCINI: Could you please confirm the amount of time that I have?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have one hour.
MS. MANCINI: I want to thank my friend. He canvassed many of the issues and after each question he asked I said, that's where I'm going to follow up, but I've done that for about the last 12. I guess I am going to start with the Law Reform Commission though since that was where he essentially ended.
My concern - and I'm sure the minister is well aware of it because the issues have been raised several times with her in Question Period. The amount of money that was involved was a relatively small amount when we look at the overall budget. I understand the pressures, having been in that position myself through my career of trying to keep a budget under and looking for where you can cut the costs.
In this particular situation I'm not sure that the response that other means of fundraising really gets to the nub of what the Law Reform Commission is really about. The most significant and beneficial aspect to the Law Reform Commission is really its ability to be arm's length.
The problem with asking a commission like this to go to fundraising and seeking our private sector areas for fundraising, it would appear to be inappropriate and would end up causing a potential, or at least an appearance of, conflict - what type of legislation they are selecting to review, et cetera. To me that approach would be fraught with a lot of problems.
The other aspect - again I emphasize the arm's-length relationship, and we were discussing the issue of cyberbullying - it would have been so appropriate for the NDP Government, when they were drafting that legislation, to have resorted to the Law Reform Commission. It would be even more appropriate for this government to do so.
The minister also indicated, I believe, and I may be incorrect in this, that there have been three - we talked about the ability of the Law Reform Commission to pick up for the minister, for the Department of Justice, and take some of the pressures off the department. I understood there were three lawyers hired. My question is, is this not a more expensive option, to hire three more? The other is that again, it removes that arm's-length ability when drafting legislation. I'm just wondering if the minister could address those two points.
MS. WHALEN: To our knowledge we have not hired extra lawyers within our department. It's flat in Legal Services so there was no additional spending as a result or connected in any way to the decision on the Law Reform Commission. The Law Reform Commission itself has three people: an executive director, a legal researcher, and an admin assistant. That's the spending that's required there for the people who work or make up the Law Reform Commission.
I appreciate what the member is saying about it being arm's length. It would be a separate entity, it's not like receiving advice from people who work for the government, obviously. Certainly though, as we talked about with the Cyber-safety Act, we would go and confer with academics, confer with members of the Bar Society, the Canadian Bar Association and so on, to invite input, to ask for help. Really the Law Reform Commission relies heavily on members of the Bar who provide their own volunteer time. A lot of members of the Bar have a great deal of expertise in certain areas of law and they are interested in coming forward on family law or different issues that are being examined and can contribute greatly.
We haven't lost the ability to do that but if we're talking about arm's length, if we do our consultation and we are actually putting together the reports within government, you are not arm's length, so I guess we've lost that. We would always welcome advice from the academic institutions or from other bodies that might want to advise government, we're more than happy. I've found, as an MLA over the years, some of the very best ideas you get are from people in our communities, people who are expert. The same can be said within the justice community: there are some very committed people with great ideas that they'd like to see us move on and they will often provide us a lot of background and research to do that.
I realize we're losing the structure of this if, indeed, the Law Reform Commission can't find extra funding or manage to keep the doors open. We are encouraging them to do so by providing the funding that we do, but the $184,000 - I know the member opposite had suggested and both members really had suggested that isn't such a lot of money, but honestly, you could say that we have gotten into this large position where we're over $15 billion in debt and we didn't get there by these gigantic chunks of money. We got there by being under pressure with a lot of small spending that didn't seem significant in and of itself.
We know that we have to look at everything and look at what is our core business, what we have to provide, and then sometimes unfortunately some of the other things that are valuable cannot be afforded. That's really what this is a result of - having to look and say it is just something that's very good and appreciated. The work is important, but we hope to be able to still do our work very well if it's not still in existence.
I hope it will be able to continue on and I hope that others will step forward, that there might be another funding model. I don't know if it would be too much to even suggest that there are certain places where - let me use the university as an example - students say that a certain thing is very important to them at the university and they allow for a levy on their student fees, and they say, we really want to have that sport facility built or whatever it might be. There was one recently I heard from Mount Saint Vincent University where the students had voted to provide a levy that would help provide funds. Really nothing is preventing the Bar Society or other legal organizations to say, let's do that.
So there are other ways, if this is so important to the profession and to the legal community, I would invite them to be part of the solution.
MS. MANCINI: I thank the minister for her response. The Department of Justice is a very challenging department and I'm not sure that in the general day-to-day lives of people they really recognize it until something happens and then everything that happens in that department comes under very close public scrutiny. It can be a decision that a judge makes. It could be the situation that happened with Rehtaeh Parsons.
When something like that happens, it's hard to step out of both the political and the judicial aspect of the role of the department. I can indicate to the minister that at the time when that legislation was coming through on cyberbullying, many of us from the defence Bar recognized that we thought it was fraught with problems. It was a reaction to an intense situation and it's because we are all human, and it was very difficult not to feel a terrible deep sense of emotion toward that whole situation.
That I guess is what I'm saying to the minister - that's why it's so important to have that arm's length, because if you can remove yourself and take it to another body - and again, that is what the Law Reform Commission offered. It's certainly not a criticism of the department that they haven't accessed it for this legislation, because it would be my view that the government at the time should have exercised that option as well.
So I guess my question is a broad question in the sense that - does the minister recognize that vital role that the department plays and the complexities and challenges that get faced and that come up very quickly and unpredictably?
MS. WHALEN: I think that's a real quick answer. In this case, yes we do understand that there are very complex situations that arise and they often arise suddenly - issues or acts that we haven't been looking at that suddenly become very topical or top of mind, and that's part of it.
I think the member touched on it as well in saying that sometimes politics is part of what happens here and the member would be aware. As she said, sometimes we don't take that sober second thought and call in the experts because there's a sense of urgency and action and the public wants to see action. I think that there's a scrambling. I wasn't in government - I was a member but not on the government side at the time. But I think there was a sense that we needed to show that this was unacceptable and that it would not happen again. That's what we wanted to do.
It's interesting, while we're talking about the Cyber-safety Act, I mentioned in my opening comments that we had 800 cases that had been looked at through our unit there. What's really interesting is that a great number of them did not involve youth. When we brought that Act in it was intended to protect our young people who are being really at risk every day. Cyberbullying is widespread and we wanted to do something that was going to help them.
Interestingly, more than half the cases, in fact quite a bit more than half, were adult to adult or involving adults and a lot of them were business-related, as the case was that struck down the Act. It was not about sexual assault or about sexual bullying or even the kind of bullying that we've been seeing otherwise with youth, it was very much an adult issue around business. We need to consider that even adults feel the need for this protection as much as the youth.
MS. MANCINI: I thank the minister for her answer. I want to ask a question of a little bit more practical nature and that is in relation to courthouse security. The question is specific to the Dartmouth courthouse. Some time ago I am aware that there was a review - and again it's several years ago so it would not have been on this minister's watch - a review of court security throughout the province and all of the courthouses were looked at. I think that as a result some of the smaller ones may have been shut down. I think a lot of it was related to the fact that it was impossible to make them secure.
The Dartmouth courthouse is a little bit unique, in terms of metro, because it is housed in a building that has other businesses within it, so it's not primarily - it was converted into a courthouse. I don't know, it might have been a Shopper's Drug Mart at some time but it was something that was not meant to be a courthouse, so the challenges.
I was on the committee for a period of time, the challenges in trying to make it secure were very difficult and some changes were made in terms of the scanner that was put in the lobby but it's still a very small lobby, witness brawls break out there. The courtrooms themselves are so small, particularly the Mental Health Court. You can put Plexiglas up, I guess, but even with that, space-wise it's very challenging.
I guess what I'm wondering is, I think the minister said there was $700,000 allotted to looking at court security issues but I wonder (a) what is in the immediate plan for court security for Dartmouth; and (b) is there a plan - there was at one point - for building a new courthouse?
MS. WHALEN: To the member opposite, I did have the opportunity to visit the Dartmouth courthouse and I can attest to the fact that it's even hard to find when you have the address. It is a building that has other things in it, it doesn't have a big sign on it, it's hard to locate. Then when you do go in, it certainly is not laid out the way you might expect, let me put it that way. The Mental Health Court, which I was particularly there to visit, was small and also has a really congested hallway to get into a waiting area to go in. That's where the scanner was located, in the congested hallway as well, so I know there are problems.
I'm told by our director, Greg Penny, that a lot of money has been spent over the years there and I know it's still not really what you'd like to see. At the same time we're looking at options, considering what we have there now is leased space, we don't own it. So we can either look at ways to continue to try to fix that or even look at options to other leased space. It is not on our capital budget to rebuild or provide a new courthouse, but it might be that we could consider leasing in another place as time goes on. So that is certainly in our mind and we do try to maintain the security of every courthouse. That's why that $700,000 is used to the best benefit that it can to address some of the immediate problems in each one of our courthouses.
MS. MANCINI: I thank the minister for her response in this regard. I would like to ask a question about the Maintenance Enforcement Program. My friend has canvassed it in some detail so many of my questions I'm not going to follow up on. It seems that one of the most challenging aspects - at least that I hear from constituents in relation to the Maintenance Enforcement Program, and it comes from the recipient, the person who is waiting for the child support payments, is around investigation.
I'm sure it's not infrequent - and we refer to the 6,000 in arrears. I would be willing to speculate that a lot of those are as a result of being unable to find people who do slip under the radar. It has been something that we see frequently. Anyone who has a family practice will have run into this difficulty on many occasions - how do you track that person down?
I don't want to use specific examples, but I'm going to because I think this particular constituent's case is reflective of a broader problem that people are experiencing. I am not in any way being critical of Maintenance Enforcement. My experience with them, even during the rocky transition years, I've always found them to be very accommodating - at least in responding to my inquiries on behalf of clients.
That investigative part - a constituent had a support order for $30 a week that she had agreed to many years ago. So she clearly didn't display as a person who was just out to get money no matter what. She appeared to be a very reasonable individual. She wanted this resolved quickly. It was an early 1990s order, then changes were made. She didn't even go back to get it varied.
The problem is that the payer slipped under the radar and it's hard to believe that somebody can do it. The guy must be really clever, but it still continues. We know he resides in metro; we know that he has family members here, but Maintenance Enforcement was not able to track him down. Now the child is grown. He has not had access with the child and the arrears is - with $30 - I think the arrears is like $16,000. It's not a huge amount of money, but she would like to have justice done.
I had held that person in high regard because I knew it wasn't just blindly pursuing or being vindictive. There was nothing of that about the way she presented her case. She simply felt this wasn't fair.
So I ended up giving free legal advice, I guess at the time, but it was more general advice and it was suggesting to her that because she knew family members that perhaps she could make an application to court for substituted service on the family member. So we talked about that and I suggested she get some legal advice on that point. She did and she was advised, according to her, that it really wasn't worth their while. It's a bit of a complex process to go through, but at that point I thought that's the only option that I could think for her, and that would have been outside Maintenance Enforcement.
It's a long way of asking a question, but is there that ability within the Maintenance Enforcement Program to take that sort of step on behalf of the payee?
MS. WHALEN: Just as a first-off, although the member said for all those years it might amount to $16,000, I think that's still substantial. When I hear that and the children are grown, you know that a woman in this case - and often it's a woman who has raised those children without the support that was required by the courts and really should have been honoured by the other parent - that's money she probably ran in overdrafts and debts and other ways to find the money to pay for the things the children needed.
I think in every case that is still a bill that should be collected and should be returned to the recipient. We don't close cases, as the member would know, we don't stop collecting or even say that it's in arrears. It remains on our books as in arrears if they have not paid, even though the children are now adults and independent, because that was a debt that was not paid. So we continue to look for it and I think it is substantial.
The short answer to the question of a substituted payer is that yes, we can do that - absolutely. That's one of the tools that Maintenance Enforcement has.
Further to that, I'd just like to draw the member's attention to the consultation we're doing now which has what I think is it seems like it's a little bit behind the times but we aren't able to use electronic means to notify a payer. We may know their Facebook, we can find that perhaps quite easily, or a LinkedIn profile or they have a Twitter account or we know their email address but we haven't been able to notify them of enforcement actions and the next steps and so on that we're required to notify them by using these electronic means.
Now that's one of the things we're looking at, tightening up and putting the changes into the Act, that by notifying them through electronic means that would be just as valid. If they don't answer us, more importantly there will be a 10-day wait period. If we haven't heard back it is assumed that they have heard from us and we'll proceed.
MS. MANCINI: I thank the minister for that response and I will relay that to the constituent.
The next question - again I'm following up a little bit - the minister referred to the police review that is pending or has started - she'll probably correct me and confirm that one way or the other. I note that in her opening remarks she indicated that there were 197 police per 100,000 - I think I got the ratio right, I may not have - and that that is above the national average, that essentially right now we are the third highest.
I also note that the minister has indicated that there has been a decrease in crime over the last few years, she quoted between 2010 and 2014, 22 per cent, and violent crime during that same time period down 21 per cent. If I was the chief of police I'd be getting a little worried about a police review. Is the minister anticipating with that review, looking at decreasing staffing levels?
MS. WHALEN: I had said previously that before the review is done it's really premature to guess what that means. Right now there are 136 officers and it's budgeted this year at $16.2 million.
In addition, I'd use the $16.2 million - that's our direct cost for policing through this additional officers program - but I think it's important to note that provincially we spend a total of $49 million, just a little above $49 million on all our policing things. That includes our highway patrol, centralized services, criminal investigation services, I think CISNS and some other positions that we have as well; the payment to municipalities, $7.8 million - well that's the $16 million there, it's broken into two, and there's First Nations policing as well - almost $4 million. So a total of $49 million does go to the cost of policing in the province, so we have a big commitment.
I mentioned earlier a lot of this is about reviewing the best way to be organized. It doesn't necessarily mean fewer officers, but it might mean that they're organized differently. I talked about the traffic example where if you organize your resources around a particular concern, you have a better response and a better outcome from that.
There are other teams we have, for example the criminal investigation unit, which can get information that can help throughout the province and give an effectiveness to the response from individual police forces. So some of those units are a tremendous bolstering and support to municipal police forces as well. So a review like this will consider all of those aspects.
MS. MANCINI: Thank you for that answer, but I'd still be worried. The other issue I'm really pleased to hear about - the fact that the Burnside facility is at 74 per cent capacity. I'm not sure if the minister has the information as to how many of the current inmates are on remand awaiting trial, if she has that information.
MS. WHALEN: I was just waiting for that number to come and it has arrived - 66 per cent at Burnside are on remand.
MS. MANCINI: Thank you for that. Again, I'm going to get a little anecdotal here because it relates to two constituents - one who I actually had the opportunity to meet with at the correctional centre on Monday. This individual was concerned and needed help making a complaint to the Ombudsman because she felt her appeal process had not been addressed. In fact, it was not dealt with at all from what I could see.
The issue for this individual - and this isn't really the question, it's just more of a background that I'd like to put out there - was that she had been placed in segregation and she felt that she had been wrongly placed in segregation for seven days. Another individual who was in my riding had spent a considerably longer period of time in segregation. This person presented as clearly having mental health issues, and it was somewhat alarming when I met with him and realized that this individual was placed in that type of situation.
The real issue that I want to address in this matter is not whether they should have been placed in segregation. I realize that's a whole other issue and that there is an appeal process - the Ombudsman - that can hopefully assist them in dealing with that, but it's the quality of the segregation itself.
I did ask these individuals, what happens when you're in segregation? What does it look like? When I spoke to the person on Monday she indicated that she gets out for half an hour; she's in a cell that's lit all the time. I asked, do you have a TV? She just laughed when I said that. Then I asked, can you read - are there materials there for you to read? She said, just the Bible. That was the only thing that she had there. So basically it's a pretty harsh environment.
The gentleman who had been spending much more time there who had mental health issues - I believe - had talked about equally, and maybe harsher, conditions, things like not being allowed out, you're only allowed to shower every second day, you have absolutely nothing in your cell, hygiene products, nothing like that is available to you.
I'm just wondering if this has come under the radar of the Department of Justice and if there are any concerns or any investigation or any analysis done into what segregation looks like and why it has to look the way it looks.
MS. WHALEN: This is an area that I was certainly aware of. In the federal minister's mandate letter which the member opposite may have had a chance to read when the federal government made all the mandate letters available, there was definitely one of the many items that she is responsible for looking into is around segregation. That actually might be the Public Safety Minister rather than our Justice Minister federally.
We are looking at it, we are concerned. Initially I was told that we definitely follow rules that are in place federally. A snapshot of this was done some time ago, I think it was in relation to a media request, but 3 per cent of the offenders in all our institutions were in segregation at that one time.
I'm just having a look because you asked if we're looking at the policy. I'd say that yes, we are. The policy was amended on disciplinary segregation. It's a maximum of 10 days and then it must be reviewed by the head office. If it goes to 15 days it cannot be extended unless approved by the executive director. That hadn't happened previously so it's certainly being discouraged and it's not allowed to be done without - as I said, if you hit 10 days you've got to come to the head office and get a director's approval.
I'm told that occasionally and I wouldn't want to say that this happens a lot, but some people prefer to be there. They ask for it and that is considered, if somebody does ask. It may be because they are uncomfortable or they feel threatened. It's used both for the protection of somebody as well as for the safety of others around them, so it can be used for either one. I'm told it's only used when absolutely necessary to protect staff and the offenders.
There's a new transition day room just opened for offenders who are struggling with mental health, and the focus is on integration, not on segregation. So those are a few comments about that. It is definitely a concern, and I've also been reading the evidence around mental health, 15 days is often mentioned as what should be an extreme or the most that you should ever be in there. We are very concerned because a lot of people have mental health issues when they come as offenders in the first instance, so it is a great concern.
MS. MANCINI: Again, I say the Department of Justice carries a lot and is sort of in a way - I don't want to use the word "dumping ground" but in a way maybe that's right, but for many of the problems that exist socially. We used to say if there was no such thing as alcohol that most of us in the legal system wouldn't have jobs because so much of crime was driven or committed when people were under the influence of alcohol. That was at one point. Now you could say under the influence of drugs, now you could say mental health issues, and mental health issues that can be compounded by the use of alcohol and drugs so there's a toxic mix that is being dealt with, and people coming before the courts and the judges and the Crown Attorneys and defence lawyers are dealing with some pretty challenging issues.
I also note, and I haven't talked specifically about budget items because frankly I find that going through line by line extremely boring and these issues are better, but I do note that it is pretty flat, and certainly for legal aid their funding is staying flat. The Crown Attorneys, not that much of a difference. Both of these areas that provide these services are pretty stressed, they've been overstressed. Because the trial dates are so delayed, especially when we have people on remand, that's not acceptable, although great provisions are made by the judiciary to ensure that they get a trial as soon as possible and they're given the first opportunity. All of that, when people are overstressed and you put the added pressure of trying to speed things up, it can be a recipe for disaster and we can leave ourselves open as a community generally, sacrificing ourselves on the altar of efficiency may mean wrongful convictions. I don't think that's a place where we want to go.
Shortening trial times is a laudable goal, but it seems to me that we do have to look at the resources. I know that the Premier repeatedly says that I like to throw money at problems, but anyway, I'm just looking at it fairly realistically that sometimes you just have to spend the money. I realize that this government is not going to do that, and they've been looking to cut that down, but I just point that out.
I'd also point out that the private Bar have had their hours of work seriously restricted due to the legal aid budget. They will often do legal aid certificates and they would sometimes ask for extra hours because cases are getting increasingly complex and they're being told "no" because their budget and the executive director at legal aid is very good at staying within budget and trimming things. Her motto we used to say was "do more with less." I think that's what all of these people within the court system have been doing, and they've been doing a pretty decent job.
So that's a preamble, I guess. I'm leading up to the fact that we now have therapeutic courts, which I note that they did come under - I will give credit where credit is due, but the NDP did introduce the concept of a mental health court and a domestic violence court. I believe the drug court is something that came in a little bit later, and that's in the Kentville area.
These courts, I think, are doing a good job and I believe that the minister alluded to that in her opening comments. My question is, has there been a cost analysis done of these courts, as part of it, but also an analysis to determine if they take the strain off the mainstream court. By having the domestic violence court, by having the mental health court, has it in any way taken some of the stressors off the main courtrooms, and in doing so, is there any cost saving benefit to having these courts?
MS. WHALEN: First of all, in the member's preamble she certainly talked about the stress that many different members of our justice system are under and that might be the judiciary, the legal aid lawyers, the private lawyers that help and support and our Public Prosecution Service. I think the member opposite is correct in saying that the stress is there and that people are doing an extraordinary job under difficult circumstances, where they're being asked to do more with fewer resources or with the same amount of resources, to try to get better results and continue on with what is, if not the number of cases increasing, certainly the complexity increasing. So I would like to commend all our partners in the justice system and notably the Public Prosecution Service and our legal aid partners as well in what they're doing.
The question specifically around specialized courts, we have the three specialized courts in the province right now and I'd be remiss if I didn't say that the different judges are spearheading other special courts around the province that are not so much ones that are run with our involvement as directly as the three that were mentioned - the drug court in Kentville, the mental health court in Dartmouth and the domestic violence court.
To create these courts you need a lot of co-operation among other players, like the Health Department in the case of the mental health court. We have mental health nurses, practitioners, social workers, and psychologists that are associated with that. People who are attending mental health court have to be keeping their appointments and following a certain regime and showing that they're following the instructions they get from the court. Let's remember what it's for: it's to divert people from the other criminal courts, to recognize specific needs, and to treat people better in the circumstances they find themselves in. When there are extenuating circumstances, like drug addiction or mental health concerns, we don't want to be putting people through the same system, it's not right.
On the domestic violence court which we've just announced, we'll continue. Again, what we're finding there, that would be the one with the best results. We have done a review of that. I believe the review was released when the member for Sydney-Whitney Pier did an announcement this week in Sydney to announce that we'd continue that, and at the same time there was a release of the report. I don't believe it had the cost correlations that the member opposite is looking for but it definitely says they are effective and they are a better way to treat individuals, they have a better outcome.
Domestic violence in particular, when you consider it, often these are people who will continue to live together, continue to be family, and you want to have the best outcome possible so that at the end there definitely has been an incidence of domestic violence for it to come to court, but at the end of the day we want to do the best for healing and for going forward for the next step. Creating a specialized court means there are services you are connecting for the individuals to support or counselling services support for the kind of men's intervention that we have, which helps to educate people and teach them anger management and better ways to deal with conflict and disagreements.
We're finding that it was successful there, more than 300 people have gone through that - I think 300 cases it was, so that would certainly be more than 300 people. It has an impact on families and community, which I think is very hard to put a dollar amount on.
I am also cautioned, though, that each one of these specialized courts has really an additional cost to government, it's more expensive to operate these courts. I would like to see more of them and I think cost considerations, as you roll them out across the province, are a big concern, so we need to look at how we can do it in a smarter way.
While I'm saying that, I think it's worth noting that the court we have in Kentville, which is for drug addiction, that one has been quite exceptional. I know I've had a meeting in Bridgewater with the member for Lunenburg West to discuss whether or not there could be a similar court in Bridgewater. The cost of that one in Kentville is only $75,000 a year, and we have some federal funding that I think is paying that cost - perhaps we're paying it. I should know better and I'm sorry, but one way or another it's $75,000. It is a federal pilot project, which is why I'm bringing them into it.
The fact is that what we're doing is tremendously cost effective there because our Health Department and our community health workers, our addictions workers and so on are all offering their time as part of their normal work so the only additional cost has been the cost of the coordinator, to help ensure that everything is being done and monitored and followed up.
The other players there across all of the other areas, it has a judge who has agreed to sit in that court. We have legal aid and prosecutors and everybody else who has come together to be part of that team and work with these offenders who have drug addiction. They have to admit that they have a drug addiction. They have to be willing to accept responsibility for the crimes they've committed, and then be willing to enter into a drug treatment program.
The individual that I met when I was there at the announcement for the continuation of that - we were only a little over 12 months into the program when I went to Kentville so they haven't had a large number. I must say, my first thought was a little bit disappointed; there weren't a lot of graduates, there was only a handful. I mean literally less than five graduates of the program in the first year, I think, but when I met one of the graduates and was able to see that he and his wife had both gone through the program - although she had not been involved with the law - they both had undergone drug addiction treatment in that one year. They had a young child whose life is now much better. Their ability to be active members of the community there was obvious. They have extended family and friends in the community, all of whom benefit because this young couple are now able to work and to contribute and to be good parents. So I could see the benefit from that one person really being able to have this opportunity.
At the same time, at the time, there were about a dozen other people going through the program. For those who don't know much about the drug treatment court, in that case certainly the crime you commit can't be one that's violent. You're not able to divert to this if you've hurt somebody, but if it's another type of crime you can. That's important, so we don't think that we're diverting people who have been a danger to others, but the impact is great.
The reason we saw so few graduates is it's a long-term commitment. It's not an easy thing to say, yes I'll enter that program because you may be in this treatment program for over 12 months. That's why we'd seen so few graduates. It takes a long period of time that you demonstrate that you have followed this with rigour and discipline and that you are better, because addiction is an illness.
I think that we need to see more of those. That's an example where it's being done in a very cost-effective way, and having really strong and measurable impacts on communities and individual lives. So I do think we need to do more of it.
MS. MANCINI: Thank you to the minister for that answer. I really appreciate the detail of the answer and the fact that there was recognition of another type of - and it does get down to monetary savings as well when you are able to rehabilitate an individual, and that individual is not coming before the system and they become a fully contributing member of the community. That's obviously the goal, but it's really hard to measure that in terms of absolute fiscal savings.
While we're on that issue - and I'm raising this because this is an issue near and dear to me and I have the perfect deputy minister here to listen to this. While we're talking about therapeutic courts - and I brought this up during the estimates with Community Services, with the minister at that time, and I think she was essentially in agreement. This is about moving forward, about having some vision, about justice and recognizing that other departments need to be involved and interweave in these things. It's hard to do anything in a silo, particularly in this particular department. It is dealing with children and family services.
Has there ever been any consideration given to setting up a different model, rather than the current advocacy model that we have now? What I am suggesting is exactly like - actually the mental health court may not be too far from an appropriate structure for that. I know that there are a lot of complexities involved in it, but to me it is something that's really worth considering, and it would essentially be - I know that under the new amendments there is going to be a case conferencing and firmer case conferencing, but it's not exactly - I don't think it's really going to hit the mark.
What we need is a situation - it's almost quasi-judicial, with a judge present and all of the players present, all the service providers. I won't go into detail because it's really not in the Children and Family Services Act and the process through the courts is not in her area. But I am asking the minister if there is a chance or if there is an interest in her department - the Department of Community Services did indicate an interest in exploring this - if that is a possibility.
I would also submit that there's a really good possibility that it could be a cost saving thing as well.
MS. WHALEN: The honourable member opposite raised a good point and I have the very perfect deputy minister to advise me on this today and I did need to know. I understand that we have tried and it is available, an early referral model, which means that if an issue is identified with child protection services and identified early, we can step in - and this has been done with Karen Hudson who is the executive director of legal aid - that Community Services and legal aid can step in early and have social workers and legal aid involved to try to really avert a case having to go to court or a child actually being taken into custody, so it is available.
I understand the uptake has not been great as yet but we are looking at that and trying to do more of it, and it has been used in the past.
MS. MANCINI: I'm aware of the model that the minister referred to and it's not exactly what I had in mind. What I was thinking about and it's for a later discussion, is that at the Supreme Court Family Division, a tool that's frequently used is that of settlement conferences. They are very effective because there's a judge present.
In the model that I was suggesting to you it would involve a judge being present. While rules of evidence may be slack and waived, the judge's presence has a significant impact on how those sessions would go. Even with the ability to continue to subpoena individuals to be present at those meetings, because some of the case conferences that you're alluding to - I've been involved in them myself - I know it's very difficult to get people to actually show up sometimes and they end up not being particularly effective.
I will move on and I have just one last question. That question is in relation to another issue that a friend brought up. The issue is about child advocacy. My understanding, and again this is the overlap between the minister's department and the Department of Community Services, but my understanding and it relates to the death of a young child in care back in 2010, I think - I'm not sure if I am getting this completely accurate but there was an Ombudsman's report produced in 2014 and that would be within the Department of Community Services, that report, I've had a chance to review it.
In that report, and perhaps it's the report that my friend was referring to earlier, or at least the information contained therein, currently the policy is as I - or at least the Ombudsman found that the CFSA would do an internal review immediately but that the review was not made available to the caseworkers, which to me would seem problematic that they would not be aware of that. There were recommendations that there be an immediate, automatic arm's-length review any time there was a tragic incident when a child was in care.
I guess I'm asking - I know there are budget restraints but this seems to be a really significant and important position. The role of the child advocate could certainly be more than just an exploration into that. If the finances weren't available for the child advocate though, perhaps it would be a possibility to contract it out, even if there were provisions to contract it out to someone to do that, and make a report that is public, which the public is aware of - as much as it can be made, protecting privacy issues. I'm just wondering if the minister has given any thought to that.
MS. WHALEN: Definitely I said earlier, we would look at all models. We are open to that. We've been considering a death review committee, and I think it's important to note there when I say that after speaking to the medical examiner, we really think that if there was to be one created, it shouldn't be just for children in care, but for any children that die.
There have been other cases that we've heard of where parents are very anxious to find out what the cause was and to get a report on that, to know that there is an independent body that looks at that. It's quite tragic. It takes a long time to do toxicology and other testing. I understand that often families have to wait six months and more to get all of that back. It's very difficult, but I think it would be a comfort to know that all of the child deaths are reviewed. We were talking about youth - maybe 25 and under - would be included in that. That has been the thought at the moment.
Definitely the medical examiner felt that all children's deaths should be part of that as we go forward and we are looking at other models. The member opposite has mentioned perhaps even contracting it out on a case-by-case basis as it occurs. So you might not need to have a standing individual, somebody who is an annual cost, but somebody who would be more on an as-needed basis we could contract for that.
We'd be willing to look at any of those options, and although we're very cost conscious, a lot of these decisions are not just based on cost. They're based on looking at the best models across the country and what we should be doing considering the policy aspects of it. Although money is certainly an issue across government and we're being called on to be very sensitive and smart in the way we spend money, sometimes the impacts can be great, and it's an important thing that we look at doing. So I wouldn't say it's out of the question at all. It's something being looked at.
MS. MANCINI: I just want to take this time to thank the minister for her detailed answers to my questions and to thank her deputy ministers who are present as well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time taken for the NDP has expired. We will now rotate to the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you to the minister and staff. We are also finished with our questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Justice has approximately three and a half minutes to have closing statements.
MS. WHALEN: Mr. Chairman, I thought I had more time. I was expecting some questions from the member opposite, but I understand we're down to the last few minutes of estimates so we're actually bringing it home, as they say, from 40 hours of estimates.
I want to first thank all the MLAs who participated, the members who had questions for me and my staff. We appreciate that very much. I think this is one of the better times for us to have an exchange of views and new ideas presented. I appreciate hearing from everybody and I hope the answers were on point and helpful to the members as well.
I want to thank my staff who have joined us today - those who are here and also those in the department who sent some notes over on maintenance enforcement and other issues. I couldn't do the work that we do every day without such an excellent team of executive directors and directors, deputy minister, and the support that we receive to really bring in the most knowledgeable people to help us ensure the safety and security of our province. It's a real privilege to be the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General for Nova Scotia because we have tremendous partners as well.
I mentioned the staff directly but we also have tremendous partners in the Public Prosecution Service who I stay in regular contact with but I'm also very well aware of their unique position and the relationship between government and an independent prosecution service. I think we should make the point that we were the first in Canada to create the model of an independent prosecution service and we're very proud of being leaders in that regard and that's important to us as well.
I simply wanted to acknowledge our many partners - the judiciary, the prosecution service, legal aid, the many agencies and other independent organizations, like human rights and so on.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I thank you very much for your time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E13 stand?
Resolution E13 stands.
Resolution E20 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $4,579,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Elections Nova Scotia, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E22 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $603,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E24 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $2,532,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Human Rights Commission, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E28 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $390,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Police Complaints Commissioner, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E33 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,724,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Office of the Ombudsman, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E34 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $23,015,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Public Prosecution Service, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolutions E20, E22, E24, E28, E33, and E34 carry?
The resolutions are carried.
That concludes our 40 hours of estimates.
The honourable Chairman of the Subcommittee on Supply.
MR. KEITH IRVING: Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to report that the Subcommittee on Supply has met for the time allotted to it and considered the various estimates assigned to it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall all the remaining resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I move that the Committee of the Whole on Supply do rise and that you report these estimates to the House.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report these estimates to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 3:38 p.m.]