MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. At the conclusion of Thursday's business, we were continuing with the estimates of the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. At the time of expiration on Thursday, we had 23 minutes remaining with the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Mr. Minister, one of the ongoing irritants in the relationship between the province and municipalities is this issue about the Nova Scotia Power grant in lieu, which is the one where the UNSM, at their last two meetings, I think, - maybe longer, but certainly their last two meetings - has resolved that it is time for that to change, that Nova Scotia Power, which currently pays on the basis of either power consumed or numbers of subscribers - I forget which, it has changed over the last seven or eight years - they pay on that basis; whereas all other property holders pay on the basis of the property and the community. So some of the communities, like Annapolis Royal, like Trenton, like CBRM, are stressing how much they are losing out. To their credit, the municipalities that are gaining under this system also vote at UNSM meetings for change. What plans, if any, does your government have to deal with this issue head-on?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: I want to thank the member for the question. It is certainly one which has occupied a considerable amount of time and I have had conversations, quite recently, with the President of the UNSM and with the Mayor of the Town of Trenton with respect to this. It is our hope that we would be able to resolve or bring forward proposals with respect to this in the course of the coming year. There are other issues out there, as well, that are sort of not unrelated to this that are currently on the table. One of those is the matter of the roles and responsibilities, which is currently being looked at by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. I do know that they have undertaken to come forward with a proposal with respect to the roles and responsibilities and the concept of equalization.
That matter is something that we would like to see resolved and perhaps we would move from there with respect to other outstanding issues, one of which is the one that you have mentioned. It is a matter that we would like to get off the table, sooner as opposed to later, but there are things that may have to proceed sort of one step at a time, unless we were, perhaps, to receive a more comprehensive proposal from the UNSM and, if we did, we would certainly want to look at it.
MR. STEELE: It is not the only UNSM resolution on which your government hasn't acted. I noticed that when the government did actually act on one of their resolutions and introduced a small amendment to the Municipal Government Act that the government news release said, well, this is an example of how this government listens to municipalities. The problem was that the news release didn't mention all the resolutions on which the government wasn't acting, just the one that it was.
So I wanted to go over with you, briefly, the ones on which the government is not acting just to give you, Mr. Minister, a chance to comment on why this government is not following through on the UNSM resolutions. In some cases, don't get me wrong, there may very well be good answers, but I just wanted to put each of these to you. The first one is the Resource Recovery Fund Board and the fact that this government has chosen to take money out of that board's resources and essentially put it into the general revenues. The UNSM passed a resolution protesting this move, saying that that money should be left alone. What is your comment on that, Mr. Minister?
MR. MACISAAC: The responsibility for that fund is a responsibility of the Department of Environment and Labour, inasmuch as the Resource Recovery Fund Board is a board of the Minister of the Department of Environment and Labour, and the minister, I believe the correct terminology to describe him, is the sole owner of that in the name of the people of the province, of course, so that the decisions with respect to funding from that board are decisions which are appropriately made by the minister. So it would lie within the Minister of Environment and Labour's jurisdiction to provide the response to that. We would be the conduit in terms of providing them with a message and we have, in fact, done that.
MR. STEELE: Another resolution is on the taxation of business interests in public schools, where the UNSM urges the province to consider amending the Assessment Act to define school lands to exclude lands occupied by entities which are providing services other than educational services. Now a variation of this issue came up with the ownership of some of the P3 schools by the Alderney Landing Society and it just seems to be a way of where there is nominal ownership by a non-profit, of avoiding the payment of property taxes.
But going back to the UNSM resolution, is your department aware of any situation where a for-profit business is being operated on school property anywhere in Nova Scotia and is not paying regular, normal taxes that a business would pay?
MR. MACISAAC: The honourable member asks a very good question. I know from having spent time in public schools that the contracts for things like cafeterias are currently in the hands of major food catering companies. While they would not technically be paying property tax, the question is, are they responsible for paying a business occupancy tax in those circumstances, and that issue is something that I would want to obtain a definitive answer from you with respect to that.
It raises - and this is something that I would want the committee charged with the review of the business occupancy tax to look at - is that if indeed they are currently paying a tax through the business occupancy, or even if they are not, the question is whether they should be, and having said that, as part of the review of the business occupancy tax, it raises the question as to how we could best deal with that issue of those businesses and the manner in which they might appropriately pay a tax because they do, in fact, in one way or another, wind up leasing space from a school board. The purpose of leasing that space, while it is to provide a service for the board, they also operate under a contract and their purpose of offering the service, for most of them, is of course to generate a profit. So there are some complicated issues surrounding this.
Another issue, not dissimilar to it, is the issue of universities and residences and the renting out of residences in the non-academic part of the year and what responsibilities are there in those situations for the payment of tax. These are issues which, obviously, need to be resolved and they are issues which are raising their head. I don't have the solution in my back pocket today, but I do know it is something that we need to address.
MR. STEELE: The premise of the UNSM's resolution is, and I will just read it: Whereas business entities are by contract occupying buildings which were formally public schools, or in components of public schools, and these agencies are currently exempt from municipal taxation under Section 5, Subsection (1) Paragraph F of the Assessment Act as "school lands".
So their premise is that this is in fact happening and you, Mr. Minister, wrote back saying that you didn't believe that it was happening. Now, of course, the UNSM is not given to passing frivolous resolutions, although I don't think they are always right 100 per cent of the time, so which one do you think it is? Did the UNSM just get its facts wrong, or is there really an issue here? Are there some business entities who ought to be paying tax who are escaping tax?
MR. MACISAAC: As I indicated in my earlier answer, I believe a review of this entire situation is appropriate, not just for public schools, but also in the realm of other institutions that are in fact, from time to time, involved in the marketplace. In some instances, it is a matter of degree and in other situations, it is a matter of - are they providing a service to the school board which the school board should in fact be providing for students, such as cafeterias? Is it appropriate in those circumstances for them to be taxed or is it appropriate to recognize them as providing a legitimate service that is required for the operation of a public school in this province and, therefore, perhaps should not be taxed? That is the issue, I believe, that needs to be resolved.
MR. STEELE: Another resolution that the government didn't act on was that the UNSM urged the government to rescind its decision to terminate the operation and maintenance subsidy program for community airports. Is there any progress on that or is that just a final irrevocable decision of this government?
MR. MACISAAC: I have had discussions with officials from airports, certainly the chairman of the board of the airport in Sydney. There is an adjustment issue here with respect to those airports and their properties and the assessed value of those properties and how much money should they be paying. Discussions are ongoing. There isn't a solution that I have identified with respect to it, but we do recognize that there is a problem. The extent to which we would be part of that solution is unclear at this stage.
MR. STEELE: When you say we, do mean your department or your government?
MR. MACISAAC: No, I mean the department. I am informed that there are some airports, such as Debert or Port Hawkesbury, which used to receive some financial assistance from the Department of Transportation and Public Works. That funding, as part of last year's budget, was eliminated.
MR. STEELE: Finally, I want to talk about one which I find kind of funny, in a tragic way, and that is where the municipalities are requesting the province to transfer a portion of the fuel tax revenues to municipal governments, pro-rated on the kilometres of public roads and streets, the costs of maintenance of which are paid by each municipal unit. I find it funny because, of course, that is what the Conservative Party claims that they are asking for from
the federal government and we have the municipalities asking the province for exactly the same thing, which is that the province collects the fuel tax, but doesn't share any of that with the municipalities that are responsible, in part, for maintaining the roads. What is happening on that issue? Any chance of a little bit of what is good for the goose is good for the gander and sharing some of the fuel tax revenue with the municipalities, as requested by the UNSM?
MR. MACISAAC: Well, I could give you the answer that I gave to the UNSM conference on that, that as soon as we start getting some of the funding from the federal government from the revenue that is owed to us, it would perhaps assist in putting the province in a position where they could, in fact, respond in a positive way to that suggestion. It is something that we are attempting to work toward with respect to the roads over which we have jurisdiction, inasmuch as we have increased the funding for the capital budget by $11 million this year, which represents a transfer of that amount of money from general revenue to dedicated highway expenditure. We are committed to doing that toward our provincial highways.
As the financial situation of the province hopefully improves over time, we would be in a much better position to respond to resolutions such as that one. Certainly, if we were getting the $170-odd million that we believe is owed to us by the federal government we would be in a far better situation to provide assistance to municipal units.
I might point out that part of the proposal that we put out for discussion included a payment of $75,000 to the towns of this province which would help them with their responsibilities for roads. That was the basis behind that $75,000 payment.
MR. STEELE: In a letter to the UNSM from the Finance Minister, dated September 5th, he says: As you may know, we do not have dedicated taxes in Nova Scotia, meaning the tax revenue from one source is not specifically targeted towards one program or service. Instead all tax revenues are included in the province's general revenues and then dispersed accordingly.
That is a bit ironic, considering that is exactly the answer that he is getting from the federal government in response to the province's idea that every dollar of fuel taxes should be returned to Nova Scotia to be spent on roads. There is the Finance Minister's answer to that.
One of the municipalities that is hurting the most, of course, is the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. We learned the other day that the Sysco grant in lieu will not continue. That is a $1 million hole in the municipality's budget. There is no current action on the NSPI grant in lieu, although it would greatly benefit CBRM. As it has been for the last 10 years, I guess it is under discussion. The business occupancy tax initiative is proceeding on the assumption - but it is only an assumption - that the federal government will play ball and just pony up millions of more dollars. That is worth another $1 million to CBRM, but
it is based on an idea. If I understood you correctly, Mr. Minister, the other day you said that there have been no actual discussions with the federal government to see if they would play along.
Those are only a few of the financial pressures faced by CBRM. Of course, among others are a shrinking assessment base, the closure of Devco by the federal Liberal Government and the closure of Sysco by this government. The proposal that was put out on February 27th, included some benefit to CBRM but in the context in which - well, as the government keeps stressing almost every day - it was only a proposal, and it was bound to be controversial and it was. So, it hasn't provided the sort of meaningful, immediate relief that CBRM needs. Mr. Minister, my question to you is, what is your government going to do to deal directly and effectively and immediately with the financial crisis in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality?
MR. MACISAAC: Well, as you referenced the February 27th document, I just want to underline that the benefits that were contained within that document would come into effect in the next fiscal year. In the discussions that we have had with the UNSM in granting an extension on the consideration of the matters identified in that document, flowing from the roles and responsibilities exercise, that we have made it clear to the UNSM that we want whatever proposal is ultimately decided upon to come into effect at the start of the next fiscal year.
We have also set forward some principles that need to be adhered to with respect to a go-forward proposal. One of those important principles is, of course, that the municipal units that require the assistance, that were addressed in that document, that those municipal units receive the assistance that they need in order to continue to be viable municipal units within the province.
While there is an extension of the consultation and while the UNSM has become engaged in a leadership way, with respect to coming forward with a proposal, the principles that we want to see addressed in that proposal have been agreed to. One of those is that the municipal units that need to receive assistance will in fact receive it.
MR. STEELE: Is it fair to say, Mr. Minister, that your government is insisting that whatever shape the plan takes that it will result in new revenues to CBRM, roughly equivalent to what was in the February 27th proposal?
MR. MACISAAC: We would hope that whatever proposal is agreed to would be one that would in fact address the concerns not just of CBRM but of other municipal units as well. With respect to the Sysco grant, that is not something that the province intends to pay, but there is still a Sysco Board of Directors, I don't know what decision they have made with respect to that grant in this fiscal year. The province is not making that payment, whether or
not the Sysco board will make the decision to make that payment, we will have to see what they decide to do.
MR. STEELE: I am getting the signal from the Chairman that my time is up. I just wanted to conclude by saying to the minister, thank you very much and to your staff, thank you. It has been very enlightening for me, probably more for me than it has been for the staff, so thank you for your time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I assume by those comments the NDP will be concluding its questioning for this minister.
MR. STEELE: That is right. We have no more questions for this minister in this portfolio.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for the information of the committee, if we do finish with the minister this afternoon, then next will be the Department of Justice.
The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I certainly hope you enjoyed your weekend, along with your staff.
MR. MACISAAC: Thank you.
MR. BOUDREAU: I am going to ask about equalization first. Could you explain the formula, and how you came to this formula?
MR. MACISAAC: It is an extremely detailed formula. Perhaps, before I start going too far here, if you would give me a minute or two I will consult.
Thank you for your patience, honourable member. I will just try, if I can, to give you some of the basic assumptions that are behind the formula. Certainly if you want to go beyond that, I can make arrangements for you to come over and people in the department will be quite willing to get right into the details of it all.
What we attempt to do is to establish what would be described as being a standard level of service that a municipal unit would be able to provide, so that there would be a standard level of expenditure that a municipal unit would have. That standard level is measured against the uniform assessment of the municipal unit, and that uniform assessment, of course, is a measure of their ability to pay for services. So you have those two that sort of balance one against the other and if a municipal unit's ability to pay is deemed to be below the standard level of service that they should be able to provide, then they would become beneficiaries of an equalization grant or through the application of the equalization formula.
On the other hand, if their ability to pay was deemed to be above that level then, of course, there wouldn't be any benefits flow to them under those circumstances.
That is the fundamental basis of how it works, but there are a lot of other details that go into determining that. I have been walked through it once, but I would not trust my ability to try to bring it all back and explain it to the committee. If it is helpful, we would certainly make the facilities of the department available to you and provide you with a more detailed explanation.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I appreciate your honesty. I guess it is important and your department, for the units that were supposed to obtain some equalization money, because basically what you are indicating to the committee is that you are recognizing these municipal units require additional funding. Is that correct?
MR. MACISAAC: Yes.
MR. BOUDREAU: So if this formula that you put forward, Mr. Minister, or the source of funding is not acceptable, then what is your plan? What is plan B? How are you going to get this help to these municipalities that require it, such as the CBRM? I will use the CBRM. How are you going to get assistance to them without the equalization?
MR. MACISAAC: I appreciate your question. We have put forward a proposal for consultation purposes. That proposal has generated a considerable amount of discussion throughout the province. We received a lot of very thoughtful responses from municipal units throughout the province. Some of those, as I indicated earlier, responses related to the issue of whether or not an equalization payment should be an open-ended payment to municipal units and that obviously is something that needs to be addressed. Nobody wants it to be an open-ended payment. If you consult the business plan of the department, you will find that it is our intention this year to implement a set of performance standards for municipal units and it would also be our intention that those performance standards must be put in place if municipal units were to be eligible to receive the equalization so that that issue that concerned people would, in fact, be addressed.
The other issue that came forward was an issue of whether or not there would be any cap on the level of payment that would come forward and that is something that obviously we would want to address as well. Some municipal units expressed concern about property tax being used in order to fund the equalization program. I am not going to take the time to go into all of the details that were put forward, but there were a lot. I had lengthy responses from municipal units, some seven and eight pages, where they went into considerable detail.
So we felt it appropriate, under those circumstances, for us to respond positively to the UNSM's request that there be an extension on the consultation process. So by agreeing to that extension, we have in fact indicated to the UNSM some basic principles, which we
believe need to be adhered to with respect to any solution that would come forward. But we also have indicated to the UNSM that if those principles are addressed, that we would be prepared to entertain alternate proposals, as long as the principles were addressed. So, currently, the UNSM has indicated that they would like the opportunity to work on an alternate proposal. I have indicated that we are quite prepared to provide some time for them to do so. I understand they are currently involved and will be addressing this issue at their executive meeting on Thursday and they will go forward with a process to come back with some alternatives.
So I believe it would be inappropriate for me, at this juncture, to start espousing what I believe might be a long-term solution here, without having had the benefit of their proposal or for me to put forward alternate proposals in the midst of their process of consultation. I can tell you that we are internally evaluating our own proposal. We are looking at alternatives and we will be prepared to put alternatives on the table as part of the consultation process with the UNSM, assuming that UNSM comes forward with proposals that provide some interest or address, to a large degree, some of the principles we have put forward. There may be sort of a discussion occur which might refine their proposal even further.
They may come forward with a proposal which we could say, yes, we can implement that. They may come forward with a proposal which would require quite a bit of more work. I can't predict what that might be, but I can say that we will remain open to any proposal that the UNSM comes forward with. We will be prepared to discuss their proposal in terms of ensuring that we understand it, in terms of ensuring that it addresses the concerns that we have set out and also in terms of being able to implement the proposal, if it is something that we feel does, in fact, address all of those concerns. One of those fundamental concerns is that the proposal have widespread support of the municipal units throughout the province.
I apologize for taking so long to answer the question, but I wanted to put it in the context of what is happening.
MR. BOUDREAU: That is fine, Mr. Minister, however, I don't recall you answering my question. Really, what I am asking you is that now you have recognized municipal units in this province that are having a great deal of difficulty meeting fiscal targets, are you going to provide some relief and some help to these municipal units, regardless of the equalization or not?
MR. MACISAAC: Well, that is what the entire process is about and that is what we intend to put in place, a mechanism that would provide a level of assistance to municipal units at the start of the next fiscal year.
MR. BOUDREAU: So they can be assured of this extra funding for next year? These municipal units can budget . . .
MR. MACISAAC: I don't believe we are at the stage where there is anything out there that would enable them to budget in the coming year with precise numbers. But I do believe that we can say to them, and I have indicated it already, that the principles that we have set forward are principles that are going to be adhered to in any proposal that we implement at the start of the next fiscal year and that we will try to have the details of that in place in sufficient time for those municipal units to have an appreciation of what the numbers would be so that as they move forward and toward the next fiscal year, they could, in fact, do more detailed budgeting.
So based on the commitment that I can make now, there will not be precise numbers that they can use, but we do hope to have in place a program which would enable them to deal with more precise numbers as we move toward the next fiscal year.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I know you keep referring to this consultation process. I know, for me, when I first heard that on the radio, after 5:00 p.m. on a Friday evening, it didn't indicate any consultation process. It indicated, very clearly, that the province announced their new equalization formula and, in particular, the CBRM - that is where I was when I heard it - was going to benefit from this equalization plan. So I guess these municipal units, in all fairness, are now lingering out there because, as I see it, you really don't have a plan. You pretend you had a plan. You put a plan out there and it got all messed up and even the members of your own caucus publicly stated that they were against this property tax proposal.
So really, when I listen to the minister, and I hear what you have been saying for the last couple of days, you really don't have a plan to help these municipal units. All you have begun is a consultation process and it appears to me, at least, that you are waiting for the municipal units to come forward with an answer for the problem that you created. Again, are you going to continue to linger these municipal units or are you going to provide the support that is necessary for these units and stand up and tell these units that, yes, help is on the way?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I suppose the rules don't permit it, but perhaps I could pose the question as to whether or not the honourable member is suggesting that I cease the consultation and impose a solution at this juncture and then move forward, or does the honourable member believe that we should continue with the consultation?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I will reply to that. Regardless of what I am suggesting, Mr. Minister, you are the minister. You are the government. You and all the members of your caucus went door to door in Nova Scotia and told Nova Scotians you had the answers two years ago. So regardless of what I think, you are the gentleman that is sitting in the chair as the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. So the problem is yours, Mr. Minister, not mine.
MR. MACISAAC: Well, I accept the responsibility for the problem and we are in the process of consulting with the municipal units. We will allow that consultation to proceed and we will either on the basis of that consultation, or as a result of having to come forward with a proposal on our own, have in place in time for the next fiscal year, a program which would assist municipal units of this province in providing a fundamental level of service at a reasonable cost to the municipal taxpayers in those municipal units. That is the commitment that we are making and it is one we are prepared to live with. Now I believe it is important for us to carry on with the process of consultation and we are going to do that.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I can appreciate that, particularly at this stage, after it has been bungled to the point that it is now. I guess you don't have any other option but to consult since you don't have an appropriate plan or your department doesn't have an appropriate plan and it certainly doesn't have an appropriate answer for the problem that has been created. So I would suggest that the only avenue you have, Mr. Minister, is to consult. But having been in the municipal world, I have a great deal of confidence that those answers will come forward to you because the municipal units in this province are very capable and very qualified administrators are at the helms of most of these units. I am sure you will get your answer in a very short while. I am very confident of that.
MR. MACISAAC: That is very reassuring. Thank you.
MR. BOUDREAU: You're welcome. I want to move on to the fine revenue, the bill that is before the House, with the increased revenue that you will have on speeding tickets, in particular. I know the honourable minister has indicated that revenue is not a factor in these increases. However, it is hard for many Nova Scotians to really fathom that, particularly myself. When you sat down and you indicated, I believe, that there was a safety committee that made these proposals to you, is that correct, Mr. Minister?
MR. MACISAAC: That is correct, yes.
MR. BOUDREAU: Would you be kind enough to table the report from that committee?
MR. MACISAAC: We will check for that and get it. If I might, Mr. Chairman, I just want to comment that the object of the proposed legislation is to reduce the amount of speeding that takes place on Nova Scotia highways. The extent to which we are successful in reducing the amount of speeding on Nova Scotia highways will result in less fines being imposed on Nova Scotians because they will be speeding less, and if less fines are imposed on Nova Scotians, then it follows there should be less revenue flow from those fines. That is our objective and that is what I mean when I say these proposals have nothing to do with revenue. They have everything to do with increasing public safety on our highways.
MR. BOUDREAU: I can appreciate that reply, Mr. Minister, and I have no reason not to believe you. In the event that your intentions are well, what do you intend to do with the new revenue?
MR. MACISAAC: Well, as I indicated, Mr. Chairman, it is our sincere hope that the measures that we are implementing will succeed in reducing the number of speeders in the Province of Nova Scotia. If the measures succeed in doing that, which we are very optimistic they will, then there will not be increased revenue; there will be decreased revenue.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I want to move on to fire departments. You also have a bill before the House which fire departments would be exempt from municipal taxation. Could you explain your theory around that particular bill, please?
MR. MACISAAC: When the Municipal Government Act was proclaimed on April 1, 1999, it contained a provision which exempted from taxation those parts of fire halls which were used to house the firefighting equipment used by volunteer fire departments. That, I might add, was legislation that was brought forward by the previous Liberal Government, and it was a measure that was agreed to by all Parties in the House and it was also a measure agreed to by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities.
What happened as a result of that is that people came to a realization that by including only those parts of the buildings that housed the firefighting equipment, we were, in fact, taxing those parts of the buildings that were used to generate revenue for the fire departments to assist them in the purchase of firefighting equipment, as well as in the operations of fighting fires. So the fire hall, or bingo facility, or whatever it is, that was attached to the structure which housed the firefighting equipment was an integral part of the fire department's capacity to generate revenue so they could use it to achieve their purposes which is to provide fire protection within their community.
So people began to have very serious second doubts about the previous legislation, the Municipal Government Act that came into effect on April 1, 1999, and people suddenly realized that municipal units were being asked to grant further exemptions to these buildings that were used for revenue generation for fire departments and it created a whole sort of hodgepodge out there in terms of how municipal units were able to respond. So we felt that it would be appropriate and I believe we were asked by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, through a resolution, to come forward with legislation. I think I am correct when I say I wrote to them and asked if they would consider that and they responded with a resolution. (Interruptions)
I wrote to them and asked if they would consider supporting an amendment to the Municipal Government Act which would allow us to make the change that is currently before the House. They responded by bringing a resolution before their conference. That resolution passed and based on that level of support we were able to bring forward the resolution that
is currently before the House and that would exempt volunteer fire department properties from assessment and taxation.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I would like to ask about the Sysco grant in lieu of taxes. Will that be paid to the CBRM this year?
MR. MACISAAC: That's a question that would have to be put to the Sysco Board of Directors because they have the responsibility for making that decision.
MR. BOUDREAU: Do they also have the funding to pay it? Is that the normal procedure, Mr. Minister?
MR. MACISAAC: They have made that decision in the past to provide a grant in lieu and it has always been paid by Sysco.
MR. BOUDREAU: What happens if they don't have any money, Mr. Minister? I don't imagine they have an abundance. They didn't sell much steel in the past year, any rails. So where would the revenue come from?
MR. MACISAAC: As I indicated, that is Sysco's board's decision and we will have to await their decision.
MR. BOUDREAU: But isn't this an issue that your ministry is responsible for?
MR. MACISAAC: Only to the extent that a decision was taken by the Sysco board to pay a grant in lieu inasmuch as provincial properties or properties owned by the province are not assessed and there is no tax rate applied to those properties.
MR. BOUDREAU: So what you're telling the committee today is that the Board of Directors of Sysco always decided whether they were going to pay this grant in lieu of taxes each and every year, is that correct? Is that what you're telling the committee?
MR. MACISAAC: I understand that's a requirement of the Sysco Act.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Minister, I have been living in that community all my life and I was on council for a few years. That's just a crock really.
MR. MACISAAC: You mean you weren't getting the money?
MR. BOUDREAU: Well, they were getting the money, but it came through the provincial coffers. The Board of Directors of Sysco never, ever had anything to do with the grant in lieu of taxes. That money is owed by your department to the CBRM.
MR. MACISAAC: It was a cheque that would have been signed by Sysco.
MR. BOUDREAU: Yes, and I do have knowledge that when certain mayors were in Sydney prior to amalgamation, the payment was made directly from the Premier's Office. Now, Mr. Minister, you're sitting there today telling us that the board of directors, but that's a crock really. What are you going to do, like you are sitting here, it seems to me I believe you have a twisted tongue. In one hand you're recognizing the need, the CBRM, you know, the shortage of cash economically, I mean we don't have to go through all that spill. You are well versed on that and I am sure the new member for Cape Breton North has briefed you on that since he was elected here. Mr. Minister, will you provide the Sysco grant in lieu of funding to the CBRM this year?
MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I have answered the question and, you know, if the honourable member doesn't like the answer, I can't alter it. The fact is that the payment is a payment that in the past had been made by Sysco as a grant in lieu and there was never any cheque cut from my department for that amount of money.
MR. BOUDREAU: Okay, I am not going to argue with the minister today, but I am going to have another go on this one, I can assure the minister of that. I want to move on to a service swap. Is your department currently in negotiations with the CBRM in regard to road swap?
MR. MACISAAC: I am not aware of any such negotiation. If it were a matter of roads, there may be discussions taking place with the Department of Transportation and Public Works, I don't know, but we're not involved with any discussion.
MR. BOUDREAU: So your department would not normally be involved in a service swap between Public Works and what is, you know, . . .
MR. MACISAAC: We wouldn't have to be, no.
MR. BOUDREAU: But wouldn't there be courtesy extended to your department from the other department that would recognize that a negotiation is taking place?
MR. MACISAAC: If discussions are taking place, I wouldn't see that there necessarily would have to be a communication with our department. I believe that if there were serious negotiations occurring that would have a significant impact on CBRM's financial situation, that that is something that we would be made aware of, but we're not aware of any detailed discussions that are taking place with respect to CBRM and roads.
MR. BOUDREAU: I just want to go back to the Sysco Board of Directors just for one minute. Could you provide a list of the names of the directors of the board?
MR. MACISAAC: I will obtain such a list and provide it for you, yes.
MR. BOUDREAU: Yes, and that wouldn't be lengthy, it won't take weeks for that, will it?
MR. MACISAAC: I wouldn't anticipate that being a long time, no.
MR. BOUDREAU: With that, Mr. Chairman, I am going to thank the minister for his honesty and being clear on his answers and I also want to acknowledge the ability of his staff, of course. It got him out of some more trouble over there in a couple of instances. So their abilities are front and centre, of course, as always, and I want to congratulate them and thank the minister.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before we wrap, are there any further questions for this minister from any of the caucuses? Hearing none, we will then have an opportunity for the minister to make some closing remarks.
The honourable Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.
HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: Mr. Chairman, I want to thank members of the committee for their questions. I must say I had an opportunity this morning to drive one of our Pages from Antigonish into Halifax. He was commenting to me about the legislative process and we got involved in a discussion about the estimates and how the estimates are dealt with. What I was able to point out to the honourable member, or the Page - I am sure some day, given his interest in politics, he may become an honourable member - that it is all part of accountability and not just ministers being accountable for the operations of their departments, but the accountability extends right down into the entire operations of the departments because they know that everything they do can be put under the microscope and the estimates are a major part of that microscope.
It was very interesting to be able to carry on that conversation with him in terms of explaining the process and I think the fact that the estimates exist creates an accountability and, of course, when you get members of the committee who are prepared to do considerable research and provide a reasonable level of challenge to ministers in terms of that accountability process, then it even becomes more acute. So I just wanted to relay that recent experience because I think it is relevant.
I think we're engaged in an extremely important aspect of the legislative process and the function of the Legislature and I want to thank members for their questions. I do know that we have undertaken to get additional information to you and I would hope that we could have that information available to you before the conclusion of the sitting, the questions that you've asked and all of that. So we will endeavour to make that available to you as soon as possible.
Mr. Chairman, I am not going to take more of the committee's time. I do know that there are other departments that need to be dealt with and I just want to as well thank members of my staff who you see here, but also the many hundreds of people who are involved in the operations of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. They have an exciting challenge. They, in fact, will be the department that will become the interface of government with the people of Nova Scotia and that's a daunting challenge given the traditional sort of role that government has had in not placing an emphasis on service, but an emphasis on control a lot of times. So to be able to shift the mould and shift the thinking and the mindset to a mindset of service is one which they accept as a challenge.
I know it is a situation which I have every confidence Nova Scotians will feel that government is going to become a much more positive element in their lives in terms of responding to the needs of the people of the province and providing them with service. I am very pleased to be part of that process and, again, I want to thank members of the committee for their attention as we went through the estimates.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Minister. I also would like to thank you for most of the three days you were here, on April 10th, 12th and 17th, and for your patience and endurance.
Shall Resolution E30 stand?
Resolution E30 is stood.
That concludes business for Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. Now I would like to call the estimates of the Minister of Justice.
Resolution E10 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $88,883,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Justice, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E14 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $13,055,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Executive Council, pursuant to the Estimate, in regard to Aboriginal Affairs.
Resolution E15 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $235,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the FOIPOP Review Office, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E17 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,614,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Human Rights Commission, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E22 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $293,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Police Commission, pursuant to the Estimate.
Resolution E28 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $12,857,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Public Prosecution Service, pursuant to the Estimate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Those are the six resolutions on the floor of the Subcommittee on Supply at the present time. I now offer the floor to the minister to make some opening remarks and introductions.
The honourable Minister of Justice.
HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Chairman, it is my pleasure to be here to present the estimates for the departments and agencies for which I am responsible. I should introduce the staff that I have here with me today. Seated on my right is Mr. Clarence Guest, the Director of Finance with the Department of Justice and on my left is Mr. Doug Keefe, Deputy Minister of Justice. Also in attendance here in the committee this afternoon are Michael Noonan and Viki Samuels-Stewart from the Human Rights Commission. We also have Michele MacKinnon from the Department of Justice, Katherine Carrigan from WCAT, Martin Herschorn, Acting Director of the Public Prosecution Service, Gordon Brown from the Public Prosecution Service and Ms. Peg McInnis from the Office of Aboriginal Affairs.
My remarks are going to be exceedingly brief this afternoon, Mr. Chairman. I understand that there's been a general understanding that my remarks would be the model of brevity in the interest of allowing the estimates for my responsibilities to hopefully be concluded today.
I just want to indicate to the committee how pleased I am to be here today and the honour that I have to be involved with the fine group of people in the various agencies for which I am responsible and with that, Mr. Chairman, I would turn it over to yourself.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I will open the questions with the NDP.
The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
MR. KEVIN DEVEAUX: Mr. Chairman, I probably won't have a lot of financial questions. As you can see, I didn't bring any of my Estimates Books. Most of my questions are going to be about general policy and so on and there won't be any questions, I will tell you now, on Aboriginal Affairs in my hour; I think the member for Halifax Atlantic may have questions later on, just to give you a heads-up in that area.
I want to start with something that was in the paper today which was the issue of the increase in fines with regard to motor vehicle offences, moving violations and so on. I want to clarify exactly, has your department done some form of estimate as to how much money will be brought in from the increased fines?
MR. BAKER: I guess the short answer is no. The actual fine revenue accrues to various departments. Obviously, the Department of Justice accrues the costs and the victim fine surcharges, which are part of the penalty that is paid by the offender, but the short answer is I would not be aware of what the exact amount of the revenue would be.
MR. DEVEAUX: You say it goes to different departments. It goes into general revenue, doesn't it, the money?
MR. BAKER: Yes, but it would be included in the estimates for other departments. For example, a lot of the motor vehicle fines fall under Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. Fines for violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act would fall under the Department of Environment and Labour and so forth. So in point of fact it is not something that the Department of Justice or the Public Prosecution Service would necessarily calculate.
MR. DEVEAUX: I am trying to remember the victim fine surcharges, 15 per cent, I think, I am trying to remember now.
MR. BAKER: It is 15 per cent of the fine. I am sorry, is it 10 per cent or 15 per cent? (Interruption) Yes, 15 per cent.
MR. DEVEAUX: And that money does go to your department?
MR. BAKER: Yes, it does.
MR. DEVEAUX: So have you identified some increase in victim fine surcharges considering the fact that your fines are going to go up?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is no. The reason for that is because there is a separate account which is created, the Victims' Services Fund. The Victims' Services Fund is a separate account out of which funds are paid by Order in Council. In fact, what happens is in years when there aren't sufficient amounts of funds in the fund then the province simply pays that out of general revenue, so there is no identified amount for that increase.
MR. DEVEAUX: Let's just dwell on that for a moment. The victim fine surcharges go into a fund administered by, basically, Cabinet; you said Order in Council.
MR. BAKER: It is paid based on Order in Council.
MR. DEVEAUX: So there is nowhere in the line items, with regard to your department, that it shows - I take it your department administers the fund?
MR. BAKER: Yes, we do. In point of fact, the funds would show coming into the department. We have a Victims' Services Division, and all or part of the cost for that division is paid for out the Victims' Services Fund.
MR. DEVEAUX: Are you saying that, on a yearly basis, some years you don't bring enough in in victim fine surcharges to cover the cost of Victims' Services? If so, has that happened recently?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that we haven't in the past, but I have seen some projections which indicate that as the demand for Victims' Services grows over the next number of years that there is quite a potential for there to be a shortfall in the fund.
MR. DEVEAUX: So, there hasn't been a shortfall in the last few years, anyway, but you expect . . .
MR. BAKER: No, I expect there is quite the possibility. One of the things, of course, that is significant to remember - now, of course, fines for motor vehicle offences are a little bit different - is that crime generally, as the economy improves, goes down, which is a very good thing, but it means that, of course, revenue that . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: A reduction in crime is tough on your revenues.
MR. BAKER: If that is the price of reducing revenues, I am all for it. I am simply making the point that there are some things, such as fine revenue, which are a bit hard to estimate with scientific precision. I am sure you understand that.
MR. DEVEAUX: Sure. You say that Victims' Services expects an increase in clients or business, however you want to describe it. What is your anticipation in the next few years, that it is going to be increased, just in the volume or are there specific new services you are going to be implementing or . . .
MR. BAKER: I guess it is fair to say that the Victims' Services Fund, even at the level that we have now, with the fines that we have now - I have seen the projections and I can't remember the exact number of years but three or four years out - where the fund would be, at that point, inadequate to cover the existing level of services, simply because we are providing services now at a higher rate than the fund is being replenished by the fine revenue.
MR. DEVEAUX: So, it is not based on a specific new program?
MR. BAKER: No, no.
MR. DEVEAUX: So it is based on quantity?
MR. BAKER: Quantity, exactly.
MR. DEVEAUX: What exactly does the victim fine surcharge fund, or what does Victims' Services provide, what does that division provide?
MR. BAKER: A number of things, the Child Victim Witness Program is paid for out of that, and the regional programs, with the Victims' Services Division, around the province and, of course, in Halifax as well, would be covered out of that. I think those are the two most significant program delivery areas that are covered out of that fund.
MR. DEVEAUX: I am trying to remember the name, I call it the criminal compensation fund or victims of crime compensation, is that covered under that program as well?
MR. BAKER: No. That is paid out of general revenue from the consolidated fund, and also there are the applications that are taken for medical records. Those are not taken out of that, they are taken out of the consolidated revenues as well, although, arguably, they are victim-related kinds of services.
MR. DEVEAUX: Going back to my original question, you have no idea how much new money - do you expect new money to come in? Do you expect there to be fewer speeding tickets now that you are going to increase fines? Or do you anticipate that there will actually be an increase in fine revenue?
MR. BAKER: I guess the short answer is I don't believe we have budgeted for any increase in fine revenue.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to talk a bit about gun registration. I think it was your initiative as minister to join in the application to the Supreme Court of Canada.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Can you give me some status on where that is currently?
MR. BAKER: Of course the appeal has been dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada. The counsel on that was the Department of Justice regular staff, so there was not a significant amount of extra cost over and above the cost of the travel to Ottawa to argue the appeal and so forth.
MR. DEVEAUX: I am also trying to remember now, with regard . . .
MR. BAKER: I think $8,000 was the total cost of the appeal, and that basically travel and so forth.
MR. DEVEAUX: I am trying to remember, because when gun registration was coming in or as it was being implemented, there was a discussion around whether this province would - I don't know what the term is - be involved, would accept some responsibility in part of the administration of the Act. I am trying to remember, did we as a province agree that we would do that?
MR. BAKER: The Province of Nova Scotia, we have a section, I guess you would call it, at the Department of Justice, which is the Provincial Firearms Office. That office administers part of the program on a cost-recovery basis. It is simply a question of that program is paid for with staff in the Department of Justice, and we as a province get 100 per cent reimbursement from the Government of Canada to cover the cost of that program delivery.
MR. DEVEAUX: What is the difference? Why would the federal government want the province to do it instead of doing it themselves? Then you end up having, potentially, 10 different provincial departments doing this program. Wouldn't it be more cost-effective for the federal government to have done it themselves?
MR. BAKER: I think it is fair to say - and I don't want to try to get inside the federal Minister of Justice's mind because, frankly, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on why she would be doing that - that I think the program probably works better when administered at a provincial level than it does when you try to administer a program like that on a national level. I think, if we look at the history of the firearms registries, the two registries in Canada - the Quebec registry and the one for the rest of Canada - I think we can see why, if I were the federal Minister of Justice, I would prefer to administer the program provincially, because I think it would be much more effective and cost controlled than the federal program has been nationally.
MR. DEVEAUX: Now that the court case has been dismissed by the Supreme Court, the province is not working with other provinces nor is it anticipating in any way to be challenging the legislation?
MR. BAKER: No. From our point of view, as much as I can see at this point, the legislation has been approved by the Supreme Court of Canada. We certainly, at this point, have no plans to engage anything further. Clearly, and this is no secret, our government has grave reservations about the wisdom of the whole firearms registration system, but the position I have taken, as Attorney General, is that I am responsible to administer the laws as they stand. I may disagree with the law, fundamentally in this case, but we believe, in Nova
Scotia, that we have an obligation to uphold the law in the department and the Public Prosecution Service, and that is what we are going to do.
MR. DEVEAUX: Some provinces decided not to assist the federal government, isn't that correct?
MR. BAKER: Yes, there are some provinces that have opted out of the administration end of it. The administration end is slightly different from the enforcement side, because I don't think you have much choice on the enforcement side, although some provinces have purported to do that. I am not sure if that is very good constitutional law, but anyway I will leave others to argue that.
MR. DEVEAUX: Our province hasn't opted out of the administration side?
MR. BAKER: No, we have not.
MR. DEVEAUX: I am trying to remember, if I can remember back to what seems so long ago now, before the 1999 election year. Your Party, when it was in Opposition, moved a motion to - am I right? I am trying to remember, do you remember if that was the case?
MR. BAKER: I am sorry . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: Did your Party move a motion when you were in Opposition to remove us, to prevent us from operating the administrative component of the legislation?
MR. BAKER: My honest answer is I can't recall.
MR. DEVEAUX: Okay, I know you weren't the critic at the time.
MR. BAKER: I wasn't the critic. I can certainly assure you that my belief now is that we have some administrative control by virtue of administering the program. We have been able to do things, for example, such as alternate certification, which if we weren't administering the program wouldn't have been possible. I think it has nevertheless, given my reservations about the program, in the overall interests of Nova Scotians for us to continue for as long as that exists, I guess is a good way of putting it.
MR. DEVEAUX: You are saying that because it is being administered by the Province of Nova Scotia and this government, they are doing things differently that may have, because you are opposed to the legislation, lessened the burden or somehow altered what the federal government would have done?
MR. BAKER: No. The legislation itself permits the Provincial Firearms Officer, who is a department employee, to prescribe alternate certification regulations or rules, which are exceptions, which are permitted for in the legislation itself, that allow certain classes of firearms owners to be exempted from the testing requirements.
I will give you an example. In Nova Scotia we have a program called alternate certification whereby Nova Scotians who have owned firearms, I think it is since 1979, can challenge a test through the Office of the Provincial Chief Firearms Officer without having to pay for the cost of the fees that you would ordinarily have to write if you wrote the firearms test. That is something that we can do for that group of people because we administer the program in Nova Scotia, that we couldn't have done if it was purely up to the federal government because we wouldn't have someone who was answerable to myself administering the program.
MR. DEVEAUX: That is interesting, I just want to go down that path a little then. You say it is a rifle owned before 1979.
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that it is 1979, and I am terrible with dates but my recollection is that it is 1979. If you owned firearms continuously since 1979, the federal legislation permits the provinces, through the Provincial Chief Firearms Officer to set up a system of alternate certification. We have established that system, and it basically is a free system. We did that, frankly, because one of the concerns we were hearing from legitimate firearms owners - and these are all firearms owners who have owned firearms for in excess of 20 years now - is that it was a very unfair burden on them, and we saw an opportunity to relieve them from the burden of having to pay for the course.
This is a group of people who, in many cases it is fair to say, have had unblemished records, in all cases would have an unblemished record, for over 20 years, owning firearms. We felt that if they had equivalent knowledge, why would they have to write a test just to have it confirmed. In this way, over the telephone, they can answer some questions and be certified.
MR. DEVEAUX: What are you certifying?
MR. BAKER: It is certified that they are able to safely operate - they have safe firearm knowledge. We would deal with safety issues for example, storage issues, that you understand that you have to store firearms with a trigger lock or in a stored cabinet, those kinds of knowledge-based issues.
MR. DEVEAUX: You say there is a fee for certifying, writing the test?
MR. BAKER: Yes, I think it is $100 now for the federal test, and there is no charge if you challenge the alternate certification.
MR. DEVEAUX: If you can prove that you have owned a firearm . . .
MR. BAKER: Since 1979.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to ask about that, you are basically saying that someone - it is almost a grandfathering or a grandparenting, based on a telephone test?
MR. BAKER: It is a test, and there are fairly stringent - I can assure you, the gentleman who administers the program is very rigorous in making sure that these people are the people they say they are. Most people have, fortunately, been able to pass the test, and of course there have been some failures. The idea behind that is that we are providing some flexibility to Nova Scotians who have owned firearms. Frankly, a lot of older Nova Scotians find the whole idea that they have a $20 gun and have to write a $100 course to be able to keep a $20 gun quite unacceptable.
MR. DEVEAUX: I empathize with your position, with regard to trying to grandfather in or grandparent in certain individuals. I guess I do have a concern that we are grandparenting them in and avoiding certification by means of a telephone interview. When you say there are stringent requirements, how do we know or how does your firearm registrar know that the person on the other end of the phone is the person who will actually be grandfathered in?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that there are prearranged times the person is called at their home and those kinds of things. I can assure you, again, that there have been fairly stringent steps taken to make sure of that. I suppose it is no different than someone else going and writing a written test for you. If you are going to engage in active fraud, it is very hard to prove because I could say I was yourself and go and write the test. If no one knew who you were, there would be no way of telling that. There is no absolute way I can assure you of preventing fraud, but I can tell you they also take steps to avoid that.
Just by way of information, nothing supersedes the check which is done by the police authorities on issues unrelated to gun handling; I am talking about, for example, the issues that involve criminal records checks and all those kinds of things. Whether or not you are certified alternately or not, the issues of whether or not you have a spouse who might be at risk, the issues of whether or not you have a criminal record, those kinds of issues are verified independently.
MR. DEVEAUX: Okay. I appreciate the issue of criminal records, but let's go back to this point because you are now making me even more curious. This is something I was only going to spend a couple of minutes on, but basically you are telling me that whether I write a test for certification or whether I do it over the telephone, there are no security measures to ensure that the person who is being tested is the person who actually will be receiving the certificate, if they pass?
MR. BAKER: What I was saying is it is a telephone test, so every effort, of course, is taken to make sure that the person who takes the test is the same person.
MR. DEVEAUX: How?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that that is part of the application process, and that is basically the way it works.
MR. DEVEAUX: You haven't instilled a lot of faith in me in the process, I guess. That makes me a little hesitant. I understand the necessity of . . .
MR. BAKER: The difficulty we are having, of course, is that there are people - and I will give you a good example - on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, who are located tremendous distances away from any opportunity to administer the program. We had to make a choice, with respect to firearms owners who have owned firearms for over 20 years that the alternate certification method would be appropriate.
MR. DEVEAUX: I understand that, I guess my concern is, and I know a little bit about the Eastern Shore, living at the very beginning of it, and I understand there are communities like Mooseland or Port Dufferin or Ecum Secum, but most of these places usually have a small school or a small hall or a fire station. I understand there might be some inconvenience to it, but my worry is that we might be certifying people over a telephone, and we can't guarantee that that is the person who will actually be receiving an exemption for the certification.
MR. BAKER: Yes, it is an exemption from writing the test.
MR. DEVEAUX: So, I guess I go back to my original question which is, how does your department guarantee that the person who is being interviewed over the telephone is the same person who will be receiving an exemption?
MR. BAKER: There is no way to be absolutely certain, I would be honest.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to talk for a minute about something you had raised - I call it a trial balloon; some would call them lead balloons - must be about six months ago now, the idea of people who were convicted of drinking and driving and sent to jail would be imposed with a user fee to cover the costs.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Whatever happened with that?
MR. BAKER: To put it shortly, we are continuing to look at the option. There has been a review of the constitutional authority for that, and there is research being done by staff on that in looking in other jurisdictions. Put simply, we are continuing to review that to see whether or not it is possible and desirable.
MR. DEVEAUX: Have you received - and maybe you are going to tell me this is solicitor-client confidentiality - opinions with regard to the constitutionality?
MR. BAKER: I have.
MR. DEVEAUX: Can you tell me whether those opinions have said that you have the constitutional ability and jurisdiction to do this?
MR. BAKER: I guess I would rather not go into the advice I have received on that.
MR. DEVEAUX: We could have a whole debate about who the client is, I guess, right?
MR. BAKER: Yes, well, at this point I think I am both the client and the adviser. I think it is subject to solicitor-client privilege.
MR. DEVEAUX: Do you have a timeline for when you anticipate this being implemented?
MR. BAKER: No, there has been no timeline established except that I guess it is fair to say that the idea was part of a general review to see methods by which people who commit offences such as that kind can be held accountable to society for their actions. We can make an argument, I guess, about many offences, but perhaps more than some offences repeat drunk drivers. Basically, unless there is serious injury, the people who go to jail for drunk driving are generally repeat offenders; in fact, most cases by luck they are repeat offenders, even if - whatever. The reality is we wanted to try to hold that group of people accountable for their actions, because it is probably one of the easiest areas to prevent crime.
I can tell you from personal knowledge, when I started to practise law in Lunenburg County 21 years ago now, the number of drinking and driving-related offences was much higher than it is today. Frankly, it has been as a result of a combination of public education and tough penalties that what used to be commonplace, which was people leaving events having consumed too much alcohol, is now much more the exception.
MR. DEVEAUX: Sure, and I accept that. A lot of that was through education. I want to ask one other question on this, you said other jurisdictions. Do you know of any other jurisdiction in Canada where a user fee system for jail time for any offence has been implemented and accepted by the courts?
MR. BAKER: When I said other jurisdictions I meant other North American jurisdictions.
MR. DEVEAUX: But in Canada you know of no others.
MR. BAKER: None that I am aware of.
MR. DEVEAUX: Do you know if the courts have challenged any, if this has been challenged in the courts in any provinces?
MR. BAKER: Not to my knowledge.
MR. DEVEAUX: Well, that leads to another question. Why stop at impaired driving or refusing the breathalyser? I remember from my days as a Crown, many years ago now as well, that spousal abuse was a very difficult and serious situation as well, one that we haven't spent as much time on education. In many cases, you could argue that the issue of deterrence could be imposed there. So, why stop at impaired driving?
MR. BAKER: I guess I am subject to be convinced on any offence. I will make an observation about the possibility with respect to family assaults that my experience is that fines in that area are very rarely imposed, certainly incarceration is more commonly imposed, but my concern there would be not to re-victimize the family. In many cases, even if it is through child support, the perpetrator who may no longer be with their spouse may be a supporter for children. I guess you can argue that that may be the case with drunk drivers as well, except I don't think there is quite the same degree of causal connection between the offence and - I guess I am not saying I am against it philosophically, I just haven't thought about it at any great length. The reason drunk drivers were singled out was because, quite clearly, that is one kind of an offence where you can simply say deterrence has worked.
MR. DEVEAUX: I think that is my point, that in saying that someone is going to have to pay if they go to jail, not only a fine potentially but also to pay for their actual incarceration, is clearly a deterrent. This should scare people off, and tell them, well, I don't want to do this, because. Now, you can argue that if someone is drunk and gets behind a wheel, are they really thinking about that? Is someone who is in a position of anger and commits domestic violence, are they thinking about that? But I guess I go back to my point, which is I just wonder why you sort of picked out impaired driving and didn't consider other particular crimes.
MR. BAKER: I guess the short answer was because from my own knowledge I know that drunk driving is clearly an offence for which deterrence has worked. I am not ruling it out as the only offence for which deterrence has worked and I will also say that I am not dogmatic on whether there may not be other offences for which it could be imposed. I do look at the situation, for example, with driving suspensions. There are fees imposed on drunk
drivers trying to get their driver's license back, the application fees and a number of other things, which are done for drunk drivers which are quite exceptional relative to other offences.
I think it is fair to say the courts have - and I won't blather on - seemed to have given legislative bodies more room to manoeuvre in terms of driving offences, that they may not have been as strict in enforcing some of the provisions of the Charter, I think it is fair to say, as they may have been in certain other kinds of offences.
MR. DEVEAUX: Moving on to the Human Rights Commission/Ombudsperson. You said this was a temporary measure, I believe, when it was originally said that you were going to have Mayann Francis be both the - is that correct, is she now both the Ombudsperson and the Human Rights . . .
MR. BAKER: She is the executive director and Ombudsman, yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Is it Ombudsman or Ombudsperson?
MR. BAKER: It is Ombudsman, I think, technically because it is a Norwegian term, I believe. I am not trying to be sexist in it, I think it is correct.
MR. DEVEAUX: You said it was a temporary measure.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: Some were expecting legislation in this session to make it a permanent measure. Is this something you are evaluating? Are you continuing to evaluate? Have you made your evaluation? What is the status of this?
MR. BAKER: I guess the short answer is no decision has been made. What I tried to indicate, whether there were believers or not I will leave others to judge, was that there truly was no decision made. The question of whether or not the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman could, should be merged or merged partially was subject to review. In fact, that review has gone on to the second phase, and there is a public consultation process ongoing now with respect to the whole Human Rights function itself. This is, obviously, tied together.
We basically maintained the budgets of both the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman at their previous levels. We made it clear - I tried to make it clear from the outset - that this was not driven entirely by budgets, it was driven at least as much if not more by trying to provide better service, be efficient and those kinds of things.
MR. DEVEAUX: So you are not saving any money by merging the two?
MR. BAKER: This year there will be no savings at all as a result of that. In fact, the savings in salary that would have been charged to the Office of the Ombudsman would be there, available to be delivered in programs this year.
MR. DEVEAUX: Are you also in charge of the general review of the merging of the ABCs, is that your bailiwick, so to speak?
MR. BAKER: I think that is under Treasury and Policy Board, I believe.
MR. DEVEAUX: I just wanted to know whether I could . . .
MR. BAKER: I think that is interesting, but I think it is technically a Treasury and Policy Board function.
MR. DEVEAUX: When you talk about a review of these two functions, this is part of a bigger review or this is . . .
MR. BAKER: Yes, it is quite clear and I think it is fair to say that the ABC review is part of a government-wide attempt to rationalize boards, agencies and commissions, and to look at which agencies, boards and commissions would be probably best done without.
MR. DEVEAUX: The thing that people bring up as the classic example, with regard to merging these two, is that if someone wants to call the Ombudsman with regard to a complaint about the Human Rights Commission, who is going to hear it? I guess it is sort of a dilemma that I haven't been able to answer. Maybe for the record you can tell us how you see that being dealt with, considering the same person holds both positions?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is that there is a strategy in place now in those cases where there is a complaint about the Human Rights Commission, whereby the chief investigator at the Office of the Ombudsman, who is in fact the person in charge of the team that does the investigation in any event, basically deals with those complaints. In effect, the decision is made by that person.
As I said, we are trying to be sensitive to the concerns, at the same time - I will leave the subject - there seems to be at least the potential for some synergies whereby there is certainly an investigative function and there are a number of people obviously engaged in both operations. Sometimes people have human rights complaints not against the Human Rights Commission itself but human rights complaints and also complaints to the Ombudsman.
In many cases, for example, if there was a complaint against the Department of Justice, you might have a complaint against the Department of Justice and also a complaint to the Ombudsman about the Department of Justice. In those situations the same field is re-
plowed twice, and in many cases three times. Oftentimes there is a process because of the Civil Service component, where the same complaint is, in fact, reviewed by government three times, in many cases, the question is, are we getting three times better justice, or are we just getting three times more? That is what this whole review is about.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to go on to a bit about corrections. The jail for the Halifax Regional Municipality, when do you expect that to be completed and opened?
MR. BAKER: May 28th is substantial completion under the contract. Then the commissioning, when you start to put people in the correctional facility, is in July.
MR. DEVEAUX: Of this year?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: July is when you expect to have the place . . .
MR. BAKER: Start - it will be a gradual move. Obviously you are not going to have an influx of people instantly filling the place, but starting in July.
MR. DEVEAUX: Originally there was some discussion, I think when the Liberals first announced this when they were in government, of it being a P3 project.
MR. BAKER: It is P3.
MR. DEVEAUX: Is the actual jail to be managed by a private corporation, a private organization?
MR. BAKER: The running of the institution is entirely by the provincial government. The function of maintenance is the one function where a P3 contractor is responsible, for the maintenance of the building. They have, I think, a 30 year commitment for the facility. They are obviously responsible for the maintenance of the building, because to some extent they are also taking care of their own investment during that period of time.
My understanding is that the maintenance function - there were three or four people in the old Sackville centre who were maintenance workers, and I can't answer you for sure, I can get back to you, but my recollection was - that the plan of attack was to try - and I think it had been arranged but I can't confirm it absolutely - to have those people, in effect, subcontracted out to the private developer so that those employees, who are basically public servants, would continue doing the same job they did before, but that their salary would be paid for, in effect, by the P3 owner.
MR. DEVEAUX: This is a bigger complex, though, than the Sackville-Halifax County Correctional Centre.
MR. BAKER: Yes, absolutely, it is.
MR. DEVEAUX: Do you expect that there are going to be more people hired? You want those four hired, but there is actually going to be more maintenance staff than that.
MR. BAKER: That would be up to the owner of the building, to arrange for whatever maintenance is required to live up to the contract. As you can obviously appreciate, the new correctional facility is much more technologically advanced than the previous Sackville centre.
MR. DEVEAUX: How much was it originally scheduled to cost, to build?
MR. BAKER: The funding envelope that had been approved was just pennies under $60 million, and we are expecting it will come in in that $60 million envelope.
MR. DEVEAUX: That is $60 million to build it?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: In fact, if it is P3 - correct me if I am wrong - you are not actually paying $60 million. The private consortium builds it, and then you pay a lease over 30 years.
MR. BAKER: Yes, but the leasing cost is paid based upon, basically, the capital cost times the interest rate. Frankly, we have been very fortunate because dropping interest rates are going to, I think, have a very beneficial effect - I am crossing my fingers and toes - over the next number of months, and that will affect the leasing cost. The per annum leasing cost, of course, is a function of the capital cost times the interest at the time of substantial completion.
MR. DEVEAUX: Have you actually signed the lease yet?
MR. BAKER: We have signed the P3 contract. There will actually be a process whereby, on a mathematical formula, the actual lease payment will be established after May 28th.
MR. DEVEAUX: I am thinking about when we did P3 for some of the schools. Since then we have seen a lot of interesting things in some of the schools, the water quality wasn't very good and I believe the province has had to foot some of the bill for that. In other places,
things like basic gym equipment are extra in the lease, or there is a certain period of time, so on and so forth. Those are sort of the devil in the details, so to speak. But have you signed a lease that specifies any of the extra charges or costs that may be incurred by the province, depending on how the facility is used?
MR. BAKER: All I can tell you is my general impression is that to some extent the Department of Justice has been very fortunate in the sense that we had an opportunity to see some of the mistakes that had been made with respect to P3 by others and, as you can appreciate, the P3 lease for the correctional centre, the agreement, was signed by the former minister, Mr. Harrison, in the last two weeks before the election. When we inherited the agreement, the good news was that we have had a lot of experience, and frankly we put a lot of resources into making sure that, to the extent possible, some of the problems were avoided.
MR. DEVEAUX: How many correctional facilities does the province currently - I shouldn't say currently. Once this building is open and you close the - I think, Lunenburg, Colchester, Guysborough and Kings . . .
MR. BAKER: Guysborough is closed now; Lunenburg and Colchester are slated to close in August; and Kings is slated to close in October. Once that happens, we will have correctional facilities in Yarmouth, Antigonish, Cumberland, Cape Breton, and of course the Burnside site.
MR. DEVEAUX: Is there any intention, do you or your department have any intention, in the next couple of years, is it anticipated that any of those other facilities will close?
MR. BAKER: I have no anticipation that any other facilities will close. In point of fact, I think we will have to look at, over the next number of years, moving towards replacing - and I am not talking about eliminating - some of those facilities. The difficulty we have is that when the Province of Nova Scotia took over correctional facilities from the municipalities in the 1980's, the province acquired a set of assets that were woefully inadequate, even for the standards of the 1980's, poorly maintained, poorly designed, with staff who were inadequately paid, with no pension plans in some cases, and it has been a huge cost to the provincial taxpayer ever since.
MR. DEVEAUX: And if you have to replace them, do you see yourself going into the P3 process again?
MR. BAKER: I will never say never, but my anticipation would be that we would give a very serious look at traditional construction. That is not to rule out - I think it would be unlikely to do a replication of the P3 in Burnside, but I would never rule it out absolutely. I have to be very convinced of the benefits, and I am a skeptic.
MR. DEVEAUX: Fair enough, I would agree with you on that.
Judges and judgeships. Are there any vacancies in the Provincial Court right now, family or criminal?
MR. BAKER: On the family side, I am hoping they are all vacancies in the sense that we are trying to have the Family Division.
MR. DEVEAUX: I was going to ask you about that as well.
MR. BAKER: We are certainly not anticipating, by any stretch of the imagination, appointing more Family Court judges for the obvious reason. In the Provincial Court there are two positions, at some point this year the second will become vacant, and we are anticipating that that position will not need to be filled. To be quite candid, we have had a drop in the amount of crime and overall activity in the criminal courts. That's a good thing and not to say that there's not a lot of work in the criminal courts, but there is less work in the Criminal Court than there used to be. So we believe that we can operate with a smaller complement of Provincial Court judges.
MR. DEVEAUX: The last couple of vacancies in the criminal division of the Provincial Court were filled by, I think, Family Court judges who became redundant with the move. I think it was only in Cape Breton and metro that you moved to the Family Division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia?
MR. BAKER: That's right. In point of fact, we have done that and there may be opportunities - one or two, you know, at least maybe some opportunities - for other Family Court judges to move into the Provincial Court in the event that the Family Division - you know, the federal government appoints the Family Division of the Supreme Court.
MR. DEVEAUX: Have all those original Family Court people who became redundant with becoming part of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia now found places in the Criminal Court Division of the Provincial Court?
MR. BAKER: No, there are only a couple of people in that category. Most of them are still working in the Family Court because, of course, we have got the Family Court that is still up and running in all of mainland Nova Scotia outside of Halifax County. So, for example, people who were hearing Family Court matters in Dartmouth may end up doing Family Court matters in Lunenburg, or Kentville.
MR. DEVEAUX: Do you anticipate moving towards a Family Court Division of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for all of Nova Scotia?
MR. BAKER: Absolutely. It is frankly perhaps the most significant issue that is now before us and certainly we've had innumerable discussions with the federal Department of Justice and its officials. We are continuing to encourage the federal Justice Minister to complete the process and if we are able to do that, then it would be a good thing because clearly the Family Division offers services to Nova Scotians that are available in Cape Breton County and Halifax County which are not available, for example, in my home County of Lunenburg and I think those services work by and large very well.
MR. DEVEAUX: I want to ask a bit about the Public Prosecution Service and the position of DPP. I guess I will start with the position of DPP. I know that the member for Richmond asked this in the House and it has become a semi-annual question, I think, of the Opposition.
MR. BAKER: And probably quarterly is more accurate.
MR. DEVEAUX: Yes, quarterly maybe, if the House sat on a quarterly basis maybe, but I guess the question is, is there any active search at the moment for a Director of Public Prosecution?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: And how are you actively searching for a DPP?
MR. BAKER: There is a firm that has been retained, a professional search firm. That firm has arranged for interviews of individuals both from Nova Scotia and elsewhere. There have been discussions ongoing with individuals and at this point no person has been selected and that's as far as I think I can go on personnel matters. I will answer more general questions, but to talk about the process, other than to say that I do appreciate the legitimate frustration that has been expressed by both Opposition Parties on the subject. It has taken much longer than I would have ever anticipated.
MR. DEVEAUX: When - sorry, I'm losing my train of thought. Well, with regard to the position, what is the name of the firm that is . . .
MR. BAKER: I knew you were going to ask me that and I can't remember. (Interruption) Thompson Associates, thank you.
MR. DEVEAUX: And they're local?
MR. BAKER: Yes, in Nova Scotia.
MR. DEVEAUX: And for what period of time have they been hired to . . .
MR. BAKER: It was the same firm that was engaged by the former administration.
MR. DEVEAUX: So we're talking about coming up on three years now that they have been hired?
MR. BAKER: Yes, it is.
MR. DEVEAUX: Again, I understand personnel issues, but I mean what would you describe as the difficulty? Is it a lack of people who are interested in the position because, let's face it, it is a very difficult position and the previous two people who had the position of DPP, I mean we saw it can be a very difficult position. Is it the difficulty that you're finding a lack of people who want to take on the job or is it a skill set that you're having trouble matching?
MR. BAKER: I think there are a number of factors. First of all, you are right, it is a very difficult job and, you know, being Director of Public Prosecution is a very difficult job. I will leave others to speculate why it may be more difficult in Nova Scotia than some other places, but it has been very difficult in Nova Scotia. I am sure Mr. Herschorn, who is here today, can testify to how much work it is and the level of responsibility.
We are very particular about the skill set and I must be quite candid that I believe - and I have said in the House in answer to questions from the member for Richmond - that the skill sets that the person who is ultimately selected would need to have are exceptional qualities.
I can also tell you that when you're talking outside of Nova Scotia, while by Nova Scotian standards the salary which is tied to the Provincial Court seems quite generous, when you go outside of Nova Scotia and you go in prosecution circles - and it doesn't matter whether that is in Alberta, or Ontario, or in British Columbia - our salaries are not nearly as competitive as they would be for much less responsible positions in those provinces. So when you're talking about people in the prosecution area, one of the real challenges we have is that our salaries, while they are generous by Nova Scotian standards, are not generous at all by national standards, in fact are arguably barely adequate by national standards.
MR. DEVEAUX: Is there a consideration of increasing the salary? Is it $140,000?
MR. BAKER: The salary is tied to the Provincial Court and to be quite candid with you, I would be very reluctant to move off of that because the reason it was set to that was the level of independence that that afforded the person holding the position, but I think I would be very reluctant to move off of that.
MR. DEVEAUX: Sure, but if we're talking about a position that in three years you've had trouble filling and you have been quite candid in saying that one of the reasons is that people outside of this province regard $140,000 as - and look, I mean yes, I understand that given the nature of the work and given the people who would be doing ADM criminal in British Columbia, or Alberta, or Ontario, are making a fair bit more than that I would assume.
MR. BAKER: Or the federal Department of Justice which has a whole criminal prosecution side as well, those people are all paid much more than we could pay.
MR. DEVEAUX: If you're telling me, being quite candid, that the salary is a problem, is it something you're considering changing considering in three years you haven't been able to fill the position?
MR. BAKER: I guess the short answer is I have not ruled it out. I am obviously hopeful that we can deal with the issue without having to do that, but I am a solution-oriented person and I am getting to the point of looking for solutions.
MR. DEVEAUX: How many Crown Attorneys do you have currently employed by the DPS?
MR. BAKER: I am going to say 75, but (Interruption) Yes, 75 to 80, so I was right on.
MR. DEVEAUX: So is it 75 full-time and 5 on contract, or are they part-time?
MR. BAKER: The approximate number of full-time is 75 and 5 would be the number of contract employees and those people would be hired for particular tasks such as Operation Hope as an example. That would be an example of the kind of operation that would lead to contract hiring.
MR. DEVEAUX: So the contracts are for specific projects as compared to backfilling someone in a Crown Office who has been moved on to . . .
MR. BAKER: I mean there is always the possibility that someone could be on long-term disability and they would be backfilled by a contract position as well, but a lot of those positions that are contract positions are also related to specific prosecution projects.
MR. DEVEAUX: What about per diems? Are you still using per diems for Crowns?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: How many different people are hired on a per diem basis?
MR. BAKER: Approximately 40 province-wide.
MR. DEVEAUX: If I recall, maybe it was under the former Liberal Government when the Crowns ended up doing a work stoppage, there was an increase in per diem, I believe, wasn't there?
MR. BAKER: No, I think the increase in per diem fees occurred since we have been in government, I believe. I am just trying to remember what . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: It used to be $300 for a half day, I think, wasn't it? (Interruption)
MR. BAKER: One of the biggest problems was preparation time. I think it was addressed in one of the Kaufman reports - it may have been - where the Crown Attorneys were coming to court ill-prepared simply because there was no compensation for preparation.
MR. DEVEAUX: I am sorry, you told me and I was thinking of something else, how many per diems do you have?
MR. BAKER: Approximately 40.
MR. DEVEAUX: And when you say 75 full-time - let me go on to the issue and, again, I know this is a personnel matter, but with regard to the issue of working out some form of agreement with the Crowns with regard to salary and working conditions, what's the status of that?
MR. BAKER: The matter is going to arbitration, predicted to be in June. I won't tell the honourable member the difficulty that sometimes - and I am using a metaphor because it is not technically first contract - things akin to first contract can be very difficult and what happened is that, not perhaps unpredictably, the matter wasn't able to be resolved through negotiations and the agreement with the Crown Attorneys Association provided that there be arbitration and that's what is going to be happening likely in June of this year.
MR. DEVEAUX: And it is a single arbitrator or three or . . .
MR. BAKER: I believe there's a single arbitrator. (Interruption) Bruce Outhouse, Q.C., is the chairman and the other two members of the panel frankly, one is to be a government appointee and the other would be the appointee of the . . .
MR. DEVEAUX: I am trying to remember under the agreement, is the decision of the arbitrator binding?
MR. BAKER: Binding.
MR. DEVEAUX: This has been a long-standing issue of mine and I know it was brought up in Justice Richard's report on Westray, the issue of having a full-time environment and labour prosecutor. Can you tell me - and maybe some may argue that the position has been filled as a regulatory prosecutor - if the PPS does have a position that would be considered a full-time environment and labour prosecutor?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is no. My understanding is that the Public Prosecution Service itself does not favour that and that is because - I guess the short answer is they believe that to create a separate position because of the nature of the work and where it is all for Nova Scotia, it would not be practical to do that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wish to advise the honourable member that you have four minutes remaining in your time.
MR. DEVEAUX: I will take the four minutes then to say my piece on this.
MR. BAKER: Fair enough.
MR. DEVEAUX: Having first articled and practised in Ontario where I did that specific job amongst 1 of 30 in the area of occupational health and safety, we had a similar - the reason they went to that process in Ontario is the same reason I find that there's difficulty here in Nova Scotia, and that is that occupational health and safety or environmental prosecutions are very complicated. The old comparison I make is, you know, in a murder trial you have to prove that someone pulled a trigger and in health and safety or in an environment one, you have to prove that the mother didn't raise the person correctly who pulled the trigger.
It is almost like a fraud trial. You're talking about it in much more detail. It is much more complex with a very large paper trail in many cases and it is one in which the Crowns who are overworked, who are very much focused on as many as six or seven trials in a day, depending on the nature of the trials, don't have the time or the ability or, quite frankly, the motivation when they see what they see as a provincial regulatory offence.
If you had one or more people, and now you have one department, Environment and Labour, even more perfect, I think, an opportunity for someone - and much as Justice Richard said - who would be focused on these types of prosecutions, would take them seriously, and then would have the skill base and would develop the skill base that would allow them to go out and ensure that you would be able to have good prosecutions and, indeed, they would have a complete knowledge of the precedents with regard to fines and sentencing so that you wouldn't be able to have a sentence in Amherst that would, you know, where you have a Crown who maybe doesn't know what is happening in Sydney, or in Yarmouth, or in Halifax, and therefore you can have sentences that might lowball the potential fine for a specific offence.
So there is a real opportunity in there, I think, to have one prosecutor who does all of it both as an opportunity to ensure that you're taking the offence seriously and then at the same time is able to educate other Crowns and even judges about the severity of the offences and why we need to take them seriously. That's a problem right now and it is one that I think won't be addressed because of the nature of the offences, because of the nature of the trials, until you have a full-time prosecutor with regard to environmental protection and occupational health and safety violations. I have said my piece.
MR. BAKER: I mean I take those points seriously and all I can indicate to you is that I will talk to the Public Prosecution Service. I mean, frankly, that is an internal organization issue where I have given, you know, some degree of discretion to the Public Prosecution Service and I take your comments under advisement.
MR. DEVEAUX: Considering I have a couple of minutes, then I will just say that one other thing is that the budget of the DPP and PPS is approved by you and I think they have to go cap in hand with a budget, isn't that correct?
MR. BAKER: Yes, we approve the budget although there is a provision that allows for the overrun by the Director of Public Prosecution in exceptional circumstances.
MR. DEVEAUX: So there is an opportunity for you when you're debating the issue of a global budget, or specific line items, to talk to them about whether that's a way - it could be a way of saving money.
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. DEVEAUX: It may cost a little more, but in the end you're going to be able to have a bigger impact in the long term with regard to health and safety of workers and the health and safety of our environment.
MR. BAKER: The point taken, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time has almost expired. It is less than 30 seconds, but I guess that will be fine.
The honourable member for Richmond.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: I am just curious, Mr. Minister, you did mention that Thompson Associates is the firm that has been retained to search for a Director of Public Prosecution and it is going on three years?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: How much have they billed the Province of Nova Scotia for their services to date?
MR. BAKER: I honestly can't tell you. (Interruption) $50,000 is what Justice has paid, but I understand that the Department of Human Resources - and you would have to speak to the Minister of Human Resources because that billing has been directed to Human Resources because it is a Human Resources function. I am not trying to pass the buck, I just don't know.
MR. SAMSON: Justice, to date, has paid $50,000?
MR. BAKER: That's what I understand, yes.
MR. SAMSON: And you're saying that there is an additional bill that has been sent to the Department of Human Resources on top of this?
MR. BAKER: I understand that there may be bills to the Department of Human Resources. I don't want to mislead you, but I can't tell you what those are because that would be part of the estimates for the Minister of Human Resources.
MR. SAMSON: Well, we will certainly be asking that. How much do you pay them a year?
MR. BAKER: I have no idea.
MR. SAMSON: Is it a yearly contract, or performance contract, or is it just an open cheque that we keep paying until there is no end?
MR. BAKER: Those are very good questions and you should ask the Minister of Human Resources. I am not trying to pass the buck in all sincerity, but it is under the Human Resources Department, that department is running the competition.
MR. SAMSON: I am just curious. You mentioned that the salary range is causing you - you figure that that is one of the issues that is causing you some difficulty.
MR. BAKER: There's no question.
MR. SAMSON: Your government had no problem amending the Civil Service Act to put a new unprecedented salary in for the Deputy Minister of Health, I believe, in the range of $180,000, which was never seen before. You have done it for Health, why aren't you doing it for this position, if this is the case? In other words, you have done it before, this wouldn't be setting a precedent for your government, it has already happened. Why do you
continue to wait when it has been almost three years that we haven't been able to find a candidate? What is the delay?
MR. BAKER: I think there is one fundamental difference. The Cabinet, of course, can determine the rate of remuneration for any deputy minister or deputy head by Order in Council. In the case of the Director of Public Prosecution it is by Statute not by Order in Council, that is the first difference. The second issue is that the Director of Public Prosecution, as envisaged by the Act itself, was a salary based upon an independent salary-setting mechanism. The difficulty is that that position is now linked to the Provincial Court salaries. It is difficult to see what else you might link it to, if one was to go to another salary range. I think it is fair to say that part of what has made a real challenge with the Crown Attorneys is particularly the move in Ontario, which has been echoed throughout the country, with the arbitration award in Ontario with the Crown Attorneys.
MR. SAMSON: I don't in any way think or try to say that this is an easy task. I appreciate your saying you need to have a Statute or an amendment to the Statute, but you do realize you have the majority government. Considering you have tried to bring the john bill in three times and you haven't been successful yet, but something tells me that with a majority government if you really wanted to address this, passing an amendment to the current Statute would be much easier for your government than it was for the last government I had the privilege of serving in. If this was a six month thing or a year thing or a two year thing it would be different, but we are going on three years now. There is no end in sight.
With all due respect, I guess the question is, the system hasn't worked to date, so how much longer are we going to keep going until we finally say, okay, what we have been doing up until now hasn't worked, we are going to try something different? How much longer are we going to keep waiting on this?
MR. BAKER: All I can tell you is - your comment was there is no end in sight - I certainly hope there is an end in sight. I think it is fair to say that over the last short while, or not so short while, there has been an ever-increasing gap in salaries, in that particular area more accurately than most. I am not ruling out dealing with the matter. I do think, however, that one of the difficulties we do have is that - and I appreciate that I have the support of the Liberal Party now for increasing the Director of the Public Prosecution's salary - it is awfully hard to explain to Nova Scotians, and I am being honest, why the salaries for deputy heads are inadequate in Nova Scotia.
To be candid with you, obviously I am a member of the government and I support it, but I think that whether it is Dr. Ward's salary or other deputy heads, we are not paying a sufficient amount in Nova Scotia when you compare to the national. I think it is a real tribute to the loyalty of the deputy heads that we have that we have been able to continue with the salary levels that we have.
MR. SAMSON: You are not going to get any disagreement from me here. If you look at it from a corporate standpoint, this is a $4 billion corporation . . .
MR. BAKER: It is a $5 billion corporation.
MR. SAMSON: Well, $5 billion now with the good federal Liberals sending us all sorts of money. We have hit the $5 billion mark.
MR. BAKER: If they sent us another $1 billion, it would be $6 billion and I would be happy.
MR. SAMSON: Considering that our corporate directors get paid in the range of $100,000 to $120,000 for a $5 billion corporation, I fully agree with the minister, but unfortunately the public of Nova Scotia isn't always very understanding on that issue.
Just closing on this, really, Mr. Minister, I can't encourage you enough to try something different, because this isn't working. If you are happy with it, fine, I will keep firing questions every four months, and we will keep at that. Really, I think Nova Scotians expect - the strong statements made in your blue book are clearly not being followed through here by the fact that there is that uncertainty there. I don't think it is fair to the acting director to continue that uncertainty; I don't think it is fair to the employees themselves to have that uncertainty. I can't encourage you enough to move forward on that and to have that settled.
One of the other issues that I raised with you in the House, and I am just curious, have you caught the gentleman who escaped from the Halifax County Correctional Centre?
MR. BAKER: Yes, he was retrieved in Newfoundland - he was with a relative in Newfoundland - and he was returned without incident to Nova Scotia. Happily back in Nova Scotia, I won't say where he belongs but he is back in Nova Scotia in any event.
MR. SAMSON: One of the issues I raised with you, and I know you got a little hot under the collar with it, and I can't see why any of my questions would cause that for you.
MR. BAKER: Yes, I know.
MR. SAMSON: The history on this individual was that there was a drug problem, there was a spousal assault problem, over a dispute over drugs. Buddy went out and kicked his common-law spouse 30 times with steel-toed boots. Who makes the determination as to whether an escaped person or any other Nova Scotian should be termed to be a danger to the community or not a danger to the community? You said you didn't do it as minister. Still,
you have to answer for your staff. I guess my question is, who, in the end, ultimately makes that call for your department?
MR. BAKER: It would be, I suppose, operationally, the superintendent of the institution in connection with the staff at the institution who would have that say. I think it is fair to say that, and I understand fully the issue of ministerial responsibility, in corrections probably more than any other area, there are difficult judgement calls to be made. Clearly, in corrections, one of the issues they are trying to do is to work on rehabilitation. You won't have any argument from me that here they made the wrong choice. There is no question. It is a self-evident reality that this particular individual was not suitable for the minimum security area that he was in by virtue of his conduct. That is a self-evident truth.
Having said that, I do believe the staff who were involved in making that decision were trying to do the right thing. It just didn't work out as well as it might ought to have. It is the Community Corrections' particular function within Correctional Services that makes the determination about whether or not people are suitable for - I think he was on a work permit. There are trailers - I call them trailers, I don't know what the right term would be - living units outside of the existing building at the Halifax County Correctional Centre. These trailers, where inmates lived, where this gentleman was housed at the time the gate opened, and when the gate opened this gentleman took an opportunity, as I understand, to go for a walk.
MR. SAMSON: I guess I am curious, the issue that I have raised is the fact that he was termed not to be a danger to the community. In looking at his past record, my personal opinion is that this man was a danger to the community. Any man who does what this individual was convicted of doing, to me, is a danger to the community. Do you stand by the assessment made by your staff that this particular inmate was not a danger to the community? Do you stand by that? I guess the question is, if you do, what in God's name do you have to do to be declared a danger to the community?
MR. BAKER: I am going to put the question the other way around, this gentleman was scheduled to be released in June, and the incident took place in March or April, I can't remember; it was either the end of March or the first of April. He had a number of months left to serve in his sentence, a very short number of months, before he was going to be released in any event into the community.
What I think was happening was that Community Corrections made a decision that he was a low risk to offend, that was clearly the wrong decision, but they were trying to manage his release so that he wouldn't come to the end of his sentence and simply be released onto the street without having any transition period. That is the tough choice in corrections, they could have simply warehoused him until June, I think was his release date, and put him on the street, but he was going to be back in the population with Nova Scotians in June. That was a self-evident truth.
The question was whether they were trying to manage that release to help him deal with his issues or whether they continued to house him in the more secure part of the institution. One of the challenges, operationally, that Sackville poses is that there is not sufficient space to keep people who are in work release programs separate from other inmates. We well remember the tragic incident where the gentleman was murdered. Part of the recommendation for that was that people on any kind of release program not be housed with the general offender population.
In the new facility there is going to be an opportunity where you are going to be able to segregate, because of the pod system. That potential didn't exist at Sackville, and that is why he was in the kind of unit he was in when he made his escape.
MR. SAMSON: I don't think I have gotten an answer to the question from the minister. I appreciate his explanation of the whole situation here. The question is, now that you know this inmate's background, the fact that he was to be released in June and he jumped and he ran, knowing that in another two months he would have been a free man anyway, knowing his background of drug addiction, violence towards women, do you still agree that this individual, who managed to make it all the way to Newfoundland, should have been declared a low risk to the community, as was done by your staff?
MR. BAKER: I am not sure his drug use, frankly, is the issue, because if we were to say that anybody who has a drug problem in a provincial institution, drug or alcohol, was not a low risk, then I suspect we wouldn't have too many people who could ever be classified as low risk. I think it is fair to say . . .
MR. SAMSON: The big part here is not only the drug problem, that is not the issue, the fact is the abuse that had taken place here, the violence and the abuse towards women that had been displayed by this individual. In fact, it was a dispute over the use of drugs that led to this, that was the great issue that led to this violence. It is the violence part that I am referring to, and that is why, in fact, because it was a common-law spouse that this occurred with, that is why I am asking, does the minister feel that someone who has been convicted of that type of offence, who actually runs from jail and escapes, should be termed to be a low risk to the community?
MR. BAKER: All I can indicate is that I take family violence very seriously, and that before anyone with those kinds of convictions should be released I would hope and expect that staff would take the seriousness of that offence into consideration. I guess I am not going to try to second-guess people, because they have a very difficult job. I am not making excuses, I am simply saying that they have a very difficult job. I take, particularly, the kind of violence that was used in this particular assault very seriously, as any right-thinking person would and as the honourable member obviously does. I don't know enough about all the factors that led to the decision-making process that I think that I can second-guess that
decision, other than to say I have some concerns about the level of violence that allegedly this gentleman had committed relative to his former spouse.
MR. SAMSON: I guess all I can suggest to you, Mr. Minister, is I think the public reaction has clearly been that they do not support the idea that this offender was declared to be low risk. I think if your government is going to be serious about spousal violence and family violence, it needs to send a clear message out there. In this case, I don't like to second-guess but, it sounds awfully suspicious, why he would not have been declared a dangerous offender. I am just curious, how did he get to Newfoundland?
MR. BAKER: I honestly don't know. One point I forgot to mention earlier, clearly this file, as any escape, has prompted a review, and I can assure you a review that I take seriously and the department takes seriously. If there need to be changes in policy as a result of this, I can assure the honourable member that they will happen, but I don't want to prejudge the review until it has been completed. How he got to Newfoundland, I am honestly not aware. The authorities may be aware, but I am not aware of how he made it to Newfoundland. There was a relative in Newfoundland, so I assume that when he escaped - who knows, it would be purely speculation on my part whether there was someone else involved. I have no idea.
MR. SAMSON: If you are reviewing the file . . .
MR. BAKER: That staff is.
MR. SAMSON: . . . I would certainly encourage you to try to find out how he got there, because, pretty much, unless he jumped the boat, he basically either went through the ferry or through the airlines to get to Newfoundland. He basically had to go through a security clearance. I am not sure how big security is on the ferry.
MR. BAKER: I think if you have your money for your ticket, you have passed the security clearance for the ferry.
MR. SAMSON: Well, when there is an escaped convict out there, one would think there are some additional measures put in. If you are walking on the boat, you have to go a different route. Each time I have gone, it has been in a car so we drove on, but if you are walking on foot . . .
MR. BAKER: I don't know, he might have driven on.
MR. SAMSON: Those are the types of questions that need to be answered. I certainly hope he didn't catch a flight over. I think that would be pretty sad if he caught a flight and got over there. If you are reviewing the file, I would encourage you to review that. The only thing I want to point out to the minister is the information we know about this inmate is
because of digging done by the press. Had they not done that, the Nova Scotia public would not have been aware of this inmate's past violent history, because your department did not make them aware.
Had something happened, by this inmate, I am just drawing a speculation here - the minister may want to keep this in mind when reviewing this policy - and it had come out that your department was aware of his violent past yet had still declared him to be a low risk and had not disclosed his violent past, then God help us all, what would have happened, the reaction that would have come toward your department. I would just leave that with you to consider in future times. We would never hope that this would happen, but had it happened, your department didn't disclose to Nova Scotians. By his escaping, as far as I am concerned, the minute he escaped his past was open and should have been disclosed to Nova Scotians.
I understand the idea of rehabilitation and everything and trying to get this person back, but the minute he escaped, he got out of there, all cards were off the table. Nova Scotians should have been made aware of this individual's history. I look forward to hearing from the minister once that review is completed.
On to another topic. Last year when we sat here you indicated that 10 satellite courthouses would be closed throughout the Province of Nova Scotia. Later on, what I would term to be political pressure from some of your colleagues, an extension was granted to a few of those courthouses, they would not close on the initial date. My understanding was that they were to be extended until some time this summer. I am just curious, could you run through those 10 institutions and tell me where they are? I can list them for you, if that is easier.
MR. BAKER: Sure, if you have the list I can tell you what happened to them.
MR. SAMSON: What is the status of the Springhill Courthouse?
MR. BAKER: It is still open, is my recollection.
MR. SAMSON: Until when?
MR. BAKER: I think the Provincial Court is still sitting in Springhill. My understanding is that that has been based on the willingness of the municipality to do some renovations in that facility.
MR. SAMSON: Have they?
MR. BAKER: Yes. I am not sure if they have been completed or not. There are still ongoing discussions with the municipal unit about the renovations, but my understanding is that they are quite keenly aware of the fact that that needs to be done, and the province would not be paying the capital costs of those renovations.
MR. SAMSON: Right now there is no date for closure of that facility?
MR. BAKER: No, but of course if that capital work was not done then we would be back in that same mode.
MR. SAMSON: Your address last year indicated that $72,000 was required to bring that facility up to minimum standards. You are not aware if any of that work has been done or anything like that?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is the work that needs to be done in that facility, we are getting an indication from the Town of Springhill that the work will be done, at their cost.
MR. SAMSON: Tatamagouche?
MR. BAKER: Closed.
MR. SAMSON: Sheet Harbour?
MR. BAKER: Open.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, why is that one still open?
MR. BAKER: Frankly, that is perhaps the one exception to the rule in the sense that there was a re-evaluation of the sheer logistical distance that separates Sheet Harbour from everything else in Nova Scotia and that one is remaining open.
MR. SAMSON: It has remained open.
MR. BAKER: It closed, but it is reopening based on discussions with the local police and so forth.
MR. SAMSON: I take it you don't have down there how much it is going to cost to bring that court up to standards in Sheet Harbour?
MR. BAKER: We are looking for new premises in Sheet Harbour because we are very concerned about keeping costs under control.
MR. SAMSON: So that one is open, due to the distance?
MR. BAKER: Well, it will be, I guess, is the correct tense.
MR. SAMSON: Ingonish?
MR. BAKER: Closed.
MR. SAMSON: St. Peters?
MR. BAKER: Closed.
MR. SAMSON: Glace Bay?
MR. BAKER: Closed.
MR. SAMSON: Middleton?
MR. BAKER: Closed.
MR. SAMSON: Comeauville?
MR. BAKER: That is in the honourable member for Clare's riding and it is open.
MR. SAMSON: Why is that one open?
MR. BAKER: It is open because, in the case of many of these units, they were located in municipal buildings and the municipalities were prepared to come forward and partner with the provincial government by doing the capital work that was required to keep the facility open. I have had discussions with the warden from Clare and the chief administrative officer and, basically, the communities felt that those services were important enough for the community that they were prepared to pay the capital cost of renovating the space. In fact, I know from talking to people from Clare that some additional work has been done to the judge's chambers in Comeauville to make the facilities adequate.
MR. SAMSON: Barrington?
MR. BAKER: Again, that is another example where the local council came forward and was prepared to do the work that was necessary to make the facilities adequate for operational needs. All those communities are on the same basis. They understand that the facilities are open only for so long as they are prepared to continue with their commitment to do the capital work.
MR. SAMSON: Sherbrooke?
MR. BAKER: Closed.
MR. SAMSON: You said that closing the four jails, the ones in Berwick, Kings, Colchester and Guysborough is going to save you $5 million. Do you still stand by that number?
MR. BAKER: Yes, that was the total savings. Obviously, a large part of the money is being re-allocated to the leasing costs for the new facility in Burnside.
MR. SAMSON: What is your projected yearly payment going to be on that facility? I know your interest rate floats up and down, but you must have a ball park figure of what it might cost you per year or in the range of what we are looking at.
MR. BAKER: Between $2.7 million and $3 million is a guess, on an annual basis.
MR. SAMSON: Has your department done a final analysis on what the costs were on moving the site from Bedford to Burnside?
MR. BAKER: All I can tell you is that we are within the original spending envelope that was approved when you were a member of the Executive Council.
MR. SAMSON: Has your government made any changes to the structure or the services that will be in there, the infrastructure, from what was originally there before you took office?
MR. BAKER: The plan is exactly the same plan that was approved when you were a member of the Executive Council.
MR. SAMSON: I am glad to hear that. Promise No. 176 in the Tory blue book says that, "In keeping with our belief that 'justice delayed is justice denied,' work to streamline our justice system;". Legal Aid, the government has estimated the net cost at $8.38 million for the past two fiscal years. The actual for two years ago was higher. It was $8.7 million, rather than $8.3 million. Last year, the actual was almost $1 million higher than the estimate. It was as high as $9.3 million. So I think it is safe to assume from that that the legal aid costs in this province are continuing to rise.
Despite this and the government's stated commitment to justice, once again, this year, you are again only budgeting $8.3 million for Legal Aid, the same figure you have used for the last two years, the same figure which has been wrong the last two years because the costs have gone over. I guess the question is, in light of the fact that in the last two years you have gone over-budget in Legal Aid, why are you again this year only budgeting $8.3 million when that figure was inadequate for the last two years?
MR. BAKER: I guess I would make two comments. One would be that the Legal Aid budget is for what I call regular operations. The $1 million more last year was for special prosecutions where Legal Aid is required to, obviously, fund the cost of defence. Those exceptional cases are not part of their regular budget and are approved as special appropriations, for lack of a better way of putting it, because, in some years, obviously, we are lucky, and I say lucky in the sense that the operations of Legal Aid are pretty much the routine kind of criminal matters and other years they are not routine. In those years, then the provincial government, obviously, has to provide adequate funds to allow the defendants on those cases to have an adequate criminal defence. Clearly, that is what is going on. So the fluctuation in actuals is a function of what is really happening on the ground.
The other thing, of course, is that there is quite a concerted lobby by myself , the other provincial Justice Ministers and the Canadian Bar Association to have the federal government, who has reneged on their previous commitments, to adequately fund Legal Aid, restore the funding to Legal Aid that ought to be restored. It is significant to note that Legal Aid started out as a national program, much like Medicare. The federal government, luring - I think that wouldn't be too strong a word - the provinces into the Legal Aid business, which they did, and to use the competition metaphor, it was the bait and switch tactic and the federal government has now withdrawn funding from Legal Aid, which has left the provincial governments, over time, to have an ever increasing amount of funding.
MR. SAMSON: I am just curious, I guess. This is one of many that your government has continued to rail against the federal government for not putting in the amount of funding required. I am just curious, in this case, with Legal Aid, based on your statements about justice delay, justice denied, why aren't you leading by example? Why don't you say, we are going to put more money in and Ottawa, we would like you to do the same, but we are ready to put our money where our mouth is and back ourselves up? You basically haven't budgeted one extra cent for Legal Aid and this being your third budget. So I am just curious. It is big talk, but you don't appear, as minister, to be doing anything on your own home front to put more spending in the Legal Aid system. Why is that?
MR. BAKER: Well, I guess, over the last six years, the Province of Nova Scotia has put $3 million in new money in Legal Aid as a result of the federal government leaving. Again, by way of information, Legal Aid was a 50/50 program and now it is an 80/20 program and our government has indicated to the federal Department of Justice that any increase in funding, any funding that they would increase by, there would be no withdrawal of funding from the province. So the great fear that the federal government always has is that they will send money to Nova Scotia and that we will make off with it elsewhere. Quite frankly, we think that Nova Scotians are putting more than their fair share on the table.
I should also tell you that the federal government, again, is pressuring the provinces to go to a per capita funding formula for Legal Aid. Per capita funding hurts Nova Scotia. It helps some provinces tremendously, but it hurts Nova Scotia. We are hopeful that our
arguments, together with the arguments of the Canadian Bar Association, and I am sure the forceful support of members like yourself, will have a lot more clout with the federal Prime Minister than I have and would be successful. In all fairness, this is not a partisan issue. I understand your concern is genuine. My concern is genuine. When a lot of programs in government were taking cuts, Legal Aid has not taken a cut and there is the possibility, of course, of salary increases which will be covered out of the ordinary method by which salary increases would come this year. So salary increases of Legal Aid, whatever they might be, would be covered as all other salary increases this year out of the general Treasury in addition to whatever their approved funding is.
MR. SAMSON: So are you stating now that because of the fact you have used the same figure for three years and it hasn't been sufficient for two of those years, you have to pump in more money this year and if there are any increases in salaries, there will be no reduction in services or cuts within Legal Aid to cover that? In fact, what you're saying, any increase that goes above the $8.3 million because of salaries and that, you will take out of the Treasury rather than tell Legal Aid to make some cuts to live within that $8.3 million, is that correct?
MR. BAKER: Just to give you an example, that's basically yes, we issued, I am told today, a cheque for $138,000 to the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission to cover their retroactive salary increases. Let me give you an illustration. The idea is that they could provide the same level of service that they had provided if there weren't salary increases.
MR. SAMSON: No, that is good. I guess it just comes down to the point again, with all due respect to the minister, you know, your big statement on justice delayed, justice denied, when it comes to Legal Aid, you have done nothing to increase the services of Legal Aid since you have been Minister of Justice. I guess that's the whole point and, you know, maybe some Nova Scotians agree with you, you know, it is all Ottawa's fault and until Ottawa budges, we're not doing anything.
I guess that's the same approach your colleague, the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, is taking with funding for Highway No. 101, you know, here's some money, but we're not spending it unless Ottawa comes in. So I guess for Nova Scotians, they will just wait and continue to see their justice system, at least with Legal Aid, not improving because the minister doesn't want to do anything without Ottawa moving first. I am just curious. You talk about funding from the federal government. How much money is the province putting into the restorative justice program?
MR. BAKER: Just one second, but just to answer your last comment, Legal Aid has gotten over the last two years $750,000 for new technology and, in fact, I can tell you that as recently as a week ago I was down and visited the Legal Aid Office in Bridgewater simply because I know the lawyers and staff in that office and I was in just to talk to them. They were indicating that the new technology, what they had had which was woefully inadequate,
had just started to arrive and that they were quite excited because over the next six months or so they were going to be able to access some of the technology, which I think most law firms would take for granted as a result of the money that they had received from the government for new technology.
MR. SAMSON: Who did the money come from?
MR. BAKER: From the provincial government. The federal government is decreasing their share.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, but the $750,000, who did it come from?
MR. BAKER: The Department of Justice.
MR. SAMSON: The Department of Justice?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: And where is that budgeted at?
MR. BAKER: There were vacant positions throughout the system in the Department of Justice and we used part of those savings to give the money to Legal Aid.
MR. SAMSON: No money from Ottawa at all as part of that $750,000?
MR. BAKER: Oh, no, there's no new money from Ottawa whatsoever.
MR. SAMSON: So last year in your staff and that, you saved $750,000?
MR. BAKER: No, it was $400,000 last year and $350,000 the year before. So we have tried within our very modest means to try to do something for Legal Aid as we have done the same thing for the Public Prosecution Service.
MR. SAMSON: So restorative justice, how much money do you have in that?
MR. BAKER: The short answer would be it would be $1.35 million in total. You have got the Youth Alternative Societies which comprise about $1.2 million of that and then $150,000 would be the administration at the Department of Justice.
MR. SAMSON: Let me see here, how much money does the federal government have in the restorative justice program?
MR. BAKER: Just one moment - $250,000, but this is the last year for federal money for restorative justice.
MR. SAMSON: That's from restorative justice. How much money did the federal government put in the Youth Alternative Society?
MR. BAKER: None that we're aware of.
MR. SAMSON: None that you're aware of?
MR. BAKER: No.
MR. SAMSON: In your budget opening last year you said, "With the assistance of funding from the federal government, we have also provided resources to the Youth Alternative Society."
MR. BAKER: That's part of that $250,000 I referred to.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, so you got $250,000 and you're saying you put in $1.2 million?
MR. BAKER: No, the difference between $1.2 million and $250,000 would be the provincial share.
MR. SAMSON: And this year, how much funding are you putting into those programs this year?
MR. BAKER: The $1.35 million would be the amount.
MR. SAMSON: So you're maintaining the same level of funding as what you had last year?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: The restorative justice program, I believe it was operating in four areas of the province. What four areas were those?
MR. BAKER: I think our count is six. There's one in Halifax which also serves the South Shore area, the Bridgewater area. There is one in the Amherst area. There is one in the Valley. There's one in Cape Breton and I believe one in Yarmouth as well.
MR. SAMSON: Are you looking at increasing that this year at all?
MR. BAKER: I think we're looking at the same amount of funding, so we wouldn't anticipate an increase.
MR. SAMSON: So no new communities in Nova Scotia will benefit from that program?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: I am just curious, Mr. Minister, Victim Services, is it correct that those are funded with revenue derived from criminal injury compensation surcharge on court fines?
MR. BAKER: The victims' fines surcharge is what is funding that at the present time.
MR. SAMSON: I remember it used to be $50. How much is it now?
MR. BAKER: It is 15 per cent of the fine imposed. Obviously the fine imposed and collected, I should say.
MR. SAMSON: How much revenue do you anticipate getting from that this year, or how much did you get last year I guess is a better question?
MR. BAKER: It is about $1 million a year.
MR. SAMSON: Where did you spend that $1 million last year?
MR. BAKER: On the Victim Services Program at the Department of Justice.
MR. SAMSON: Strictly on that?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: And no money went anywhere else?
MR. BAKER: No, no. In fact, the money can only be paid out of that fund by an Order in Council and I can assure you that no money has ever gone to anything other than to Victim Services.
MR. SAMSON: So where does it go?
MR. BAKER: Providing victim services such as the Child Witness Program, other kinds of programs, family violence type of initiatives, those kinds of things.
MR. SAMSON: So you spent $1 million on that last year?
MR. BAKER: Yes, and there's some averaging of revenues because they fluctuate a bit. Just to give you an illustration, Mr. Samson, the total amount for that division in the department is $1.8 million, rough numbers, of which $1.020 million is the estimated revenue from the victim surcharge fund, leaving a shortfall that's picked up by the consolidated revenues of the province of just under $700,000.
MR. SAMSON: I know you probably don't have it here now, but could you provide me with a breakdown of exactly where that money went last year and who it was paid out to?
MR. BAKER: Sure, that's no problem.
MR. SAMSON: This year in your line item it says that the net Victim Services expenditures are slated to decline from $732,000 to $698,000. What is the reason for this reduction and why is it occurring?
MR. BAKER: What page of the estimates are you looking at?
MR. SAMSON: I am looking at my notes. With all due respect, Mr. Minister, I am not looking . . .
MR. BAKER: It was just, I guess, overall savings through travel and those kinds of general things. There has been no reduction in the program at all.
MR. SAMSON: So all that money is here, 15 per cent of the total fine that is actually being recovered by the province, all of that money remains in Victim Services, it does not go to general revenue?
MR. BAKER: No, none of the funds go to general revenue. It is one of the very segregated funds that exist in government today. It is a segregated fund and is only paid to the Victim Services Program.
MR. SAMSON: And I guess I have to commend the minister. Unlike many of his colleagues, he hasn't managed to touch it or either find some way to change it, such as the RRFB, or many of our other old, very cherished, protected funds that this government has managed to get their hands on and take out.
MR. BAKER: I think I won't rise to the bait.
MR. SAMSON: The Community Mobilization Program, what is the status of that?
MR. BAKER: That's part of the federal crime prevention initiative and Minister McLellan will be coming down, I think, in the very near future to talk further about that. I won't say anything further for fear of taking other people's thunder.
MR. SAMSON: How much money last year did the Province of Nova Scotia put into that program?
MR. BAKER: There are no designated monies. We provided general administration services, but they are just part of the general administration budget of the department.
MR. SAMSON: Who does the money come from?
MR. BAKER: The federal government.
MR. SAMSON: How much, do you know?
MR. BAKER: Last year?
MR. SAMSON: Yes, in total? It was a five year program.
MR. BAKER: It is $5 million over five years.
MR. SAMSON: Okay, I have $3.5 million, but that's okay, fine, even better. Which communities have gotten money under this program? Do you have a list or could you make that available to show who has benefited under this?
MR. BAKER: Like I said, I think in the very near future there will be lots of hoopla on that, but we would be glad to make a list available to you.
MR. SAMSON: I would be curious to see if the province is going to put any money into it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would just remind the minister that any requests for lists and stuff will have to be circulated to the Chairman of the committee as well as to the other caucuses.
MR. BAKER: I would be glad to circulate it to anybody who would like it. I think it is fair to say if it goes to the honourable member for Richmond, it is not going to be a secret.
MR. SAMSON: It is not going to be a secret, okay, good. It says here you're predicting 70 less staff people than what you had last year? Is that correct?
MR. BAKER: Yes. A lot of that would be at Corrections.
MR. SAMSON: Do you have a breakdown?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. SAMSON: Because I see that the department's administrative staff serving the minister and deputy has actually increased by seven positions. Could the minister indicate what those seven positions are?
MR. BAKER: Those are the lawyers for Community Services who were able to do the work internally much cheaper than otherwise, lawyers and support staff. I think there are four lawyers and three support staff, I believe.
MR. SAMSON: But they're dedicated to working on the Community Services' files?
MR. BAKER: The Community Services' files, child protection. You probably heard a lot more from the deputy minister on that subject.
MR. SAMSON: I did and I am sure that he has conveyed to you the concerns that I raised. There is a lot of apprehension out there amongst the workers who work in this field regarding how this service is going to work. That is not a new concern. The deputy is well aware of that and it is one I would certainly hope that the minister will keep in close contact with his colleague, the Minister of Community Services, because I can tell you right now from my own previous experience and knowledge of that. I believe in Children's Aid it was every third case that the government was providing legal services for, the rest were public, and it was common practice for workers to hold back cases to make sure that they didn't get the government case, that they could continue to get the private case, and that is a reality.
There is a serious concern out there. The work that these people are doing, I don't think I need to lecture the minister on, I am sure he is well aware, it is a 24-hour a day operation. When a child is in need of protection, it is not between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. It can be at any time throughout the day and it is essential that the proper legal advice and the proper documents be filed in time because, as you know, the Children and Family Services Act is quite strict on what steps need to be taken and they happen to be, as far I guess for the legal community, they happen to be pretty quick steps in that you don't have very much time to get the necessary affidavits and the necessary orders filed with the court once a child is taken into protection. So I leave that with the minister. It is a serious concern. I don't know how much consultation has taken place with these workers who I think
should be the first to be providing input on this as to what they see as the pros, the cons, and which way they can make the system better.
In speaking with the deputy, I didn't really get a good sense that the workers were having direct input on this. So I guess I can only encourage the minister, I know you are out to save money in doing this, that's clearly the logic of doing this, to save money. One would hope, too, is to provide the same level of service, I guess, which is what we are all hoping will come in the end, but there is a lot of apprehension out there. It is a serious concern and I just hope nothing ever happens that they'll come back and say the order wasn't filed on time or we couldn't get hold of a lawyer at a certain time because of the changes that have been made by the government and I do hope the minister is keeping those in consideration as they move forward on this because it is a contentious thing. It was looked at when we were in government and was enacted upon because of the concerns that were raised. There was a pilot project. This is not something new, but there are great concerns out there and it would be a terrible thing if something happened here, or some child were left in a dangerous environment, because of the fact that they couldn't get the necessary legal advice or the necessary orders filed in time.
MR. BAKER: I can assure you, Mr. Samson, that, in fact, as a result of the discussions I think perhaps you led at the Public Accounts Committee, some of the staff who worked at the department had indicated that, for example, there were lawyers on those files who had literally worked around the clock in order to work on apprehensions. These lawyers provided 24-hour a day service and I would indicate that from the information I have received, and I certainly believe the information, that they provide absolutely every bit as good a service as the lawyers in private practice do or we wouldn't be doing it.
The lawyers, again, have been very careful and I can tell you from speaking to senior departmental staff that in hiring those lawyers, the decision was made that the quality of the people would be first rate, that there was not going to be any diminution in the quality of the service, the extent of the service. In point of fact, this is the classic example where by not being dogmatic and, you know, I think is some irony with a Conservative Minister, but this is a situation where the public sector can provide the service more inexpensively, a better, or at least as good a service if not better service, less expensively as could be done in the private sector. Obviously, there are people who used to provide that service in the private sector who are impacted by that, but we believe that we're providing a quality service, at least as good if not better than was being provided before at a much more cost-effective rate. This is a classic example of the win-win. The taxpayers win, the children win and, frankly, those are the people I want for to win.
MR. SAMSON: I can't tell you enough I hope you're right.
MR. BAKER: I certainly hope I am right, too.
MR. SAMSON: It is a big statement to make today. Only time will tell whether they do hold. On the issue of cost-effectiveness, I guess there are different arguments to that and the fact that your government has been paying anywhere from $100 an hour to $250 an hour for this service without any established rate, or established parameters for billing, so there are different issues there about cost-effectiveness that could be debated. But in the end, based on the minister's bold statement I guess, one can only hope he is correct, but we will certainly be watching and I hope the minister keeps a close watch on how that program works.
In your blue book you said you were going to establish a Registry of Sex Offenders. Where is that at?
MR. BAKER: There are discussions underway with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police concerning the possibility of hooking up with the Canadian Police Information Computer and that whole system to provide us access to a national database. I understand those discussions are going very well and we believe that we are making real progress towards completion of that objective.
MR. SAMSON: You also said in your blue book that you are going to "Begin discussions with judiciary, Director of Public Prosecutions and Nova Scotia Barristers' Society and interested citizens' groups to develop performance objectives and standards to ensure all Nova Scotians have equal and fair access to our justice system;" What is the status of that? Have you done anything on it?
MR. BAKER: I certainly know there have been numerous meetings between myself and department officials to try to improve the justice system. The short answer is, there is planning going on in the Court Services Division, planning that is going on to develop key performance criteria. Those key performance criteria are not only reviewed by department staff, but with the judges and justices to determine that those key performance goals are being met by the Court Services Division. We are clearly trying to make the system much more effective and responsive.
MR. SAMSON: With all due respect to your staff, it is good they are doing that, but in here you said you have involved the judiciary, the Director of PPS, the Barristers' Society and interested citizens' groups and it appears that is not taking place.
You said you would, "Establish a program of public education to ensure that Nova Scotians understand how our legal system works and to promote the use of plain language;". What is the status of that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wish to advise the member that he has about four minutes remaining in his time.
MR. SAMSON: You are kidding. Is that it?
MR. BAKER: I guess there are a number of things. First of all in the Court Services Division, they are reviewing the materials and producing new materials using plain language. These are materials for the public. They are working on a video, again, which is designed to be in plain language. Plus, in the past, we have arranged to provide lawyers with instruction on plain language in the drafting of regulations. Anybody who has ever seen lawyers' documents, as I am sure you have, Mr. Samson, will know that sometimes the language is not all that plain. In a moment of self-confession, I might plead guilty to that one myself on occasion.
MR. SAMSON: Well, it is always interesting to hear the minister talk about another video. If he keeps going, I guess we will have the . . .
MR. BAKER: We will provide you with the video when it comes out.
MR. SAMSON: We might be able to get K-Tel to advertise for the justice collection of home videos. I do not know if the minister will be a host of Nova Scotia's Funniest Home Videos. Anyway, it is interesting to see more videos are being worked on.
Also, you said you would "Stop wasting tax dollars on incarceration of non-violent criminals and work with the judiciary, Public Prosecution Service, the legal profession and interested groups to institute an appropriate system of house arrest for non-violent offenders;". Where are you at with that?
MR. BAKER: That program is part of the program put on by community corrections. They are responsible for determining the supervision of people placed on house arrest by courts.
MR. SAMSON: One of the last issues, on Aboriginal Affairs. One of the stories that came out is that during your meeting with Chief Lawrence Paul there were some discussions that your government would be prepared to sign a new gaming agreement with the bands if they were willing to give some sort of agreement or some reassurances on the issues of native fishing and logging rights. I am curious if the minister could first clarify, is that the case? Is that the way the minister presented this and if not, has a gaming agreement been reached? Why, in any way, are they being tied into native fishing and logging rights?
MR. BAKER: They are not tied into native and fishing logging rights, is the short answer.
MR. SAMSON: Well, you have seen the story, you know what I am talking about. This is not news to you, obviously.
MR. BAKER: I read the Sunday paper, there is almost a story every Sunday. The reality is that there are almost two years to run on the gaming agreements. The two years that are left, leaves us more than adequate time to negotiate new gaming agreements which I certainly hope will be negotiated. Obviously, that involves two parties and I am hopeful those agreements will be reached. The approximately $15 million that went into community development under those gaming agreements is very important to a number of communities across Nova Scotia. I have every hope that the gaming agreements will be reached and extended or modified as the case may be.
I am not going to comment on the newspaper story except to say that my perception of the meeting was not necessarily the same as the newspaper story. What I can tell you is that we do hope to make progress and there were discussions at the meeting about hoping to make progress in other areas. I do not see there is anything wrong, but it was not being tied to that. It was not a condition precedent, but I can tell you I do hope that we can make progress in Nova Scotia in a number of areas and not the least of which, because I believe that is in the interest of Aboriginal communities in Nova Scotia.
I will not comment on the media report beyond that except to say that I do believe that the Millbrook community, in particular, has had an exemplary role in community development and I congratulate that community and the leadership in the community for that work. I expect to work with them for many months and maybe years to come in my continued role as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has expired for the Liberal caucus. We will now continue with questions from the NDP caucus. I wish to advise you we have 55 minutes remaining until our time of adjournment today.
The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: To the minister, I will not require that length of time at all, but I do want to speak on the matter of your responsibilities for Aboriginal Affairs. Maybe just to continue from the point raised by the member for Richmond. Not on the story, but on the topic of the gambling agreements in that I understand that there has been an attempt by the Membertou band, for example, to negotiate an agreement. They were not in the initial agreement, they were not part of the initial - what was it, four, five, was it 10? Okay. Who signed that initial agreement but they, I understand as part of their work at trying to generate revenues for economic development in their community have asked to participate in discussions around the gambling revenues from the Sydney Casino. I believe they have been told that the government is not prepared to enter into discussions on this issue until the other agreements lapse.
MR. BAKER: I am not sure that is entirely accurate.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: That is why I bring this matter to your attention and ask you to . . .
MR. BAKER: Clearly, one of the difficulties that community has is that I understand there may have been a number of referendums in that community where the community did not support participating in the gaming agreements. I do not want to get into how many angels can dance on the head of this pin, but that is one of the reasons they are not in the gaming agreements. It is not because the Province of Nova Scotia wasn't interested in having them as a party to the gaming agreements. Frankly, I believe it would be in the interests of the people in those communities if they were participating in gaming agreements. For reasons which are best known to those communities, they did not choose to participate.
Clearly, there are rules in the existing gaming agreements with respect to other communities which deal with the general format of those agreements because, as you can appreciate, when you are negotiating any of these community agreements, the other communities don't want to be in a position whereby they are disadvantaged for having signed on first. But I can assure you that I would more than like to reach an agreement with Membertou, in the general format of the current gaming agreements or dealing with parts of that. For example, they could deal with certain issues. If they don't want VLTs in their community - which I can appreciate, some communities don't wish to have VLTs - the issue of sharing in the Sydney Casino profits could be dealt with separately from the issue of the VLTs.
I would hope that that community would do that, but I think the problem, frankly, is certainly, at least at some level, at a community level. There are some community issues which I leave to the people in that Membertou community to sort out for themselves. I think the reason they don't have a gaming agreement at this point has more to do with community-based issues than government-based issues. Clearly, if they want to create and go off on a completely different track than any of the gaming agreements in Nova Scotia, then that is going to raise issues of other communities, it is basically going to reopen the entire process, which I think we are going to be coming to in the not so far future anyway. Mr. Samson's question basically dealt with that, whether that is next month or two months from now, I don't know, but it will be in the very near future because I don't think it serves the interest of the government or of those communities to let those agreements expire.
I hope that we can reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, not just for those communities that are in the agreements now, but for Membertou and the other communities that aren't in, over the next while.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: So, you are telling me that if approached by the leadership of that community, you would certainly be willing and anxious to participate in negotiations around a gaming agreement.
MR. BAKER: Sure.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: And you are also saying that there haven't been any negotiations?
MR. BAKER: My understanding is that there have been no approaches based on the existing agreements, there have been some discussions with the Gaming Corporation and members from that community, but on what I guess we would describe as a completely different basis. That is where the issue of the existing gaming agreements with other communities conflicts with, and it is not really a governmental problem as much as it is a question of those other agreements and how they are going to be dovetailed. It is very difficult, as you can appreciate, to get in one process, then have a community say, no, no, we want something altogether different, and that wasn't an option that was given to those other communities, necessarily, at the time.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: There have been discussions of a type . . .
MR. BAKER: Of a type. I can tell you, through indirect contact to some of my colleagues, there may be an interest in that community as well. Certainly I haven't engaged in any direct face-to-face meetings with Chief Paul or anyone else from Membertou. But I don't want to rule it out, because I really think it would be of benefit to that community to sign on to a gaming agreement, even if it is a limited gaming agreement. I think there is community development money that they are not accessing.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: What is the status of the policing on reserves? What are you preparing to do with respect to that issue?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Unama'ki Tribal Police has not been one of the happier stories. Those communities are now being policed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on an interim basis, you might call it that. There were serious management issues dealing with the Unama'ki Police Service, which the audits had revealed and were presented to the Police Commission. I want to make it clear for the record that while the communities had expressed the fact that they were not necessarily in agreement with the fact that the money was sufficient for that police service, we as a government had certainly never said no to new money.
What we said was there could be no new money, additional money, until the audit concerns were addressed, in other words until there was a willingness to address the management issues, both fiscal and non-monetary that had plagued that police service. For whatever reason, the Board of Police Commissioners was not able to address those concerns, and there were very serious concerns about the fiscal management of that police service.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Where do things sit now?
MR. BAKER: The service is basically disbanded, and the RCMP are providing service to those communities now. I can tell you that the Police and Public Safety Division of the Department of Justice has been very intimately involved in maintaining adequate police coverage in those communities while additional arrangements are worked out. I know I spoke at one meeting with Chief Paul, who was the Chief of the Board of Police Commissioners, and made it quite clear that the government was interested in working with those communities, in policing arrangements, and that hasn't changed. It was just a difficulty with a lack of capacity to manage a police service. It is a very difficult thing because police services are highly intensive of management, and if a community doesn't have a lot of management capability, it can be very difficult for communities.
I think anyone can appreciate the level of management to have a good police service spread over a number of isolated areas because, of course, it is not like a town which might have the same number of citizens but would all be concentrated in a single geographical location. This was four or five different isolated communities on Cape Breton Island. Frankly, the service began to deteriorate to the communities, then community support began to erode for the service, and it was a never-ending spiral. I am not blaming anyone, I am just saying that it was a failed exercise and we have to move on.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: The matter of harvest management agreements, particularly in the fishery and in the forest, you have indicated in the business plan for Aboriginal Affairs that you are working with the community, with the federal government and with the industries to try to work through an agreement. Yet in both of those, in the natural resource and in the fishery sections, it talks more about letting the federal government determine what the management regime is going to be and the whole question of Aboriginal title and rights.
I am not clear what it is that your government is going to do here in the Province of Nova Scotia on these matters. Are you going to leave it up to the federal government, or is it something that the provincial government is going to deal with?
MR. BAKER: No. Clearly, one of the challenges we all have is the fact that, of course, obviously the area of primary constitutional jurisdiction over the fisheries is with the federal government. We have been trying to move forward with a completely different approach in Nova Scotia, different than New Brunswick, for example. The Government of New Brunswick has been unwilling to engage in tri-level negotiations with the Aboriginal communities in New Brunswick. We believe that it is in the interest of all Nova Scotians, including the Aboriginal communities, that the provincial government be involved in trying to work out these issues.
There was a meeting in January, I think it was, in Truro where I guess there was a sort of joint communiqué where I believe we are moving down the road to hopefully getting an umbrella agreement and then a framework agreement to flesh out how those negotiations will go forward, but those would be negotiations that would go forward between the province, the federal government and those communities and they would be, I guess, going on a broad front. While the federal government has control over the issue of fishing resources - for example, hunting resources, wildlife resources would be a provincial jurisdiction - we have got the whole land title issue which is certainly something the communities want to talk about and the province is certainly a major player in that whole area and we want to have those negotiations go forward collectively with everybody at the table.
I think our approach at least has tried to be less confrontational than the approach taken by some others and we are very anxious to reach agreement, whether they are interim agreements or not, on issues like the moose hunt and those kinds of things. I have written letters. I know the Minister of Natural Resources has written letters. I have had a meeting with a representative from the union and the confederacy both - and the Minister of Natural Resources was at those meetings as well - whereby we signalled in as clear terms as I think you can humanly give that the Government of Nova Scotia wants to sit down, either at a big table dealing with broad issues, or at smaller tables to try to reach agreements, because resource management issues, such as the moose hunt as a good example, require a level of co-operation between all the players.
It is a great challenge and that is all I can tell you. The Office of Aboriginal Affairs, I can assure you, has been diligently trying to work with Natural Resources in trying to move those issues forward.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: I appreciate the jurisdictional and the constitutional responsibility questions, but in the fishery, for example, I mean when it breaks down, it affects Nova Scotians.
MR. BAKER: It sure does, yes.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: I am wondering, I mean there were some who suggested, and I amongst them, that we should have been more prepared - I mean both the federal government and the provincial government - for an outcome, or any outcome when the Marshall decision came down, you know, given the concerns in many communities throughout this province and the problems down at St. Marys Bay. The federal government has been unable to reach agreements, so far anyway, with any of the individual communities on a fisheries management plan and I am wondering whether your government is working at all on a contingency plan in that respect or in other areas.
MR. BAKER: I guess I would have to agree with you to some extent with respect to Marshall. I suppose hindsight is 20/20.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Sure.
MR. BAKER: I think there would be lots of people who would like to have a chance to do the 20/20 on that one, but I can tell you that one of the reasons the budget for the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, you know, the staffing levels are quite adequate in my opinion, is because we wanted to develop capacity in Nova Scotia to deal with our aboriginal communities. We are very interested in doing that and we are interested in doing it in as positive a manner as possible.
These are very complicated issues, as everyone can appreciate, because they involve divvying up of resources, and Nova Scotia scarce resources, and trying to maintain resource management at the same time that you have concerns of communities that are very concerned about equal access to resources. It is a very complex area and I say that not because I think the task is impossible, but because the task is very difficult and we are now working at trying to find a chief negotiator for the province, part of this understanding that was reached in January, and I know that the native communities in Nova Scotia are trying to do the same thing and the federal government has, I think, identified somebody.
So we are trying to, as part of our contingency, move that agenda forward in a positive manner. I have indicated that I am prepared to sit down with the chiefs as representatives of those communities to work on the issues and my colleagues are prepared to do that. We are also prepared to engage the federal government. I must say that to a great extent the fisheries interim agreements, which seem to be the greatest source of public interest, have been largely as a result of federal decision making, issues where they have determined the agenda, and to this point, obviously, we all know the results of that, but hopefully they will be successful. I guess I live hope eternal because I believe - and I have heard the chiefs say - that litigation is not necessarily the best way to move these files forward because, you know, we witnessed it recently. When you go to court, you either win or you lose, or in some cases you both get a result that neither one of you wants which is possibly the case in court cases and if we can negotiate things, you get a much better result.
I visited a community in Cape Breton and in that community they were talking to me about having received some of the money under the previous interim fisheries agreements and how they chose not to take it in the form of direct access to the resource. They took it in the form of money because they said, look, we are much more effective in moving the entire community forward by developing some things in our local area than we are by getting a crab licence or a lobster licence, or a couple of crab licences, which will benefit very few.
I think that that flexibility is what is needed because I don't necessarily think that everyone in Nova Scotia is going to become a lobster fisherman or can become a lobster fisherman. That is why I think the federal government has to show some degree of sensitivity, but on the other hand I think the communities have to be cognizant of the fact that no government has an unlimited supply of money. So it is a very complex issue.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: No, I appreciate that, but if they don't, I mean if the interim agreements are not reached, and it certainly doesn't look like they are going to, although you never know. Someone might at the last minute start to sign and then others will follow, but in light of that, I mean is your strategy, as much as you don't want that to happen, going to be just let's be hopeful and think positively and if it does go to pieces, then we will just see where we stand at that point?
MR. BAKER: No, I think it is a little more proactive than that. I mean clearly we are - and I don't want to go into the contingencies - working with other partner governments and agencies to determine what happens if that does not happen. I don't want to doom the process by speculating on it not happening, but I can assure you that we are trying to work with other agencies to deal with what might happen and to try to be as prepared as you possibly can given the fact that you don't know what is going to happen or where it is going to happen. And that is the other double problem with this - and we spoke about St. Marys Bay - that there are obviously other fishing communities in Nova Scotia where it could be a problem and that is the difficult problem with this.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Yes, and I understand. Quite frankly, I think that all the partners, all the people who are involved in this and who are affected, whether there are agreements or not, should know that the provincial government isn't going to just stand by and let this fall to pieces, like it did in Burnt Church. There is some work being done and there will be some strategies put in place in the event that agreements are not reached.
MR. BAKER: I can indicate that I know, for example, something that the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has worked on is the issue of making sure that fish buyers in Nova Scotia comply with the law, and that fish buyers, in purchasing lobsters, are not purchasing lobsters that were taken under the lawful food fishery and have not become migrated to a commercial fishery. Quite clearly, the court decisions that gave a food and ceremonial fishery, as I read them, did not give them a commercial fishery, the commercial fishery is based on the Marshall decision and the treaty rights.
We are trying to deal with all those pieces of the puzzle. I certainly hope that the federal government is successful in reaching agreements, but if they don't then, as in many areas, the provincial government is somewhat left to pick up the pieces, by virtue of the fact that we are responsible for the administration of justice in the province. We will do what we can in that regard.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: And the administration of Aboriginal Affairs.
MR. BAKER: Well, that is right. These things tend to very rapidly degenerate - and I say degenerate advisedly - from issues; the two issues become, unfortunately, intermeshed when they are not negotiated and they are litigated, to be quite candid. I think the RCMP in
Nova Scotia had a bit of a different approach than the RCMP in New Brunswick. I think, perhaps, that is reflective of a different philosophy in Nova Scotia.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: The recent logging case that has been appealed is another example, I think, of what we talk about in terms of issues that are just left in litigation, and they are going to go on, potentially, for a number of years until the final decision-making body rules, and even then. What are you doing, and in what process are you working on these issues, with the hope of reaching some kind of management agreement on logging and on harvesting of trees and other things? There is a tripartite forum, maybe at the same time you can tell me what is being handled there, if anything, and how you are doing with your framework agreement.
MR. BAKER: I do think that what we are trying to accomplish through the general understanding that hopefully will become an umbrella agreement before too long is to try to have different tables deal with different types of issues. The land access issues, I will call them, would happen at one table; there would be issues dealing with the fisheries, there would be a whole range of issues. I have told chiefs, I have written, the Minister of Natural Resources has written, that we want to talk about logging issues, we want to talk about lots of other issues, but talking requires two sides prepared to talk or three sides, ideally, in this case.
At this point, to be candid, I have not seen a great deal of willingness on the part of our potential partners to do anything but litigate, and speaking as a lawyer, an over-faith in legal mechanisms to resolve all issues. Litigation was not designed to resolve all problems. Unfortunately, at this point, because the reality, as we all know, is that until the Supreme Court of Canada gets the case, ultimately, whoever loses continues to appeal. Part of that process - I am just reminded of it - was that the whole purpose of this new understanding was to try to restructure the tripartite process so that there were different venues to deal with different issues, because one of the issues with the old tripartite forum is that it is completely and utterly without prejudice.
Unfortunately, there are constitutional rules that require, in some areas, that the provincial and federal governments consult. The difficulty being is that you get into the horns of a dilemma that you are not consulting, when in fact you are, so you have to find a mechanism to have certain discussions take place with prejudice and other discussions take place without prejudice. No one wants to bushwhack anyone, but the reality is the provincial government - or any other government - doesn't want to be in a position where they get to court, and then someone else says, well, we haven't had any consultations, when, in fact, you have been spending the last 10 years in consultations, and you are in the horns of a dilemma. I think the courts, unfortunately, in making some decisions which have driven this process, have not been very realistic - I say that advisedly - about how the real world works.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: That is the intention of the new agreement.
MR. BAKER: To try to be flexible, to allow different things to happen in different places.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: How close are you now? That's been . . .
MR. BAKER: It is since January. I guess I am still hopeful for the umbrella agreement, and I think staff have been exchanging proposals for an umbrella agreement, back and forth. It is fair to say those discussions are still ongoing, and they certainly haven't broken off at all.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Let me just ask you, what was behind changing the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to a regular office? Clearly, you haven't saved any money. I am sure there was method behind it, right?
MR. BAKER: The basis for the decision was that departments are by and large larger entities with more staff, and it was misinterpreted by some as being a reduction in the emphasis on Aboriginal Affairs, which was not the case. I think it was a recognition that the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, when put up against, whether it is the Department of Justice or the Department of Natural Resources, those large operational departments, was a smaller agency. I guess that is the best way I can describe it. It was a recognition of the different status, not by lack of importance but by difference in function. You have these operational departments, if you want to call it that, who are very different than Aboriginal Affairs, which is a central-type agency, like the Treasury and Policy Board. It is not a department as such, it is an agency, a central agency.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Will you continue to have an administration headed by a deputy?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: On both positions?
MR. BAKER: Yes, the present chief executive officer is a deputy head with the status of a deputy head, that is the plan.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: And that will stay?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Okay. I think that is all from me, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to the minister and his staff.
MR. BAKER: Mr. Chairman, how are we for time?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wish to advise the honourable member we have 24 minutes remaining in our time tonight. I understand there is a question to come forward from the member for Halifax Chebucto.
MR. BAKER: Just by way of information, there seems to be a general understanding that this will be my last go for estimates. I see Mr. MacKinnon there, and you may want to just see if there could be a brief - and I leave that to other people to sort out amongst themselves, but I understood from the two House Leaders that that seemed to be the understanding, that this would be it for today, for me. You may want to co-operate between yourselves.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I understand that may be the case, but I understood the Opposition always has the right of first refusal.
MR. BAKER: I am not trying to take away the honourable member's right or pre-empt it, in the interest of politeness . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: In the fullness of time, we will get to that.
The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.
MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Perhaps we will also get some crisp answers, that might . . .
MR. BAKER: I will be as crisp as a new $10 bill.
MR. EPSTEIN: Just to pick up on some of the issues you were discussing with my colleague, the member for Halifax Atlantic, just a moment ago, can you tell me what the situation actually is on the ground with respect to any logging activity by Mi'kmaq at the moment? I guess what I am really wondering is whether the fact of charges and the fact that there are cases proceeding through the courts has resulted in cessation of activity.
MR. BAKER: I understand that we are not aware of any current illegal logging operations.
MR. EPSTEIN: I have to say I had not understood that there were any charges, but . . .
MR. BAKER: No, I am not aware of any. That's as crisp as I can be.
MR. EPSTEIN: But no charges does not mean that there is no activity.
MR. BAKER: No, I am not aware of any activity.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, that is fine, that is good. Another aspect of this that I was wondering about was whether there are actually any talks about the provision that is in the House of Assembly Act that leads towards the possibility of a seat in the Legislature for a Mi'kmaq representative. Is there ever any talk about this?
MR. BAKER: The short answer is that I have never been approached on the subject and I have heard through staff that there does not seem to be a strong interest in the communities in that area.
MR. EPSTEIN: So, the absence of talks does not mean it is a sore point with the First Nation's . . .
MR. BAKER: No, I think it just means it is the absence of talks.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, that is fine. Just to go back to the question of logging activity again. Was there ever any explicit agreement worked out with representatives of the Mi'kmaq community about that or did it just happen?
MR. BAKER: I think it just happened because of the Department of Natural Resources enforcement policies. I think that is the short answer.
MR. EPSTEIN: Mr. Minister, just to move to another topic. You know on occasion, when bills have been introduced by your government in the House, we have had some discussions about whether, in the views of all members, some of the bills are or are not constitutional. There have been interesting exchanges, but they have actually covered several different bills at different times. I think they have had to do with prostitution, there was also a question about a bill that had some impact on the agricultural community, I think there was at least another one. In any event, I am wondering about the screening process for bills when they come forward and particularly whose responsibility it is to think about the constitutional law aspects of bills. Is it the responsibility of Legislative Counsel, when they are doing the drafting, or is it the responsibility of someone inside the Department of Justice to address this? So, really what I am wondering is whether there is a formal mechanism in place in which that question is always asked.
MR. BAKER: I think the formal mechanism is through the Office of Legislative Counsel. I think operationally, the short answer is that the Legal Services Division reaches into every department in government and provides advice to those departments. While particularly with Charter issues a lot of ink can be spilled arguing about whether or not things are on which side of the line. I know that the Legal Services Division, through its operational end in the various departments, gives advice to the ministers of those departments on whether or not a bill is constitutional or not. The difficulty in this whole area of whether it is or not is a very difficult issue to grasp.
MR. EPSTEIN: I certainly was not disagreeing with that.
MR. BAKER: You are talking about fine lines and very fine edges on those fine lines.
MR. EPSTEIN: No, I was wondering if there was a formalized mechanism. It sounds to me as if you are saying that there is an expectation that any lawyer having to do with the preparation of legislation would turn their minds to the constitutional law aspects.
MR. BAKER: Yes, and Legislative Counsel is also required to certify that it is lawful, but the difficulty is that in many of these areas it requires a great deal of background in the issue of the Charter, and I am not suggesting that Legislative Counsel has the ability to become a super law firm that is going to become the expert in all areas of constitutional law.
MR. EPSTEIN: Fair enough. Just to anticipate what might be the next area for this type of discussion, is it still the plan of your department to bring forward a proposal for charging inmates room and board?
MR. BAKER: I indicated earlier, in answer to your question earlier, that we are still reviewing that possibility and it has not been approved or rejected at this stage and I claimed solicitor-client privilege earlier, so for your benefit, that is the answer as far as I was prepared to go earlier.
MR. EPSTEIN: That is fine, I guess we will discuss the proposal if it ever comes forward. Can you also bring me up to date with respect to the negotiations with the Crowns?
MR. BAKER: Yes, the arbitration hearing in front of a three-panel arbitrator will be held, likely, commencing in June of this year.
MR. EPSTEIN: So there is a three-person panel that has been appointed?
MR. BAKER: A three-person panel with Bruce Outhouse as chairman.
MR. EPSTEIN: I also wonder what the current state of play is with respect to the arrangements for the function of an ombudsman.
MR. BAKER: What the situation is of course, is that the budgets have not been impacted. The budgets for both the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman are the same. A review is underway, particularly with respect to the Human Rights function and as a result of that review, decisions will be made. Frankly, no decisions have been made yet and the whole purpose of the review was to determine what changes, if any, were appropriate.
MR. EPSTEIN: Okay, those were all my questions. Thank you very much
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any further questions for this minister?
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
Just to advise you, we have 16 minutes remaining in our time tonight.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Thank you. This is like déjà vu, same as last year. I think it was 14 minutes, but who is counting?
MR. BAKER: You are two minutes to the good. I will talk this away.
MR. MACKINNON: With regard to the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal, more in particular . . .
MR. BAKER: They are all leaving me as soon as you talk about workers' compensation.
MR. MACKINNON: Don't run away, don't go too far. I notice that the ADR program ceased to exist in January 2000, despite the fact that it was a rather successful program with more than a 70 per cent success rate. What was the rationale for ending that particular program, given the fact that it was so successful?
MR. BAKER: I guess the short answer would be is the alternate dispute resolution requires two parties that are prepared to ADR. My understanding is that the Workers' Compensation Board did not want to participate in the program any further.
MR. MACKINNON: The board itself?
MR. BAKER: The board, not the WCAT, the board.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, so it was not the employer or the employee, it was the board?
MR. BAKER: The board because obviously, under the old program, ADR, with all due respect, the employer was never a big player in that process. It was largely a process that was with the worker on one side and the board on the other. When one party stopped being interested in ADR, ADR effectively came to a conclusion.
MR. MACKINNON: But the board wouldn't be there taking one side or the other, it would be the employer or the employee. I know, I realize that the board has a particular interest.
MR. BAKER: I think the reality, unfortunately, in ADR, as I understand it from another life and from what I also understand about the accident fund, is that the board was the one that was generally most interested in keeping the awards down and the worker would be interested in the other side - receiving the most possible compensation - and the employer tended to be more of a bystander.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for the purposes of Hansard, if you use any acronyms, please define what they are.
MR. MACKINNON: Oh, ADR is the alternate dispute resolution.
MR. BAKER: This is an area where you can degenerate the jargon, Mr. Chairman, very easily. Sorry about that.
MR. MACKINNON: It is just that I am rather perplexed at that because with a 70 per cent success rate and given the fact that an ADR program actually saves the board money, was there any written rationale given as to why they withdrew from the program?
MR. BAKER: I guess the statistics that we had were a little different in the sense that I think it is 40 per cent to 44 per cent success rate for ADR.
MR. MACKINNON: That is in Phase II, but if you combine Phase I and Phase II, they average out to slightly more than 70 per cent.
MR. BAKER: I am not going to get into a statistics count. What is it, there are lies, damn lies and then the statistics and I am not going to get involved in that. But, clearly, there were a number of cases that were resolved by ADR and all I can tell you is that the information I received is that the board communicated that they no longer wanted to participate in the ADR process.
MR. MACKINNON: There was no rationale given?
MR. BAKER: Well, I guess the rationale, as I understand it, was not expressed in writing, but the rationale, as I understand it, may have to do with the fact that they felt that Bill No. 90 had resolved a number of the issues that were previously being dealt with by ADR, but as we both know, Bill No. 90 certainly didn't prevent ADR in any way, shape or form.
MR. MACKINNON: I appreciate that. The sum total in here, and it came from the Freedom of Information Officer, indicated a total of 723 cases were resolved out of a total of . . .
MR. BAKER: That information is correct, I believe.
MR. MACKINNON: I leave that because there was a particular constituent of mine who was in the mix and was given a time and a date for an ADR hearing and then abruptly, after planning, was notified that it was cancelled. It just seemed a little inappropriate to do that to this elderly lady.
MR. BAKER: I can't answer why that particular matter didn't proceed, except that the board had determined a deadline of January 31, 2000, and that was a Workers' Compensation Board decision, not a Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal decision.
MR. MACKINNON: Her scheduled ADR hearing was timetabled before that date.
MR. BAKER: I am not trying to be evasive at all, Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, we will leave it at that. I know time is of the essence but perhaps if the minister might, if somebody was in WCAT or . . .
MR. BAKER: We will make what enquiries we can, given the fact . . .
MR. MACKINNON: Sure, it is just that she is an elderly lady and her husband is a deceased coal miner and it has put a tremendous amount of grief on her shoulders for the last two years.
MR. BAKER: I understand.
MR. MACKINNON: One other quick question is with regard to your no smoking policy in jails. Was there any consultation with the Minister of Health on this particular issue?
MR. BAKER: I certainly didn't consult the Minister of Health on the issue. It was an operational issue for jails. Clearly, I guess, on the issue of smoking and the effects of second-hand smoke, I think it is fair to say that staff, certainly staff in the correctional system, were extensively consulted.
MR. MACKINNON: Was there no collaboration?
MR. BAKER: No, this was not driven by a health agenda. It was driven by occupational health and safety concerns as much as any because of the second-hand smoke.
MR. MACKINNON: So was there discussion with the Minister of Environment and Labour?
MR. BAKER: Nothing formal that I am aware of. There were concerns, clearly, and I think you may have heard of it in the media, there were workers that work in that environment who had breathing difficulties.
MR. MACKINNON: Did they raise any of those concerns in writing?
MR. BAKER: We can check on that. I certainly know that there were concerns by staff about smoking.
MR. MACKINNON: If there are, would you be kind enough to table, without giving confidentiality away?
MR. BAKER: As long as they don't violate some rule of disclosure, then we certainly would.
MR. MACKINNON: That is fine.
MR. BAKER: That with a qualified exception, but I think you understand that if they are not protected . . .
MR. MACKINNON: No, understood.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I just wish to advise the committee members that we have less than eight minutes remaining in our time. This is the last evening for the minister, so just to inform you of that.
The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Minister, good evening.
MR. BAKER: Good evening.
MR. BOUDREAU: I want to ask you about an issue on the Cape Breton Regional Municipality pertaining to a death. You normally have to be careful what you talk about, the issues that you talk about on this particular issue, but I am talking about James Guy Bailey.
MR. BAKER: Oh, yes.
MR. BOUDREAU: The procedure that you chose and the process, is that standard practice?
MR. BAKER: I am sorry?
MR. BOUDREAU: It is not standard practice. The process that you chose is not standard practice within the Department of Justice. Is that correct?
MR. BAKER: Well, yes. The Nova Scotia Police Commission has every power to inquire into complaints about police misconduct and, clearly, the allegations with respect to Mr. Bailey, as I understand them, allege that police officers may - and I want to underline may because, obviously, that is why the hearings are going to be held - have done something that was inappropriate. We felt that the best mechanism to resolve those issues in a public forum, with an independent decision maker, was with the Nova Scotia Police Commission.
MR. BOUDREAU: But isn't it true that the standard practice normally is that the Chief Medical Examiner would file his report with the chief judge and the chief judge would then determine whether an inquiry would be warranted? Isn't that the standard practice of your department?
MR. BAKER: The Chief Medical Examiner can file a report with the chief judge requesting that there be a hearing, but that is in situations where the cause of death is uncertain. I don't think anyone is uncertain as to why Mr. Bailey died. The issue that surrounds Mr. Bailey's death is not the causation, which is really when, for example, oftentimes, there may be a question about the causation of death, the circumstances that caused the death. My understanding is that in Mr. Bailey's situation, there is no question about what caused his death, but that the question revolves around whether the conduct by the police officers was appropriate. I want to also point out that there was a separate police investigation done by the OPP, which determined that that conduct was not criminal. Because, obviously, if there was criminal conduct, that would be dealt with separately.
Just one other point is that we have gone before in another matter where I did what the Chief Medical Examiner can do, as well, which is to ask the chief judge to have a hearing and the chief judge has refused that. So what would have happened here, which is quite conceivable, even if the Chief Medical Examiner had asked for an inquiry, it might have been refused and a great deal of delay could possibly have taken place. Plus, the Provincial Court, if it has a fatal inquiry, has no ability to discipline and, quite frankly, it is the ability to discipline which led to the decision-making choice here.
MR. BOUDREAU: Do they have the power to lay charges if charges are warranted?
MR. BAKER: The chief judge does not have the power to lay charges, nor does the Police Commission. That is up to the police themselves to lay charges. We, after the Cape Breton Police had finished their investigation, felt that there were issues that weren't resolved and that is why we had the Ontario Provincial Police come in and do another separate investigation and they determined that there was no potential for charges.
MR. BOUDREAU: But the OPP weren't given any powers. They couldn't even question police officers, Mr. Minister. Police officers refused to speak to the OPP investigators. That leads me to believe that the OPP did the investigation and they certainly didn't have the tools that were required to do the type of investigation that was necessary.
MR. BAKER: But if officers were compelled to give evidence, in any form, that evidence, under the rules of criminal justice, could not be used against them, in any event. So that, for example, if they were testifying, the evidence they give would not be able to be used to form the basis for a charge because people cannot be compelled to give evidence that will then be used against them in subsequent criminal proceedings.
MR. BOUDREAU: That doesn't do much for the truth, Mr. Minister. I think both the family and community in Cape Breton are eager to learn the truth.
MR. BAKER: I think we agree on that and I think, to be candid with you, the family misunderstands the powers and independence of the Police Commission. I don't mean that in a negative way at all. I want to get to the truth, too, and if I didn't want to get to the truth, we wouldn't have had an independent OPP investigation. We wouldn't have had the Police Commission. I will stop talking so you can talk, because time is running short.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I wish to advise the committee that we only have a couple of minutes left in our time tonight. I understand the Minister of Justice will not be available past tonight for debates, because he will be out of town for the rest of the week, I believe on Thursday, or whatever.
MR. BAKER: Mr. Chairman, I will simply say that I will be glad to speak to Mr. Boudreau about the matter and try to provide him with any additional information that I can. I understand that he has constituents that have questions. (Interruptions)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I appreciate that, but that can be done on your own time.
Shall the resolutions stand?
The resolutions are stood.
I hate to say that time has now expired. There is no opportunity for the minister for closing remarks. It might have been a rush to judgement but, to some, it had to be done.
MR. BAKER: That is okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the members of the committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our four hours have concluded tonight. We will be reconvening on Thursday at approximately 1:30 p.m., if our regular business hours start at 12:00 p.m. At that time, the honourable Minister of Transportation and Public Works with Resolutions E12 and E14.
We stand adjourned.
[7:48 p.m. The subcommittee rose.]