MR. CHAIRMAN: We will reconvene the Subcommittee on Supply. On the last day of adjournment we were on the Department of Human Resources.
The honourable Minister of Human Resources.
HON. RONALD RUSSELL: I wonder, Mr. Chairman, if the member would permit a couple of very short remarks with regard to a couple of questions from the last session?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Certainly you may reply to those questions before Mr. Wilson's time begins.
MR. RUSSELL: The first one has to do with the impression that I may have left that we presently have talks underway with the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union with regard to the current contract. That is not exactly the truth. We are speaking to the NSGEU, but we are talking about the negotiations with regard to the downsizing of the Civil Service. We have not actually started talks on the contract as yet. We have had several meetings but, however, there are no contract talks as yet underway. The talks that are underway at the present time, as I said, are to do with the downsizing of the Civil Service and details of what will be available for civil servants if they are separated.
The second one dealt with flexible work options. I think I indicated to the members of the committee that we have a number of options in place, such as job sharing and flex time. The telework pilot project has enabled us to look at another option and our work at the present time is to determine how we can incorporate flexible work options into the medium and long-term work force or our restructuring strategies as we move to a smaller Civil Service overall. So if I created a wrong impression with regard to our present telework program or with regard to the talks that are underway with the union, I apologize.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cape Breton East. You have 28 minutes.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, if I could, I wanted to go over a couple of things again from when we last spoke. I referred to Page 15.2 of the Supplementary Detail and the department introducing performance-based pay for senior officials. I think I asked you at that time what that program would look like and how that program would be run. Would you give me that explanation again, please?
MR. RUSSELL: We are talking about the pay-for-performance for senior officials, is that the one?
MR. WILSON: Correct.
MR. RUSSELL: That is a project that is underway at the present time in the department, Mr. Chairman. Exactly what will roll out, I am not sure, but the idea is that we are going to encourage our senior civil servants to maximize their performance and have a reward type program in place. The existing performance management policy for the Civil Service was revised in 1999 and this policy supports the Civil Service Act and Regulations which state that salary raises are dependent on performance, but these pay raises have been frozen in 9 of the last 17 years.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, when a person originally comes into management in the Civil Service, they enter at 80 per cent - I believe is the number - of the maximum for that particular position and then over the years, based on performance, they come up towards 100 per cent. We do have within the Civil Service a number of people who are in excess of 100 per cent. I think 104 per cent, 105 per cent, is not out of line at the present time but, however, that program has been frozen, as I say, for quite some considerable time. I think the last time was in 1994 the performance pay was frozen at that level. (Interruption) In 1997 and 1998 there were merit increases, but those increases have not been given since that date.
MR. WILSON: I think, Mr. Chairman, during the last session you stated that you are not sure how much that is going to cost Nova Scotia taxpayers? Is that correct?
MR. RUSSELL: That is correct. We cannot say with any definition as to what the pay for any classification within the Civil Service will be in the future. It depends on negotiations with the union and for those who come under the agreements that we have with the Nova Scotia Government employees, but we are hoping to achieve a cost neutrality for a period.
MR. WILSON: And that pay-for-performance applies to only senior officials. How would you describe a senior official?
MR. RUSSELL: They are the managers, people outside of the agreements with the various unions.
MR. WILSON: So a lower level civil servant would not be given the same opportunity?
MR. RUSSELL: Well, no, because they negotiate for their salary increases whereas the managers are dependent on performance according to the Civil Service Act.
MR. WILSON: You have high hopes for that kind of a program, Mr. Minister, if I can ask that question?
MR. RUSSELL: I think that just as you have to reward employees under the union, which comes under an agreement and negotiations, you have to do the same thing for your managerial people.
MR. WILSON: Is there a point in your mind where that would become too expensive? Do you have any parameters in mind?
MR. RUSSELL: Quite frankly, we would not be offering something that was going to be too expensive because, quite obviously, the only alternative then would be to lay off personnel.
MR. WILSON: That is not an option, is it?
MR. RUSSELL: I would not say that is not an option, but I am just saying that salary increases have to be within the envelope provided for salaries.
MR. WILSON: The Human Resources Department under The Course Ahead, which I am sure you are familiar with, the new look of government in Nova Scotia, is actually one of the departments which will disappear?
MR. RUSSELL: Technically, yes, as a department; the function will remain.
MR. WILSON: Your policy functions will be assumed by the Treasury Board and the Policy Board?
MR. RUSSELL: The policy function will be, yes. As the member may or may not be aware, Mr. Chairman, the Civil Service Commission was a part of the Management Board/Policy Board structure of government. It was a commission and it operated that way until the Management Board was disbanded and then it became a separate department of government.
MR. WILSON: So your remaining operational responsibilities, what happens to them?
MR. RUSSELL: They will be going to the Department of Transportation. You mean the Human Resources people within the various departments? That would come under the Department of Transportation, under the Corporate Services Unit.
MR. WILSON: If Human Resources is no longer existing in its current form, with those policy functions being assumed by Treasury and Policy Board, is there a danger, for lack of a better word, of politicalization of hiring practices? In other words, is there a danger of patronage occurring here because of this?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I would suggest not. In fact, I think it is probably removing it further from any inference of patronage by moving in that direction.
MR. WILSON: How so, sir?
MR. RUSSELL: Well, because as you probably know, within the Treasury Board/Policy Board concept that we will be moving into, Treasury Board will be responsible for maintaining costs within a department so that new hires and transfer of personnel, et cetera, are all going to be examined by that body before those changes are made. In other words, a department cannot individually, as they do at the present time, fill term positions, casual positions, et cetera, within the department. Now it will go through the central agency.
MR. WILSON: So there is not a danger of a small group of people becoming responsible for most of the hiring within the government?
MR. RUSSELL: The number of people presently in the HR Department is going to be decreased, that is true but, however, the actual decrease I believe is eight full-time equivalents and I would suggest that primarily what you are looking at is straight administration.
MR. WILSON: I hear bells.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We all hear bells. I am sure we will be instructed what the requirement will be. We will carry on with the business here.
MR. WILSON: I just thought it may have been me, Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to make sure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, they are still ringing from Friday.
MR. RUSSELL: We might have somebody check and find out how long the bells are going to ring perhaps.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will have one of our caucus members inspect that for us. Sorry for the interruption, sir.
MR. WILSON: No problem. Yes, go ahead.
MR. RUSSELL: I might just point out perhaps and further explain to the member, Mr. Chairman, exactly what the Public Sector Commission structure will be and what we are doing before we rush into setting up a new structure. We are examining other structures across government, across Canada, to determine which one best fits our needs and to modify them to meet our particular needs. That structure should be set up, I would think, within the next six months, probably in the fall sometime of this year.
MR. WILSON: Has your department, Mr. Minister, looked at the cost of severance, pensions and any other matters should it come about that the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission is to be privatized?
MR. RUSSELL: No. Actually that does not come under the Department of Human Resources. They are, however, unionized under the NSGEU, I guess, as the member is aware but, Mr. Chairman, no, as I understand it, and I am talking about somebody else's portfolio now, the government's intention is to put out a request for proposals and we will examine those proposals as they deal with the warehousing function, the distribution function and the retail function of the Liquor Commission.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just to advise members of the committee, I have been instructed that the bells have been ringing for a motion of adjournment. It has been moved in the other room. I have been instructed the bells will be ringing for an hour before the vote and so we are asked to carry on. Please, carry on, sir, sorry for the interruption again.
MR. WILSON: Thank you. Does the department have a privatization policy? Is there such a policy that exists?
MR. RUSSELL: Not within the Department of Human Resources, no.
MR. WILSON: That has never been considered in any . . .
MR. RUSSELL: It has not ever been considered within that department, no. The function of the Department of Human Resources is to manage the human resources that are in the employ of the government, to take care of negotiations and other functions such as training and when people are released, et cetera, to provide counselling, if necessary, as well as to negotiate the package that people will receive.
MR. WILSON: Can I ask you, Mr. Minister, about the travel policy, please.
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, you certainly may.
MR. WILSON: What is the government doing to revise the travel policy itself?
MR. RUSSELL: That is a very good question, Mr. Chairman. The government had at one time management manuals. Management Manual 500 was the one that governed such things as the ability of civil servants to claim for certain things and how they went about claiming for travel, accommodations and meals, et cetera, as well as caps on the amount that could be claimed, and details as to how that travel would be authorized. All those things were in Management Manual 500. There were three or four of them, I forget how many.
Unfortunately, over the past few years the management manuals have not been updated and not been amended and they have more or less fallen into disuse. We are presently rewriting the management manuals. We have a committee chaired by the Department of Human Resources - in the spring of 1999 actually, that was before we came to government - at the joint request of the Deputy Minister of Finance and the Deputy Minister of Human Resources to review and make recommendations regarding revisions to the corporate travel policy in an effort to achieve efficiency in the use of government resources. I should, I suppose point out that the Auditor General has been quite interested in the travel policy that the department and the government have generally.
We did an audit of all travel across the Civil Service and we found a number of inconsistencies. It is our intention that we have a common policy across the Civil Service and that revised travel policy was presented to the deputy ministers on January 31st of this year. That policy will probably be going to what is presently Policy Board some time this summer and it should be incorporated in the new management manual some time in September and become effective for all civil servants.
MR. WILSON: Is there any idea of how much that revising of that travel policy will save government?
MR. RUSSELL: Well, I don't know, to be quite honest, perhaps the staff with me do but, however, I can assure the member that there are savings to be made in travel policy and I am told that it looks like approximately $2 million. That does not mean that you are necessarily cutting people off at the knees and saying that you have got to eat Subway sandwiches every meal of the day, it is just a levelling of the field for travel and at the same time ensuring that we are getting the best air rates as, for instance, air transportation through corporate credit card travel so that we can get a pretty firm handle, I think, on costs. My staff, as I say, is advising me that it is believed that there are $2 million in there that could be saved without, as I say, humbling the Civil Service by . . .
MR. WILSON: Has there been any indication of any form of abuse of the policy?
MR. RUSSELL: I would not say abuse, but I would say that perhaps there has been a misunderstanding of the policy in some departments - and probably all departments - and that there has been nothing to refer to with regard to policy on travel simply because, as I said, the policy manual is out of step. (Interruption)
Yes, Mr. Chairman, the Auditor General, as you know and as I think I was mentioning a few moments ago, is very interested in the cost of travel and has pointed out inconsistencies for quite some time and we are determined that we are going to settle that problem. The savings are quite large. Initially, as I said, we were estimating about $2 million with the implementation of the policy, but in the long term there are even greater savings available.
MR. WILSON: So you would see this as you are revising a travel policy and not cracking the whip so to speak on travel for civil servants and so on? Is this a crackdown or . . .
MR. RUSSELL: No, it is not a crackdown in the terms that the honourable member means, Mr. Chairman. It is laying out for people very clearly exactly what their entitlements are, laying out the process very clearly so people know how to process their claims, how to get approval in advance for out-of-province travel, et cetera.
MR. WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I have how much time left, please?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just to advise the committee members that I had to make a time adjustment. My watch was five minutes behind so you technically still have eight minutes left.
MR. WILSON: The Premier, Mr. Minister, while Opposition Leader, signed an agreement with the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union regarding privatization. You are aware of that agreement, correct?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes.
MR. WILSON: Has your department been asked to recognize that agreement?
MR. RUSSELL: I will have to check, I don't know. The agreement, of course, was with the Premier. The Premier signed the document so I suppose you could consider it to be a political decision, as to how that agreement will be interpreted, but with regard to our employees generally, under the existing contract we have language that takes care of such things as contracting out and that would be about it, I guess, yes.
MR. WILSON: I am not sure I understood that. It has not been discussed in any way with your department, is that what you are saying?
MR. RUSSELL: Not with the Department of Human Resources.
MR. WILSON: So that was an agreement that was just made with the Premier himself?
MR. RUSSELL: The Premier signed the document, yes, he did. Perhaps, Mr. Chairman, if I could just take a couple of minutes. I don't want to chew up too much of the member's time, but in reality the Department of Human Resources is a management agency and although they make policy, the policy is at the level of the employees who are Nova Scotia Government employees. For instance, we do not get involved with teachers. We do not get involved with the health care sector. The only way that we get involved in those things is simply on an advisory basis. They may ask that we have somebody in attendance at their negotiations to provide advice with regard to the negotiations, but they fall outside of the purview of the direct management of the human resources that are employed directly by the government. Things that are done, for instance, when the Premier signed that agreement with the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, is beyond the purview of the Department of Human Resources.
MR. WILSON: To a certain extent?
MR. RUSSELL: To a certain extent, yes.
MR. WILSON: As you said, you could become involved with contract negotiations and so on . . .
MR. RUSSELL: Yes.
MR. WILSON: . . . that would be waved in your face, so to speak?
MR. RUSSELL: That is true, but that language, I believe, is already in the contract. I am advised that the language is that we will make reasonable efforts to accommodate those who would be affected by any contracting out.
MR. WILSON: So if the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union was to come to you and your department and make you aware, or show you that agreement - I hate to ask a hypothetical question - but what would be your reaction?
MR. RUSSELL: I would refer it to Policy Board and, Mr. Chairman, I am not trying to be slick here. That is the way it would have to be. In other words, it is not part of the department's mandate to look after such matters.
MR. WILSON: It will be though once they are assumed by Treasury Board and Policy Board, will it not?
MR. RUSSELL: The function of the Public Sector Commission will be to set policy, to engage in negotiations and all those other things, training, et cetera, that they are presently doing but, however, they will not be a part of setting the overall policy with regard to expenditures of government and those expenditures that are connected with the Civil Service. Am I being obscure there?
MR. WILSON: No, Mr. Minister, I don't think you are being obscure. Again, I know I don't have much time left, but there was one thing that we touched on last time which I wanted to get another clarification on before I finished up with my time and that was that your department has the task of reaching an agreement based on a memorandum of agreement with the Crown Attorneys, is that correct?
MR. RUSSELL: I am sorry, now you are being obscure. Mr. Chairman, if I may, I am not quite sure - we are talking about the Crown Attorneys?
MR. WILSON: Yes.
MR. RUSSELL: I am sorry, yes, indeed, that is true.
MR. WILSON: I asked you the last time and I know this is part of contractual negotiations and so on, but is there any estimate of how much that might cost at this time?
MR. RUSSELL: We pay a market adjustment at the present time and I don't have the numbers, perhaps the deputy does, but those numbers are certainly available. If we don't have them here, I can provide them to the honourable member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have one minute left.
MR. WILSON: With that last minute I would just like to ask the minister, to get back just for a minute if I could to the patronage issue that I raised before, with the new look of government in Nova Scotia and, again, Human Resources being phased into Treasury Board and Policy Board, the policy functions and your operational responsibilities going to Transportation and Public Works, and I did ask the question and I will repeat it, is there not a danger of a small group of people, a clique of people, having a tremendous amount of power in this province in terms of hiring?
MR. RUSSELL: No, Mr. Chairman, that is not correct. The policies that apply at the present time I think with the recruiting and employment of people in the Civil Service is not based on any patronage system.
MR. WILSON: There will be no patronage then, Mr. Minister, within the Civil Service of Nova Scotia?
MR. RUSSELL: Insofar as the Department of Human Resources is concerned and all that I am speaking about at the moment, there will be no patronage, period.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has expired now for the Liberal caucus in its first allotment. The time is now passed to the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minister and government department heads who are here with the minister to address the issues with respect to the Human Resources Department. It is extremely ironic that we are here today on May Day when, in fact, we are going to be talking about giving pink slips to some 600 employees within departments of government throughout this Province of Nova Scotia. It is most unfortunate that, in fact, this is the day when all governments and employers recognize the tremendous hard work that is done by men and women throughout this province and throughout the world with respect to the delivering of their human resources to benefit those, both in the private sector and in the public sector, for services rendered.
I just want to say, Mr. Minister, that I have some grave concerns with respect to the fact that often one does not recognize how extremely difficult it is for employees within the public sector to get the full recognition by the citizenry out there with respect to the amount of work and the contribution that they provide to society in the delivery of programs and services to Nova Scotians. In particular, often we hear comments that civil servants are lazy, they don't do much and that, in fact, you can never get them when you want them. Many Nova Scotians don't realize that this ongoing practice has existed for some 14 years of reduction in public servants. It is only when, in fact, they make a telephone call and they find out that they are now referred to a number, that they don't get the kind of personal touch that is needed to give them direction as to where to go in government.
As well, I think that no one fully understands the severity and the repercussions of giving an employee a pink slip. I think that we like to think that we understand, but I don't think that unless we have actually been in that role ourselves where, in fact, we have been given notification that our services are no longer required, then we don't really fully appreciate the gist of something like that and I do want to say, Mr. Minister, to you that that is an extremely difficult role to play.
I also want you to know that over the years there have been many terminologies used, such as downsizing, right-sizing, centralization and amalgamation of services. You use all the catch phrases that one possibly can with respect to diminishing or reducing the size of employment within the province, but I come back to the single most important thing that is very serious here and it is the gut wrenching, the fear that these 600 Nova Scotians who, in fact, your department is about to give pink slips to, don't know who they are as of yet, and I would assume that that is quite correct. None of them know who they are. So out of the
total, I believe, of approximately 6,000 employees within the Civil Service, you have everyone out there very concerned about who these people are who are going to receive these pink slips.
My number may be somewhat wrong. It may be as high as 7,000 civil servants, inconsistent with last year, but it is between 6,000 and 7,000 civil servants who fall under the purview of the Department of Human Resources, I think. So there are many of those people out there who are quite concerned. This has a dramatic impact not only on their family because they go home with this burden placed upon their shoulders of not knowing if they are going to be an income provider tomorrow, next year, or whatever the case may be, but they also hold off on the purchasing of major appliances, major equipment and so on, or renovations of homes. All those things that generate revenue into the economy come to a standstill as well.
So there is this big upheaval with respect to the insecurity of not knowing what to do and everyone pays for that. The citizens of Nova Scotia pay for that because of the pressure placed on the employee in the workplace. The private sector pays for that because the purchaser is not consuming goods and, most importantly, the family suffers because of the stress that is taken home from the workplace.
Mr. Minister, having said that and having listened to you for approximately one hour, I am wondering, are you prepared as the Acting Minister of Human Resources to personally meet with each one of these individuals who are going to receive a pink slip and talk to them?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the remarks from the honourable member for Dartmouth North and he strikes a chord. I was minister once before of what was then the Civil Service Commission. I was minister at the time when several African nations were just coming to nationhood and they were setting up their own Civil Service. They came to Canada because Canada is recognized - it was then and it still is - as having the best, and I mean the very best Civil Service in the entire world. In spite of what people say about patronage and nepotism and what have you, it is the cleanest and the most uncorrupt of any Civil Service anywhere in the world. At that time they came to Nova Scotia.
There were three nations I think. I know one was Nigeria and I cannot remember who the other two were. They came to take a look at the Civil Service in Nova Scotia because, at that time anyway, and I would hope that it is still true, it was recognized that we had the finest Civil Service in Canada and if you translate that, we had the finest Civil Service in the world. That was not me saying that. That was not the government saying that. I spoke to the Civil Service and made that same pitch to them, that I was very proud and I am sure that all Nova Scotians were very proud of their Civil Service being accepted as the model for these nations that were doing a tremendous revamping of the Civil Service.
The question was asked of me at that time - because just after that I moved into another field of endeavour - of downsizing and they said, you say these things about the Civil Service, but now you are asking some of those people to remove themselves from the Civil Service, is that the way you should treat people, and to be quite frank, my answer then was the same as it is now. We had to do something to control our costs, this was in 1984 I think it was, and we have to do it again today. Unfortunately, people lose their jobs when you attempt to save money because approximately 70 per cent of our total expenditures go into salaries. So if you are going to try to save on expenditures, you are going to have to disassociate some people from the workforce.
I realize that is a fancy way of saying we are going to cut people but, however, I think it is incumbent upon us and it behooves us every time we even think about laying people off, to make sure that we treat those people as fairly as we possibly can, try to get them back into the workforce, not back into the Civil Service, but in the private sector perhaps or some other government level across the country whether it be municipal or federal.
The people we have in the Civil Service are good people and they do work hard. They put up with an awful lot of stuff that I think workers in the private sector don't have to put up with and that is politicians meddling around with what they are doing and what they are saying and how they generally go about their business. So, yes, I have a lot of sympathy for civil servants. Will I meet with every one? Well, I would like to tell the honourable member, Mr. Chairman, that I would certainly like to meet with as many as possible, but remember our Civil Service is scattered right across this province and it would be very difficult to go to each individual and hand out a pink slip. Perhaps they would appreciate it not coming from a minister anyway.
I just received a note from the deputy minister, and quite rightly she points out that it is important to remember that we have said within the Department of Human Resources that directors throughout the departments of government will be personally meeting with the affected employees.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Minister. It is one thing to have the directors of each department meet personally with those employees, it is another thing to have the minister responsible for putting out the pink slips directly responsible or at least have the opportunity to meet with each and every one of those employees as well.
I want to go back, and I did talk about this in 1999, and Minister Chataway did say that they believed this government was an open and accountable government for the people of Nova Scotia. They also believed that they would continue to work towards a better, more efficient government and treat its employees fairly and openly. When I talk about treating the employees fairly and openly, and I understand and you talked about this, there is a mechanism
of the collective agreement which one has to honour and which, in fact, particularly for those employees under the Department of Human Resources that have collective agreements, there is a mechanism within the collective agreement that directs you on how you should go.
It is interesting to note that you made reference to a retraining element, and you also made reference to a relocation assistance program to those employees who, in fact, will lose their jobs from government. I also think you talked about career counselling services. I am wondering, Mr. Minister, if you can tell me and if you can elaborate on the kind of mechanism that has been set up by the Department of Human Resources to address this issue. Are there retraining programs in place now? Is there a mechanism whereby there is the opportunity for assistance in relocation; are those cost factors built within the budget? As well, are there any career counselling programs that would be offered to those employees?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable member for the question and it is pertinent at this time. First of all I would like to go back, you said it was either 6,000 or 7,000. You were right the first time, it is around 6,000 persons within the union. However, within the Civil Service itself, it is another 3,000. So there are 9,000 people, and of that 9,000 there are going to be people affected both in the union and without the union. We have not actually come up with the structure yet of what will be available for people who are let go. There are those functions, which you have mentioned, that are available even today to employees, particularly retraining and what have you and counselling, but we are negotiating with the union at the present time. I can assure the honourable member for Dartmouth North that those talks are underway and hopefully we will reach an agreement with the union as to what kind of package will be available for those employees who are let go.
MR. PYE: When the minister says talks are underway, talks are underway, obviously I guess what you are referring to is, with the unionized sector of the employees of the Department of Human Resources?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, and the union itself. The Nova Scotia Government Employees Union is actively engaged in talks with us.
MR. PYE: What about the civil servants and those people who are not covered under collective agreements? I will pose a couple of questions here. Can the minister first tell me how many people are going to be laid off; how many full-time employees will receive pink slips; how many civil servants and that is what I consider to be upper-management employees, outside of the collective agreement, will find themselves without a job during this fiscal year of this budget?
MR. RUSSELL: There are approximately 600 full-time equivalents. The actual breakdown between management and union employees, I don't have. It is going to vary, I would suggest, from department to department, and in some departments most of the cuts are
coming from unionized employees, and in other department most the cuts are coming from non-unionized employees.
MR. PYE: What about employees who are term, casual, temporary, irregular or whatever you may want to call them, who are within the employ of government now? What is going to happen to those employees?
MR. RUSSELL: There will still be casual employees, there will still be term employees. Again, Mr. Chairman, I suppose I can go back to my own departments, that is the Department of Transportation or the Department of Natural Resources, which have a very strong contingent of casual employees. We will continue to have casual employees in those particular occupations that are just seasonal.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I believe on Friday you talked about employees who work at a home-base environment; they have an office space at home, I believe you termed it telework. Employees who do work for the government do it, but do it on sort of a flex time. Their flexible government allows them to work at home because the technology today allows that kind of a practice to take place. I am wondering, has there been any thought given to some of those employees losing their employment opportunities as well?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, it would depend on what they are doing. As I was explaining, I think last Friday, rather than saying to departments thou shalt cut so many employees, what we said to departments was, you are going to go through the program analysis and options process, which meant that a department looked at every program they had within their inventory in a department and decided which were core government businesses, in other words, things government rightly should be providing. There were some programs that were in the public interest but not necessarily programs the government would normally consider to be a core program.
For instance, there was much to do, initially, about the 4-H program. That, I don't think you would consider to be exactly a core business of government but it was within the public interest of the people of Nova Scotia to continue with that program. So we went through all the programs within government - there are about 1,000-plus - and determined which ones government should be doing and perhaps programs that should be expanded; programs government should be doing, but possibly decreased in size; programs government should not be doing, should be cut completely. So having gone through that exercise, then in those programs that were deleted completely, the people who were associated with that program no longer had a function in government. Where we decreased the size of a program, some of the people would drop off from that program. So if a person doing telework at home was involved in a program that was cut, that person would naturally no longer have a position.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, during that program review and analysis, and assessments that were delivered, obviously the government came up with what would be considered core governmental services to Nova Scotians. Maybe it is unfair of me to ask you this because you are the Minister of Human Resources, and it is probably a finance issue or it might very well be a Priorities and Planning issue, but has the government decided what, in fact, are core government services and what can Nova Scotians expect in the delivery of core government services by people in the employ of government?
MR. RUSSELL: I think people can recognize the large programs very easily, such as health, education and community services, those kinds of programs that provide for the needs, the welfare and the education of people. I believe that justice has to be a core part of government so people can live in relative safety. Those things are easy to identify. It is when you get down to, for instance, a program that may be a grant program from one department and you go to another department and you find there is another program over here which is doing the same thing, and another department down here which is also doing the same thing, you say, well, why do we have three programs providing this one service? First of all, is this a suitable service for government to provide; if it is, well then we should cut it down to one program rather than having three. We have a tremendous amount, we had, and hopefully we are moving towards a past tense on the subject; we have had a tremendous amount of duplication.
A moment ago when I was speaking about telework, I didn't want to give you the wrong impression, we do have telework in place at the present time, but it is a pilot project we have that was set up at the beginning of last year. It went out as a pilot to see how it could work, what the problems would be with telework, and the indications are that it is something we can proceed with. I would suggest that it is something that would probably be quite acceptable to a number of people who, for fairly obvious reasons, would rather work at home than coming into the office. I am thinking of people, perhaps particularly those with mobility problems, et cetera.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I want to ask you why the notion of early retirement packages was not considered as an option to reduce the employment force within government? I do know that historically this has been both the private sector and the public sector option because it allowed them the opportunity to give people an early retirement by reducing its staff and reducing the cost. Sometimes they didn't look close enough to identify that there were significant costs with respect to early retirement packages, but today, with your government bent on reducing the size of government and the delivery of programs and services to Nova Scotians, I am wondering why early retirement was not considered an appropriate option to those employees who may have wanted to go out?
MR. RUSSELL: As you know, the early retirement option that we had in place expired on March 31st and was not renewed. It is a very, very expensive option. It is one that sometimes is not to the advantage of government in that you lose people you have spent a lot
of time and money training. Another difficulty is if those persons decide to leave, that is those who are of great interest to government because of their education or their training, then you promptly have to hire them back. One of the big problems with the last government - and I don't say this in a fashion to say they were all wrong, that process was tried. It was tried back when I was in Management Board in 1984. It never works because the people who take up the early retirement option get out of the Civil Service, and about a year later they are either back as a contract or a term employee because we need them. So quite frankly, it is an expensive option and unfortunately you lose a lot of people you don't want to lose under an early retirement program.
MR. PYE: So, Mr. Minister, what you are telling me is that your department is going to be selective on who is going to get the pink slips and so on. If you recognize there is a core of maintained experienced individuals which government has spent a lot of money on, those individuals, irrespective of costs, will continue to stay while other individuals who are less important to the delivery of programs and services to Nova Scotians will go.
MR. RUSSELL: No, I am not saying that, Mr. Chairman, although that is probably a natural inference from what I said when I said we have to be targetted, we are targetting programs. So by targetting programs, we are targetting those particular functions we no longer are going to deliver. Therefore, the expertise in that particular function is no longer of immense value to the government.
MR. PYE: Interesting. Mr. Minister, I am wondering how we fit into the scheme, when government, in this particular case, is going to become smaller. I wonder how an Affirmative Action Program fits into the government's way of thinking when, in fact, we are reducing the size of government. A former Minister of Human Resources indicated, and he was quite proud of the fact that a number of females were employed in government. I believe he cited a percentage of the workforce, and he said that was consistent with the normal practice in the private sector as well. I am not interested in the private sector and the practices of the private sector, what I am interested in is, Mr. Minister, often when government reduces the size of government there is very little opportunity for individuals who are visible minorities such as Blacks, such as racially distinct minorities, such as disabled, Mi'kmaq, and so on down the line, even minorities who have come to Canada and have been here for some time.
Can you tell me what impact reducing the size of government is going to have on the ability of those individuals to get employment within government and those individuals who are already in government who can continue to be employed within government?
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, affirmative action is a very important priority of the Department of Human Resources. It is not an easy problem to resolve, as I am sure the honourable member would agree because we have a lot of people within the Civil Service at the present time who would, perhaps, a few years ago, have considered themselves as being
impaired in some way from a normal occupation. We have those people in the Civil Service at the present time who are as productive as anyone else in the Civil Service and they have become a part of the mosaic of the Civil Service. You don't even notice them anymore, and if the question is put to that person, are you impaired, quite often we are getting back the answer, no.
Nevertheless, the numbers within the Civil Service who come under the equity program is remaining about stable. I hope I am right. It isn't increasing and it isn't decreasing, but I think, actually, the numbers we have within the Civil Service have increased perhaps quite dramatically. Now it is no longer unusual to see a person who we would normally have under the affirmative action policy, don't feel they need anything in particular above and beyond what is provided to the rest of the workforce.
I am just reading a note here, and I think the note says exactly almost the same as what I have been saying. The elimination of about 600 jobs will not, in effect, change that ratio of people who fall under the Affirmative Action Program.
MR. PYE: Can the minister tell me how many visible minorities are in the employ of government today?
MR. RUSSELL: We may have the figures here, and if I haven't got them here, I can get them for the honourable member. Do you want them as a total, or do you want them broken down?
MR. PYE: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister, that is very kind of you. As a matter of fact, it would be exceptionally kind of you if we could break them down as per category of visible minorities, the number of disabled, and if you could also identify the ratio per population of Nova Scotia.
MR. RUSSELL: We haven't got the numbers here by category, but we can certainly get them for the honourable member.
MR. PYE: I want to tell the minister, and this I will accept. . . .
MR. RUSSELL: I didn't quite finish. What I was going to say was you were talking about the percentage as a percentage of the population?
MR. PYE: As well as the number of people who are presently employed. I want two categories of numbers there. The number of individuals who are employed within government who can be considered visible minorities, disabled, in the different categories; also if that is reflective of the percentage of the population of Nova Scotia.
MR. RUSSELL: Okay, I am with you. Mr. Chairman, I am not sure if we have them for the population or not. (Interruption) I am told that we do have that information, and would be delighted to provide it to the member within one week.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I also want to you know this number was provided during the last estimates for the Department of Human Resources. To date, I have not received it, but that is neither here nor there. It may have been lost. I am not sure what may have happened in the transition of that information, but I certainly would be very appreciative if that information comes to me this time around.
MR. RUSSELL: I am advised by the deputy that that information was sent forward. However, if you didn't receive it, I will make sure you get it. I will put it on your desk myself.
MR. PYE: I will apologize if it has come forward, but I would not be here requesting the differences between last year and this year if I had received that information.
MR. RUSSELL: May I interrupt the honourable member just for one brief second? What time is an hour up?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would advise there will be a vote in about four minutes' time, so we will recess now.
MR. PYE: How many minutes do I have left, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You will have approximately one half hour.
[2:26 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[2:41 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will call the Subcommittee on Supply back to order. At the time of recess the honourable member for Dartmouth North was questioning the minister with approximately 25 minutes left in your time.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I think I left off with the Affirmative Action Program, and I just wanted to comment a bit further on this if you don't mind. I believe that the Department of Human Resources, along with the union were actively involved in an affirmative action project. I am wondering if there is still an ongoing affirmative action project with the union and the Department of Human Resources.
MR. RUSSELL: I believe so. The Department of Human Resources has undertaken the development of the framework for the pilot project based on the best practices and based on recommendations from a joint union management committee. The first part of that
framework, Mr. Chairman, was to identify the barriers to designated groups existing within the policy and agreements that we have in place at the present time. As I said, there is a joint action committee, and the Departments of Community Services, Economic Development, Business and Consumer Services, and Tourism and Culture are those that have been identified as the departments to undertake pilot projects. As I told the member a few minutes ago, it has been somewhat disappointing in that the take-up hasn't been greater, in other words, steadily shown an increase, but I do believe the true numbers would show an increase of people who come out of the Affirmative Action Program.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, it is important to me, and I don't want to single out one particular group of individuals who government should be targetting for employment, but the disabled community comes to mind, and in my conversations with a number of people in the disabled community, they have found it extremely difficult to become employed within the government. I am just wondering if, in fact, the joint action committee has been working. I believe this committee has been going on now, this is the second year and it might very well be in place, and this committee, obviously, must have put forward some recommendations to the Department of Human Resources. You don't have to provide me with this today, but I am wondering if you could provide me with the recommendations suggested by this joint committee.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Chairman, that is no problem. Again, we will get those to the member as soon as we can. Perhaps it is not right that I ask the honourable member a question, but there was another committee I sat on when I was Minister of Labour, on that committee there was the Minister of Health, the Minister of Community Services, the Minister of Labour, but there was nobody from Human Resources. They meet on a monthly basis with the communities.
MR. PYE: With the Disabled Persons Commission?
MR. RUSSELL: That's the one, exactly. Thank you. As the honourable member is probably aware, that committee is up and running and they are doing some great work. They really are. It is impressive. They have a very large committee. When I say it is very large, it is maybe 30 or 40 people on the committee, a lot of people. It works well from the fact that there is no antagonism, everybody is trying to do their best. There is a free flow of ideas. Actually I am rather surprised the Human Resources Minister wasn't on that committee.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Government often does business with the private sector, and I know the government is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity employment, as well. Once again, I asked this question last year, and I am not sure that I received the kind of clarity I would have liked to receive with respect to this question. The question is, what has the Department of Human Resources, particularly since I think it is a mandate in your policy to develop a policy whereby government will do business with the private sector and/or any other agency the government does business with on the basis that
it is receptive to an Affirmative Action Program or an equal employment opportunity program?
MR. RUSSELL: Once again, Mr. Chairman, I don't want to step out of my own role as Acting Minister of Human Resources, but I don't believe that falls within Human Resources. There are a number of programs which are presently in place. How effective are they are? I don't think I can say they have been tremendously effective. There are two programs, I think, within the Department of Economic Development, and I believe that I also have a program within the Department of Transportation. We do not have anything within the Department of Human Resources, however, there was a policy of contract compliance, which I presume was compliance with the Affirmative Action Program in contracts to be awarded. However, that has lapsed, I believe it has never been acted upon. It was a commitment, actually, when Premier MacLellan took over the government. That was a contract compliance when the Affirmative Action Program was a part of their plan to implement that kind of a policy, but it never came to fruition.
MR. PYE: So as a result of the MacLellan Government not implementing the policy and plan, and since it didn't come to fruition as you have stated, is there a commitment by your government to do so? Mr. Minister, I have to tell you that I have difficulty comprehending the fact that the Department of Human Resources, since you are dealing with the human resource within your government and hopefully outside the government that has those contacts, I find it difficult that this wouldn't be a responsibility and a role of the Department of Human Resources to police or to see that this is actively being pursued and that government is doing all within its power to make sure Affirmative Action Programs and equal opportunity employment programs work for individuals.
MR. RUSSELL: At the risk of being shot dead by the department, I think you are absolutely right. I think the policy should be originated within the Department of Human Resources, although, in truth, once you have the policy, the department can't do a heck of a lot about it. It is those agencies that are actually awarding tenders and contracts that are going to make the program either successful or a failure. I presume that is why it is within the Department of Economic Development. I think they have two programs, and I believe we have a program as well - as I said before - within the Department of Transportation. I can't give the honourable member a commitment because I am not familiar enough with what the programs are within the Department of Economic Development. I know that within Transportation - and I presume that it is still there - there was a program to give favourable consideration to firms, who wanted to get on the tender list, who were headed up by a minority person or a person with a disability.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, I want to talk about the Five Point Quality Public Service Protection Plan for Nova Scotia. I do know that the Premier, when he was in Opposition, signed this five point protection plan. You did indicate that this was a political decision by the Premier and it was not something that the Department of Human Resources was committed
to or tied to. I am wondering if you are telling me that because of that this is not worth the paper it is written on, with respect to the Premier's signature because many of the five points in the Quality Public Service Protection Plan, I would assume - and I didn't look at the NSGEU collective agreement - were in relation to their collective agreement as well.
I am wondering - if, in fact, there is a tie here to the collective agreement and the administration of the collective agreement comes through the Department of Human Resources, I do believe - if a signed document by the Leader of the political Party who becomes the power in government isn't something that ought to be taken very seriously and ought to be addressed when you are negotiating with employees or setting terms of agreements with respect to how individuals will be given their pink slips? I am wondering, Mr. Minister, if that is not your role to make sure that this is carried out contrary to what you may have said to the honourable member for Cape Breton East? Also, I do know that the collective agreement expired, I believe, on March 31st, and so you are in contract negotiations as well, I would assume, or you are starting the process of contract negotiations.
Mr. Minister, I know there are a number of questions there, so I would certainly appreciate hearing from you.
MR. RUSSELL: As I said before, we are not actually in contract negotiations, we are at the stage of talking with the union at the present time, that is with regard to the contract. We are also into negotiations and talks with the union with regard to the separation of the personnel over the course of this next fiscal year. Those two things are sort of separate, but they are to some extent intertwined, obviously. I would think that maybe within a few short weeks we may have something underway that we could announce.
Getting back to the Premier's signature on the document, he signed that five-point agreement, I know. It was signed as an agreement to consult, I think, more than to prevent. In other words, he wasn't saying that there should be no privatization, he was saying that privatization, if it is going to go ahead, should have some kind of consultation with the union and with the people who are affected. I was in Opposition with the Premier at that time, however, I did not sign the agreement, so I can't tell you exactly what he had in mind when he signed that agreement. I believe that what he was talking about was consultation rather than preventing a privatization taking place.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, that was somewhat vague. I want to come to one point of the Five Point Quality Public Service Protection Plan that I really think falls within the purview of the Department of Human Resources. I really think it is quite clear that the Premier was very much aware, when he signed this agreement, that there would be an important role for the Department of Human Resources to play, and that comes to point number two of the Five Point Quality Public Service Protection Plan for Nova Scotia. Let me tell you what the Five Point Quality Public Service Protection Plan for Nova Scotia says, it says that a decision to privatize or contract out services will not be made without a full and
open review by an independent and mutually agreed upon review agency or individual, who will ensure that the cost-benefit analysis and comprehensive social and economic impact studies are conducted.
In my opinion, I would hope that the Department of Human Resources would make sure that is something that is carried out because, as I said earlier, it falls within the purview of your department to make sure that if there is privatization or contracting out that this part of John Hamm's signature mandate is carried out. I would wonder how you, as the Acting Minister for the Department of Human Resources, will respond to that?
MR. RUSSELL: You raise a very interesting question. The response is fairly simple, the Department of Human Resources deals with contracts that are signed with various union organizations and policies that originate within the department. This is not a policy of government, it is not a part of any agreement that we have with any particular union, this is a statement that the Premier signed when he was Leader of the Opposition. Quite frankly, I am not saying that the five points within this particular plan are not of great interest and concern to the government, they are. The Premier has said in response to the question that the member has brought forward that he is prepared to talk to the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, with regard to the matters raised in this particular document.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, you and I will agree to disagree on this. I know that you are implying to me that it is not a policy of the Department of Human Resources, so therefore it is not something that Human Resources will look at, other than if the directive comes from the Premier's Office to look at this particular issue; then and only then will you honour all or parts of the components of the Five Point Quality Public Service Protection Plan.
MR. RUSSELL: You put that very well. I agree with you.
MR. PYE: Mr. Minister, I want to talk to you briefly about privatization. Can I ask you - and I am sure the government departments have already talked about it and are looking at it, I do know there is a proposal out for the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission to look at the economic feasibility of whether the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission should be privatized or not. I know you told the honourable member for Cape Breton East that this is a separate collective agreement, and that in fact the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission is a separate entity unto itself, I do know that. What I am getting to is the notion of privatization. Has the Department of Human Resources been actively involved with all the other departments of government with respect to what has the potential of being privatized or sent out to be delivered by the private sector?
MR. RUSSELL: In a nutshell, Mr. Chairman, the answer is no. The department has not been involved in that assessment. However, having said that, I want to point out to the honourable member that deputy ministers across government were involved in discussions as to the program analysis and options that took place between the various departments. The process actually was based on deputy ministers' input into a common pot, but the departments themselves were not involved. I am not trying to deliberately confuse the honourable member.
MR. PYE: Well, Mr. Minister, you are. You are confusing me because I guess my view of the Department of Human Resources is maybe somewhat different from yours and maybe somewhat different from government's because it is my opinion that the Department of Human Resources is responsible for negotiations of collective agreements.
MR. RUSSELL: Correct.
MR. PYE: It is across all the boards of government, all the departments of government. That is why you have some 6,000-plus NSGEU members along with approximately 3,000 employees within the Civil Service. If, in fact, you are not kept abreast of each department's intent to deal with the privatization and what components of privatization are going to take place within those particular departments, how are you able to give assurances to those people who are now in government that they will have the full consultative process and that, in fact, their voice will be heard and that there is a measurement that measures their expertise in the delivery of their services to Nova Scotians versus that of the delivery of services by the private sector?
MR. RUSSELL: That may well be an issue that will come up in negotiations on a specific contract but, however, at the present time it does not fall within the purview of the Department of Human Resources to go out and actively pursue any initiatives for privatization or the way in which privatization will occur. The Human Resources Department . . .
MR. PYE: I know . . .
MR. RUSSELL: . . . is a management function.
MR. PYE: Excuse me, Mr. Minister, for interjecting, I see the definition of the Human Resources Department within the Estimates Book. I just want you to know that it is part of an administrative function in the way I see it; I guess in the way you see it, it may be somewhat different. I do know that I have approximately one minute and one-half left.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One minute.
MR. PYE: One minute, thank you. Mr. Chairman, my final question to the Minister of Human Resources is, how many collective agreements are up for negotiations this year?
MR. RUSSELL: I believe there are about nine, but I am not absolutely sure of that figure. There are five coming up.
MR. PYE: Can you identify the five collective agreements that are up for renewal, Mr. Minister?
MR. RUSSELL: The Civil Service Master Agreement applies to eight of the nine Civil Service bargaining units, namely Clerical; Health Services A; Health Services B; Health Services, Nursing; Maintenance; Professional Service; and Technical. There is the Civil Service collective agreement which applies to the Education bargaining unit. There is the correctional officers collective agreement, which is a separate one again, and the teachers' provincial agreement.
MR. PYE: Mr. Chairman, finally, and I know my time is up, I just want to thank you, Mr. Minister.
MR. RUSSELL: Would you like a copy of that?
MR. PYE: Sure, thank you, Mr. Minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has now expired for the NDP caucus. The time has shifted to the Liberal caucus.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, my first question to the minister is with regard to the overall assessment of the Civil Service in the province. Obviously, the government is looking at reducing and in some cases perhaps privatizing some of the services that are now provided from a public perspective into the private sector and that, obviously, will have an impact on the size of the Civil Service and we all understand that. Has the government and, in particular, the Department of Human Resources, undertaken any analysis as to the level of professionalism or the ability of the professional Civil Service as individually, or collectively, as an individual employee or as a department, to provide that service effectively as if they were in the private sector?
MR. RUSSELL: I would say that is a good question, but it is a difficult one to answer. Part of our problem I think is to establish before we actually pass off a function to the private sector that the service to the public is going to either remain the same or be better and then, secondly, whether or not that function can be provided by the private sector at less cost. There is also I think another wrinkle in this as well, whether or not the private sector
over the long haul will continue to provide the same level of services. In other words, can we put in place checks and balances that are going to ensure that we don't just privatize something because it looks good right at the moment, but then somewhere down the road the level of service provided by that private sector deteriorates to such a state that indeed the public is not getting the same service that we had expected they would get from that particular private sector employer.
MR. MACKINNON: I am not sure what the exact number is in the Civil Service - 12,000?
MR. RUSSELL: It is about 6,000 in the NSGEU and unionized, about 3,000 on top, but then . . .
MR. MACKINNON: In round figures, about . . .
MR. RUSSELL: The actual public sector itself is over 20,000, I believe. When you consider the medical side, the educational side, the correctional side, the Liquor Commission, and all those other bits and pieces, we are well over 20,000.
MR. MACKINNON: Is there any process which the government and, in particular, the Department of Human Resources, uses to measure the performance level of individual public servants?
MR. RUSSELL: Absolutely.
MR. MACKINNON: Is that a standardized method of testing and, if so, could the minister kind of give us a thumbnail sketch of it?
MR. RUSSELL: I was speaking to the honourable member for Dartmouth North a moment ago and I was suggesting to him that part of our problem has been that our management manuals have fallen . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Behind.
MR. RUSSELL: They are hopelessly outdated and we are updating them at the present time. Part of the management manual refers to performance appraisals and performance appraisals are, I believe, done on a yearly basis, yes, and as a standardized form. It is an annual event but, however, I am told that there is a new standardized form coming out very shortly. To be fair, the appraisal of employees should be done annually, but it also must be done so that the information does not become biased according to the eyes of the person who is writing the appraisal. I said that badly. What I mean is it has to be fair so that your appraisal and my appraisal are based on certain standard performances. Do you follow?
MR. MACKINNON: Is that the program that is called core leadership competencies? Am I correct on that?
MR. RUSSELL: I have no idea.
MR. MACKINNON: Is that the new process that has now been put in place?
MR. RUSSELL: I can tell the honourable member that, yes, it is new to me.
MR. MACKINNON: The deputy minister is shaking her head yes so I will take that as . . .
MR. RUSSELL: Yes, that is good. I am glad the deputy minister shook her head because . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, well, it is new to me, but there were a number of facets to this particular testing that caught my attention.
MR. RUSSELL: Are you talking about testing or assessing?
MR. MACKINNON: It is self-appraisal, but it is essentially a part of the testing process, am I correct?
MR. RUSSELL: There is no testing. Managers assess against some core competencies; the annual assessment measures skills, abilities, outcomes, how many people they lead and their leadership capabilities, how much budget they control, et cetera. So it is back to the old zero-based managing.
MR. MACKINNON: I wanted to focus on one aspect of that core leadership competency testing, self-appraisal, and it is in concert with the way the Department of Human Resources would evaluate or appraise such a report prepared by an individual employee. One section includes ethical behaviour, am I correct?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: An individual is asked to rate himself or herself, on a scale of let's say zero to five in terms of his or her ethical behaviour on a number of different facets? Am I correct on that?
MR. RUSSELL: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: The difficulty with that from my perspective is that what you are asking a person to state is either they are being ethical, not ethical or somewhere in between. I was always of the opinion that either you are a fairly honest person or you are not an honest person; you can be only one of two things, a respecting person or not. I am just wondering what exactly is the Department of Human Resources trying to achieve with that type of questioning?
MR. RUSSELL: I am on a learning curve, too, I should tell you and, quite honestly, I do not know.
MR. MACKINNON: I can leave that with the minister until you get an opportunity . . .
MR. RUSSELL: Leave it with me, but you raise a very interesting question and one that if I remain with the department for any length of time, I intend to take up and that is how you teach people ethics, first of all, and, secondly, how you measure their behaviour in various situations. It is not easy I would suggest. In fact, it is something that is going to take some time to come up with a scorecard. The other one was we are also coming up with is conflict of interest guidelines and that will be out shortly, too, but I think the two things are connected, ethical behaviour, so that people know what is a conflict and what is ethical behaviour in that particular circumstance.
MR. MACKINNON: I can just take it on notice. If this is now an accepted policy that is now being utilized across the Public Service, if the minister would be kind enough to give the committee an undertaking to provide us with a copy of that standardized form that is being used in the testing and some of the rationale as to what it is essentially trying to achieve.
MR. RUSSELL: Sure.
MR. MACKINNON: So the minister will know the rationale from my thought process and it not that I am trying to ambush the minister here at the committee, but . . .
MR. RUSSELL: No, no, that is fine.
MR. MACKINNON: . . . essentially just to ensure that it is not a process that is being used by the government to zero in on x number of individuals within the Public Service that say, you know, these are our targets, let's weed them out, this is our dead wood so to speak, and I don't mean that in a negative fashion but, you know, just in looking at it in terms of cold, hard calculated numbers, is this part of the methodology or is it in concert with the restructuring of government to ensure that we have a very vibrant and efficient Public Service?
MR. RUSSELL: Absolutely and I am in agreement with you. One of the problems we have had within the Civil Service and it goes back years and years is that we have never appraised personnel of their shortcomings on a consistent basis so that when some day we decide, or somebody decides, that that person is not being productive, is being disruptive, et cetera, there is nothing that the manager can go back to to display that that kind of behaviour has been occurring over a period of time and I think that is one of the basic reasons why you should have a good appraisal system in that you know who to promote and people who, quite frankly, unless they shape up, are going to have to ship out.
MR. MACKINNON: I agree in part with the minister on that and I think that is moving in the right direction. I am just putting out that cautionary note that we have to be careful not to ask individual employees to be expected to appraise themselves from an ethical point of view because it is very difficult when you are getting into that type of questionnaire, what it can lead to, but that having been said, I appreciate the minister's comments on that.
I guess I would be remiss because we have gone through the history of patronage in politics, I mean it has occurred in all political Parties and we would be naive to say differently, but in recent years because we have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other, you know, the concern has been raised about patronage within the Civil Service. I don't mean that in a negative sense to any one particular individual, but just the nature of the structure. I can say that I have witnessed it and so somewhere in between is a balance of fairness and, hopefully, this process that is being undertaken will, in fact, give us the best possible results for our future filling of the Civil Service. I just make that note.
Under the Civil Service Act, Section 13, Tabling of reasons for removal of deputy head. I noticed when the present administration took over government, we had some reshuffling. There were three deputy ministers who left their portfolios - one I believe left on her own accord - Dr. Nuala Kenny, Dr. Mildred Royer and Mr. Bernie Smith. I have some questions on that, but in this particular section it states quite clearly, "Whenever a deputy head is removed from office, a statement of the reasons therefor shall be tabled in the Assembly by the head of the department within the first twenty days of the next following session."
I would ask the minister perhaps if we will be receiving a report with regard to these particular individuals.
MR. RUSSELL: I will have to read that portion of the Civil Service Act. I wasn't aware that was in there.
MR. MACKINNON: I will take it on notice.
MR. RUSSELL: Take it on notice. I am not trying to avoid the question; you recognize the fact that deputy ministers come and go at the pleasure of the Premier and not the Department of Human Resources.
MR. MACKINNON: I agree with that, but it doesn't say the rationale for removal from office whether one removes oneself or is removed by the minister or the Premier or whoever, it just says removed from the office. So, I think ultimately, I would suspect the issue if somebody were acting as a deputy minister and all of a sudden for some reason unbeknownst to the general public, or members of the House of Assembly. One has to understand the rationale. It is one thing to have a transfer from one department to the next, but it is another to have these questions just hanging there and if it is a requirement by law I guess I am of the opinion . . .
MR. RUSSELL: It may be just the OIC, is it?
MR. MACKINNON: Well, no it says, ". . . a statement of the reasons therefor shall be tabled in the Assembly . . ." referring to the House of Assembly, ". . . by the head of the department within the first twenty days of the next session."
MR. RUSSELL: Well, you brought to my attention something that I wasn't aware of. I will take that as notice.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, that is fair enough. Other than that, that is my question of the day.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Honourable minister you now have time to make some closing remarks.
MR. RUSSELL: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the committee for their questions. You never do anything without learning something, I guess, and you can't make excuses that you just arrived on the scene.
I do enjoy estimates because I think that it is a good opportunity to get to know your department particularly from the point of view of what the Opposition thinks of it. I am glad to have temporary custody of a department that is well respected not only by members within the House, but I think in the Civil Service generally as well.
I know the honourable member for Cape Breton West wasn't in the committee when I mentioned before that I think the Civil Service in Nova Scotia is very highly regarded. In fact, it is one of the better ones in Canada, it certainly used to be the best and probably still is and the Canadian Civil Service is acknowledged as being the finest in the world. It is a pretty high standard and I think we are very fortunate to have people of that calibre within our employ
I thank the members and staff for preparing me for this task and as I say, if there is anything I said I was going to deliver to anybody - and I think there were two or three things - they will be done. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E14 stand?
Resolution E14 stands.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Chairman, would you please call Resolution E15.
Resolution E15 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $82,293,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Justice, purusant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I would like to introduce on my right Mr. Clarence Guest from the Department of Justice and on my left, Mr. Martin Herschorn, Q.C. from the Public Prosecution Service.
I propose to deal in sequence with the Department of Justice and the number of the public service votes for which I am responsible by way of an opening statement on all the matters at one time as a way of saving time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Take all the time you want.
MR. BAKER: I intend to. I wanted to begin the debate today by discussing some of the major initiatives underway in the department. I also wanted to touch on some of the changes that will be taking place over the next few months.
While the core business functions of the department do not change, some of the ways we provide that service will. The department will still provide infrastructure to the courts, legal services to the government, provide for the secure custody of offenders, services to victims and will continue to ensure the delivery of policing services meets acceptable standards.
Like every government department we have carefully examined the programs and services we offer. We looked for ways we could save money and ways we could provide better, more focused, service. We believe we have done that. There are some who won't agree with our approach. I want to take some time to give you some context for the decisions that were made.
I am going to begin with the Court Services Division. It has been widely reported that we are closing the Bedford court and will cease to sit in 10 satellite areas around the province. There are some very sound reasons for this decision. In the case of Bedford, we will save approximately $173,000 in annual costs. We will transfer cases to Dartmouth and to Halifax which will provide very accessible service for the metro area residents.
In 10 other areas around the province, we are ceasing satellite operations. We have looked at what we could reasonably sustain across the province without compromising service delivery in other areas. We made a decision to cease sitting in Springhill, Tatamagouche, Sheet Harbour, Ingonish, St. Peters, Glace Bay, Middleton, Comeauville, Barrington and Sherbrooke. In these areas, we sit on average once or twice a month.
There are leasing costs, travel and meal costs for staff, for our sheriff services and for prisoner transportation. We estimate overall cost savings to be roughly $150,000 annually. That is the direct cost. It is also important to remember that in many areas we use fire or community halls. These areas are simply not appropriate for court sittings in many cases. From a security standpoint and to address occupational health and safety concerns in each area, the expenditure would be quite significant.
Let me give you an example. In Springhill, about $72,000 would be needed to bring the facility to minimum standards according to estimates provided by the Department of Transportation and Public Works. In Tatamagouche, approximately $120,000 would be needed: estimates include approximately $2,000 for wheelchair ramps; about $10,000 to upgrade for secure prisoner entrance; and approximately $10,000 for secure counter and staff areas; about $3,000 would be needed for an alarm system; $50,000 to create a holding area; occupational health and safety upgrades would amount to about $2,000, including the installation of an eyewash station. In St. Peters, about $116,000 would be required. In Barrington, about $151,000 would be needed to create upgrades for everything from security systems to secure entrances for the judiciary.
The decisions we made were not easy. We know they do cause concern in some areas, but we are providing very reasonable access to Nova Scotians for court services. We are also looking at ways we can improve service delivery. We will establish a comprehensive case management and scheduling system for civil cases, we will develop a plan to further improve technology in the courts, and we will continue our work in the Family Division of the Supreme Court. We will continue to establish Family Law Service Centres, helping families in crisis to ease tension and conflict. We hope to expand the court throughout the province in partnership with the federal government.
Recently there has been some criticism regarding mediation services provided through the Family Division. I would like to take a moment to clarify the issue regarding this very important service. We have worked very closely with women's groups to ensure that those who have a history of abuse and those who are identified as at risk are not referred to the mediation process. We are aware that there are some cases where mediation is simply not appropriate. That is why we have trained staff to look for and identify risk factors, so that no victim is put in this situation.
A report widely circulated by the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia did not acknowledge the work that had been done by staff to address this extremely important issue. In fact, many of the recommendations put forward by the Transition House Association are currently practised in the Family Division. The report also didn't differentiate between mediation services and those services offered through the Family Division of the Supreme Court. We take this issue very seriously, and have implemented a number of steps to properly address the problem. Departmental staff recently met with representatives from the Transition House Association. This meeting was extremely productive and helped to ensure that the lines of communication are open and that we have a forum to address areas of mutual concern.
We are also building on a Restorative Justice Program. This program continues to operate in four areas in the province. We are extremely pleased with the first phase of the program. While we will be carefully monitoring and evaluating the program, early indications are that this community-based program is having a very positive impact. A restorative approach offers a real chance to get to the root cause of crime, so that we can prevent it from happening again. A restorative system also gives the victim a voice and an opportunity to participate in a very meaningful way. The victim can become involved in finding a solution that heals in advising just how best the harm can be repaired. This doesn't mean they have to face their offender, if they don't wish to. It does mean they can take part in a process that can help them to heal.
Make no mistake, this approach isn't soft on crime. The offender is held accountable and must take responsibility for his or her actions. The objective is to focus on problem solving, to find ways to integrate the offender back into the community safely, so that a repeat of the offence does not take place. I want to be clear, this is not a replacement for the current system. It is an opportunity to enhance and build on what is available through the traditional system. Referrals can be made pre- and post-charge, pre- and post-conviction, and pre- and post-sentencing. Obviously more serious matters would not be referred to the police or pre-charge entry point. This approach allows us to find more effective ways to deal with crime.
With the assistance of funding from the federal government, we have also provided resources to the Youth Alternative Society to administer the program at the community level. Because it is about community involvement, our Restorative Justice Program is designed to ensure that offenders face the personal harm caused by the crime by learning just how their actions have affected the lives of their victims. Offenders can participate in service projects
that are truly valued by the community. In other words, we are giving communities more effective ways to deal with crime.
One of the other community-based approaches through the federal government is the Community Mobilization Program. We are now entering the third year of the five year program. The federal government has committed $3.5 million to Nova Scotia over this period to help communities prevent crime. Communities are invited to submit applications to a provincial steering committee on how they feel crime can best be prevented in their neighbourhoods. After all, the citizens of these communities know what works. The provincial committee screens the application and provides recommendations to Ottawa. We also have staff who work with community groups in putting the application together, who are available to assist. The ideas that are coming forward are innovative and fresh. We are going a long way in making our homes and streets safer.
One of the other crime prevention initiatives that we have recently unveiled is a video. It includes six different vignettes that provide very practical tips on personal and home safety. It is designed as a teaching tool for police to use as they carry out their community-based policing duties. It is also available to community-based organizations to use as an educational tool for their members. The information provided by the video is also available online so that police officers may access the information as they are speaking to groups across the province. As well, members of the public are invited to visit the site and access the information.
One of the topics highlighted in the video focuses on safety for seniors. We felt it was important to provide information that specifically deals with the issue of home invasions, given the very real concern that many senior citizens have with respect to this matter. I have also issued guidelines for Crown Attorneys with respect to home invasions. We are fortunate that the Crown Attorneys in Nova Scotia have been securing the toughest sentences in the country. I also wish to remain out in front, that is why the guidelines were provided.
While we are on the subject of sentencing, I would like to touch on some changes we are proposing to our Correctional Services Division. We intend to close four correctional centres across the province. There are a number of reasons for this decision. In this province, we have the lowest rate sentence admissions to custody in Canada. We have the second-highest probation rate, and the highest use of community service work orders per capita in Canada. The provincial inmate population of roughly 550 is disbursed among 9 different institutions, some with as little as 6 beds. The province took over the operation of correctional institutions in 1986. The system we inherited consists of the remnants of the local jails that had been established in 18 counties. Nine of the former county jails closed between 1970 and 1990 due to fire damage or failure to meet standards. Today, of course, nine remain.
The fact is we have too many adult correctional facilities serving a very small inmate population. With 80 per cent of operating costs being staff related, the staff/resident ratio is extremely high and inefficient compared to other jurisdictions. The end result is duplication of services, high administrative costs and inefficiencies because our resources are scattered throughout nine locations in the province. With their close proximity to Halifax and small bed capacities, we had to look at our options, and again decide what we could reasonably sustain.
Operating costs at Lunenburg are roughly $948,000 annually. There are 14 full-time and 4 part-time staff, with a bed capacity of 23. In Kings County, the annual operating costs are $2,147,600; about 39 full-time and 5 part-time staff oversee 59 beds. In Colchester County, annual operating costs are $1,502,000, and there are 47 beds with 22 full-time and 4 part-time staff. In Guysborough County, the smallest institution, there are 6 beds with an annul operating cost of $358,900, and about 6 full-time and 2 part-time staff; the number of staff, of course, exceeding the number of beds.
With these closures we expect to save approximately $5 million. We are also constructing a 272 bed facility in metro, which will replace the existing Sackville site and will impact on the outlying areas. The existing institution in metro, like very other institution across the province, is outdated and lacking in the security features needed for today's inmates. After the tragic death of Donald Findlay in 1993, it became obvious that poor design features prohibited staff from properly monitoring the dormitories. That is true for institutions across the province; 58 per cent of our provincial bed space is dormitory-style, and 14 per cent are double-bunked, making it unsafe and difficult to supervise. The blind spots and poor sight lines in the larger institutions are particularly problematic given the volatile mixture of inmates who are housed in these facilities. The lack of secure single cells creates tension and adds to the environment of unpredictability. The lack of privacy adds to the tension.
That is why the new facility in metro is crucial. The state-of-the-art security features and improved design will mean that high-risk, high-needs offenders can be handled in one location, easing pressures on the remaining institutions. When one considers sentencing trends, the profile of the inmates we are housing, and the impact of the institution, down-sizing our capacity was the only choice we could make. We recognize that the facilities remaining are located in strategic areas of the province. That is why the Cape Breton, Yarmouth, Antigonish and Cumberland facilities remain operational, along with the metro facility.
This newly configured system will allow us to meet the changing and challenging needs of tomorrow's offenders. Yes, there will be job losses. We are working with the union to ensure staff receives fair treatment and knows as soon as possible how they will be personally affected. Given the bumping process that is outlined in the collective agreement, full-time staff will have opportunities to move to other institutions, depending on seniority. That process is clearly laid out in the collective bargaining agreement, which we will respect as we work through the transition process.
I would also like to take the opportunity to update members on the progress being made in the construction of the new facility in Burnside. At this point, construction is about 15 per cent completed. We are on schedule and expect to open in June 2001, or thereabouts. We have a Community Liaison Committee in place which will help us keep the communities surrounding the facility informed and involved. I have every confidence these facilities will have a very positive impact on the community of Burnside and the larger metro area, just as the current facilities do.
Regarding our facility for young offenders, the facility in Waterville is not affected. However, we are doing some restructuring in Shelburne to match sentencing trends and in recognition of the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act. If we look at custody counts over the last few years, a trend is clearly recognizable. In 1996, the average bed count for December was 50.9; in 1997, the average bed count for December was 46.8; in December 1998, the average count fell to 38. The overall bed capacity of the Shelburne Youth Centre is 57. Federal contributions towards young offenders facilities and programs have declined from a 50 per cent share in 1985 to 39 per cent in 1998. In order to contain provincial expenditures, we must maximize federal contribution and allocate resources to offset our rising share of operational costs.
Nova Scotia has the second-lowest rate of admissions to youth custody in Canada. We are developing a plan to meet the requirements of the new Youth Criminal Justice Act and to reduce expenditures. Staff has been working with the federal government during the transition process as the new Act is implemented. Although it has not yet been passed, there are several issues that must be addressed in anticipation of its implementation, and to address the greater emphasis on community-based sentencing.
We are also examining some interesting options in corrections. One of the areas we wish to explore is the possibility of cost recovery from impaired drivers. Housing and feeding offenders is a very expensive proposition. We believe it is important to ensure those who can afford it pay for their room and board. It is simply about accountability. We are also looking at holding parents accountable. We are examining legislation in Manitoba and Ontario that will require parents to make restitution to victims where the lack of proper parental supervision has caused a young person to commit a crime. Again it is about accountability, and we are making progress in that area.
We are making sure those who have fines imposed by the courts actually pay them. In partnership with the Department of Business and Consumer Services, our collection rate on outstanding fines has been improving. In the last three years, since the inception of the fines collection project, we have collected $3,923,875 in outstanding fines. Our collection rate is getting better each year. During the first seven months of the project we collected $758,065; in 1998-99, we collected $1,325,673; and in 1999-2000, we collected $1,840,136. As Minister of Justice, I believe it is particularly important that these fines are collected. We
cannot stand by and have some offenders undermine the integrity of the justice system by ignorning the fines imposed against them.
We are continuing to focus on the needs of victims. We are making adjustments to our programs which will provide legal counsel to victims whose personal records are requested through the courts. Commonly known as O'Connor applications, this program began as a pilot two years ago. We originally budgeted $100,000 for the project, but have found that a budget of $40,000 is adequate to cover the cost of this important program, with no change to the program. Therefore we are adjusting the budget to a more realistic level, one that reflects actual expenditures.
We are changing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Program. We recognize the psychological effect of crime is devastating for victims. Counselling can go a long way to restoring a victim's sense of well-being and help them to focus on the healing process. We are therefore channelling the funds we have available to help victims heal. They will be able to access funds for counselling purposes only. In this way, we hope we can reach a wider number of victims, and that we can have a more lasting and positive impact on those who access the funds. I think this program would be particularly helpful for those who may be victims of home invasion. Again, we want to focus on healing, to help restore their sense of safety and peace of mind.
Our Police and Public Safety Division continues to work with police agencies across the province as they gather input and feedback on our response to the White Paper on Policing. We have examined the issue of police service delivery and have suggestions for a number of possible policy recommendations. The suggestions put forward are not written in stone. They are being circulated to spark discussion and to garner as much feedback as possible; by the way, they have been successful. Police service delivery is an important issue, one that can touch a community to its core, as we have recently witnessed in Cape Breton.
We want to engage as many people as possible in the debate regarding policing services so that we may develop a strategic plan that is right for the province. We have also requested a discussion paper on the Fatality Inquiries Act. Again, our goal is to gather as much feedback as possible from interested groups. We are talking to people in the medical and police communities, to name a few. For those who have seen the discussion paper, you will know there is a series of questions being raised. We are asking people to comment on issues like mandatory enquiries, when sudden death should be reported, whether the role of the police and the medical examiner should be more clearly outlined in legislation.
Once we have received responses, we will then put forward our proposal for a reform of the Act. We wish to have a made-in-Nova Scotia solution, as we put in place a more effective system for the investigation of sudden death. Our legal services division is also actively involved in providing training for those sitting on agencies, boards and commissions. Following a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission that training be provided to
administrative tribunals, a very successful program is now underway. There have been six training sessions to date, with another round scheduled for the fall. It is a two-day program designed to provide participants with a better understanding of their role and responsibility as tribunal members. The trainers are all volunteers, lawyers from both the department and the private Bar. Evaluations have been very positive and enthusiastic.
The legal services division is also examining the method for the procurement of legal services across government. I am convinced department staff can handle much of the work now farmed out at great expense to government. When one considers that the department's legal costs are about one-third of those charged by the private Bar, it makes sense to look at this issue. That is why the division is currently identifying work that is being done by the private Bar that could be handled more cost-effectively in-house.
We are also working to ascertain just how much we are paying in legal fees across government. Right now we can't get solid figures, I want that to change. My staff is working with the Department of Finance to develop a reporting system for the payment of legal services. Currently the province's financial reporting system doesn't distinguish between fees and other payments, such as settlements and trust money. It is our view that government should use the services of the private Bar in four circumstances: when there is a conflict of interest that prevents the department's lawyers from acting; when the required expertise is not available within government; or when the service can't be delivered in a cost-effective manner. I can give you an example, it is simply not cost-effective for Justice Department lawyers to handle property matters outside of metro, matters where brief court appearances outside of metro are required may be another instance.
Currently the long trials throughout the province are handled by our civil litigation staff, that will continue. When the services of the private Bar are needed, we want to make sure that fair procurement practices are followed, and staff is working with other departments to ensure that is the case. Once we have a better handle on the monies spent on legal fees, we will be in a better position to measure our cost-effectiveness.
As I have outlined, there are a number of important initiatives underway within the department. That is why I wanted to take the time to outline them today. I also have given you some context for budgetary decisions that were made, though I am sure you will have more questions as we proceed through the debate. Before we move on, I want to discuss issues involving a number of other portfolios.
The Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service works hard for the people of this province, representing the public interest in criminal proceedings. Let me remind you that Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service was established in 1990 under the Public Prosecutions Act as the first independent prosecution service in Canada. It employs 75 Crown Attorneys and has a total staff of 122 in 17 offices across the province. Our Crowns handle more than 42,000 cases every year. These include 56 murders, 313 robberies, 465 sexual
assaults, 2,200 break and enters, and 4,600 thefts. It prosecutes those cases on an annual budget of just under $11 million.
In addition to prosecuting all Criminal Code offences in Nova Scotia, the PPS is responsible for prosecuting all cases involving the violation of provincial Statutes. The PPS also appeals decisions made by the courts where the service determines the courts have made an error in law. Since its establishment almost 10 years ago, it has prosecuted cases that have garnered national attention and national controversy, to be sure. As a service, the PPS continues quality, front-line prosecution services and continues to sharpen its skills and expertise in major and complex cases. Unfortunately, the PPS has come under fire in the last few years as a result of some of the cases that have come its way. Of course, that initiated an independent review of the Public Prosecution Services by retired Judge Fred Kaufman.
Judge Kaufman conducted an exhaustive review of the service and submitted his report on the general operation of the service last June. He made 29 recommendations on a number of issues. He recommended that the Public Prosecutions Act be amended to require that where the Attorney General, after consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions, exercises his statutory functions with respect to prosecutions, set out in Paragraph 6(e) of the Public Prosecutions Act, that notice shall be published as soon as practicable in the Royal Gazette. That recommendation was implemented. An amendment was passed in the fall session of the Legislature and was proclaimed November 23, 1999.
He recommended that this Act be amended to require that not less than one monthly meeting be held between the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss policy matters as well as existing and contemplated major prosecutions. That recommendation has been implemented. An amendment was passed at the fall session of the Legislature and again proclaimed in November 1999. He recommended a significant public information campaign to educate the citizens of Nova Scotia about the role played by the Public Prosecution Service in the administration of criminal justice. That recommendation is in process.
A long-term strategic communication plan is in the development phase, media relations programming has been made the first priority with respect to the following: the media policy has been revised to encourage Crown Attorneys to participate in media interviews; a system of logging media enquiries to ensure prompt and accurate response; all public announcements are coordinated through Communications Nova Scotia; a basic website has been established and remains under construction; a staff member has been trained as web master; internal communications have been improved by more consistent communication with staff on issues that affect them.
He recommended that newsworthy events involving the Public Prosecution Service be publicized by the service. That recommendation has been implemented. The service regularly issues news releases on issues of cases of particular significance. As well, the service
lists its interest in stories with individual reporters. He recommended that a system be put in place which would assure that prosecutorial decisions affecting the victims, the police and witnesses be communicated to those parties as quickly as they can be reasonably done. The implementation of this recommendation is in progress. The current system of notification is being reviewed with an aim to undertake an improved system by September 2000.
He recommended that the PPS's police liaison committee be struck to deal with the problem and complaints arising from PPS's Police relations. The committee should be composed of the DPP or his delegate, the chief of the Halifax Regional Police or the chief's delegate, the assistant commissioner of the RCMP or that person's delegate, and the representative of the Nova Scotia Association of Chiefs of Police, with a power to add. The implementation of this recommendation is in process. An organizational meeting was convened in October 1999 with the Police and Public Safety Division of the Department of Justice.
He recommended that steps be taken to preclude Crown shopping by police. Implementation of this recommendation is in progress. This will be addressed by the provincial liaison committee, which is being established. The target date is September 2000. He recommended the promotion process be revisited to make it open, accessible and fair. This recommendation has been implemented. Since the making of the recommendation, the service has examined each competition closely to ensure that all stages of the competition comply with or exceed the fair hiring guidelines of the province.
He recommended that agendas for forthcoming meetings of the management committee be circulated to Crown Attorneys; this recommendation has been implemented. He recommended that minutes of every meeting of the management committee be circulated to Crown Attorneys; this recommendation has been implemented. He recommended that the Crown Attorneys from different divisions be invited on a rotating basis to attend meetings of the management committee, this recommendation has been implemented. He recommended that where appropriate there be a reduction in the number of per diem Crown Attorneys and the funds saved be used to engage additional permanent staff; this recommendation has been implemented. He recommended that provision be made to compensate per diem Crown Attorneys for time spent in preparation; this recommendation has been implemented as of October 1, 1999.
He recommended that where possible Crown Attorneys be relieved of the task of arranging their own replacement, and that this function be taken over by a designated person on the support staff; this recommendation has been implemented. He recommended that the performance of per diem Crown Attorneys be monitored to ensure quality; implementation of this recommendation is in process. He recommended that the terms of engagement of contract Crown Attorneys be reexamined so existing inequalities may be removed where possible; this has been implemented. He recommended that a feasibility study be made studying sick benefits such as sick days to contract Crown Attorneys; the implementation of
this recommendation is pending. It requires further consultation with the Department of Human Resources which sets applicable policy.
He recommends that meaningful performance appraisals of all staff be made once a year, this recommendation has been implemented. He recommended that the members of the PPS who may wish to apply for management positions be required to attend appropriate educational seminars; this recommendation has been implemented. Currently two Crown Attorneys are participating in executive leadership development programs. He recommended that incumbent managers be urged to pursue appropriate courses to keep them current in management theory and practice; this recommendation has been implemented. One Chief Crown Attorney is currently enrolled in the Department of Human Resources Executive Leadership Development Program, four other Chief Crown Attorneys have copmleted this program.
He recommended that additional funds be allocated to enable more Crown Attorneys to attend continuing legal education events; the implementation of this recommendation is pending. He recommended that the mentor program, case, conferences, and in-house seminars be instituted; this has been implemented.
He further recommended that management make every effort to increase the frequency and regularity of the Crown Attorneys' newsletter; the implementation of this is in process. He recommended that juniors be more frequently assigned to observe and assist senior counsel; this recommendation has been implemented. He recommended that the Director of Public Prosecution be authorized to exceed the budget by 5 per cent, but only for extraordinary prosecutions, and that any such overexpenditure be reviewed by a designated person within a specified time-frame; this recommendation was implemented by an Act of the Legislature in the fall.
He recommended that consideration be given to the employment of paralegals to assist professional staff; implementation of this recommendation is in process. He recommended that the complaints procedure be revised, and it be made more responsive to the parties, and that allowing time for dealing with complaints be considerably shortened; this recommendation has been implemented. A revised policy with reduced response times has been implemented since May 12, 1999.
He recommended that legislated exclusion of government lawyers under the Civil Service Collective Bargaining Act be repealed, and that the Act be amended to establish a staff lawyers' bargaining unit; this recommendation was modified by the government. The Kaufman review stated that an agreement on determining Crown Attorneys' compensation was preferable to an imposed regime of the type referred to above. This agreement was reached between the Government of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys
Association in January 2000. He recommended that within one year from the date of May 31, 1999, the Director of Public Prosecutions report on the implementation of the recommendations; this recommendation has been implemented. A status report was issued in February 2000.
If I may, I just want to emphasize the good progress we have made with the Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys Association. On February 1st of this year, we announced that we had reached an agreement with the association on a salary-setting mechanism. I recall it was a banner day for the Public Prosecution Service, and it was. The development made it a more positive constructive relationship between Crown Attorneys and the government. It provided a solution to a very long-standing issue of how wages are set for an independent service, and it recognized Nova Scotia Crown Attorneys as the representative body for the 65 non-managerial Crown Attorneys across the province. The next step, of course, is actual negotiations, and I look forward to an outcome of that matter.
I also want to draw attention to the very hard line we have taken on home invasions. As you know, home invasion robberies are on the rise in Nova Scotia and across Canada. The most vulnerable members of our society, the elderly, seem to be the most common target. Nova Scotians are justifiably horrified by the trend, and are demanding that effective action be taken to stop this crime. The Government of Nova Scotia is committed to doing everything possible to eliminate home invasion robberies. Our Crown Attorneys have skilfully and vigorously prosecuted these cases. Their representations have secured some of the stiffest sentences ever handed down in Canada for home invasion.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General I am proud of Nova Scotia's firm stance on this issue, and recognize the contribution of our Crown Attorneys. We must be diligent in maintaining the momentum we have acquired, and following consultation with the Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, I issued, earlier this month, guidelines to further assist with this matter. These guidelines define a home invasion and outline the nature of sentencing in a case. Clearly this cannot be exhaustive given the many factors that bear upon it. These guidelines are intended to support the continuing efforts of Crown Attorneys.
Finally, I want to remind you that Judge Kaufman has just issued his final word on the Public Prosecution Service. He reported on the handling of the Westray prosecution, which was released on Wednesday, April 26th. The report provides valuable insights as to why the Westray prosecution team concluded no reasonable chance of conviction existed in this case; a conclusion the review has characterized as not unreasonable. The 286 page report by Mr. Duncan Beveridge, QC and Mr. Patrick Duncan, QC, under the direction of Judge Kaufman includes 16 recommendations aimed at improving the PPS and investigative operations.
I am satisfied that the review is fair and balanced. I agree with most of the recommendations, and I will work with the PPS and others in the process of implementing those. As you know the review was ordered after the PPS decided not to go ahead with the
prosecution of the operators of the Westray Mine. The mine exploded in May 1992, killing 26 miners. The prosecution encountered a number of problems from the time it was initiated, and the PPS has been heavily criticized for the handling of the matter. Resourcing issues, allegations of non-disclosure and undue delays were among the criticism.
I think it is important to review the matter because it clearly explains the Crown's role in the criminal justice system generally, and, in particular, in the Westray prosecution. Among the key specific findings in the review are, PPS's efforts were initially affected by lack of adequate resources; there was no undue delay in coming to the decision to stop the prosecution; there was no evidence to support the criticism the Crown was playing to win or playing to an enraged public, the decision to stop the prosecution was based upon a consideration of appropriate factors.
Recommendations include a call for the formulation of a clear statement of principle and guidelines regarding the sufficiency of evidence; a rotation for interested Crown Attorneys through the special prosecution unit for training in major and complex cases; the development of protocols to address prompt assembly of counsel to provide timely pre-charge advice to police. The review carefully looks at every decision, every move in the process. I believe the PPS will benefit from the analysis and the recommendations found in the review. Overall, I believe the review accurately explains the Crown's role in the criminal justice system and in the Westray case specifically. This review should assure Nova Scotians that the PPS has acted responsibly in making decisions based on facts and the appropriate law.
Mr. Chairman, I will now move on to Aboriginal Affairs. I want to take every opportunity I can to speak about the mandate of the office of Aboriginal Affairs. There are a number of new developments that involve the Province of Nova Scotia and our Mi'kmaq communities. I will share those with you, and I will also talk to you about the approach and philosophy behind it.
All three Parties represented in the House have taken a keen interest in Aboriginal issues, especially following the Marshall ruling in September of last year and a court ruling in New Brunswick earlier this month on the issue of logging. With every passing day the news media reminds us of the work still being done to reach amicable agreements in the fisheries, a fishery we believe will be and should be peaceful and integrated. That is just one of the many issues we are addressing. I will take this opportunity to enlighten the committee members about the role that Nova Scotia is playing in this evolving relationship.
First of all, let me put our approach in historical context. The office of Aboriginal Affairs was created in 1998 by the previous administration, and wisely addresses some very significant issues. I would like to refer to those as the big picture issues, involving questions of Aboriginal rights, treaty rights, land claims and resource management.
For the longest time, the previous administration had two people on staff who were well versed in the issues. Today I am pleased to say the office has reached its full complement of 12 staff, 5 of whom are of Aboriginal descent. I am extremely proud of that fact. We have worked within the hiring guidelines as set by the Department of Human Resources, and we were sure to notify Mi'kmaq organizations of staffing opportunities. The office is also supported by a 5 member project team, which includes legal staff based within the Department of Justice. This project team supports not only the Aboriginal Affairs but also line departments in the use of law, history and land use, and other related matters.
Our mandate ties in directly with the objective of the government at large. The office facilitates and promotes a coordinated approach by government with respect to Aboriginal issues. It also represents the province during discussions with First Nations organizations and the Government of Canada. Its focus will be to prepare for and take part in negotiations. Our Cabinet has already granted it authority for officials to enter preliminary discussions. These discussions would ultimately lead to a framework agreement, which in effect would be a table of contents for a negotiation process. It would identify the issues to be negotiated, the goals of the negotiation process, matters of procedure, and other details such as public involvement and consultation.
We have been working closely with the Mi'kmaq representatives and the Government of Canada to advance this matter, and to the best interests of all Nova Scotians. We are on the verge of a major new initiative. I expect to be discussing this again soon with my federal counterpart. The budget numbers we bring to you today represent a balance that respects the province's tenuous financial situation and a clear need to enter a negotiation phase with the Government of Canada and the Mi'kmaq First Nations. As minister responsible, I am confident that the staffing levels will support the necessary amount of legal research, policy development and negotiation expertise required to work with others at the table. The staffing levels and budget allocation of $2.1 million also reflect the need to approach joint discussions in a cost-effective, accountable manner.
Mr. Chairman, the business of this agency is also clearly the business of Nova Scotia. We believe all Nova Scotians support balanced, fair and affordable negotiated agreements, not prolonged battles in the courts, and we are promoting a strategic approach at every opportunity. We committed, in our Throne Speech last October, to a more inclusive relationship with Aboriginal people. We live side by side in this great province, and the public policy in the new millennium must reflect that relationship. As the speech indicated, the government believes that all Nova Scotians, Mi'kmaq included, have the right to share in the natural resources we have been blessed with.
As we look across Canada, tremendous strides are being made to right historic wrongs. I believe the advances we are making here in Nova Scotia reflect the goals of Nova Scotians. We need to work with our First Nations to jointly identify priorities and to apply our best efforts to achieving practical results that lead to the best social and economic
conditions in Aboriginal communities, communities from the Acadia First Nation in the southwest to Membertou in Cape Breton. While it is true to that the Aboriginal population in Nova Scotia is not large, every effort must be made to ensure a quality of life that is commensurate with the rest of Nova Scotia.
As you are no doubt aware, the Government of Canada has prime constitutional responsibility for Canada's Aboriginal people. Just to give you a sense of the magnitude of this file, this year several federal departments, including Indian Affairs, will spend more than $7 billion in areas such as Health, Education and welfare programs. The Nisga'a Treaty, which just passed in the Senate, also reflects a desire to move away from the old paternalistic relationship. In British Columbia alone, right now, apart from the Nisga'a process, there are more than 50 separate treaties being negotiated to reflect a more modern interest in the needs of communities and governments.
We are not proposing to copy the B.C. experience, but there are clearly some practices and models we can use to shape our made-in-Nova Scotia process. The most important similarity is this, the lack of certainty and clarity over land issues has led to some practical problems - I am speaking here of the issue of Aboriginal title. That is a concern not just for the Mi'kmaq but to the province, municipalities, the general public and firms involved in the resource development sector. That is why we need to negotiate durable agreements that reflect the history and culture of Nova Scotia. It will be important to work together to strike a process that can best accommodate that kind of work. This process of negotiated amendments also typically brings with it an injection of federal dollars into First Nations communities, funds that invariably bring economic benefit to the reserves and adjacent communities.
Here in Nova Scotia there are some significant challenges on our reserves, most of which are in rural areas. Provincially, 16 per cent of the Aboriginal population have less than a Grade 9 education, only 6 per cent have a university degree. Aboriginal residents are 33 per cent more likely to be unemployed, and one-third of Aboriginal children are living in single-parent families. Those are just some of the reasons why Nova Scotia must participate in finding practical solutions.
As the parties work together on issues around land use, economic development and self-government arrangements, we need to ensure that the interests of all Nova Scotians are taken into account. Toward that end, the office of Aboriginal Affairs has made significant progress in three areas; first, in providing policy analysis advice to me and my Cabinet colleagues and to officials in other line departments. I don't need to remind anyone here that the legal and constitutional arena in this area can be extremely complicated and full of mine fields.
Secondly, the office has made progress in the area of community and intergovernmental liaison. We are working on being more proactive with the communities and organizations that represent Aboriginal people. I should also tell you that a significant sign of respect was shown recently to the community liaison coordinator in the office, when she was invited to help in the healing process in a northern Labrador community wracked by several suicides.
The third core business function I wanted to mention is in the area of negotiation and advice. It is encouraging to see the kind of expertise we have on staff, and more importantly the members of the Mi'kmaq community are working positively with our director of negotiations. It is a highly professional relationship that bodes well for future negotiations.
Mr. Chairman, I will mention a few other elements of our business plan. The province is also committed to encourage the development of partnerships between Aboriginal groups and the private sector. We are hopeful those kinds of arrangements can contribute to economic growth and lead to fulfilling jobs, especially among young people. We need to concentrate on that because the Aboriginal community is extremely young and mobile. While I am on the topic of youth, I am pleased to see the Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaq Education Act referred to positively in this month's report by the federal Auditor General. The legislation transferred jurisdiction for education to a number of Mi'kmaq communities back in 1998.
We will continue to address Aboriginal economic development through VLT proceeds and a share of profits from the Sydney casino. Part of that involves working with communities to address issues of accountability and transparency. For our own part, we intend to comply with recommendations from the Auditor General to ensure we live up to our responsibilities. The province is a significant contributor to band projects, to the tune of about $16 million a year. As you know, we have had some challenges in that area but we have addressed them head on. I am pleased to report that we are making progress. Communities have come to us to make sure the benefits of these funds do, in fact, reach the people who live there. We have made it clear that that is our intention.
Our staff is also participating in a number of high-level national working groups to identify barriers to economic opportunities in Aboriginal communities. They will work with other line departments and agencies to make sure that the principles of the National Aboriginal Youth Strategy can be adapted to youth projects here in Nova Scotia, and in cooperation with the Department of Justice, this year the office will continue to support the Mi'kmaq Young Offender Program. This initiative is a valuable resource for Mi'kmaq youth.
I think the common thread in all of this is that the province wants to support the kind of capacity building that reflects the aspirations of our Aboriginal communities. It should spur economic growth, especially in parts of Nova Scotia outside the HRM. Much of the fundamental decision making has to be made by Aboriginal communities themselves.
Mr. Chairman, in closing, I think it would be appropriate to mention the historic appointment of our new Sergeant-at-Arms, Mr. Noel Knockwood, who is no doubt hard at work down the corridor. Mr. Knockwood is well respected as a Mi'kmaq spiritual advisor and educator. In fact, in the weeks leading up to his appointment, he was working with the office of Aboriginal Affairs on a cultural awareness pilot project for provincial employees, and he has promised to jump right back in as soon as the current session ends. I hope that is a clue to my colleagues in the Opposition, as to the important work Mr. Knockwood has to do. Thank you. I will move on to another matter.
Mr. Chairman, I am almost to the end. I only have a couple more votes left. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission's budget will be reduced by about $90,000 for 2000-01. The budget for the organization stood at about $1.7 million, so that will reduce it to about $1.6 million. The changes represent about a 5 per cent reduction in the money for the commission. Any further changes in funding for the commission have been delayed pending the outcome of a thorough external organizational review. This review will look at all the roles and responsibilities for commission staff. The goal of that review, I understand, is to receive suggestions and recommendations on how to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the commission to better match staff resources to organizational needs and priorities. It is hoped that a more effective and efficient commission, retooled for the challenges of today, will be the result of this review process. It is expected this review will get underway this summer.
Beginning in this fiscal year, across government, things will need to be done differently. The commission is no exception. There are difficult decisions. Any employees who are involved in changes this year at the commission will be treated fairly. The commission's executive director will be overseeing the change within the organization. The commission, like other areas of government, will be in a position of transition. The organizational review will suggest the broad directions the commission will need to go in to provide effective services to the public at sustainable costs in years to come.
We look forward to the outcome of this review. In the meantime, the executive director will be ensuring structures and staff are in place so the commission can continue to provide quality service to the public throughout the period. If I may, I would like to add that a suggestion of the new executive director, Ms. Mayann Francis, is that the review take place to help better position the commission for its role in administering the province's Human Rights Act. She has a strong vision for a vibrant, relevant and sustainable organization.
Mr. Chairman, I believe I have one final vote to refer to and that is the Alcohol and Gaming Authority. It is my pleasure to bring the committee the budget estimates of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority. First, however, I would like to outline the responsibilities of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority under the Acts that it administers - Part II of the Liquor Control Act; Part II of the Gaming Control Act; and the Theatre and Amusements Act.
The Alcohol and Gaming Authority licenses all venues for sale and consumption of alcohol. Permanent establishments are not granted a licence until input has been sought from the local community on the potential impact of the proposed establishment on the quiet enjoyment of the neighbouring community. This requires a careful balance of the interests of the community and the interests of the applicant. Compliance activities in a licensed liquor establishment includes ensuring that under-age individuals are not served liquor; ensuring that alcohol is served in a responsible manner; that licensees cease service to intoxicated individuals; ensuring that liquor resold to the public has been purchased through the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission; ensuring that under-age individuals do not have access to video lottery terminals; and ensuring accountability of licensees that violate the Liquor Control Act.
Similarly, the Alcohol and Gaming Authority licenses all activities under the Gaming Control Act, including lotteries, bingo, video lottery terminals and casinos. The compliance activities in the gaming area include ensuring VLTs are operated in accordance with the legislated requirements to ensure prize pay-outs to the public are fair and that VLTs are operated responsibly and have not been tampered with; ensuring lotteries are conducted in a fair and impartial manner and that prizes promised to the public are received; ensuring that casino equipment is functioning properly, has not been tampered with and that legislated minimum prize pay-outs to the public are being met; ensuring that minors are not being given access to the casino and ensuring accountability of licensees when violation of legislation occurs.
To assist in minimizing the effects of problem gambling, the authority administers a voluntary exclusion program whereby individuals experiencing gambling problems may elect to have their own entry to casinos blocked. As well, the authority conducts research into the social, economic, justice and environmental impacts of gambling in the province. That report is tabled to government annually and makes recommendations to better the public interest in gambling in Nova Scotia. Additionally, the Alcohol and Gaming Authority classifies all films and videos entering the province for public display. Film is classified under the Maritime film classification name and the classifications are adopted by both New Brunswick and P.E.I. for films displayed in those provinces.
Government recently announced The Course Ahead, setting the new direction for delivery of public services. As part of that direction, the adjudicative responsibilities of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority have been placed with the Utility and Review Board effective April 11, 2000, and the Board of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority has been dissolved. Savings from restructuring are estimated at $400,000 per year. The work of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority continues and at some point in the future will be consolidated with the newly created Environment, Labour and Regulatory Affairs Department.
The estimates presented today reflect the government's commitment to responsible financial management with expenditures reduced almost 15 per cent over prior years. Appearing today at the committee are Dennis Kerr, Chief Executive Officer of the Gaming
Authority and Darrell Youden, Director of Finance and Administration. I would be pleased to take questions on any of my areas of responsibility at this time, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, honourable minister.
The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto. You have one hour.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Minister, I have a question about the Utility and Review Board. My question arises out of the Supplement to the Public Accounts. I am looking at Page 19.16. You will know that the document, the Supplement to the Public Accounts, generally gives a very detailed breakdown of expenditures by department. Usually what it lists is salaries and travel expenses for all individuals plus other forms of out-of-pocket expenses. If you are looking at that page, you will see that it is quite striking to look at the entry for the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board compared with I think any other entity in the whole of that book. You will see that there is a global number for the Utility and Review Board and no breakdown.
I should tell you that I raised this same question with the Minister of Finance the other day, not because he is directly responsible for the Utility and Review Board, but because he is responsible for the presentation of the accounts of the province. When I asked why it was that there was no breakdown, the only answer he was really able to give me was that the people at the URB are not regarded as employees of the province. I did not find that very satisfactory and I wondered if you have any direct knowledge of why it is that the URB expenditures are presented in this global fashion rather than broken down?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that what happens with them and also with Nova Scotia Legal Aid is that they receive a grant from the government and that they have their own accounting services separate from the government and so we provide them with the funds and they have their own accounting system. Therefore, the information that you see is the information that was provided to us by the URB. I know what the next question is going to be, but go ahead.
MR. EPSTEIN: I just want to put you on notice that I don't really find this an appropriate way to get the details for any agency that is performing a public function. I compare it in my mind with something like other parts of the Department of Justice where, for example, you find the names of judges listed and their salaries. Even though the URB performs a quasi-judicial function, I cannot see the reason for privacy.
MR. BAKER: No, and I can assure you, Mr. Epstein, that privacy issues are not the reason for this. I can assure you it is not any desire or feeling on the part of the government, or myself, that this information has no right to be public. In fact, I have just spoken with Mr. Guest and we are going to endeavour to provide some further information to you, maybe hopefully as early as by tomorrow, that would be of assistance to you because I certainly have
no difficulty in making any information that we have available, to assist you, reasonably readily available to yourself and other committee members. I can assure you there is no attempt to conceal anything.
MR. EPSTEIN: That would be great. I am sure that if the URB does its own internal accounting, they must have the numbers and so the numbers must be available.
MR. BAKER: Yes, that is why we are going to make every effort to try to make that information available to committee members as soon as possible, hopefully tomorrow.
MR. EPSTEIN: All right and although that is certainly very useful, I would also hope that next year you might give some serious consideration to having this information broken out in detail in the Supplement to the Public Accounts so that it is on a comparable basis to other entities within the government.
MR. BAKER: Your point is duly noted.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, but as long as we are on the URB, can I just ask how you expect that the functions of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority will be broken down and redistributed? I heard what you had to say, but perhaps it was not entirely clear to me how you expect those functions to be assigned.
MR. BAKER: Yes, the division is that those public adjudicative functions such as licence applications, disciplinary hearings, those kind of functions, are being handled by the Utility and Review Board. Other functions are being handled by the portion of the Gaming Authority that is left, if you want to call it that, which deals with administrative matters; the bureaucracy, if you want to call it that, of issuing licences and going out physically to do checks and those kinds of things that is being handled by the Alcohol and Gaming Authority with the idea that it will be rolled into the regulatory department that will be created.
MR. EPSTEIN: Will this not require some legislation to effect the transfer to the URB?
MR. BAKER: No, the URB legislation already has a provision in it allowing any function to be delegated to them. It was done by Order in Council. So that is how it was accomplished. My understanding is that their legislation has already been constructed in such a way as to allow other adjudicative functions in government to be delegated to them as a sort of central repository of regulatory affairs.
MR. EPSTEIN: So this is already in place?
MR. BAKER: As of the date of the Order in Council, yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Did that also involve the transfer of any of the personnel from the Alcohol and Gaming Authority to membership in the URB or was the result here that people who were performing that function are no longer employed?
MR. BAKER: One employee who was the clerk to the former board has been transferred to the Utility and Review Board to act as the clerk, in effect, for alcohol and gaming matters at the URB. The rest of the civil servant staff are at what I call is left of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority which is the non-adjudicative portion of the authority and that staff component remains today as it was on the date the Order in Council was signed.
MR. EPSTEIN: One of the provisions in the Financial Measures Act limits compensation for members of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority. Is that a legislative change, that is to say is it a piece of legislation that changes any of the contracts that were in place?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is and I am not sure on this, but I don't believe there were any actual signed contracts. No, I am not aware of any signed contracts with respect to the members of the Alcohol and Gaming Authority Board. Those individuals, as I understand it, have whatever common law rights they would have and the attempt in the legislation was to clarify what those rights are.
MR. EPSTEIN: Was the provision in the Financial Measures Act negotiated with those people and did they agree to it?
MR. BAKER: No, they did not.
MR. EPSTEIN: So clarify is not perhaps the word that they might choose?
MR. BAKER: That is my word, Mr. Epstein. They may have a different word for that.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can I move to another one of your areas of responsibility, the Nova Scotia Securities Commission.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: I am curious about the long-range business plan for the Securities Commission.
MR. BAKER: What is your question, Mr. Epstein?
MR. EPSTEIN: My understanding is that there is at least some desire on the part of the Securities Commission to change the nature of how it does its business and the main thrust, I think, is that it would rather like to be able to retain all of the fees that it collects. I am wondering what the status of this is?
MR. BAKER: I think it is fair to say that in this economic environment, I don't believe that the government can forgo any revenue that it has as a result of an activity like the commission's work.
MR. EPSTEIN: So that has not occurred yet?
MR. BAKER: That has not occurred yet and I cannot predict the future, but I am saying that certainly for this year I would not think there would be any possibility of that occurring, for obvious reason. Those revenues would simply have to come out of another program.
MR. EPSTEIN: Well, that certainly, I have to say, makes sense to me. So you are not about to sponsor any new legislation with respect to the Securities Commission?
MR. BAKER: What I am indicating is - I never say never - at this point I am not anticipating any new legislation.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can we move then to the Human Rights Commission. I am interested in the nature of the external review that you referred to. What I would like to know is whether I heard you correctly. You said that you expect that the study would start soon?
MR. BAKER: The summertime, I believe.
MR. EPSTEIN: So that means that it has not started yet. Can you let me know whether the company or parties who will be doing the review have now been selected? Is this to be an external review, because I think I heard you say that?
MR. BAKER: It will be an external review and my understanding is that the RFP is being drafted at this present time and it is hoped that within a month that the request for proposals for that external review will become public and that the commission will receive submissions on that external review.
MR. EPSTEIN: Was there some particular prompting for this?
MR. BAKER: I think it is fair to say that the executive director has looked and determined that there is, I think room, for improvement and also one of the areas of concern that I have, and it is a problem with Human Rights Commissions across this country, is the length of time between the date a complaint is made and it is resolved. I am very concerned
that justice delayed is justice denied and that from the point of either the complainant or the respondent, allowing matters to be dealt with in reasonable periods of time is very important. So I think it is fair to say that it is a mutually identified area where improvement may be possible and that is what the purpose of the review would be, to determine how the commission can be best staffed and structured to allow it to do its work in the best possible fashion to serve the public interest.
MR. EPSTEIN: This is not a high budget agency so I suppose one of the reasons that might be identified for delay might well be that there are not enough staff and whether it is within the potential mandate of the external reviewer to consider.
MR. BAKER: Staffing generically would be within the range or possibility that the reviewer could look at. Clearly what I want to know as minister responsible and what the commission, I am sure, wants to know and the executive director, is what kind of staff we need, what numbers we need, what their training needs to be to allow them to do their work in the best possible fashion. A great deal has changed in the last number of years in the area of human rights, as I am sure you are more aware than I am, Mr. Epstein, and there has not been very much change in the structure of how the commission deals with its responsibilities. I am just interested in making sure that this runs as efficiently and effectively as possible because the issue may be resources, but it may be that sometimes resources are not the problem alone.
I guess in health care, and I am going to delve off the topic, many commentators have suggested that it is not a question on health care alone of the amount of money you spend, but how the system is structured and I think that sometimes there are lessons to be learned in how structures are done, what the training of people are, all those kinds of issues. I am just trying to keep pace with the evolution in our society to make sure that the work we are doing today is work that should be done today and whether computers are being used enough. There are a whole host of issues you can look at, and that is why we are going to go out for RFP.
MR. EPSTEIN: I don't necessarily disagree, but can you give us some idea of the nature of the problem again, that is perhaps some statistics on the numbers of cases and the amount of time it takes for cases to travel through the system?
MR. BAKER: To give you an illustration of the work of the commission, the commission would handle about 1,000 calls per year, of which approximately 300 would lead to formal complaints. There are some old cases around that are over 36 months old with no resolution. On newer cases coming in, it can be a year to two years before these matters are resolved. So as you can see, there is justifiable reason for hoping for improvement.
MR. EPSTEIN: Is it going to be within the mandate of the external reviewers to look at the overall structure of how this agency is put together? By that I mean, having a separate commission. Is there any thought about the possibility of not continuing to have a commission?
MR. BAKER: I think it is fair to say I am hoping that in looking at the structure of the function of the Human Rights Commission, they will look at the structure of the entire organization and the responsibilities of every component of the organization. That doesn't mean that I have any particular plan at the present time to do anything, but it does mean that I want the Human Rights Commission, the generic work done by the commission, to be done in an effective, efficient, transparent way. I am quite open to how that best can be done. I have no preconceived ideas, and I think it is generally helpful when you don't do that because what is the point in asking people what their opinion is if you have already made your mind up - and I haven't.
MR. EPSTEIN: Considering whether it is useful to have the commission itself, by which I don't mean a human rights function, I mean the board that oversees the functions of the investigators and makes decisions and is charged with that under the Human Rights Act, so its function may be up for discussion as well?
MR. BAKER: I guess everything is up for discussion.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, that is fine, and I don't think I understood the comment about computers. Is it that the staff doesn't have computers, or doesn't have enough training, or is it that computers need software upgrading? What is the problem?
MR. BAKER: Yes, they have computers, but the computer system is not set up in a way that allows for the tracking of cases, case control, the kinds of case management tools that might be desirable, because clearly in order to have a management structure that is effective and accountable, you have to have a way of tracking the cases through a system. What we are looking at is trying to make it more effective for the managers of that system to manage the work, to make sure cases are handled in an effective manner and also to handle it quickly without doing injustice obviously. As I said I think I have some experience in a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, and I think some of the concerns that were expressed there were because of very lengthy delays in having cases heard. I don't want that to become the Nova Scotia norm. Anything I can do to help ensure that people get the fair treatment they deserve in a prompt manner I think would be overall good for the system.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay. In the staff that the commission has right now, that is the investigative staff, do we have a sufficient range of personnel with expertise to cover all the areas for which there can be allegations of discrimination?
MR. BAKER: I think it is fair to say that is one of the issues that the organizational review will be looking at.
MR. EPSTEIN: With the 5 per cent reduction that you spoke about before, will there be loss of personnel this year?
MR. BAKER: Yes, there will be some reduction in personnel, more likely management personnel. Examples are communication functions and administrative functions. The communications function will be picked up by Communications Nova Scotia, at least in part, and certain administrative functions will be picked up by the Department of Justice which has the capability to assist them in payroll and those kinds of issues.
MR. EPSTEIN: I think I saw that one of the line-item reductions inside the Human Rights Commission was for legal expenses. Does that reflect a loss of staff, or does that reflect an expenditure in some other fashion?
MR. BAKER: No, it is not a staff reduction.
MR. EPSTEIN: So is it the case that pending the results of the external review, the investigative staff stays the same?
MR. BAKER: The answer is yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: What is the timetable contemplated for the external review? I think you said start-up in the summer, but what about reporting back?
MR. BAKER: We are hoping the review will be completed by the end of this fiscal year, the idea being to implement it before another budget year. I frankly hope sooner than that, but I am getting more and more realistic the longer I am in government about the length of time it appears to take things to happen. That is just a realistic kind of thing.
MR. EPSTEIN: Will there be an opportunity for the public to review and comment on the report or think about it?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: To sum up, does that mean the situation right now is that someone bringing a new complaint to the commission can expect that it is likely to be at least 12 months and maybe as long as 24 months from start to finish if the complaint goes through several stages?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is, obviously it depends on the complexity of the case, but it is quite possible that could happen, yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Of the 1,000 calls per year that come in with 300 turning into formal complaints, what happens with the other approximately 700? Is it a question of resolution by talking only to the potential complainant?
MR. BAKER: I guess the 300 includes formal and informal complaints. The first category of 1,000 is telephone enquiries, if you would call it that, and the 300 is broken down to formal written complaints and then more informal complaints that are handled in a more informal process, verbal complaints that are sometimes resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
MR. EPSTEIN: That is fine. I have no more questions about the Human Rights Commission for now.
MR. BAKER: Thank you.
MR. EPSTEIN: I would like to turn to another aspect of your mandate.
MR. BAKER: I thought you might.
MR. EPSTEIN: That has to do with Correctional Services, and I wonder if we could have a little chat about that.
MR. BAKER: Ah, yes, Correctional Services.
MR. EPSTEIN: I don't yet have a copy of your introductory remarks, so I am going on the basis of my notes. I am wondering if you can . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: The photocopier is finished compiling that.
MR. EPSTEIN: That is fine.
MR. BAKER: It is quite a prolific photocopy job.
MR. EPSTEIN: I am wondering if you could help me see if I followed correctly what it is that is being proposed. Of course, we have heard about some of this before today, but the proposal is that the institutions that are about to close over the next year or two are Lunenburg, Kings, Colchester, and Guysborough Correction Centres. Is that right?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, and you gave us numbers for the beds there. If I added up correctly, there are about 135 beds that will be lost from the system with the closure. The numbers I got were 23 in Lunenburg, 59 in Kings, 47 in Colchester, and 6 in Guysborough. I made that 135.
MR. BAKER: That is correct.
MR. EPSTEIN: Did you start off saying there were 650 places in the system overall?
MR. BAKER: There are 550 I believe.
MR. EPSTEIN: Then what I want to consider is how the system will be affected by the loss of those places, although . . .
MR. BAKER: They are not all being lost, because 218 spaces is the number in Sackville today. There will be 272 spaces in the new Burnside facility. Obviously there is a larger capacity in Burnside than there is in the existing Sackville Institution.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, so you are going to take 135 places out of the system with the four closures?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: You are going to take another 218 places out with the Sackville closure, but you are going to put in 272 . . .
MR. BAKER: With the Burnside opening.
MR. EPSTEIN: All right. The 272 that you are referring to in the new Burnside facility, does that include any of the spaces that are coming from the Nova Scotia Hospital?
MR. BAKER: No. Those would be part of the forensic hospital.
MR. EPSTEIN: That is separate.
MR. BAKER: We are counting correctional beds as opposed to forensic beds which are hospital beds.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, okay.
MR. BAKER: I think I make it 81 in the difference.
MR. EPSTEIN: I made it 83, but okay we are pretty close here I think.
MR. BAKER: We are in the eighties anyway. Mr. Guest to me makes it 81, but we are in the low eighties.
MR. EPSTEIN: So that is the net loss throughout the system that you are anticipating?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay. And you expect this all to be accomplished by about the time of the opening of the new Burnside facility? That is about the right timing is it?
MR. BAKER: The Burnside facility is scheduled, I think, for June or July - I can't remember which it was - of 2001. We obviously are allowing for a transition time because obviously you don't want to just open an institution and it is like a hotel. You want to give a chance for a gradual transition from the existing institutions, because there are actually five institutions affected, four at that point because Guysborough will already be closed. What we want to do is have a gradual transition; for example, Kings does not close until October 2001, I believe, but Lunenburg and Colchester close on August 1, 2001. So you have a June-July opening for the Burnside facility. Then you have a month or two later the closure of the Lunenburg and Colchester facilities. Then some more time goes by and then the closure of the Kings facility. Again, it is an opportunity to gradually bring inmates into that institution in a controlled way.
MR. EPSTEIN: A few years ago, your department produced a master plan for correctional facilities, and it talked then about a four or six institution model around the province. Do I take it that with the proposed closure of the four institutions that you are essentially about to move to the six institution model? Is that the idea?
MR. BAKER: I think that is a pretty astute observation.
MR. EPSTEIN: Do I take it at this point that there are no further plans to close any other institutions, any other correctional facilities? Is that right?
MR. BAKER: No. Clearly the other institutions, a number of them, have challenges. Some of them are older institutions, but there is no plan to close those institutions.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, I wonder if you could help me understand the choices that were made. I looked at most of these facilities as recently as December. I travelled the province and had a look at most of them.
MR. BAKER: I have looked at them, too.
MR. EPSTEIN: It was quite interesting to see them.
MR. BAKER: Yes. Yarmouth in particular.
MR. EPSTEIN: That is exactly the one I was about to ask you about.
MR. BAKER: I thought you might be.
MR. EPSTEIN: Here we have a pre-Confederation building. I think it was 1863 or 1864 that the building was built. It is a nice looking but old building there on Main Street in Yarmouth, and it is a . . .
MR. BAKER: I think, Mr. Epstein, not to interrupt, I thought of it as being out of the Shawshank Redemption.
MR. EPSTEIN: It certainly didn't look like a modern facility. It didn't look, for example, like the Kings County facility.
MR. BAKER: No, it sure didn't.
MR. EPSTEIN: I have to tell you that I was kind of struck by these kinds of choices. I guess one of the things about the Kings County facility when I look at it is, it is relatively modern, seemed in very good shape and had land around it which could have led to expansion . . .
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: . . . none of which seemed to me you could say about the Yarmouth facility. I guess I wonder what your plans are for the Yarmouth facility. If you are going to keep this as one of the residual facilities, are you planning any upgrades or changes to that building, or are you planning a new building?
MR. BAKER: I think is fair to say that we are going to re-examine - the distance of course is the factor here, which is the driving factor. Yarmouth is a very long way even from Kings County. Operationally speaking, it becomes very difficult. If you look at the sites of the correctional facilities that are left, there are correctional facilities that are sited at some considerable distance from the Burnside facility which will serve central Nova Scotia. So, we had to rationalize transportation distances. Clearly, in looking at inmate populations, you have to look at the operational issues of the distance that inmates who are maybe going to court on a fairly regular basis are going to need to be transported.
So for example if you have an inmate who may be going to court in Shelburne for example, it is a pretty long hike from the court in Shelburne to Kings County, and it is a long hike from the court in Shelburne to Halifax County. Those are the operational kinds of issues that led us to make that choice. Similarly, we have a facility in Antigonish which again is some considerable distance away from Metro, and again some considerable distance away from Sydney. We have a facility in Amherst which is some considerable distance away from metro.
That was the siting decision that was made. What we were trying to do was create a structure for location of institutions that took into consideration transportation distances for prisoners.
Just to talk about your last question with respect to Yarmouth, clearly, Yarmouth and a number of other institutions, we are going to have look at those institutions and determine what upgrading/replacement is necessary.
MR. EPSTEIN: I don't think you are going to have to look; if you have been there, you don't have to spend too much time going back a second time.
MR. BAKER: I don't think there is much doubt about upgrading and/or replacement.
MR. EPSTEIN: The same is true for Antigonish. There is a facility that is, I forget the exact year. It is tiny and it is cramped, and it doesn't look like there is any obvious room for expansion there, unless the courthouse is taken over, that old courthouse right beside it that is hardly ever used. It is a difficult situation to think about what expansion might be necessary or even whether you want to continue using that building at all. The same is true about the Yarmouth facility. Those two really are very small and don't have the opportunities for expansion.
MR. BAKER: I would not disagree with your observation.
MR. EPSTEIN: But there is no money in this year's budget to do anything with those.
MR. BAKER: Nothing will be done this year. I will be honest, I think we need to complete the transition as much as possible to the six institutions that are going to be left, and then we are going to assess where we are relative to construction of one and/or more or replacement of one or more facilities.
MR. EPSTEIN: When I looked at the master plan, and they talked, I think, about a six-facility system, it seemed to me they were thinking about upgrading and either rebuilding or replacing a number of the institutions. It required a capital investment.
MR. BAKER: That would be the case.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, so not this year, maybe not next year, and we will see?
MR. BAKER: The construction of the Burnside facility represents a very significant investment by the Province of Nova Scotia in corrections, which is long overdue. We are going to clearly have to look at other investments in the future because whether we like it or not, we have offenders that are in custody, and we have a duty to hold them in a secure and
safe environment. As you know, if you have been in Antigonish and particularly in Yarmouth, we have some work to do. That is why we intend to develop a plan over the next not-too- distant future to see what we can do in that regard.
MR. EPSTEIN: I guess there is a lot of money going into the capital construction for the Burnside facility that doesn't leave much left over for any other facilities at the moment.
MR. BAKER: I think it is fair to say that when we took over corrections and courts from the municipalities, we took over two systems where there was a significant amount of structural collapse. The buildings have been poorly maintained for a very long period of time in both courts and in corrections. We have tremendous challenges as a result of that. What you are seeing here is an investment in the corrections side to ensure that we are beginning to meet with some of the challenges. It won't happen overnight, but I can assure you, we have to make those investments.
MR. EPSTEIN: What you will have to do, I guess, is when you do something like close the Kings County facility, you are going to have to redistribute those prisoners somewhere else. Is that correct?
MR. BAKER: That is right.
MR. EPSTEIN: Will they be treated as though they were part of the central area, that is, the effort will be made to move most of those to Burnside do you think?
MR. BAKER: My understanding - and this is perhaps from a lawyer's point of view - is that for years, as much a part of where you end up in an institution as geography, an even bigger part is your profile as an offender, because while it may be desirable to have people near the community they are from, it is even more desirable to have them in the appropriate institution, and to treat people who are perhaps significant security risks either to others or who are significant security risks to themselves, to put them in an institution where they can be kept safe. For example, I think it is fair to say that the institutions in Sackville and Colchester perhaps in the central Nova Scotia area have had the vast majority of higher-risk offenders. Institutions like the Lunenburg Correctional Centre did not tend to get offenders with the same risk profile as the Halifax County Correctional Centre would.
MR. EPSTEIN: Along with the movement of the prisons of course goes the movement of staff . . .
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. EPSTEIN: . . . and reduction in staff numbers as well. I wonder if you know now approximately how many staff you expect to lose as a result of the rearrangement of the system?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that there will be roughly the same number of full-time staff persons quite closely working at the new Burnside facility as working at the existing Halifax County Correctional Centre. There will also be over the next 18 months, in the ordinary course, a number of people who will leave the system as a result of retirements and all those kinds of things. My understanding is that there are roughly 17 individuals who would be eligible for retirement. Obviously part of what we are doing now with the NSGEU is to try to identify what people's personal plans are, whether people are going to choose to exercise their right to retire, or whether they are going to continue to stay in the system, because obviously if those 17 individuals choose to retire, and that is an approximate number, but it gives you a rough idea of the scope, . . .
MR. EPSTEIN: You said 17?
MR. BAKER: Then there would be in effect, an additional 17 spots that would be unaffected, individuals that would be unaffected. They may have to move, but they would still be able to be dealt with in the system.
MR. EPSTEIN: What does eligible to retire mean? Does that mean early retirement, or full pension retirement?
MR. BAKER: We are talking about whether they have reached their pensionable years.
MR. EPSTEIN: I see. Okay, but the net result of course with closing four institutions is that there will be some reduction in staff numbers.
MR. BAKER: Absolutely.
MR. EPSTEIN: Loss of staff through attrition is only part of what you are going to have to do.
MR. BAKER: Correct.
MR. EPSTEIN: So now the question comes up, how will this work, in assuming that there is some or full attrition? Presumably bumping is what goes on?
MR. BAKER: Very significant bumping.
MR. EPSTEIN: This is bumping based on seniority?
MR. BAKER: Yes, it is.
MR. EPSTEIN: Is there any element of training or retraining that enters into this? That is to say, is it bumping based purely on seniority, or is it qualification that enters into it?
MR. BAKER: There are a combination of factors. I have three classifications: senior correctional worker; correctional officer; and correctional worker. Obviously, people's ability to bump is going to depend on their qualifications. In certain circumstances, there may be some training issues that are required for individuals. But generally, the system will likely boil out as most likely province-wide seniority with seniority likely being the main take-up.
MR. EPSTEIN: My understanding is that there is a province-wide seniority list, is that right?
MR. BAKER: That is correct.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay. You said there are discussions going on with the NSGEU about, for example, retirements through attrition. I remember nigh on two weeks ago, a fairly active discussion out here in the lobby, in which I think there were a lot of correctional officers and the Premier, and you were part of it, I was standing on the steps watching it, and it went on a long time. One of the points of the discussion, in fact, I think the main point was that there should be negotiations, and they should happen very soon. I remember the union representatives being very insistent that they start within a two week period. They were very concerned that the element of uncertainty amongst their members and their members' families was huge and unbearable, and they were looking forward to getting on with the negotiations. Can you tell me what is the current state of play about these talks?
MR. BAKER: There were four meetings before that, and more importantly, there have been two meetings held since that day.
MR. EPSTEIN: There have been two meetings held since that day. Who was meeting?
MR. BAKER: The last meeting was last Friday, on that subject. My understanding, with Mr. Foulkes and members of the executive, it was Rick Parsons and Rory Hansen who met with Mr. Foulkes.
MR. EPSTEIN: I remember the talk that day, and it was quite specifically in terms of negotiations. You will recall that the union was quite adamant that they had a pre-existing agreement with the department to negotiate over this. I think it is too late to negotiate over something you have announced, but I think that the union had an expectation that there were going to be negotiations that would go on about how it is that the whole matter would play out. You say the two meetings have taken place since April 19th. Those meetings were between representatives of the NSGEU and your department?
MR. BAKER: Correct.
MR. EPSTEIN: Can you characterize those as negotiations or are they organizational meetings? Can you let me know what stage the procedure has reached? What I asked really was the current state of play of this process.
MR. BAKER: I guess I don't want to see how many angels can dance on the head of this pin. Apparently there were talks, I am advised, information exchanged and restructuring of the correctional service. The issues trying to be identified, quite clearly, were who was going to be affected by this, because the discussions certainly have largely resolved around issues of people being on hold, for lack of a better way of putting it, because they don't know whether they are affected or not. Clearly, there are going to be some people, as a result of the seniority list, who will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. They may need to move, but they will know there will be a job for them at corrections. There will be another group of people who will know there is likely going to be no problem, that is because of the attrition issue. There is a third group of people who may at least know they are in that third category, who may become redundant or may not become redundant depending on whether attrition is higher or lower than expected.
MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Minister, one of the reasons, I think - and I am sure you will understand this - that the correctional officers feel particular pressure is for the same reason that many of the teachers feel particular pressure is that it is a little different than some of the other departments where maybe general budget items are now kind of working through some of the decision making. There was a clear announcement that some facilities were closing. When you get a clear announcement that some facilities are closing, people who work there immediately realize that their lives are very likely to be affected, so they want to know what their options are. It becomes quite a strong focus for them. It is not abstract, it is very real to them. I saw the announcement that went out the day of the budget, from, I think, Mr. Honsberger, the Director of Corrections, announcing the closure of the institutions. What I wonder is whether there has been any other formal communication from the department to staff letting them know anything since then?
MR. BAKER: There has been some general departmental information, which has gone out to everybody in the Department of Justice, but aside from that correspondence, there is no other correspondence that has gone out. One of the things we have been trying to do in conjunction with the NSGEU, is to identify individuals who will be affected. Obviously the Guysborough correctional workers are the number one focus, simply because they are the people who are going to be affected in July.
Don't take this the wrong way, Mr. Epstein, but the suggestion has been somehow made that because we gave people a lot of notice here, that somehow we are being inhumane. I am not suggesting you are saying that, but the suggestion seems to have been made in some circles that somehow there is something wrong with doing that. I can tell you I have met with correctional workers individually, who I have spoken to, and have said in the past, governments came and didn't give us enough time. So in this case, we gave as much notice
as we reasonably could because I felt that was what correctional workers deserved. With all due respect, people say, well you have given us so much notice and you have left us hanging. I don't want to be too defensive on the subject, but it is one of those "you can't have it both ways" kinds of situations. You can either give notice, or you can't. Clearly, the NSGEU has taken a position that they weren't happy with the fact that we held these meetings with the employees directly, at the correctional institutions.
Now we are talking to the executive and the suggestion is being made that we should be talking to the employees directly. I don't have any problem doing it either way, but it is kind of like being on the corner of stop and go. What I want to do is deal with these very fine employees in as compassionate a way as possible. I think that does involve, with the union, trying to sit down and look at the seniority lists and determine as much as possible, who is affected. I don't mean to go on at great length, I guess I have some small frustration because I am not quite sure sometimes whether I am hearing that I should be talking directly to the workers or directly to the union, should we be doing it sooner or later? I guess I get somewhat defensive on that.
MR. EPSTEIN: If all 17 employees who are eligible for retirement take retirement this year, how many additional correctional officer positions are you thinking the system will lose?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is the net change loss to the system would be 65 FTEs, but remember we are talking about a workforce where a large number of those people would be part-timers, so the number of individuals affected could be higher than that because we are talking about more people as a result of the fact that we are talking about more part-timers being affected than full-time workers.
MR. EPSTEIN: That is 65 FTEs on top of the 17 who might leave by attrition?
MR. BAKER: Yes, that would be correct, on top of those. The 65 FTEs, with what we know today, and you understand obviously these are guesses, but it would be the number of FTEs that would be affected in 18 months time.
MR. EPSTEIN: Yes, I was going to ask about time-frame.
MR. BAKER: Obviously, the attrition rate is trying to project how many people will leave the system over that 18 month period of time. The other factor, which should never be forgotten here is that there will be some people who, while eligible on the seniority list to move, will choose not to move. They will find other employment or they will simply leave the workforce. Also, of course, because someone is eligible to retire, doesn't mean they are going to retire, so there is elasticity in both numbers, and there is a large amount of identification that has to be done. Our HR staff is also meeting with individual staff at each institution that requests a meeting, again to open up the lines of communication as much as possible.
Certainly, I can tell you, Mr. Epstein, from the discussions we held in the Legislative Library, in particular, after the scrum on the day you were speaking of, it is quite clear there are a number of workers who are very legitimately concerned about their circumstances, as anyone who depends on a paycheque would be if that paycheque were called into question.
One of the things we are trying to do by having these meetings with the NSGEU, and I am hoping these meetings will be productive, is to try to allow workers to know where they fit in the system, the training issues that apply to them, all those kinds of things, so an individual would be able to be in the best position possible to be able to make some best guesses about where they are going to be. Then obviously it is up to that individual to determine what their course of action should be. It is always difficult when you lose people out of the system, particularly when those people a lot of times are people in whom there has been a significant investment made in training.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have two minutes left according to my watch.
MR. EPSTEIN: In that case, . . .
MR. BAKER: Short snappers?
MR. EPSTEIN: It may not be. It might be, it might not. I have to say in that same scrum the Premier made very ambiguous noises about privatization. I wonder if you would like now to go on record about any thoughts about privatization inside the correctional service?
MR. BAKER: I wouldn't characterize the noises as ambiguous, perhaps we heard him in a different way. There is no consideration being given to privatizing the services provided by correctional officers in institutions at the present time. None. Nothing. Zero.
MR. EPSTEIN: What about the administration, inside or of the system?
MR. BAKER: Certainly there are no plans at the present time to do that either. Now, clearly there is obviously an issue in the Burnside facility where two or three positions that do maintenance at that facility would be affected as a result of the private-public partnership agreement which makes the owner of the institution who is leasing it to the province responsible for building maintenance. Our hope is to do kind of a lease-back arrangement whereby the landlord will pay us to employ our people to do the maintenance on the building. I can assure you we are trying to do that in as humane a way as possible to deal with those people to make sure we preserve the jobs in the institutions. I am trying to be as unambiguous as possible. There are no plans at the present time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wish to advise that the time for the NDP caucus has expired. I will pass the floor to the Liberal caucus. The time is now 5:28 p.m. I just wish to advise committee members that we have seven minutes left in our time allotment today to have the four hours in for time for debate.
The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister, as you know, I indicated to you that I would be asking questions specifically about the courts and jails which were being closed. I am hoping you have that information with you today as requested. I have a list of the 10 satellite courts being closed down. I am wondering if we can go through those 10 and indicate the costs of these facilities last year, which I would assume is the number you are using as the basis of the savings you expect to achieve?
MR. BAKER: Just by way of information, I believe that many of numbers were actually included in my opening remarks, and there should be copies of those remarks provided to you. There are two categories of costs involved, Mr. Samson. The first category is the actual rental cost of that institution. The second, of course, is the cost avoidance issue. As I am sure you are aware, when we inherited courts from the municipalities on the service exchange, we inherited a bunch of buildings that were in deplorable states of repair. Very well, from the days when you were in Cabinet, you may have heard some discussions about the deplorable state of repair that some of these buildings are in, and the efforts your government and our government have made to try to deal with some of those issues. So, I just want to make sure there are two components, and we don't lose sight of the second component which is, frankly, the worst component from the point of view of cost, which is the cost of renovations.
MR. SAMSON: I am wondering if we can go from facility to facility and just indicate the rental cost and whether this is a government facility or a municipal facility and you are paying a rental cost? I will start with Springhill.
MR. BAKER: That is a municipal facility in Springhill. The cost savings that have been identified for Springhill, and I will break them out by category for you, okay?
MR. SAMSON: Perfect, if you can start with the rent.
MR. BAKER: The rent and equipment are included together on our sheet. Rent and equipment for that facility, $3,799 per year. The extra cost involved in sheriff's staff expenses is $336; the prisoner transportation costs are $518; and the travel and meal expenses for staff would be $1,544, and that would include judges, of course, for a total savings of annual costs of $6,197. The total cost avoidance for that facility as identified by Transportation and Public Works is $71,860.
MR. SAMSON: How often was the Springhill court sitting?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is it averages twice a month.
MR. SAMSON: What kinds of cases, what was being heard; any trials?
MR. BAKER: Provincial Court trials were done in Springhill.
MR. SAMSON: There were trials?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: It wasn't just hearings or pleas?
MR. BAKER: Part of the day would have been pleas and the rest would have been responded to for trials.
MR. SAMSON: So actual trials were being held at that facility?
MR. BAKER: That is correct.
MR. SAMSON: It was meeting about twice a month.
MR. BAKER: That is what I understand.
MR. SAMSON: When have you cancelled court services for Springhill?
MR. BAKER: The date of stopping scheduling is August 1st for September 1st. It is a one month transition.
MR. SAMSON: You are paying this money to the municipality?
MR. BAKER: That is correct.
MR. SAMSON: Do you realize you are in direct contravention of the Municipal Act, which requires a one-year notice of any such move that would have a financial impact on the municipal units, and which was the basis of the April 17, 2000 letter to Mr. Duart MacAulay, President of Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities by your colleague, the Honourable Angus MacIsaac. It says that under the provisions of the Municipal Government Act, Section 519(1), the Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs is directed to provide the UNSM with a years notice prior of any legislation, regulation or administrative action undertaken by or on behalf
of the Government of the Province of Nova Scotia, would have the effect of decreasing the revenue received by the municipalities of Nova Scotia or increasing the required expenditures of municipalities in Nova Scotia. The letter goes on to state some of the changes that are being proposed, including some of the changes in Justice. How is it you are getting around this one year requirement for the Springhill facility.
MR. BAKER: My understanding, with respect to Springhill, is that the rental portion of the saving is only a reimbursement to us of extra expenses that the municipality incurs as a result of a court sitting there. That is what I am advised, that there will be no net cost to the municipality.
MR. SAMSON: No, no. I don't want to read that lengthy paragraph again, but it clearly states it would have the effect of decreasing the revenue received by the municipality. If your department stops paying them rent, then naturally that is a decrease in revenue. I missed that argument. You are going to have to go to that one again.
MR. BAKER: I am advised that the rent in those facilities covers other costs they have. They are actual operational costs, so those operational costs will net out to approximately zero.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for debate has expired for the Subcommittee on Supply. The subcommittee will now rise and report progress and meet again on a future day.
We stand adjourned.
[5:34 p.m. The subcommittee adjourned.]