MADAM CHAIRMAN: The Subcommittee on Supply will now convene on the estimates of Business and Consumer Services.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid, with 90 minutes left.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Madam Chairman, I would like to start off by reminding the minister of the commitment that he made a couple of days ago to provide some information on the list of programs to be terminated and those that are to be modified.
HON. NEIL LEBLANC: In talking about the list, I mentioned that I will take a look at the list that we are talking about, all the other programs. We mentioned three of them that were eliminated and I think the member recalls that we went through that. The other list which is the one that we are talking about, coming out of Priorities and Planning is the PAO, the internal review list that we have which lists all the different programs within the department.
Madam Chairman, that list that is coming out is going to be coming out through Priorities and Planning very shortly. It will be going through the different programs that we deliver within the Department of Business and Consumer Services and that list is basically the different programs that are here. I said in my opening comments that within the whole process we anticipated to be candid, that when we looked through them that we would have more programs totally eliminated, but what we have done to a greater extent is modify the ones that were there or trim some of the ones that were there that we felt could be done more efficiently. When we go through the estimates that are here, I am more than prepared to speak about any one of them that you want, but as for listing, the intention of that is going to come out through Priorities and Planning.
MR. HOLM: With the greatest respect to the minister, Madam Chairman, that answer I don't consider is a good enough answer. The minister last day had agreed that he would be providing a list of those programs that are going to be modified as well as the ones that are being eliminated and now what you are telling me is, gee whiz, if you can ferret it out, if you can find where we have different things tucked in here where things are going to be modified - these are your estimates and your estimates are based upon the programs and services that you are going to be delivering.
So if we are to have an understanding of how money is to be expended and where revenues are going to be generated, you have a responsibility, I would suggest, to tell us which of your programs that are currently being offered are going to be modified and which ones are going to be eliminated and I would go a step further and say if you have new programs that are going to be delivered, you have an obligation also to tell the people of this province, during your estimates, where that is being done. To do anything less than that, I would honestly say is contempt of this committee.
MR. LEBLANC: Madam Chairman, I disagree with the comments from the member for Sackville-Cobequid because if you look at what estimates is for, it is to basically go through the line items that are in the estimates. That is the way that this committee has always worked in the past. I know my staff has also mentioned to the member for Sackville-Cobequid that we have outlined in our Managing Change, which was an electronic bulletin that was sent to all our staff and he has indicated that he has a copy of that, the changes that we are doing within the Department of Business and Consumer Services. So to be candid, the vast majority of what was brought out at the PAO process is in this summary that is here and he is already in receipt of that.
Madam Chairman, I am more than prepared to go through any line item that is here in our estimates and give whatever detail the member for Sackville-Cobequid would require of us and do our best to make sure that he is fully versed.
MR. HOLM: Madam Chairman, as the minister said, things are summaries and I have even got right in front of me here something called Managing Change and a Q and A on the budget. In it, for example, it talks about 54 full-time positions being eliminated and as we learned last day when we were looking at the projected numbers, the numbers of persons or positions to be eliminated, your estimates are based upon estimate to estimate, not estimate to forecast. The two numbers are very different. It is not 54. It is a number considerably less than that and based on the forecast in one area it was actually going up.
Now, giving us a summary of broad strokes; I don't wish to draw comparisons, but I will; the Acting Minister of the Environment, at least when he came before this committee, had the courage to stand up and state how many inspectors would be eliminated, which offices were going to be closed. You are telling us that we have to figure out from each and every one of over 300 services and so on that are provided through your department?
MR. LEBLANC: No. There are not 300 services being provided through this department, I think it is 32.
MR. HOLM: You have services. You have different programs. You have different fees on all kinds of different items.
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct. I think the fees are listed in that very same sheet that you have outlined that says Managing Change and I would be more than prepared to go through any one . . .
MR. HOLM: I would like you to, first of all, tell me if any of the fee structures that are charged for anything that you provide, whether that be for birth certificates which come under your department, we know that drivers' tests fees are going up, and you are going to be charging $7.00 for the driver's manual that probably costs something like 50 cents to produce. So we know that there are certain money-making avenues built in, but you have many fees from birth certificates to marriage certificates, you name it, you have got it. Everything falls under your department. I would like to know a full listing of what they are right now and a full listing of what they will be at the end of this year. Are there any planned changes in any of them?
MR. LEBLANC: There are changes in the fees and we have indicated that before. (Interruption) Your turn will come up. Talking about details of revenue changes, here we have in the driver's test, taking the written test, right now there is no fee whatsoever for that. That will be changed to $10 per attempt. We are increasing the road test fee from $10 to $35.
The driver's abstract, that is something we announced last fall, but I will indicate it for the member's attention, that we have put a new online service for that, especially insurance companies that are looking for drivers' abstracts and trying to get information quickly so that they can give better service to their clients, has been increased to $15 per usage on that. That was in consultation with the insurance industry. The situation on that, walk-ins was $10 before. So that is something that they can have that information online if they so choose.
MR. HOLM: How much is that going to generate in revenue?
MR. LEBLANC: That will be another $450,000 this year just in that. (Interruption) Madam Chairman, I am not trying to be difficult, but . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would the member for Richmond please refrain from asking questions during . . .
MR. LEBLANC: The member for Sackville-Cobequid does have the floor and if the member for Richmond wants to ask questions after, I have no problems, but the proper protocol is to do one member at a time and if he has any questions, please note them and I will make sure that I answer them when he comes up.
We have changed the fees for insurance agents and that has been changed from $25 a year to $100 a year. That is in line with the national average of about $91. That is the licencing fee for insurance agents, and so forth. We do a lot of follow-up, if there are complaints and so forth, in the fees of administrating that. That is more in line with the proper cost recovery.
MR. HOLM: How much is that going to generate?
MR. LEBLANC: That will generate $200,000 this year. The other one we are talking about is fuel dye. We have been paying for the dye to mark tax exempt fuel. That is an additional change that we have here, and that is a cost savings in this year of $75,000.
MR. HOLM: You say a cost savings, that is a $75,000 charge that is going to be passed on to . . .
MR. LEBLANC: Yes, basically we were paying for it, as it is now, we will not be paying for it, so it is a saving for us. The Fuel Tax Commission on wholesale fuel sales, we have been paying a commission to collectors of fuel tax. That is an increase in revenue of $360,000 to the province, per year. The reason we are moving away from that, especially in the past, before computerization, this process was labour intensive for industry. A lot of the taxes that the government used to collect, we used to pay a small commission to people to collect it because of the added book work that they have. The changes that we have moved into, with computerization, this is basically not a very difficult process, it doesn't encompass having more people on staff. We have basically moved away from that on that one.
MR. HOLM: Who did you pay the commission to before?
MR. LEBLANC: The wholesale distributors of fuel. They were basically getting a percentage back.
MR. HOLM: What percentage were they getting back?
MR. LEBLANC: I will make a note of that. That is a valid question, and I want to make sure I give you the right percentage. It wasn't very high, but rather than give you an incorrect number, I will make a note of that.
MR. HOLM: But whatever it is, that is an increased cost to those wholesalers of fuel taxes that they will undoubtedly therefore be factoring in as they are factoring the price that they are charging to the retailers, who in turn will be passing it on to the consumers.
MR. LEBLANC: That is a matter of debate. What the member is saying could be true. I think that the situation for ourselves is that we feel it will be absorbed there. As to whether or not that will translate into practice, there is only one way that we will find out, obviously, from experience. Our indication is that they have room to absorb it, but the member brings up a good concern. We are not going to know that until we have the experience. I agree that your comment is one that could be the case, but we feel that it can be absorbed and that is what we are hoping will happen.
MR. HOLM: Of course, you have been in business before, and you know that when increased costs come to the business, you normally pass those increased costs on to your customers.
MR. LEBLANC: The other one that we have is the Tobacco Tax Commission. The same thing, we have been paying the commission to collectors of tobacco tax, basically the wholesalers. We are looking at an increase in revenue of $100,000 annually. I don't know what the percentages are. Do you want to know what the percentages are for those other two things?
MR. HOLM: I would appreciate that.
MR. LEBLANC: We are talking about the Fuel Tax Commission and the Tobacco Tax Commission. I know that it is a relatively small percentage, but it is a valid question. The user fees in the driver's handbook, recovery will be $74,000 that we will recoup on that.
MR. HOLM: For the two of them?
MR. LEBLANC: That is just the driver's handbook. Which other two are you referring to?
MR. HOLM: You are charging now for the test?
MR. LEBLANC: The test itself, that is right. Two separate issues, one of which is the driver's handbook, the other one is the test. The big reason for that is that if you didn't charge for the book and you charged for the test - we are still having problems, last year we issued 32,000 books and 10,000 were taking the test. The book was free and as such what is going
on is that for a lot of people, if you don't pay for something and you lose it, you just go get another one. What we are trying to do is make sure we recover our costs on that, or that if people buy it they will use one rather than two or three.
MR. HOLM: That handbook, if you add $32,000 going out last year and they are going to cost $7.00 per book, that would work out to about $200,000-some odd. What are you projecting in revenue from selling handbooks?
MR. LEBLANC: It is $74,000.
MR. HOLM: Isn't that a tad low? Even if 10,000 took the test, that is $70,000 right there.
MR. LEBLANC: I agree, you pretty well have it in a nutshell. If 10,000 take the test and buy the book, we should have a recovery of $70,000. We are saying that our projections for this year are $74,000. We also have to keep in mind that our population base in this province is going down, and that could also have a factor. Our class sizes are getting smaller, and perhaps there could be fewer people writing the test. These projections come out of the department, but that is more in line with what we think. We are looking more in line of recovering our costs, and that is more in line with the amount of people writing the test. To be candid, for a lot of people, because they didn't have to pay for the books, the books weren't really being treated with the respect that they should be. That, of course, has added cost to the province.
MR. HOLM: Maybe there will be a job for entrepreneurs here, and the black market will spring up selling used driver's handbooks.
MR. LEBLANC: Could be. We will have to buy less in that case, and that will also save us some money.
MR. HOLM: It would be interesting to know what you pay for the driver's handbooks.
MR. LEBLANC: I will bring that up, as to what the cost is. The staff tells me it is basically recovery for it; it is cost recovery, we are not looking to make money on it.
MR. HOLM: Any others?
MR. LEBLANC: Those are the ones that are listed here.
MR. HOLM: Let me go through a few things then. Birth certificates?
MR. LEBLANC: No plans to change birth certificates.
MR. HOLM: That is an absolute, that there won't be any fee increases this year?
MR. LEBLANC: If there was it would be in here.
MR. HOLM: How about anything dealing with death certificates?
MR. LEBLANC: No plans.
MR. HOLM: Marriage certificates.
MR. LEBLANC: Are you thinking of getting married, again?
MR. HOLM: I hope not.
MR. LEBLANC: The answer is no.
MR. HOLM: Marriage licences.
MR. LEBLANC: No.
MR. HOLM: Books and publications, anything? You have quite a few publications . . .
MR. LEBLANC: Do you mean through the book store?
MR. HOLM: No, no. I mean government departments provide information. You can contact your various departments for brochures and materials on a whole host of different things.
MR. LEBLANC: That one, I would have to go back to the departments. If there are some publications that they would be producing that will have increased costs, I can't tell you, as to whether or not there is any increased cost in what they will be charging for publications. The book store, we are looking for an October 1st deadline on that one. You bring up a good question, I will try to find the answer for you. There is nothing that I am aware of, but I will try to . . .
MR. HOLM: No plans to start charging for materials that are currently provided free of charge, that you are going to start to impose fees for?
MR. LEBLANC: Not that I am aware of.
MR. HOLM: Landlord/tenant and residential tenancy, of course, falls under your department. Certainly people make applications. At the present time, I don't believe that a tenant, if they wish to bring a complaint or have a hearing, that there are any charges.
MR. LEBLANC: Just one second on that one.
MR. HOLM: This is one, the Residential Tenancies Act, we are going to be putting out a position paper relatively shortly on this. There has been a lot of discussion on it. I know the member for Sackville-Cobequid has been very outspoken on this. I guess any MLA who lives within the HRM, especially - I am not saying that other members aren't affected, but - your areas are probably affected most. Your particular problems are also increased because of the number of trailer parks that are out there. You brought up concerns last year in that regard. We looked at the situation, there are some changes that are going to be proposed in the position paper.
After we get changes to the Residential Tenancies Act as it now sits, and some recommendations - both sides, the landlords and the tenants, have been putting forward positions on both sides of it - the position paper will go out, and our intention is to bring in legislation in the fall. I would not see any changes in fees that would take place this year, if there are going to be any. If that is the case, I would see it coming in as of next year.
MR. HOLM: So this discussion paper will be out when?
MR. LEBLANC: The position paper should be out relatively shortly. I am thinking in a matter of weeks.
MR. HOLM: Before the House rises?
MR. LEBLANC: That could be. It depends on how quickly we can get it together, but that could happen.
MR. HOLM: It has been being worked on for some time, has it not?
MR. LEBLANC: Yes, it has.
MR. HOLM: So it must be pretty well all put together?
MR. LEBLANC: It is coming together quite a bit. If you are asking me for a definite date . . .
MR. HOLM: No, I am not asking for a definite date.
MR. LEBLANC: I am saying it should probably come out before the House rises.
MR. HOLM: Okay, because the budget will not be voted on before May 4th, at the earliest. What I would like to know is, by May 4th - I have no idea what plans the government has to keep us beyond that time, hopefully they will find the motivation to keep us in for a little bit longer, but that having been said, I think it is appropriate that that be brought forward before the House adjourns.
MR. LEBLANC: If I could just add to that. Within this budget year there are no planned increases in fees and so forth. In the position paper we will be putting out, it is setting up the direction for the Residential Tenancies Act and how it will be dealt with. At that time we will be able to get input, and we are looking at the fall to bring about a new Act, but within this budget year, if you are talking about differences in fees, there is nothing going to take place within this fiscal year.
MR. HOLM: I was just trying to do some quick math here. It looks like the fees that we have identified so far are going to generate over $1 million.
MR. LEBLANC: The fees in here are sizeable and they do recover considerable amounts of money. A lot of them are things that we have discussed at length. This is one of the issues, especially in regard to the driver's fees and so forth, I had mentioned them before and I know you are aware of those. The other ones had not been mentioned and I am talking about the insurance agent fees, the fuel dye commissions, and so forth, those are things which had not been discussed prior to the budget.
MR. HOLM: Going further for businesses, you have the Nova Scotia Business Registry, and of course there are business licence applications, you have to apply for those business licences and so on. The Workers' Compensation Board, employer registration and so on, all this is done through your department. Are there any fee changes or new implication fees under either of those kinds of programs?
MR. LEBLANC: You bring up a good point. What I have been trying to do, Madam Chairman, from the department's perspective, we really feel that Nova Scotia Business Registry has a lot of potential, especially as we are going to be going on-line. I think for a lot of people who felt a few years ago that there were only going to be a few people on the computer and they would be experts, we have all been proven wrong. The number of people increasing their use of computerization is just remarkable and even people who thought they would never be able to do it, myself included, are getting fairly familiar with it. So we think there is a lot of potential and we are encouraging as many of the applications that we have, whether they be for a multitude of different things, that they take advantage of it because I think it can be done efficiently and it can be a lot more easily accessed.
I will use as an example, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which is a separate system. I received my vehicle registration applications. Every time I go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles - if there is a line-up, you don't know whether you should stay or not. So there is an opportunity to call in, just give your credit card and you can order it. Well, I tried it and two days later I could not believe it, my permits were there. I think we can apply that more to a lot of things that government does.
Your question, specifically, as to whether or not we will be increasing fees or anything like that, for ourselves, as more departments can come on-stream and use the facility, we think we will do more business on it. If we do that, as to what level of fees will be charged, I cannot determine that now because it will depend on what the fee is now and whether or not we can deliver it on-line and whether that is the same price, or whatever, or is it cheaper? A lot of times if we are delivering fees, what is the cost of delivering that fee and if we are trying to encourage people to use the Nova Scotia Business Registry, then maybe we could even consider whether or not we want to give a fee at a lower rate because it may reduce the demand on front-line services that we provide in other areas. So I think we have to have an open mind and ask, do we want the same fee or do we want to encourage people to use the service because it will take pressures off someplace else. That is the type of debate that is going to take place as we try to use more and more of the Nova Scotia Business Registry.
MR. HOLM: The program review has been completed and I did not really get a solid answer one way or the other, totally, in what you said. Maybe I can simplify the question and just put it this way.
MR. LEBLANC: Clarify it, okay.
MR. HOLM: Let me simply put it this way. Are you stating, categorically, that there will be no fee changes this fiscal year under, for example, the Nova Scotia Business Registry, the business licence application or the Workers' Compensation Board employer registration?
MR. LEBLANC: Two things, one of which is the Workers' Compensation Board, I cannot speak on their behalf on what is going on, so I don't know. I can tell you now that there are no fee increases planned for this year for any of the things you referred to. How quickly other things can come on and whether or not we will be collecting that fee - let's use an example and I am not sure if it is a proper one, but let's use the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries' fishing licences or let's even use the Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Authority, which has lottery licences, are those things that could be put on the Nova Scotia Business Registry whereby people could access that much quicker or maybe go through an access centre rather than doing it? Those were fees that maybe our department would collect rather than having another department collect.
So I want to make sure that when I say there are no fees planned, we may end up being the service provider that may change where the fee for the application may be collected.
Whether that happens in this year or not, I cannot tell you, but to be clear, there are no fees that we are contemplating unless there is a change in service. I think I have been clear. If not, maybe you can ask me again.
MR. HOLM: The thing is that the revenues show up as revenues under your department, not under some other department that you may be providing a service for.
MR. LEBLANC: That is why I am saying that.
MR. HOLM: For convenience sake, let's go down to, request, name reservation, business and society registration, any fee changes under anything in that area?
MR. LEBLANC: No.
MR. HOLM: The insurance and financial institution licensing, you talked about $200,000 that was for the insurance agents. Is that the same line item?
MR. LEBLANC: You are talking institutions versus agents, and I will have to find . . .
MR. HOLM: Yes. The insurance businesses and financial institutions have to be licensed in this province and I think that those licences are done on an annual basis? You have to renew the licences. How much money is generated from that?
MR. LEBLANC: I will get that information for you. So you want to talk both; financial institutions, you are referring to banks, . . .
MR. HOLM: All I am doing here is just reading off the web page for the Department of Business and Consumer Services - deep research.
MR. LEBLANC: There is nothing wrong with that. I will find out the answer for you.
MR. HOLM: Other business, licensing information, that could include a whole host of different things.
MR. LEBLANC: It probably does.
MR. HOLM: Under that heading on your web page, any fee changes for any of those others?
MR. LEBLANC: The increases we are talking about, the ones we are changing are the ones I have listed here, the ones I gave to you when we started off.
MR. HOLM: The Nova Scotia Companies Database, what in the heck is that?
MR. LEBLANC: I believe that is the Registry of Joint Stocks. So that would be the database there. No planned increases there.
MR. HOLM: No fee increases there; no decreases there either?
MR. LEBLANC: Not that I know of.
MR. HOLM: Under consumer issues, the Canadian Consumer Handbook; you have the inquiries and complaints and debtor information and counselling and then, of course, landlord tenancy; you have insurance inquiries; tax information listed on your web page, anything planned in any of those areas in terms of fees?
MR. LEBLANC: No.
MR. HOLM: Nothing. We talked about motor vehicle licences. How about registrations and permits?
MR. LEBLANC: No. I will say, there is a point that came up, a number of members of the House brought up a point, people who had travel trailers that are relatively large would have to pay per weight. They felt the rates were perhaps too high because it is charged on the number of kilograms, and they were doing a review of how they were being charged across Canada. Most of the people who have these trailers aren't always on the road. The fees that are charged are obviously for commercial vehicles based on the estimated amount of mileage you would do over the highways. That is why the fees are high. It is to recoup, basically, a lot of the pounding that goes on on the highways.
So I did indicate to members that we would review that during the year. I wrote back to the person who initiated that request and said we would have a staff review as to how this fee is being charged and so forth. So I will give that one caveat. I am not saying there will be changes, but we indicated that we would take a look at that to make it more equitable, but if it is going to do that, it will probably be a decrease rather than an increase.
Sometimes people bring up something they feel is unfair, and I looked at it and at least I wrote him back and said there may be some credence to what you are saying and we are prepared to take a look at it. Actually, I am talking to the other side of it, there may be something more in dealing with special types of circumstances. It is difficult, because once you get into it, it also has a domino effect; if you change one, where do you stop and where do you start. That is one that was mentioned.
MR. HOLM: So those who can afford to buy the most expensive types of travel trailers may possibly be going to receive a slight reduction in cost. But those who may have very low or modest incomes will have to pay a lot more, even to get a drivers license?
MR. LEBLANC: No. I think what you are looking at here is whether or not the fee that is being charged was fair. That is what they asked us to look at. I indicated to him that I would take a look at it, and we would review it and make a decision. I didn't make any commitment, but I did say we would review it. There was information provided at that time about how they were being charged in other provinces, and at that time I said I would take a look at it.
MR. HOLM: Have you done a tally? I am sure you would have, as Minister of Finance of course; wearing your other bonnet, you would want to know what all of the various revenue streams are going to be for the province, and you would have looked at all the various departments, including your other, Business and Consumer Services. Have you done a tally to tell us what is going to be the net increase-projected increase in revenues from all of the fees and services and everything you provide under Business and Consumer Services?
MR. LEBLANC: We also have a bulletin we put out and we indicated what the fees would be. I think it totals about $1.7 million. I want to say first of all, that is a high number, but because we are a service industry and we are providing services - there is no department that deals more with service than ours. You take into account the access centres we have, Registry of Motor Vehicles, Vital Statistics, Registry of Joint Stock Companies, we also deal with a whole lot of other services, this is the one that probably would have more of a recovery. A lot of those changes are in areas we looked at especially in regard to gasoline and diesel tax wholesalers, taking away their commission, even people in the tobacco tax. Those are situations right there that is about one third of those recoveries. Those two add up to about $535,000.
MR. HOLM: Just going through and tallying up the ones you gave me, very quickly off my head, I am missing approximately $100,000 because they add up to a little over those ones. I am not going to dwell on that.
I am just going to go to the estimates book, on Page 2.2 . . .
MR. LEBLANC: Just before I forget, I will give you a breakdown of that number, just to make sure that everything I have given you is complete. That is not difficult to do.
MR. HOLM: I am trying to be that little ferret we are supposed to be.
MR. LEBLANC: Oh, you are a nice ferret, though.
MR. HOLM: Thank you very much. That is going to warm my heart for the rest of the day. If I could just go to the revenue book, it is showing, for example, the estimated revenue under the Gasoline and Diesel Oil Tax is up from $218 million to $232 million, which is an increase of $14 million.
MR. LEBLANC: No, I think it is $12.39 million.
MR. HOLM: Okay $12.39 million, whatever. I am going from Estimate to Forecast.
MR. LEBLANC: Yes, I am going Estimate to Estimate. No problem. Either way it is up.
MR. HOLM: Why?
MR. LEBLANC: Why? Because the projections, surprisingly, are still showing an increment in the amount of gas consumption, which is, to be candid, surprising. Because from the earlier information we had with the price increases, we were expecting a decrease in usage. That was the preliminary information we are getting. However, surprisingly, I think the economy is doing well and people are accepting the price levels where they are and are still consuming more. As the economy is still growing, the overall consumption is up. I will be candid, I am surprised, and obviously I am happy that the consumption is up because that also means, in a sense, that the confidence in the economy is there, but I want to say that when I saw those projections I was surprised.
MR. HOLM: Well, I know that HST is the next line item down, which I want to get some clarification on, but I referred to Gasoline and Diesel Oil Tax, is there any of that that is related to HST?
MR. LEBLANC: No.
MR. HOLM: So you are saying that is strictly on the basis of - and it is about 26 cents a litre for gasoline, I can't remember what it is for home heating fuel.
MR. LEBLANC: No. On the gasoline, it is 13.5 cents.
MR. HOLM: Excuse me, yes, because part of that is here.
MR. LEBLANC: Diesel is 15.4 cents. If I could just make a comment before going forward. In the estimates, the consumption had been down in the month of January and grew again in February. So those were a lot of the reasons we expected the consumption to be down. We are about two or three months behind in our data when we compare it, so the early indications were that the high prices would curb consumption, and as such, overall, the consumption would be down. Basically that has changed around, and that is still up.
MR. HOLM: Basically, when one considers if you turn off your furnace, in the middle of the wintertime, your pipes will freeze; the occasional inconvenience happens, and if you don't have any . . .
MR. LEBLANC: That is not home heating fuel.
MR. HOLM: No, I know that. My next line was going to be, if you have a vehicle and you have to get from point A to point B, you are still going to have to do it. It is going to be very interesting to see what happens in the end. I don't know if I should be doing my little rant with you again about how I consider the government being totally irresponsible in bringing forward measures to protect consumers. I saw your press release which says that companies have to post the numbers, and I am sure, therefore, the companies will start to post signs saying, the total price is, this much is tax and this much is the cost for other things. You have done zip to get at the real root issues of the problems. You have done nothing, zero, to address the competition issue. If all companies were required to be selling the product to whoever wished to buy it from the distributor, that meaning Esso, mainly in Nova Scotia, to all at exactly the same price, then companies could actually compete on a retail basis. That is one.
Temperature conversion outlawing that. You tell me how many days in the run of a year the average temperature in Nova Scotia is 15 or more degrees Celsius. It is probably two or three in the middle of the summer when you average it out through the day. Home heat oil is delivered in the wintertime, not too many days when the temperature is 15 degrees Celsius, but that is when they sell it to you and volume wise. That is literally ripping millions of dollars out of the pockets of Nova Scotians, many millions of dollars. So if you want to do something, don't just do a window dressing and have them post what the price is so you can drive up and down the street and see they are all charging the same price, do something to really put competition back into the market place.
MR. LEBLANC: Two things, Madam Chairman. First of all, I believe the prices should be posted. A lot of gas stations post their price anyway; other ones don't. I think a lot of times when they are not posting it it is because they may have the prices higher or whatever. You never know until to stop and gas up. We also have the card-lock systems in my area. To be perfectly candid, there were people who were using the card-lock in the one specific to where I reside, where a lot of times the HST wasn't included into the price, when they got their statements, then they realized that actually it was higher. I personally believe that at least the prices should be posted. People will know what the prices are and they will make the decision.
I want to get back to the one point you talked about, the temperature conversion distribution method. This is one, especially, that has been pushed nationally. To tell you the truth, whether or not I am comfortable with it - we had some meetings with the Executive Director of the Retail Gas Dealers Association, in talking to members, and actually we have had members, regionally, in Yarmouth where I reside, where people are saying that their sales don't meet their purchases, and they are having some losses. This is one area that I don't feel comfortable with. I think we are going to have to do more work, because whether or not it is consumers, which is what you are referring to for home heating, which is whether or not what goes out matches what comes in, is being achieved.
For those of you who aren't aware what temperature conversion distribution is, as you load it into the truck and as you deliver it, it is supposed to match, because there could be expansion due to temperature. I am not an engineer, to say I understand all the facets of it, I don't. I do know from speaking to people, that some people are of the opinion that this distribution is perhaps more weighted in ensuring that the major distributors are protected rather than the consumers. So there is some debate here. To say that isn't so is an understatement. If you speak to people in the industry you will know that. So that is one that I am prepared to take a look at.
MR. HOLM: Well, I will sum it up a little bit, I think, more succinctly than that. The oil is loaded on the truck. That is the company's problem. They get it in the truck. Those trucks have computers on them. They could be delivering the home heating fuel at five degrees below zero. That truck pumps it into your home heat tank. The computer measures the volume going through the meter. The computer then converts what that volume would actually equate to if it was heated to 15 degrees Celsius. Things expand, if you want to know how you can get 922 litres of oil in a 900 litre tank, what you do is you deliver it at a cold temperature, I think at zero degrees. All of a sudden the consumer has just been charged for 20 some odd litres that they don't receive, and to me that is wrong. You talk to the retailers, you talk to the consumers, and ask them if they would like to pay for something they don't get. I think you will get a pretty resounding answer. In almost every state, if not every state in the good old United States of America, that conservative supposedly business-friendly nation to our south, they outlaw temperature conversion.
MR. LEBLANC: On that, even speaking to gas dealers, they themselves are saying they are losing volume, because they see themselves almost as a consumer also. They are buying from the oil companies and, obviously, they are pumping gas to cars. At the end of the month if they have a shrinkage, of course, that is coming out of their pockets, and their margins are being affected. To me, it is almost a comparison of someone who is buying fuel at home. I want to say, supposedly, how this works - the member has given a good outline - supposedly, the truck is supposed to adjust all this by computer to make sure the consumer is buying the right amount. I am not really up to par on all the facets of it, but I do know that school is out. The member is right when he says that in the United States, I believe there are a lot of the states where it is outlawed. There is a study going on with the federal government
in regard to this industry, and that is supposed to have some input from the province. That is one of the issues we want to bring up, so I want to concur with the member.
MR. HOLM: I will say this, the retailers, the gas stations and the small independents who are providing the product to the homeowners and to the businesses, are at the mercy of the big boys as well. I have sympathy for the retailers. The big boys are ripping us off to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars, for example, as a result of this so-called shortage in the States this past winter. My degree or level of sympathy for them is very, very small. We have to start doing something to protect them.
You also have in here an increase of approximately $2.5 million for tobacco tax. Are you projecting an increase in the number of smokers in this province?
MR. LEBLANC: No. If you recall last fall, there was an increment in the tax as of November so, of course, that wasn't a full year.
MR. HOLM: Okay, so are you prorating it?
MR. LEBLANC: Yes.
MR. HOLM: Any projected increases?
MR. LEBLANC: In usage?
MR. HOLM: No, in taxes on it this year?
MR. LEBLANC: No, nothing is anticipated as it is now.
MR. HOLM: I just say that is one area where, even though I am known to imbibe in that, indulge, yes a better way of putting it, that is one area, quite truthfully, I would favour an increase.
MR. LEBLANC: The member brings up a good point, Madam Chairman. I think that the Maritime provinces or Atlantic provinces that - as it is now, Nova Scotia has a higher tax than the other three provinces, maybe not Newfoundland, but I know in comparison with New Brunswick, I think we are a little over $1.00 per carton higher. I think if we are going to look at tobacco tax we should try to do it in unison. Other than that you create too much of a differential between provinces, and that creates opportunities for leakage or black-market activity. If we are going to do it, obviously I would much prefer to do it in unison rather than in isolation, but I appreciate the members comments.
MR. HOLM: Okay, moving down, we have gone through the insurance companies, the $200,000; the licence-regulated industries, that is staying the same; the trust companies
staying the same as projected; tax on fire insurance premiums, same; the tax on insurance premiums, that is staying the same. There were a couple of others here I wanted to touch on. I guess that is all of them in there. How much time have I left now?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You are now down to three minutes.
MR. HOLM: No way will I get into what I wanted to do in the three minutes. I will just go into your business plan projection, first. You talked about the fact that the department now has the capacity to provide cost savings for governments by taking on certain service-delivery functions for other departments and government agencies. You then go on and say you will be doing, in essence, a lot of that throughout the year. Which services has the government or your department agreed to start to provide to other departments this year?
MR. LEBLANC: I indicated in my comments before, especially with regard to the Nova Scotia Business Registry, we feel as that comes more on-stream the other departments will be able to use that to a greater extent. So, that is one within the department I think we can pick on.
I also want to say that as we move towards the new structure of government, as much as possible we make ourselves available to people, whether or not through our Access Nova Scotia Centres, through our inquiries division, that they are multitask, they answer a lot of questions for a multitude of different aspects of departments and I think that is what we have to do. That is one section where we have been very pleased with how they work.
MR. HOLM: Yes, but you are not giving me any specifics.
MR. LEBLANC: I am telling you that is what we want to move towards and I think we have to. I think that is where we have to go, as much as possible, to multitasking, whereby we can deliver more services, in a sense, to the same people as where we have to go. If we are going to make the changes that we have to do in this budget, we have to think outside.
MR. HOLM: The last question I will just throw to you before I leave. You are talking about doing all of these different kinds of things, how many more jobs are going to be positioned around this province outside of metro as a result of all of this program review and restructuring from your department?
MR. LEBLANC: Most of the changes we have made within this system are at head office, I will be candid about that. We look at situations that, for ourselves, are moving towards providing services outside of government as much as possible, using the facilities that we have. We talked about multitasking, I think that is what we have to do. When you look at the access centres that we have, to a great extent a lot of those people are multitasked and I think that is where we have to go.
People in the past were usually assigned one specific duty and delivered it and they did a good job, but I think we have to think beyond that and that's really where we are headed in this process. Without getting into specifics that is the whole philosophy of why we brought this department together and why we have to keep going. They have done some good work, but it can't stop here because of the savings we have to achieve.
MR. HOLM: Okay, thank you. My time has expired and I will come back at a future time, but I know the words, outside of government, sounded a lot like contracting out - in the minister's closing statements - and that is something I also want to come back to.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will now turn the time to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Richmond, you have one hour.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Minister, I am just wondering if you have that information you indicated you would provide to me on Tuesday, if you have that here today?
MR. LEBLANC: There were numerous questions you asked me, one of which was in regard to the scale houses, as to whether there have been any changes in the weighers? The answer is no. The other thing you asked about the . . .
MR. SAMSON: Is the answer still no?
MR. LEBLANC: The answer is that there will not be reductions in that staff.
MR. SAMSON: No reductions and there will be no increases, though?
MR. LEBLANC: No. We talked about the Vehicle Compliance, which is the motor vehicle inspection section. There is a reduction of five inspector positions, that will leave six remaining, plus some support staff, obviously. As I said before, the change of focus is from inspecting the paperwork at the gas stations or the inspection stations to conducting more roadside checks.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, the other things I requested were, I believe, a list of employee names for Policy and Business Development, and a cost comparison of your bookstore, expenses as compared to revenue. I am wondering if you have that also?
MR. LEBLANC: Two things you were mentioned trying to find out where we are going to find the positions, if you look at that section, the estimate last year when we started off was at $20,000, the forecast ended up being $14,900 and we are at $15,000 this year. Basically, the changes have already taken place within the department, so you are trying to find out where the reductions would be. There is a list of different positions that are in that
department and I will get the staff to put it out into a list and I will give it (Interruption) I have no problem with that, we will give it by name and I will get that sent over to you.
There is another question you had, was it three that you asked me or two?
MR. SAMSON: I can't hear a thing you are saying. I don't know if it is the noise outside, if your mike isn't close enough to you or what it is, but I didn't hear a thing you said. I think what you just said was for Policy and Business Development, the changes had already taken place. You said something about the list of names, I don't know what you said, if you have it or you don't have it, I am not quite sure what you said there, so you are going to have to repeat some of that because I didn't hear what you were saying.
MR. LEBLANC: I will give you a list of the names; I will get the staff to do it so you will have it on your desk before your hour is out.
MR. SAMSON: Perfect. With that list, if you could provide a salary breakdown, because yesterday we had a bit of a disagreement as to the salaries. I had the opportunity to rely on something a bit more reliable than my own mathematics, which was a calculator. Out of those 15 remaining staff, you said five were administrative-type positions, 10 policy-type positions. I assumed that those five people would make maybe $35,000 a year. I thought that was being quite generous under the usual pay scale for those positions. With that assumption, $35,000 each for those five employees, the 10 remaining would be left with an average salary of $65,000 a year. I am curious if that is an accurate reflection of the salary level being paid for those 10 employees in that particular sector?
MR. LEBLANC: Well, I think if you look at it, you are not encompassing the employee benefits, but we will get that information to you on that one. I indicated to you that I will give you that before today is over.
The other thing you talked about, I believe, was the bookstore. When you take the bookstore into account, and you look at the charge we have to other departments, the savings that will come out of there is approximately $25,000. Subsequent to that, we have not incorporated into that the use of the space that is used by the bookstore. Basically, by our estimates, we are saving approximately $100,000 by eliminating that service.
MR. SAMSON: So basically what you are indicating to us was that the bookstore was a money loser for government?
MR. LEBLANC: Overall, yes, of course it was.
MR. SAMSON: Do you have those numbers you could provide to me, more specific numbers that back up what you are saying? In other words, if I am to understand correctly what you are telling me, the cost of staff and rent far exceeded by $125,000 . . .
MR. LEBLANC: No, I said $100,000. It would be $25,000 plus $75,000 which is the rent component that is being used there, so basically it comes to $100,000.
MR. SAMSON: You were paying $75,000 a year in rent for that particular space?
MR. LEBLANC: The space downtown, if you look at what space is going for at this present time, that space is being occupied by the bookstore, if you wanted to talk apples to apples, that's what it is.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, what are you paying at that particular location right now? Is that what you are paying, $75,000?
MR. LEBLANC: It isn't what we are paying at that spot, it is what we are paying to provide office space elsewhere, because if the bookstore wasn't occupying that space, we could be using it.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, for the size of the bookstore, you figure it would cost $75,000 to relocate it to a different place?
MR. LEBLANC: It is 2,500 square feet.
MR. SAMSON: That is what it currently has?
MR. LEBLANC: That is right.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, so you are saying 2,500 square feet would cost $75,000 a year in rent.
MR. LEBLANC: Rent downtown, in this area, is high right now, I think you probably appreciate, especially with the gas and oil industry that we have, rental space is extremely high. I want to say first of all, that is after you have done all of the charge-backs, the bookstore is charging fees back to the other departments, and you could say that it is cost recovery. Well, someone is spending that money and so is the charge-back accurate or not? I guess in a sense, that is a good question, but I go back to my point; why are we producing all these annual reports, why are we going through a process of trying to make all these publications available for sale? Our approach on this thing, as much as possible, is that we produce these publications, put them on the internet, put them on the government web site. If people want that information they can have access to it without having to buy the book. If they want to print it out, fine.
MR. SAMSON: Well, unfortunately, not everybody in Petit-de-Grat or in Loch Lomond or in L'Ardoise or in different areas have access to the Internet..
MR. LEBLANC: That is why we have libraries and people can access cap sites. If people want information, they will be able to find it.
MR. SAMSON: Well, I am sure there are many people who take quite an interest in the minister feeling that people should all be able to access this information and not have any alternate means of being able to order that by mail. The point still comes down to, you say there is 2,500 square feet where the bookstore is now?
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct.
MR. SAMSON: It must be a lot bigger than what it was when I was there. You say if you took out that bookstore and put government offices in there, you would save $75,000 of what is currently being paid out for putting government offices in other places?
MR. LEBLANC: The current rate downtown, if we have to find space, that is a comparable rate. That is what you are going to have to pay in the downtown core right now. If you want to compare apples to apples, that is what you should do.
MR. SAMSON: Have you ever been in the bookstore?
MR. LEBLANC: Sure I have.
MR. SAMSON: You have walked through it?
MR. LEBLANC: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: You have seen how big it is?
MR. LEBLANC: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: Office-wise, how many actual staff do you think you could put in there with desks and other equipment, into that actual space? I guess you are saying you could move office space in there, how many office spaces would you put where the bookstore is right now?
MR. LEBLANC: Look, Mr. Chairman, I know the honourable member has worked at the bookstore and perhaps has a closeness to it, but it comes in as, do we, as government want to run a bookstore; and the answer is no. We don't have to run a bookstore. I know the member said that we sell Nova Scotia publications at the bookstore. That is one of the reasons why we should close it, there are many good bookstores throughout metro and throughout Nova Scotia that promote Nova Scotian literature. I don't think this is a service that government has to provide. We are giving ourselves six months to make sure we have
the venues to distribute the publications and the manuals that people want and we will achieve that. It doesn't require our having to run a bookstore.
We could get into the details of everything else, but I am telling you that our government doesn't believe that is a core service; we don't have to deliver it and as much as those people there are delivering a fine service, and they do their job well, it isn't a service we have to provide.
MR. SAMSON: Well, that is arguable and I am sure people will take that up. You are leaving the impression that this is being done for financial purposes, and whether you want to answer the questions for it or not, we are going to have a lot of awkward silence because I am going to keep asking questions. You are arguing this was done on a cost basis and I have serious questions about that argument, that there are actually any cost savings at all going to be incurred in here on what you have said. Whether you like me asking questions about it or not, it really means nothing to me. That is not going to stop me asking questions.
What were you paying in salary for staff at the bookstore?
MR. LEBLANC: According to this calculation, $137,000, including the training and the benefits.
MR. SAMSON: How much revenue was coming in from the book store?
MR. LEBLANC: It was $279,000, but that would include a lot of the charge-backs that we have from the other departments. Let me just add to that. About one-half of that would be direct sales and one-half would be recoveries from the departments.
MR. SAMSON: What was the net? I take it you are giving me a gross number, from what you are saying. What is the net?
MR. LEBLANC: No, the net on a basis is $25,000, that we are saving. The costs are $25,000 plus the rent that is there. That is on a business application. Of the sales that are there, there are a lot of supplies which are purchased and I will give these numbers to the member, I will go through them if you want, one at a time.
MR. SAMSON: Oh, yes. Go right ahead.
MR. LEBLANC: The salaries and the training benefits and so forth is $136,700; the supplies purchased for resale is $128,400; the general office, IT supplies, telecommunications, is $20,300; postage and freight is $8,000; advertising is $8,000; bank charges are $2,600; that is a total cost of $304,000. The revenues are $279,000 and half of those are charge-backs to departments. That means that the cost of the operation is $25,000 plus the rent, and of course the utilities that would encompass. Mr. Chairman, besides the $100,000 we think that we will
be achieving here, we also have the fact of the matter that we are distributing a lot of materials to achieve even this modest loss. If we can stop publishing all our annual reports and having them distributed through the bookstore, whereby, to be perfectly candid, a lot of them don't sell and I am sure there is some real good reading in the back of a 1995 Department of the Environment Annual Report, that never get distributed, that probably aren't encompassing to the cost of putting out these annual reports and periodicals, the savings is going to be much more considerable than the $100,000 that I am talking about here.
MR. SAMSON: Well, if the minister is talking about the state of the Department of the Environment's Annual Report, I certainly hope if there are any more copies that he will save me one because it will become a collector's item now as your government has cut the publication of any more of those since the first one, so that would probably be worth some money someday as a collector's item.
So you are still holding to the fact that you think you are going to save $100,000 by closing the bookstore?
MR. LEBLANC: I want to be perfectly candid, I think we are going to save more than $100,000.
MR. SAMSON: Just to the bookstore?
MR. LEBLANC: Just to the bookstore.
MR. SAMSON: So cutting those four positions is going to save you $100,000. So you say $75,000 in rent. How many staff people do you think you can put in that office space, in that location?
MR. LEBLANC: They are there. I don't know if the member is saying that we shouldn't do this or whether or not we want to do a measurement of the facility to see how many people physically fit into the facility. I still go back to the point that - I am not debating how many people fit into an office, I am trying to explain to the member why we are not in the bookstore business anymore. I don't know if I am missing the point of his question or not, but I am trying to give him the rationale why we made the decision and why we believe it is the right one for Nova Scotians and how we will be able to deliver those services. The change I am contemplating is to make sure people have access to the same publications he is referring to. Especially, as much as possible, via the Internet. I think that is something that is a reasonable approach to it and if there are some of his questions that I have missed the point, then I am more than prepared to go over it again.
MR. SAMSON: Unless I am wrong here, I understood that we were here to debate estimates not policy. We disagree on the policy and that is not a problem. We are talking numbers here and if you are going to throw out numbers, I expect you to be able to justify
what you are saying. If you are going to say that you are saving $75,000 for the government, the bookstore is using the current space it has because that is where it was put. I have no doubt that if it was put in a smaller space, it would adapt to that smaller space. I don't accept your argument of $75,000. You are basically saying what you are paying in rent now - what are you paying in rent, where the bookstore is at?
MR. LEBLANC: I don't know. That is provided through TPW, I am not aware of it.
I am telling you if government is filling space elsewhere in metro that we could move those people from that location to this location, those are the rates that you would be saving.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, so how much are you saving? How much could you put there? That is my question. You have made the statement if we take the bookstore out, we can put people in there and we will save money by putting them in there and not having to pay for the bookstore and they won't be in other places. How many are you going to put there? That is my question because I don't know which bookstore you are in, this bookstore is not big, relatively. The ceilings are high, but that is about it. It is not a big bookstore, so staff-wise, I don't know how many government offices you plan on, or you think you are going to be able to physically put into there and make all these monetary savings, which is your argument. That is where I am asking you to back up your statement. Where are your figures? What numbers are you using to justify your argument on a financial basis.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I guess in a sense when we made this decision, we didn't make the decision based to figure out how many people would fit into the 2,500 square feet that is there. We are saying that space will be available to government to reduce its demands for office space elsewhere in government. Now how many people will fit into that will be determined when that space is occupied subsequent to the bookstore leaving. For me to tell the honourable member how many people will fit into it, obviously that is going to depend on who is moving in and what function they will do. I can't tell him that today.
MR. SAMSON: With all due respect to the minister, that is no surprise, because you are basically singing the same songs most of your other colleagues are. Half your decisions, you don't seem to have any idea of what is behind them, and just these general statements. So I am certainly not shocked there.
User fees; you went through them with the other member. I tried to get the information at the same time. That appeared to bother you, so we will go through them again. If you can start right from the beginning, and we will go through each. I would like the program name, the 1999 cost, the 2000 cost, and the revenue being generated by that.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I went through this with the member for Sackville-Cobequid, and at the same time the member for Richmond was asking me for additional
information. The proper protocol, as much as possible, is to deal with one member at a time. I wasn't trying to shut out the member from the process. I mentioned at that time if he has any questions, we will do them over one at a time.
The drivers' test, we have initiated a $10 fee for the written test. So that means if you go in and you fail and you come back to write, you pay it again. The reason for that is what was happening for our staff, many people were basically not worrying about how many times or whether they properly studied for the test. If they fail it today, they come back tomorrow and try it again. If they fail tomorrow, they can come the day after. So that is a $10 fee for the test. If you write it twice, you pay twice.
MR. SAMSON: What revenue is that going to generate?
MR. LEBLANC: There is another one here, and I have them combined, so just let me give the other number, and I will give you the total. We have increased the road-test fee, this is when you go and take your driver's test, from $10 to $35. That additional revenue for this year will be $500,000.
MR. SAMSON: How often can you write your driver's test?
MR. LEBLANC: How often can you write your driver's test? Well, I am not sure there is a limit as to how many times you can write it.
MR. SAMSON: If I fail today, when can I go back?
MR. LEBLANC: Tomorrow.
MR. SAMSON: Wrong. I suggest the minister do a little bit more homework on his department, since I worked there about six years ago, you have to wait a week. You do not write every day. So I don't know if the minister has been using every day of the week in his projections to reach $500,000, or if he realizes that one can only write once per week, every seven calendar days from the time he first wrote. So I question that $500,000 figure. How that came to, if the minister believes one can write after each day.
Road tests are $35. I take it that is for your basic Class 5 road test?
MR. LEBLANC: There is a listing. It is Class 5, 6, and 8.
MR. SAMSON: That is $35?
MR. LEBLANC: That is right.
MR. SAMSON: How much for Class 1, 2, 3, and 4?
MR. LEBLANC: Class 1 to Class 4 will go from $20 to $35. Motorcycle, will go from $10 to $35.
MR. SAMSON: So Class 1 to Class 4 you said was going from $20 to $35.
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, go ahead. What other user fees?
MR. LEBLANC: The other issues are the air brake tests, they will go from no fee to $10.
MR. SAMSON: What revenue do you expect to get there?
MR. LEBLANC: They have grouped them together, so for me to tell you specifics . . .
MR. SAMSON: Is this all under the $500,000 figure?
MR. LEBLANC: That is right.
MR. SAMSON: So this is all $500,000?
MR. LEBLANC: The interviews, when people have to come in, there will be a $20 fee for providing that service.
MR. SAMSON: So that is people who come in for speeding or DWI?
MR. LEBLANC: That is right.
MR. SAMSON: Same thing for both offences?
MR. LEBLANC: It doesn't differentiate.
MR. SAMSON: So, it was zero cost before. Now it will be $10?
MR. LEBLANC: It will be $20.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, go on.
MR. LEBLANC: We have the tests and the interview, that is for the people who have to come back to write their test after losing their license. So the re-test and so forth, that will be $45.
MR. SAMSON: What was the cost before?
MR. LEBLANC: There was no charge for that.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, would that include seniors who have to come in, provide a medical, do a re-test with one of the examiners? Are they going to be faced with that $45 charge also?
MR. LEBLANC: I don't think so, no.
MR. SAMSON: How are you going to differentiate between who should pay $45 and who shouldn't pay $45? What factor are you using to differentiate? I use the term senior, and I shouldn't have used the term senior because that is not appropriate. Any one of us could have a medical condition that causes concern for others, and we could get reported to the department, have to provide a medical, do an interview, and do a test. Will those people have to pay $45.
MR. LEBLANC: These are restorations, so if a senior has been reported, his license hasn't been lost, so he is coming in for a re-test, not a restoration.
MR. SAMSON: So this is strictly restoration of license?
MR. LEBLANC: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: You are sure about that?
MR. LEBLANC: I will make doubly sure with the staff, and I will make a note. That is what the staff is telling me now.
MR. SAMSON: I hope you are right. Okay, what else?
MR. LEBLANC: That is it.
MR. SAMSON: That is the $500,000 loop right there.
MR. LEBLANC: That is right.
MR. SAMSON: Just following that, tests and interviews. That will still be conducted by the staff who are currently with the department?
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct.
MR. SAMSON: There will be no privatization of those services?
MR. LEBLANC: No plans in this budget.
MR. SAMSON: No privatization of any of the services you have just listed?
MR. LEBLANC: No plans in this budget.
MR. SAMSON: No plans in this budget. Okay, go ahead.
MR. LEBLANC: Driver abstracts. We have brought a new on-line service and fee of $15 per abstract for the insurance industry which came into effect March 1st.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, so this is just the insurance side?
MR. LEBLANC: That is right. People can log on-line to get driver abstracts for drivers. As such, what that allows them to do is, if someone wants, obviously, to get insurance, whether or not it is for commercial reasons, or even for insurability, a lot of times insurance companies had to make requests. They used to have to batch them, they would send them in, they would get them printed out, or you could go in directly to the Registry of Motor Vehicles and get one printed up for $10. If you realize, for the insurance companies to go in for everybody that they want an abstract on is just not practical. So we have moved forward to develop an on-line system. Instead of paying the $10 usual fee, they can get that information on-line for $15. We did this in conjunction with the insurance industry. They wanted it. It is something that is service-provided. So we have an increment there. That will provide another $450,000 in fees for this year. But that was in response to the industry wanting more on-line service, and this is basically a good deal for both sides.
MR. SAMSON: So that $5 increase to the insurance is going to bring you $450,000?
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct.
MR. SAMSON: What about the walk-in? If I want to walk in and get my abstract myself?
MR. LEBLANC: It would cost $10.
MR. SAMSON: It is still only $10? So that hasn't changed?
MR. LEBLANC: No.
MR. SAMSON: What safeguards do you have from anyone going on-line to get someone's abstract?
MR. LEBLANC: There is a security system that is put in place that allows safeguards to be put in place. Security of the information was one of the factors that had to be built into this to make sure it would work.
MR. SAMSON: No, and I am not questioning security, but if my colleague here, Jerry Pye, works for the insurance company, what stops him from just going through to pick up my abstract.
MR. LEBLANC: Only certain people can hit on this, in other words can gain access, and that would be insurance companies. This comes from the insurance agents who would make the request. Before they make the request, they have to have signed approval from the driver permitting them to make the request to get the information. There has been follow-up to make sure that is in compliance.
MR. SAMSON: Who is going to follow-up on that? Who is going to check to see that the consent form has been signed, because they are going on-line?
MR. LEBLANC: There are going to be follow-ups, obviously, from our records we know who made the request. We can understand that because they are being charged for the fee. Also, we will do periodic follow-ups to make sure those are in compliance.
MR. SAMSON: What staff do you have committed to doing this?
MR. LEBLANC: Through the section, I want to point out to the member, the safeguards we have here are virtually the same as we had before, because what was going on before is that the information was being batched. This has been going on for some length of time. Insurance companies would make the requests for it in a batch mode, they would send it into the department, overnight we would provide the information and send it back to them. What we are allowing here is for them to get the information as a direct link into the system whereby they can have that information when the customer is in front of them. So basically nothing has changed in the way of the safeguards from this system to what was there before.
MR. SAMSON: If I am not mistaken, under the old system, when the insurance company sent in that request, they sent in the consent form at the same time. They were attached to those requests when it came in the paper form. So you had that as a hard copy right there. I am almost positive of that.
MR. LEBLANC: It has changed to electronics. Since the time you left, it has changed. I know you have been gone for six years, you said that yourself, so that is probably why. You are getting older, Michel, that is the problem.
MR. SAMSON: Yes, well and more foolish too, I think. Who is watching the system? This is all on-line, so who is watching the system, is the question? Do you have any staff responsible for watching the system? I don't know if someone in the insurance company has gone in and checked on my abstract. I have no means of knowing that. There is no notification to me as an individual. They can check my abstract 10 times in the next year. I don't know that. Who is watching the system to make sure that is not taking place? This is not to say the insurance industry has some sort of ulterior motives here, but I think the people of Nova Scotia deserve to know that there are safeguards in place, not just people tapping the system, hacking the system, I mean who is watching the hen house in your department to see what abstracts are being requested? That is my question and I haven't got an answer to that yet.
MR. LEBLANC: The head of that division isn't here right now to give you more detail into it. I want to say one thing before we move on, because I can only give the member the information of who is present at the table with me; my staff. I will ask them to ask the head of that division how the safeguards are put in place. One thing especially that we want to do is that we want to make information readily available where it is required. At the same time, we don't want to prejudice anybody's rights. We really feel, especially in abstracts, that the request coming through from the industry to have it provided in a direct link, rather than having to send it batched, is basically responding to a need that many of the drivers want to have an answer right then and there.
Your reference that many people are hacking into the system and requesting your driver's abstract, I am not really sure. If the lines are secure, it is the user, whether or not you are saying the insurance company is going to request information beyond what they need, I don't think that is going to be happening. I know you are putting forward a hypothetical question, but I don't think that is going to be occurring. There is really little benefit for people to do it.
MR. SAMSON: What would happen before is, when a driver abstract was requested, that was inputted on your record. When it was printed off, it would show an abstract was requested.
MR. LEBLANC: It still is.
MR. SAMSON: So when staff were looking at it, if they came and looked at the record, and they said wait a minute, there have been four requests for abstracts in the last six months, this looks a little bit odd, maybe we should check into this, who is making all of these requests, there were safeguards there. What you are telling me is that you can't indicate that
any staff is even watching this, these insurance agencies - and we know it is a competitive business. There are different people involved, many companies involved from all over the place.
From what you are telling me, there is no one watching the agents, who are accessing the system, to see whether they do have consent to access certain records, or whether the system is being followed properly. That is my point, and I haven't got any reassurance other than the minister saying, I don't think it will happen. That is not very comforting to me, that sort of reassurance. Hopefully the system is safe in that sense. I am talking about the agents who are registered to use the system. Who is watching those agents?
MR. LEBLANC: Two things. First of all, the same thing was occurring under the previous administration because it was electronic. Your statement that it was being done in written form with the authorization attached to it, that may have been done during your time, but it wasn't being done in the past. We were receiving electronic batch modes coming into the system looking for this information. So the security aspects you are referring to would be, if there was a problem, the same problem that is existing today. First of all, the hits, or the times that a profile is being requested is still shown on the record of the person. No matter what happens, whether it was before today, if the profiles are being requested, that is shown on the record of each driver. I want to say that what we were getting before was not a written batch from the insurance companies. What we were getting was an electronic batch, which is basically the same thing as we are doing now, but what we are doing now is that the information basically is instantaneous rather than having to wait overnight.
MR. SAMSON: I will check on that. Am I to understand everybody's records are on-line?
MR. LEBLANC: There is only certain information that is accessible. Is that what you are referring to, as to whether the whole file is accessible, or their driving record?
MR. SAMSON: Is your record on file?
MR. LEBLANC: The infractions part is what they are looking for, and that is what they would get. They wouldn't get all the information available on the record.
MR. SAMSON: What else do you think there is?
MR. LEBLANC: Well, there is more information on your driver's record than just your driving profile.
MR. SAMSON: Your address, your plate number, driver registration, what else? I guess I should ask what has been added to it other than basic infractions, registration, renewal of license, and other such information. What is excluded?
MR. LEBLANC: The deputy is telling me there is a certain amount of information that has nothing to do with the driver's profile that is not available, but I will get that information. You are asking two things, one is about the safeguards, and as I said the staff who do that are not here. I will get that information. She is telling me that a certain part of the record is not available to the insurance companies when they ask for profile.
MR. SAMSON: I am going to make a recommendation to the minister. I am not trying to be sarcastic, it is has just become very frustrating. This is two years in a row now. You have a department that probably has more programs than any other government department; and administering it, they are very complex. I don't expect you to have all the answers, I don't expect the deputy to have all answers, I don't expect your financial person to have all the answers, but out of every department I have seen in the three budgets that I have gone through now, you have come in here two years in a row with the least amount of staff of any minister. You have one of the most complicated departments. It is frustrating. Last year was the same thing, there were many questions you couldn't answer, I didn't expect you to be able to answer, but you didn't have the staff here to assist you.
I would recommend to the minister, next year, or if this continues past today, please bring some of your competent staff from these different divisions to answer these specific questions. It is very frustrating. It has been two years in a row now where it is the same thing - I will have to get back to you, I have to get back to you. This is not a knock on the minister, I don't expect you to know all these things because there are many programs, but it is very frustrating for us to see this department, with so many programs, have two or three staff people with the minister. I leave that with the minister.
You said it cost $7.00 per book to print the driver's handbook?
MR. LEBLANC: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: Is it going to be bilingual?
MR. LEBLANC: We will check. You asked me that question the other day, I made a note but I didn't have a chance to pass it on.
MR. SAMSON: Again, I don't mean to be sarcastic, but those are the little things where, if you had someone from that division, I am sure they would be able to answer it easily. Will that driver's handbook but put on-line?
MR. LEBLANC: That is not a bad idea. I must see why we wouldn't do that. I will tell the member, for ourselves, there is not a cost advantage to the province to doing it that way. That perhaps would be a better service to the public. It is an excellent suggestion and one that I think we should incorporate.
MR. SAMSON: I am pleased to hear that. I am happy that the minister is . . .
MR. LEBLANC: I am very agreeable when I want to be, and that is most of the time.
MR. SAMSON: I won't even go there. The driver's handbook, you are putting a charge on that. What about the air brake manual?
MR. LEBLANC: I am sorry.
MR. SAMSON: The air brake manual, which I would surmise is probably more expensive to print than your driver's handbook; not as much demand, naturally.
MR. LEBLANC: I'll find the answer, I don't know it.
MR. SAMSON: What about the school bus handbook and the Class 1, 2 and 3 handbooks?
MR. LEBLANC: Are you asking whether or not we would put that on-line?
MR. SAMSON: No. Will there be a fee on any of these manuals? I guess the odd thing is you are charging for one book, my question is are you going to charge for all the other books? The same problem exists with those books as existed with your driver's manual. You have done something about the driver's manual, what about these other publications?
MR. LEBLANC: I am not anticipating any changes in those other manuals, but the member brings up the point that maybe we should be charging for them, so we will take a look at that. There is no plan for change in the policy on those other manuals. They are not used, obviously, to the degree that the driver's manual is, that is the major publication that comes out of the department.
MR. SAMSON: Putting a fee on the driver's manual is not a new concept, I know it has been put around for quite some time. There is quite a bit of abuse to it, I fully agree, and I certainly hope it will be put on-line, which environmentally, will be an even more appropriate thing.
One of the most frustrating things that I saw was when these driver-testing schools, especially for the heavy equipment, came in and walked out with a box full of manuals, and they charged a fortune to these people who are taking these courses, and they don't pay a cent for any of these books. One could argue, well that is just going to be passed on to the consumers anyway. Still, the idea that a 16 year old has to pay for a driver's handbook, but the company that is making huge profits off these walks in and grabs a boxful of these books and doesn't pay a cent. I think if you are going to charge for this handbook, for the 16 year old or the senior who is getting re-tested, you can't be letting these big companies get away
with coming in and ordering and picking up two and three boxes of books at a time and not paying a cent for it. I would certainly ask the minister to look into that and make sure that if that is the case right now, they look into that.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I think both those recommendations are valid. I will take a look to see the level of usage on those. In any case as to whether or not a fee is a fee, if we are going to recover for these books, then we should look at what our cost is in doing it. I think your first recommendation regarding putting it on-line, is an excellent one. If people want to save themselves the money, especially some of our younger Nova Scotians, if they didn't have to pay for it and could get it on-line, they would probably take it. I think those are good suggestions. We will take them both under advisement.
MR. SAMSON: Again, I don't mean to be too sarcastic on this. I am glad you will take it as a recommendation, I am just not quite sure where you will find the money to hire anyone to put it on-line. One would hope that considering the importance and the benefits of that, you will be able to find a few dollars for that.
Mr. Chairman, it is 11:55 a.m., Question Period starts at 12:00 p.m. I would recommend we recess now and come back after Question Period.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I was going to recommend we do that in one minute's time, it would leave you 15 minutes in your allocation. I will give you one more minute, that leaves you with exactly 15 minutes when we come back.
MR. SAMSON: Numerous Nova Scotia municipalities have been lobbying - I believe it started in the South Shore, if I am not mistaken, Lunenburg or one of those counties in that area, I saw the letter, it came to my council in Richmond County - for a return to the two-plate system; the licence plates, one in the front and one in the back. They have indicated concerns that it is causing serious problems for law enforcement agencies, not being able to see that front plate. One example they gave, which I thought was kind of interesting, is where people are passing school buses when they are stopped, especially coming in a forward direction. The bus driver, if he doesn't see that front plate, there is very little chance of his picking up the back plate. I don't know if that was a particular problem in that area, I hope it wasn't, but that is one of the examples they gave. I know it might be a Justice issue, but it is your department that issues these licence plates. Has there been any discussion in your department to address this, or to look at returning to a two-plate system?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can I ask the minister to refrain from answering. It is now 11:56 a.m. and we will be recessing.
[11:57 a.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[1:10 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will now reconvene the Subcommittee on Supply. At the time of recess, the honourable member for Richmond had the floor, he has 15 minutes left in his allotment. So far we have one hour and 35 minutes in here today. The last question, I believe Mr. Samson asked, was about the double licence plates.
HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, the member for Richmond brought up a good concern. There have been some municipalities that have written. Apparently this was initiated from a gentleman whose wife had witnessed an accident, whereby she received some damage to her car. It was from the front, she couldn't see the licence plate, and made some complaints. I believe it was in the Valley, to tell you the truth, where the incident occurred. However, subsequent to that - I believe this is how it went - they made enquiries to the province as to whether we would reinstate the two-licence-plate policy and approached municipalities. Some municipalities have written to the province, made some enquiries to the Minister of Justice as to whether or not there is some consideration in doing so from an enforcement issue.
This is one that isn't coming from a Justice issue. As such, if we were to implement this, this is something that would have considerable cost. First of all, everyone has their licence plate staggered, you would either have to force everyone to re-register their car or phase it over time. No matter how you look at it, it is a considerable cost. At this time, it is one the government is not planning to proceed with.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: So that is a no. Back to user fees. We made it up to driver abstracts on your list. What else do you have?
MR. LEBLANC: I thought we did them all, but perhaps we didn't. We had insurance agent fees which are being increased from $25 a year to $100 a year, that is in line with the national average of $91 a year. That is going to raise $200,000 in this fiscal year.
MR. SAMSON: Could you just repeat that, how much was it before?
MR. LEBLANC: It was $25 a year to $100 a year. There is considerable administration with this, the department is required to not only register people but whenever there is any complaint brought forward to the department, to give you an example, you will have a life insurance person selling a policy to a new one, they are not supposed to openly solicit people while selling life insurance to replace other people's policies, they are supposed to ensure that they use professionalism in their approach. Sometimes there are complaints coming from life insurance agents that other agents have replaced their policies without due regard to the client's interest or the investment that they have already put into it. Our department would have to investigate that. Some of them have been shown to be valid, others have been reviewed and dismissed, but there is some supervision that happens in this. We are the agency that does that.
I will mention to the member, there were a couple of questions asked regarding institutions and fees, which is also in here, that I mentioned to the member for Sackville-Cobequid I would be getting for him. So that is another aspect, the member can recall that conversation I had with the previous questioner.
The subsequent one, recovering costs, is in fuel dye. This is where we are paying for dye to market tax exempt. As such, we will stop paying that. It will have a cost savings in this year of $75,000.
MR. SAMSON: I want to go back to motor vehicle compliance. You said you had 11 employees, you are cutting 5 and you will have 6 remaining.
MR. LEBLANC: Those are inspectors, there is still some clerical, support staff to that, but those are the inspectors.
MR. SAMSON: So you have six inspectors to cover the entire province.
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct.
MR. SAMSON: Where are they located?
MR. LEBLANC: They are spread out throughout the province.
MR. SAMSON: Do you have any in Cape Breton?
MR. LEBLANC: I would think so, I don't have the list in front of me. I am sure that we do.
MR. SAMSON: Let me guess, you have a staff person who could probably give us that information right off the top.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I will have to bring the honourable member onto staff because I am sure that next year we can make sure we have all the answers. I don't think he is going to resign his seat, so we will probably have to make sure that we bring the staff.
MR. SAMSON: So you have no idea where these inspectors are?
MR. LEBLANC: They are throughout the province. Obviously there are some in Cape Breton.
MR. SAMSON: Let's say there is one in Cape Breton. How is that one inspector going to do this roadside inspection and auditing function that you are saying is going to be much more efficient than the 11? Having spoken to a couple of them, they were tapped out as it was and admitted openly that they were not capable of doing their job because it was too much for them to do by themselves. Now you are telling me you have cut the workforce in half, and it is going to be more efficient and accomplish more. How can one inspector do a roadside inspection?
MR. LEBLANC: Obviously they will not be doing them by themselves. You can't do that because of safety factors. What we are going to be doing, when we do sites, we will be pooling our resources within the department and doing them in different areas at different times. I will say to the honourable member that if you reduce the level from 11 to 6, obviously there would be less monitoring going on. We also have to recognize that we are trying to live within our means in our department and to provide a service. The focus has been, in the past, more in compliance with visiting motor vehicle inspection stations and ensuring the paperwork has been done properly.
Per our review, and in talking to other provinces, our focus is going to be changing to less of the on-site review of the paperwork and more on road-stop assessments and random checking. We can follow that up with subsequent audits to the locations. I am not saying for a second that having 11 people and doing the same thing wouldn't probably be better, but I want to be honest, we, in the department, are also looking to see where we can save and where we can find a balance that we still feel can deliver the service.
MR. SAMSON: What is the travel allowance for this department?
MR. LEBLANC: For this department or this section?
MR. SAMSON: For those six employees, what travel allowance are they going to have? There are only six and you are going to pool them together so I hope they get a big travel budget.
MR. LEBLANC: Basically on the operation of this, there is not only the savings in the salaries, there will also be the savings in the operations too.
MR. SAMSON: My question is still what travel budget do they have?
MR. LEBLANC: They form a bigger part of the department than specifically just that one section, so their travel is also pooled in with other sectors of the compliancy unit. To say what exactly . . .
MR. SAMSON: Who else travels in compliance? Your secretarial and clerical staff aren't going to travel.
MR. LEBLANC: That section is also part of the compliance division, which also takes in our weighers and people who do the scales and so forth, so that travel is done for the department, that section, as a whole rather than each individual component of it.
MR. SAMSON: So you can't provide me with a number as to what sort of travel budget or allowance?
MR. LEBLANC: We can calculate it, but it was done for the division rather that for individual components.
MR. SAMSON: You do realize where I am going with this in that if you are going to be pooling these six employees throughout this province, if you want three inspectors to do a road inspection in Sydney, obviously two of them are going to have to travel quite a distance, assuming there is one in Cape Breton?
MR. LEBLANC: Last year we had between the weighers and the compliance - the whole division - went from $290,800 to $209,400, so there are savings in that regard, which probably would involve a multitude of different components of travel costs.
MR. SAMSON: So you have cut travel by $81,000?
MR. LEBLANC: Correct.
MR. SAMSON: You indicated the other day you are not building any access centres this year. You didn't build any last year. What do you tell the people of the Strait area - you have two of your colleagues, the members for Inverness and Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury, from that area - they have been waiting now two years, have been put on hold under your government. What do I go back and tell them as to getting an access centre like the other areas in this province have?
MR. LEBLANC: I have told them the same thing that I am saying here today. We are committed to providing that. As we bring Service Nova Scotia on-line which is part of the new reorganization to provide services within counties, within this budget, this one here, that expenditure is not within this budget. We will be moving forward into the future making sure that we go through with that commitment. You are asking me whether it is in this budget. The answer is no. They are also aware of that.
MR. SAMSON: I don't have that much time left, so I don't have time to go through every line item. What services are no longer going to be offered as a result of this budget by your department?
MR. LEBLANC: There was an HST sector, a small service was being provided that we have removed, only one person. It was the HST oversight for the monitoring, moving in, from the GST to the HST. It was a program to make sure that everything flowed through without any problems. The second one was in regard to the PST wind-up. We had considerable numbers of staff on hand when we went to the GST. We kept a lot of those auditors on to do the subsequent audits. That was scheduled to expire at the end of this year. The third is one that we talked considerably about here today which was the bookstore.
MR. SAMSON: So as far as the Registry of Motor Vehicles, all of those different departments, there are no services being cut?
MR. LEBLANC: No.
MR. SAMSON: I think the member for Sackville-Cobequid may have asked this, but are there any fees being implemented to residential tenancies here?
MR. LEBLANC: There is nothing planned for this year. There is a discussion paper coming out shortly. The member for Sackville-Cobequid asked me for an exact date, and I said before the House rises, I am pretty sure that will be out. Subsequently there would be legislation drafted with the intention of having the legislation drafted and introduced in the fall. I stated at that time there were no fees anticipated for this fiscal year.
MR. SAMSON: Since we last spoke last year when I raised this issue, has there been any effort by yourself as the Minister of Business and Consumer Services and as Minister responsible for Acadian Affairs, through your human resources sector, to move towards providing bilingual services for your front-line service providers?
MR. LEBLANC: It is a good question, I think, especially from the member for the Richmond area, very similar to myself, and I am sure the Cheticamp area and Pomquet and even Baie Sainte-Marie area. We have been basically focusing, to be perfectly candid, on bringing forward the budget this year. That has been the preoccupation of our government in the last eight months. This is the second one that has been prepared. I know the member recognizes why especially with the change of government - I started to say the overthrow - back in July. I mentioned to the member last fall that our intent is to try to expand services as much as we can throughout the province and have access into those centres. I can honestly say to the member that our focus is going to start moving more in that direction. Have there been a lot of changes from last fall to this time? I would say the answer is no, although I have been communicating with my colleagues as much as possible that we should try to make a marked effort especially in the Acadian regions if it is possible to have people who can communicate in both of Canada's official languages.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has lapsed. I now pass the floor to the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Chairman, once again, this year I will be centring around the residential tenancies. I know you have had some brief discussion with respect to the discussion papers that are out there. When we spoke in November during the budget estimates of last year, you did indicate that in fact there was the potential to bring forward some legislation in the spring. Mr. Minister, I do think that is still the intent of your department to do that. I am just wondering where we are with respect to the residential tenancies legislation, and if there have been reports coming in to your department from the stakeholders interested in making sure this legislation comes forward rather quickly?
MR. LEBLANC: The member is accurate when he says that our intention was perhaps to move faster on this. Perhaps to be candid it is the budget that has been occupying most of our time. I will make no excuses for that. It has obviously been a big factor. We have been getting submissions, and people especially have been asking where the process is. I can tell the member that in a very short period of time - and that is soon, I mean within a few weeks - the discussion paper will be out. It is good to have a debate, because first of all it gives people an understanding of what is being proposed, so before we bring in the legislation in the fall, and I think that it is a better way of doing it - you bring the legislation in sometimes without a discussion paper, and you get a lot of good suggestions after. I would rather do it right the first time and go this route.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, you are right. I do believe it is important to have these discussions. It is consistent with your Tory blue book of open, transparent government and consultation. There is no question about that. My concern is, will you be holding public meetings or will you, when you put out the discussion paper, be asking for submissions from the stakeholders?
MR. LEBLANC: At this point I believe there have been quite a lot of public hearings on this before, but let me just find out again. I know a lot of work has been done on this, I am just trying to make sure that I can maybe chronolize it, give you details of it. I think for ourselves, the position paper that would go out - let me just get it here - would bring things to a point whereby we can pretty well go with the legislation. As to whether or not we are going to have subsequent public hearings, I guess it will depend to a great extent on what kind of input we are getting. I am not saying no, at the same time, I am wondering how much more we can have. There has been quite a bit of work done on this. At the same time, the member brings up a good point. If we get a lot of suggestions, perhaps it would be wise to do that. Right now I haven't really weighed all the different aspects of it, but I am not ruling it out either.
MR. PYE: When you look at the number of tenants that are in the Province of Nova Scotia, and I know the statistical information that your department has on this. In November 1998, I believe it was when we had the Residential Tenancies Act - and I have those books here before me - I do know that submissions were supposed to have a deadline date of November 1998. It gave your department sufficient time to review some of the suggestions and provide the stakeholders with respect to the Residential Tenancies Act. I am wondering, Mr. Chairman, through you to the minister, if in fact there is data or information that I as a critic can have or if there is data or information with respect to the compilation of the material that you already have going to those stakeholders?
MR. LEBLANC: I do know that everyone who submitted information, our intention is to make sure they are copied with the position paper. I think they took the time to meet the request and as such we are making sure they get the information. You are asking whether or not a summary of the submissions will be made? Is that what you are referring to?
MR. PYE: When the department had asked for submissions, there was a tremendous number of submissions made. I do know that there was a list of people who participated, who were stakeholders, with respect to this review process. Obviously you received information with respect to the amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act. You received that from those stakeholders out there. What I am asking is, has any of that information gone back to the stakeholders with respect to what your department has compiled?
MR. LEBLANC: My understanding is that the information that has come in has been taken by the staff along with the stakeholders group we have been working with to bring forward a position paper. I realize that before I say that, we will have some differing views in the input we received. Everyone sometimes is looking at it from a different angle, whether they be tenants or whether they be landlords. I think what we are taking out of that is a position that will bring about the proper balance between the two opposite ends because there are two opposite ends, the tenants and the landlords. By putting the position paper out, we will also give people the chance to understand where we are planning to go in a direction before we draft that legislation. I think the position paper in itself will basically allow people to know where we are planning on going and offer their comments. I think this process has been very public. It could have happened a little quicker. I don't disagree with that, and it probably should have. But we are where we are and I am trying to move it forward.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I have notes from a speech by Senator Donald Oliver, Q.C. to the Investment Property Owners' Association of Nova Scotia, it said the senator's view of investment property issues. I want to go to Page 3 of that report, and I don't know if you have it or not.
MR. LEBLANC: No, I don't.
MR. PYE: I want to know if in fact you and your department are in support of comments that were made by him or have been made by him in that speech. He says that it is clear to me that the landlord-tenant act has to be amended. We do agree. Why? Because the tenants in this province have been given too many rights, not only in Nova Scotia, but in most other provinces as well. The fact of the matter is, the domain of landlord-tenant relations in Canada has become more left-wing than most socialist countries in Europe. I am wondering if that is a comment that you espouse or believe in? Is it a comment you weigh any particular value to or your department weighs any particular value to?
MR. LEBLANC: Two things. First of all, it is a democracy and Senator Oliver can say whatever he wants, obviously within the boundaries of the law. So he is entitled to his views. I think when you look at it, the views of this government will be put in the position paper. If I start commenting on different views espoused by others, then basically I think in this situation I am prejudging what the position paper will be. When the position paper comes out, it will show the proper balance between both tenants and landlords. Whether you agree or not, I am not going to start speculating or commenting on Mr. Oliver's comments. He is entitled to his own comments, and he doesn't speak on behalf of the province. I don't think he purported to do so.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just before you ask your next question, I just wish to advise committee members it is 1:35 p.m. We have at least another two hours to get our four hour quota in. Mr. Pye you have 50 minutes remaining in your time. The Liberal caucus will have an hour. That may leave us 10 minutes for the minister to do closing comments if we do just this department today. I just wish to advise you of the time lines.
MR. PYE: I had not intended to use up a great deal of time. I came here simply because I want to talk about residential tenancies because I represent an area which has a high residential development that is densely residential, with multi-unit apartment complexes. I want to go on to a further track with the minister with respect to the Investment Property Owners' Association. I do know that they sent this off to the minister, and it says the honourable Minister of Business and Consumer Affairs, Neil LeBlanc. They sent this off to you on February 23, 2000. I want to just make a statement in their summary. On Page 6 they say, however we believe the time for change especially with rent arrears is well overdue, and note that your department has agreed with our recommendations.
I am wondering if your department has made any agreement with respect to the Residential Tenancies Act - and arrears is a component of that Tenancies Act - and if in fact, you have had that conversation with them and have agreed with their recommended changes, before there has been a public consultation process or an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act or a Law Amendments Committee hearing?
MR. LEBLANC: We have had meetings with the Investment Property Owners' Association of Nova Scotia. They requested a meeting with me, and I have met with them. I meet with as many groups as I can accommodate within my schedule. Obviously we are saying from the start that there is a diversity of different opinions, both from the property owners, from the landlords and the tenants. When the position paper comes out, I think people will see the proper balance in there. Probably no matter what we do we will have people on one side or the other that will not agree with the position that we will take. That is why we are putting out a position paper, to garner public opinion, and also to have people have an appreciation of what we are putting forward. I will state upfront that if as much as possible, if people want to meet with me, I try to keep an open mind, and I don't try to preclude myself from meeting with groups who have different agendas. At least I think I owe them the latitude of doing that, and the same thing, if there are tenant groups that want to meet with me, I would try to make myself available.
We are going to do the right things for the right reasons in regard to this Act. When we make it public, everyone will still have their chance to have their say. I can honestly say when I have meetings, it is not to allow myself to be duly influenced by anyone making suggestions, but at the same time, I am willing to listen.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, that is true, and I don't want to imply it was you. It was stated that the department has agreed with their recommended changes. I believe that in fact the openness and the process you and your government espouse to carry on is very important, because after all, you should meet with all those interested stakeholders, particularly in the field of property owners and tenants with respect to the Residential Tenancies Act. But what I am saying here is that what has happened, in my opinion, is that the Investment Property Owners' Association gives me the impression in their summary, and I may be wrong, that they have had this very good consultation with your department and that this consultation with their department with respect to their recommended changes in the Residential Tenancies Act, is favourable, because, it says that the department has agreed with our recommended changes.
I am wondering, Mr. Minister, have you or your department actually recommended changes to them, and what recommended changes have you agreed to with the Investment Property Owners' Association of Nova Scotia, without hearing the other side?
MR. LEBLANC: I am not aware that we have agreed to anything with the organization. I don't have a copy of the letter in front of me - people are always writing to request meetings. If the member could give me a copy of it, I could probably find it in my own files. I am saying, up front, that when we are meeting with groups, I am very cognizant of the fact that we have more than one side to every issue. It is my job, as minister, to make sure we find a balance between tenants and landlords, and I think, perhaps, when we revamp the legislation that they both have valid concerns that should be addressed. I don't belittle that. My job is to make sure that I am impartial in how I deal with it, and the staff comes forward
with a position paper that reflects those discussions that took place, both within the policy paper that went out and the stakeholders groups that we discuss these things with.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I appreciate that comment. I just want to go back to their summary, and they do say that we also recognize the political sensitivity of change, especially legislative change. It is such a sensitive issue, therefore I don't want to belabour this, but it still gives me the impression that a particular group has the ear of the Department of Business and Consumer Services, whereby other particular groups may not have that ear when they make statements in their summary to the fact that the department has agreed with their recommendations.
That is significantly important, Mr. Minister, because we know that the legislation hasn't come forward with respect to changes in the Residential Tenancies Act. We have a host of recommendations within that report that they have sent you. All I would like to know is if your department has agreed to the recommended changes? What recommended changes has your department agreed to, with them?
MR. LEBLANC: Two things, first of all, we haven't told any stakeholders groups that we agreed with anything. The position paper will come out. I am being candid when I say that. I meet with groups and I think it is important to do that. I remember the meeting, I was very careful to ensure that I listened to what they had to say and not offer comments. Whatever interpretation they have of that - I don't have the letter in front of me so it is difficult for me to say; I can find it in my files I am sure, you mentioned the date, some time in February, it wouldn't take long to find it. I want to go back, when I meet with groups, I have to have an open mind but I have to ensure that I don't prejudice any position of impartiality that I have, especially in regard to this legislation. I will make a comment that when they talk about this being sensitive legislation, it is sensitive. There are probably over 100,000 units . . .
MR. PYE: There are 98,500.
MR. LEBLANC: . . . of people who are governed under the Residential Tenancies Act. This literally affects hundreds of thousands of people in this province. When you say that it is sensitive, it is sensitive. I think what we have to do is find a balance. We all agree that the Act needs to be updated, no one disagrees with that. There are components of it that are antiquated and probably have to be modernized. I have noticed one thing, obviously, there are two tugs in this one, both from the tenants' side and the landlord side. We have to make sure that we find the balance.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I am pleased to hear those kinds of comments. You are absolutely right, according to their report there are 98,500 apartment units in Nova Scotia, and a $3.5 billion asset to the province and to those individuals. When I was reading this report, one particular part of this report that struck me, with respect to arrears. I want you
to know, once again, I represent an area that has high density residential development, an area in Dartmouth North that is densely developed with multi-unit apartment complexes. You are very much aware of that. I do get a number of landlord-tenant issues. I want you to know that there are some excellent landlords and property owners out there. I also want you know there are some very unsavoury apartment owners as well, people who don't respect their communities nor the tenants who live in them.
There seems to be what is pictured as a very growing concern - and I know IPOANS had touched on this - with respect to the loss of revenue as a result of arrears in payments from tenants, and it is costing them a lot of money. They go on to say that as a result of not getting that revenue in to their operation, it prevents them from doing renovations and repairs and maintaining and keeping their physical structures up to standard. On the other hand, there are also some very real reasons why tenants, from time to time, may not be able to pay their rent on a specific date, even though there is a contractual agreement to do that.
What I am finding from a number of tenants is that at one time landlords used to be rather lenient and if you were 15 days in arrears there wouldn't be a major problem, they wouldn't do much about it, they would just take your word and hope that you would pay up. Most frequently what is happening now is that 4 or 5 days after, it is going into credit agencies. I don't want to name any one particular credit agency, although I do know that one particular credit agency seems to be getting the bulk of the delinquent rental payments that are coming through. What happens is that a tenant may be 4 days late, as a result, that goes on their credit rating. When they go to have their credit rating checked - all of a sudden there may be the need to go for a loan or something to help them off for this short period of time, until other monies come through - they can't get that loan without a co-signer, and their credit was normally good, because the landlord has already put it in.
This is one of the reasons - going back to the prepared text to you of February 23, 2000 - because they talk a lot about the arrears they have in the province. That is the reason why I wanted to come back to this and say, if your department has agreed to their recommended changes, was that one of those recommended changes, without hearing the tenants' side of this issue? To me that is significantly important when a stakeholder, particularly the property owners, have an ear to government, and other people who normally don't go to government or normally don't have the wherewithal or the access to take advantage of that, are left there in the cold and not knowing. I am wondering, through you, Mr. Chairman, to the minister, if he can respond to that particular issue.
MR. LEBLANC: I think you are bringing up a good point, especially when you are listening to the property owners, because there is not an organization of tenants. I think that that is one of the reasons, especially for myself, to keep an open mind, because there is not the balance, when people make presentations to me. I will say that I always find, as a minister, that people always wish to meet with me and make presentations, and I try as much as possible to ask questions which are pointed, but not show which direction I am going in. I
think it is important to keep yourself impartial. I have noticed, in the past that sometimes people have a tendency to say you have made your decision or you showed partiality, when you didn't. People see what they want to see.
In regard to this one aspect of it, one of the things I noticed they talked about is the collection of overdue rent. It is an issue that is a difficult one. You bring up the human side of it. There are probably examples of people who probably abuse the system, who will probably push it to the limit every month and use the appeal process through the Act to the utmost. There are other people who find themselves, through no fault of their own, under serious situations, what do they do? I think it is perhaps more so the latter you are referring to, the human side of people who aren't looking to abuse anything, who just find themselves maybe between work and basically trying to find themselves there.
You mention a very important point about the credit aspect of it that I don't believe has been discussed, which is something that I am sure will come out even subsequent to the position paper, if it isn't in there. I don't remember that component being addressed, but it is something that perhaps should be addressed. I would hope that the member brings it up; we are noting it here, but it is something that perhaps should be considered. I haven't thought this thing through, but it is that type of debate that, hopefully, when we bring forward the bill, we will have the best bill possible. That is pretty well as much as I can say on it right now.
MR. PYE: I am pleased to hear that because you are absolutely right. I want you to know that I have experienced the other side of the coin that you are talking about, with respect to tenants who maximize it out, know the full extent of the Residential Tenancies Act, take it to its very limit knowing full well - they have even a better knowledge than I do, with respect to how far they can go with the Act, how many times they can go through an appeal process, a tenancy hearing and so on before they actually have to come up with that money and so on. Even then, they may not come up with the money but vacate the premises. The landlord is left in the cold.
I also want to make a comment, I do believe that it might be, forgive me if I am wrong, that I have read it in your blue book - I have tried to keep everything in my head that I possibly could with respect to that blue book - where you did imply that you would make it easier for landlords and property owners of rental facilities to evict tenants with criminal records and so on. I want you to know, Mr. Minister, that I have actually experienced that on two occasions since I became an MLA. I think that is a very positive step with respect to your government and your government's position. I believe that it is one of the most difficult experiences and exercises that I have witnessed. I do know, in my conversation with landlords and property owners who have come to the office, to a point whereby we have even had the police come in to help address this issue along with conversations with Mr. Greg Mitchell, with respect to residential tenancies, and the Residential Tenancies Board itself, because the situation was that far developed, it created such a problem for the landlord.
I want to say that in that particular case everyone involved was very cooperative and we were able to move it rather quickly. One we weren't able to move very quickly because, as you stated earlier, the tenant was very much aware of their rights under the Act and exercised the maximum, the other tenant did not, so we were able to move that rather quickly. Mr. Minister, this will become a part of the legislation that you are talking about when you bring that forward in the blue book?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I am not going to prejudge the position paper. I am aware of what the member is referring to, it was in our blue book. When the position paper comes up, we will have some further discussions at that time. I am not going to pre-empt what is in the position paper. I would rather wait until that comes out.
I want to say two things. I know you work very closely with your apartment owners, and I know you are a good constituency person, that you follow up on those things. No one is going to hear this, it is like I was telling you personally, or I hope not, is their transcript of this. (Laughter) Anyway, I know you are speaking out of concern for people who find themselves in difficult circumstances. People look at this as just the landlord having a problem, it is not just the landlord, it is the residents in that building, having to live alongside some of these individuals, and sometimes there is criminal activity happening within the building and that puts other people in peril. That is the reason we were addressing it in the blue book. I appreciate you stating your support on this one.
MR. PYE: I do know that last year you indicated that there was a cost to administer the Residential Tenancies Act of some $1.3 million. When I look at your Estimates Book, Page 4.2, it says Service Delivery and Operations. I see that forecasted for the year 1999-2000, there was approximately $12 million, and this year it is approximately $14.184 million, for about a $1.2 million increase. I am wondering, Mr. Minister, if you can tell me what is comprised in that increase?
MR. LEBLANC: You are looking from Forecast to Estimate, rather than Estimate to Estimate.
MR. PYE: Yes, from Forecast to Estimate. If it is estimated, then it is down approximately $200,000.
MR. LEBLANC: Quite a bit of the savings is in regard to the salaries. If you look, we had estimated 312 FTEs, and we only experienced 291. Vacancies did come up, we tried as much as possible to ensure that we would keep positions open, and we knew there was some restructuring going on. That was one of the big reasons. There is also over $1 million in operating costs, down from the estimate in this year. That was due to a plan or a rewrite of the Registry of Motor Vehicles that was not proceeded with, that was a big component of that. A lot of the other ones are a multitude of smaller items, you could say that is about
$600,000, but when you have almost 300 employees and you spread it amongst them, if you want to ensure that you cut down expenses, you are able to do it.
In our estimate this year, our salaries are pretty well par from what they were for the estimates last year. Those positions that we had kept open didn't mean they weren't required, it meant that we operated at a lower level to try to bring forward our costs. This is the one that provides a lot of different service delivery, this is front-line delivery like Access Nova Scotia, Registry of Motor Vehicles, Vital Statistics, Public Inquiries. When somebody calls or somebody goes to visit, those are the people who deliver the vast majority of the services that we provide here.
MR. PYE: That is a reduction in the delivery of services, as a result of not having to pay the full salary component of those individuals.
MR. LEBLANC: Salaries were down only about $350,000 last year. Those positions are still in place, and we are filling them this year. We planned for them last year, and during the year there were some vacancies. Sometimes it takes a while to fill them. If you have some turnover here, you are going to have savings, by the time somebody leaves to the time you fill it, it might be two or three months. There are some other positions we kept open to make sure that when we did the reorganization, we can have a lesser impact on the employees, and if there are some that are eliminated, those same people, hopefully, could fill these spots. We are trying to do as much as we can to have less impact on our employees who are displaced.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I know that we can deal with this through the discussion papers and possibly when the Residential Tenancies Act comes before the Law Amendments Committee, but I want to deal with this issue now so I don't lose sight of it and lose track of it.
I am wondering if the department has received any complaints with respect to this issue as well. A number of tenants, at one time were able to get tenure, and I believe tenure implied that if a tenant lived in a particular unit for 10 years or more, that they had tenure; that there had to be good reason for having them vacate the premises and so on. What I am hearing now, and I don't know if there have been many complaints to your department and I certainly would like to know that, is that many people are getting notices to vacate now before their tenure is up. The landlord uses the excuse that they are going to do renovations or repairs to the building and so on, so when they vacate the premises, they vacate it on the basis or the hope they will be coming back after renovation happens; it doesn't happen. I am wondering if there have been any complaints to your department with respect to what is considered the abuse of tenure?
MR. LEBLANC: Staff tells me that the level of complaints we are getting, directly to the department, is not considerable, but it was a point of considerable debate from the stakeholders group that worked in putting together the first discussion paper. It is something that has been discussed at length when we were doing the position paper. The security of tenure is five years, and we have not noticed a pattern in abuse of tenure, basically from our perspective. I am not saying that doesn't happen, we may not be aware of it and so the member brings up a point.
MR. PYE: I am wondering what kind of statistical information your department keeps with respect to residential tenancies. Do you keep statistical information on the number of evictions, the number of arrears, the number of complaints that come before the board? Is it possible, as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, to acquire that kind of statistical information?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I can't see any reason why we couldn't provide that information. That seems to be more statistics, it wouldn't be private information, personal. Do you want certain periods of time? Especially if it is already compiled, if we have to go through a lot of effort to do it, I think that information is readily available, it shouldn't be a problem in doing it. Are you looking for the last few years here or something like that?
MR. PYE: Well, I think in fairness to the department, that the department probably does an annual report and has statistical information with respect to what kind of complaints the Residential Tenancies Board hears and the number of complaints and the different types of complaints that might come through the department but is never heard by a Residential Tenancies Board. I am sure, knowing government, those kinds of records must be available and so if those kinds of records are available, I would certainly hope that it would be important that, if they are available to me, I would like to have them to be able to digest and to see what is happening out there.
MR. LEBLANC: I have no problem with that. It is a more than reasonable request and I will make sure staff sends you the reports that we have.
MR. PYE: I tapped on this earlier and I should have continued. Last November when we were going through budget estimates, you had indicated that the cost of the Residential Tenancies Act program was a cost of some $1.3 million, and I believe you have the equivalent of about 29 employees in that department. I am wondering if there have been any changes in that department with respect to the number of employees and the cost of operating that department?
MR. LEBLANC: The staff informs me that there is no impact on FTEs in this budget though we have done some streamlining of administrative expenses to the tune of $80,000 out of that budget. The staff we have is still intact, but we have asked them to cut back on administrative expenses.
MR. PYE: There is no intent in the future to reduce the number of staff in that department?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I am discussing this year's estimates. I can't tell the member what we will do in the future, that will be determined both by the position paper and the legislation that comes forward. I can't make the commitment to the member that things won't change in the future because that is what the whole process is for, but I can tell the member that for this year, things are the status quo.
MR. PYE: I am sure that I should know this, but for clarity, how many different residential tenancies' offices do we have throughout Nova Scotia? Do we have regional residential tenancies' offices and, if we do, how many offices do we have and how many people are employed in each office?
MR. LEBLANC: Someone is going to get the list, rather than give a number and be wrong, I would rather be right, but they are spread out all throughout Nova Scotia. So if the member for Dartmouth North can just give us a few minutes, the staff will get that information for him.
MR. PYE: Yes, that is fine, but basically the purpose is the same, it is to handle complaints and concerns within those particular regions and I would imagine it is divided up into regions.
I don't know if property owners of mobile homes - and I think we discussed this back in November as well - are a part of the Investment Property Owners' Association's group or not, and if they are, does the Residential Tenancies Board handle complaints that are dealt with by mobile home operators and landlords, do you address complaints?
MR. LEBLANC: First of all, I can't say whether they are members of the Investment Property Owners' Association. They have their own membership list, we don't ask them to produce their membership list, but I am sure it wouldn't take that long to find that out.
The other thing that you asked about was whether or not it is covered under the Residential Tenancies Act. Yes, it is.
MR. PYE: Again, have you received many complaints, within the last year, with respect to mobile home operators?
MR. LEBLANC: The deputy is telling me that we haven't received that many. I want to say though, when you are saying that, it doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't complaints. It may be the ones that you have actually heard are documented, so I think from the member's experience and also the members who live around Sackville, let alone your colleague, the other ones, this seems to be an issue for some of the ones that are in the parks,
because apparently a few people own most of the parks and of course, if you have a problem with one, you pretty well have a problem with all of them.
MR. PYE: I do know that a number of concerns have come up with respect to that, and I didn't know if this was a jurisdiction of the Residential Tenancies Board or the Act to hear complaints because of the different nature of this. Actually, they rent property rather than units and they station their mobile homes on properties that are held by landlords and so on.
If I can go back. The minister indicated that it will be some time this year when the Act is going to come forward and there will be a discussion paper out there. How is that discussion paper going to be delivered? Is it going to be by way of a public announcement; is it going to be delivered to the stakeholders, those people who have already given their submissions to the department; or, is there going to be public notification? How is that process going to take place?
MR. LEBLANC: It will be a public announcement. I think it is important that we do that. I also want to say to the honourable member that we will be sending copies to people who have made submissions and so on and have shown an interest in it. That is the usual process we would follow, and if people who have taken the time, at least, to make a submission to it, they should at least receive a copy of the position paper, so that first of all, they can look at it and judge it and offer comments as to whether or not they are in agreement or whether they are not. Also, as I said before, no matter what we put out, there will be those who disagree and I fully know that even before we start the process.
MR. PYE: So you are looking to release the discussion paper this spring.
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct.
MR. PYE: I guess you will allow some time for that discussion paper to be digested. I guess I can have clarity on this because some tenants have asked me when the changes are going to come forward. I tell them that I do not know when those changes are going to come forward. The recommended amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act will come forward in the fall of this year?
MR. LEBLANC: That is the intention of the department as it now stands. I can give you some information. There are eight locations across the province. There are 19 individuals who do the hearings, counselling, mediation and there is 10 support staff, so there are 29 people involved in that. The support staff would be setting up appointments and lining everything up.
MR. PYE: Regarding the appointments to the Residential Tenancies Board. For a long time people have come to me, maybe this is correct, I don't know, I have sat before the Residential Tenancies Board on behalf of some residents, but I have never asked if there was
a tenant who actually served on the Residential Tenancies Board or not. I am wondering if the minister can give me a breakdown of what is comprised of the Residential Tenancies Board when there is a hearing in process? Who is there? How are those people appointed to the Residential Tenancies Board? Is there some kind of qualification screening that takes place to have them serve on the board?
MR. LEBLANC: To a great extent, most of the people who are sitting on the boards today have not been screened before. The previous administration basically made appointments and it went through the ABC committee - the member knows very well what I am referring to - and either passed or didn't pass during the minority government scenario. Perhaps a lot more didn't pass or the submissions they made were probably screened a bit more by the previous government than they were. We have now put in place criteria where people will be judged, so when people make application to sit on the board, the screening committee - the screening committee are people outside of the department, there are four different individuals - are given a criteria list as to what qualifications people should have to serve on the board, and they do screening.
Out of the people that have made applications there are considerable numbers that don't get accepted. I will be candid when I say that because I know, I have seen the list come forward. From that, you have people who are qualified to serve, then the department and myself make recommendations to Cabinet and they go forward to the committee. So, you are finding that perhaps a lot of people who are applying, in the past would have been able to be considered, some of them are not. If you are saying whether tenants versus other walks of life are being . . .
MR. PYE: No, property owners.
MR. LEBLANC: Property owners. I think a lot of the time we try to make sure we don't put people into a conflict, and we should have people who are not one side or the other. I don't know the make-up of the boards and so I can't say that I know who everyone is. I can't answer that question, but obviously, I think I have described it as best I can as to how the process works.
MR. PYE: I guess you did, Mr. Minister, but you did say there was a screening committee. You said it was comprised of four individuals. Again, if the screening committee is there and it is comprised of four individuals, does the screening committee have an individual who would be receptive to a notion of having a tenant who is qualified serve on the Residential Tenancies Board? Often the complaints that I hear is that many of these people don't - when I say these people, I mean I am talking from a quote from tenants - understand their concerns with respect to that and the issues of having to be a tenant and the difficulty of addressing some issues with the property owner or the landlord in that particular case. Often, the Residential Tenancies Board doesn't get a sense or a feel for how serious this issue
is because they are there to administer the Act and the Act is quite finite in what it says. Therefore, there is no room for flexibility or movement on an issue.
I just want to give you one example if I can. An issue most recently came to me where a tenant lived in a residential unit for approximately five years and the tenant was to vacate the premise, the tenant vacated the premise and the tenant made application for their damage deposit to be returned. The Residential Tenancies Board found in favour of the tenant and asked that the tenant's damage deposit be paid back and the interest rate added.
After that occurred, the landlord had the right to appeal - and that is the appeal process - and said that this individual caused environmental problems and there was environmental damage to his property as a result of what was associated with it, and a number of different things which I don't need to elaborate here. What had happened was, another ruling comes back - and this is within a week - now the individual does not get the damage deposit back plus the interest, and there will be no damage deposit, and for some apparent reason, it was crafted out in such a way that the landlord now keeps the tenant's damage deposit because of the damage to the property.
So there is a sensitive issue as to why there needs to be some compromising or some structure of the board that allows for a tenant representative to understand some of the sensitivities that go on here. Maybe I am wrong, but that is one of the examples I want to use, whereby, it may have been that if there were a tenant representative on the board, the tenant representative on the board could relate to that and relate that issue to the other representatives on the board, even though there is compliance with the Act.
MR. LEBLANC: First of all, I want to say to the member that the only time that the Residential Tenancies Board hears it is when they usually hear the appeals, and usually they are by themselves. What happens is that it is not a matter of having a bias towards a tenant or having a bias towards a landlord, I think the problem is you have to interpret the facts. I am not arguing anything that you are saying, but no matter what happens it is like being a judge in a sense. You shouldn't let your emotions come into it. You should base the facts on what it is. I get letters from people who are not happy with Residential Tenancies Board decisions, believe me, and they are not usually one page long. It takes me sometimes half an hour to read them, because sometimes I can't make them out. People disagree, and they disagree, and they disagree. People are very strong on both sides.
The Act is there to provide a remedy to a dispute. It doesn't mean people will always agree with the decision; however, it is there. It works very well most of the time, people even agree with it, then at other times, no matter what we did, there could be overwhelming evidence and people will never agree with the decision. So it is there.
I want to go back to how . . .
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I just want to comment if you don't mind my interjecting.
MR. LEBLANC: Yes. It is okay.
MR. PYE: I am very much aware as I have served on committees and so on and so forth, so I understand that you can't please everyone. I want that to be understood, but this was a situation that I was directly familiar with as a former municipal councillor as well.
MR. LEBLANC: So you disagreed with the evidence.
MR PYE: I definitely recognized that there was, in my opinion - and I want to stress, in my opinion - a difference and a change and a shift with respect to this final resolution to that appeal.
MR. LEBLANC: So you feel in that case that justice was done from what you are telling me.
MR. PYE: No. I feel that it was not done is what I am trying to say to you. But that is neither here nor there.
MR. LEBLANC: I was going to say that there are three people who do hear the ABCs and they are Paul LeBlanc who is a retired Superintendent of Credit Unions and Insurance, a lady called Marlene Moore who has experience as the former general manager of the Better Business Bureau and Finance Services, and Rakesh Jain who is a chartered accountant. These are three people from without the department, and they do the screening. The people either pass the screening or they don't.
MR. PYE: When they do the screening, they do the screening for appointments to the Residential Tenancies Board?
MR. LEBLANC: They would do screening for all boards that our departments are responsible for.
MR. PYE: Okay, all boards in your department. That is good to hear, Mr. Minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could I just ask for the clarification perhaps of your colleague can advise. You have three minutes left of your time, and the Liberals have apparently concluded their questioning for this department. Does the NDP wish additional time after that, or would this conclude with these resolutions?
MR. JOHN HOLM: I will probably be a couple minutes anyway.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you.
AN HON. MEMBER: I have heard that before.
MR. LEBLANC: I have my staff here, Mr. Chairman. It is okay. I have Finance here.
MR. PYE: Well, that is good to hear, Mr. Minister. We do have a screening committee in place, and the people who are now selected, we can say with some confidence that those individuals who are now selected to the Residential Tenancies Board are well-qualified individuals who know the Act and who are prepared to administer the Act in its fairness and its equity. When I go back to residents, I can assure them from this day on that there is a process, and that nobody gets there by way of a political affiliation or familial relationship and/or association.
MR. LEBLANC: I want to say first of all, that the process is to make sure that people who will serve on the boards are competent. This is what this qualifying procedure is for. Some people sometimes have accused people of serving on these committees who didn't have the qualifications to do these hearings and so forth. Governments could be criticized for putting people there who are hearing things which are very important to tenants or to landlords who perhaps don't have the capacity to interpret the Act properly. I think the whole process is to make sure that there is a pre-screening to make sure that people who are going to be chosen at least have the qualifications to interpret the Act.
MR. PYE: In summary then I would say to the minister that I am pleased to have had the opportunity to address the residential tenancies issues. I am pleased to see that in fact statements that were made by Senator Donald Oliver to IPOANS, which is the Investment Property Owners' Association of Nova Scotia, are his. It is a free country, he is allowed to make his speeches and that is not necessarily consistent with the department. Also, in fact, there are some erroneous statements made by the Investment Property Owners' Association in their summary on Page 6 of your report which says that your department has agreed with their recommended changes when in fact there has been no agreement with recommended changes, and none will take place until such time as dialogue has been given by releasing the discussion paper and the amendments to the Act.
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct.
MR. PYE: Thank you kindly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member's time has elapsed. As stated earlier, the Liberal caucus has no further questions for the minister in respect to this department. There is now an opportunity for the honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid to ask a few questions of the minister.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Just a few things I want to touch on. First, what is the finishing time for the committee today?
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is 3:35 p.m. today.
MR. HOLM: I don't think I will use the hour and ten minutes left today unless I get motivated. A few things I just want to touch on. First of all, it goes back to the whole idea of program review. The minister will know that certain forces, particularly in the metropolitan area, I think of one, Murray Coolican, and a few others, would have the government contracting out or outsourcing many more of the services that are currently provided by government. I don't happen to share the view of some who believe that government can't run a program efficiently. I think that governments can, if they are instructed to do so, run programs efficiently. I think the staff within government is every bit as capable as staff working in any other private sector employment. So I don't buy their arguments.
I would like to know, because program review has been concluded or largely concluded, supposedly has been concluded. The minister did not get into which programs were being modified. One way to modify a program is to outsource that program or that service delivery or whatever the heck you want to classify it as. So my question is, is the minister contemplating the outsourcing or contracting out of any of the functions currently carried on by his department? When I say outsourcing, I mean outside of government.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I offered my comments to the previous member, I think he was asking the question about what is going on in the future. I can't stand here and say that nothing will ever happen. Within this budget that we have here, basically with the reductions that are here, there is no alternate service delivery within Business and Consumer Services. It does not mean that we are not keeping options open, but I am telling you candidly in this budget here, the operations as were described last year will follow through. There have been some reductions in different components. Your colleague was talking about some other things. We have done some savings in a lot of different sectors, one which was the Residential Tenancies Board where we kept the staff we have there, but we made some reductions in some of the administration. We are asking everyone to basically live on tighter budgets, and that is an example there. I am telling you that within this year the answer is no.
MR. HOLM: I appreciate that. Nobody should say that things are going to be standing still in perpetuity. But we have a budget on the table, and we have a business plan, presumably for this year. What you are telling me then is, within the fiscal year 2000-2001, there are no plans and there will be no outsourcing or contracting out any of the functions currently carried on by your department, if I could boil it down.
Do you have any plans this year to develop strategies - I don't know if strategies is the right way of doing it, but - are you planning this year to be looking at ways for future ways to contract out or outsource? Is that part of your policy or strategic planning for this year, to look at other ways of delivering services provided by government, by a body other than a government agency or whatever?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I will tell you, we are probably going to look at as many ways or as many things we can do to save money, to see if they make sense. We have around Province House today, I don't know how many kids out here protesting, showing their concern in regard to education. They are pressures in that field and other fields. I will say one thing as a minister, if opportunities come up that make sense to me, I am going to pursue them if they make sense economically. I am telling you that right now. I am not sitting here with a master plan hidden in my pocket and I'm not telling you, but if there are options we can do them.
We just entered this year into a partnership with the federal government with regard to collecting workers' compensation types of revenues. (Interruption) That is right, but some of that is going to be collected by Revenue Canada rather than being collected by workers' compensation. So that is an opportunity that presents itself. There may be other opportunities that come up. If there are, we are going to look at them. For us, I am going to have an open mind as to whether or not there are ways to save money. If I didn't do that, I think I'd be irresponsible. I am saying candidly up here that I don't have a whole list on Page 52 that I am not telling you about.
MR. HOLM: I am not talking about that, and I have already written my first cheque to Revenue Canada to pay for the workers' compensation that I provide for my CA or provide for myself as protection. (Interruption) constituency assistant, not EA, CA.
MR. LEBLANC: No, I thought you meant chartered accountant, I was wondering what was going on.
MR. HOLM: Oh, no. We travel in different circles, no. I am on an MLA's salary. I am talking about some of the functions like providing information to consumers who may be calling in for advice that you are not going to be farming off to a call centre where somebody will be picking up the phone at $6.50 an hour and answering a question on a consumer
services matter. Maybe the next phone call dealing with a residential tenancy issue, then the next phone call may be dealing with an assessment issue, and on and on. Of course, the owner of that call centre, some of whom are friends of government, and I am not sure that you would ever want to do that, but the employee gets a low wage, we lose a good salary for an employee in the province. Now, of course, the company that has taken it on is doing quite well, thank you very much. That really doesn't benefit the economy in the long run. We end up getting lower service because the person is not an expert in the fields where they are working.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I know the member wants me to say that we won't, basically whether we have plans, and I have indicated that we don't. But I will indicate to him that I will keep as many options open as I can but at the same time I am saying to him that there are no plans proceeding in this direction. I want to make sure to the member that if something comes up that makes sense, I am at least going to look at it. I don't have a hidden agenda. I think I am being as candid as I can.
MR. HOLM: I appreciate that, and I would expect that the minister would keep all options open and his ears open for ways to do things better. I am sure he will also be making sure that he would be following the five point program that the Premier signed for the NSGEU as to how anything would be done. Would the minister be prepared to make that commitment, that he would be honouring the commitment that the Premier had signed in regard to that five point program?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, the five point plan and how it is being implemented, the discussions are going on between the NSGEU and the representatives of the government. Once those are concluded I will have a better idea of how it is all going to work. The Premier is handling those discussions between the NSGEU and government. Far be it from me to be speaking on behalf of the Premier. Obviously he will make his statement when those discussions are finalized. I am not going to start speculating on what is going to come out of those.
MR. HOLM: So the Premier is having discussions himself, personally?
MR. LEBLANC: No, I said members of the government. My understanding is that there were discussions going on between both parties. The Premier has said that in the House. I know the member is aware of that.
MR. HOLM: Thank you. I know the minister would honour the intentions of those anyway.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I just want to advise members of the subcommittee that we have now concluded three hours so far today. We have one hour left. If you have an extended line of questioning, I would like to know, or perhaps the minister would have time to do conclusions of this particular resolution.
MR. HOLM: I am not finished yet . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I just want to alert the minister if we do have enough time, then perhaps he may have an opportunity to get his opening remarks in for the Department of Finance and all the following resolutions.
MR. LEBLANC: I am all ready, Mr. Chairman, no worry. And my conclusions are very short.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I just want to know if the questioning takes less than an hour from now to conclude, we will finish Resolution E2, we can carry on to another resolution. I am wanting to know if the Department of Finance officials and your open statement . . .
MR. LEBLANC: I will be here the next day anyway. It doesn't make any difference.
MR. HOLM: I want to thank you for help, Mr. Chairman. I just want you to know that we are very cooperative here. We would even allow this committee to sit extra, outside of the 40 hours and add an extra 20 minutes or half on to let the minister conclude his remarks today if he wished to do so, and not be interrupted by the four hour time limit. We always like to be cooperative, with you especially, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I appreciate your cooperation.
MR. HOLM: Actually really there are a number of other things that one could touch on, but I am just going to ask a few rudimentary bits of information that I ask all the time. You don't necessarily have to have all the information in front of you today. But information like the number of businesses and individuals who have declared bankruptcy in the past year, the number of both that have been assisted through orderly payments of debt in the past year, and see how both of those numbers compared to the past year.
MR. LEBLANC: That will be readily available. No problem, Mr. Chairman.
MR. HOLM: Yes, and how much tax revenue was lost that was owing because you collect things like the BST? Is that paid in through your department or does that come straight into Finance?
MR. LEBLANC: That is Finance. The BST you are talking about? That is actually two things. One is that we do the audits, and we wrote off large amounts of PST that had been probably audited, found out by subsequent audits, and of course, the problem by that time, some of these companies that had financial problems, we didn't collect them, they were written off. That was part of the reason why we had such high write-offs. The other thing was that the Liberals hadn't written them off in a long time because I think they didn't want to bring them forward. I think people may have to explain it, maybe they didn't want to do that. You can probably ask them. I don't know all the answers to that.
MR. HOLM: You don't think that they would have been trying to . . .
MR. LEBLANC: I shouldn't surmise.
MR. HOLM: No, not them.
MR. LEBLANC: Specifically, you are asking how much tax revenue would be . . .
MR. HOLM: As a result of these businesses and so on that have gone bankrupt, and some of them would have owed money to the government, do you know the amount of revenue that we lost as a result of those bankruptcies?
MR. LEBLANC: Do you know what time period you are talking about?
MR. HOLM: I am just saying over the last year, anything you are able to . . .
MR. LEBLANC: Okay, well the GST, we are not administering that. That is being administered federally, so for us, now that we have written off the big bulk of it last fall, there are still some audits being done as the PST is being phased out, so some of those, whether they will be collectible - hopefully they will - there should be fewer of these types of things being written off because the federal government will be handling it.
MR. HOLM: But the HST is made up of the GST plus a provincial portion.
MR. LEBLANC: That is right, but it is administered federally.
MR. HOLM: Federally, I appreciate that, but if somebody has gone broke and it doesn't matter who is administering it, if eight-fifteenths of that money is owed to us and they have gone broke, then we lose.
MR. LEBLANC: Oh, I agree. We would lose the revenues. Those revenues are collected and accounted for by the federal government and funnelled through to the province. The handling of the collection of debt and write-offs, my understanding is that is all federal, it doesn't get done provincially.
MR. HOLM: It is done federally, but would they not be giving you a statement as to what is uncollectible?
MR. LEBLANC: I don't think - I might stand corrected on that, I don't believe that we get involved in the details in any manner. They are the agency that collects, handles the delinquent accounts and goes after them and deals with them. That is part of the function that we have transferred to the federal government and basically they are a funnelling agency. They give us our revenues and probably when some of these occur, obviously that would affect how much they would give us. Hopefully, the collections are good, but I know that in my capacity in this department, in the last eight or nine months, none of that information comes to my knowledge.
MR. HOLM: Surely to God they are going to tell you how much . . .
MR. LEBLANC: I could ask the question, but to tell you the truth, the staff and that minister aren't here that I would ask. It is a good question, but my understanding is that basically we are not informed, but we may be and I may stand corrected so I will ask the question and I will get back to you.
MR. HOLM: Okay, I appreciate that. The other thing is, my colleague reminds me, of course, your department collects what are considered to be bad debts or outstanding debts and that includes people who have received money from government agencies as overpayments in community services.
First of all, do you have a cut-off limit below which you don't go after somebody to collect money? If I, for example, owe you $100, how much are you going to spend trying to collect the $100 from me?
MR. LEBLANC: I am not sure there is a lower threshold. I am trying to find out. Obviously, though we are a government, we are trying to run it as a business. If you want to look at it, you would make calls. Most of these things are phone calls; we have all had constituents who call us up and say, they have reviewed my file from 1988 and they say I owe $500 and they are calling me and sometimes they are in difficult circumstances. Oftentimes, even for us, all we have asked is that you review the case to see whether or not based on what they are receiving, is there the ability to collect it.
We know that goes on. Sometimes if they are still on social assistance, they get a little bit a month collected and that happens without a whole lot of effort. The problem comes in, especially when you get someone who was on social assistance, is no longer on social assistance and doesn't receive funding directly from the province, then you get into whether you can collect it. Those are some of the times that everyone who is handling these accounts will have to treat everyone individually as to whether they feel that the person has the ability to pay.
Everyone is pretty well handled the best that they can be and I think that we are doing a good job in that capacity. People say, well that would be something you could put out. That is one I would be concerned about if it went out of the department. I am looking at something else when I say that we have the ability to collect because of the fact that within the system, if there are small amounts that can be recouped, then we have the ability to do that. We have reciprocal agreements that allow us to collect it.
I don't know if I have answered your question or not, but I have tried my best to.
MR. HOLM: No, you didn't. Well, you did and you didn't. I think in a very roundabout way, you told . . .
MR. LEBLANC: You asked whether there was a minimum amount. I don't know the answer.
MR. HOLM: There is no low-end threshold. Okay, then the second question that I would ask you is, how much was collected in the past year?
MR. LEBLANC: Well, looking here, it says that a total of $35 million in debts have been assigned to the program since it started in October 1997 and $9 million has been collected to date.
MR. HOLM: How much?
MR. LEBLANC: It is $9 million. Now that is a low number, but you have to realize that all the debts, some of them which are higher than that, are referred here and a lot of those were written off in the fall. That number is distorted in the sense that some of them that were put there for collection really had no chance whatsoever of being collected.
MR. HOLM: Okay, well presumably, as part of your program review, those numbers would have been updated, the ones that have been written off are now gone and would you agree to provide us with the current amount that is outstanding?
The next thing, of course, is that the government in its zeal to be generous to some of the most disadvantaged in our midst, has decided that they are going to be cutting the amounts that individuals, families and the disabled are going to be eligible for under Community Services, on the average of about $100 or so a month. And, I think as the minister will probably agree, I think I am right in saying this, that so many of those who had an overpayment that are being collected monies back from, many of them are still on social assistance and quite often, honestly, those overpayments resulted from departmental errors.
Now these families have less money, about $100 less despite the increased costs. Is the government prepared to waive the collection from those individuals when it is going to be quite clear based on the meagre amounts that they are getting, that they will not have it within their budgets. All you would be doing in effect is taking more food out of the mouths of the kids.
MR. LEBLANC: I will say two things. First of all, the clients that are coming from the Department of Community Services who are referred to us are not currently receiving benefits. The ones that are receiving benefits are handled through the Department of Community Services so you will have to ask your question of the minister there.
MR. HOLM: Okay, so that, in truth, all of those ones are no longer. I thought that you collected . . .
MR. LEBLANC: No, that is what it is telling us here. Staff tell me if some people have been in our shop who were on and subsequently were off, go back on, my understanding is that they go back to Community Services because they are dealing directly with them, so maybe that is why you might have some examples of that if it has occurred. Some people go on, sometimes go off and go on again, depending on their circumstances and they are certain, you know, what is going on.
But, for that question as to whether they are going to be collecting and so forth, you are going to have to ask the question of the Minister of Community Services.
MR. HOLM: All right. I guess I could spend a little more time, but I won't. I will just close with the last statement.
Again going through the program management, you talk about all these different plans and so on that are being done. I would again ask you if you will agree to provide us with, say by some time next week, the full list of all of the programs that are under your jurisdiction as Minister of Business and Consumer Services to be modified.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, the member has asked me this before and I have tried to answer all the questions. I have stated at that time that the PAO, internal review, whatever you want to call it, half the time I cannot tell you what PAO stands for, so I would rather use the internal review process that took place, is going to be coming out within a short period of time and it will have all that information. Whether that will be by next week, I can't say, because I am not minister of policy and planning. My understanding is that it will be coming out very shortly and I know the member could say well soon, very soon. Well, exactly when is that? I think it is going to be coming out in a short period of time, whether that is by next week, I can't answer the question.
MR. HOLM: My guess is, Mr. Chairman, and I may have to apologize for this assumption, but it is my guess that the budget vote will take place on May 4th and sometime not too long after that when the House has risen, we will see those documents. Call that a touch of cynicism on my behalf, but I think sometimes cynicism is well deserved. I hope I am wrong.
MR. LEBLANC: Well, I will talk to my colleague, the minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: That concludes the questioning, sir?
MR. HOLM: I think so. I am not sure if there are Liberals who want to come back in or not.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, they have passed messages that they have concluded with this resolution. I will give time to the minister for closing comments before we call the question.
MR. LEBLANC: Well, Mr. Chairman, I am not Ernie Fage and I am not going to stand here and talk for 15 minutes on my closing comments. I want to thank the members for their questions, especially the NDP, very pointed questions, I enjoy them more. You asked for some information, especially at the end there and we have made notes of it and I will make sure that we bring them out as quickly as possible. I know the member for Dartmouth North was also talking about the residential tenancies list. That should be readily available and I will try to make sure that we get them out quickly. Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
Shall the Resolution E2 stand?
Resolution E2 stands.
On behalf of the committee I would like to thank the minister and his staff for their presentation. We would like to carry on with further estimates. We will have to recess for a couple of minutes to allow the changeover staff and we are going to the Department of Finance and its various resolutions.
[2:55 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[2:59 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. We will get underway again. I would like to reconvene the Subcommittee on Supply.
Resolution E9 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $9,298,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Finance, purusant to the Estimate and the business plans of the Nova Scotia Government Fund Limited and the Nova Scotia Power Finance Corporation be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Finance.
HON. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I am going to start up with a few opening comments if I could, and then I will move to questions by the honourable member for Lunenburg West.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, it is my pleasure to come before you today representing the Department of Finance. I would note that the Department of Finance has net program expenditures of $8.886 million and total debt servicing costs of just under $1.05 billion. Members should understand that this is a gross number, and we normally report debt servicing costs on a net basis which includes earnings from the sinking funds. This brings the net debt servicing costs to the number of $899 million that we use under normal circumstances, but within the estimates we are discussing the gross amount.
We have a funded staff level of 220. Members should understand that funded staff levels do not always translate equally into the actual number of employees as there are always vacancies in the system. I would now like to outline some of the responsibilities of the Department of Finance. The responsibilities are carried out by various branches in the department. One of the major branches of the critical area is Fiscal and Economic Policy. This branch covers taxes and tax policy and federal-provincial relations on these matters, economic analysis and statistics. The people who work in this area do our modelling on revenues, develop new tax credit initiatives and do the negotiations at official levels with other provinces in Ottawa and fiscal arrangements such as equalization.
It is through this branch that the government will be pushing Ottawa for more funding under the Canada Health and Social Transfer. I would also point out that my department plays a key role in the government's overall economic policy development and strategy. The more detailed development policies are, of course, the responsibility of the Departments of Tourism, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Transportation, and Economic Development itself. In Finance, the concentration is more on economic analysis, impact and assessment with particular reference to making sure we understand how economic events and policy decisions will impact on our revenues.
Another key branch is Investment, Pensions and Treasury Services. This is the area where we manage our money, including pension investments and our debt management. This is a critical area for the long-term financial survival of the province. As some members would know, it is due to the very active management skills of our staff in this area that has kept our debt servicing costs relatively constant as debt built up over the last five to six years. I would also note that this same staff has been able to reduce a foreign exposure from more than 72 per cent at the end of 1994 to 46 per cent last fall, to 36 per cent today and to 20 per cent hopefully by the year 2005. I shouldn't say hopefully, we will.
We also have a budget area which is overseen by an assistant deputy minister, and I should have introduced the Assistant Deputy Minister, Ramsay Duff, before I started my comments. I apologize for that, Mr. Chairman. This position plays a critical role in coordinating the government-wide budgeting process. I think it is important to point out that the final budget product is the result of a lot of work by the people in my department and throughout the entire Public Service.
As a result of an internal reorganization, the ADM's area now includes the Controller branch which is responsible for government accounting and reporting as well as government services such as payroll and accounts payable. This group has been very busy since our government took office. It was this group that implemented the move to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and accounting for tangible capital assets.
Among the next challenges, we will be centralizing government's internal audit services and implementing standardized accounting procedures beyond the government, throughout the public sector, including school boards and health boards.
Mr. Chairman, the Department of Finance is also responsible for government purchasing and procurement policy. As outlined in The Course Ahead, this function will be moving to the Department of Transportation and Public Works. As a department we are also home to the Finance Corporate Service Unit. This unit provides support and services to a number of other government departments and agencies in the areas of finance, human resources and information technology.
Collectively, our most important role is as a central agency to government, providing support in a number of key areas, including the management of the budget process that we are now going through. The Department of Finance will be undergoing some major changes over the next year. As mentioned before, Procurement will be moving to Transportation and Public Works. We will also be impacted by the creation of the Treasury and Policy Board. The Department of Finance will continue to be a significant central agency of government. Our challenges are considerable as we move to reduce the size and the scope of government so that we are able to provide core services for the people of the province.
Mr. Chairman, with those brief comments - and I will try to make copies of this for the two members - I would open the floor for questioning.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Lunenburg West, you have one hour for questioning.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for your brief outline of the department, and I welcome Ramsay Duff as well. I understand you are very fortunate in my view to have Ramsay Duff and Bill Hogg, Assistant Deputy and Deputy. Two very competent and capable people. I am sure they have tried to shepherd you in the right direction in the department. I see the rest of the staff are coming in now and I want to welcome them as well.
Mr. Minister, if you recall in the last budget, the 1998-99 fiscal year report, 1999-2000 budget contained a number of changes with regard to the accounting procedures that have changed for the province moving to a new calculation procedure. At that time, it only went back to a specific period of time. If I recall correctly, you had committed to bring those numbers back to 1993 on the full consolidation of debt calculation. You committed to do it within 45 days and then, subsequently the date changed to the new year, and here we are now near the end of April. Would the minister be able to provide that information to us now?
MR. LEBLANC: Before I start my comments, I should introduce the Deputy Minister, most of you know him, Bill Hogg - William - and of course, we have Joyce McDonald who is the Director of Financial Services and operates the CSU in our department.
If I could have a clarification, Mr. Chairman, I was looking at my staff when he was asking the question. You were referring to the re-statement that we have shown using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles going backwards, and we did it for a number of years. I think the member pointed out correctly last year that we had only gone back a certain number, and whether we would continue further back. Is that what you are referring to?
MR. DOWNE: Yes, that is right.
MR. LEBLANC: How far back . . .
MR. DOWNE: The commitment, Mr. Minister, that you made was to go back to 1993, and that you would be able to provide that information within 45 days and subsequently a later date was established. Then the date was in the budget, we would be able to go back. The question is, can I have those re-calculations?
MR. LEBLANC: I was just speaking to the deputy. We went back as far as 1996-1997 because of the implications going forward when doing the consolidated financial statements. We have not done the work going back. We also have to get the information from the school boards in order to do that. I will be candid. We have been focusing our work in
trying to get ready for the financial statement for last year, let alone this year, because of the work we have to do with regard to the Tangible Capital Assets Adjustment and the changes in accounting even for the pension plans. The deputy has informed me that we basically have not done that work since last fall, and if it is to be done, it will have to be done probably later on this year.
I know the member wants it for comparative purposes so we can go further back to compare the results of the year 1993, especially he would like to have had re-stated under that process? We only went back to 1996-1997. That is what the deputy informs me.
MR. DOWNE: It was a very specific question. It wasn't all that complicated. The reason was that periodically the minister has been quoted as referring only to 1996 for a very specific political purpose of redefining the so-called deficit of the Province of Nova Scotia under the accounting procedure, notwithstanding the fact that they wouldn't go back further, thus leaving an impression on a lot of people's minds that this problem is because of the current government of the day, albeit that the Minister of Finance would never want to do that intentionally.
To clarify that point so that we are on the same wavelength, it was understood, as I recall, that information would be provided specifically in 45 days and later in the new year, then it would be done with the budget so that when we are comparing, we are comparing factually. When I sit in the House and I hear Opposition members cast all sorts of blame, I think it is only appropriate to say that if you are going to compare apples and apples, let's be real and what was a true debt, based on changes in the accounting procedure when we took over in 1993.
I think if the minister and his government are going to continually refer in public statements to 1996, then I think we have to be real to Nova Scotians. I was at a prayer breakfast the other day and I had an individual beside me and he said, is it the prerequisite of every Minister of Finance to constantly tell how bad everybody else was in the past? I said, it is kind of a cute statement because every Minister of Finance probably has tried to do that.
I am trying to clarify the position of the government, the previous Progressive Conservative Government that the Minister of Finance was a member of, and what we inherited with regard to a full consolidation of debt under the new accounting procedures which seem to be acceptable to everybody and I support, so we could see exactly what we had to deal with in 1993 and what has happened in the province since. I believe it is for no other reason, maybe you are busy, I don't doubt that, but after almost a year since you were elected, I go back again, if it is not a priority of yours, would you let us know that, I want that information. I think the public of Nova Scotia, if for no other reason, than when I hear the rhetorical statements about ". . .how bad the Liberals were . . .", I want to show the report card of exactly, if you are going to cast blame, let us take a look at the real blame and let us
take a look at the real numbers. I have asked you for it, very politely and I have had the patience of Job, but it has been a long time and I believe that I deserve that information.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, two things, one of which is that the net debt today hasn't changed and I said that last year when we brought things in. The member himself asked whether the debt overall had changed and I did say no, if you recall the conversation. I also, as much as the member may say that I am casting stones, I think he was referring to the Finance Minister, so obviously he is referring to me, that the previous administration brought along the accounting system to a great degree from where they took over in 1993, so I did give some good with my comments.
I want to go back to the fact that for ourselves to go back and to recalculate that, it does take effort. I think the member wants it for comparative purposes, but I want to say that for me to say that the previous administration was in control of their spending, and I was a member of that previous administration, I don't think I am going to get a whole lot of people agreeing with it. I think that is part of the reason that governments across this country have had problems, especially in regard to finances, getting control of it and basically the last five to six years and whether or not the previous administrations that you were a part of got misdirected or whatever; I am not going to get into a speech here as to whether or not you did everything right or you did everything wrong. I think that is for you to say more than it is for me. But to go back and do all that work just for comparative purposes, I am not sure it does anything beneficial to where we are today.
MR. DOWNE: So I take it, Mr. Minister, that you are not going to do it.
MR. LEBLANC: Well, I will discuss it with my staff and if I can see a reason that this would benefit where we are today and have any benefit to the province, I will consider it. As it stands now, probably the answer is no.
MR. DOWNE: Well, then, Mr. Minister, why would you tell me you would the last time we were here and commit - you committed in this room - that you would?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I will look back at what we were saying and I will look over my commitments that you are referring to. These debates are available and I will go through that again, and if I can do this with little amount of time invested in it, if it is a major initiative, then I will weigh that. I want to say to the member that if I did do that, and I don't recall specifics of it, I remember having some discussions, I take him at his word that he is saying that I did, I will review that, I will talk to staff over the weekend and I am sure these discussions will go to next week and I am sure he will be here asking more questions at that time and he can ask me the question again.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, it is not a great problem to go back, the specific period of time that you wanted to go back, to get the information and . . .
MR. LEBLANC: The reason we did that, Mr. Chairman, was because of going forward in the consolidated statements, not because it went back to the year that was the surplus. That is the staff that did that, I am just telling you what I was referred to.
MR. DOWNE: So, it was the staff that specifically picked that date and it wasn't you?
MR. LEBLANC: That is correct.
MR. DOWNE: The staff didn't want to go back to 1993?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, if you are going to consolidate statements going forward, how far back do we go? Do we go back to 1993? Do we go back to 1983? What we need is the information to make sure that when we go forward with consolidated statements that we have the information that we can present in a format that the Auditor General can express an opinion on. The member goes back to 1993, how much further back do we go?
MR. DOWNE: I am not asking you to go back any further than 1993 and as I recall correctly, we have talked about this a lot. This is not a new issue and I understood you made a commitment that you would go back to 1993 so we compare apples to apples in regard to where we were for no other reason than just to be able to set the record straight. It would be nice for me to be able to, when the comments come flying out of the debates or whatever, the media, then at least we would be able to compare apples and apples. When you put your flip charts up there, I think it is only fitting if you are going to use departmental staff for political gain, that you would at least have the courtesy to go back to the period of time in which this issue really started. I think for that reason I understood I had your committment to do that.
MR. LEBLANC: I was just speaking to staff and they were just telling me that we did commit to do it in 45 days, so on that I stand corrected. They also said that subsequent to making that committement, the staff was talking about the fact that having to do the work with the TCA, the Tangible Capital Assets and the other ones that, we had to priorize on that. I want to say - and you can make the enquiries of the Auditor General - that the deadlines that we had to bring about some accordance to it, were very challenging and I invite you to ask him, I am sure he will be coming to the Public Accounts Committee and you can ask that question directly, or if you are not on the Public Accounts Committee, one of your colleagues can ask. I will try to get that information to you; if I made that committment, I will keep it. I stand corrected on that to the honourable member and if I stand corrected that means it will be done.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I appreciate that you are acknowledging that you stand corrected. I guess what I would have thought the minister would have done is where he knows the issue, he would have picked up the phone and said, member for Lunenburg West, I am trying, we are running into problems, we are going to do it, we will live up to our committment, but it is going to be a few more months. I just thought that would be a normal courtesy instead of just trying to sabre-rattle and frustrate the process. I am quite accepting of calls that would try to clarify that. Anyway, I will move on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would ask you to move on, please.
MR. DOWNE: Just a minute now, Mr. Chairman. I can ask whatever question I want specifically to this, you don't have to tell me what type of question I can ask. Do you have the right to tell me what questions I can ask the minister?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No . . .
MR. DOWNE: Do you have the right to tell me what questions I can ask the minister pertinent to specific discussions on the budget and specific discussions that the minister had committed to on the last budget? I have no right to ask those questions? Are you telling me that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We went 13 minutes on the question . . .
MR. DOWNE: Are you telling me that I have no right to ask that? Are you telling me I don't have the right?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have the right to ask the question, he gave you the answer and I would ask you to move on.
MR. DOWNE: I am asking the question and I don't need any commentary from you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So noted.
MR. HOLM: Just for the record, Mr. Chairman, I agree totally with the member for Lunenburg West.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I know all too well the challenges that you are undoubtedly facing as Minister of Finance. Just dealing with the province is a very big challenge. The demands and expectations on ministers today are extremely high, and you undoubtedly have to make some very tough decisions and that I respect, I truly do. I respect the government of the day for the toughness as it goes forward.
One of the criticisms that I learned from being in government, from Opposition, has been the fact that when we did make decisions, invariably the questions came forward, what was the rationale? Why did you make the decision other than the (Interruption) I don't know how the Chairman did that. Anyway, other than the obvious thing, we are trying to put our house in order, we are doing these cuts because it is of long-term benefit for the children and blah, blah, blah.
The issue that I wanted to ask of you is specifically as a business person and as a former minister, but as a business person. You run a business and when you make a business decision, invariably you have done some sort of an analysis with regard to specifics. When you bring in a new piece of technology, you know you are going to displace x number of people. You have done some sort of cost analysis to see when you are going to get return on investment back on that piece of equipment, or whatever the situation is, you have done some sort of analytical work and an analysis to see what is going on.
I want to go through departments here, I want to go through the specifics here of Health. What economic analysis has been done with regard to the proposed cuts you have suggested in your budget for the acute care of health in regard to providing long-term sustainability within the health delivery system in Nova Scotia and in that analysis how many people have you indicated would go?
MR. LEBLANC: Let me understand the question first of all. Are you asking me for the people being displaced in Health and what the numbers are?
MR. DOWNE: We will ask two questions. The first one, Mr. Minister, did the government of the day do any economic analysis in regard to the cuts that they have made in Health?
MR. LEBLANC: I am going back again, are you talking about the impact that fewer people working for the government has overall or are you talking about the business decision about whether or not we make cuts in a certain department, let alone Health or somewhere else, what impact it will have? Just so I understand the question, I am not trying to be argumentative. I am not sure what you are asking me.
MR. DOWNE: The question I am asking you, the preamble was as a business person, I thought you could understand that because you are a business person, as I understand it, and I used the analogy simply to say that generally people do an economic analysis when they make substantive cuts or changes and I am asking the question. You are the most powerful minister in government so I assume the Department of Finance has a direct control over that. Did the government or the Department of Finance do any economic analysis of the cuts that are in the budget for Health?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I think, when the member asks a question such as whether we looked for the economic analysis, the economic analysis that we have done, first of all, is to bring about a sustainable budget for this province. If I follow the rationale that he is talking for Health, for any one department that we reduce the expenditures, let alone trying to deal with the balance issue, is that we should take a look at, I guess, in a sense, what other factors went into it. If we say that you can equate government to a business, I think we are going to probably have a harder time. Businesses make decisions, decide what is important, but a lot of times if something isn't making that much money, you just cut it adrift and you let it go.
When you are looking at government, people expect us to put forward essential services, whether that be Community Services or Health or Transportation, or other avenues of it. So I am listening to the question and maybe I am missing the thrust of it, but when we are saying that we had to make changes in Health, the recommendations that came out of Health were to have a reduction of 2.9 per cent and the restructuring that would take place through the district health authorities and the capital region, we were bringing about some efficiencies that could bring about that change and also have it sustainable.
For the economic benefits out of that, there are two ways of looking at it. You also have to look at the economic penalties if we continue spending at the rates that we were. So I am not sure if that puts it in context, but I am trying the best I can to answer the member's question.
MR. DOWNE: I will try it again. Where is the economic analysis identifying the cost and benefits of the acute hospital care funding? Did you do one?
MR. LEBLANC: The answer is no. We did an analysis of government determining where priorities are and making reductions in expenditures to bring about a balanced budget in the year 2002-2003.
MR. DOWNE: The same question would be asked in regard to Education. Was there any economic analysis identifying the cost and benefits in the cuts in Education?
MR. LEBLANC: I will repeat my answer, Mr. Chairman.
MR. DOWNE: The restructuring that has been done - and I was here to see the restructuring of different departments, and I would assume that the restructuring is a broader issue in regard to one specific department - was there any economic analysis for the costs and benefits of restructuring all the different departments within government?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, if you look at the restructuring, one thing that we have learned since coming into government is that to an extent, and it is difficult sometimes to compare it to when I left government in 1993, but I look at the governments or the
departments perhaps working a little more in isolation. One of the things that we are bringing in that we believe will help deal with that is the Treasury Board component.
I think that when I look at different departments, the way they were doing spending, is whether or not it was even in compliance with the SAP Program or had some departments basically decided that they did not want to do the training because they were being asked to cut their budget. So the thing they were doing was cutting the training in that regard while we were saying at the same time as a government that we need the SAP system and we need the information that it provides to make the informed decisions that we should do. We have one department basically making decisions in isolation of the entire government and contrary to what the overall plan is.
So I think that for ourselves the restructuring is a reorganization of similar services into departments whereby they will be better coordinated. I can use examples of Environment and Labour and regulatory services whereby, I believe, as time goes on, many of those same inspectors who do things now for only one department, may very well do for two departments and can be multitasked. I think that that is where we are looking, especially for those efficiencies that are there. It does not mean that some of those people won't have only one single function, but I do believe there are things, such as liquor inspectors, who could also do other types of inspection that would make sense, but now they are tasked with only one component.
MR. DOWNE: We had some questions and at this time I am not going to go into the details of the overall restructuring per se, but clearly there is some rationale that the minister and the government used for the restructuring, some of it absolutely, probably, very brilliant work, and you can always find ways to improve the system, I believe that. Productivity always can get better. Efficiency can get better. Communication can get better. Departmental structures are part and parcel of what this government's long-term vision is with regard to the size of government and I will go back to the question, has the minister or the government specifically in the issue of restructuring, done any kind of economic analysis to identify what the costs will be and what the short and long-term benefits would be with regard to that restructuring?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, one of the things we came into government with is a clear vision that we have to streamline what we have here. The member offers some that he feels will work and there are probably other ones he feels may be ill-designed. Everybody has their own opinion. Through a lot of discussions among our Cabinet colleagues and information we got from the Civil Service or through government, we made these suggestions after considerable debate and a lot of discussion as to where we feel those efficiencies will take place.
Now, if you look at them even in the announcement, it will take about a year to bring them on-line, and I think first of all if you want to do it, you want to do is so it goes as smoothly as possible, that we have the best personnel that are there and phase them in, we can do that efficiently. There will be costs to bringing them in. The estimates on those are difficult to ascertain, but it is our fundamental belief that by going from 21 to 14 departments we can bring about some efficiencies both in administration and in the way we deliver services.
The member is asking me whether we have an economic plan or a quantifiable plan. The answer is no, because we look at the similarities that are there. We do know one thing. We want to have fewer departments. We feel if we do that, the savings in administration will take place, and that is the direction we are going in.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I just absolutely cannot believe you did not do any type of analysis in regard to the overall restructuring of the departments within government, 21 departments. When the Premier announced and rolled it out, he said the specifics would come later. You are just saying you have done no economic analysis of the costs and the benefits, costs being in people and in wages and so on and so forth and/or benefits in regard to savings from a cash-flow point of view, a departmental point of view. You have done nothing to analyze this. Are you telling me that this government has restructured 21 departments on a hope that at the end of the day you will save money and make the system more efficient? Is that what you are telling me?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, anyone who looks at the restructuring plan and doesn't see the savings that are there isn't looking very deep into the information. We look at the situation, and I will use the example of the Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Authority, whereby the previous administration - maybe the right decision at that time - decided to create a separate organization, one which was expensive to administer. Probably if they had done it over again, they might have made a different decision. We made a consistent decision that it is not required as a stand-alone agency. It can be phased into the URB, and the other components of it can phased within government. It is a very clear, very concise statement we are making.
I challenge anyone to tell me how that is not going to save money. The other things that we are doing is bringing departments with similar functions together. I challenge again for anyone to tell me how that doesn't make sense. These things will save money. To be perfectly candid, we have too many agencies out there, and if we are going to bring about a smaller, leaner government, one thing we have to do is reduce the number of departments. These departments have similar functions. The ones that have similar functions have been moved together, and we don't need as many deputies as we had before. We don't need the administrations as much as we had before. These changes we make will save money for the province. It is very evident when you look at the recommendations we have put forward.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, I just finished asking if you had done any analysis. You said no. You just came back with a rebuttal saying it is blatantly obvious, as obvious as the nose on your face, that you are going to save money, and you used two examples. If you have gone that far, you must have some analysis done on all departments in regard to what is going to save money. I am asking one more time, maybe I will have to do it again, did you do any analysis like you just said with regard to departmental restructuring? Is it yes or no?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, the discussions we had around Cabinet centred on many of the things we talked about here; whether it is in a written report that the member can put in his hands, the answer is no. The answer is that, based on those discussions, it is the decision of this government to reorganize itself into a smaller government with fewer departments, those of similar functions which will deliver services more efficiently.
MR. DOWNE: Minister, you are saying to me that down in the Cabinet Room, the Cabinet members sat down and said about the Nova Scotia Alcohol and Gaming Authority, well, let's just see, I think we can roll that together, and that will probably save well you know, maybe the chairman and maybe one or two other people. I don't really know what the implications of the Civil Service application will be. I don't know what the settlement structures will be. These people that are out doing inspection, we should cross-train them, and I don't know what that is going to cost, but they can do other things out there. That's good. But we are all doing that on a flip chart in a Cabinet Room? There has got to be that somebody has done some analysis as to why you are doing it.
At this point, I am not disputing anything you are doing. I am just trying to find out the rationale of why you are doing it, and would you be forthcoming and tell me what it is, other than Cabinet discussions of what other ministers think you are going to save money on.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, our Cabinet meetings were not like the previous administration, so I can't speak about that. I want to say for ourselves, we said we would restructure government. We would make it smaller. That is why we had a small Cabinet put forward. The changes we have brought about are going to bring about those efficiencies. These discussions took place over a long period of time. We took the information that we received, both from the public and the Voluntary Planning task force, and the research we did within our departments, and these are the recommendations that eventually got approved by Cabinet and were unfolded the other day in the same room.
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Minister, you said, these efficiencies. That's the word you said. Will you table or give me these efficiencies that you are talking about?
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I have answered the question six times, and I will answer it again.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Minister, I concur with your comment and my point I made earlier (Interruptions) I wish to make this point to both members for Sackville-Cobequid and Lunenburg West, the RULES OF DEBATE, Section 24(2) Irrelevance or repetition in debate in the last line says ". . . may direct him to discontinue his speech.", so I did utilize the Rules of the House, and I wish to carry on. You can answer the question and hopefully we can carry on with the questioning.
MR. JOHN HOLM: One of the things, Mr. Chairman . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: You do not have the floor, Mr. Holm, the minister has the floor.
MR. HOLM: On a point of order, I can get up on the floor at any time I wish unless you are rewriting the rules.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You didn't ask for a point of order until now.
MR. HOLM: I do now.
MR. CHAIRMAN: What is your point?
MR. HOLM: My point is, Mr. Chairman, it has been very obvious as long as I have been in this Chamber, when you have been in the Chair, you have been, indeed, interfering. The questions can be placed in different ways. If the minister doesn't care to answer a question, the minister has the ability to say that he does not wish to answer it. It is the Opposition members and members of this committee's time. It is not yours, Mr. Chairman. You are not in that position to be defending a minister. It is your position to be non-partisan, unbiased, and if you can't, then you should not be in the Chair.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am not defending the minister, I am just worrying about procedures. Mr. Minister, you can answer the question.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, first of all, I know that you are trying to do your job as fairly as possible, but my understanding is that they have the right to do that, to keep asking questions. I am not being argumentative. I know you are trying to read the books, but the practice has been different perhaps from the rules. As much as possible, I know you are trying to do your job, and I appreciate that. But, my recollection of it, and I am just trying to give my recollection, the members have the ability to keep asking the questions over again. I may agree to say I am repeating it again. It is a long day. All members are just trying to voice their opinion. Let's continue on with the business of the committee. To tell the truth, I forgot the question.
MR. DOWNE: Obviously I didn't ask it enough or you would have it memorized by now. Wasn't that a resolution? Minister, if I can paraphrase, and correct me if I am wrong, the government of the day has done no economic analysis that would identify the costs and the benefits of any of the restructuring within government and has not done any economic analysis to identify the costs and benefits of any of the cuts in any of the departments. Is that accurate, Mr. Minister?
MR. LEBLANC: First of all, the latter part is wrong. The first part is correct in a sense. You want an economic analysis, you want a business plan for the restructuring and you want to know what the savings will accrue from that. When the restructuring is finalized, the extent of those savings will be known.
Mr. Chairman, I go back again. The changes we have made bring about efficiencies, especially in administration, and will also clearly bring about efficiencies in even the delivery of services. The member may agree or disagree with that and we have been, obviously, doing that to a certain extent, part of that bantering back and forth, but I stand by what I said. Regarding the changes in the departments, we had a $497 million deficit last fall. Through revenues that were higher and foreign exchange changes in the Canadian dollar, even some of our NSRL debt recovered and we had some improvements. So we ended up with $388 million in the deficit, but we still have a very serious problem and one of the ways we are going to do it is to reduce costs.
To say we cannot reduce costs without always doing an economic evaluation is not the approach of this government. We are going to develop priorities and make those decisions throughout the different departments that we have. So on that one, I want to be clear in regard to that. You are telling me my time is up.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for debate in the Subcommittee on Supply has now expired.
The Subcommittee on Supply will now rise and report its progress and meet again on a future date.
The Subcommittee on Supply now stands adjourned.
[3:42 p.m. The subcommittee adjourned.]